Sunday, March 25, 2012

Classic Brownies

Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Photo of Joy with Candle and Birthday Brownie
Happy Birthday to Joy
I’m all for healthy eating and adding fruits and veggies to baked goods. But sometimes a chocolatey, sugary treat with no redeeming health value is more appropriate to the occasion. Like on March 24, when we celebrated my dear friend Joy’s 75th birthday…without her. She passed away suddenly last year, only two months after we moved to a house near hers. We were close during the short years we were friends. She officiated at my wedding. I’d call her up spontaneously and we’d talk about nature, books, art, anything. She would validate me, even when I made stupid mistakes. Her three kids are close to my age, yet she was like my wise older sister. I’ll never forget her 70th birthday, when she took us to a bellydance show after dinner. Later on, she served us limoncello at her house, and revealed that she owned over 100 Grateful Dead CDs, showing us their jackets in a neat, numbered portfolio.

Attach Violets with Melted Chocolate Bits
Joy’s favorite flowers were violets. She loved the scent. I’d never looked twice at a violet until I met her, and still am not completely sure what they smell like. Violets bloomed profusely in our yard this year, and I’m sure it’s Joy at work. I sensed her presence when I harvested them and made candied violets last month. These violets are the perfect topping for Joy’s birthday brownies. I’m sad that she’s gone, and could not let the day pass without acknowledging her with a small ritual. Surely the celebration would have been livelier if she’d been here orchestrating it.

To honor my friend unconventional nature, I chose to add a combination of pecans and almonds to the brownies. This added an almost-familiar yet unexpected flair to the brownies. You might prefer sticking with one of type of nut. Or you may want to use walnuts. If you want to make half of the recipe with and half without nuts, check my tips for making half-nuts bar cookies.

It’s most important to cool the melted chocolate and butter before adding eggs, otherwise the eggs will start to cook and the brownies’ texture will be strange and heavy. It’s also best to have the eggs at room temperature and take the time to beat them thoroughly till fluffy and light. Eggs are the only leavening agent in (most) brownies, so fluffiness in the eggs adds lightness to the brownies. This is another dish that is always popular at potlucks. Enjoy!

Plate of three Brownies
Candied Violets add Festive Touch
Classic Brownies
makes 18 - 24

½ cup butter
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup chopped almonds

1 tsp. powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
¼ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 9” x 13” baking pan. If using stoneware pan, spray with cooking spray rather than buttering.

Put chocolate in microwavable bowl and heat for three 30-second intervals, stirring a bit in between. Add butter and microwave at 10-second intervals, stirring in between. When butter melts, keep stirring till chocolate melts. Cool mixture to room temperature (don’t rush this step).

Beat eggs until light and foamy with wire whisk or fork. Beat in salt and vanilla.

When chocolate mixture is cool, beat in eggs with wire whisk until well mixed and light. Beat in sugar about ½ cup or less at a time.

Sift in flour. With wooden spoon or spoonula, mix only until flour is just incorporated. Add nuts, if using, before mixture is uniform in color, and stir in only till evenly distributed.

Pour batter into buttered or sprayed pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 – 35 minutes. When done, toothpick inserted will have a few fudgy crumbs clinging to it.

Cool bars completely before slicing.

Sprinkling Confectioners' Sugar from Sifter
How to Maximize 1 Teaspoon Sugar
You might also want to do the following before slicing: Sprinkle powdered sugar through a sieve or sifter, and/or melt some semisweet chocolate bits to spread thinly in stripes over parts of the bars.  Check out my tips for melting chocolate bits in the microwave, under the “Melt Chocolate” header in the dipped strawberries recipe.

After slicing, you might want to add candied violets. Attach them with a small drop of melted chocolate bits.


  1. This was absolutely beautiful! I never met Joy in person but we talked daily on chat--we became friends on facebook -she text me and told me she liked my screen name (ankhamungus or ankhlenda) and we talked from that day on--she even got me some shot glasses when she took her trip to Italy as she knew I collected them! Very special place in my heart for her!<3 RIP Joy

  2. Thank you, Ankh, for this lovely comment. Joy and I were very close during the last 5 years of her life, met while training to be docents for Long Marine Lab. If only I'd met her many years sooner. You might like the first photo of my most recent post...the sun/moon/star garden ornament belonged to Joy (hence the "Springtime Joy" caption). It was on her porch and her daughters gave it to me for our yard.