Everybody has a favorite brownie recipe.
Is there a food that makes children, or guests, or the cook herself, happier? Lick that bowl.
Last year I learned how to make a brownie in a cup, in the microwave, but it’s not the same. Neither are the brownies you buy in a store, whether the supermarket or a bakery. The ones wrapped in plastic. (Although the Riviera Bakehouse, near me, does a pretty good job.) Any manufacturer outside the home kitchen never uses enough butter.
In my favorite recipe, you need a pound. When you eat your brownie and grab your middle and say, Oh, I must have put on a pound, think of those four sticks of butter. Could you have possibly added that volume to your body? Doubtful. So have another brownie.
You simply have got to make your own. And for that, you have to have a great recipe.
The provenance of brownies has never been established. Americans consume over two billion every year. People have their theories about the origin of the ultimate pick-up-able chocolate dessert, all pinpointing the turn of the twentieth century.
Some attribute the original to the pivotal 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, written by Fannie Merritt Farmer.
I say no. That was made with molasses and baked in fluted marguerite molds. The first published chocolate-based brownie didn’t appear until The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1906.
A version a bit richer called Bangor Brownies followed in 1907, in Lowney’s Cook Book Illustrated, by Maria Willet Howard. It’s basically a flattened choco-cake.
But a more exotic story references a chef at the luxurious Palmer House hotel in Chicago acceding to socialite owner Bertha Palmer’s request for a dessert, cake-like but more petite, that lady guests could consume in box lunches. Where were they going, I wonder? On what genteel adventure?
In my novel Savage Girl, to be published next winter, I depict the Palmer House of that time. It figures in the action of the story.
Palmer House stood like the gilded queen of Chicago, enthroned at State and Monroe Streets, all sparkling jewels, flounces and good bones, regal amid the innocuous streetside shops and restaurants. Freshly rebuilt, seven stories tall, with a grand lobby ceiling in Moroccan tile and a fire-proof guarantee that was, given the town’s recent conflagration, a comfort to its guests. The floor of the hotel’s barber shop was embedded with silver dollars.
Palmer House still serves its stylish version, glazed with apricot and studded with walnuts.
Some myths have it that the first brownie baker forgot to add baking powder or flour to the recipe, or added too much chocolate.
I find with my recipe, clipped from the newspaper a long time ago, that it all goes better if I start with my favorite bowl, the opposite of fancy, blue plastic with the perfect handle, brought home from the supermarket by Gil on a whim.
Believe me, my kitchen has ceramic and stainless vessels galore, but this cheap is my favorite.
Have plenty of eggs on hand, cold out of the fridge or room temp, it doesn’t matter.
I’ve never quite understood why eggs have to be brown to be good.
These directions are basically foolproof, another reason to love the recipe. The chewiest, densest, fudgiest brownies I know.
They will hurt your teeth. I promise.
4 cups sugar
I T and 1 tsp vanilla
1 pound (4 sticks) sweet butter
2 cups unsifted flour
1 1/3 cups cocoa, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan (I recommend a larger one to make them flatter.)
In a large bowl, combine the sugar and vanilla. Stir until sugar is completely coated with vanilla.
Add the melted butter.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add to the sugar mixture.
In a third bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add to the sugar mixture and beat until smooth.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Spread mixture evenly in the pan.
Bake 30 minutes, just until the center of the brownies is set.
You’ll have plenty to give your friends so they won’t resort to factory-made brownies. And they will love you even more than they do already.