I had long been a bit embarrassed by the fact that I had never, not even once, made brownies from scratch. Why? It was probably a combination of two things; growing up, brownies were never really featured, ranking far behind desserts with fruit (like pies, crisps, cobblers). And because I never had gotten hooked on them as a kid, I was lazy about looking for recipes. If it ever occurred to me to make them, the only recipes I ever came across required melting ounces of baking chocolate, something that I never seem to have on hand.
So, I just avoided making brownies - after all, there were plenty of other sweet treats that I could bring to a potluck or drop off at a neighbor’s that I could make from scratch. But somewhere along the line after my kids were born, boxed brownie mixed was introduced. It was great for whipping up a quick, chocolaty treat - just add oil, water, an egg, stir and you’re done. And as kids got older, it was something that they could put together in the kitchen with very little residual mess (you should see the kitchen when they get done with a batch of cookies!). It was easy to be convinced that boxed brownies were ‘good enough’.
But then I met my friend Sue. She is a great baker and makes a mean brownie, with all the right notes of chocolate and vanilla flavors and a perfect fudgy goodness that leaves you licking your fingers and craving a second...and a third. She would bring a still-warm pan to our house to accompany dinner and be so casual about having put them together that I could hardly believe it. And according to her, she didn’t have some go-to secret recipe!!
Well. This got me thinking that I could no longer avoid homemade brownies - I was going to have to find a recipe to try. Still, because brownies are still pretty impromptu in our house, the idea of keeping chocolate on hand and then melting it seemed too overwhelming. So when I found a recipe titled ‘prescription-strength fudge brownies’ that called for only cocoa and other usual pantry ingredients, I felt that after 44 years, the time had finally come.
The universe had something to say about this. We had plans to eat dinner at Sue and her family’s home and I thought it would be the perfect time to debut my brownies (never mind a test run). It was a hectic Saturday, full of all sorts of things. In the mid-afternoon I realized that I was running out of time and so, while on hold with the income tax software people while 2 children aged 10 and under were constructing paper maiche birthday party accessories in the dining room and the laundry was in full-swing, I got started.
First, I burned the butter, and badly. To the point where everyone who walked in the house thought I had been frying fish. The tax people finally answered my call. I dropped the cocoa on the floor. And an egg. The unfinished paper maiche piñata bounced across the room, leaving splashes of flour paste everywhere, many of which I didn’t find until they were dried into a nasty kind of culinary concrete. Laundry was all over the bathroom floor. But I finally did manage to place that first pan of homemade brownies into the oven with a sigh of relief. At that point, it didn’t really matter how they turned out - I was just glad to have them done and relieved that our friends were good sports.
But they were yummy! While not quite as deeply chocolaty as Sue’s brownies, these had a lovely flavor and great texture. I added a bit of espresso powder to them which I think amplifies the chocolate in a nice way, but that certainly isn’t a requirement (I know, I don’t have baking chocolate on hand, but keep espresso powder?!). And so, here’s another hit from The Weekend Baker: Prescription-strength Fudge Brownies adapted from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge
12 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
3Ž4 cup unsweetened cocoa (natural or Dutch process)
1 1Ž2 cups granulated sugar
1-2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
3Ž4 cup flour
1Ž2 cup chocolate chips or chopped pecans (also optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder until smooth. Add sugar, salt and espresso powder and whisk until blended. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition and including the vanilla with the second egg. Using a spatula, stir in flour until just blended.
Scrape batter into a greased 8" baking pan and smooth evenly. Sprinkle chips or nuts over batter and bake about 32 minutes, or until a cake tester put into the center comes out with some clumps of brownie clinging to it. Allow to cool on a baking rack.
It’s the perfect brownie recipe for those of us who don’t have chocolate to melt, and as long as you keep the distractions to a minimum (or are a better multi-tasker than I am) they are almost as easy to whip up as a boxed mix. And if you are like me, once you’ve made these and proven to yourself how much better they are than boxed, you will always be making brownies from scratch!