For some reason, when we have people over for dinner, I always forget to plan a dessert. Always. I never learn from my mistakes. There I am, plating up the cheese and crackers, sauteing mushrooms and garlic or preheating the oven, when one of the guests (usually a child) chirps, "What's for dessert?" Do I panic? Do I send the husband out for ice cream? No. No, because I can always make brownies.
The reason I like brownies, is that they can be made at the last minute, they are very much a dump and pour baking recipe and therefore are tough to screw up (unless the husband is serving his famous margharitas, in which case I will screw it up, trust me -- but no one will care) (well, the children might care, but they can eat popsicles). I start with either the Ghiradelli brownie recipe, or Ina Garten's both of which are yummy just on their own, except I can't ever leave anything alone, so, to this batter I almost always add either dark, milk or white chocolate chips. Or peanut butter chips, or, even better, a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter swirled into it. Or a leftover smashed up candy cane. Or some caramel. A cup of shredded coconut soaked in 1/2 a cup of coconut milk then squeezed out, is good too. I never add nuts because Em's allergic to tree nuts, plus I HATE nuts in sweet things. Always have. Nuts just wreck the mood. (Oh, that just doesn't sound right, does it.) But this shouldn't preclude your adding nuts if they work for you. Or, Whatever.
If I don't have bittersweet chocolate bars to melt, I use powdered coco mix (usually Ghiradelli, but sometimes Dutch Process, or whatever I have as long as it's not instatant) and I do this:
1 1/4 cups coco
2/3 cup of flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
sift these together
Melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup), let it cool in a bowl, add
1/4 cup of sugar (I've used brown sugar in a pinch)
1 tsp vanilla (you can leave this out if you don't have any, I've done it, and although vanilla helps everything, leaving it out doesn't kill the brownie experience in anyway I can tell)
2 eggs , lightly beaten
Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/sugar mixture and stir.
Add 1 cup of any chips (see list above) if you want
Line your 8in square pan, or a 8in round pan, or whatever (I've scooped this batter into oven safe tea cups) with parchment and pour your batter on in. (LINING YOUR BAKING PAN IS VITALLY IMPORTANT: YOU CAN JUST LIFT THE BROWNIE SQUARE OUT OF THE PAN EASILY AND WITHOUT RIPPING IT TO SHREDS.)
Bake @ 350 about 20 minutes.
I know they're done when the center of the pan doesn't seriously jiggle, even though they look not quite cooked. You can do the toothpick in the center test, but you don't want the toothpick to come out clean because the brownies will be dry in the center and asphalt at the edges. Still, you don't want it to be completely wet in the center either. Somewhere in between, erring on the side of not done enough. Let those brownies sit and cool as long as you can stand it. They will finish cooking through then. We like them when they are no longer hot, but warmer than warm.
Lift the Brownie out with the parchment and then cup them up and top them with ice cream -- Em likes Mint Chocolate chip, Mad and I like Caramel Swirl, Smith sometimes goes for the classic vanialla, but just as often reaches for chocolate peanut butter. (We are Edy's or Turkey Hill fans -- both have been safe for my food allergy kid). Or if you have it, make a little whipped cream. (1 cup heavy cream, tsp sugar, tsp vanilla, whisk up in your mixer).
Even when you don't consider yourself a baker, brownies are easy peasy.