You know how everyone has a favorite brownie recipe? the go-to brownie recipe? the make-them-all-the-time brownie recipe? Well, this is "that" brownie recipe for me. When I first started making these vanilla-scented brownies, they evoked memories of drinking vanilla cokes at the soda fountain in my hometown's drugstore. Here's the story – and my recipe for Vanilla Brownies too.
"These smelled so good baking ..." ~ kaoriz
Growing up, my small town of 1700 people had a K-12 school, a movie theater, a hospital, a newspaper, a bank, a dairy, five dress shops, five car dealerships, four hardware stores and three grocery stores, two cafés and two drugstores with soda fountains.
Both fountains served ‘pop’ and ‘coke’ but it was Curtis Drug where I was allowed to perch my preteen self on a stool after school, perhaps because my mom some times played bridge with Mrs. Curtis.
Above the fountain was a scruffy stuffed albino deer bagged by Mr. Curtis, gruesome by city standards but no surprise, then or now, in the northwoods towns of Minnesota.
A coke was a dime, fifteen cents with a syrup. This was the real Real Coke, sweetened with cane sugar. I was partial to cherry syrup until discovering vanilla. The glasses were small by today’s megamall measure. Ice came crushed or cubed; both dripped condensation onto the metal-edged counter.
Feeling oh-so-sophisticated, I’d sip the icy sweetness through a straw, lifting up to grin at a school friend on the next stool as we wordlessly absorbed the big-kid talk from high schoolers a few stools away.
Today, that same small town has 1100 people. The theater, the hospital, the newspaper, three banks and even one drugstore remain, even if the dairy, the dress shops, the car dealerships, two hardware stores, two groceries, the cafés and most sadly, the soda fountains, do not.
moist and fudgy in the center,
chewy on the edges
Oven time: 30 – 40 minutes
Make 16 bars or 25 smaller bars
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 inch length of vanilla bean
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 3-1/2 - 4 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, in pieces
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt (for salted butter) or 3/4 teaspoon table salt (for unsalted butter)
- 1 cup flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 125 grams by weight
- 1 cup chopped walnuts, preferably toasted, or black walnuts (optional)
- Powdered sugar to finish, optional
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a food processor, whiz the sugar and vanilla bean for several minutes until the vanilla is in tiny flecks.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over low heat in a large saucepan. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from heat and stir a bit to cool – we don't want to cook the eggs!
Whisk in the vanilla and eggs, then the sugar mixture, salt, flour and nuts.
Transfer the batter to a well-greased 8x8 cake pan and smooth the surface. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let cool completely. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 16 or 25 squares, that's 4x4 for large bars of 5x5 for small brownie squares.
PERSONAL NOTE This column was written during the winter of 2006. During a visit home that summer, much to my surprise, the albino deer from Curtis Drug showed up on a float in the 4th of July parade! And so now I have a photo as well as a mind memory. If only, if only, the drugstore still had the soda fountain!
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