It's Healthier...and Even More Decadent: The Brownie

A brownie is not just a brownie anymore, if you ask Kevin Martin, food buyer for Smith College at Northampton, MA. Nowadays customers want them different flavors, with toppings, or as part of other desserts.

"Variety is one of the main reasons we use a mix," says Martin. "We can add different ingredients to make a new dessert each time. We offer a Rocky Road brownie with walnuts, chocolate chips and marshmallows, brownies topped with crushed Heath bars or dollops of coconut macaroons...our cooks experiment a lot—the bottom line is what the students want."

Most brownies from scratch: According to FoodService Director's 1995 Dessert Monitor, over 78% of all segments prepare their brownies from scratch instead of buying them pre-packaged or from a local bakery, and versatility is a key factor.

"The use of different additions to the regular brownie mix started with the college's Friday "Tea Time," a tradition for students staying the weekend," Martin says. "Students are served light snacks, cookies and brownies with their tea, and the cooks wanted to give them something special, since they weren't going home."

Now, some of the more fancy varieties of brownies made at Smith College are served during Tea Time. Among them: baked brownies coated with a peppermint/buttercreme frosting and a chocolate glaze "which hardens on top like a candybar," and a brownie sundae, in which ice cream and marshmallow fluff are served on a brownie base.

Brownies are menued at least four times in Smith's eight-week menu cycle, and lunch is when brownies go best, says Martin.

"Our 2,500 board students are served buffet-style and are allowed to take as many brownies as they want. We also pack them in box lunches for special events. People grow up with brownies, and there is no group or occasion they don't fit into."

Keeps them honest: "By preparing the brownies from a mix, we can say they are home made and won't be lying," says Marty O'Shea, exec. chef at the Glen Ellen Country Club in Millis, MA. "Perception is important in catering—when our customers are looking to cater a picnic, they want fresh brownies that are baked just before eating."

"We bake them in the morning of the picnic, so they are still warm when they are set-up with the other picnic desserts."

A 'No. 2 item': "Brownies are the No. 2 catered item next to strawberry shortcake," he points out. "We cater to weddings during the year and picnics for large companies—up to 3,000 people—during the summer, and the brownies are very popular among the companies that come here, especially when they bring children along."

O'Shea buys a brownie mix and adds walnuts or white chocolate for variety. "I add water and eggs so the texture is more like a cake than fudge, and the white chocolate is very rich. The fancy brownies go the best, and kids love the ones with M&Ms on top."

The true test of whether a brownie is good, according to O'Shea, is how many are left at the end of the picnic. "During a typical outing we average almost two per person. They cost around 20¢ to 25¢ to make, but for the menu I figure out a cost of from 80¢ to $1."

Healthier brownies: "By baking brownies from scratch we can make them healthier than pre-packaged," points out Karen Johnson, dir. of foodservice at Yuma School Dist. in Yuma, AZ. "Besides, we already have bakers here, so the labor is available."

"We add applesauce as a sweetener, and sometimes add dates or raisins, but there are not enough to make the brownies qualify as reimbursable. It's an extra cost on the plate, but the kids like them, so we'll offer them every couple of months or so."

Lesley Johnson, dir. of food and nutrition svcs. for Desert Springs Hosp. in Las Vegas, NV, is among the 20% of operators that buy brownies pre-packaged.

"We are a very small operation with one convection oven and one conventional oven. Since we prepare food for the doctors, staff and patients, it is easier and less expensive labor-wise to buy brownies frozen."

No nuts, please: Johnson buys frozen sheets of plain brownies, avoiding nuts because some patients are on low-residue diets. "We're mostly a surgical hospital, and post-op patients can't have too many things that are hard to digest."

"We offer brownies once a week on the patient menu and serve about 50 portions. They are offered in the cafeteria the same day."

No lowfat brownies are menued though, because they are too expensive, Johnson points out. "The employee cafeteria is priced to be an employee benefit. We sell brownies at 55¢ a la carte. Lowfat brownies went for $1.50 each, but people were not willing to pay for them."

"Also, they are loaded with too much sugar, and since we try to use the same products across the board we couldn't give them to diabetic patients."



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