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Balking on Brownies

October 3, 2013

One of the first things I remember cooking as a child was brownies. They were always made from scratch. My job was to help with the stirring, and to lick the bowl.

As I grew older, I learned the secret to delicious, fudgy brownies was to just use enough flour to hold together the butter, eggs, and chocolate. Or at least that is how my mom used to make them.

But me? I don’t bake. And I’m afraid that recently I set my own kids down a slippery slope.

Yesterday Young Master Fussy’s school had a family picnic in the evening. The idea was that each family would bring dinner for themselves and a dessert to share.

You may find this hard to believe, but I’m not really a picnic kind of guy. I don’t like eating on the grass. I find sitting on the ground to be woefully uncomfortable. And I’m not crazy about balancing a plate on my lap.

Eating outdoors, standing in the shade of a taco truck? No problem. The differences are small, but they are meaningful.

My lead option for the picnic was having a pizza picnic. As it turned out, many of the other Princeton families had the same idea. I can’t recall ever seeing so many pizza boxes at a picnic before. But hey, people here lead busy lives.

However, earlier in the day, I was at Trader Joe’s with Little Miss Fussy. As the two of us were wandering the aisles, I confided to her that I had no idea what to bring to the picnic.

She wisely suggested, “What did you make for the last school picnic?”

I had made a mediterranean pasta salad of sorts. The details escaped me, but it probably involved some combination of olives, capers, garlic, feta and lemon zest. With what Trader Joe’s had at my disposal, I decided to do something similar but different. I swapped out the olives for sun dried tomatoes, the feta for goat cheese, and the lemon zest for toasted pine nuts. It was super easy and pretty damn good. The kids weren’t crazy about it. But Mrs. Fussy was a fan.

One question remained: what to do about dessert?

Dessert for the Fussy Little Children is usually a sad little thing that they dig out of their neverending stash of candy. Seriously, kids are given candy all the time. It’s amazing how their “candy drawer” never seems to ever run dry.

My first thought was rice crispy treats, because oh my god, are those easy. However, if Trader Joe’s had any marshmallows, I couldn’t find them. What they did have, in the place where I was expecting the marshmallow to be, was brownie mix.

Brownie mix always seemed like such a cop out.

But as easy to make as brownies are, I just didn’t have the time to make a batch of them. A little piece of me died as I picked up the box from the shelf to seriously consider the purchase and read the ingredients. It was Trader Joe’s Brownie Truffle Baking Mix. And the ingredient list was pretty simple:

Sugar, chocolate chips, unbleached enriched flour, cocoa, wheat starch, soybean oil, salt, and leavening.

It’s actually fewer ingredients than the sandwich bread I typically buy for Mrs. Fussy and the kids. And the instructions on the box called for adding a stick of butter and two eggs.

Confession number two: in theory I could have melted the butter in a saucepan on the stovetop. However, I did it in the microwave that came with our current apartment. I don’t believe in microwaves and have refused to let one into our house. But like I said, I was pretty pushed for time.

In fact, I was so pushed for time that I gave up much that I hold dear in order to produce this facsimile of brownies in time for the picnic.

You know what I think might be the worst part?

They were pretty darn good. I’m far from an expert in this. But I think the trick was twofold. I used jumbo eggs instead of large ones. And I made sure to take the brownies out on the early side, so they would still be a little soft and gooey in the center.

I kind of wish these were awful so I would never be tempted to buy them again. Dammit. Foiled once again by Trader Joe’s and the trials of everyday life.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2013 11:20 am

    I was going to tell you to take the brownies out early, then I saw you did just that. We’ll make a baker out of you somehow, Fussy!

  2. Stevo permalink
    October 3, 2013 11:26 am

    For someone the loathes throwing away food, I’m amazed that you hate microwaves. There is no utensil more friendly to leftovers than the microwave. Perhaps having one now will change your mind as to their usefulness.

  3. October 3, 2013 1:04 pm

    Not sure if guilt is like misery and loves company… We are in the process of moving and Monday night’s dinner was a buffet of nuked things from Trader Joes. It’s been bothering me all week.

  4. October 3, 2013 3:32 pm

    I actually always thought the best brownies were those from a box. Just something about them (chemicals!!) that so other brownie could touch. But then, this recipe. Heaven. Perfect.

  5. abby permalink
    October 3, 2013 3:39 pm

    When I bake, its always from scratch. Except for brownies. There’s something about the ingredients in the boxed stuff that has been manipulated to hit every happy spot in my mouth.

  6. October 4, 2013 7:45 am

    If you have time to melt butter in the microwave, you easily have time to make the recipe on the back of the box of Baker’s (crappy, I know) unsweetened chocolate. It’s one bowl. I do it in a saucepan. Melt butter, dump in sugar (I like brown because it makes the brownies more gooey and has caramel notes, whisk in eggs, add salt and flour. Bake. Done. Easy.

    • October 4, 2013 5:56 pm

      When do you mix in the chocolate? ;-)

      • October 7, 2013 7:33 pm

        Oops, butter is melted with chocolate. Which I’m sure you knew already, you beloved PITA.

      • October 9, 2013 2:33 pm

        Hey, it shows I was admiring your process to pay such close attention to detail.

  7. Christine permalink
    October 4, 2013 2:20 pm

    Peanut butter chip boxed brownies made by I’m not sure who (easily found on the shelf of any grocery store) with added chocolate chips, slightly under done- delicious!

  8. October 4, 2013 5:55 pm

    If I’m recalling correctly, homemade brownies didn’t exactly burn up the boxed competition in an America’s Test Kitchen taste test.

    • October 7, 2013 7:32 pm

      Of course they didn’t. People like the taste of the scientifically derived flavors of their childhood. Look at all the people here who have been trained to think a processed and packaged food item tastes the best.

  9. Chantelle permalink
    October 6, 2013 6:00 pm

    I’m with Deanna and Abby on this one. One Summer I was determined to make a brownie that I liked better then Betty Crocker “Fudgy Brownies” and I couldn’t do it. I must have tried at least 10 recipes, all claiming to be the “best brownie.” Then I started making up my own recipes which is when I knew it was time to give up. Maybe I will try the one on the back of the Baker’s box or Deanna’s but the link wouldn’t work for me.

  10. enough already! permalink
    October 13, 2013 9:35 am

    I’m with jenh718 100%. Been using that recipe for years – how much easier can it be?
    You can douse with chambord while warm, cover with ganache, dollop whipped cream, or just eat them as is. Yum.

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