Oh, my Grandmother’s brownies! I remember and crave them still. She never made any secret about using a box mix for the brownies. I vaguely remember a Betty Crocker box. But she always made this frosting. It was more like fudge, but she wouldn’t put fudge on a brownie, or would she?
The frosting was thick and chocolatey. It had a graininess that let you know how much sugar was in the frosting, but it was so good. The whole brownie was sweet yet not cloying. My Grandmother always put nuts in her brownies., usually walnuts or pecans. I know that cooks are hesitant with nuts these days. I say give nuts a chance!
I tried many “southern” fudge frosting recipes and none matched my grandmother’s. So, I went to a good old-fashioned fudge recipe and changed it up a little.
It’s not too late for a quick Valentine’s Day bake so quickly run to the store and get your ingredients and get to it!
Follow the directions on the box for your brownies. While they are baking get started on your frosting. If you can pour the frosting over the brownies when they come out of the oven its great!
While visiting friends in Phoenix, we had brunch at Chico Malo. For now, it is just the local Mexican/South American restaurant around the corner but keep an eye on this one. The Group that owns it is about to explode on the scene. Chico Malo literally means “bad boy” in Spanish. The menu is only good things but with a bad boy edge. The food was AMAZING!! Each item on the menu sounded better than the next. I loved that they aren’t trying to re-invent who they are with a whole new menu, for brunch. There are things like burritos and Chimichangas and in some cases, they turn those up.
Everything we ordered was great, but I can’t get my mind off the Nana Marcella’s Drunken French Toast. I’m going to do my best to duplicate. The presentation was so beautiful and the melding of flavors so incredible. The long pieces of baguette and caramelized bananas were stacked as if building a campfire. I learned from the menu that the bread had been soaked in a tres leches bath that not only enhanced the flavor but softened the tough crust to make it easy to cut with a fork. The 5-spice butter was the perfect balance of flavors to cut the fat in the butter while giving a blend of spices that danced all around my tongue, finally landing at the back with just a hint of heat. I had my idea of what the spices were but a quick visit with the General Manager confirmed allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon.
These two hints gave me the start I needed to play mad scientist in the kitchen. I mixed eggs into the tres leches bath and I let the bread soak overnight. I did the same thing with the butter. I played around with amounts of each spice until I felt they all shined but the heat from the cinnamon was what you remembered. And so, I began. A couple of things I would be sure of before I started. When cutting your baguette, make sure your pieces will fit comfortably in the pan. You want them long but not so long that they fall apart when they are in the pan. Have everything you need to “build” the dish ready to go before you start cooking. This dish is better served hot, so don’t waste time getting everything together at the end. I noticed when I looked at the picture of the recipe again that there is a pool of tres leches under the toast then syrup. I ordered the Aged Rum Syrup and piloncillo from Amazon. You can probably get the piloncillo at a Latin market and make your own rum syrup by adding rum to maple syrup and reducing until the right thickness.
This dish was such a decadent start to the day. It was rich and the Mimosa I had helped to ease the richness. This is a great breakfast to share or even multiply for a breakfast buffet.
Today is National Chess Day. Yes they are talking about the game, but it made me think about a pie I had as a child, when I would go and visit my grandparents, in Georgia. I looked through a few cookbooks and found no less than fourteen recipes for Chess Pie. Five of them are my own family’s recipes.
Folklore of how this pie got it’s name is that a cook on a plantation made up the recipe and when asked what she had made she answered “Just pie”. Because of her thick accent it was misheard as “chess pie”. Of course there are as many versions of how it got its name as there are recipes for the pie.
Another version of the story is that because the recipe has such a high amount of sugar, it is naturally preserved and therefore didn’t need to be stored in an icebox and could be kept in a pie chest. Again chest eventually got slanged down to “chess”. Finally, there is a version that says Chess Pie is really Cheese Pie, an English recipe that is almost identical and is basically a form of cheesecake. I don’t buy this one at all.
If you don’t know what Chess Pie is, it is a custard pie with a minimal amount of cornmeal or sometimes flour in it. This basic pie exists in every region, in some form. Indiana has Sugar Pie and this may even be a precursor to the base of lemon meringue pie. You could even call it a solid pudding in a crust.
This pie hits all the sensory notes. It is at once smooth with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal. The corn meal will rise to the top and form a crust. When I was a kid I loved this pie because it was so sweet and the more sugar the better. Now that I am an adult, I understand the nuances of the flavor and sugar.
Chess Pie, in the south is like Pound Cake and squash soufflé. If you ask a dozen women you will get a dozen recipes for the same item. I even did a spreadsheet to see where the variances are. I really only wanted to make my family recipe but I tried one other, too. They are both very sweet. In our family recipe, the one below, a tablespoon of vinegar is added. It seems to be what cuts the sweetness a bit.
The ingredients of the recipe are basics and you probably have them in your pantry and fridge all the time. Really, sugar, eggs, cornmeal, milk and butter, is all you need. It all comes together fast so, if you do have the ingredients on hand, you can have a fabulous dessert made in about an hour. However, I do recommend that it cool then get refrigerated over night before serving.
You can add different flavors, too. The easiest way is to change out the vanilla for another extract. However, you can add 1 cup of coconut or ¼ cup cocoa powder too. The cocoa powder also cuts down the sweetness.
Just one bite of this pie and I am driving down a red dirt road to my grandparents and catching lightning bugs.