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June 21, 2012

Why Not Brownies?

by Anne Paddock

Products that are difficult to make at home or those that someone already does an incredible job of making are the ones to seek out: crispy potato chips made in olive oil (San Nicasio), caramel (Suss or Bequet), Viennese Crescents (Amy’s Cookies), delicious sugar cookies that look as good as they taste (Eleni’s), chocolate chip walnut cookies (Levain’s Bakery), chocolate (Tristan’sMaison du ChocolatMarie and Freres), croissants (Galaxy Desserts through Williams-Sonoma), cream cheese biscuits (Gagne’s), granola (Early Bird or Adirondack), hors d’oeuvres (Dufour Pastry Kitchens), specialty desserts (Galaxy Desserts), and jams (Sarabeth’s). Notice there is no brownie supplier on that list.

Recently, a friend asked me why I haven’t written about brownies – as in who makes the best brownies (highly subjective depending on whether you like your brownies moist or cakey, plain or with walnuts, or flavored as in Blonde) or where to buy really good brownies. Years ago, I used to buy Mari’s brownies which were decadent little square brownies bursting with chocolate flavor but the company stopped making brownies (a true loss for brownie lovers). I looked for another brownie maker but really good brownies are difficult to find because brownies taste best when fresh; even day-old brownies don’t taste as luscious as the ones that just came out of the oven.   Since I primarily relied on Mari’s for gifts, I abandoned my search and relied on my own homemade version of brownies for home consumption and found alternative food gifts to send.

Decades ago when I was growing up, the two little boys who lived across the street would come over to our house to eat the warm chocolate brownies that were always coming out of the oven. Back then – in the 1960’s and 1970’s – we used Duncan Hines brownie mix which was an easy recipe for kids to master and with a brood of six in our home, someone was always baking fresh brownies.

Elaine, our neighbor and the mother of the two boys who lived across the street, came by one afternoon exasperated because she made a batch of brownies that turned out looking more like flatbread than brownies. My mother asked her how she made the brownies and Elaine explained how she put the mix in a bowl, added the egg, oil, and water. The instructions said to mix by hand, 100 strokes so Elaine stuck her hands in the batter and blended the batter by squeezing her hands 100 times. She told my mom (who was staring at her in disbelief) that so much batter stuck to her fingers that all she could do was wash it off and put the remaining batter in the pan which resulted in very, very thin brownies.  Her kids looked at their mom’s brownies and said they didn’t look like the neighbor’s brownies. That’s a true story and one at which we still laugh at 40 years later.

ghiradelli brownie mixWhen I make brownies, I buy a box of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix (don’t gasp) and substitute unsalted butter for vegetable oil (everything tastes better with butter) and they taste heavenly: moist with big chocolate flavor that the butter takes from good to great.

Out of the oven, the brownies are rich and decadent and they come from a box.  Hard to believe. The mix costs about $2.50 at most grocery stores and the brownies are simple to make. So, I find it hard to justify ordering brownies that cost $3 – $6 each when I know they won’t be as fresh (and, probably not as good) as the ones I make in my own kitchen.

Simple Homemade Brownies
1 18-ounce box of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
1/3 cup of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup of water
1 egg

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  • Lightly grease an 8 x 8 pan with unsalted butter.
  • Mix melted butter, water, and egg in a medium bowl.
  • Add brownie mix and stir with a spoon until blended.
  • Bake about 40 minutes.
  • Allow to cool (although my husband digs them out when the brownies are still warm) before cutting.

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