Do you know this delicious chocolate square that is a staple of American culinary tradition and that is called brownie?
My question is rhetorical of course! Talking about a American brownie is like talking about a tiramisù in Italy, a millefeuille in France, or a semla in Sweden. Recipes like these are written in the DNA of a nation.
Imagine a fair, a big fair in the United States in the late nineteenth century, in 1893 to be exact. An exhibition organized to celebrate the 400 years of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. It lasts 5 months, from May to October, and hosts nearly 30 million visitors.
Imagine the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. At that time, fast food still did not exist and most people would come from home with their lunchbox for lunch and/or afternoon tea.
And during this exposition, how could a chic lady eat chocolate cake without getting her hands dirty?
I am talking about Bertha Palmer, nicknamed Cissie. She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1849 and was best known for being a successful businesswoman, philanthropist and passionate about art. Bertha married Potter Palmer, a millionaire from Chicago, owner of the Palmer House Hotel.
In 1891, she was elected President of the “Board of Lady Managers” of this World Exposition, with the important role of taking care of the catering for visitors.
For this exposition, Bertha Palmer had expressed to the chef of the hotel the wish to see him create a good dessert. The wishes of Mrs. Palmer were precise: this cake had to have a consistency between a genoise and a tart, it had to allow cutting without collapsing and above all, it had to be consumed without getting dirty hands.
And so Mrs Palmer inspired the cooks to invent brownie!
But, like a lot of recipes, even the brownie has its share of legends and several assumptions around its birth, though, let’s face it, that of Mrs Palmer is probably the most plausible.
In the case of brownies, the only thing we can say with certainty is that their origin is American and that the name comes from the large amount of chocolate and brown sugar used to prepare them, and thus giving its brown color.
This brings us to another story, a second version dating back to 1897.
It’s the story of a distracted mother-in-law, in Bangor, Maine, who failed to incorporate yeast into her chocolate cake and, to make it more presentable, cut it into small squares to serve it to his guests.
The secret of the delicacy of a brownie lies in the respect of the original simple preparation: first the base, which absolutely does not involve the addition of baking powder or any other leavening agent. Then, a recipe that relies only on a few simple ingredients such as flour, sugar, chocolate, butter and eggs.
The brownie recipe has traveled around the world and today the varieties of brownies are endless: with various dried fruits, topped with various icing flavors, with whipped cream, with chocolate chips, with caramel, and so many others.
And the chocolate brownie also has a little brother without chocolate that, because of its amber color, is called blondie. Here, the main ingredient is cane sugar which, when cooked, gives the final product the characteristic caramel color. In the blondie recipe, white chocolate is sometimes added.
So ? Macadamia or pecan? I am split but today, I chose pecan.
Let’s talk about this favorite nut from America called pecan.
Pecan is the fruit of the pecan tree, a majestic tree of about 80 to 90 feet which is from the same family as the walnut, native to North America.
The history of the pecan is closely related to that of America, because it was essential to the diet of the Amerindians and the first settlers about 500 years ago. Pecan nuts originate from the region bordering Mexico and the United States and are now grown in the southern United States, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, China and the United States and Israel. There are more than 1000 varieties, many of which have been named by Native American tribes. Actually, the word “pecan” itself comes from the word pakan, from the Algonquin language, which means “nuts needing a stone to be broken”.
We must debunk this claim that pecans and other nuts make you fat: it’s simply not true! Numerous studies have shown, on the contrary, that nuts are true slimming allies. A reasonable intake of 10 oz a day does not lead to weight gain, even helps weight loss during dieting and has a number of beneficial effects on physical and mental health.
Like all nuts, it is in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases that they are excel. Indeed, 70% of its fats are monounsaturated fatty acids (omega-3), rich in soluble fiber, but also vitamins E (antioxidant), which can lower the level of bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) and the diabetes.
A Harvard study of more than 500,000 people showed that 3 servings of 10 oz of nuts a week, reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by 24%, non-fatal heart attack risk by 22% and 13% the risk of diabetes.
In fact, since 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been able to put the following labels on food with claims concerning nuts: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts [such as name of specific nut] as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
For the record, presidents Washington and Jefferson were known to love pecan nuts. In fact, they planted them in the gardens of the White House. The pecan tree became the symbol of the state of Texas in 1919, in honor of the state’s governor James Stephen Hogg, who was particularly fond of this tree.
So, long live pecans! Let yourself be seduced by the delicious pecan pie or these small Peruvian chocotejas, or this delicious brownie, which we served with vanilla ice cream and that we absolutely loved!
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 8 oz. dark chocolate (65% cocoa)
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter , diced
- ⅞ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven at 350F/180C.
- Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and add the butter until it melts. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Beat the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes.
- Gently mix the melted chocolate and butter with the eggs.
- Stir in vanilla, flour and pecans and mix to obtain a homogeneous dough.
Line an 8x12 inch (20x30cm) rectangular mold with parchment paper.
- Pour in the mixture and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.
- Test the baking is done by poking with the tip of a knife in the center of the brownie. It must come out dry.
- Unmold when the brownie is completely cooled down, then cut into squares.
- Brownie can be enjoyed as is, or accompanied by vanilla ice cream, custard or whipped cream.