maida heatter's palm beach brownies


Baking legend Maida Heatter passed away last week at the age of 102. Like so many others, I grew up with Maida. My mom never touched the kitchen, but she decorated it with a small collection of aspirational cookbooks. In middle school, I became deeply jealous of the freshly baked cookies and cakes and brownies that I got at other kids’ houses, so I resolved to make my own. I was a clumsy, competitive twelve-year-old, a first-generation immigrant with a sweet tooth for American sweets. Maida was there to guide me through afternoons of butter and sugar and chaos.

These brownies were Maida’s trademark. The original recipe came from a deli in Palm Beach, and Maida tinkered with it to perfection. During her acceptance speech at the 1998 James Beard Awards, she famously tossed handfuls of these brownies—a version studded with Peppermint Patties—to the crowd. The black-tie guests lost all control.

When you first bake them, it feels wrong. The eggs and sugar require a full ten minutes of high-speed beating. There’s two and half tablespoons of espresso powder in there. You think: tablespoons? Does she mean teaspoons? (No. She does not.) The middle is so gooey, the brownies require an overnight rest in the refrigerator. And when you cut into them the next day, you need to throw away a quarter-inch of burnt edges. You think: This can’t be right. Oh, but it is. The result is a massive brownie, incomparably dark and fudgy inside, crisp and crunchy outside. They’re the only brownies I’ll ever want—the brownies I’ll be making until I’m 102 years old. Rest in peace, Maida Heatter. You brought so much joy to the world… and to me.

Maida Heatter’s Palm Beach Brownies

Slightly adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts by Maida Heatter. A version of these (with the Peppermint Patties) also appears in Happiness is Baking, the recent Maida Heatter compilation cookbook, with a foreward by Dorie Greenspan.

I made no real changes to the recipe, except I added a layer of parchment to the foil lining since I find this makes it easier to remove the brownies. I also updated some language for ease and clarity, and I added weight measurements for the flour and sugar.

Makes 24 huge or 32 large brownies.

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
5 eggs (graded large or extra-large)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons dry instant espresso or other powdered (not granular) instant coffee
3 3/4 cups (742.5 grams) sugar
1 2/3 cups (237 grams) sifted all-purpose flour
8 ounces (2 generous cups) walnut halves (optional)


  • Adjust rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a 9x13x2-inch pan with foil, shiny side down, leaving an overhang over the sides of the pan. Butter the foil lightly. Then line the foil with parchment paper, again leaving an overhang. Butter the parchment paper.

  • Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top of a large double boiler over hot water on moderate heat (or in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, or in the microwave on medium-low heat). Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted. Stir to mix. Remove from the heat and set aside. Cool to room temperature.

  • In the large bowl of mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, dry instant espresso or coffee, and sugar at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Then add the flour and again beat only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts, if using.

  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

  • Bake for 35 minutes. Halfway through baking, reverse the pan from front to back and cover loosely with foil to prevent over-browning. When the brownies are done, they will have a thick, crisp crust on the top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle, it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Nevertheless, they are done. Do not bake them anymore.

  • Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the brownies at least a few hours and preferably overnight before cutting (they will be too sticky to cut at room temperature).

  • Using the foil-parchment overhang as a carrying sling, remove the brownies from the pan and onto a cutting board.

  • To cut, use a long, serrated bread knife or sharp straight knife. If the brownies were baked correctly, the edges will be too dark and dry; trim about 1/4-inch or as necessary from the edge. Wash and dry the blade several times while cutting.

  • Either wrap the brownies individually in clear plastic wrap or package them in an airtight container. Refrigerate and serve cold. These also freeze well.

June 14, 2019