[Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

Cake brownies have never been my thing. It's the fudgy brownies that always do in me (and my diet) every time. Slightly crisp around the edges, with a moist, almost undercooked center, and oh so chocolatey, a fudgy brownie is the most decadent of bar cookies.

The problem is getting a good fudgy brownie that's over-the-top chocolatey but structurally sound at the same time. In my quest for the fudgiest chocolate flavor, I'm always upping the chocolate in a recipe, and decreasing the flour as flour can dull chocolate's flavor. This can be a recipe for (literal) disaster. Too much chocolate and too little flour can result in a pan of brownies that taste fabulous but are too soft to hold. Another problem? Most recipes out there are simply way too sweet. I want deep, dark, bittersweet chocolate in my brownie, not the flavor of a Tootsie Roll.

This recipe fits the bill on all accounts. While the ingredient list is slightly longer than your simple back of the Baker's chocolate box brownie, it's worth it. This is no one dimensional brownie. To get that full bodied dark chocolate flavor, three types of chocolate were rounded up and put to use: bittersweet, unsweetened, and cocoa powder.

The crispy, glossy top is achieved by whisking the sugar into the eggs long enough for the sugar to start to dissolve. When that happens, the dissolved sugar rises to the surface of the brownie as it bakes, creating a shiny, shattery-crisp surface. Thoroughly bake these brownies until they're firm to the touch in the middle, but always keep in mind that when making brownies with such a high amount of chocolate, it's easy to over bake the brownies and end up with dry squares instead of the desired fudgy texture.

Though these are without a doubt the perfect standalone brownie, a few awesome add-ins can never hurt, can they? That's why I'm giving you three easy variations.

First, in the spirit of the Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar, I folded a handful of dried cranberries, raisins, and almonds into a bourbon-spiked batter. The next is for hazelnut fiends: the hazelnut spread Nutella is just the right consistency to stay put after it's swirled into the batter, creating an extra chocolaty, slightly more sweet treat.

Finally, since I can never do without chocolate and peanut butter, I made a batch with a healthy (or unhealthy, if you want to look at it that way) handful of peanuts and dollop of thick natural peanut butter swirled in. They're best topped off with a sprinkle of coarse salt. If you haven't tasted the wonders of chocolate, nuts, and salt in a brownie, this will change your life. And perhaps your gym schedule, as with these, one is never enough.


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