How not to make brownies

In my old diary, I used to post recipes from time to time. As I haven’t done that for a while (in fact, never in this diary, I think?), I thought yesterday that as I was going to bake something to take to a games evening at the Gwilks’ last night, it would be fun to take some photos as I baked, and post a little photo-essay.

Now I’d like to point out at this juncture that I am usually a pretty good cook. I’d also like to point out that I have a rule that the first time I make a new recipe, I follow the recipe exactly, and then once I see how it was meant to turn out, the next time I try out all the variations and improvements I think it needs. I think you can probably guess from the build-up that neither of these things were entirely true yesterday.

So, how not to cook brownies:

  1. Realise mid-afternoon that you’d planned on baking something for tonight. Remember coming across an interesting-looking recipe for brownies on-line the other day while looking for something completely different, and decide to make those.
  2. Attempt to print out the recipe, and discover that the power cable for the printer is missing for some inexplicable reason. Discover that MrPloppy is having a snooze so you can’t ask him what he did with it. Write the recipe out on a bit of paper instead, converting all the weird American measurements (who measures butter in cups???) into metric as you go.
  3. [album 128913 090906cake01.jpg thumblink]
    Assemble your ingredients. Decide that “M&M’S® Chocolate Mini Baking Bits” is just marketing speak for “ordinary chocolate chips”. Discover that you haven’t got a lot of cocoa powder or brown sugar left, but decide that there’s probably enough for the recipe, which doesn’t call for that much of either. Come to the line of the recipe that calls for “1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda” and decide they must mean baking powder, because that sounds like a lot of baking soda, and there don’t seem to be any of the other ingredients present you’d expect to find in a recipe that used baking soda. Justify your decision by remembering you once read somewhere that some American recipe books refer to baking powder as baking soda.
  4. [album 128913 090906cake02.jpg thumblink]
    Turn oven on to 180 degrees C. Pull all your tins out of the cupboard and try to figure out which is 9″ square. Get a measuring tape and a calculator (for converting cm to inches) and discover none of them is. Spend several minutes comparing the area of each to work out which is closest to 9 square inches. Grease and line tin
  5. [album 128913 090906cake03.jpg thumblink]
    Measure out 115g of butter. Put the butter on the scales then remember that the batteries died last time you used it. Search in the cupboard for the old non-electric scales, and then remember that you threw them away when you were cleaning out the cupboards a few months ago. Suddenly feel very thankful for the fact that American recipes measure everything in cups instead of grams, and convert 115g back into 1/2 a cup. Spend several minutes trying to squish bits of butter into a measuring cup.
  6. [album 128913 090906cake04.jpg thumblink]
    Attempt to measure out 1/2 a cup of brown sugar, and discover that there was less left in the container than you thought. Measure out 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar, and top up with white.
  7. [album 128913 090906cake05.jpg thumblink]
    Cream butter and sugar. Realise just as you get splattered by the beaters that you really should have put on an apron before starting, because you’d been planning on wearing that shirt tonight.
  8. [album 128913 090906cake06.jpg thumblink]
    Beat in an egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Get a few more splatters on your shirt.
  9. [album 128913 090906cake07.jpg thumblink]
    Spend several minutes second-guessing yourself about the baking powder/baking soda thing before finally deciding you were right in the first place. Sift 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder and mix in.
  10. [album 128913 090906cake08.jpg thumblink]
    Go back to the website to reassure yourself that the recipe really did say that the mixture should be stiff. Add 2/3 cup chocolate chips, plus a few more for good luck. Any recipe can be salvaged by being over-generous with the chocolate chips.
  11. [album 128913 090906cake09.jpg thumblink]
    Set the finished mixture aside.
  12. [album 128913 090906cake10.jpg thumblink]
    Separate an egg. Be totally amazed that you manage to do it right first time (doing it the proper chef’s way too, just using the egg-shells) considering how well everything else has been going today.
  13. [album 128913 090906cake11.jpg thumblink]
    Discover that the only thing in the original recipe that wasn’t measured in cups is the cream cheese. Check your US/Metric conversion chart, and discover that it doesn’t have cream cheese on it (it does, however, tell you how much a cup of dried beans weighs – you can really see that coming in handy one day…). Decide that cream cheese probably has a similar density to butter. Decide that floating each in water to test your theory might be a bit over the top, and just go ahead and measure out half a cup of cream cheese. Put it and two tablespoons of sugar in a clean bowl with the egg yolk.
  14. [album 128913 090906cake12.jpg thumblink]
    Beat together well. Give up shirt as a lost cause. Discover that it’s impossible to get all the little lumpy bits of cream cheese beaten in properly, and hope they’ll disolve somehow in the cooking process.
  15. [album 128913 090906cake13.jpg thumblink]
    Measure out 1/4 cup of cocoa. Guess what? There’s not quite enough of that left either. Decide the short measure won’t matter too much because it’s made up for by those extra chocolate chips you added earlier.
  16. [album 128913 090906cake14.jpg thumblink]
    Mix cocoa into cream cheese mixture. Try not to think about what it reminds you off.
  17. [album 128913 090906cake15.jpg thumblink]
    Read next line of recipe which says “Place chocolate-cheese mixture in six equal portions evenly in bottom of prepared baking pan.” Consider e-mailing the people who make M&Ms to inform them that it’s mathematically impossible to distribute 6 things equally within a square, but instead just blob the mixture in anywhere. Decide that the mixture’s unfortunate resemblance to poo is even worse when it’s in blobs, but take a photo anyway.
  18. [album 128913 090906cake16.jpg thumblink]
    Place the other mixture around the poos blobs of chocolate mixture. It really is quite stiff. More what you’d expect for a biscuit dough, really. Check the recipe one more time to check it really did say “Dough will be stiff.”
  19. [album 128913 090906cake17.jpg thumblink]
    Read next line of recipe: “swirl slightly with tines of fork”. Try to figure out how you’re supposed to “swirl” incredibly sticky stuff into stiff dough and quickly discover it’s just not possible. Settle for sort of mashing it together a bit in a few places.
  20. [album 128913 090906cake18.jpg thumblink]
    Now you’re supposed to “Pat down evenly on top”. Um, remember how sticky that chocolate stuff is? Attempt to pat down and just end up with hands covered in sticky brown stuff. Scrape mixture off hands and put back in tin. Give up patting and sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup of chocolate chips over the top, adding a few extra in the hope they’ll hide the worst of the unevenness.
  21. [album 128913 090906cake19.jpg thumblink]
    Put tin in oven. Watch anxiously to see if it is rising, and start second- or third-guessing your baking powder decision yet again.
  22. [album 128913 090906cake20.jpg thumblink]
    After 25 minutes, remove from oven. Does that look risen to you? While it cools, go and have a shower and find a clean shirt to wear.
  23. [album 128913 090906cake21.jpg thumblink
    Cut into slices and sample one. It does seem to have acheived the brownie aim of crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, but it also tastes pretty dry, so decide you still don’t know whether you were right about the baking powder. Take them to the games evening anyway, because you haven’t got anything else to take anyway, and it’s too late to run up to the shop.

(They did seem to go down quite well with everyone, so maybe I was just being a bit hyper-sensitive about the dry taste. I probably should try making them again, this time using baking soda instead, but I’m not sure I can be bothered (and anyway, I’m out of cocoa and brown sugar!). If I did make them again, I wouldn’t muck around with all that swirling – I think I’d use a smaller tin, and layer 2/3 of the cake mixture, then the chocolate mixture, then sprinkle over little blobs of the remaining cake mixture. It would acheive about the same effect but be a lot less messy.)

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  1. Thank you for the brownie tutorial, lol. My last brownie experience was in 1983 when I forgot to put baking soda in a chocolate cake. It came out of the oven flat and icky looking so I threw the pan on the stove in disgust. Came back later to find my father at the table with a class of milk and a hunk of the horrid concoction. He told me they were the best darned brownies he’d ever had *raises eyebrows*

    I don’t bake anymore for obvious reasons.

  2. That was soooo funny, I found your entry by trying to look up some kind of conversion chart so I could cook bread. It has all metric measurements and all I know is cups. Anyway you had me rolling around in the floor laughing.

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