11 Secret Ingredients To Add To Your Brownies

Brownies occupy a special place in the hearts of many dessert lovers, both chocoholics and casual chocolate fans alike. As legend has it, the first-ever brownie was created in Chicago in the late 1890s by the wife of a hotel owner who wanted a "unique" chocolate treat to pack in lunch boxes. Boy, did she get it! From those humble beginnings, one of the most delicious and versatile desserts in history emerged.

Brownies are the perfect way to satisfy any nagging chocolate craving. They're quicker and easier to make than most cakes, typically requiring just a handful of ingredients and less than 30 minutes of baking time. They're packed with rich chocolate flavor, but also have a homey, "comfort food" quality you can't get from candy bars or pre-made chocolates. 

Fudge is a close cousin in terms of texture and density, but it's heavy and filling, and can be tricky to make at home. Plus, more than one piece and you're likely to go spiraling into a jittery high, followed by a sleep-inducing sugar coma. With brownies, you can easily eat one or two and continue on with your day. 

And perhaps best of all, more than any other chocolate treat, brownies are incredibly versatile. These satisfying and decadent squares can be customized with countless add-ins, from nuts and chocolate chips to swirls of caramel and more. But don't let your creativity stop there. Here are eleven more incredible add-in ideas to try during your next brownie-baking bonanza.

1. Add vibrant juiciness with cherries

With their tart, acidic flavor, cherries are an ideal complement to chocolate. You can enjoy chocolate-covered cherries, cherry chocolate ice cream, rich chocolate and cherry Black Forest Bars, chocolate cherry cheesecake, and so much more. 

But adding cherries to homemade (or prepared-from-the-box) brownie batter is perhaps the simplest and most effective way to capture the true powerhouse flavor of this wondrous culinary pairing. Are fresh cherries in season? Pit and chop up to 1 cup and fold them into your brownie batter before putting it into the oven to bake. No recipe tweaks are required; just bake your cherry-infused brownies like normal. For a deeper and more intense cherry flavor, do the same with dried cherries. Simply stir them into the batter and let your brownies bake to ooey, gooey perfection.

If you don't have fresh or dried cherries, frozen cherries are also an excellent option. Let the cherries warm to room temperature in a colander so excess moisture can drain away as they thaw. Then, stir them into your brownie batter and watch closely as they bake — your cooking time may need to increase slightly if the cherries were still fairly damp. 

You can even use canned cherry pie filling in brownies. Drop it into the batter in dollops or swirl it into your batter-filled pan before baking. Your creation will require some extra baking time, plus time to set. But with pockets of tangy cherry goodness in every square, it's worth it.

2. Fold chopped pretzels into brownies for a salty crunch

Like chocolate and cherries, salty and sweet is another dynamic culinary pairing many folks just can't get enough of. The combination of salty and sweet flavors tastes great for many reasons — salt balances out the sweetness of a dessert, making that sugar flavor less overwhelming or cloying. At the same time, salt also enhances the intensity of other flavors within a dish, making its flavor profile that much richer and more complex.

One of the most delicious ways to create a salty and sweet pairing at home is by adding pretzels to your brownie batter. Like nuts, pretzels are dry, so they have little impact on brownie baking time. Just stir them in and bake as normal.

Start by grabbing your favorite pretzel variety — twists, sticks, or pretzel crisps all work well, so stick with the texture and shape you prefer. You can easily crush up to 1 cup of pretzels and fold them into your brownie batter immediately before baking for a delightful brownie with savory bits of salty crunch in every bite. For brownies with a pretzel crust, crush pretzels and mix them with melted butter to create a crust at the bottom of your brownie pan. Then, pour the batter on top and bake. Or, create a topping or garnish. Sprinkle crushed pretzels on top of the brownie batter or press whole pretzels slightly into the top of your batter before putting your brownies in to bake. Delish!

3. Kick up the heat with cayenne pepper

While most of us automatically think of chocolate as something super sweet, that wasn't always the case. Back in the good old days — around 1500 B.C. — Mexico's Mayan population created what we now think of as chocolate. But it wasn't a dessert. Instead, this frothy drink was a rich, bitter, and spicy mixture of ground cocoa beans, honey, and chili peppers. If you've ever had the pleasure of trying a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, you know that chocolates and fiery spices pair incredibly well. The Mayans knew what they were doing! And you can riff off their creativity by adding a little (or a lot) of spicy heat to your brownies as well.

One easy way to start is with chili-infused butter. When melting the butter for your batter, add ¼ teaspoon (or more) ground cayenne, chipotle, or ancho chili powder to your measuring cup. Mix well, and let everything sit for a few minutes so the oils from the pepper penetrate the butter. Then, mix and bake your brownies as normal.

If you prefer the spice of fresh peppers, that's great too. Wash and seed one or more jalapeño, serrano, or habanero peppers. Then, chop your peppers into the finest pieces imaginable and stir them into your batter. The heat could be intense, so add according to your tolerance levels. For a mild warming heat, you can also sprinkle ½ to 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes into any batter before baking.

4. Go tropical with added coconut flakes

Coconut in almost any form is a delight. But it's especially satisfying paired with chocolate. Enjoy this duo in candy bars, cookies, granola, and even cocktails, like a chocolate coconut martini. Coconut is also, without a doubt, one of the absolute tastiest ingredients you could ever add to a batch of brownies.

One wonderful and perhaps unexpected technique for incorporating the flavor is swapping coconut flour for regular flour when making brownie batter from scratch. This isn't a 1:1 swap, however. Coconut flour is far more absorbent than regular flour, so you need much less, ¼ cup for every 1 full cup of the regular stuff. So, if your brownie recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, swap 1 cup out and replace it with ¼ cup of coconut flour instead. You may also need to add a couple of eggs or additional liquid to your batter to keep it from becoming dry.

In addition to coconut flour, you could also use coconut oil in your recipe in place of any other oil. It's a little harder to find, but some specialty markets also carry coconut sugar, which could be used in a DIY brownie recipe. Or, perhaps easiest of all, just fold as little or as much toasted coconut into any prepared batter as you'd like before putting it in the oven to bake. A light dusting of shredded coconut can also be a fabulous garnish for brownies once they come out of the oven.

5. Power up your brownies with espresso powder

Like coconut, coffee is another flavor that was seemly created for the express purpose of being paired with chocolate. Both come from nutty, earthy beans that are roasted and ground before use. Both have deep, rich, bitter flavor profiles. And both are so widely loved worldwide that it would be almost impossible to determine which is more popular. So why not mix them together and create brownies that satisfy your morning craving for coffee as well?

To get started, if your brownie recipe includes water, you can simply swap in cooled coffee or espresso in its place. Or, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of instant coffee or espresso powder to your water, mix well, and then make your brownies as normal. (Mixing the instant coffee into the liquid first ensures the coffee flavor is more evenly distributed throughout your batter.)

You could also add a mocha swirl to your batter once it's poured into the pan. Combine 4 ounces of melted dark chocolate, 2 tablespoons of brewed espresso or strong coffee, and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Mix well, then drop spoonfuls of the mocha mixture into the batter-filled pan. When you're done, use a knife or toothpick to create a swirled or marbled effect in the batter before you put the brownies in to bake. (Although some folks on the internet swear by adding coffee grounds to brownie batter as well, we wouldn't advise it. They're too gritty for an enjoyable dessert.)

6. Unwind to the scent of lavender

Lavender-scented detergent? Sure. Lavender soap? Of course! But lavender brownies? Don't knock it until you've tried it.

For those who aren't familiar with the flavor, lavender might seem like an unexpected dessert option, especially for a classic like brownies. But hear us out. Those unique floral notes add a complex, sophisticated flavor to brownies. The slightly herb-like taste complements the sweetness of the brownies while also providing just a hint of a citrus bite that helps to balance out the bitterness of the chocolate. The pairing gives the brownies a luxurious quality — they aren't more expensive, but because of all that lavender aroma, eating them involves more of your senses and can feel like a more decadent and indulgent act.

The iconic lavender aroma also gives the brownies an aromatherapy quality. Eating lavender-infused brownies can seem more calming and soothing. It's a unique twist on standard brownies you can't re-create with any other add-in.

To add lavender to brownies, you have a few different options. The easiest is simply adding a few drops of extract to your batter before putting it in the oven to bake. You could also prepare homemade brownies using lavender butter or lavender sugar, both of which can be found in some large specialty markets. Or, pour regular brownie batter into a pan and then swirl lavender honey through it before baking. You could also sprinkle a pinch of lavender-infused sea salt on top of the brownie batter as well.

7. Make your brownies more playful with Oreos

Talk about dessert perfection: The melding of soft, chewy brownies with crisp Oreo cookies couldn't be a more ideal pairing. It's a decadent and indulgent dessert blend that creates brownies with a double dose of chocolatey richness. The brownies even pack hints of chocolate cookie dough flavor thanks to the vanilla-tinged filling in the Oreos. And whipping up these "Bad Boys" couldn't be easier.

For classic chunky Oreo brownies, roughly chop 1 to 2 cups of Oreos and fold them into brownie batter before you put them into the oven to bake. For more of a dessert bar feel, you can also give your brownies an Oreo cookie crust. Crush 1 to 2 cups of Oreos into fine crumbs and press them into a firm crust at the bottom of your baking dish. Pour your batter on top and bake like normal.

To create a layer of "Double-stuffed" goodness in your brownies, pour half of your batter into your pan. Then, spread a layer of crushed Oreos on top and cover them with the remaining batter. You can even create Oreo swirls in brownies by mixing crushed Oreos with peanut butter or cream cheese and then dropping dollops of the mixture into a batter-filled pan. Use a table knife to gently spread each spoonful of the mixture into your swirl design. Don't forget to experiment with different flavors of Oreos, too — options like mint, lemon, and birthday cake all make great brownie additions.

8. Create some minty bite with crushed candies

Brownies packed with peppermint-flavored candy can be a festive holiday treat, but if you're a fan of mint, this is also a pairing that can be enjoyed year-round. The combination of mint and chocolate is comforting yet invigorating. You get the cool, refreshing taste of the mint plus that deep, savory, buttery chocolate — it's a fantastic union that's as satisfying as it is easy to bring together.

The most straightforward way to add peppermint candy to brownies is to crush your candy canes or peppermint discs into small pieces and then swirl those chunks throughout your batter before baking. You can also add a layer of crushed candy in the middle of your brownies, or spread the candy on top of the batter and then bake (as shown above). 

If you don't have mint candy on hand but are still craving this amazing chocolate-mint flavor profile, you can also add a few drops of mint extract to regular brownie batter (homemade or from the box). Or stir some mint chocolate chips into prepared batter before you bake it. (Don't like mint? You can also use butterscotch, cinnamon, or other fruit-flavored candies in much the same way.)

9. Get zesty with citrus fruits

The pairing of orange and chocolate has a rich history dating back to at least the 1500s, when the Spaniards gained access to imports of both oranges and cacao. Spanish aristocrats frequently indulged in a drink with cacao powder, sugar, spices, and orange-flavored water. Flash forward a few hundred years, and the flavor pairing is as popular as ever, with treats like Chocolate Orange Crêpe CakeBitter Orange Chocolate Truffles, and Terry's chocolate Oranges (a U.K. staple since 1932) making mouths water all over the world.

But you don't have to travel to enjoy orange-infused brownies. One of the simplest and most flavorful ways to incorporate the flavor of citrus fruits into brownies is with fresh zest.  Grate as little or as much orange peel as you'd like into brownie batter, mix well, and bake. You could also add a few drops of orange extract into your batter, or substitute part of the liquid in your recipe (water or milk) for freshly squeezed OJ.

Beyond those flavorful tips and tricks, candied orange peel is also delightful when chopped into fine pieces and mixed into batter. Or, swirl 2 to 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade into your brownies before you put them in to bake. You can even make an orange glaze for brownies that have just come out of the oven by combining powdered sugar with fresh orange juice. Mix to a syrup-like consistency and pour a thin layer over the brownies as they cool.

10. Revel in peanut butter nuttiness

From peanut butter cups to chocolate peanut butter swirl ice cream, the combo of salty, savory peanut butter plus your favorite light or dark chocolate is another union that's as enjoyable as it is crave-worthy. And with their crisp edges, gooey center, and melt-in-your-mouth magical chocolate flavor, brownies are an ideal partner for a hefty dose of added smooth or chunky peanut butter.

For the best-tasting brownie and peanut butter pairing, don't simply stir a tablespoon of Jif or Skippy into your batter. You may get a mild hint of nuttiness in your brownies if you do, but it won't be that impactful. Instead, aim to create pockets of peanut butter richness that will be a surprising jolt to your taste buds as you're eating. For instance, once your prepared batter has been added to your pan, you can swirl 2 to 4 tablespoons of creamy melted peanut butter into it before baking. Use a knife or a toothpick to create whatever pattern seems appropriate.

Or, for an even more explosive burst of salty, nutty flavor, press mini peanut butter cups into the brownie batter before it goes into the oven. The peanut butter cups will melt slightly as the brownies bake, creating gooey pockets of peanutty goodness. You can also fold peanut butter chips into prepared batter before baking it. Or, wait until your brownies are fully baked, then top them with a generous drizzle of melted peanut butter after they've cooled slightly. Yum!

11. Go savory with crumbled bacon

Everything's better with bacon, right? Well, brownies are no exception. Bacon-infused brownies combine at least four of humankind's absolute favorite flavors — salt, fat, sugar, and chocolate. Textbooks could be written on all the different reasons why this pairing is so unbelievably tasty. But we'd rather just jump into all the wonderful ways you can re-create this flavor sensation at home.

Sometimes, the simplest options are the best. And with adding bacon to brownies, that's definitely true. Just cook up some bacon, drain well, crumble it, and fold the tiny chunks of smoky meal directly into your brownie batter prior to baking. Super easy; incredibly delicious! But you have other options as well. Consider giving your brownies a bacon topping. You can crumble bacon, mix it with a pinch of sea salt, and sprinkle the mixture over brownie batter before or even after baking. Or, mix bacon crumbles with caramel sauce and drizzle the savory liquid over your brownies after they come out of the oven.

For swirls or layers of bacon flavor baked into your brownies, consider mixing chopped bacon and pecans in a layer within the middle of your brownies before baking. Or, combine bacon crumbles, brown sugar, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Swirl this mixture through your batter-filled pan before putting it in to bake. Our personal favorite: Use the same swirling technique, but pair the bacon crumbles with peanut butter. Mind-blowing! Your brownies will never be the same.