Thursday, May 6, 2021

Brownies from Nuns

Today on A Book of Cookrye, we are making brownies that are apparently endorsed by nuns.

Fudge Frosted Brownies
½ c butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted*
1 tsp vanilla
½ c flour
½ c chopped walnuts if desired
       Fudge frosting:
1 c sifted powdered sugar
1 tbsp cocoa
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp butter

Heat oven to 325°. Grease an 8" square pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each. Blend in the chocolate and the vanilla. When all is mixed, add the flour and nuts.
Bake 35 minutes. When they're done, press the brownies with the bottom of a glass to level the top. Frost when cooled.
       To make the frosting:
Mix the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook until the pot boils around the sides. Remove from heat and beat until it is a spreading consistency.

*If you don't have unsweetened chocolate, use 6 tbsp of cocoa powder. Increase the butter by 2 tablespoons. Stir in the cocoa powder with the sugar.

Dominican Sisters (Oxford, Michigan), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

It's weird making a brownie recipe from nuns. I'd have thought that 1950s nuns would do this to anyone who asked for something so decadent:

I worked with someone who grew up in New York in the 50s. She had a sign on her desk that said YOU CAN'T SCARE ME, I WAS TAUGHT BY NUNS.

Anyway, let's get this recipe launched with a sinful amount of butter and sugar!


Do you believe signs of divine endorsement? Because after I measured out the cocoa powder we'd be using for this recipe as a substitute for the melted chocolate (and we're using a lot of it)...

...This is how much cocoa remained in the can. It's like the good Lord wanted us to make brownies from this recipe.

It appears that when a convent of nuns decide to partake of earthly delights, they don't half-ass it. Look at how much chocolate we have in this divinely dark mixture!

This lovely confluence of butter, sugar, and chocolate did not want to combine with the eggs. At first, we got these slimy curds of stubbornly-unmixed chocolate-butter.


To get it all to actually mix, we needed a change of mentality. We stopped treating the bowl before us like brownies in progress, and instead gave it all the gentleness of Sister Mary Stigmata after hearing someone take the Lord's name in vain. As a reminder:

"Is this a good time to ask for your brownie recipe?"

Given how many wooden spoons have already snapped in my hands during this pandemic, perhaps I shouldn't have gone full nun on the future brownies. But the Lord was with us, and both batter and spoon emerged from this intact.

It looks like the Dominican Sisters of Oxford, Michigan decided that after such an extravagance of chocolate, it would be a sin to waste flour that could have gone towards making our daily bread. We're barely putting any in this. Look how it sits in a small, near-flat heap on top of all that chocolate.

Anyone who has flipped through my previous posts will know that I have made a lot of brownie recipes. Sometimes, the batter is so runny you could pour it like syrup. Other times, it's so thick you could shape it with a spoon. Today's brownies almost looked like I could drop spoonfuls of batter onto a baking sheet like cookies and they wouldn't run together in the oven.

I have to say, this batter tasted amazing. I was almost thinking that the Dominican Sisters of Oxford, Michigan knew how to have a good time. But if you use the pan size prescribed, you're going to get some penitent rations.

We haven't got the whole pan covered because we wanted to try this recipe in its original state (after all, is it possible to improve a recipe that came from God's kitchen?) but still had half a can of cherry pie in the refrigerator from our cherry and ham tragedy.

If you're going to add canned cherry pie to your brownies (which is something I like a lot), I suggest you make sure not to mix it very well. This is not the time to be a nun with a spoon instead of a yardstick. Instead, you want unmixed swirls of that glistening syrup throughout the brownies, like the caramel syrup sometimes swirled into a carton of ice cream. 

I have to say, I think God wanted me to just eat the brownie batter and forget this business of baking it. I took the pan out of the oven far earlier than the recipe said, and things were still looking a bit... overdone.

In case you're wondering what those white lumps are on the cherry side, I found a near-depleted bag of white chocolate chips and decided to dump those in also. They don't matter much because you couldn't tell they were there unless you saw them first, so we can safely forget them. I had high hopes for chocolate-cherry-white-chip brownies, but chocolate-cherry without the white chips is still a delicious pair. Anyway, these weren't burned, but they had that peculiar texture you find in baked goods that have spent several hours slowly drying out in a warming oven. 


After such a deliriously chocolate-dark batter, I was disappointed that these were as dried-out and bland as the brownies that might be served next to unusually depressing cafeteria food. They have that institutional sadness to them. The cherry ones weren't as dry as the plain ones because of the extra cherry syrup mixed in, but that didn't save them. Maybe the nuns took the same approach to baking brownies as they did when baking communion wafers (which used to be an in-house operation at many convents before they got shoved out of the business).

You may have noticed that we did not make the icing that's supposed to go with these. That's because we didn't have cream, and I'm not about to buy a carton of it just to use two spoons and have the rest of it sit forgotten in the refrigerator until it expires. I felt a little bad about failure to ice these until they turned out almost dusty.

I think this recipe was perfectly fine until we got to the baking instructions. Further investigation will be required and undertaken before I write it off.


  1. In the pre plague times, my lace guild had an annual retreat where we would bring in a teacher for a long weekend of lace making. The most affordable (and accommodating) venue we have found is a convent that was converted into an event center of sorts. That place is truly an adventure, when you come in, there's a sign saying what rooms everyone is assigned to, and you wander through the building until you find your room. There are no locks on any of the room doors (they do lock the outer doors at night, and there is a pass code that you punch in if you are coming back after hours). The boiler system seems to have a lot of sticky valves, so a room that is cold when you go to sleep could be 90+ degrees when you wake up in the middle of the night. On the first night there are usually a few people wandering around trying to find a room that does not have a name posted on it (meaning it is empty) that is cool enough to sleep in. All the bathrooms are shared, and at the end of your stay, you strip the sheets off your bed and put new ones on from the stock of linens in the room. The building started out as a convent, then transitioned to being a girls boarding school, then became the convent where all the old nuns went until they built a modern skilled nursing facility to hold them. I wonder about some of the things that must have gone on in that building (especially when it was a boarding school). While the meals are pretty basic, the desserts are excellent. I think there are a group of volunteers who run the kitchen, so I'm not sure that there are any nuns involved in the actual making of the desserts. Incidentally, that same city has a monastery that is known for the high quality candy it sells. Apparently the religious orders of this part of the Midwest have dessert figured out.

    1. That sounds like an amazing architectural and cultural adventure, especially if you get to spend nights there. I have to admit, this one was so good before baking that I am almost dead certain that we got miswritten baking instructions. There's no way someone could make a recipe for brownie batter this good and dry it out in the oven except by accident.