Most of Grammy’s recipes are not detailed. Yes, they list all the ingredients, though sometimes in the text rather than the way we’re used to seeing them now, all lined up at the top of the recipe. And yes, there are usually directions — often vague on cooking times, pan type or size, or special mixing needs. So when I came across a recipe for Helen Witty’s Blonde Brownies in the typed parchment sheaf, I was curious. This recipe was remarkably detailed, with three whole paragraphs of instructions. Hmmm. Was this really a Grammy recipe?

As it turned out, no, it was not. Helen Witty, a New-York based cookbook writer and baker, published this recipe in both a cookbook and in the newspaper in 1984. Which means that Grammy was still clipping interesting-looking recipes at the age of 84 — which I love. It also means that this is Helen Witty’s recipe, and  I’m not going to poach.

There are good blonde brownie recipes out there, and I’ll bet this is one. But under all this close blondie scrutiny, I was reminded that I’m not a big fan of these sort-of-chocolate-chip cookies, sort-of brownies. These are supposed to be an alternative for those who do NOT want a chocolate brownie. Yet blondie recipes still call for chocolate.

I decided to develop a true no-chocolate bar. Starting with Mrs. Witty’s recipe, I messed with how much flour, how many eggs, boosted the walnuts, added a teaspoon or two of rum for oomph. I tried dark brown sugar and then light brown sugar. The process began to feel like a long sojourn in the Cook’s Magazine test kitchen.

The result? Butterscotch Witticisms, rich and packed with walnuts. When I tried these on tasters Jann and John, they rolled a bite or two thoughtfully and offered a pragmatic suggestion — “salt” (a tetch more in the next batch) — and a slightly subversive one — “cocoa.” Interesting: Turns out a teaspoon of cocoa doesn’t turn this down the chocolate lane, yet does add a certain something.

So if you want to honor the “no chocolate” idea to the letter, nix on the cocoa. If you want to mystify your eaters, toss it in there with thanks to Jann and John. And the new name? A nod to Helen Witty, whose initial recipe caught my grandmother’s eye.

Butterscotch Witticisms

Makes 16 bars

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons dark or medium (not light) rum
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon good cocoa (optional)
  • 1 generous cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-by-8 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well incorporated. Add vanilla and rum; beat mixture until creamy.

Add flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa if using and walnuts; mix well.

Pour mixture into pan, spreading out to edges. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned around the edges. Cool in the pan; slice into squares or bars.

Recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC