Spicy Chili Brownies

So in 2006 I somehow contrived to get myself cast in two productions of a summer theater festival in my college town. They remain the only professional paid work on my acting resume, because waaaaah auditions suck I’m gonna go bake something instead. Clearly, I was born to be a star. Anyway, I have always been and remain TERRIFIED of singing alone in front of people. Like, unable to hold sheet music in my spasmodically shaking hands terrified. Unable to hear or breathe terrified. In a group, I’m your gal, and I’ll sing the part you hand me. Clearly, I was born to be a chorus girl. But I womanned up and dressed up and went to the audition on a whim, did my monologue and made ’em laugh, started my song, and for some reason, miraculously, my voice did what it was supposed to do. I remember seeing the director’s head perk up as I eased into the high notes, for once on pitch. When I finished, he said “Wow. Sweets, I had no idea you could sing like that. I have three parts in two plays for you. You let me know as soon as you can.” I thanked him, collected my sheet music, left the room, whispered “Break a leg” to the girl auditioning after me, hit the green room, and broke into heaving, convulsive sobs. I seriously cried uncontrollably for like an hour. People were consoling me with horrified and embarrassed looks on their faces, because surely the only thing that could warrant such an over-the-top ridiculous response was a complete and total psychotic breakdown in the middle of the audition. I was so fucking happy that day.

I love singing. I grew up singing, in church and at school. I have, in the past, even managed to sing beautifully and skillfully. Apart from my voice teacher, though, no one has heard it. I guarantee that if you have ever heard me singing by myself, what you heard was only what I managed to force out around a throat and gut clenched in terror. So to have someone like that director SEE ME, see the me I suspected myself to be, and see what I had to offer, and immediately to recognize it and reward it . . . it’s not a common experience. It certainly hasn’t been a common one in my life. I play roles at work, on the subway, with my friends and family. I adapt to be the person I think people want me to be, and I’m very hesitant to let my guard down. Even the me that loves sexy underwear– that’s private. It’s for me. It’s hidden from everyone else (or it was, until I decided to talk about it on the internet). I took that theater job instead of studying abroad that summer, and I will always be so very, very glad and grateful.

Because the rehearsals and productions took place in the department where I was majoring in THEATUH, I pretty much ran around like I owned the place, probably winning friends right left and center. One morning when I went up to check my mailbox I passed the light booth, and because I am nosy, I poked my head in. One of the lighting designers is as amazing a chef as she is a designer, and she had brought in three new recipes for the company to sample. Everything was great, but the awesomeness of these brownies has obliterated the memory of whatever the heck the other two treats were. They are spicy and sweet and smoky and rich and I made excuses ALL DAMN DAY to scoot back to the light booth for another one. I could not get over them. And then that afternoon I had a costume fitting for my swimsuit for South Pacific and then I died and then I went to the gym forever (some days the Body Love/Acceptance Switches malfunction, despite our best intentions. It’s okay). At the end of the day as I was leaving the theater for the lovely frat houses where the company lived for the summer (Sigma Nu!), Caryn passed by me and wordlessly handed me not only her recipe, but the original Cook’s Illustrated article she’d based hers on. She is amazing and generous and lovely, and I will always be grateful to her for her friendship that summer and her many mad skillz.

1 c. chocolate chips
1 ¼ c. cake flour
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ancho chili powder
½ tsp chipotle chili powder
½ tsp cinnamon
[Quick note on spices: these individual chili powders have been annoyingly difficult to find now that Penzey’s isn’t in Grand Central anymore. What is Penzey’s? Penzey’s is like stepping into a magical spice market. Anything you need as a cook or baker, from spices to cocoa powders to sea salt varieties to herbs to extracts, Penzey’s will have it. Check out their huge store in Richmond, VA, or order online. The aroma and flavor really can’t be beat (the cinnamon! ohhhh the cinnamon is so amazing). In this recipe you definitely don’t want to use something that’s generically labeled “chili powder”. It’ll be a combination of spices and salt and garlic and other stuff. You want the real deal.]
6 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
12 tbsp (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
2 ¼ c sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and other dry ingredients.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth (I put them in a Pyrex mixing bowl and microwave for two minutes, then stir until smooth. Of course, purists would say you should do it over a double boiler. Whatever).


Add sugar to butter and chocolate; stir until well-combined. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla extract. Fold in dry ingredients one-third at a time. Gently stir in chocolate chips.


Pour batter into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center has a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool for about 2 hours.
Makes around 4 dozen.

Eh, eff it. While we’re at it:
For peppermint mocha brownies, omit the cinnamon and chili powders, reduce the sugar to 2 c., reduce the vanilla extract to ½ tsp., add 2 tablespoons of espresso powder to the chocolate and butter, and add ½ tsp. peppermint extract and ½ c. crushed candy canes. Eat one, and then collapse in a sugar coma for the next five hours.

4 Comments on Spicy Chili Brownies

  1. Sarah KG
    May 26, 2012 at 9:06 am (11 years ago)

    Oh, I’ve had these, made by you. And I can vouch for their deliciousness! We have tried to imitate them at home–so exciting to have the recipe, thanks Sweets!

    • Sweets
      May 26, 2012 at 9:18 am (11 years ago)

      Yay, brownies for everyone! Hope you guys love them!

  2. Mary
    May 26, 2012 at 10:06 am (11 years ago)

    McCormicks used to (maybe still does?) carry both ancho and chipotle chili powders–when I first got this recipe from you, that’s where I got them from. Not that they’re as good, but this was before Penzeys was in my life.

    • Sweets
      May 26, 2012 at 10:08 am (11 years ago)

      Oooh, this is very helpful! Thanks Mary!


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