How to bake brownies and improve intercultural understanding

Britain and the United States have a special relationship, and in the interest of strengthening it I’m offering you a brownie recipe. Recipes not only build intercultural understanding, they’re entirely noncaloric. Even if we never try them–and let’s face it, most of us don’t–reading them fills us with an unreasonable hum of calorie-free happiness. 

And since this is a calorie-free post, we’ll go for the richest one in my considerable stash of brownie recipes. 

But before I go on, a word about the special relationship: The thing that makes it so special is that Britain knows what it is and the U.S. doesn’t. In Britain, it’s known as the special relationship. In the U.S., it’s known as um, what?

It’s a bit like one person being in a marriage and the other one not. You don’t get more special than that.

But it does mean that the two countries really could understand each other better. So let’s not start with the hard stuff, like whether we’re talking about a relationship, a quick fling, or an open marriage. Let’s start with food, because everybody needs to eat.

Looking west from a British beach. The U.S. is out there somewhere.

By way of unnecessary background, brownies are (a) American and (b) much admired in Britain. The village I live in has an underground economy that runs on favors and I negotiate my way through it (mostly) in brownies. I know, I’m reinforcing a stereotype and I shouldn’t, but it’s so easy this way.

Brownies are also (c) much  misunderstood in Britain, where you can call anything edible, rectangular, and brown a brownie. Then you can hide it under ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce and no one will think it’s strange. Or–with all that stuff running interference–notice what the brownie itself tastes like.

Or be sure it’s there at all.

Having said that, the recipe that I promise I’ll get around to eventually is British and comes to you by way of a beachside cafe in Trebarwith Strand. The place has, tragically, changed hands, but before that happened it sold a fantastic brownie, which didn’t come buried under a bunch of irrelevant foodstuffs.

And what’s better, it sold a booklet with a handful of recipes, from which I’ve taken this. 

By way of further unnecessary background, the only part of a recipe that can be copyrighted (she said defensively) is the way it’s written. The proportions and methods? Can’t be done. So this is fair game.

Being British means the recipe’s metric. So if you’re in the U.S. of we-use-cup-measurements A., sorry, sorry, and sorry. Over here in the Olde Worlde, you weigh your ingredients. In milllithingies, which are more reliable than using cups and liquid ounces because they stay the same from country to country, which cups and so forth don’t. 

I’d translate the millithingies for you, but you don’t want a recipe where I’ve been turned loose with the numbers. Really, you don’t. Lord Google can manage it for you if you feed him the millithingies one by one.

The recipe doesn’t include whipped cream, chocolate sauce, or chopped broccoli to top the brownie. It doesn’t even have frosting. Good brownies don’t need frosting. So the brownies this makes won’t be beautiful, but they will be good.

Trebarwtih Brownies

200 grams butter (salted, unsalted, deep fried, whatever you’ve got)

350 grams dark chocolate (in Britain, 70%; in the U.S., never mind; settle for dark)

250 grams dark brown sugar (or light brown; I can’t be bothered keeping both on hand)

3 eggs 

1 tsp. baking powder

70 grams flour ( in Britain, that’s plain flour)

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat. Beat the eggs and the sugar together and stir them into the melted chocolate mix. Sift the flour and baking powder together–or if you’re as lazy a cook as I am, just whisk them together. I can’t tell the difference. Stir them into everything else. 

Oil a square pan and line it with baking paper or greaseproof paper, which may or may not be the same thing but do the same job. If you cut the paper so it overlaps the pan on two sides, you’ll be able to lift the brownies out neatly. If you don’t line the pan, you’ll end up with some delicious brownie hash. Which is not to be confused with hash brownies. 

Scrape the batter into the pan. Lick the scraper. Do not, under any circumstances, share.

Bake at 160 C. if you have a fan oven or 180 C. if you have a regular one, or 350 F. if you’re in the U.S., which doesn’t speak Centigrade. Depending on the size of your pan, bake for somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour. My pan’s 8 ¼ inches (21 cm) square and the time leans toward a full hour. Stick a knife into the center to see if it’s done. If the middle’s set or just a bit gooey, that’s fine. If it’s disgusting, that’s not so fine: Stick it back in the oven. 

I know. I used to count on recipes being exact–or at least pretending to be exact. When they didn’t work out the way they were supposed to, it was reassuring to think that someone somewhere was certain and any changes were my fault. 

Any changes aren’t your fault. Either they’re mine or that’s just how life is. Or how baking is. But we’ve already agreed that you don’t have to actually bake these. Baking is what causes calories.

Does our relationship feel more special now?

73 thoughts on “How to bake brownies and improve intercultural understanding

    • That’s a breakfast that will stay with you at least until it’s time for elevensies–a snack I never knew about until I moved to Britain. And bring us one tiny step closer to world peace.

      Or possibly not, but enjoy them anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I never was a Brownie, although I do understand that they’re not baked. That was as close as I got. For about 15 minutes as a kid I thought it would be fun but the uniforms, I suspect, would’ve done me in.

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        • I guess there’s a kind of noble equality in organizing it so everyone look bad. Although I had to wear skirts a lot (it was the 50s; what a dismal decade that was), I never did like them, and I didn’t like the idea of uniforms in general, no matter what they were. I don’t think I’d have been a good fit for the organization, somehow.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I just saved that recipe. The only thing I’ll probably change is less sugar (or no sugar or just some vanilla sugar, which is how I make chocolate soufflé – the taste is still great because of all that chocolate and sweet enough for my taste).

    I’ll let you know how it went. There’s nothing like a good chocolate cake, and I loooove brownies.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I know what you mean, but the sugar melts anyway so I don’t think it makes much difference. Sometimes I put some honey instead, but as all the cakes I make (some 3-4, which is my maximum), are either full of chocolate or sweet fruit, so you don’t need sugar at all.
        (Will do.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • My partner pretty much stopped eating sugar a while back. She decided it went, for her, in the same category as alcohol: She could either have too much or none, so she went with none. So I’ve used a lot more fruit, including dried fruit in breads, which once you stop expected the full-blast hit of sugar is amazingly sweet–and has a lot more taste.

          For the brownies, though, since the chocolate’s dark, it doesn’t bring a lot of sugar with it. Some, but–well, now that you mention it, I’ll break off a piece and eat it happily, so why shouldn’t it have enough sugar for brownies?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. No, it does nothing to strengthen our relationship, because I’m not a chocolate cake kind of person, so don’t really like brownies. My hubby would be your best friend if you made these though. For as long as they lasted anyhow… I make no promises on his behalf for afterwards. Although, he’s Canadian, so you stand a good chance of him not being rude enough to walk out the moment the brownies are eaten.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This looks very similar to the one I found in our local free magazine so I know it is scrumptious. I have two sets of scales : real balancing ones with proper metal weights in ounces and I have a spin round metric.

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    • I ended up with a battery-operated scale that can shift from one system to the other. And it takes very little space. I love those old balance scales, but they’re less flexible and take up a lot more space.

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  4. Ah yes, the special relationship. The only where the British government preens about the fact that the US have air bases here from which they get to launch attacks on various countries which we may – or may not – also be at war with. Generally, we are soon thereafter whether we like it or not. Your brownie recipe is a most acceptable offering in the circumstances. Not that I will bake it, oh no, Himself is in charge of baking hereabouts, having wooed me on the basis of his baking skills (somewhat akin to Paul Hollywood, only taller, chunkier and way more loyal. In a weird piece of irony, my brother actually looks like Mr Hollywood, but can’t bake for toffee).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that the air bases were such a part of the special relationship. I should’ve guessed. It starts to sound like I’m offering the bring brownies after the bombs land. Lousy timing. That’s not going to help.

      I’d go for the baking skills and the loyalty over the looks any day, although Hollywood always strikes me as someone who’s more impressed by his looks than I am.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, no – the brownies would be most welcome, regardless of bombing. And I agree with your observation on Mr Hollywood. I seem to recall he appeared to be nicer before fame plumped up his ego, although probably still not my cup of tea.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I haven’t watched him evolve, but I can see where fame would have that effect on a person. I wonder how many of us could survive it and still be the person our friends liked–or the one ourselves did.

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  5. Yum! As an enthusiastic baker, I can testify that measuring by weight, not volume, produces much better results because they’re always consistent (hobgoblin of little minds notwithstanding). And, despite being an American, I can also testify that measuring in grams/ml vs ounces is more accurate; sorry.

    Going to bake these today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For no good reason (since I won’t get to eat any), I’m excited that you’ll bake them. Genuinely.

      I agree with you about measuring, including about weighing in grams being more accurate than ounces. When I learned to bake, I was taught to measure flour, then sift it, then transfer it practically grain by grain back into the measuring cup in order not to pack it down, then sift it again because inevitably I would have packed it down. I couldn’t help thinking that no matter how many times I did it, I’d never get it right. So I’m a fan of weighing flour, but not everyone has kitchen scales.

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  6. Pretty’s mother was known for her brownies (without ice cream, whipped cream, or broccoli) made from scratch. Pretty was clever enough to preserve the recipe in a secret hideaway in whatever kitchen we’ve had only to be retrieved for special occasions. I have to say your recipe sounds as delicious as her mother’s, my highest cultural comment.
    As for the relationship I have with you, an American gone to the Brits, let me just say I am thankful for you and Ida.
    Have a safe and sane weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I for you. (Ida stays well away from my blog, so she hasn’t sorted out the cast of characters. Probably a smart move.)

      I love the idea of family recipes–they way they preserve not just tastes but entire histories and emotional complexity. My mother could put a meal on the table, but she didn’t like cooking and she’d have been the first to say she wasn’t particularly good at it, so I can’t claim to have any.

      I’ll work on safe this weekend. Sane may be pushing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Looks delicious! It was quite a shock to me that when I visited the USA (about a million years ago) that whilst I understood “bathroom, sidewalk, parking lot, gas, chips, fries” etc thank to American films and TV shows, they had absolutely no idea what I was on about when I asked for direction to the toilet or loo. I remember having to rack my brains to think of American words for “loo, pavement, car park, petrol, crisps and chips”. I realised that American English is a foreign languange. Interesting, people in Ireland similarly have a good understanding of the British (thank to British TV show shown there) and most Britsh people do not have a clue about Ireland. Maybe that has changed a tiny bit thanks to “Normal People” or maybe not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The first time I was in England, I was in a fast-food place in London and asked someone, in my best American manners, where the bathroom was. She did a double take–visibly. I guess she expected me to go in there to–um, do what an American would call wash up, which has nothing to do with dishes and everything to do with removing dirt from your body. About the time we discovered what people actually do with a toilet, we banned it from our vocabulary unless we’re talking to a plumber. Or are a plumber. There’s an exemption for that, but a reluctant one.

      I’m not sure how either of the languages I speak in English match up with the Irish version. I can hear that it’s different, but I haven’t spent enough time around it to sort out what the differences are. Do I need to watch Normal People a few dozen times?

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  8. Just want to make sure, that’s only 70g flour? So these mostly consist of butter and chocolate?

    I’m fine with that, by the way. Just need to know how many years they’ll subtract from my current life expectancy…

    Liked by 1 person

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