Simple Old-Fashioned Brownies from 1932
Simple Old-Fashioned Brownies from 1932
- 2 1/3 cups pastry flour 250 g; all purpose flour is fine too
- 2 teaspoons baking powder 10 g
- 2 cups sugar 400 g
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup grated chocolate or 3/4 cup cocoa powder 60 g
- 1/2 cup melted butter 110 g
- 4 eggs large or extra large
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts 60 g; optional
- Mix sugar, chocolate and melted butter; add eggs and beat.
- Add flour, baking powder, and chopped nuts.
- Spread 1/2 inch thick on a lightly greased 8×8 baking pan. (An 8" round pan also works.)
- Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into squares while still warm.
This old-fashioned brownies recipe is adapted from the 1934 edition of Wisconsin Electric’s annual Cookie Book.
To make more cakey brownies, use only 80 g of butter (a little more than 1/3 cup). Note that the batter will be very stiff and it will be a bit of an arm workout if you are mixing by hand. To make more fudgy brownies, use the full amount of butter (1/2 cup, or 110 g), or even add a little more.
Each slice is 256 cal, full recipe is 4098. Specific nutrients breakdown can be viewed here.
Old recipes from… an electric company?
I have an unexplained fascination for old recipes. As an avid subscriber of the Old Recipes subreddit, I love seeing all the things that people cooked from generations before I was born. From the weird and often disgusting (perfectly summed up by the 70sdinnerparty Instagram account) to the timeless and classic, old recipes can tell us so much about food trends throughout history and the kinds of lifestyles people had, and strove for.
I only found out recently that a lot of utilities companies release cookbooks. I guess this is to encourage people to use their electricity and gas to cook! And a lot of these companies have been around for a loooong time. For example, our local utilities provider in Calgary, ATCO, publishes recipes and holds cooking classes in their Blue Flame Kitchen, and has been doing so since 1930.
Wisconsin Electric Company’s Cookie Book
This old recipe for brownies comes from We Energies, although at the time they published this recipe, they were known as Wisconsin Electric. They release an annual Cookie Book around the holidays, even continuing into the present. You can see their entire cookie book archive here!
The first cookie book produced, in 1932, contained two recipes for brownies. One was called “Chocolate Brownies,” and the other, simply “Brownies.” The old-fashioned brownies recipe above is adapted from the one called “Brownies.” I’m planning to bake the “Chocolate Brownies” as well and giving them to my friends for a blind taste test, to see which one is truly the better brownie.
Interestingly enough, although this came out in the midst of the Great Depression, it makes no price concessions. Unlike many (in)famous desserts from the era, like wacky cake and war cake, it doesn’t replace expensive (for the time) ingredients like eggs and butter with cheaper alternatives, nor does it substitute affordable sweeteners like raisins for the two full cups of sugar. The authors no doubt knew that baking a good brownie is far too important to skimp out on!
Just like those two-bite brownies
Brownies are one of the most commonplace desserts around here in North America. Growing up in an Asian household, though, my first experience with them was when a classmate brought those universally-beloved two-bite brownies to class. To be honest, they weren’t an immediate favourite of mine. Did you know I wasn’t a big fan of chocolate as a kid? Maybe it was a traumatic early childhood encounter with dark chocolate, idk. In fact, to this day I don’t like chocolate cookies or chocolate ice cream. However, I grew to love the soft, chewy two-bite brownies.
This brownies recipe surprised me because, well, it tasted almost exactly like those two-bite brownies! I’ve eaten (and made) some pretty delicious brownies throughout my life, but the perfect texture of the two-bite brownies has remained pretty elusive. It’s either too dry and cakey, or too soft and gooey.
If you follow the ingredient ratios in this recipe, however, you’ll get a result that is extremely similar to the two-bites. Slightly cracking top and a soft, chewy interior! If you omit the nuts and bake them in muffin pans (I would reduce the time by 10 minutes), I bet you’ll get something you can proudly call “two-bite brownies knockoffs.” ?
Who would’ve thought that an old-fashioned brownies recipe from 1932 would turn out so wonderful?
Gooey fudgy brownies, or cakey brownies—your pick
I did some experiments with these brownies by varying the levels of sugar and butter.
Typically, I try to go for the bare minimum amount of sugar, but for this recipe, I found that the stated amount of sugar results in the best taste. Even reducing it by only 1/3 cup made the brownies taste a little off. If you absolutely must reduce the sugar, add some extra cocoa powder, otherwise, the resulting bake will taste floury.
And, if you personally prefer a more airy, cake-like texture, or on the other hand if you enjoy a dense, fudgy brownie, you can also adjust this recipe to your liking. The main ingredient responsible for the structural changes is the butter. So for more cakey brownies, use less butter. For a fudgy brownie, use more (the full amount in the recipe).
Let me know if you enjoyed this old-fashioned brownies recipe. Do you have any old recipes passed down in your family? I would love to hear about your baking / cooking traditions!