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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?

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We’re snowbound here in Washington. Lots of time in the kitchen; the pantry and freezer have yielded some good meals. I was craving a post-shoveling indulgence and thinking about the Chocolate Holiday coming up on February 14. Conclusion: Brownies, for all who are housebound with power, or feeding neighbors, or wanting something sweet with their snow-day tea.

Remember bake sales? The ones where YOU didn’t have to do the baking? Our school used to have great bake sales, running alongside the White Elephant sales (which had much better stuff before the draining advent of eBay and Craig’s List). My grandmother — in her seventies or early eighties at the time — would bake brownies for our school’s bake sales. Those brownies went fast.

There are definitely at least two schools of brownies: Cakey and fudgy. People can live in both worlds, but it is not easy. I myself am a gooey brownie fan. And Grammy’s brownies are definitely in that school.

Grammy's brownies with nuts

Gram did not, however, make the other brownie decision: Nuts or not. I found a pretty elegant solution to that this go-round. One recipe makes two 8-by-8 pans of brownies. I split the batch, and put the full 1-cup quota of chopped nuts (pecans) in one half, leaving the second panful delightfully plain.

Good chocolate is important but expensive chocolate is not vital. Grammy only ever used Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate, the squares in the flat orange box. This time I used Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Chocolate, which apparently is made by the venerable Callebaut. Next time I’ll try with Scharfenberger or maybe Valrhona — or I may save those for icings and souffles and Montana Mousse.

What IS vital is to cut these before they cool. It’s also a good idea to get them out of the pan while they are still a bit warm. Which will, of course, damage a couple. And they’ll need to be eaten right away.

Grammy’s Brownies

Makes 32 2-inch brownies

  • 4 ounces (4 squares of Baker’s) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 8-by-8 inch baking pans.

In the top of a large double-boiler, melt chocolate and butter together. Remove the top of the double boiler from the stove, and allow the chocolate mixture to cool slightly. Stir in sugar, then eggs, flour, salt and vanilla, and nuts if using.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the pan comes out clean. Cut brownies before cool.

Photo and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC. All rights reserved.

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