Brownie Points @ Work

by Jeanne


I have long harbored a cynical baking world view that not as many mothers baked from scratch as we may like to believe.  Lest, I start crushing everyone’s view of motherhood let’s just agreed that if the house smelled like baking what’s wrong with that, right? And while my mother did bake from scratch she also when she returned to the workplace there were brownies from a box. They do fill a niche need.

However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve labored over a cake for a big dinner party or birthday gathering where the cake is devoured but no one says a word about it.  It’s somewhat confidence deflating for the baker. If anyone had someone at home as a child who did bake from scratch they would have an idea about how much effort (not time…it’s really not that much more) went into baking from scratch, certainly the accolades would be running wild. While this may be my ego whining but I started casually investigating this theory over the past few years. 

"Oh yes, I can bring a cake for 30. Certainly, homemade, what else?!"  I willingly volunteered. Brunches, birthdays and office events, wherever, whenever. It’s at gatherings like t his where I’ve been tapped on the shoulder and asked if it’s difficult to bake from scratch.  Usually I would casually wave off the compliment, slightly embarrassed and worried for my baking reputation. Once, however I let my guilt overcome me and ended up gifting a total stranger. I’m not cold. How could I not? It was at a friend’s huge birthday bash one of those affairs that has just the right amount of sophistication. I had agreed to help out a friend pull it all together by lending catering services and prep support.  I baked and simply decorated a 20" chocolate cake. (Yes, I have a pan that big!) . 

Out of the corner of my eye a woman with a huge 2 carat-diamond approached me. 

"I know I don’t know you and I’m sure that this is impossible to bake. Well, really, I don’t bake. But my husband just can’t stop talking about your cake. It reminds him of his mother’s cake. She just passed away last year. He’s near tears over there."  She bit her lip. "It would mean the world if, well, could you…"

My heart went out to this woman. I began to think I could save her husband’s soul memory of his mother not to mention solidify her young marriage.   I certainly didn’t need to have stronger proof of my theory than this.

"Can you keep a secret?" I asked in a hushed tone. She nodded. "Duncan Hines."

"What?" she said, confused.

"Everyone likes to believe ‘mom’ baked from scratch. Truth is that she did but it was from a Duncan Hines cake box."

She grabbed and hugged me and took her leave smiling.

Many years have passed since that day.  But I continue to test the notion. On Friday afternoon I sat in a conference room overlooking San Francisco’s Civic Center waiting for 16 office mates to participate in a Brownie Blind Taste; in front of me where three different brownies made from three recipes and three types of chocolate.  One was a Betty Crocker brownie mix featuring semi-sweet chocolate; another was prepared-from-scratch version made with Nestle Chocolatier bittersweet chocolate (62%) and the third made from Baker’s unsweetened chocolate.

People love chocolate.  Since I had come across a new bittersweet chocolate from Nestle that held up pretty well in a side-by-side tasting against Ghiradelli I thought it might be worthwhile to put it to the brownie test.  There’s no better demonstration of a chocolate’s qualities than this all-American treat. Everyone loves brownies.  The division seems to come in preference to either a cakey or chewy consistency. 

So which brownie won over the crowd?  By an astounding 75%….(drumroll) Betty Crocker.  So while I am smugly reassured that my theory continues to hold up my new favorite is from Nestle.

Oh, and while you may want to do your blind taste panel, the guys and gals in the office of varying ages and places in the States overwhelmingly chose the chewy over the cakey.


Nestle Chocolatier Brownies

Quite possibly this is one of the best brownie recipes around.  The brownie is rich, moist and chewy.  Clearly many mothers did not bake in the style of the "moms" at Nestle! This final recipe shared here is a slight variation from the one on the package and from the product’s website, where there is a cookie recipe that I’ll be trying later this recipe with the 52% morsels. 

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

2 tbsp water

10 oz. pkg of Nestle Chocolatier 62% bittersweet morsels

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup AP flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

PREHEAT oven to 325º F. Line 9-inch-square baking pan with foil; grease.

HEAT in a double boiler the package of morsels, sugar, butter and water over low heat, stirring constantly, until morsels and butter are melted.  The consistency and color should look like vanilla pudding. Pour into medium bowl. The liquid should be warm but not steaming hot before proceeding to the next step. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until mixed in; add in vanilla extract. Add flour, baking soda and salt;  mix well.

POUR into prepared baking pan.

BAKE for 16 to 20 minutes until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool in pan on wire rack. Lift brownie from pan with foil to cutting board. Carefully remove foil. Cut