A few days ago, my son and I brought a batch of brownies to a gathering of friends. As the brownies had barely left the oven, they were delightfully soft; it was almost like eating fudge sauce straight from the jar.
At home, my son noticed sadly that the brownies had been such a hit, we didn't have any leftovers. "They were so mushy," he said reminiscently. "Like pudding. I wish we could put them in pudding."
"Actually," I said, "we might just be able to manage that."
Years ago, when I was first married and my husband hadn't yet developed his dreadful chocolate allergy, I used to make a wonderful dessert for the two of us called brownie pudding. I found the recipe in some battered old cookbook that I found in some battered old secondhand bookstore.
When I went to look for this cookbook, I couldn't find it anywhere. I had a dark suspicion that it had been lost or jettisoned when we moved.
I had another cookbook that claimed to be able to tell me how to make brownie pudding, but this one was all wrong. The fun of the recipe, as I well remembered, was that you got to stir up a lot of ingredients into a rich brown goo, then sprinkle a brown powdery mixture over that, and then pour water over the whole mess. Just like making mud pies, except you could really eat this without your mother panicking and taking you to the hospital.
What was truly magical about this recipe was that although you poured boiling water over the top, the end result was a wonderful biscuit of brownie covering a thick, moody lava of chocolate pudding that made its way to the surface here and there, pushing through the occasional crevice. No one would ever accuse this dessert of being elegant, but it was terrific fun and awfully good, especially in the winter.
This new cookbook had streamlined the process, thereby taking all the fun out of it. I fiddled with it, working from memory, and this is what I came up with. As long as a grownup is on hand to pour the boiling water and help with the oven, it's a very good recipe to let children try, since they can do most of the work themselves and achieve delightful results.
Brownie Pudding, or Grownup Mud Pie:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Get out a nine-inch round cake pan or an 8x8x2-inch baking pan, but don't grease it. Fill your kettle and let it come to a boil as you mix up the pudding. With luck, it will be whistling for you just when you need it.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together a cup of flour, half a cup of granulated sugar, two teaspoons baking powder, half a teaspoon salt, and some unsweetened cocoa powder. How much you use depends on how deep a chocolate flavor you want. Use no less than two tablespoons, and up to four.
Add to this half a cup of milk (whole or two percent, not skim), two tablespoons cooking oil, an egg, and a teaspoon of real vanilla. Mix well. Spoon it into the baking pan.
In a smallish bowl, mix together 3/4 cup granulated sugar and a generous quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa powder. When these are thoroughly combined, sprinkle them evenly over the top of the contents of the baking pan.
As soon as you have boiling water to work with, measure out a cup and a half of it. Put the baking pan on top of a cookie sheet and put both of them in the center rack of the oven, which you should leave pulled out. It's easier to pour boiling water into a pan that's already where you want it than it is to transport a brimming, boiling hot pan into an oven.
Pour the boiling water gently over the pudding. Slide the rack carefully into the oven, shut the door, and let the pudding bake for about half an hour.
It will be difficult to wait, but this pudding is best warm rather than hot. A little heavy cream, poured straight over it or whipped up, is very nice, but entirely optional.
I asked my son if this was something like what he'd had in mind, and he nodded vigorously, his mouth too full to speak. That's the kind of compliment that means more than words.