My quest for the perfect homemade brownie continued last night, and I dare say I might have found a winner. Hidden nearly 700 pages deep, in the “Cookies and Candy” section of my NYT Cookbook, there lies an incredibly simple, back-to-basics type of recipe that sounded like just the kind of the thing I was looking for. No frills. No exotic ingredients. Just chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt — the building blocks of baking.
This cookbook has turned into quite the handy kitchen companion so far, not to mention a mighty good storyteller. The brownie recipe that I whipped up last night originally appeared in the New York Times on November 14, 1943, right before the holidays during World War II. According to Amanda Hesser, the cookbook’s author, it was “highlighted as a sweet that traveled well as a care package for soldiers” (p. 684). So this same recipe that we can cook up in our kitchens today found itself in care packages for American soldiers some 65+ years ago. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?
This nugget of intel about the origins of the recipe prompted a Google search for WWII-era books and magazine ads. Here are a few of the faves Jared’s search came up with:
How to Bake by the Ration Book, a cookbook filled with recipes not unlike our brownie winner. Isn’t it impressive how she balances that cake so high above her head?
This ad from the Saturday Evening Post highlights the merits of chocolate for soldiers. The chart basically explains that chocolate’s caloric nature makes it a better energy choice than a lamb chop, milk or eggs. It’s “an ideal food for today’s fighting men.” Sweet.
For those of you who are in search of your own chocolate energy booster, this recipe is just what you’re looking for:
From New York Times Essential Cookbook (Hesser, p. 684)
• ¼ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60 percent cacoa bittersweet chocolate)
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
* ½ cups chopped nuts (optional; I opted out)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• ¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line base with parchment.
Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Once melted, remove from heat.
Beat eggs with sugar until sugar mostly dissolves. Add chocolate mixture. Add other ingredients, and mix well. Pour batter into pan, and smooth the top.
Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost, but not quite, clean. Let brownies cool for a few minutes, then remove them from pan and allow to cool on wire rack. When cool, cut into 16 squares.
After a tasting last night and this morning, I’m convinced these are the best homemade brownies I’ve ever made. They’re sweet but not too sweet, fudgy but still chewy, and they have a nice bit of crunch on the tops and the edges. Add a cup of coffee or glass of milk, and they’re an instant happy-maker.
What’s your favorite old-timey recipe? Are there any desserts in your family that have withstood the test of time?