“Our brownies almost didn’t make the menu,” said Rhonda Saltzman, one-half of the duo running Second Daughter Baking Co. Alongside her sister Mercedes Brooks, Saltzman developed a recipe for a fudgy, double-chocolate brownie that has recently taken over Philadelphia.
The challenge in developing the recipe was in the exact texture they needed to achieve — fudgy but not wet, crunchy on top, and very, very chocolatey.
“Everyone grew up eating boxed brownies, so everyone kind of thinks of that as the ideal brownie,” Saltzman said. “Our challenge was to make something distinctive but still comforting.”
The brownie they landed on is all their own: no nuts, no chocolate chips, just a smooth, fudgy bite that gets its rich flavor from Dutch-processed cocoa and melted chocolate. It’s exactly what Saltzman and Brooks crave, but they know it’s not everyone’s perfect brownie.
“There’s no universal brownie,” Saltzman acknowledged. “Some people like them crunchy at the edges, some people want them thin, some people want them super thick.” Even if Second Daughter’s brownie isn’t for you — maybe because you’re more of a nuts-in-your-brownie person or you require a chocolate chunk — there’s a brownie for you in Philadelphia.
Here’s a guide to some of the area’s best.
Cake Life is famous for an ever-changing, seasonally driven menu (and for the fact that they’ve competed on Cupcake Wars three times). But the shop goes beyond just cakes — its selection of bars and brownies changes just as often as the cake menu, but look out for the cookies ’n cream bar, the signature (very fudgy) brownie topped with sweet cream and studded with crunchy chocolate cookies throughout.
Second Daughter’s brownies are deeply chocolatey, very fudgy, and free of any adornments except a simple sprinkle of crunchy sea salt. If you really fall in love with them and want to share with your non-Philadelphia friends (which is quite likely to happen), you can order them for mail delivery anywhere on the East Coast.
The highest evolution of the brownie is perhaps the brownie sundae, and the Mount Vesuvius Sundae is the ideal version — the brownie is chopped into pieces for even distribution in the ice cream, allowing you to get a nice, chocolatey chunk in each bite. It’s a classic brownie sundae with one exception: They add malt powder on top, which gives the chocolate an exceptional depth.
You’ve probably had a chocolate stout beer, but have you ever had a stout brownie? At Dulce, the batter is made with dark chocolate as well as a dark stout beer, which highlights the bitter flavors in the dark chocolate. The alcohol bakes off, leaving the sizable squares thick and fudgy. They’re topped with a ganache frosting that puts the whole thing over the edge.
Vegan baking can be challenging. Without the benefit of butter and eggs to bind and create flavor, things can get dry, flavorless, and overly complicated very quickly. That’s why we love Crust, which not only sells vegan pastries (including rich, fudgy brownies) at three locations through the city, but the shop’s signature brownie recipe is be purchased via its website, so you can try your hand at vegan baking.
Frosted Fox is known for its elaborate wedding cakes — the team even won the Netflix baking competition Sugar Rush. But while you’re in the shop designing your dream cake, grab one of the dark chocolate chip brownies, proof that the bakersat Frosted Fox can do everyday treats as well as elevated, celebratory cakes.
If you’ve ever struggled to choose between a brownie and cookie (a false dichotomy, if you ask us), Small Oven’s brownie cookie is for you. The top half of the bar is a chewy, brown sugar-laden chocolate chip cookie, layered on top of an even chewier, dark chocolate brownie. Because you really can have it all.
The Bakeshop’s signature brownie is called the Rittenhouse Square — named for the bakery’s location. Much like the neighborhood, this is perhaps the fanciest brownie in Philadelphia — it involves a rich caramel topping and salty pretzel crust that keeps it from becoming overpoweringly sweet. Call ahead to check for availability, as the bakery doesn’t always keep them in stock.
When the summer hits but you still need a baked item, head to Lil Pop Shop for one of its chocolate salted caramel brownie pops. The brownies are baked in-house, then broken into chunks and frozen into a dark chocolate ice pop swirled with salted caramel — it’s basically the portable version of a brownie sundae.
Clay’s is known for being the birthday cake capital of the Main Line. But if you’re lucky, you’ll also snag one of the cream cheese brownies, a rich chocolate-based bar with a tangy, surprisingly light cream cheese layer on top. The bakery also makes peanut butter brownies, constructed similarly with a mouth-coating peanut butter fudge layer.
If you’re wondering what a butcher’s shop is doing on this list, you don’t know Primal Supply. As a part of its commitment to whole animal butchery, Primal chef Damon Menapace creatively integrates less popular cuts of meat into ready-to-eat meals and treats. This includes the dark chocolate brownie, which employs smoked bacon and chocolate from Old City’s Shane Confectionery to make a brownie that is slightly smoky, appealingly salty, and completely addictive.
Bredenbeck’s is a cozy neighborhood bakery and ice cream shop, which means an excellent brownie is a must-have, and customers have not one but two perfect bars from which to choose. Bredenbeck’s offers a classic brownie with no nuts and no chunks as well as a gussied up salted caramel version that comes iced with chocolate ganache and swirled with sweet and salty homemade caramel.
At Cherry’s Baking Co., owner Teresa Jones seems to turn almost anything into cheesecake. Her brownie cheesecake is perfect for an over-the-top chocolate lover, with a brownie crust, chocolate cheesecake filling, and a chocolate ganache topping. Jones also takes special orders, so talk to her if you’ve got your own brownie cheesecake vision, because she’ll surely be able to help you out.
No matter your dietary restriction, Dessert Crazy can help you out — the menu includes keto, low-carb, and gluten-free offerings, all made with low-glycemic sweeteners. Perhaps because of this, Dessert Crazy’s brownies are particularly chocolatey and rich, without too much sweetness to distract from the main event. For an even more special treat, order a caramel brownie parfait made with cream cheese-infused whipped cream, brownie chunks, and a drizzle of caramel.
Lots of people prize fudginess over all else in a brownie. Not so at Schenk’s, where the brownie skews more cake-like, topped with a rich milk chocolate frosting and served by the bar or in trays for events or parties.
Sometimes the key to a great brownie is restraint — using the best ingredients and letting the chocolate speak for itself. Other times, like when it comes to Good Dog’s brownie fritters, the excellence is in the excess. For this over-the-top dessert, the team at Good Dog takes a dark chocolate chip brownie, dips it in choux pastry batter, and deep fries it. Think of it like a brownie beignet.
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About the writer:
Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is a food and restaurant writer based in Philadelphia with roots in the South. Her work spans restaurants, home cooking, and all the ways food is intertwined with community, politics, and pleasure. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Philadelphia Magazine.