Nobody really knows who invented brownies – not even Jean Anderson, who wrote The American Century Cookbook where she mentions a few stories. There’s one about a lady in Bangor Maine who ruined a cake and called it “brownies”. Then there’s another idea that they’re Americanized versions of Scottish cocoa scones. And then there is my favorite, which is 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 (114 grams)
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate (56 gram)
1/2 cup all purpose flour (65 grams )
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nut meats
So today, home alone and in need of a baking project, I was going through my Methodist cookbook and noticed how similar the two Methodist brownies were to Lowney’s. From the two, 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.
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 (200 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)