In Search Of The Perfect Brownie

Published in the Ferndale-Record, August 11, 2010

I’m narrowing in.

Brownies and I have a rich past. I loved them early on and never stopped.

My mother made them only at Christmas. Never just an occasional pan for an after school nosh. There were, however, always lots of other scandalously enticing goodies at our table. Mom’s pies, cakes and cookies were utter perfection.

But I secretly longed for the dark side. Her brownies were tiny (too tiny) squares of superb, earthy goo, made in an 8 X 8 inch pan, topped with homemade, chocolate frosting. They were excellent, but there were never enough of them.

Over the years I’ve formed my own brownie philosophies, baked and purchased all versions of them repeatedly, postulated on form, style, and substance, and have discovered that while my specific preferences change with mood, whim, weather, and the earth’s rotation, a few basic rules always apply.

First, brownies may or may not be frosted. Usually I prefer frosting, but sometimes, if the density and moisture is just right, it makes no difference. Brownies that are robust enough to stand on their own without frothy coverings are rare, but can be unrivaled in taste.

Also, if frosting is applied to a homemade or bakery brownie, it can’t just be glaze, drizzle, or waxy paste. It has to be unblushing, full-bodied ooze. And plenty of it, please.

Store bakery brownies are pretty good and will do in a case of dire need. But for me, they’re too light, not dense enough, and try too hard. And the frosting, well, let’s just say, I’m the one scanning all the boxes to see which one has the most, and they usually all fall short. If I’m going to ingest the calories, I want them to be the most decadent ones I can find.

My own experimentation has produced some fine results. Rocky Road Brownies (homemade, topped with melted marshmallows, then chocolate frosting), box brownies off the shelf (these can be remarkably wonderful if doubled, and not cooked too long), Texas Brownies (batter covered with chocolate chips, baked in a sheet pan, then topped with cooked, chocolate frosting), and what my daughter calls “Headache Brownies” (homemade deep chocolate brownies with dark chocolate frosting).

The only brownie I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant that met my standards was thirty years ago at a place in Seattle called “The Great American Food and Beverage Company.” This dessert had it all. I always left there a happy woman, and mourned the closing of that establishment like the death of a close friend.

Years later, at a truck stop somewhere, I discovered delightful, packaged “Plantation Brownies.” Topped with a light coat of chocolate, these did not meet my general frosting guidelines. But they made up for it with a muddy density that led me into my fudge brownie phase. And that’s where I am now.

A fudge brownie (key word “fudge”), offered by a famous snack cake maker has become my new favorite. My local convenience store makes a point of trying to stock them for me. But when they’re out, I have other sources.

They’re solid, dark, brown velvet on the inside with just a slip of toothsome frosting. Nothing airy or bare here, just a bite of bawdy bliss. Plus, they only cost around one dollar a piece.

Sometimes, when people visit, or if requested, I’ll make a big pan of the dark gooey stuff. But for now, these little fudgy gems are brownie paradise.

I eat other, healthier things, too. But my loyalty and longing always bring me back to that tangible dark matter.

Once, I found a sign that expressed my sentiment perfectly: “Brownies. They’re not just for breakfast anymore.”



2 thoughts on “In Search Of The Perfect Brownie

  1. Back in the day, there used to be a little hole-in-the-wall store in downtown B’ham that sold some rich, decadent brownies that had cream cheese and chocolate chips and nuts. I don’t know if it’s still there, but I’ve been searching for brownies like that ever since.

    Sadly, my extended tour of the US has failed to find an acceptable alternative.

    • I remember the brownies you’re referring to.. and I cannot.. for my life.. recall the name of the establishment. My only consolation is that I think if they were still in business, I’d know it! If something springs to mind, I’ll let you know. Or better yet, have some sent directly to you 🙂

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