when it comes to baking, i’m suspicious of the ornate. i’ve always been compelled by apparently simple treats that lure you in with taste over presentation. thus, my adoration of the old-school brownie.
i’ve been fickle with brownie recipes over the years, moving from moosewood to ina to nigella, temporarily satisfying my quest for brownie perfection. since i found moira’s brownies, however, i’ve never strayed. loyalty is easy when you find a recipe this good.
i first tasted moira’s brownies at a holiday fete several years ago, where they were served for dessert, still warm from the oven. until then, i had been of the icing-free brownie camp, but had to admit that the smooth, dark icing on those brownies made them look terribly enticing. and the taste? it was love at first bite. the top of the brownies was ever so slightly crisp beneath the cocoay icing and the brownie beneath was delectably fudgey and satisfying without being overly sweet. per. fec. tion. it turned out those beauties had been baked by the hosts’ daughter, moira, who was 9 or 10 at the time. a negotiation for the recipe soon began.
moira is a clever girl and wise beyond her years. she has the discerning palate of a well-traveled, open-minded…tween…and knows a good thing when she tastes it. she had sought out this recipe from friends of theirs and made her first batch when she was just 8. since she loves to bake, she suggested that her prized brownie recipe could be traded for an equally desirable recipe of mine. i had brought some holiday baking along, so i suggested she might consider my humble scottish shortbread worthy of the transaction. she agreed, selected a square and began her assessment. thankfully, after a well acted dramatic savouring, she smiled and nodded and the deal was done. phew.
i have since shared moira’s brownies, and her recipe, far and wide. i’m always careful to explain where the recipe originated, as i think it’s part of the charm of these brownies. after i tell the story, i also mention that the key to the come-hitherness of these brownies is to ice them while they’re hot. i know, i know, icing hot brownies flies in the face of collective baking wisdom, but in this case, it’s an exception worth making. trust me – i know my brownies.
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moira’s brownies (though it traveled through many hands before it got to mine, this recipe is said to have originated in the calgary herald, circa the late 1900’s)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (dark brown is preferable)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup cocoa (best quality)
1/2 tsp vanilla (real, of course)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped toasted nuts (optional – i still haven’t joined the nuts-in-brownies camp)
•preheat oven to 325°f and grease and line an 8″ or 9″ pan with parchment (i use an 8″ pan).
•mix the brown sugar and melted butter. stir in the eggs one at a time and mix well, then add the vanilla. sift the cocoa in to the mixture, followed by the flour and stir until combined. stir in the nuts, if using.
•spread in prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. prepare the icing as you ice these when they come out of the oven.
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk, more or less
•mix butter and cocoa until you have a smooth paste. stir in the icing sugar and vanilla, beating in the milk a little at a time until you have a nice consistency (remember, this will melt into the brownies, so thick is ok).
•gently spread icing atop the brownies when you take them out of the oven. leave to cool on a rack and try to wait until the icing is set before serving (but they’re quite delicious, if not as clean-cut looking, with molten icing running down the sides…)
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