03 Nov

Recipe: Benton’s Basic Brownies


I stock up on butter when it’s on sale and store my hoard in the freezer. Because these brownies call for melted butter rather than leaving it on the counter all day to soften (as most of my baked goods do), this is my go-to recipe when I want dessert NOW.

Adapted from Baker’s One Bowl Brownies, which are so-called because only one bowl has to get dirty prepping them — the recipe for which appears on the back and inside of every box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate. Should you find yourself separated from your recipe file and the internet yet near a grocery store when the urge to bake brownies strikes (as one does), if you can remember “half white sugar, half brown sugar,” that recipe will get you through the crisis even if you forget the additions of coffee and salt (which are just there to round out the flavor on your tongue, not intense enough to miss much if they’re absent).

If it’s not obvious from the picture, this is a fudgy brownie rather than a cakey one (otherwise known as cake). These are what Ivy feeds Griff in Ten Thousand Hours to get him on the hook.

This is an easy recipe with no complicated equipment, tools, or techniques required. If you have a bowl, a spoon, a 13 x 9-inch pan, and an oven, you could be eating these in less than an hour.

Benton’s Basic Brownies

  • 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate (see notes for substition)
  • 3/4 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 rounded teaspoon of instant coffee granules
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease (or spray) a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Melt butter and chocolate in mixing bowl (in microwave or over a double boiler); stir until blended and smooth. Stir sugars into butter and chocolate mixture. Dissolve instant coffee in vanilla; add to chocolate mixture. Stir in eggs one at a time. Stir in flour and salt until incorporated. Stir in nuts, if using. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or slightly crumby but not gooey. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.


  • I believe the standard accommodation for dark (interior or exterior) metal and glass baking pans, which get hotter than light-colored metal, is to reduce the oven temperature by 25° and check for doneness a few minutes sooner. If you don’t do that, things will just be a little crustier around the edges, which I hear some people are into.
  • Use whatever brand of unsweetened chocolate you like. I’ve tried “fancier” brands (if you think having a European-sounding name equates with “fancy”) and had taste and texture issues with them, so now I stick with and recommend the traditional Baker’s.
  • No unsweetened chocolate on hand? No problem! Substitute 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 4 additional tablespoons of butter (that is, bringing the total butter in the recipe up to 1 cup, also known as 2 whole sticks). Melt all the butter and then stir in the cocoa until the lumps are gone. Optional but recommended: Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to thorougly compensate for the dryness of the cocoa compared to chocolate and achieve the optimal brownie texture. Proceed with the recipe otherwise as directed. (I use “regular” cocoa powder rather than dark or Dutch-processed because I think the latter is tasteless, but you do you.)
  • I use a fork to pick the umbilical cords off my egg yolks whenever they’re not being pulverized by an electric beater, but I’m told I’m a bit of a loon. If that big white nugget of tissue hanging out intact in your brownies doesn’t bother you, go ahead and skip that step.
  • I buy light and dark brown sugar and mix them together in the canister, thereby creating medium brown sugar, which I use in all my recipes calling for brown sugar (which is most of them). If you choose not to go to such lengths, choose whichever degree of brownness you prefer. Either way, that difference won’t be a huge deviation from the recipe as made by me with my hybrid blend. Do not, however, use all white sugar — the brown adds flavor and moisture and is the key to better brownies.
  • “Can I use margarine/Stevia/weird flour instead?” With any recipe, you can use whatever you want. The results will be different, whether slightly or significantly, and whether better or worse. Some of my best recipes came from “I don’t have that” or “I don’t like that” substitutions — and so have some of my biggest disasters, and so have a lot of no-big-whoopty-dos. As long as you understand the outcome of making changes is your responsibility and not the recipe’s, try whatever you want. (Maybe do a trial run before you try to impress somebody with your baking mastery, though, just in case.)
  • Melting butter and chocolate: The power of microwaves varies. The temperature of butter varies. I nuke my frozen butter and chocolate in my ancient microwave of unlabeled wattage for 2 minutes, let it bask in its residual heat while I chop my nuts, then stir until it’s all dark, glossy gorgeousness and the last little chunk of chocolate is melted. If you’re not familiar with how your particular microwave handles this task, err on the side of less time (repeat however many 30-second increments it takes) or use your heat-safe bowl as the top of a double boiler to melt your butter and chocolate extra gently. I’ve never scorched chocolate, but I hear it’s a bad thing, so take it easy.
  • Use whatever variety of nuts you like most. If you don’t like any variety of nuts or are allergic or are out of them or plan to use the brownies primarily as a vehicle for frosting that doesn’t want the flavor competition, leave the nuts out. They’re fine and noble brownies even without embellishment. If you want non-nut embellishment, you can instead stir in a cup of chocolate/peanut butter/mint chips or M&M’s or chopped peanut butter cups or chopped Snickers or toasted coconut or whatever form of extra calories you crave. (I recently discovered Hershey’s is selling a salted caramel chip, which I believe is seasonal. I recommend stockpiling them while you can. They pair particularly well with hazelnuts. Just sayin’.) I suggest using equal parts walnuts and pecans, which undergo some kind of alchemy that makes them greater than the sum of their bitter/sweet parts (because of tannins in walnut skin, which I fell way too into researching for a while there).
  • It is my experience that the advice to “toss mix-ins with flour so they don’t all sink to the bottom” not only never works, but gets flour into the nooks and crannies of the mix-ins that remains there after baking so it looks like you used moldy nuts or chips or berries or whatever. I always discourage the practice, and in this particular case, the batter is plenty dense to support the weight of additions, anyway.
  • For a Black Forest version, omit the nuts, press the contents of a bag of dried cherries into the batter (you could stir them in, but I like to control the distribution), and top the cooled brownies with a layer of sweetened whipped cream.
  • If you insist on a shiny, papery top crust (which is apparently a thing in brownie fandom), the instructions get more complicated. You have to bring the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan to melt some of the sugar. (It won’t dissolve completely, but you don’t need it to.) Remove from heat. Throw the chocolate in to melt. Let the boiling sugar mixture cool completely before adding the eggs. (If you’re in a hurry, I suppose you could temper the eggs, but WOW way to complicate what’s supposed to be an easy-peasy recipe.) Add the rest of the ingredients as directed. After you pour the batter into the pan, jiggle it out to the edges rather than smearing it with a utensil to preserve the surface tension. Bake as directed. You should be able to see the shiny in the oven, and when the insides collapse a little during cooling, you’ll get the tissue paper wrinkles in the skin.

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