Testing a Fannie Farmer Recipe…


Hello All!

Today I present you with a (possibly) new series of posts, testing vintage recipes. I use the word possibly because I have no idea if I will continue this trend or not, seeing as I stumbled across this one by accident.

With that being said...

Image Courtesy of Amazon

A few weeks ago, I (like many other fans) purchased Dylan Hollis's first cookbook: Baking Yesteryear, in which Dylan explores various desserts and treats from the 1900s through the 1980s.

I have always considered myself more of a baker than a cook, and so I decided that while I had some free time I would test out a recipe from the book. Usually when I buy a cookbook, I look at it once or twice, then add it to my library and forget it exists. I'm fairly certain this is the first time I've actually tried to bake a recipe out of a cookbook I've purchased and not a random recipe I've found online.

But I digress, back to Dylan.

As I was flipping through the various recipes, I came across one for "Pioneer Brownies" in the 1900's chapter. As I read the short description Dylan provided, my eyes landed on a familiar name--Fannie Farmer. Yes, Dylan had copied this recipe from Mrs. Farmer herself (and you can read more about her by clicking her name above). Mrs. Farmer is renowned in the history of cooking and American culinary arts because she was a pioneer in using exact measurements, as opposed to a sprinkle of this and a dash of that.


Fannie-Farmer-circa-1900, courtesy of Wikipedia-BPL

As a fan of brownies and intrigued by the opportunity to try a vintage recipe, I quickly jotted down the ingredients in my own typical fashion (that is to say, I went off memory of what ingredients I already had in my cabinets and then wrote down exactly zero amounts of how much I needed to buy of anything else) and then headed off to Target.

After coming home with my supplies, I set to work. First I had to dig around and find a measuring tape to see if the rectangular pan I owned was in fact a 9 by 13" pan (luckily for me it was!).

Preparing my kitchen

Once I was sure my pan was a sufficient size, I got to work.

And immediately encountered my first problem. The recipe called for "Unsweetened" chocolate and I had purchased a mix of both milk and dark chocolate chips. Oops.

Second problem, the recipe called for melted chocolate, but didn't specify what form it was supposed to come from. After attempting to melt some chocolate chips in my microwave (and almost starting a fire while melting the plastic bowl the chips were in instead of the chips themselves), I resorted to melting the chocolate chips in a saucepan on my stove, which worked much faster!

(Although I still don't quite know if I had the correct amount of chocolate by the time I was done. I'm not very good with converting grams and ounces and so on--Mrs. Farmer probably would not approve of my cooking methods!).

Eventually though, I got my batter all mixed together and into the baking pan.

Raw Batter Waiting to be Baked

My first observation? The dough wasn't very dark. I'm pretty sure I put more chocolate into the recipe than I was supposed to, and yet the dough still looked much lighter than a traditional (Boxed) brownie batter. But I stuck it in the oven anyway and hoped for the best.

The recipe also stated it needed to bake 25-30 minutes. Luckily I knew from previous experience that brownies need to bake much longer than cookies or even cakes.

However, what I was not prepared for was the fact that at 26 minutes in the oven, the brownies were still completely raw in the center! Usually my oven runs hot so this made me only a little nervous.

Fresh Out of the Oven

As you can see, it took me four total tries of poking the brownies with a fork before I finally got the indication they were done.

(For those unaware of the fork technique, you can tell when brownies are fully cooked by sticking a fork or other sharp object into the batter. If the fork comes out clean, they're done! If the fork comes out and the batter sticks or is still runny, then it needs to keep cooking).

It ended up taking my brownies just over forty minutes to bake fully in the oven. The recipe then said to let them cool completely before removing them from the pan, so I waited another forty minutes.

Fresh out of the Pan

At this point I found myself frowning at my creation. They definitely do not look like the traditional brownie we expect today. And unfortunately for me, this was one of the recipes that Dylan neglected to include a photo of in the cookbook. I also tried to do a quick Google Image search of "Fannie Farmer Pioneer Brownies." Half of the results looked similar to mine (a good sign!) but the other half looked like the darker brownies I'm used to.

Cutting the Brownies into Bars

As for the taste, well, they definitely taste more like vanilla than chocolate--to the point I'm left with a bit of a vanilla aftertaste after taking a bite. They're still good! I think they're very tasty, and they have the typical brownie consistency and texture as well. These brownies have a crinkly and flaky top, as well as a chewy/fudgy texture underneath. They just don't taste like brownies!

Maybe I messed the recipe up, or maybe Mrs. Farmer didn't think brownies needed to taste like chocolate. My mom asked me if this treat is actually supposed to be a "Blondie" since they are so much lighter and taste more like vanilla, but you would think Dylan would have mentioned that in his cookbook...

I honestly have no idea if I made this one right or not. But it was fun to try something new! I'll include the recipe below in case you want to try it yourself--and if you do, let me know your results!


(Editor's Note--uh, this is kind of embarrassing but when I got the book back out to type out the recipe I realized what I did wrong. This is the first time I've ever made brownies from scratch, and also the first time I've ever made a recipe that uses ounces and grams as part of the method. I definitely...definitely got the ounces to grams part on the chocolate confused. I just realized I only used half of the amount of chocolate I was supposed to...uh...my bad! Things are definitely making more sense now...So, definitely make sure you use the full amount of chocolate required. OR use half and enjoy a brownie texture with a vanilla flavor like I managed to do. Whoops! You live and you learn, right?)

Pioneer Brownies, a Fannie Farmer Recipe, from Dylan Hollis's Baking Yesteryear.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes (It probably took me closer to 20)

Cook Time: 30 Minutes (or 40, depending on the oven apparently!)


2 Cups (400g) granulated sugar

1/2 Cup (115g) butter, melted

2 large eggs

4oz (113g), unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour

1 cup (115g) chopped walnuts


1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (or 165 degrees C)

2: Line a 9x13 inch (23x33cm) pan with parchment paper, if your paper doesn't cover the entire pan, grease the sides not covered

3: Beat together the sugar and butter

4: Whisk in the eggs one at a time, beating smooth after each addition

5: Whisk in the chocolate, and then the vanilla

6: Fold in the flour, and then fold in the walnuts

7: Turn the batter into the parchment-lined pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes

8: All the brownies to cool completely in the pan, then remove the brownies by grasping the sides of the parchment. Cut into bars and serve