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We recently shared nostalgic posters of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival, and asked for your memories. In response, reader Sherrie Allan shared her copy of the Ninth Avenue Festival Cookbook from 1974. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to take some of those Hell’s Kitchen recipes and see if they could be recreated! Step up to the plate, Mackenzie Murray, who toiled in the kitchen in the hope of cooking up some history.
Brownies — a dessert that we all know and love. There are now 100s of recipes all claiming to be the best, fudgiest, and richest brownie out there. However, it has probably been quite a long time since we’ve seen one that has no frills, simple ingredients, and is incredibly straightforward. It’s hard to find a recipe these days that doesn’t have 10+ ingredients — I personally love the ones that don’t include espresso powder, 3 kinds of sugar, and molasses. That being said, this one is old, and modern day variations have come a long way. Reading it, my mother said, “this reminds me of a homemade brownie from years ago, truthfully.”
The recipe is as follows:
As you can see, this recipe is pretty vague. It does not say what temperature the butter should be (cold, softened, or melted), nor does it tell us how long to cream the butter and sugar together. If I wasn’t a self-proclaimed expert brownie baker, I’d probably panic, not knowing what to do with my butter. However, using my history knowledge, I assumed the butter would be at room temperature, because I can’t imagine people refrigerating their butter back in the day. I creamed the butter and sugar together for 3-4 minutes, which created a fluffy consistency.
The next step is to beat in the eggs one at a time. With no further instruction, I beat them for about a minute until fluffy and fully incorporated. The next part threw me off a bit: “add vanilla and chocolate which has been melted and cooled.” The preferred method of melting chocolate is to do it over a double boiler or a small sauce pot on low heat. I melted mine in the microwave for the sake of time (which I don’t think they were doing back then).
Next, combine the rest of the ingredients. With only ½ cup of chocolate chips and 1 cup of nuts, the chocolate to nut ration was very uneven and I was dissatisfied by the lack of required chips. I also thought it was incredibly random for the recipe to specifically call for milk chocolate chips. What’s wrong with semi-sweet or dark?! If you like a nutty brownie, then this amount will thrill you, but I found myself hoping to get lucky and my bite would include a chunk of chocolate. The type of nut was also unclear, so I rummaged through my pantry and unearthed some Brazil nuts. I chopped them up, and I now think Brazil nuts are the new walnuts.
Now the interesting part – baking the brownies. A 9” x 13” pan is quite large for the quantity of batter. An 8” x 8” is definitely preferred for a thicker, more gooey brownie. Baking the brownies in a 9” x 13” pan at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes is going to lead to incredibly overcooked, if not burnt, brownies. They are also very thin, so they do not need to bake for more than 25 minutes.
The final verdict: thin, cakey, nutty, crumbly, and not so chocolatey brownies, but still delicious and old tasting. Overall, this is a very simple but vague recipe on how to cook a traditional brownie. With only 8 simple ingredients, it serves as a great foundation to modify and create an ideal brownie to fit your tastes.
More about the NINTH AVenue International Food Festival
And finally… What was Washington Beef — mentioned in connection to the recipe creator Mrs Lee Frank? Today, the company is still providing huge amounts of meat to America under the name Agri Beef. Back then, they had a large retail store on the west side of 9th Avenue between W41st and W42nd Street. They were a huge operation even then. In 1973, in the face of a meat boycott, Washington Beef still ordered “the customary 11 freight cars, each holding 40,000 pounds of meat.”
In 1981, the buildings next door collapsed and made front page news in the New York Times.
When Washington Beef departed the space, Big Apple Meat Market moved in. However, in January 2013 Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reported that Big Apple Meat Market had been forced to move to make way for a hotel development (now The Pod which includes Serafino in the Sky).
Now, Big Apple Meat Market is back in the same space on 9th Avenue.
Mackenzie Murray graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in July of 2021. Following her time at culinary school, she worked as a pasta line cook at the Michelin-starred Rezdôra. She now works as the Culinary Assistant and Digital Media Coordinator for Gail Simmons.
Thanks for the memories.
I remember when that building collapsed. My father had just walked out of the store that was on the ground floor 5 minutes before it collapsed !
My mother used to work in Washington Beef when I was in grammar school at Holy Cross ..
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