Brownie Points

April_2007_11sugar4501There’s an article in the NY Times today about brownies. It showcases the struggle between cakey vs. fudgey brownies, and between those who put nuts in their brownies (pecans?? come on, people) and those who leave them unadorned.

Those debates cannot be resolved in a single article – they are timeless struggles that will wage on regardless. But let me say this much, in hopes that we can move forward: I know that my brownies are true.

Like many others, I make the Supernatural Brownies (first published by the Times about four years ago), and I found the recipe to be almost perfect. No nuts are needed, although some may choose to garnish with the occasional walnut. They are dark and rich, fudgey but still light. They take a long time to make, but are entirely worth it. I add a bit of dark molasses to the recipe to make the flavor more rich, I beat the eggs for what seems like forever, and I use the best chocolate that I can find (within limits).

I grew up in a house with brownies. They had chocolate frosting and walnuts, and resembled standard chocolate cake more than anything else. Then came adolescence and adulthood, and I scorned brownies entirely, deeming them too simplistic, too sweet and too American to be worthwhile. Was this all there is to belief in brownies? I left the Church of Brownies and deemed brownie lovers as simplistic, blinded clods.

It wasn’t until many years later that I sampled a friend’s brownie at a party. There was little else to eat but old artichoke dip and cornnuts, and so the brownie was a refuge. But this brownie was different, magical; it was dense and powerful, not all confectioners’ sugar and Betty Crocker mix. I did some research and encountered Supernatural Brownies, and have not looked back since.

Now I find that I welcome discussion and much dissent in my Church of Brownies. I have my own recipe — it works for me, my friends like it too, and it fills its purpose. I don’t begrudge others their own interpretations, and I usually don’t belittle them for it. If someone attacked me as full of blatant hubris and bloated self-opinions because I do not precisely follow a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, I would be genuinely confused; first, what business is it of yours, and second, who cares? These are my brownies. They satisfy me and make me happy. Your authority claims, Better Homes and Gardens, are secondary to the basic task of filling me and making me happy. If you disagree, then I challenge you to a bake-off.


  1. Ghirardelli’s Double Chocolate Brownies. They come in a box, but they probably should be sold on street corners by pushers.

  2. Frank, if they were sold by pushers, wouldn’t that cause too steep a demand curve, thus rendering the supply inelastic?

    When it comes to brownies, I’m in the UU camp. No such thing as bad brownies. I’d rather bloat on them than on my self-opinions.

  3. Steve,

    You really have a gift for writing these types of posts.

    I am a true believer in nut augmented brownies and cold whole milk myself.

    After a couple of brownies and a tall glass of the whole milk I go into a sugar induced coma…..

  4. Mark, I’m envisioning elastic pushers.

  5. nut brownies? blasphemy!
    cakey brownies? heretical!

    Dense and fudgy are the words the saints use in the church of brownies.

    Here’s one of my favorite brownie recipes–marshmallows optional.

  6. Frank, I’m envisioning economist pushers. complete with elastic suspenders.

  7. Sherpa, marshmallows in brownies… I don’t know what to say.

  8. Word, Frank.

    Costco sometimes sells 3-packs. I guess they don’t worry about their customers OD-ing.

  9. I wrestle with the issue of boxed brownies. On the one hand it’s good to know that your brownies will be guaranteed delicious. But what of freedom, of choice, of risk? It seems to me that delicious Ghirardelli brownie mixes are too similar to Satan’s plan.

  10. they aren’t in the brownies.. just on top–and that’s optional. You’ve never had brownies with marshmallows broiled on top?

  11. Sherpa, I’ve seen them and read of them. I am like the prudent driver in this story (search for the word “cliff”) — I would steer as far away from the marshmallows as possible.

  12. Ardis Parshall says:

    Steve, I hear sublime music when I read your recipe for Supernatural brownies. Is it a page from the Church of Brownies hymnbook?

  13. Of course, you know Steve, that for the purest of the one and only true brownies you should cook them out of doors in a dutch oven. I would, however, concur with you about the marshmallows–sorry Sherpa.

  14. Ardis, those are the choirs of heaven you hear. I have an illuminated version of the recipe, with margins filled with chocolate cherubs and elaborate nonstick calligraphy. It’s essentially a Baking Book of Hours.

  15. Many years ago, an underemployed friend of mine arrived at my apartment with a giant sack of Krusteas brownie mix and a dream: brownie waffles. My eyes glistened, my mouth watered, and I plugged in my waffle iron.

    Many attempts were made, some more edible than others, and I can tell you right now, there is no such thing. You can make chocolate waffles, but the waffle brownie is not meant to be in this life. Perhaps in the next…

  16. William Morris,

    The Costco Ghiradelli 3-pack is religious, because it encourages charity. On a recent Saturday evening, I baked all three packages. Some went to my 17 y.o. Sunday school class, whose members I must occasionally bribe. Others went to HT families, with enough left over for Sunday dinner dessert and Monday FHE. Cast they brownie upon the water…

  17. Nuts are an appendage to the brownie gospel and nothing more. I think they exist in brownies for the lowest common denominator, the least of the saints. My testimony of brownies is based on brownies themselves, not the philosophies of marshmallows mingled with brownies.

  18. Kyle, nuts may be an appendage, but to some people they are very very important indeed.

  19. “Costco sometimes sells 3-packs. I guess they don’t worry about their customers OD-ing.”

    I see no evidence that Costco has even considered the possibility that anybody could ever OD on anything. That said, when we left the Bay Area, Costco 3-packs disappeared from our Costco choice set. Maybe the Mormons out here were OD’ing.

    “Frank, I’m envisioning economist pushers. complete with elastic suspenders.”


  20. Steve, you talk a good brownie. But seeing and eating is believing.

  21. M, you’re free to come over and eat my brownies any time, assuming you’re there before they’re all gone. mwah hah hah!

  22. S.P. Bailey says:

    A short play on apostacy, priestcraft, and “spend[ing] money for that which is of no worth.”

    Retail girl: Buy this brown candle! It makes your house smell like brownies are in the oven!

    Me: In my house, brownies usually are in the oven.

  23. My wife makes incredible brownies. One day we had a friend come and visit just after the brownies came out of the oven. During our conversation he ate at least a half dozen jumbo-cut pieces. As he was leaving he asked if he could take one home to his wife. “Sure,” we said and wrapped up one for the trip home. After he left I remembered that there was a question I needed to ask him. I caught him in the driveway munching on his wife’s brownie. He wasn’t worried about an overdose.

  24. Isn’t there an official proclamation somewhere declaring the appropriateness of brownies at LDS functions and in LDS homes? Something like, “Brownies are good and they have a place in our church.”

  25. I received a free sample issue of Cooks Illustrated. In the free issue was an article about the pursuit of the perfect brownie. Not cakey, not fudgy, not decadent. Just a good, tasty brownie, with intense chocolate flavor.

    They were fairly easy to make. The recipe made 24 brownies.

    ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh were they good. DH liked them fine, but he’s diabetic. The Kid didn’t really like them – the chocolate flavor was too intense. I gave about eight to The College Kid to share with his buddies (he was home for spring break).

    I ate the rest. It took me three days. But really – 13 brownies, all by myself? That’s one of the seven deadly sins, folks.

    This weekend is the ward crawfish boil. I will make brownies to share – but not all of them.

  26. The same article called the Ghirardelli Brownies “acceptable in a pinch.” Every other brownie mix was rated “don’t bother.”

  27. Right on, Ann! 13 is a lucky brownie number.

  28. awe Ann I miss crawfish boils. Sigh. Thats been killing me all spring. I would give anything for a bucket of crawfish and some red beans and rice.

    I have never been much of a baker and have never made brownies from anything other than a box (I am a chocoholic and am SO not picky about brownies). Ghiradelli are most definitely the best. Now I am going to have to try making brownies the old fashioned way.

  29. Ann, I can see your 13 and raise you to a day and a half.

    Awhile back DKL put his brownie recipe up. I still haven’t tried it, but now I may just have to have a Steve Evans-DKL Brownie bake-off.

    I usually go for the Ghiradelli boxes myself. When I lived in Japan we’d order the big Costco boxes wholesale. If I’m making them from scratch, it’s usually Rosie’s. The recipe can be found here.

  30. Meems, I would just point out that my recipe has two ounces more chocolate, and DKL’s permits the possibility of…. pecans. I’ll have to talk to him about that one.

  31. Heh. Bake-off it is!

  32. What is your position on chocolate chips in brownies (semi-sweet of course)?

  33. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, I am against.

  34. I received a free sample issue of Cooks Illustrated. In the free issue was an article about the pursuit of the perfect brownie. Not cakey, not fudgy, not decadent. Just a good, tasty brownie, with intense chocolate flavor

    Ann, thats the recipe i posted.

  35. DKL’s recipe is the same recipe I read in the sample issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Steve, your recipe may have two ounces more chocolate, but it’s bittersweet, so it actually has less chocolate (because of the sugar).

    Pecans are fine on top of brownies if you toast them first. I don’t know why you’re such a nut snob, Steve. It must be a Yankee prejudice against things Southern.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    I’m anti-Pecan. A pecanist, if you will.

  37. MCQ,

    It’s the only acceptable addition to brownies.

  38. ohmygosh. All this brownie talk made me go to our school canteen and buy an incredibly substandard chocolate muffin. It was vile, but forces greater than I compelled me to eat it anyway.

  39. Thank you Kyle, glad I’m not alone here. My daughter, a brownie purist like Steve, recoils in horror when I sprinkle chocolate chips on the top of brownie batter before baking. I am literally required to do that to only half of the pan now. But to me and my fellow chocoholics, it’s like crack.

  40. I spent three seconds looking at that picture in the Times this morning, but now I’m convinced I have to go back.

    Minor threadjack, but some of their recipes are the best and truest writing in the paper. On February 14, they had a recipe for red velvet cake that was to die for. (And the frosting, which included two cups of cream, 16 oz of cream cheese and 12 oz of mascarpone, was literally to die for. You could feel your arteries clogging as you ate it–but it was good!)

    My daughter makes great brownies.

  41. mmm… some of the best brownies I ever had were these dark chocolate ones that a friend once made…

    Perfect texture, weight, flavor, etc.

  42. Mark B., how dare you not link to a red velvet cake recipe!

  43. Sorry meems. Couldn’t link, unless you all are Times Select subscribers.

    So, copyright laws be damned, here it is:

    Adapted from ”The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” by Elisa Strauss (Little, Brown, to be published in May)
    Time: 90 minutes, plus cooling

    1 tablespoon unsalted butter

    3 1/2 cups cake flour

    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)

    1 1/2 teaspoons salt

    2 cups canola oil

    2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

    3 large eggs

    6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring

    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

    1 1/4 cup buttermilk

    2 teaspoons baking soda

    2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar.

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
    2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
    3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
    4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
    5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

    Yield: 3 cake layers.

    Adapted from ”The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook,” by John Doherty with John Harrisson (Bulfinch, 2006)
    Time: 15 minutes

    2 cups heavy cream, cold
    12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    12 ounces mascarpone
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted.
    1. Softly whip cream by hand, in electric mixer or in food processor. Cover in bowl and refrigerate.
    2. Blend cream cheese and mascarpone in food processor or electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, pulse briefly, and add confectioners’ sugar. Blend well.
    3. Transfer cream cheese mixture to bowl; fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until needed.

    Yield: Icing for top and sides of 3-layer cake.

  44. Mine is actually from the Cook’s Illustrated Cook’s Country complimentary issue–and the Brownie recipe is divine.

  45. Thank you, Mark! You are a true friend.

  46. I must protest this assertion of American cultural hegemony. I hereby reject the Church of the Brownie and proclaim an independent Church of the Flapjack, with a sister movement, Die Kirche des Krapfens.

  47. Sherpa, that’s not the same recipe as the one I tried. Hit the link to DKL’s brownies – that’s the ticket!

  48. I’m sorry, Ronan. But I don’t think I could belong to a church or eat anything that begins with the word Krap. (not a big crullers fan, I must admit). And, are you going to nail 95 flapjack recipes to my door?

  49. Language hegemony too. I curse all of you.

  50. :-)

  51. It’s like drums in sacrament meetings. Krapfen comes from Old High German, “kraffo.” I can’t help what it sounds like in the ears of my imperial masters. Meems, you should know better.

  52. Ah, wear lightly that mantle of the oppressed colonial, Ronan. It really doesn’t suit you.

  53. It’s karma, Mark.

  54. Andronico’s Market in Berkeley, CA, makes these things called “Adult Brownies”. Yes, I know, but the name is a joke – they’re too rich and too dense for kids to enjoy them. They are without question the best brownies I have ever bought or made.

  55. Peter LLC says:

    I hereby reject the Church of the Brownie and proclaim an independent…Die Kirche des Krapfens

    Can I be a Hoher Rat?

  56. That recipie for red velvet cake reminds me of the sour cream chocolate cake my roommate at BYU used to make. Better than the ambrosia of the gods.

    Unfortunately, he refused to share the recipie. More than 20 years later, I still haven’t found anything that came close.

  57. As far as I’m concerned, Peter, you can be der hoechste Rat.

  58. My wife used to work in the pastry kitchen at BYU’s Cougareat (she made the eclaires for our own wedding). She was therefore involved in making the infamous “BYU Brownie” – sort of the consistency of dark sludge with a light green layer of mint frosting on top.

    Neither I nor my wife cared much for them. But my wife has war stories of outraged Education Week attendees shouting at bewildered Cougareat employees because they were sold out of “BYU Brownies” (they sell out every day of Education Week).

    But Women’s Conference was the worst! Those gals would rip you apart for being sold out. “I traveled 1000 miles to get here, and I expected you to have those brownies in stock!”

    Never come between a fat Mormon and her brownies.

  59. Kevin Barney says:

    I always get a mint brownie when I visit the Cougereat. It’s tradition!

  60. My wife ordered Cougareat mint brownies for me for Christmas. Same as I remembered, but not quite the same without the famous green punch, which was the combination at nearly every ward activity I went to while I was there.

  61. You have to try pecans for a while, you will never go back to walnuts.


    1 cup and 4 tablespoons butter.
    Microwave until soft and starting to melt.

    12 tablespoons cocoa.
    Add to the butter and beat.

    2 cups sugar.
    Add and whip.

    4 eggs.
    Add, stir until blended. Do not overstir.

    1 tablespoon vanilla.
    Cut into the mix gently.

    1 cups flour.

    2 cups chocolate chips.
    Fold into mix.

    Pour into 13″ x 9″ pan and bake at 350oF for thirty minutes. (-32*5/9 = 177oC)

    My absolute favorites, before I became allergic to chocolate. Used to make them with custom cocoa and Girabelli’s Chips.

  62. Holy crap. Are these supernatural brownies because they’ll send you to your Maker after a couple bites? 2 sticks of butter?

    I make black bean brownies that will keep you regular for weeks.

    And for edge lovers (not me but for you crazies out there)

  63. Kristine says:

    I always kind of thought the mint brownies were so common and nothing special–then I made them for an activity at my kids’ school and everyone went completely crazy. Now I have to make them every year for the school auction–last year a batch sold for over $100. Gentiles love ’em!

  64. Seth-

    Does your wife by chance have the recipe for byu bakery’s cherry chews? Those put the mint brownies to shame. My mom has the recipe and every time I bring them up she says she has the recipe (and I know she does because she’s made them several times) but she never sends it to me.

  65. Ann, I’ve tried the Cooks Illustrated recipe before, I like it but the one from Cook’s Country is my favorite.

  66. Ardis Parshall says:

    I would be truly ungrateful if I did not type before you this morning to bear witness to the truthfulness of Steve’s brownie recipe. I made brownies this morning and had some for breakfast (one of the joys of being a grown-up, doncha know), with more to pass out to the other tenants of my building in a bid to get to know them better.

    These brownies are FANTASTIC!!

  67. Steve Evans says:

    AMEN, ardis.

  68. Please, does anybody have the recipe for Cherry Chews? I got it when I was a student but have lost it…besides it was something like 500 pounds sugar, 1000 pounds flour, etc.