How would we surface the best recipes published in our first quarter-century? Taste them all, obviously! But that meant hundreds of dishes. Using our own ratings and those of Web users, we narrowed the list to a Sweet 16: cake against cupcake, pudding against mousse, pastry against candy. Tastings followed, and much passionate argument.
"Best" is subjective, but also technical and nuanced. Was it important for us to distinguish between a great recipe that happens to contain chocolate and a great chocolate recipe-a paragon of chocolatiness? We decided it was. Above all, the winner had to deliver intense, deep chocolate satisfaction to anyone with a serious chocolate jones, while showing off deft use of the star ingredient (or cocoa, or a combo) in a convincingly lighter context.
And the winner is ...
Classic Fudge-Walnut Brownies1. Classic Fudge-Walnut Brownies
The most recent recipe in the competition (originally from the September 2011 issue), it won unanimously because of the intense richness from cocoa, melted chocolate, and chocolate chunks.
3 19/50 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, divided
1/3 cup fat-free milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, divided
Preheat oven to 350°.
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine 1/2 cup chocolate and milk in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and eggs. Add milk mixture, 1/2 cup chocolate, and 1/4 cup nuts to flour mixture; stir to combine.
Pour the batter into a 9-inch square metal baking pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup nuts. Bake at 350° for 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 20 pieces.
The runners-up are...
Texas Sheet Cake2. Texas Sheet Cake
With a presence as large as its namesake state, this humble, easy-to-prepare cake made it all the way to the finals. Since it first appeared in the magazine 12 years ago, it's been a staff and reader favorite.
Chocolate-Frangelico Fondue3. Chocolate-Frangelico Fondue
This is pure chocolate indulgence, with a whiff of hazelnut. Certain judges began to swoon watching the drizzle of melty chocolate make its way over the landscape of berries, coating them with its luscious warmth. Keep in mind that fondue is more versatile than you may think-it's a warm sauce to drizzle over cake, ice cream, or yogurt. Be sure to start with a high-quality chocolate for the best flavor and texture.
Double Chocolate Ice Cream4. Double Chocolate Ice Cream
A combo of cocoa powder and melted chocolate makes for a rich, ultra-chocolaty dessert. We updated the recipe to use heavy cream in place of the half-and-half in the original. Note: If you're using a 1 1/2-quart tabletop ice-cream maker, it'll be pretty full.
The best of the rest in no particular order...
Mexican Chocolate Cream PieMexican Chocolate Cream Pie
We've done 30-plus choco-pies in the last 15 years alone, but this silky and creamy pie trotted out a spicy note. ¡Arriba!
Chocolate BaklavaChocolate Baklava
Baklava is a classic Mediterranean dessert that traditionally features layered phyllo dough, nuts, and syrup or honey. In this version, creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread adds rich, decadent flavor to this nutty, crowd-pleasing pastry.
Chocolate PuddingChocolate Pudding
Custard-style puddings, like this one, often call for egg yolks because they possess thickening qualities and add rich flavor to the final dish. We also use corn starch in combination with the eggs because it adds a pleasing silky sheen in addition to thickening the mixture.
Marbled-Chocolate Banana BreadMarbled-Chocolate Banana Bread
Melted chocolate chips add an elegant (and tasty) swirl to this gorgeous bread, making it a perfect candidate for gifts and guests.
Truffles typically have the added richness of cream and butter. These ingredients help stabilize chocolate, which tends to scorch, separate, or become grainy if not heated carefully. We add corn syrup and evaporated milk for smooth, creamy confections.See More: Sweet Treats Under 150 Calories
Chocolate Chunk Bread PuddingsChocolate Chunk Bread Puddings
Try not to chop the chocolate too finely so you'll have good-sized chunks to bite into. This pudding uses Hawaiian bread, which is a soft, sweet bread found in the bakery section of most grocery stores.