Thursday, January 22, 2009

As Good as Duncan Hines

Way back when, before Alex crowned himself Supreme Ruler of My Life, I relished taking smugly made-from-scratch desserts to Sunday dinner at my mom's house. I welcomed spending six hours making torta tres leches. I laughed in the face of deflated pate au choux--I'd just make it again! After all, what else was I supposed to do with my Sundays in a town where scripture-reading and hymn-singing were the only commendable, if not the only legal, forms of Sabbath entertainment? "Aren't these delicious?" I would prompt. "Don't you like the filling?" Cue adoring family fan club: "Yes, Carolina, these are the best cream puffs we have ever had."

My, how things have changed. Since the incredible edible Coconut Cake of March, 2008, I have shrunk from time-consuming kitchen projects. Cooking is simply not as enjoyable with a 24-pound boa constrictor (that looks surprisingly like a toddler) swaddling my leg.

Last Sunday, I desperately searched the pantry for a boxed brownie mix. It was 10:00 am, and dinner at my mom's house was at 4:30 pm. If I found a mix quickly enough and worked diligently on adding the eggs, oil, and water in between Alex's requests for help, I might be able to get the brownies in the oven by 2:00 pm, which would give them just enough time to cook and cool before dinner.

Alas, no brownie mix. So I resorted to a brownie recipe from Alton Brown, Alex's and my Food Network hero (and the culinary equivalent of Bill Nye, the Science Guy). (I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats faithfully while I nursed Alex, and Alex has bonded with Alton. Good Eats in the only TV he cares to watch. When we let him watch it, he mmmmms and ooooohs at the food Alton whips up.)

The recipe was a success: the brownies had a crispy, glossy exterior and a moist and chewy interior. When my mom tasted them, she exclaimed, "They're as good as Duncan Hines!" These days, I take that as a compliment.

For your culinary enjoyment, I reproduce the recipe below, altered to match the exact instructions Alton Brown uttered during the relevant episode of Good Eats. (Yes, I found and watched the particular episode on YouTube before beginning.)

Cocoa Powder Brownies
(No Last-Minute Run to the Grocery Store for Unsweetened Chocolate!)
  • Soft butter, for greasing the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
  • 8 ounces melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups natural, not Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.

Sift together sugars, cocoa powder, flour, and salt. In a mixer fitted with a whisk paddle attachment, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.

Reduce the mixer's speed to its lowest setting and add the sifted dry ingredients, Once they are fully incorporated, add the vanilla and melted butter very slowly until just combined. Overmixing will turn this into cake batter.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 45-60 minutes. Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.


  1. Ooooooohhhhh! I really really want to make these now!

  2. We are making brownies tomorrow. We will try these out! Next year, Alex will be helping you make them. I like the image of a boa constrictor quite a lot.

  3. i cooked these brownies yesterday; they were delicious.