Not to sound like a snob, but I don't remember ever making brownies from a mix. Sometimes that was the only chocolate in the house: for me, brownies have always been the easiest way to turn cocoa powder into a viable, edible, usually delicious chocolate substance.
But since it was chocolate, I took it as an extremely good sign. And it somehow magically came right off, and I was ready to go within 10 minutes. The best part? My hair smelled faintly of cocoa all day.
One of my earliest memories in the kitchen was also one of the goofiest. My sweet cousins Katy and Sarah were spending the night at my house one summer. We were about 10, and it was Katy's birthday. Being an only child, these girls are my surrogate sisters, so spend-the-night parties were always super-special. The next day was going to be Katy's birthday, so Sarah and I decided to bake her a birthday cake in the middle of the night to be a suprise for when she woke up. Like the birthday cake fairy came. Forget the fact that the den in which we were sleeping was right next to the kitchen; now I'm fairly certain that we only succeeded in keeping Katy up all night long.
Nothing is more loud than a pair of girls in the kitchen trying to be quiet.
But we couldn't find a cake mix, and the only ingredients available to us would make brownies. By the time we had the batter in the pan, we were pretty tired. So if memory serves correctly, we figured if we doubled the heat, they would cook twice as fast. Which was sort of true. Fortunately brownies are already brown, so the burnt parts didn't show so much. We further covered our transgressions with candles and non-pareil sprinkles. (CakeWrecks, anyone?)
Lessons learned: 1. baking requires that you at least follow temperature instructions, 2. Sprinkles cover a lot of sins, 3. Katy is an awfully good sport.
Hmm... now that I'm older, that memory is foggy. I can't remember if it was Sarah's birthday and Katy and I were making the brownies or vice versa. I guess that's what age does to you. Girls, if you're reading this and I have it wrong, set me right!
Brownies also taught me how to substitute within acceptable parameters. I remember Mom used to make the best sherry brownies in her wilder years: the best part was when she would tip back the sherry bottle and take a slug after substituing sherry in the batter for vanilla. I've learned on my own that Marsala wine is a good flavor substitute for vanilla too. (hiccup!)
Furthermore, I would never use walnuts in a brownie recipe as directed below: pecans are the only nut for this Mississippi girl. Maybe almonds. I'll usually dump in more chocolate chunks (not chips) than directed, and never forget the virtues of English toffee chips. Yum.
Below is my favorite, most versatile brownie recipe. Of course it's from my favorite Foster's Market cookbook. Usually I make half of the recipe and use a 9 x 11 inch pan instead of the 17x12 as directed below. I like to half the ingredients in my head while I'm baking: it's a good little brain stretch for this CPA.
Foster's Market Brownies
These moist fudgy brownies are easy to make and keep well. For a special dessert, warm the brownies and top with ice cream and your favorite chocolate sauce.
Makes about 2 dozen 2 1/2- to 3-inch brownies
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 large eggs
4 cups sugar
1 pound ( 4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups ( 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Lightly grease and flour a 17 by 12 by 1-inch baking pan and set aside.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl and stir to mix.
4. Cream together the eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla in a separate bowl until well blended.
5. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix.
6. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips and stir to blend. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
7. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are firm to touch. They will be slightly soft in the center when tested with a toothpick. Remove from the oven and cool about 40 minutes before cutting.
8. Trim the edges and cut into 2 1/2 by 3-inch bars.
Photo courtesy of Erin's Food Files.
Update: I tried the Better Homes and Gardens Cinnamon Spice Brownie recipe last night. The brownies produced were entirely too cakey for us, and the chocolate chunks sunk to the bottom of the batter. But I love the addition of cinnamon and cayenne pepper to the batter. The spice gave them the perfect kick!