Do you have a go-to dessert? One you make when you just really need a sugar fix or you need to take a dish to a party and don’t want to experiment? I do. It’s brownies. These little chocolate squares are the perfect crowd pleaser: most people like chocolate (and if you don’t I’m not sure we can be friends. JK. Maybe); they don’t require a fork so they’re easy to eat when mingling, and they’re iconic. Most people grow up eating brownies semi-regularly, so there are no funny looks when you walk in with a plate of them and no one has to ask what they are or how to eat them. Trust me, it happens.

While there are many, many, many variations on the brownie (blondies, brookies, pizookies…), a good, classic brownie has a few important characteristics. First, it needs to be chocolate. And it needs to taste super chocolatey, not just have a hint of cocoa in it. If you’re going to make a chocolate treat, make sure it tastes like one.

Second, a good brownie needs to be fudgy. There are those who would argue that it needs to be cakey, but I want a gooey, fudgy brownie that almost melts in my mouth and sends me to the refrigerator looking for milk (or wine). In my experience you just don’t get the same experience biting into a cakey brownie as you do a fudgy one.

Finally, brownies need to be properly cooked. One of the biggest baking offenses I’ve seen is people overcooking their baked goods. I blame recipe writers for this- with cakes and brownies, the standard for testing doneness is whether or not there are crumbs on a toothpick. Often a recipe says the toothpick needs to be clean, but really you want a few crumbs clinging to it. The reason is that cakes and brownies continue to bake once you take them out of the oven. Don’t pull them out when there’s wet batter on the toothpick, but a few crumbs means the brownies are almost done and will finish while you let them cool in the pan. If the toothpick comes out completely clean, your brownies are done right then and should be removed from the pan fairly quickly to avoid dryness.

You can always buy a brownie mix from the store and swear to your friends the brownies are homemade. No one will ever know and everyone will love them. But if you prefer to make your brownies from scratch, some reliable recipe options are from Baked, Williams-Sonoma, and the Hershey’s Best Brownies. These are some of my favorites that I know I can always fall back on in a pinch.

Funny story- Awhile back I was invited to a friend’s wine tasting party and I offered to bring dessert. I was trying out a new recipe for cinnamon roll cookies that I thought would be perfect for the party. The boyfriend cautioned me against trying a new recipe right before an event, but it came from a well-respected baker with thousands of fans so I wasn’t worried. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. That’s okay, I thought, I’ll make brownies. They’re quick, they’re easy, and everyone loves them. So I mixed them up, popped them in the oven, and went to get ready. To this day I don’t know what happened, but whatever I made was NOT brownies. I think I was so distracted from the cookies not turning out and trying to figure out why that I left something out of the brownie batter. It never would have happened if I had just made the brownies instead of the cookies. We wound up taking Nothing Bundt Cakes to the party instead. Lesson learned- don’t try new recipes before a party; just make brownies in the first place. You’ll be less stressed and your significant other won’t be able to hold it over your head FOREVER.

If you really want to make your friends love you, try serving the brownies with Barolo. This fairly robust wine has some nice red fruit flavors, which often pair well with chocolate and high acidity, which cuts the sweetness of the brownies slightly. The tannins help enhance the cocoa, so you’ll really be in heaven if you are a chocolate lover.

So what do you think? Is barolo the perfect pairing or do you have a better one?

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