The Family Table: 4 Secrets to Grandma’s Unbeatable Brownies

Readers share their treasured recipes
By The Family Table
The Family Table
The Family Table
September 30, 2021 Updated: September 30, 2021

Submitted by Megan Baker, Grants Pass, Oregon

My grandmother and I have similar penmanship. Perhaps that’s why I pull out the index card containing her “Saucepan Brownies” recipe even though I’ve had it memorized for years now. I like looking at her writing.

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Grandma’s “Saucepan Brownies” recipe card. (Courtesy of Megan Baker)

Growing up, my family would spend Sunday mornings at church and Sunday afternoons at my grandparents’ home. They had a beautiful home out in Oregon’s Applegate Valley: daffodil fields, a pond where you could hunt for fat toads, a tractor with a small attachable cart my grandpa would load us kids in for a cruise around the property, and a TV (we didn’t grow up with one in my home) that was usually playing football or videotapes of “I Love Lucy,” to this day one of my favorite TV shows. But ranked higher than any of those attractions was my grandma’s cooking—specifically, her desserts.

Aside from her applesauce cookies, my favorite smell was the warm, chocolate aroma of her baking brownies that would creep into my nose as soon as I opened the front door. Warm chocolate is pretty hard to beat, and I would put her brownies up against just about anybody else’s. I know that’s a bold statement, but there were a few things she did that made them special.

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The author at her grandma’s house circa 1985, doing what she did best: sampling. (Courtesy of Megan Baker)

One, she used shortening. I always grew up using butter in baking recipes, but shortening seems to be the secret ingredient used to give pastries this perfect texture: Not crumbly, and never dry, just chewy-without-being-gooey perfection.

Two, she frosted her brownies. Liberally. I’m sure there are brownie purists who would faint at the idea of taking something that’s already decadent and putting a cocoa buttercream on top. But I assure you, the frosting is what makes this recipe so special.

Third, she used coffee to moisten that frosting, so there’s a flavor that you get when you take a bite that’s familiar, but not quite placeable. When you realize it’s coffee, it all makes sense.

Lastly, she would bake the brownies, let them cool, frost them, and then cover them with a lid (she had the perfect 9-by-13 pan with a lid that slid into place over the top) and refrigerate them. Again, I know: Cold brownies? Whyyyyy? Please, just try it.

My grandma lived to be in her 90s. She didn’t cook as often as she got older, but my love for cooking and caring for my family through food is something that she taught me without direct instruction. It was one of the ways she showed us her love. And that’s a legacy that I hope to continue on.

Epoch Times Photo
Grandma’s saucepan brownies, liberally frosted and chilled. (Courtesy of Megan Baker)

Saucepan Brownies

Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan

For the Brownies

  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 cup walnuts (optional, I don’t ever add them)

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons coffee, or more as needed

Make the Brownies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan.

Combine the cocoa powder and shortening in a heavy saucepan. Melt carefully. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and unbeaten eggs. Add the cocoa-shortening mixture and blend well. Add remaining brownie ingredients. Mix just until everything has come together.

Pour into greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool.

Make the Frosting

Melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove and mix in the cocoa powder. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add the cocoa-butter mixture to the powdered sugar and mix together. Add the salt and vanilla and mix. Add the coffee, using an additional tablespoon or two if necessary to make the consistency thick but spreadable.

Spread frosting on the cooled brownies, cover with a lid or foil, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Oh, and eat them.


Do you have a treasured family recipe that holds a special place in your family history, heritage, or traditions? We would be honored if you would share it with us.

Along with the recipe, tell us its story—who gave it to you, its journey through the generations, and the personal meanings and memories it carries. Is it a special-occasion dish, or an everyday family favorite? Does it connect you to your cultural heritage, or to a certain loved one?

How have you kept the recipe alive, and why is it important to you to do so?

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