Guest Author - Deborah Markus
I recently glanced at an article about saving time that listed, among other suggestions, baking brownies from a mix. This bugged me on several levels -- environmental (all that packaging), philosophical (the implication that mix-baked brownies are just as good as from-scratch), and whatever -al word goes with getting one's priorities straight (I'd rather have one really good brownie a year than twenty just okay ones).
Still, on thinking about it, I had to admit that baking brownies from scratch is quite time-consuming. Maybe from a health perspective it's just as well I can't do it more often, but still -- wouldn't it be nice to have a combination of the convenience of a mix and the yum of homemade?
Which is where my E-friend, the wonderful Kathy of Pennsylvania, comes into the story.
Like many homeschoolers, I connect with like-minded folks all over the world via email loops and Yahoo groups. I "met" Kathy on one of these, and although the main point of the various chats is to talk about educating our children, we do occasionally wander a bit off-topic. Sometimes deliciously so.
One memorable day, Kathy posted her recipe for homemade brownie mix. You mix up a huge batch of it, and then bag it up in separate plastic storage bags until you want to bake brownies. Then you just add some eggs, vanilla, and so on to the mix, throw it all in the oven -- and you've got homemade brownies as convenient as the ones you stir up from a box.
I heard angels singing, and took a look at the recipe Kathy had posted. It was easy. Really, really easy. And it looked great. True, you needed a really big bowl for the initial mixing-up. But it was all ingredients you'd usually have around -- and hooray for a "mix" with no preservatives or weird chemicals!
I immediately wrote begging her to let me share the wealth, and she cheerfully agreed, even when I said that I might mess with the proportion of sugar and cocoa. By all means, monkey with it, she said.
So I did, and here's what I got.
4 cups all-purpose flour
7 cups granulated sugar
3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons salt
2 cups shortening (not butter -- Kathy likes butter-flavored Crisco, and I got by just fine on plain)
Mix everything but the shortening in a very large bowl until completely blended. "I use my big whisk," Kathy says. I'll add that I was breathing in a cocoa-flavored fog at this point.
Cut in the shortening. You can use one of those gadgets for cutting butter into pie crusts, or do it by hand, which is fun in a mudpie-making kind of way.
That's it. Split this up into four equal portions of about four cups each, and store each portion in its own sealable plastic bag.
Another friend asked if you need to keep it in the refrigerator. That's probably not a bad idea, but both Kathy and I keep ours in the cupboard with the rest of the baking stuff. If you honestly think you might have it around for longer than a few months, go ahead and cool it.
Here's how you turn this lovely mix into actual brownies.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan. Get out the following:
4 cups brownie mix
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 chopped walnuts (Kathy uses these; I don't -- the brownies are great either way)
Beat everything together in a big bowl until completely blended. Pour the batter into the baking pan and put it in the oven.
Kathy bakes hers for half an hour; I took mine out after twenty-five minutes, because I like the middle to be a bit soft.
These brownies are good at any temperature. I tried one as soon as they were cool enough to eat without burning my tongue. Later, in the name of science and pure, disinterested research, I tried one at room temperature. And the following day, I had one that had been in the refrigerator overnight. All of them were outstanding.
Brownies, as you no doubt already know, are either "cakey" or "fudgy." These are almost at the dividing line between the two, especially if you take them out of the oven on the early side: fudgy-soft cake, with a nice crinkly top.
And the best part is that if you like them, you won't have any trouble baking up another batch quite soon.