Brownies fall into my personal database of “perfect foods.” It doesn’t matter if they’re frosting-topped and cosmic-sprinkled, made from a Ghirardelli box mix procured from a college dorm’s convenience store, or gussied up for a birthday with a sheet of peanut butter baked through the center. I’ve made and loved all of these brownies, and I can’t imagine a scenario where someone wouldn’t.
Over the past year, I’ve discovered that the brownie cookie might just be the brownie’s highest form. Preportioned, crisp-edged, and fudgy-centered, brownie cookies are decadent yet casual, and somehow even more fun to eat than a classic bar. The tinkerer in me wondered whether I could evolve the form even further. How could I make the fudgiest brownie cookie possible, held together by just a crackly shell of crisp chocolate crust? This line of questioning led me to a trick I’d recently applied with success to another cookie recipe: instant pudding.
Instant pudding mix is often added to desserts to enhance their flavor and shelf life. When mixed into cookie dough, instant pudding brings forth a wealth of transformative qualities. The key ingredient, gelatinized starch, thickens on contact with water-based liquid at any temperature. This means it locks in moisture and can help keep baked cookies soft for days. In fact, instant mixes are often the essential secret ingredient in many off-the-shelf cookies advertised as “soft batch.”
Second, instant pudding mixes add an undertone of nostalgic flavor to the bake — something difficult to identify but undeniably delicious, almost like MSG. Most pudding cookie recipes I’ve come across are for classic chocolate chip cookies with vanilla instant pudding, to achieve that signature soft chew and whisper of vanilla. But when you apply instant pudding to a brownie cookie recipe, the result is a cookie beyond reproach. The whipped eggs, melted chocolate, and brown sugar mingle with gelatinized starches and transform into pudding… from within.
I wound up choosing to boost my brownie cookies with banana instant pudding — I think the slightly acidic, tropical flavor adds an interesting dimension to the chocolate. Because brownies typically have a low gluten content to begin with, I first tested a flourless version to see whether the overachiever starches in the pudding mix alone would be enough to bind the dough. That experiment baked into souffle-esque mounds that were missing the crisp shell/chewy interior combo I sought. For my next batch, I wondered whether additional hydration in the dough would enhance the pudding effect. A mashed-up half banana did the trick twofold, rounding out the pudding flavor and achieving the hard-earned (yet instant!) conceit at the heart of this recipe.
Banana Brownie Cookies Recipe
Makes 12 cookies
7½ ounces (212 grams) dark chocolate
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter
2 extra-large eggs (or use 2 large eggs and increase the amount of banana by 2 tablespoons)
1 cup (106 grams) light brown sugar
⅓ cup (66 grams) sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) mashed banana, about half of 1 medium banana
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1 (96-gram) box instant banana pudding mix
⅓ cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (11 grams) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (4 grams) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
⅔ cup (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
Flaky salt for finishing
Step 1: Use a double boiler or microwave (in 30-second increments) to melt the chocolate and butter together. Stir occasionally until the mixture is smooth and glossy but not hot. Set aside to cool briefly.
Step 2: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs, light brown sugar, and sugar together on medium speed to combine. Increase the speed to high, and whip for a full 10 minutes. The mixture should become opaque, aerated, and thoroughly thickened, and the sugar granules should be dissolved.
Step 3: While the eggs are whipping, muddle the banana and vanilla together into a mostly uniform puree. A few small lumps are okay. Fold this into the chocolate-butter mixture.
Step 4: Once the eggs are fully aerated, add half of the chocolate-banana mixture and combine on low speed. Add the second half and combine, followed by the instant pudding. Mix for an additional 10 seconds. The batter should be thick and smooth.
Step 5: Remove the whisk attachment, and use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and kosher salt. Finish by folding in the chocolate chips.
Step 6: Transfer the batter to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days. (Alternatively, the cookies can be baked immediately at 350 degrees for 11 minutes but will result in a less pudding-like center.)
Step 7: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Portion the cookies using a 1½-ounce cookie scoop, or a scant ¼ cup, and space them out in rows of 3 by 4 on the tray. They need a minimum of 2 inches in between.
Step 8: If you’d like, top each cookie with another couple of chocolate chips for a more aesthetic look and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
Step 9: Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are just puffed throughout and have a slight sheen on top. They will gently deflate after being removed from the oven. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then use a flat spatula to carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. The cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Zoë Kanan is a pastry chef in New York City.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning