Category Archives: Brownies

Chill-Out Brownies: High Temperature Baking + Ice-water Bath = Creamy Interior + Chewy Crust

Are you looking for yet another brownie recipe? I was not, until I had come across one with a very unusual technique from the great Alice Medrich.

I though my brownie recipe collection to be complete, what with the extravaganza that is Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, my grandmother Jessie’s very gooey double-chocolate brownie, the original 1897 brownie recipe, or the spectacular iced double-chocolate, double-malt brownies.  Really, I was not seeking another one for my arsenal.  After all, I have an entire cookbook dedicated to brownie recipes and a number of tried-and-true versions, with which I am completely satisfied.

However, I had borrowed Ms. Medrich’s book from the library, in an attempt to read more library cookbooks, rather than my habit of buying more and more.  This particular recipe jumped out at me.  Apparently, an acquaintance of hers named “Steve” rescued a batch of brownies from an oven which was much too high (or on fire – the author was not sure which) and immediately plunged the pan into an ice-water bath. Ms. Medrich relates that the brownies turned out to be very creamy, far from dry, with a chewy crust.  Thus, the “Steve ritual” intrigued me enough to try yet another recipe.

I had returned last week from a trip to Connecticut to visit my family, with a bit of time in New York; the latter destination was a day on my own for, in pursuit of evaluating the top cookies in the city at Levain Bakery and Momofuku’s Milk Bar.  I enjoyed my comparative taste-testing of Levain’s famed dark-chocolate-chocolate chip cookie and David Chang’s even better-known “compost cookies”.  This was most fun – actually it was a highlight of my trip – not to imply that seeing my family is not fun…

When I needed to make brownies for a potluck baby shower in Vancouver, I decided to try out this mysterious technique.

Gratuitous Floral Interlude

With the first day of spring – a Very Important Day of the Year – fast approaching, I noticed that the camellia outside our kitchen door finally started to bloom.  It is very late in blooming this year, what with the La Nina and her cold-wet winter, here in Canada’s so-called moderate Mediterranean climate (NB:  notice the teeth marks on the leaf below the flower – the local deer keep chewing the camellia’s leaves, although they are not supposed to like such leaves. Please get the word out to any deer you know…).

For the brownie review – and the recipe

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2010 – A Year in Food & Food Trends for 2011

What are your favourite food-related items of 2010?

As I realized my blog is just over a year old (December 23, 2009 was my first post), I decided to jump on the bandwagon with my own year-in-review.  This post is on 2010’s top posts, photos, and favourites, plus trends for 2011.

IslandEAT‘s Most-read Posts

According to site stats, my most popular posts are unexpected – at least, by me.

5.  My adaptation of Peter Reinhart’s Multi-grain Bread.

4. No-bake Whipped Cream Mocha Ice-box Zebra “Pie”

3.  Thick and Chewy Brown-Sugar-Beurre-Noisette Cookies

2.  Thick Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies

For my most popular post in 2010, Five Food Trends, and Top Food Pictures…

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Friday Food Facts and Fun, Second Edition


Did you celebrate National Chocolate Brownie Day earlier this week?

I am still in a reflective brownie mode, hence, the photo above of my double-chocolate double-malt frosted brownies.  It is the brownie I crave the most.  This year, I have tried at least four new chocolate brownie recipes and have posted three on IslandEAT. Holidays are about celebration and reflection…

Upcoming National Food Holidays

As this the “holiday season” is upon us, here are the food holidays for next week:

December 11 – National Noodle-Ring Day
December 12 – National Ambrosia Day
December 13 – National Cocoa Day
December 14 – National Bouillabaisse Day
December 15 – National Lemon Cupcake Day
December 16 – National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

If anyone knows what a “noodle-ring” is, or why it should be fêted, please let me know immediately.  I am most excited by the events celebrating cocoa and “chocolate-covered anything”.  Just where exactly does the chocolate-covering stop, in matters of good taste?

For questions, a retro video, and blogging resources….

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1897 Brownies: The Original Recipe to Honour National Chocolate Brownie Day

Did you know that today is National Chocolate Brownie Day? While I have no idea who proclaims such things, it is still cause for celebration.

To mark this momentous occasion, I finally tried a recipe I have wanted to make for some time – one which is purported to be the very first. The earliest published brownie recipe was in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck catalog, and its name, for that reason, is simply “1897 Brownies”.  I came across this in Food:  True Stories of Life on the Road, edited by Richard Sterling.  This is a wonderful collection of short essays on food experiences and explorations around the world.

The recipe followed a charming story of a young American woman who started a covert brownie business in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1970s.  I read it before our recent trip there, and I thought I might stumble upon a Scottish brownie somewhere.   While I did discover millionaire’s shortbread, there were no brownies to be had in Scotland (“nae brunies”…).

This recipe is fascinating – not only because it could be the original brownie – but it also has no butter.  (There is an alternative to using unsweetened chocolate, which includes cocoa and a modest amount of butter).  Thus, it is a lighter, lower-fat brownie. In fact, as National Brownie Day coincides this year with the last night of Chanukkah, it could be a good follow-up to the oil-laden or dairy-rich foods of the holiday.  The 1897 Brownie could be a good holiday treat for Xmas or New Year’s, as well.

For the review – and the recipe

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Double-Chocolate Double-Malt Frosted Brownies: Recycling and Reusing Recipes

Are you a die-hard chocolate-malt lover? If so, these chocolate brownies are for you.

For a few months now, I have had what my late grandmother Jessie used to call a “yen” for chocolate-malt (Jessie had a great brownie recipe, too).  I blame my chocolate-malt fixation on Geni of Sweet and Crumby, after her post on a famous chocolate malt cake from a diner in Pasadena.

Geni’s post prompted me to adapt her chocolate-malt buttercream frosting;  I used it as a filling for a cupcake, topped with a quick meringue icing from King Arthur Flour’s site via the tantalizing “Chocolate Bliss Cake” from Debbie’s instructive site, A Feast for the Eyes. The InterTubes seem perfect for reusing and recycling, if not reducing in this instance (and you can forget about that last one in the context of double-chocolate-malt iced brownies).

Recycling and reusing are not new to me.  My first “official” job was working for a recycling centre part-time while in high school, for the minimum wage of $2.65/hour.  Despite the low pay, there were perks, such as finding and reading a wealth of publications during slow times (not to mention the shocking revelation of a vast variety and quantity of unmentionable magazines – at least for a 16-year-old, back in the pre-InterWeb days of the 1970s).

More recently, I worked for a world-wide conservation organization, whose recognizable logo is an endangered black-and-white bear – have you guessed it yet?  At one teleconference, I offered that the well-known campaign “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is not a triumvirate of equals, rather it was a hierarchy.  That is, first, we should reduce consumption before reusing or repurposing things.  If those two are not possible, recycling is the next step.  I had said this in a discussion on how to best engage people in daily activities around conservation. The campaign of the “Three Rs”, dating back to the 1970s, was one to which people now give little thought about the components.  “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” are so well-known that rarely do people reflect on the better and best options within the trio.

At the risk of a Holden-Caulfield-esque accusation of a “digression”, this will be the last time I reuse photos from my recent trip to England and Scotland, with a vague attempt for food-related pictures.  In the charming Cotswolds town called “Broadway” (where the neon lights are not brighter, as neon does not exists in Broadway), the Horse and Hounds pub made a quaint subject for a photo:

In nearby Bath, the Sally Lunn Bun is famous.   I imagine it is no longer baked in the “faggot oven” (!?!) which I had in my previous post.  The light and tender rolls lent themselves to both the sweet (clotted cream and lemon curd) and savoury (Welsh rarebit) courses we sampled:

Near the impressive Exmoor National Park, the medieval village of Dunster had many dining options, including the very good Stag’s Head Pub (background), where we enjoyed a fine local dinner.

Sheep dot the landscape throughout the Lake District and provide the basis for many a Sunday roast in the UK (not to mention the inspiration for this unusual side “dish”, which I discovered linked to my post on Yorkshire pudding and German pancakes, just last week!).

Finally, at the very northern edge of the Lake District, the town of Cockermouth is “open for business”, after ravaging floods last year.  The downtown was very colourful and featured a pleasant restaurant called Carlin’s, where we dined one evening:

For the review of the brownie and the recipe…

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What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 2: Double-Chocolate Gooey Brownies

Of the nearly 20 recipes I recently found in my grandmother’s file, I was most excited about the one for brownies. I recall these brownies from my childhood and often wondered what exactly was the recipe was for Jessie’s version, which she always dusted with powdered sugar.

If the amount of sugar and chocolate chips are an indication in the recipe below (typed neatly on a 3″ x 5″ card), my grandmother definitely had a sweet tooth. For further proof, the majority of recipes I discovered are on the dessert/sweet side. Then there was the hiding place for sweets in Jessie’s living room.

Whenever I went to my grandmother’s apartment, I immediately would head over to a small end table – with a false-front of leather-bound books – which opened to reveal a cache of sweets: spherical chocolate mint candies in pastels (a chocolate centre was surrounded by a thin white fondant layer of mint, with a harder panned coating), jelly fruit slices, various hard candies (the least interesting to me), and boxes of Fannie May Chocolates.  This Fannie May had nothing to do with the mortgage crisis in the US, but rather  was a Chicago institution until recently, when most of its retail stores started to close down, leaving just an online presence. I especially liked their Mint Meltaways, maple walnut fudge, and a thin chocolate mint for summer, in pastel pink or green, with some  crunch peppermint candy bits embedded, which I have just learned, is known as “pink ice” (I saw no reference to the green variety, which I distinctly remember, too).

But back to the brownies. I recall the squares from my childhood as being a little more cakey than the recipe I prepared. The batch I baked were actually a fine example of a gooey-soft-chewy brownie – decidedly not cakey and a bit more delicate than dense fudgey ones. This is a very quick dish to bake, and it would be good to whip up at a moment’s notice for company or a week-night dessert.

More on Jessie’s Double-Chocolate Gooey Brownie – and the recipe

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What Would Jessie Dish? A New Wednesday Feature: Introduction to the Project and the German Pancake

My grandmother is just 16, at her high school graduation in 1920.

She could dish it up, but can I make it?

In helping my mother get ready to move into an assisted living apartment recently, I came across my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking.  She no longer wanted it, had not used it in many years, and said I should take it.  However, it was not it until I had returned home, when I discovered that the book had a 5” x  7” Manilla envelope containing a number of recipes from my late grandmother, Jessie.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  I cannot imagine that anyone knew whatever happened to these recipes.  So I was excited to have stumbled on this treasure trove.

There were nearly 20 recipes, half typed on 3″ x 5″ cards, with the others were written in her careful handwriting on various pieces of scrap paper (“Waste not, want not!” Jessie would implore, having lived through the Great Depression).  Most of the recipes are for baked goods (hooray!), and I do remember having eaten most of these dishes.  There are a few I am sure she did not make for me, so re-creating other recipes my grandmother made intrigues me as well.

I decided that it would be a fun feature on IslandEAT to prepare each and every one of the recipes, expanding or clarifying the directions, and assessing the results.   Many are in the short-hand of an experienced baker – and cook – who knew her technique well, so the steps are implicit – that is fine if you know the technique, of course, and, fortunately, I have developed a sense for baking over the years and am familiar with many similar recipes.

However, some recipes, especially the handwritten ones,  are completely vague and lacking directions – and even titles.   I will have to experiment to see if I can re-create what I think she had intended. What they all have in common is a no-nonsense, non-fussy simple approach with relatively few ingredients.  The recipes are primarily American or, in a few cases, European.  Some are still current and even in vogue, while others do seem rather vintage, e.g., “apricot mold”, which uses apricot jello and evaporated milk — not the kind of thing I generally make, but I am ready to try it.

From now until I have prepared all 18, I will feature a Wednesday recipe from the past, with a scan of the original recipe (and sometimes, the odd bits I have found on the reverse side), aiming to do this every week until the end of summer.  I expect to include some recollections of her, as she was a bit of a character, with a very good sense of humour, unusual turns of phrases, and quite the sharp tongue; Jessie was not afraid to ask – or ask repeatedly – for what she wanted or to let people know exactly what she thought.  I hope this summer project helps IslandEAT’s readers get a glimpse into her personality.

For more on the German Pancake and the What Would Jessie Dish? Recipe Roster

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