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You Can Sell Your House With These Brownies
Montana Senior News, Idaho Senior Independent June/July 2016
I once overheard a woman say she thought everyone ought to make brownies from scratch instead of from a mix. She had just baked her first batch of brownies relying on a recipe and happily reported the superiority of the one-saucepan method. I was surprised, but not because I was unaware that homemade brownies were one of the easiest and tastiest treats on the planet to prepare. It just seemed amazing to me that it had taken another baby boomer so long to make this discovery.

A brownie maven since childhood, I have long known the pleasures of melting chocolate and butter together to create this perennial favorite. Before that, though, I was on intimate terms with brownies from a box. I often made them with my mom, who let me stir the batter and afterwards lick the bowl clean. I also made them with my best friend, Patricia Boyajian, who shared my passion for all things chocolate.

For the most part, we were obedient kids willing to follow parental rules. But I recall one time when our zeal for brownies prompted us to forsake common sense and disregard an edict of the Boyajian household: “Never light the gas oven by yourself.”

Knowing how much her daughter loved puttering in the kitchen, Mrs. B. had wisely issued her mandate. On this particular day in our fourth-grade lives, however, the lure of fudgy brownies overruled caution. Despite our home-alone status, we grabbed a packaged mix off the pantry shelf and began cracking eggs and measuring oil. When the timer rang, we slid the pan from the oven, poured two glasses of milk, and indulged until we could eat no more. After cleaning up, we stashed the forbidden leftovers in the garbage can outside feeling both confident and content.

Alas, our euphoria was short-lived. Only a magician could bake brownies and keep it a secret when allowed a mere hour for all signs of the deed to disappear. And that’s how much time remained between when our brownies finished baking and Mrs. B’s Toyota rolled into the driveway.

No sooner had she walked in the door than she sniffed the air uttering five words I have never forgotten, “Patricia, have you been baking?” It never dawned on us that the aroma of chocolate wafting through the house and the testimony of a still-warm oven would clearly indicate how we had spent our afternoon.

In a flash, Mrs. B. raced to the backyard where the trashcan stood holding the convicting evidence. We watched, stunned, as she rifled her way to the bottom and triumphantly unearthed the empty box plus the remnants of our snack. I did not linger to hear the verdict pronounced on my cohort but knew the punishment would be nothing I would care to experience.

“See you tomorrow,” I yelled as my Keds propelled me home faster than you can say Betty Crocker. I still feel twinges of remorse when recalling this incident and my brownie salesmanship skills, which helped get my friend in trouble.

Before long, I parted ways with packaged mixes and mastered a basic brownie recipe. During the decades that followed, I experimented with numerous variations in pursuit of the ultimate brownie. Eventually, I amassed an impressive collection including delectable Heath-Bar brownies and almond-scented cream-cheese brownies.

Since I now live 11 miles from the closest supermarket, I always keep certain necessities on hand—flour, sugar, eggs, butter, chocolate, walnuts, and vanilla. With those staples, I can whip up a pan of chocolate heaven on a moment’s notice. To gussy up the plain version of this old friend, I toss some Andes Mints on the crackly surface while the brownies cool. Then I spread the melted candy puddles into a fragrant green-tinged glaze.

While I may not reach for a boxed brownie mix anymore, I can still appreciate the important role this convenience food played in my life. It introduced me at a tender age to the joys of baking and the promise of so many tantalizing things to come.

The following recipe comes from the author’s cookbook, The Hungry Bear Kitchen: Recipes & Writings. With its subtle almond flavor and swirls of cream cheese batter, this moist brownie is perfect for those who like to mix-and-match their chocolate rather than go for it straight. It is a variation on a time-tested recipe that originally appeared on the box of Baker’s German Chocolate.
4 ounces chocolate chips
5 tablespoons butter, softened (divided 3 tbsp. + 2 tbsp.)
4 ounces cream cheese
1 scant cup sugar (divided into approximately ¼ c. + ¾ c.)
3 eggs (divided 1 + 2)
1- ½ teaspoons vanilla (divided into ½ tsp. + 1 tsp.)
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
Melt chocolate with 3 tablespoons of butter over very low heat. Stir constantly to prevent scorching. Set aside to cool. With a food processor or mixer, blend cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of butter. Gradually add ¼ cup sugar and mix till smooth. Blend in 1 egg, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of flour then set aside.
Finish chocolate batter by beating together 2 eggs with ¾ cup sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled chocolate, 1 teaspoon vanilla, almond extract, baking powder, salt, ½ cup flour, and nuts (if using them). Spread 3/4’s of the chocolate batter in a greased9 X 9-inch pan. Over this, spread the cheese batter. Dollop remaining chocolate batter on top, leaving white spaces when possible. Marbleize the batter vertically by running a knife continuously without lifting it from top to bottom and moving from left to right of pan. Then marbleize the batter horizontally using the same method. Bake 35 - 40 minutes at 350°. A tester should come out dry and the top should be golden where you see the cheese batter.