It happened on July 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm Eastern Standard Time.
After two months of experimenting, revising, and baking — I created the world’s greatest brownie recipe.
The batter, a moist coconut oil fudge, has just enough puffiness to melt in your mouth. There are three different kinds of chocolate crumbled and melted throughout the batter. The edges, bottom, and top have a perfect semi-soft chewiness that’s normally reserved for store-bought brownie mixes.
The surface shines with a sweet light brown sheen.
Everyone who’s tried these brownies has gone through some variation of this response:
Their eyes widen.
Their mouth spreads into a massive grin.
They say flat-out, usually within the first few seconds; “This is the best brownie I’ve ever had.”
Then they plead for the recipe.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how I created this recipe, what worked, what didn’t, and how to make it yourself.
But, if stick to flexible dieting principles, you can enjoy treats like brownies while getting shredded. I turned 20 on December 6, so it seemed like a good time to share one of the best desserts you’ll ever eat.
Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownies: There is Nothing Better
Until now, that is.
This project started as a way to re-create — and if possible improve upon — the triple chocolate brownie mix from Ghirardelli.
They embody every aspect of a perfect brownie, and I wanted to make them even better for three reasons:
1. I grew up eating these brownies. Being obsessively competitive, I wanted to do better. My mom also said it would be impossible to make brownies that were better, so I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to prove her wrong. (Which I did — Mom).
2. “Cracking the Ghirardelli Code” could help me create other recipe variations that use similar concepts. By breaking down their formula and understanding what makes them so good, I might be able to make new, even better recipes.
3. I wanted to help you impress your friends — and yourself — by making what are easily the best brownies you’ve ever had. I also wanted to make this recipe simpler and easier than other brownie recipes.
Before I could execute these goals, however, I needed to define exactly what makes the Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownies so good.
The 5 Elements of a Perfect Brownie
Let’s define what makes the perfect brownie.
Everyone has different preferences, and you might not want the exact same brownie all of the time, though that will probably change after you try these.
The goal here is to create the “default perfect brownie.” If I had to pick one kind of brownie to eat for the rest of my life — it would have these five qualities.
1. Moist and soft.
Dry brownies are gross. If it’s not moist and soft, it’s not a good brownie.
You can also make brownies too thick and fudgy, however. If you want fudge you should make fudge — not brownies. Great brownies also need a little “poofiness.” They need just enough air to fall apart in your mouth and retain their moisture — and no more.
2. Dense and intense chocolate fudge.
A lot of “brownie” recipes will give you a dense chocolate cake. There’s nothing wrong with that if you want chocolate cake. But brownies should be packed with chocolate — real chocolate that melts in your mouth and forms a thick gooey fudge as it bakes. Not air.
Great brownies should have a thick, chewy, dense crust on the edges. Finding the balance between a fudgy, chewy, and soft brownie is crucial, and one of the reasons these taste so good.
Some brownies have an almost bitter taste — like a 100% cocoa bar of dark chocolate. A great brownie needs to be sweet — not overpowering like raw sugar, but enough to accentuate the rich chocolate flavor.
5. Simple, fast, idiot-proof, and minimal mess.
The advantage of boxed brownie mixes, and mixes in general, is convenience. They’re fast, simple, and almost impossible to screw up.
This brownie recipe also needed to be ridiculously easy — almost as easy as making brownies with the store-bought mix.
It needed to be safe for beginners, easy to remember, and produce as few dirty dishes as possible.
The final recipe takes less than ten minutes of prep, makes one messy bowl, and is virtually impossible to screw-up.
Here’s how I made it, and how you can too.
Step 1: Start with What Works
Of the 20 or so different brownie recipes I reviewed online and in my cookbook collection, these three appeared the best:
The Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix.
“Ultimate Fudge Brownies with Peanut Butter Chips” by Sally’s Baking Addiction.
“Shirley’s Fudgy Brownies” by Shirley Corriher
“Chocolate Dipped Brownie Bites” by Sally’s Baking Addiction. (If you’ve tried any of Sally’s recipes, you shouldn’t be surprised she’s got two out of the three spots).
Now it was time to start baking.
Step 2: Test Other Brownie Recipes and Take Notes
Sally’s “Ultimate Fudge Brownies” looked the most like the Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate brownies, so I tried those first.
I tried Sally’s melted chocolate brownies next. Then Shirley’s Fudgy Brownies. They were all outstanding, but tasted about the same.
The other recipes I had in mind weren’t different enough to bother trying at this point. I had a working recipe that I could use going forward.
I suspected that using generic cocoa powder might be to blame for my less than perfect results. So I bought three containers of Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder from Amazon and used that for the remaining brownie recipes.
What followed was a long series of trial and error.
I played with the ratios of sugar, fat, and oil. I used baking soda, baking powder, and different combinations of both. Just for fun, I also tried making lower fat and lower sugar versions to see if I could get my desired result with fewer calories. It did not work.
In classic obsessive-compulsive fashion, I created a spreadsheet that broke down the percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrate, sugar, water, and fiber.
I also learned from these experiments that you must use all three kinds of chocolate — semisweet, bittersweet, and milk chocolate. It may seem redundant — but it’s essential. They won’t be the same if you don’t use all three.
After trying eight different variations, eating many delicious brownies, and spending hours and hours in the kitchen and at my desk tweaking recipes — I still hadn’t reached my goal.
None of my recipes were satisfactory. All excellent — but they still didn’t meet the strict criteria I had created for myself. They needed to be perfect.
Step 3: Back to the Drawing Board
At this point, I had an awesome original brownie recipe. It was better than any homemade brownie recipe I’d made before, but it wasn’t perfect.
I had a good “feel” for how changing the proportions of the recipe would affect the final product, so with that in mind, I decided to plug Ghirardelli’s Triple Chocolate Brownie ingredients into this formula.
I weighed one package of the Ghirardelli mix — 580 grams. I calculated the dry weight of my working recipe and it was around 517 grams. Their mix had far more dry ingredients than mine. There were four other important differences:
They called for less oil — 1/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup, like mine.
Despite having more dry weight, they called for one egg — not two.
Their recipe also called for 1/3 cup of water — mine didn’t.
Their recipe takes about 15-20 minutes longer to cook than all of the ones I had tried.
Their brownies had more dry ingredients, less oil, and less egg — yet took longer to cook.
This made no sense — how can their brownies be so soft and chewy with less oil and egg? How can adding more dry ingredients make it take longer to bake?
Here are the best explanations I could think of for why their recipe was different from mine:
– The reason the Ghirardelli mix has more dry weight is because they add extremely large amounts of sugar and cocoa powder.
– The reason their recipe calls for less oil is because butter has less fat than vegetable or coconut oil, which means you need less to get the same consistency.
– The Ghirardelli recipe takes longer to cook because the extra water has to evaporate from the cocoa powder, and you don’t have the added water from butter like you do in most recipes. The extra sugar keeps everything moist, despite the extra baking time.
I still had to figure out why they had one less egg, and so much extra water in their recipe.
A 1/3 cup of water is about the same weight as a single egg (80 grams versus ~60). Most brownie recipes of a similar size have two eggs. Here’s why I think their recipe substitutes one egg with a similar amount of water.
Egg tends to make things more “cake-like” — softer, lighter, and less crumbly than brownies. Egg also doesn’t tend to lose as much water when it bakes — the proteins help retain it. On the other hand, plain water tends to evaporate more easily.
So why not leave the water out and reduce the baking time?
The water is probably needed to help dissolve the extra sugar. I reasoned that while baking, much of the water probably evaporates, leaving a thick, fudgy mix of chocolate and sugar behind.
To confirm my suspicion, I weighed the brownie pan before and after the brownies were baked and cooled to see how much of the moisture had evaporated.
When I made my brownie recipe with two eggs — only about 21 grams of moisture evaporated while baking (734 to 713). By removing the egg and substituting roughly a similar amount of water (1/3 cup) — 53 grams of moisture left the brownies as they cooked (751 to 698). That’s roughly two tablespoons less water in the final product.
By purposely removing the egg and using water instead, you increase the amount of water that leaves the brownies, while keeping the batter thick, fudgy, and moist.
Now it was time to put these findings into practice.
Step 4: The World’s Best Brownies
At this point, I could have just added more sugar and cocoa powder to my brownie mix like Ghirardelli does. Instead, I decided to double the amount of semisweet chocolate from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. This boosted the total dry weight to 590 grams — almost exactly the same as their mix.
I omitted one egg, and added 1/3 cup of water instead (which is almost the same weight as one raw egg).
I cut the oil from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup — a decrease of 32 grams or about two tablespoons.
To make the chocolate mix evenly with the other dry ingredients, I chopped it in a food processor for about one minute. This created a perfect spectrum of different sized chocolate crumbs.
These chocolate crumbs are one of the key reasons this recipe is so moist, and why it can hold so much extra chocolate. This technique hides thousands of small pockets of chocolate throughout the batter, which absorb the other ingredients while baking — creating a fudgy, thick, chewy texture. This is something Ghirardelli doesn’t do, and one of the reason I think these brownies are better.
I tossed together the dry ingredients, including the crumbled chocolate. Then I mixed in all of the wet ingredients with a hand mixer until the batter was smooth and even.
45 minutes later, on July 16, 2013, at 6:30 pm Eastern Standard Time, I invented the world’s greatest brownie recipe (with a a lot of help from Ghirardelli and Sally).
These Brownies Have More Chocolate Than Any Other
After several tests, it became clear that the amount of real chocolate Ghirardelli adds to their Triple Chocolate Brownies is fairly minimal. There are only a few solid chips in each pouch of mix.
If you look at the ingredients list for any of the Ghirardelli brownie mixes: “Triple Fudge,” “Double Chocolate,” etc, they’re all essentially the same except for the kind of chips they add to the mix.
I wanted these brownies to have more real chocolate — a lot more chocolate.
Instead of relying on extra cocoa powder, sugar, and oil, this recipe uses a massive amount of extra chocolate. Most brownie recipes use either cocoa powder *or* real chocolate. This recipe uses both. When you adjust for the cocoa powder, this recipe has about twice as much chocolate as most brownie recipes.
Normally, when you add this much chocolate to a brownie recipe there isn’t enough scaffolding — flour or egg — to support it. The chocolate sinks to the bottom and forms a layer of fudge.
In this recipe, the water helps hold the fine crumbs of chocolate in place until the proteins in the egg and flour have time to set. By the time the brownies are done, the excess moisture is mostly evaporated, and you’re left with a perfect distribution of fine chocolate pieces throughout the batter.
The original Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownies are excellent, but doubling the chocolate makes these even better.
How to Make the World’s Greatest Fudge Chocolate Brownies
*The simplified recipe, ingredients list, and nutrition facts are at the bottom if you want to skip the details.*
Toss together the chocolate chips in a food processor, and pulse for 30-60 seconds or until the chocolate forms into a dust with coarse crumbs, like this:
Here is the chocolate I used:
I prefer using chocolate bars for this recipe because they have real cocoa butter in them, while the chocolate chips have palm kernel oil. The cocoa butter gives the bars a more authentic chocolate taste, but you don’t have to break the chips into pieces like you do with the bars. The difference is small, so use whatever you prefer.
If you don’t have any Ghirardelli chocolate chips, it’s “okay” to use regular chocolate. Once again, it won’t be quite the same — but still far better than any brownie you’ve had before. The quality of the chocolate is important, but the ratios are even more so. Just promise me that you’ll eventually try it with the real Ghirardelli chocolate one day.
Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium size mixing bowl. Beat for about one minute on medium speed with a hand mixer. This evenly distributes the baking soda, and helps break apart the clumps of cocoa powder and flour. Add the chopped chocolate.
I think these brownies taste better with real Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder, but since you’re probably eager to give these a try and might not have that ingredient on hand, it’s okay to use regular generic cocoa powder. I’ve tried them both ways and can tell a difference, but it’s not a huge deal.
Add the melted coconut oil and vanilla to the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Coating the dry ingredients with the oil helps prevent gluten formation, which would make your brownies tough. This makes your brownies softer and more moist.
Adding the vanilla directly to the coconut oil also helps enhance the flavor, as fat is an excellent flavor carrier.
I like coconut oil for this recipe as the coconut flavor seems to enhance the chocolate and vanilla. Coconut oil also tends to keep brownies more moist than butter. The oil does a better job of preventing gluten formation, which makes brownies tough.
I’ve tried these brownies both ways, and can’t say one is unanimously better than the other — but I prefer coconut oil as a default. Most people who’ve tried these brownies both ways also prefer the coconut oil over butter, and both over regular vegetable oil.
Add the room temperature egg and mix on low speed until it’s evenly distributed through the batter, or about one minute. A room temperature egg will distribute more evenly through the batter, giving you a better finished product.
Mix in the water on low speed, just until the batter is even.
After you’ve got the batter prepared, pour it into a greased metal or glass brownie pan and cook at 325℉ degrees for about 45-55 minutes. The brownies will be ready when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a light smear of chocolate. With all of the chocolate in this recipe, it’s rare for a toothpick to come out completely clean — and that’s exactly what you want. Don’t bake these more than 55 minutes — most of the time they’re done before 50. The brownies will continue to cook a little after you pull them out of the oven.
What You Learn from this Recipe
1. Replacing one of the eggs with water helps the chocolate stay evenly distributed throughout the batter and allows more water to evaporate. As the water evaporates, you’re left with a soft, moist, fudgy, web of molten chocolate.
2. Chopping the chocolate into thousands of small crumbs helps pack more total chocolate into the batter, without turning it into pure fudge. This hides small pockets of molten chocolate in the finished brownies that melt in your mouth. This method also saves you from dirtying another dish by melting the chocolate.
3. Using coconut oil instead of butter gives the brownies a more chocolatey/melt-in-your-mouth texture. The coconut flavor is also a perfect companion to the chocolate.
4. Using less added fat (oil or butter), and more fat from the chocolate itself, gives these brownies a denser, fresher, more chocolatey taste than store-bought mixes or most other brownie recipes.
5. Using a high quality chocolate and cocoa powder like Ghirardelli vastly improves the final product.
6. Coating the dry ingredients before adding the water or egg gives you softer brownies.
I learned a lot making this recipe, but by far the most important lesson of all was this:
When in doubt — add more chocolate.
I also learned how to spell Ghirardelli.
Here’s the complete ingredients list, instructions, and nutrition facts.
1/3 cup (80 grams) coconut oil, melted.*
1 large (~60 grams) egg.
1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract.
1/3 cup (80 grams) water, room temperature.
1/2 cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour.
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar.
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (84 grams) Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder.**
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt.
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) baking soda.
1/2 cup (120 grams) Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.
1/4 cup (60 grams) Ghirardelli milk-chocolate chips.
1/4 cup (60 grams) Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.
* Use butter if you prefer or if coconut oil is not available. Vegetable oil works, too, but I don’t think it tastes as good.
* You can use regular cocoa powder instead, but it may not be quite as amazing.
1. Arrange a shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325℉. Spray and 8×8 inch brownie pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a large glass or plastic bowl, microwave the coconut oil until it’s melted and warm, but not hot. Add the egg, vanilla, and room temperature water.
3. In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. With a hand mixer, stir the dry ingredients for 30 seconds until evenly blended.
4. Chop the chocolate chips in a food processor until they resemble small crumbs, like in the above picture.
5. Add the chopped chocolate chips to the dry ingredients, and stir with the hand mixer for another 30 seconds until the chocolate is evenly distributed.
6. Stir the coconut oil mixture on medium speed until it’s even and well blended, about one minute.
7. Add the dry ingredients to the coconut oil mixture, stirring slowly with the hand mixer. Stir for 1-2 minutes or until all of the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.
9. Bake until the brownies start to pull away from the edge of the pan, about 50-55 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out with some streaks of chocolate. Err on the side of undercooking rather than overcooking. Do not bake over an hour.
10. Allow the brownies to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, cut into 16 squares. Brownies remain soft and fresh stored in an airtight container for up to seven days, or in the freezer for up to three months.
Serving size: One 2×2 inch (45-gram) brownie.
Protein: 3.1 grams.
Fat: 13 grams.
Carbohydrate: 27.7 grams.