Brownies bake with an American accent.
Honestly, I never laid eyes on a local brownie until they were standard café fare twenty years back. As much as I hate to admit it, these glorious squares of fudgie goodness are an import. Given how good and right they are, I would like it to be otherwise. The truth is, if I scour my dilapidated copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook (circa 1970) or even the wonderful Margaret Fulton Cookbook (1968), there’s not a brownie in sight. Even in the most up-to-date version of the CWA’s Country Classics (2018), there are chocolate biscuits, chocolate squares, chocolate coconut slice, but not one brownie. I confess, I did come across a recipe for Vegemite Brownies, but I’ll not go there. Let’s be honest: they’re not ours.
Apparently, the brownie has its beginnings in the last decade of the 19th century somewhere in America’s north eastern states. It turns out there are competing stories. One version has a home economics teacher from Maine, Mildred Schrumpf (yes, really!), was demonstrating the baking of a chocolate cake to her class. Apparently, Mildred forgot to add baking powder but was too proud to admit it. She claimed on the spot to have created the brownie. I like her.
Bostonians contest the Schrumpf story, insisting the brownie is theirs. According to this version, a local pastry chef was stirring melted chocolate with one hand and mixing ingredients for butter cookies with the other when a fire broke out in the kitchen. In the chaos that ensued, the two were combined. Hey presto! The Boston Brown Bar.
Really, I have no idea. I just know I like ’em. So here’s my recipe. The best result, I do believe, comes from the quality of the chocolate you use. If I’m feeling generous, I use the sublime Callebaut Belgian couverture ( I did today). If I’m skint and miserly, I don’t — whatever’s in the cupboard will do.
Here’s what you need
- 100g dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons rum
- 200g butter
- 350g good quality chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) cut into small pieces
- 300g sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 180g self raising flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 150g white chocolate buttons
- 100g dark chocolate buttons
Here’s what you do
- Preheat the oven to 170c (150c for a fan forced oven) and line a deep baking tray (20cm x 30cm) with baking paper.
- Put the cranberries into a small bowl and add the rum. Allow these to sit for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the butter and chocolate in a stainless steel or glass bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water and mix until melted together. Set aside to cool a little.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla essence until a well blended batter forms.
- Mix in the cooled chocolate and butter blend.
- Gently fold through the flour and salt.
- Add the chocolate buttons, white and dark, along with the the cranberries and rum. Combine gently. There’s no need to over mix.
- Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly.
- Bake for approximately 45 minutes until the brownie forms a crust. The usual skewer test does not always work with a brownie. The centre should still be moist without being runny. Keep in mind, it will continue to set as it cools.
- Once it’s cooled completely in the tin, cut into generous squares.
They will keep for a while in an airtight container — up to about 2 weeks actually — but really, who keeps brownies? Just eat them, with friends. And know that Mildred is proud.