The Brownie Effect
A treat with a tasty purpose
By Deborah Salomon
Please don’t take this recipe as an affront to PineStraw’s excellent food columnists — proponents, like myself, of healthy eating. Brownies don’t grow in the garden, so I’m not treading on Jan Leitschuh’s turf. They don’t boast fiber, or antioxidants. They are chock-full of gluten, fat and calories. But they do serve a purpose.
The Brownie Effect started in the early 1980s, when I worked part-time as a food/features writer at an excellent New England newspaper. The staff was youngish and famished so I brought cookies whenever I turned in an assignment. At first they stared at me like I was Mary Poppins and the Tooth Fairy rolled into one. Soon, I progressed to brownies still warm from the oven, but only on the Fridays when I was needed.
“Why are you doing this?” they asked, between bites.
“Because it’s Friday,” I explained. Brownies are what I do on Friday.
Before you could say lickety-split I was hired full-time. I’d like to think this was because of my writing but . . .
Word spread. Soon, employees of the ad department, circulation, even the publisher had business in the newsroom on Friday.
Amazing, what a little chocolate and sugar can accomplish. I’m reasonably sure that several employers have wanted to dump me but dared not, fearing a brownie backlash.
Even more amazing — how easy, foolproof and yummy these brownies are. No idea where the recipe came from, only that I made them for my children and grandchildren, for bake sales, picnics and funerals. I have shared the recipe hundreds of times. And so, in the interest of improving employer-employee, husband-wife, student-teacher, neighbor-neighbor relationships I feel compelled to share it with you, conversationally, like we were having coffee at the kitchen table.
You’ll need a big (at least 3 quart), heavy pot, a heavy (not sleazy-cheap) 13-by-9 inch non-stick baking pan, a wooden spoon, a rubber spatula, measuring spoons and a 2-cup measuring cup. Into the pot, put 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 sticks butter, 4 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules. Slowly bring to a rolling boil, stirring often with wooden spoon. Take off burner and add 2 cups (a 12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips. Stir until chips are completely melted, set aside. Crack 4 large eggs into a glass, stir well with fork and drizzle into chocolate, stirring all the time with the wooden spoon. Measure 1 1/2 cups flour; add 1 teaspoon salt and combine thoroughly with a tiny whisk. Mix flour into chocolate with the wooden spoon until smooth and no streaks remain. Grease pan or spray with baking spray. Scrape batter into pan and tilt to even it out. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired (See below). Bake at 350 degrees EXACTLY 35 minutes for brownies that are firm on top, fudgy inside. Let cool for 20-30 minutes, cut into squares.
I can have them finished in 50 minutes. But then I’ve baked at least 3,000 pans.
About the butter: I prefer stick margarine, but it must, by law, be labeled margarine. The only two brands available locally are Land o’ Lakes and Harris Teeter house brand. Imperial, Parkay, Mrs. Filberts are NOT real margarine suitable for baking.
About the chocolate chips: They aren’t created equal. Must be a 12-ounce bag. I’ve tried every brand, found Harris Teeter and Food Lion house brands melt better than Toll House. Don’t use “dark” chocolate, in 10-ounce bags. Not enough chips, and they resist melting.
About the flour: I use Walmart house brand unbleached for all my baking. Half the price of King Arthur, can’t tell the difference.
About the coffee: Trust me. Subtle, but what a difference.
About the nuts: People either love or hate them. I sprinkle sliced almonds over the batter, which haters find easy to remove.
Warning: You must take boiling mixture off the burner and stir in chips until completely melted. Only then will it be cool enough not to “cook” eggs, as they are drizzled in. Brownies do not require baking powder or soda, which would turn them into cake.
These brownies freeze beautifully.
Brownies are as unnecessary to survival as Champagne or crab cakes. But they have worth. So think of this not as a recipe, not even a bribe. Think of it as a lesson in life, a theory on human relations, a method beneficial to baker and recipients.
But only on Fridays. PS
Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.