Saturday, 8 December 2012

It's National Brownie Day!

Six dozen Choc-Oat-Chip in the front and
six dozen Toll House in the back.

 Oh boy! As if I need another excuse to bake! 

I celebrated National Cookie Day on Dec. 4 by baking Choc-Oat Chip Cookies and Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. I marked St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 by making a batch of Dutch Spice Cookies. And now we have National Brownie Day, which I commemorated in my kitchen in my usual cookie fashion.

The origins of brownies are uncertain and the stories are varied. Some sources credit a Bangor, Maine, housewife who forgot to add leavening to her cake but served the gooey squares anyway to her guests' delight. Wikipedia credits a chef at Chicago's Palmer House Hotel as the creator of modern-day brownies. They featured walnuts and an apricot glaze and are still being made at the hotel, using the original recipe. Still others say that Fannie Merritt Farmer is responsible for the first brownie, which appeared in the 1896 version of her cookbook. However, these were not true brownies, as they were molasses cakes baked individually in tin molds. Whoever is responsible, I thank you!

There are many varieties of brownies - not to be confused with blondies, which omit the chocolate and use brown sugar. (National Blondies Day is celebrated on Jan. 22.) Popular mix-ins include walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips, coconut and caramel - and the ever controversial (and illegal) cannabis.

Brownies, whether they be cakey or fudgy, are classed as cookies - of the bar variety. I have had some difficulties with brownies in my illustrious cookie-baking past, simply because it can be hard to judge when they are done. Over bake them and they become cracked and hard, losing their aroma and flavor. If they're under baked, though, they are not chewy and fudgy, they're just icky!

Dunkable Brownies are yummy and foolproof.

I have written here about two varieties with which I fared better - Barb's Brownies and Brownies Cockaigne. But my favorite "brownie" is Baker's One Bowl Chocolate Brownie Cookies, which we call Dunkable Brownies.

I also tried a new version today from a recipe I found at Brownie Thins are definitely worth a bash. They are described as tasting like the very top layer of a brownie. They take only 30 minutes and the flavor is outstanding. I like them for Christmas because the recipe calls for chopped pistachios to be sprinkled on top. My only disappointment - they made a measly 18 cookies! The recipe said I would get two dozen. (A personal pet peeve of mine is 'yields' in recipes - they ALWAYS lie!

But for frosted, traditional brownies, today I'm using Betty Crocker's boxed mix and I'm not too proud or vain to admit it. They're easy and delicious and my son, Charlie, likes them because they are plain. 
I hope you'll bake some brownies today and I urge you to try one of my cookie versions for fuss-free, perfect brownies. Don't forget the glass of milk!

Brownie Thins

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c sugar
1 large egg
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
Pinch of coarse kosher salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 c chopped pistachios
Brownie Thins

Position rack in lowest third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 2 baking sheets. Place butter and chocolate in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high until almost completely melted, about 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Add sugar and egg; whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Add flour, both extracts, and salt; stir just to blend. Let batter stand 10 minutes.

Scoop rounded teaspoonfuls batter onto prepared baking sheets, spacing apart. Spray sheet of plastic wrap lightly with nonstick spray. Place, sprayed side down, over cookies. Using fingers, press each mound into 2 1/2-inch round. Remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle pistachios over rounds. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until slightly darker at edges and firm in center, about 7 minutes. Cool on sheet 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack; cool completely.

NOTES: I toasted my pistachios in a skillet for about 5 minutes, stirring them often. Feel free to use walnuts or pecans (or omit nuts altogether).

I hate fooling with greased cookie sheets, so I did a practice cookie on parchment paper. Thank goodness it worked just fine. I suggest you do the same, or use a Silpat (non-stick silicone baking mat).

I also skipped the shenanigans with the plastic wrap, using the back of my spoon to smooth out the rounds sufficiently. (The plain one is for Charlie to sample).

I didn't use the almond extract but doubled the vanilla instead. Just a personal preference.

Unsweetened chocolate is not easy to come by in England unless I order it from (or Mom sends it to me). However, Waitrose recently started stocking Willie's Cacao, made by the Chocolate Man, Willie Harcourt-Cooze. These barrels of solid artisan chocolate come in several varieties, but I chose Venezuelan Black (100% Rio Caribe Cacao) for its complex nut and coffee notes.

Click on this link for more information about Willie's Cacao.

Now I'm off to make another (double) batch of Brownie Thins. Mmmmm!


  1. Brownies are one of my favourite treats (although I confess I like Blondies too). Your Brownie thins look wonderful, especially with the pistachios!

  2. Thanks! The Thins are definitely worth a bash - very easy and spectacular results. And whenever I give away the Dunkables, I'm asked for the recipe. Hope you enjoy your Christmas!