Chocolate and Cognac are a troublesome duo — the light floral notes of almonds and orange peel in Cognac commingle with the earthy, sultriness of chocolate to create a flavor that is at first intriguing, but then comforting and familiar.

In this recipe, VS Cognac — the lightest designation of Cognac, aged two years at minimum — replaces vanilla extract, which is typically used in brownies. Vanilla extract at times is a little saccharine, with artificial flavorings that tend not to meld. Replacing traditional extracts with liquors in baking can incorporate more nuanced, delicate, and complex flavors in the final product. While Cognac can often carry vanilla notes, it incorporates many other complementary flavors to decadent chocolate brownies, making the final feel much more special than a boxed mix.

I first encountered brownies like this while working at Minneapolis-based Surdyk’s, whose cheese shop carried Cognac brownies as dense as bricks. They became one of my favorite pick-me-ups after slinging cases of wine for hours, and they paired perfectly with a cup of dark roasted coffee and a copy of the Star Tribune from the break room. In this rendition, I wanted a brownie that was just as fudgy, but maybe a bit less toothsome and more plush. Flaky sea salt also decorates the top of this version, which helps pare down how treacly brownies can be.

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These brownies are also great at working double duty. They’re perfect to bring to relaxed summer barbecues or even as indulgent dinner party desserts, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. With their rich but not overly decadent flavoring, everyone will be asking what the secret ingredient is.

Cognac Fudge Brownies

Cognac Fudge Brownies are great for double duty

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips of wafers
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, with 1 tablespoon extra for preparation
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup VS Cognac
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon sea salt, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9’’ baking pan with 1 tablespoon of butter, discarding any excess.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and kosher salt into a large bowl, and whisk together.
  3. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate and butter together in a heat-proof bowl or double boiler over a saucepan of simmering water.
  4. While those melt together, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, and Cognac in a medium bowl. Then, add the chocolate mixture to the remaining wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the larger bowl, combining with a spatula, until the batter appears silky.
  6. Scrape the batter into the greased pan and smooth out the top. Place into the oven, and turn the temperature down to 350. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Once taken out of the oven, immediately scatter the flakey sea salt onto the brownies while in the pan. Let cool for at least an hour. Cut the brownies into a desired size, and place on a platter to serve.