Though apparently invented by food expert and author Brownie Schrumpf in post-WWI US—in an accident of sorts, when she forgot to put baking powder in a cake, which resulted in a chewy, intense, half-baked chocolate cake—the brownie is now a universal favourite, and one of the easiest chocolate desserts to make, which has added to its appeal among overworked mothers. Brownies, which took a back-seat to fancier cake recipes for a few decades, reappeared in the 1980s, when they were served at a dinner for US President Ronald Reagan.
The best classic chocolate brownies are chewy, and not too rich and dense on chocolate. Many, I seem to find, are either too ‘cakey’ or too dense with expensive chocolate, more often the latter. They are sinful, as opposed to a nice, teatime cake. While there is no denying that this type of brownie is sumptuous, it is often overwhelming, more confection than cake.
In the fold: The thickness of the perfect brownie is about two inches.
The brownie is really a much simpler affair, more chocolate bar than chocolate truffle, more bakery than upmarket café. Apart from the recipe, there is also the question of size. I like old-fashioned, big brownies. For this, use double the quantities mentioned in the recipe below and bake in the same size tin. You will get brownies which are about two inches high, which is perfect. I have tried various recipes for this cake and the one below is the quickest, easiest and most satisfying I have found. A nine-year-old has used this recipe to perfect results.
You can’t cut back on the butter, or the brownie becomes gritty. Use ordinary granulated white sugar, castor sugar or brown sugar. Vanilla extract is better than essence. And cocoa made by Hershey’s or Green & Black from the UK is outstanding; so is about 200gm unsweetened chocolate in its place, if you want a richer cake. But if you can’t get your hands on any of these, good old Cadbury’s cocoa is fine.
Add half a teaspoon of instant coffee to this. In the first stages of mixing, use an electric balloon whisk to mix all the ingredients. Then fold in the flour and nuts by hand until everything is well incorporated, but not fluffy. If you don’t like walnuts, you can use hazelnuts, but never peanuts or cashews. Or simply omit if you don’t like nuts or are allergic to them.
Serves six to eight
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
¾ cup good quality cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup flour (maida)
2 cups walnuts
Grease a baking pan that is 9x9x2. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time and add the vanilla. Add the cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Fold in the flour and nuts by hand. Pour into the pan and bake at 180°C for 25 minutes. Stick a knife in to check. It should come out slightly wet. Remove from the oven at once. Remove from the tin and cool on a plate or rack. When cool, cut into two-inch squares. Brownies will last for a week outside the refrigerator.
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