Side Orders: Making homemade brownies revives joyful tradition

photo Anne Braly

Ever since the first brownie mix in a box came out back in the 1970s, many cooks take the easy route, making made-from-scratch brownies a delicious rarity. But baby boomers may well remember those delicious brownies made by our mothers. Back then, "Joy of Cooking" cookbooks were a must in every kitchen. They were a cook's Bible. But I go into kitchens now, and it's hard to even find a cookbook, much less that much-coveted "Joy of Cooking," where there was a certain page always pockmarked with chocolate - that page where you'd find the recipe for Brownies Cockaigne.

Those brownies were the go-to recipe for bake sales, bridge parties, potluck dinners. You name it, you could always count on biting into their luscious chocolatey goodness at such events. I think my mother made them for two reasons - first, to have something to take somewhere, and second, and probably the best reason, to give her a few minutes of blessed silence while my sister and I licked the spoon and bowl.

Then all that ended with brownies in a box - a very weak cousin to those made from scratch - and America turned her nose at licking the bowl.

The name Brownies Cockaigne may sound like an illegal drug, and trust me, you may get addicted to them. In this case, though, that's perfectly legal. In this instance, cockaigne is nothing more than an old French term meaning a mythical land of plenty where all the harshness of medieval life was banished. The Vikings called such place Valhalla. We call it heaven. And these brownies are the definition of heavenly. To serve, eat them slightly cooled from the oven or, if a little on the cold side, zap them in the microwave to warm for a few seconds and serve with a scoop of ice cream.

Brownies Cockaigne

1/2 cup butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 eggs, at room temperature (see tip)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double-broiler (or a pot over another pot of boiling water). Let this mixture cool, or the brownies will be heavy and dry. Beat the eggs and salt until light in color and foamy in texture. Add the sugar and vanilla gradually, and continue beating until well creamed.

With a few swift strokes, combine the cooled chocolate mixture and the eggs and sugar. Do this by hand instead of using a hand mixer. Before it's well mixed, fold in the flour. Add the nuts if desired. Stir gently until mixed. Try not to beat the mixture too heavily. Bake in a greased 9- by 13-inch pan for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Cover the pan with a towel and leave it to sit for 30-45 minutes. Don't cut until the brownies are cool, as the interiors are still moist when fresh from the oven.

Note: Brownies bake for about 20 to 30 minutes more after being taken out of the oven, so don't skip the step about leaving them covered with a towel. If you bake them according to the recipe, they will not be done at the end of the baking time. That's OK, just make sure they sit under a towel.

Tip: To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, let them sit in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 minutes. Room-temperature eggs disperse more evenly into the batter, making for even baking.


I was surprised when my sister, whom I consider somewhat of a wine snob, recommended a $3 bottle of wine, Winking Owl cabernet from Aldi. I think it's the cheapest bottle on the wine rack. It's remarkably good and smooth for the price, she said. At $3, I thought, why not? So I picked up a bottle, and as I went through the checkout line, the cashier commented on Winking Owl, too. She said she'd been at home wine tasting at a friend's house and at the end of the evening, the Winking Owl was all gone, though other bottles remained half full.

Remember the hoopla surrounding Two-Buck Chuck, the wine from Charles Shaw Winery sold at Trader Joe's? Since we do not have a Trader Joe's in Chattanooga, I still pick up a bottle or two when I'm in Atlanta. But the Winking Owl is, in my far-from-expert opinion, just as good. And for the price, you can buy it by the case and still have money left over for some good cheese and crackers.

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