As a young mother in the 1960s, my mother never watched Julia Child – or any TV shows, for that matter. She preferred the humor and slap-dash directions in Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook. This book, inspired by a group of women who called themselves “the Hags,” this 1960 book poked fun at queen bee hostesses and fussy party dishes. From the “Desserts or People Are Too Fat Anyway” chapter, my mother frequently made Cockeyed Cake. My sister and I loved to poke holes in the dry ingredients and pour oil in one, vinegar in another, and vanilla in the third.
I found this Mix-in-The-Pan Brownie recipe in a rubber band-bound bundle that my mother recently handed over. Like my grandmother, she stashed away anything that looked remotely interesting, whether she planned to make it or not. Clipped from a magazine with no date on it, I guess from the 4 cents per serving breakdown and the suggested garnish of green gumdrop leaves(!) that this recipe came from the 1960s. It’s a step up from the brownie mix that Pillsbury introduced in 1955, but seems almost as convenient. I was in a hurry to bring something to a party, so it suited my 2014 sensibilities, too.
Everything came together in the baking pan, as promised, but the batter threatened to slosh over the sides when I mixed it. Next time, I’d melt the butter in a saucepan, put the other ingredients in that, and pour the batter into the greased baking pan. Nonetheless, within an hour, my brownies, still warm from the oven, were ready to go and I only had to wash one bowl. That’s the right recipe to inherit from my I Hate to Cook mom.
Makes 16 brownies
2/3 cup (11 tablespoons) vegetable shortening or butter (I used butter)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Melt shortening in an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan. Stir in the sugar. Cool (about 15 minutes).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Break the eggs in a small bowl; add vanilla. Beat with a fork until blended. Stir into the sugar mixture in the baking pan.
- Measure flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa into a sifter. (Put a plate underneath before you add the ingredients or you will end up with a messy countertop). Sift the mixture into the baking pan. Mix thoroughly with a fork. Add the walnuts, if using, and smooth the top of the batter (with a spatula or the back of a spoon).
- Bake 25-30 minutes, until the center springs back when lightly pressed with a fingertip.
- Cool on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares. Decorate with frosting and green gumdrop leaves, if you wish.