Simple Cake Flour Brownies

Nobody really knows who invented brownies – not even Jean Anderson, who wrote The American Century Cookbook where she mentions a few stories. There’s the one about the lady in Bangor Maine who ruined a cake and called it “brownies”, the idea that they’re Americanized versions of Scottish cocoa scones, and my favorite — that they were invented by a lady named “Brownie”. But what’s fact is that food historians found early recipes in two places, the 1906 edition of Fanny Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cookbook and the Lowney’s Cookbook, which was published around the same time, by a chocolate company.

The ingredients in the early brownies are as follows, except the Fanny Farmer version has one less egg.

4 oz butter
1 cup sugar (7.5 oz)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour (2.3 oz )
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nut meats

So today, home alone while the family went to a water park, I was going through my Methodist cookbook and noticed how similar the two Methodist brownies were to Lowney’s but with a few twists. For instance, the one I chose to make called for slightly less butter, sifted cake flour in place of all purpose and the addition of a half teaspoon of baking powder. They were delicious!

For a simple, no-fuss brownie, these are excellent and perfect for every day baking. On paper 2 oz unsweetened chocolate doesn’t look like a lot, but given the small amounts of everything else, it packs a good punch. And since the recipe is small, you can use your favorite high end baking chocolate. I used what I had on hand which was Ghirardelli’s 100% cacao baking chocolate.

cake flour brownies

Simple Cake Flour Brownies

3/4 cup sifted cake flour (72 grams/2.6 oz)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut up
2 oz good quality unsweetened chocolate
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar (192 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon plus a pinch salt
1/2 cup toasted nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 inch metal pan with foil. Spray bottom only with cooking spray.

Re-sift the sifted cake flour with the baking powder and set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Turn heat to low, add chocolate, stir for a second, then turn off the heat and melt chocolate with residual heat. Let cool slightly.

Beat the eggs and granulated sugar with a hand-held electric mixer for about 2 minutes – mixture will look light and frothy. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Beat in the melted chocolate/butter mixture. Stir in the flour and nuts (if using).

Pour the batter in the prepared pan and bake on center rack for about 25 minutes or until brownies start to smell done and look set. Cool to room temperature or quick cool by setting the pan in a larger pan of ice water. Lift foil from pan when brownies are cool. Cut into whatever size you like.

Makes 16 brownies (or more if you cut them smaller)

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  1. says

    I’m always curious about how recipes evolve over time, and assume tastes have become more sophisticated. But based on your recommendation, it sounds like this recipe works as a contemporary brownie. I guess they figured it out long ago. Of course, I’d add chocolate chips!

  2. says

    Lisa, I thought about adding chocolate chips but resisted the urge. Glad I did because it might have made these too rich. I promise, they do not need the chips.

    Sue, they’re pretty fudgy, but not greasy.

    Jenny, thanks for letting me know about that thumbnail. There will be more where that came from when I get my new theme up and running.

  3. says

    hi anna,

    you never disappoint!

    i have a brownie related question for you – i’m prepping for a bake sale and i like the sound of your extraordinary bake sale brownies. i did a cost breakdown and using Ghiradelli, not including any labor, it would cost me $1.11 per large brownie (large) or $.63 (small). is $1.50 or $1.75 (large) or $1-$1.25 (small) market price for a bake sale chocolate brownie these days?

    let me know what you think when you have a sec and thanks!

  4. Louise says

    I have Lowney’s Cook Book Revised Edition 1921 (as well as many other old cookbooks). There are two brownie recipes in it. Bangor brownies and Lowney’s Brownies.

  5. Linda says

    Lisa and Anna,
    The “premier” grocery store out this way, Wegmans, introduced their new bakery brownie a year or so ago. Their final product, after much testing (now there’s a job – brownie tester), was a very rich brownie with mini, semi-sweet chocolate chips. They do two versions – one with and one without nuts. While I agree that it may be gilding the lily, after Wegmans made this announcement, I’ve been adding mini-chips to my brownies. Using the mini-chips gives a very different mouth-feel than using regular sized chips. Just thought I’d share this…

  6. Denise Walker says

    I baked these in a glass dish lined with foil so I could remove them easily. The top of the brownies came out with a crackle top. Never seen that before. Is that how they are supposed to be or did I do something wrong? Have not tasted them yet, will let u know when they cool down.

  7. Denise Walker says

    Thanx for your response Anna, I was beginning to wonder if I did something wrong. I would imagine that beating the eggs and suger until it foams has alot to do with it. Your right, they taste good nontheless.

  8. says

    Denise, one more thing I forgot to mention yesterday. You said you made the brownies in a glass dish. There’s this rule of thumb that if you bake brownies in a glass dish, you should reduce the heat by 25 degrees F and bake until done –the same amount of time or slightly longer. So in this case, you might have reduced the heat to 325 F. In some cases it doesn’t matter, but glass and metal don’t conduct heat the same way. From what I’ve read, the bottom of the glass pan acts as an insulator and the bottom of the brownies don’t cook as fast as the top. So what happens is the top gets really crispy, but underneath you have undercooked brownies. Reducing the heat and cooking “slow and low” helps balance things out.

    I always reduce the heat 25 degrees for black pans too.

  9. Bella says

    When i made my brownies it turned out like a cookie dough but i added milk to help and they were yummy!i also used peanut butter with a little bit of butter and that also made it yummy.

  10. says

    Thanks for the review, Bella! I haven’t made this particular recipe in a while, but it’s a good way to use cake flour. Glad you were able to make the recipe work since your dough was dry. It sounds like you might have used a bit too much flour or maybe used all-purpose rather than cake flour. Cake flour is lighter in weight than all-purpose, so 3/4 cup of cake flour would weigh only 3 oz while 3/4 of all-purpose would weigh about 3.5 oz. When you sift the cake flour and then measure it, the weight is around 2.6 oz. So the only way to really get the exact amount is to use cake flour and weigh it OR use cake flour, sift it and then weigh it. Or maybe you did all that and I’m just saying all this for nothing ;). I’ve just noticed over the years that measuring flour by volume only isn’t very accurate and it sometimes causes dough to be dry.

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