The finished product, both plain and with pecans.
Things have gotten awfully heavy and personal around here lately (see “Fake Cancer Kid” posts below).
Also, as I’ve moved, doing this post allows me to put off business:
I don’t remember whether Solzhenitsyn goes on this shelf next to Chekhov or on the other shelf next to Nabakov. How all the fantasy/sci-fi/horror fits back on the spec fic ghetto shelf is also a mystery.
Anyway, before plunging ahead into Seventh Grade Gothic Horror, A Dramatic Reading Part II, here’s a brownie recipe from 1938. It comes from this cookbook, given to me for Christmas a few years back:
I learned the hard way to store this in its protective bag.
What interests me about collecting old cookbooks (and it’s time to admit I do have an official old cookbook collection) is reading, in their quirks and traits, the quirks and traits of both their authors and their eras.
For instance, the cookbook from 1923 makes use of about a dozen eggs per cake and tells you how to make “hard” sauce out of butter, water, and sugar. The cookbook from 1956 is all about using your brand-new magic blender, especially for cocktails suited for ladies and men. One from the early 1960s, by an author raised in poverty, directs you how to freeze your fresh fruit pre-Tupperware (use your curling iron to seal a paper bag shut!), while another from the same date, from a woman famous for her etiquette advice, focuses on entertaining (You can feed your guests cheese baked on top of potato chips. Proto-nachos!)
Also, the pamphlet put out by Baker’s Chocolate in the 1940s is all about making use of your ration coupons to give your family dessert every night.
I like this little 1938 “magazine-style” recipe book because it’s accessible and thrifty–presumably we needed eggs to feed our kids throughout the week and couldn’t throw them all in an angel food cake.
This recipe for “Rich Brownies” has become a proven quantity. I’ve gotten these right. They are tasty.
They’re also a fine impulse bake. If you bake with any frequence you’ll probably have everything you need in the cupboard and fridge already. And it won’t put a big dent in your egg carton.
So, without further ado, a Depression-era brownie recipe.
-2 squares of unsweetened cooking chocolate (or 6tbs cocoa powder, plus 2tbs shortening)
-1/4 cup milk
-1/4 cup butter (we’re pre-margarine days here?)
-1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed (dark works as well)
-1/2 cup sifted cake flour (all-purpose works fine. We’re fortunate that way.)
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1/2 cup of nutmeats, chopped. (One day I’ll declare these aren’t optional just to stir things up. That was a pun.)
Or, in a picture:
NOTE: Due to the size of my pan/the fact I was sharing these at the office, I made a double batch. So those are four eggs, not two, in case you needed to know that.
Directions (adapted from book):
-Heat oven to 350/176.6.
-Cut/break/meat-tenderize-in-foil the chocolate into small pieces, add it to the milk and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture forms a thick, smooth paste, stirring constantly.
-If you’re using cocoa powder, because you planned to make these and remembered too late this recipe calls for baking chocolate, check out these proportions on the cocoa powder tin:
Any shortening–margarine, oil, lard–should work. It’s all the same stuff. I used melted butter, which is what I had on hand. Word from the wise, though: do not trying spraying Pam in bowl of cocoa at close range. It won’t be pretty. That’s why there’s no picture.
Either way, cooking your melted chocolate/cocoa-and-shortening-paste with milk should look like this.
It takes patience to break up and melt the lumps. Think of it as a chocolate roux, if you’re at that level.
-Add butter, stir until melted. Cool. Stick in the fridge if you have to, just don’t put this hot mess in the same bowl as your eggs.
This would look like a hot mess if you could see it better.
-Beat eggs. This book assumes you’re a 1938 housewife who knows how these things go, but to clarify, your eggs should look like orange juice after the first round with the beaters:
This takes about 20 seconds with an electric mixer on high speed. If you’re a housewife in 1938, or you have lots of free time, you’re doing this by hand.
Then, they’ll get paler and fluffier. Most contemporary recipes will describe this stage as “foamy and lemon-colored”, at which point you’ll start gradually adding the sugar. Mix thoroughly between adds.
It’ll start to look like unset butterscotch pudding.
Then, with more mixing, like a melted rootbeer float.
-Sift flour and salt together. It’s vital you sift the flour, or at least stir it up with a fork, lest you wind up with vaguely chocolateish bricks.
Here’s a moody picture of my sifter, complete with suitably austere looking countertop.
I love my new place, but as photos go this kitchen is sure well suited to the whole Depression-era theme.
And here’s another angle.
Taken while waiting for chocolate mess to cool in fridge.
-Now, once chocolate mixture is cool and not before, add it slowly to the eggs. You don’t want cooked protein strands any more than you want bricks.
At this point, I’ll quit the beaters and fold gently in with a spoon.
It’s like you’re stirring chocolate syrup into your melted rootbeer float. And like I have a serious dessert fixation.
Eventually, it’ll look like this. Which, if you’re using dark chocolate like me, won’t look like much, except more brownie batter like.
-Gently fold in flower and salt.
It’ll look about the same, but feel much stiffer.
-At this point, you can stir in any nutmeats or other add-ins you have a fancy too. Or, just pour batter into a greased 9×9 pan (or 9×13, if you’re doubling up).
I had some pecans lying around, so I sprinkled them over half the pan.
-Bake for forty minutes.
This is a before picture. In case you needed to know.
While these are baking, you can make some frosting. While Mrs. 1938 This Season’s Recipe Author Collective has a great Mocha Butter Frosting recipe to be shared on request, last night I just threw some powdered sugar together with a little milk and peppermint extract. Vanilla or almond would work too.
Roughly this proportion, but who’s measuring?
It was too runny, so I added more sugar and some cocoa powder, because that’s how I roll and I figured frosting that matched the brownies would look more professional. These were going to the office, remember.
Post-stirring, it looked like this.
For all you know this is just the batter in a different bowl.
I ended up frosting the nut-free half of the pan, so people would have options. Also, peppermint + pecan = hmm.
Then this morning, after I’d left the brownies out in the breakroom for an hour, I remembered I hadn’t gotten a photo.
You have some samples of both here.
And just to bring things full circle.
The finished product, both plain/frosted and with pecans.
The Wednesay Woman
Undergone: One very minor surgery.
Under Doctor’s Orders Not to Exert Self Physically: Again.
Walked: Three miles, to watch local street fair.
Looking Forward To: Actually hitting up street fair with friends and family on the weekend.
Purchased: Stuff for new spinster pad; stuff for brother, sister-in-law, and yet-to-arrive family member; produce.
Overheard Office Quote of the Day: “I’m sorry, I got distracted by the brownie.”