JOCO Dining: A rich, chocolately column in honor of National Brownie Day

Brownies from Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village.
Brownies from Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village.

By Charles Ferruzza

Depending on which “National Food Holiday” website you go to, there are several variations on today’s holiday – Friday, February 10 – choice. One of them suggests that it’s “National Have A Brownie Day,” another insists that it’s “National Cream Cheese Brownie Day.”

It could, of course, be all of the above.

Like most Baby Boomers, I grew up eating the confection we call “brownies” – technically, it’s a bar cookie, although it has many cake-like qualities – prepared primarily from box mixes (although my own mother, not very interested in even that easy step, was far more inclined to buy the refrigerated Sara Lee product, which was heavily frosted with a fudgy icing).

A bit of perfunctory research reveals that the first cookbook author (and a famous one) to include a recipe for a brownie-like delicacy in print was the legendary Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915) for her 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, the definitive American cookbook for many, many years. Farmer tinkered with a cookie recipe that she baked, like a bar cookie, in a rectangular cake pan. But that first recipe did not use chocolate as an ingredient and tasted strongly of molasses.

Here’s where Kansas City steps into the history. The first reference to chocolate brownies – a confection much like we know them today – was in an 1898 issue of the Kansas City Journal.

The “cream cheese brownie” is believed to have been created as a way to blend the fudgy simplicity of a brownie with the richness of cheesecake.

One of the best local cream cheese brownies I’ve tasted from a local baker is served from the Dolce Bakery in the Prairie Village Shopping Center. It’s creamy and rich, but not so decadent that you feel guilty eating one. Dolce, for the record, also sells one of the few moist and luscious gluten-free chocolate brownies I’ve ever tasted.

Another venerable local brownie has been the one served for years at the beloved McLain’s Bakery in Waldo (and at the newer McLain’s market operation in Overland Park at 10695 Roe Avenue, a sensational addition to the Shawnee Mission neighborhood). Thick, slightly chewy, delectably moist. This is the kind of brownie that some people (well, me anyway) have daydreams about.

Another legendary local brownie that’s equally worthy of gushing praise is the one baked for the d’Bronx restaurants (including the suburban location at 7070 West 105th Street in Overland Park). The sweetness of the pastry is the perfect counterpoint to this venue’s savory signature pizza.

And then, of course, there are simple recipes (and box mixes) that make whipping up a batch of the chocolate confections as easy as breaking a couple of eggs. But with so many other options around town, finding a chewy or cake-like brownie is a relatively simple and relatively inexpensive task.

Just get in your car.