Only a few of my friends in America know that my dad’s last job, before retiring, was owning a chain of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Italy. Long before I moved to this country, long before I even traveled to this country for vacation, I tasted Tex-Mex and American food at my dad’s restaurant. That’s where I first tasted brownies. They came in the form of a delicious chocolate square with warm fudge on top and whipped cream on the side. They were delicious!
Little did I know that my first encounter with brownies was just an introduction. Many are the kinds of brownies, recipes and combinations, and that’s not even talking about blondies!
It seems that the name ‘brownie’ first appeared in the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, where it describes molasses cakes baked individually in small tins. It’s not clear, though, how the chocolate brownie came to be. There are in fact several legends:
– A chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits
– A cook was baking a cake but didn’t have enough flour
– A housewife in Bangor, Maine was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly she cut and served the flat pieces.
The last tale seems to be considered the most likely version, and it is even cited in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics and John Mariani’s The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.
Culinary historians have traced the first appearance of the brownie in a recipe book to the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer.
The second recipe for brownies, appearing in 1907, was in Lowney’s Cook Book. The recipe added both an extra egg and additional chocolate to the Cooking-School recipe, thus creating a richer brownie. She named the recipe Bangor Brownies. This of course attests to the theory of the housewife who forgot to add the baking soda.
The use of the terms ‘Bangor Brownies’ or sometimes ‘Boston Brownies’ continued into the 1950s. It goes without saying how popular chocolate brownies are today: they have come a long way since first being made with molasses…
And this brings me back to now, Super Bowl weekend, an interest that I personally don’t share, but that I can understand, since I grew up in a soccer pervasive country. So I thought, what would be good to serve as sweets, while watching TV? And brownies it is!
The recipe I used is one of the versions with which I have experimented: Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies. I admit, I do like to use chocolate instead of cocoa. I think it gives the brownie a smoother texture. Also, because one of my kids doesn’t like nuts or chocolate chips in his brownies, in my version I omitted both.
Unsalted butter 1 cup (8 oz)
Semisweet or bittersweet chocolate 8 oz
Unsweetened chocolate 3 oz
Eggs 4 large
Vanilla extract 1 Tablespoon
Glycerine 1 Tablespoon
2 1/4 cups sugar 1 cup and 2 Tablespoons (8 oz)
Simona’s Flour Mix 1/2 cup and 2 Tablespoons (3.5 oz)
Baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons
Salt 1/2 teaspoon
Chopped nuts (optional) 1 1/2 cups (6 0z)
Semisweet chocolate chips (optional) 1 1/2 cups (6 0z)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan and line with parchment paper.
Melt together the butter, the chocolate, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. You can do this in the microwave as well, though be careful that the chocolate doesn’t burn. Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, vanilla, glycerine, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the nuts and chocolate chips, if desired. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, turn the pan, then add another 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake. Allow to cool thoroughly on a cooling rack.
For a cleaner and easier cut, I refrigerate the brownies for a couple of hours, and then I use a bench scraper to cut them.