the brownie comment
September 19, 2017 4:42 PM   Subscribe

“This has been my go-to brownie recipe for 30 years. In the ’80s, an acquaintance in Germany to whom I brought some of the brownies, and who considered herself a great cook, asked for the recipe but was never able to get it to work. She kept asking me what she was doing wrong and I was never able to solve her problem. Eventually, she moved to the U.S. and stole my husband!” The Story Behind the Greatest Internet Recipe Comment of All Time
posted by everybody had matching towels (61 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always wondered about that comment! I'm glad to hear it has a happy ending.

I make a version of that recipe with Baker's chocolate squares, rather than cocoa, by the way. I've found that it works better with crappy chocolate than with high-quality chocolate, which is a bit of a mystery.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:47 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Never saw that comment before! Too funny.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:51 PM on September 19


Her fury at being unable to craft a simple Amerikaner brownie led her to being an international kidnapper! News at 11.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:57 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


Heck of a job, brownie.
posted by SPrintF at 5:03 PM on September 19 [63 favorites]


The screenplay practically writes itself.
posted by clawsoon at 5:07 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


My favorite brownie recipe ever came from one of those "Name Brand Cookbooks," and called for cocoa powder instead of solid baking chocolate. I lost the book when I moved, and I haven't been able to find that particular edition of the book or that particular recipe anywhere else since. It was my signature potluck dish; from that I moved on to rum balls*, and thence to deviled eggs. Sic transit gloria mundi.

*I wish I had my Italian aunt's rum ball recipe. They were more rum than ball.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:11 PM on September 19 [8 favorites]


I couldn't link to the recipe so I googled "Katherine Hepburn's brownies" and found a recipe that looks like the one in the old Hershey's cookbook, which is what I've been using for years. The brownies are, indeed, delicious, although some people dismiss them for using cocoa, rather than chocolate. (I actually prefer butter over cocoa butter in brownies.)

The true key to excellent brownies: minimum flour.
posted by she's not there at 5:23 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


The true key to excellent brownies: minimum flour.

One of my favorite brownie recipes that I make has no flour at all, substituting all cocoa instead. I make it with Hershey's Special Dark cocoa and it's amazing.
posted by briank at 5:37 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


The real secret to brownies, and the one the other woman was probably missing, is Joe DiMaggio.
posted by 7segment at 5:41 PM on September 19 [49 favorites]


Finally a follow up on one of these unresolved stories that is worth the wait! That's a pretty nice story though it gets a little dicey in the middle.

They were more rum than ball.

So was I for the better part of a decade.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 5:44 PM on September 19 [7 favorites]


I’ve modified the recipe a tiny bit recently

And she just leaves us hanging! Now I need to wait for the follow-up to the follow-up to find out how she changed the recipe!
posted by Zonker at 5:52 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


Cool story! My late SIL spent some time trying to make some German recipes here (she was German) - German flours have different protein content than US flour and eggs are sold by how fresh they are rather than by size - the combination can definitely lead to recipes not translating well, husband stealing aside.
posted by leslies at 6:04 PM on September 19 [12 favorites]


The real secret to brownies, and the one the other woman was probably missing, is Joe DiMaggio.

You have to work the batter?
posted by hal9k at 6:05 PM on September 19 [61 favorites]


And she just leaves us hanging! Now I need to wait for the follow-up to the follow-up to find out how she changed the recipe!

The screenplay for THE BROWNIE II is still in development.
posted by clawsoon at 6:06 PM on September 19


I like the recipe from this America's Test Kitchen cookbook. It calls for more flour than this one does but it's cake flour., it also uses a bit of baking powder but is otherwise about the same. It depends a lot on the chocolate used and getting the timing dialed in to your oven is key. Remember that they will finish baking in the pan after you take them out of the oven.

I start by melting butter in a double boiler using a big pyrex bowl and then melting the chocolate into it. It lets me do the whole thing in one bowl. It also starts by heating a bunch of butter in a double boiler, like, just in case you wanted to steep anything in the butter for some reason. ;)

We also get the Ghirardelli brownie mix from CostCo and those are a close second when I can't be bothered to make them from scratch.

Now that I wrote all that, I wonder if the woman's problem was type of flour.
posted by VTX at 6:08 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


All the best recipes start with stealing husbands. Sometimes wives.

I should probably get a better cookbook besides To Serve Man. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find Alderean mime extract on Earth?
posted by loquacious at 6:08 PM on September 19 [9 favorites]


"So other than the divorce, how were the brownies Mrs. Lincoln?"
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:34 PM on September 19 [14 favorites]


The version of The Comment on the NYT site (paywalled) is slightly longer than that quoted in the article and in the OP, making the twist ending come even more out of nowhere.
This has been my go-to brownie recipe for 30 years, even after going to baking school! I agree that using the best cocoa possible makes a difference. These days, I use Callebaut. In the 80s, an acquaintence in Germany to whom I brought some of the brownies, and who considered herself a great cook, asked for the recipe but was never able to get it to work. She kept asking me what she was doing wrong and I was never able to solve her problem. Eventually, she moved to the US and stole my husband!
posted by Shmuel510 at 6:39 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite brownie recipes that I make has no flour at all, substituting all cocoa instead. I make it with Hershey's Special Dark cocoa and it's amazing.

Isn't this fudge? Maybe this is some kind of delicious grey area so I'm not going to get hung up on definitions but the only thing I can think of from "brownies without flour" is fudge.
posted by VTX at 6:39 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


Let the great fudge vs brownies debate begin! They're both delicious, but not at all the same thing.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:58 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


I only bake brownies from The Key Party Potluck Cookbook to avoid exactly this problem.
posted by benzenedream at 7:00 PM on September 19 [16 favorites]


The best brownies are really fudgy brownies, though. I have no opinion on where the boundary between fudge and brownies lies, but brownies should have minimal flour.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:00 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Brownies form an unbroken spectrum from Almost Fudge to Almost Cake. If there's no flour (or equivalent gluten-free substitute) you're probably hugging the former end, but...for instance, based on the visual evidence, I'm comfortable calling any of these brownies.

(I'm probably gonna try at least one of them now...)
posted by Shmuel510 at 7:01 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


This hews pretty close to my own recipe, which my mother then adapted to be gluten free by substituting almond &/or hazlenut meal for the flour, and lactose free by using vegetable or coconut oil.

Those things are next level amazing.

Layer the bottom with booze-soaked sour cherries and you've got an amazing Cherry Ripe brownie for the ages.
posted by coriolisdave at 7:12 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


You know, since legalization, my brownies have become a whole lot better....
posted by madajb at 7:22 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


I want to know if she stress baked and ate batches upon batches of them during this saga. That would have felt complicated. I would have overcome that issue by adding peanut butter or mini chocolate chips.
posted by anya32 at 7:37 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Oh, and in the Monster family, we refer to them as "browblies."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:35 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I’ve modified the recipe a tiny bit recently

And she just leaves us hanging! Now I need to wait for the follow-up to the follow-up to find out how she changed the recipe!


Obviously she knows that anyone with the complete recipe will be able to lure her new husband away also.
posted by 445supermag at 8:40 PM on September 19 [9 favorites]


Her fury at being unable to craft a simple Amerikaner brownie led her to being an international kidnapper! News at 11.

International kidnapper...of love!

I should probably get a better cookbook besides To Serve Man. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find Alderean mime extract on Earth?


Here at Aliki Farms, I have been carefully breeding artisanal, heritage, organic free-range Alderean mimes, in a carbon-neutral, sustainable fashion. The extract is 100% cold-pressed and aged in single malt finishing casks kept about a ship that sails calm international waters.

Once the mimemaster determines the extract is aged to the peak of perfection, we bottle it in hand-blown, gluten free craft bottles and cap them with 100% all natural cork stoppers and labels made from 100% post-consumer content. (The stoppers and labels are also gluten free). The bottling facility is also gluten free AND tree nut free!
posted by Samizdata at 10:45 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


Brownie mix has become so good that I've stopped making brownies from scratch. There, I said it.
posted by Harald74 at 11:27 PM on September 19 [16 favorites]


The comment was a masterly use of brevity and the follow-up just demonstrates how the story was perfectly told already imo.
posted by Segundus at 11:29 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


My best brownie recipe, long remembered and only once ever made, came from the back of a Ghirardelli powdered chocolate box in 2000. Sadly, living in the UK, I've not seen Ghirardelli on sale more than a few times since, and when I bought it, that recipe was no longer on the back.

I substituted in Green & Black's Maya Gold as the chocolate, and walnuts for pecans, and only ever got one square of it. But it was so memorable. One domino of a hugely life changing (for the negative) event fell that day, but it's not as simple as 'stole my husband', so,...
posted by ambrosen at 12:08 AM on September 20


Brownies form an unbroken spectrum from Almost Fudge to Almost Cake.

Not a scratch brownie maker but had committed to bringing brownies the next day and well after midnight discovered that the box grabbed in a rush was a chocolate CAKE mix, arghh. Wait, google. Well it turns out "make brownies from cake mix" is a thing. No really, google it. Worked, definitely brownie, but with a distinct cakeness.
posted by sammyo at 2:02 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


If it has cakeness, it's not a brownie IMHO.

Also:

The brownies are, indeed, delicious, although some people dismiss them for using cocoa, rather than chocolate.

This is a thing? What in the actual fuck. The brownies I make are cocoa only (and a small amount of flour), baked to a fudgy goodness. They basically snared me my now wife. They also get requested by managers at both our offices not so subtly around review time. They are fucking delicious and not once have I ever heard someone say "wait, but you used butter and cocoa instead of solid chocolate?!".
posted by tocts at 3:53 AM on September 20


Isn't this fudge? Maybe this is some kind of delicious grey area so I'm not going to get hung up on definitions but the only thing I can think of from "brownies without flour" is fudge.

Not at all. It uses eggs and baking powder to produce lift and structure and is not unlike flourless chocolate torte. It is pretty fudgy, but, as others have noted, fudgy is a desirable quality in brownies.
posted by briank at 5:38 AM on September 20


I wish people would share more of these promotion- and spouse- getting brownie recipes...
posted by bunderful at 5:51 AM on September 20 [6 favorites]


The things I miss out on because I don't like chocolate . . . .
posted by JanetLand at 6:09 AM on September 20


I wish people would share more of these promotion- and spouse- getting brownie recipes...

Yeah srsly people, the ul and ol tags are easy to type, this is a low-flour recipe that will give you power over lands both far and wide . . .
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (all-purpose will work too)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Big fan of Scharfen Berger)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Use a 8-inch square baking pan, preheat oven at 325.
  1. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a bowl and set the bowl in a wide pot/pan of barely simmering water.
  2. Stir until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Remove the bowl and let it cool for 4 or 5 minutes
  4. Add vanilla and then the eggs one at a time, (keep stirring!). When the batter looks blended and shiny, add the flour and stir until it disappears, then give it a frenzied stirring for 30 seconds.
  5. Pour into pan and bake about 20 to 25 minutes. Use toothpick to test for doneness and yes, remember they will continue cooking after you take them out of oven.
Let cool and serve when ready to conquer kingdoms.
posted by jeremias at 6:46 AM on September 20 [16 favorites]


Brownies are the one baked good that I find perfectly fine from a box mix (with the addition of some extra chocolate chips, of course). But if they bring the extra sweetness of mass-made cake or cookie mix, that's just part of what I expect in a brownie, I suppose. I won't say I can tell the difference, but for all the trouble, the mix is just as good for me.
posted by maryr at 6:57 AM on September 20


Long ago my wife learned a mixture of oil and cocoa can be substituted for baking chocolate. She has a recipe that used a killer amount of the stuff and it tastes like a dark chocolate overdose. People that we have inadvertently exposed to this recipe beg for it, whine for it, plead from hundreds of miles away. I just have to ask nicely for it.

But there is nothing wrong with Ghirardelli brownie mix.
posted by Ber at 6:57 AM on September 20


I wish people would share more of these promotion- and spouse- getting brownie recipes...

Here's my go to brownie recipe, which my wife (jokingly?) forbids me from baking for anyone but herself.
posted by noneuclidean at 7:08 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


My sister-in-law's Italian aunt made these wonderful things called sfingis. Before she passed she gave my sil the recipe but her one and only attempt to make them resulted in "disaster" (her words). So no more sfingis.
posted by tommasz at 7:46 AM on September 20


A much beloved brownie baker here in our academic department once remarked that brownies should only have just enough flour to serve as a substrate with which to hold the butter, sugar and chocolate together. Because nobody eats a brownie for the wheat.
posted by darkstar at 8:15 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Heh. I literally just use Alton Brown's recipe.

The only secrets I have are:

Use good quality cocoa powder.

Consider dropping the flour to 1/4 cup.

The recipe used to claim 350 degrees, but now says 300, which matches my experience - you want lower heat for longer.

Lastly, pull when an inserted toothpick is just barely not clean (don't over bake! It will keep setting after removing from the oven).
posted by tocts at 8:18 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


The things I miss out on because I don't like chocolate . . . .

Blondies are good, too. Lots of people put chocolate chips in them, but you don't gotta.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:48 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


I stand by this recipe which I took off a usenet group in 1989 or so.

Note the ratio of 1 egg per ounce of chocolate. These are rich as hell.
posted by plinth at 9:23 AM on September 20


I like a cake-like brownie as opposed to a fudge-like brownie, so this is my go-to recipe. Yes, 10 minutes, really. (It goes faster than you think.) The nuts provide some vital texture, so even if you're not a nuts-in-brownies person, give it a whirl. I also find that using brown sugar in place of some of the white sugar works very well.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:00 AM on September 20


pull when an inserted toothpick is just barely not clean

This is exactly why I don't cook well. That is not properly defined. I need an exact level of "barely not cleanliness." I can and will over think this.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:00 PM on September 20


That is not properly defined. I need an exact level of "barely not cleanliness."

Abehammerb Lincoln - I love cooking and I am a scientist who has done some very analytically precise (and accurate!) stuff so I understand the desirability of "proper definitions."

However, as a cook, I'm perfectly fine with "barely not cleanliness" as cooking diagnostics are - to me - less of a reproducibility metric (although it can serve that purpose), but as a diagnostic of personal preference.

The definition of "barely not cleanliness" is definitely going to vary between individuals and that, there to me, is one of the joys of cooking and sharing food.
posted by porpoise at 12:30 PM on September 20


I make these on a regular basis, with the addition of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Really, many good chocolate things are improved by additional chocolate chips, especially when they're all warm and melty.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:54 PM on September 20


"just barely not clean":
when you pull out the toothpick, chocolatey stuff is clinging to it. The stuff is more solid than liquid. It looks like wet crumbs. If it looks like thick milkshake, it is still too fully not clean and needs to go back into the oven to become just barely not clean.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:39 PM on September 20 [2 favorites]


King Arthur Flour's Quick and Easy Fudge Brownies recipe.
2. Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl in the order in which they're written. Stir, then beat the mixture until it's smooth.

3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
posted by mikelieman at 1:52 PM on September 20


My sister-in-law's Italian aunt made these wonderful things called sfingis. Before she passed she gave my sil the recipe but her one and only attempt to make them resulted in "disaster" (her words). So no more sfingis.


I grew up making sfingi (Sicilian household, recipe from my sicilian aunt). They were not in the brownie family at all though, they were a deep fried batter which used whiskey as some of the batter liquid. I haven't made them in maybe ten years though I still have the recipe around here somewhere.

Is that the sfingi you're referring to?
posted by newpotato at 2:46 PM on September 20


This is exactly why I don't cook well. That is not properly defined. I need an exact level of "barely not cleanliness." I can and will over think this.

Paradoxically, the more cooking you've done, the less of an issue this is. Cook more and you'll get a feel for what that really means and how it related to what you're cooking and how you like it cooked.

I can tell you that the "barely clean toothpick" based on how I define it, will give me a brownie that's more "done" than I like. I baked a lot of batches of slightly over-cooked brownies to learn that.

The key to getting better at anything is study and practice. If you want to get better at cooking, that means making a lot of poorly cooked stuff. On the bright side, a lot of poorly cooked food is still delicious.
posted by VTX at 2:52 PM on September 20 [2 favorites]


Also remember, all baking is very sensitive to the type of oven and pan. I usually just make a double recipe for anything new since the first attempt is always a hail Mary. You can always correct on number two.
posted by benzenedream at 2:56 PM on September 20 [1 favorite]


Hey, that King Arthur recipe reminds me of the one I lost. I'll have to try it once the weather is cool enough for baking.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:29 PM on September 20


Yeah, "barely not clean" is a diagnostic, not an exact state. If you cook brownies to the point where a toothpick inserted comes out 100% clean, you've over-cooked them. You want to pull them from the oven before that point. You can start testing a few minutes before the recipe claims it's supposed to be done, and repeat your test until the toothpick comes out with a little damp chocolatey stuff on it but not like liquid batter (time between tests varies based on prior result -- if you check and it's still super liquid, wait 5 minutes; close to done, wait 1 minute, etc).

If you pull it too soon, it's still pretty delicious IMHO, though the center may be a little too wet for some tastes :)
posted by tocts at 7:26 PM on September 20


I've found the best base recipe to be Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" recipe. It can be modified to be fudgier or cakier. It takes add-ins well. I always use a pretty generous pour of vanilla, and when I want to get really fancy, I cut up some of the fun-size Reeses cups and toss those in right before I pour into the pan.
posted by honeybee413 at 9:16 PM on September 20


Iirc, I got my recipe 30+ years ago from a Hershey's cookbook, but it's a bit different from what turns up when I google "Hershey's brownies". I don't know if the differences in quantities are due to changes made by Hershey or by me. I do all the mixing by hand in one bowl—it's not worth the bother of getting out the electric beater, let alone the stand mixer.

Preheat oven to 325.

1/2 cup butter, melted (I always buy unsalted)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I prefer almond extract)
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa (a bit extra doesn't hurt)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Melt the butter in the microwave.
Stir in sugar and flavoring.
Beat in the eggs.
Add the salt, baking powder, and cocoa. Stir until blended.
Gently fold in the flour.

Spread in 8" square or 9" round pan and bake until done*. (*See discussion above. Off-hand, I'd say ~25 minutes.)


Note: next time I make these I'm going to try browning the butter, i.e., heating it in a saucepan for about 5 minutes or so after it melts/until you see bits of milk solids on the bottom of the pan. I've browned the butter for the last few batches of chocolate chip cookies and the difference has been remarkable. (Literally. Left some with my brother and SIL—received a text from my brother a few hours later re the difficulty of trying to eat my cookies on the sly because he didn't want to risk upsetting my SIL/his wife, who had just made traditional Toll House cookies.)
posted by she's not there at 12:19 AM on September 21


After reading this thread I've been craving brownies. So I made the Katherine Hepburn brownies.... and they blow my old brownie recipe out of the water. Thanks metafilter!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:26 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Abehammerb Lincoln, might I recommend Michael Ruhlman's excellent small cookbook Ratio? I think I bought it from a recommendation somewhere on MeFi, and it has enabled me to think much more clearly about cooking and baking stuff that I tended to overthink earlier.
posted by Harald74 at 12:26 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


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