Monthly Archives: November 2013

Brownies and Blondies

Samples of "Walnut WItches" at the Fat WItch Bakery

Samples of “Walnut Witches” at the Fat Witch Bakery

Brownie purists may debate the finer points of dense, fudgy brownies versus brownies that are more cake-like.  But I think this detracts from the wider issue—the brownie versus blondie match-up.

Before I started doing brownie/blondie research for this posting, I assumed that brownies would trounce blondies in a popularity contest.  As you’ll see below, that isn’t the case.

Blondies from Sweet Sam's Baking Company

Blondies from Sweet Sam’s Baking Company

Sweet Sam’s Baking Company offers a variety of baked goods—including coffee cake, loaf cakes, cookies, brownies, as well as blondies.  Two brownies are in the line-up: a Walnut Brownie and the more popular Chocolate Chunk Brownie.  Interestingly, over the last year, sales of the Blondie were double that of the Chocolate Chunk Brownie.  And blondies have always been ahead of brownies in sales.

White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies from the Cake Sculptress

White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies from the Cake Sculptress

As the name implies, the Cake Sculptress specializes in 3D/sculpted cakes.  However for brownie and blondie fans, 11 types of brownies and 5 types of blondies are available.  The three best-selling brownies are: Triple Chocolate; Mint Chocolate Chip; and White Chocolate Raspberry.  The Cake Sculptress sells more Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Blondies than brownies.  Rebecca Goss, of the Cake Sculptress, speculates that people have become a bit disenchanted with brownies, seeing them as ordinary, though tasty, and nothing more.  However, she thinks blondies will never take the place of brownies because of the nostalgia and comfort offered by brownies.  Rebecca relayed an interesting brownie trend: brownie wedding cakes made a brief appearance as an alternative to traditional wedding cakes.

Grandma's Mix-Up Bars from Broadway Baker

A “Grandma’s Mix-Up Bar” from Broadway Baker

The Broadway Baker’s “Grandma’s Mix-Up Bars” sport a graham cracker crust made from homemade graham crackers.  Perched on top of this crust:  Belgian chocolate, unsweetened coconut, and crushed pecans.  A sweet cream is then drizzled over everything.  (For purposes of this post, I’ll take liberties and classify these bars as blondies.) Jim Osorno of the Broadway Baker reports that Grandma’s Mix-Up Bars are more popular than his brownie offering, “Major Brownies.”  Also see the Dessert Surveillance Broadway Baker posting.

Wrapped "Witches" at the Fat Witch Bakery

Wrapped “Witches” at the Fat Witch Bakery

In keeping with the whimsical witch theme, at the Fat Witch Bakery, brownies and blondies are known as “Witches.” Witch types include: Fat Witch (regular brownie); Red Witch (brownie with dried cherries); Java Witch (brownie with cappuccino chocolate chips); Snow Witch (with white chocolate instead of chocolate); and the Blonde Witch (blondie).  To keep Fat Witch devotees from suffering from too much guilt, a few of the Witches are available in small sizes, known as Baby Witches.  Seasonal flavors round out the offerings: a Pumpkin Witch and Pecan Bars.  And new Witch types are planned.  Pat Helding, the founder and CEO of the Fat Witch Bakery has an interesting take on the brownie versus blondie debate: Blondies are a New York City thing so brownies will still get more points in a national popularity contest.

And of the companies above, 3 of the 4 are based in New York City, although they ship nationwide.  The Cake Sculptress is based in Massachusetts.   What does this mean?  I need to ask these questions of more companies outside of the New York City area.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of Brownies and Blondies.

And in the meantime, I have an important decision to make:  I have a brownie and a blondie in my freezer.  Which one do I scarf down now?  Hmmmm…..

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Shop and Cafe

Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Shop and Cafe

What happens when Finance major and a sculptor go into business together?  For sisters Melissa and Emily Ehlsen, the result is the acclaimed Brooklyn, New York pie shop and café, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

Meliss and Emily Ehlsen

Meliss and Emily Ehlsen

At the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, the sister demonstrated how they make pie crust for their pies and “spilled the beans” about their business and how they got started.


Melissa and Emily were raised in South Dakota and come from a food and entrepreneurial background – their father an independent farmer, and their mother and aunts, restauranteurs. Their grandmother baked pies for the family restaurant.  (In keeping with the family connection, their mother was in the audience at the 92nd Street Y lecture/demonstration.)   After pursuing different careers, the sisters wanted to start a business together, and as they put it “food is what we know.”  They started with custom pies, baked in their apartment.  Then they set up their Brooklyn pie shop as a neighborhood coffee shop, but with pie.  They didn’t know of other places like it.

Pies and More Pies

Pies and More Pies

At Four & Twenty Blackbirds slices of pie are served up, and a limited number of whole pies are available.  Melissa and Emily work closely with local, organic orchards and only use fruit that’s in season.  That’s why cherry pie makes a very brief appearance on the menu – cherry season is short.  The fall line-up includes: Salted Caramel Apple; Bourbon Pear Crumble; Brown Butter Pumpkin; Malted Chocolate Pecan; Salty Honey; Birch Beer Float; and Lemon Chess.

A Slice of Salted Caramel Apple Pie

A Slice of Salted Caramel Apple Pie

A Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook was published at the end of October 2013.  Interestingly, the cookbook includes some recipes for pies that aren’t available in the pie shop/café.  Chiffon pies, for example, aren’t sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the shop.

pie sign_FourandTwenty_Sign

While it’s a Brooklyn-based business, the pies can also be found in Manhattan (the Untitled Café at the Whitney Museum) as well as in the Western Catskills in Upstate New York (the Table on Ten restaurant).

These are a few of the pie crust making tips divulged by Melissa and Emily:

— The best butter to use for pie crusts has a butterfat content of at least 82%

— For working in the butter, a flat bottom bowl is optimal

— Adding a bit of cider vinegar make the crust tender

— They prefer to use a tapered rolling pin, with thin edges

I’ve been afraid to tackle pie, but I think I’ll give it a go!

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