Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Gift From Me To You

Summer, 1990
Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site
Summer Kitchen
What can I say....the cook liked me!

I absolutely loved my job at Watkins Mill. I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly what I loved so much about it, though. Yes, I loved dressing up in period costume. (Probably a hold over from my childhood worship of Laura Ingells Wilder!) Yes, I loved the opportunity to learn new handwork - and share the knowledge and skills I already had. Yes, I even loved giving tours..having the opportunity to be the 'expert' on a subject I came to know and love deeply. And yes, I had a very active imagination, and that job freed my mind to go on happy tangents and to create new narratives for myself all of the time.

But if I had to pick the one thing which has stayed with me the most...it would probably be the brownie cake. It's a simple recipe, and one we made often so that the tourists could sample from our kitchen. It's easy, quick, and made with ingredients you almost always have on hand. Time and time again I've come back to this as my absolute favorite brownie/chocolate cake recipe...and it never disappoints.

And so...because good things should be shared...enjoy!

Brownie Cake, 1872
3/4 c butter
1 3/4 c sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c flour
3/4 c cocoa
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat about 1 minute. Combine flour, cocoa and salt. Add dry ingredients to mixture; if too thick add a little water. Pour into buttered (9x13) pan. Cook in moderate oven (360; 350 seems a little slow) about 30 minutes.

If you are feeling decadent...

Chocolate Icing, 1875
8 tbsp butter
2 c powdered sugar
1/3 c cocoa
2 tbsp vanilla

Cream butter and add powdered sugar, a little at a time, alternating with cocoa. You may wish to add more cocoa, depending on how dark you want the icing. Add cream if needed to keep it creamy. Add vanilla last, but be sure it does not make icing too wet. More cream may be added if it is too dry.

By the way, I almost never use the icing. It's a bit much for me - and I find the brownie cake is more than enough on it's own.

A few important notes about these recipes:
  • Cooking in an 1870's summer kitchen is not necessarily about precision. We used a tin cup with about a 1.5 cup capacity and a plain old table spoon to measure all dry goods. Often wet ingredients were eyeballed. SO, don't fuss too much over quantities! Go for it and have fun - and feel free to tweak a bit if necessary.
  • I now use whole wheat pastry flour and organic cane sugar - and notice no change whatsoever in taste or texture.
  • You don't want the cake to cook until completely set up. If you use a cake tester, don't cook until it comes out completely clean.
  • I've never followed the directions. I just dump the ingredients into a bowl and it always turns out just fine.
  • Once, our wood stove (you check the temp by putting your hand into the oven box. If you can hold it in there for a count of 10, it's about 350...cooler if you can keep your hand in there longer, and hotter if you can't make it to 10.) got way too hot and it boiled the batter, turning it into the best chocolate/carmel candy in the world. If you can figure out how to replicate that, let me know!


Brian Q. said...

What an awesome pic of you from ... 20 years ago - yikes, I'm old.

Brian Q. said...

Oh - one more thing - could you take another look at the Brownie Cake amounts? I think there might be a typo. Surely only 3/4 cup of butter, but I'm not sure if the 12 tsp salt is right. For all I know, old-timey people really liked their salt.

KPiep said...

You were so right! Amounts corrected. That's what I get for trying to enter a recipe while talking to a four-year-old!

Bonnie said...

Thanks for the yummy gift and a fun post!

A Day That is Dessert said...

Love, love that picture!! :) I would have loved a job like that, too. Will definitely try the cake - thanks!