Birthday Brownies

A few Octobers ago, I signed up to bring two treats to the annual Halloween bake sale at school instead of one. My ambition was fueled by irrational optimism (three weeks from now will somehow be the first stretch in history that is calm and orderly) and guilt. (Usually I volunteer to bring something and to work behind the table, but the soccer schedule was not going to let that happen.) Of course, in the days leading up to the bake sale, I hadn’t given too much thought to what I was going to make, nor to where I was going to find the time to make two separate items. I knew I had ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, but what about the other item? I happened to be walking by a bakery at the time of my head-scratching, and five minutes, six dollars, and a dozen cupcakes later, I had my solution all boxed up and tied with baker’s twine.

Andy was incredulous when I got home. “You bought something for the bake sale?” he asked, not because he was some kind of from-scratch baked good Nazi, but because he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t have just bought both of my items and called it a day. Or why I didn’t just skip the storebought and only make one item. Who would care?

It was an excellent question and the answer is, of course, no one. No one would care. Or notice. And yet, in the complicated calculus of being me, I had to prove that I could come through on at least half of my vision of myself as the mother who had it all together.

I was thinking about the concept of Self-worth and Baked Goods again recently because Phoebe just turned 11, and requested a remarkably simple party. She wanted to celebrate the way her cousin just had for her 11th: By eating at one of those fun new wholesome burger shacks popping up on every corner, then watching The Princess Bride at home on the DVD player. No Balloons. No Pass the Parcel. No Theme. No Craft Project. No Decorations. In other words. No Stress. And I couldn’t handle it. The only role I could see myself playing in this (besides swiping a credit card) was baking the birthday cake.

“Oh, and Mom. I don’t want a cake this year. I want Ice Cream Sundaes.”

Thank God for my 9-year-old.

We went shopping for Sundae fixings on the day of the party — into the cart went the M&Ms, sprinkles, peanuts, maraschino cherries, strawberries. In a last grasp of desperation I asked Phoebe if maybe she needed me to make brownies so we could have Brownie Sundaes. She agreed (Praise Be!) and Andy reached for the Ghirardelli box mix.

“No!” I stopped him “I’ll make them from scratch.”

He looked in the cart, a veritable mountain of junk made from un-pronouncible ingredients, and then at his watch. What exactly was I trying to prove…and to whom?

I let him buy the mix.

“But I’m making homemade hot fudge and fresh whipped cream when we get home,” I blurted out. “And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Each attendee got a brownie to serve as the base of their Sundae. The icing message was my attempt to convince myself they were homemade.

Hot Fudge Sauce from Smitten Kitchen. This recipe is kind of specific and it’s actually a miracle I didn’t screw it up. I gave the leftover fudge to my chocolate-loving niece in a mini Weck jar. It occurred to me later that these would’ve made great party favors.

One of these days I’m going to tell you about Aunt Patty and the way she whips cream. But for this occasion, I poured one of those 8-ounce containers of whipping cream into a metal bowl with a drop or two of vanilla extract and a sprinkle of powdered sugar, then flipped the hand mixer to its highest speed until stiff peaks formed.

P.S. Keeping in mind that this whole enterprise is not supposed to be about me, I’d like to add that the birthday girl declared the party her best one ever.

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Jen W

Aside from maybe something bubbly to drink (though not 11-year-old-friendly), that sounds like my perfect birthday party too, Princess Bride DVD included. Happy Birthday, Pheobe!!

Jen B

if you want a fantastic brownie recipe the Outrageous Brownies published in NY Times a few ago is my go to recipe, bake for 30 minutes and you’ll have the best chewy brownie ever!


First, I want to say that I love make-your-own sundaes, and that was a favorite for my own birthday parties as a kid!

But do you remember the post that you recently put in about your friend who reads your blog and loves it, but never cooks? Do you remember the feeling when you thought about this friend not feeling like she could cook–when it is a joy for you?

That’s how I feel when I read your baking woes–not in a judgmental way, just having a really hard time wrapping my head around your not being able to bake, and your worrying about it turning out well. You are a well educated, good reader, good writer who could bake perfectly well if you just had someone get you started. If you just wanted to master a few basics. I put a chocolate cake in the oven in–literally–6 minutes tonight when I got home from work. From scratch. Making the frosting will probably take the same, or even less time.

If you really don’t want to bake, stop beating yourself up about it and go to the bakery. Or set your mind to it, and bake some brownies. It really takes the same amount of time, and hardly more effort, to make brownies from scratch. To me, they really are worth it! But we all really do have different priorities.

Kath the Cook

We really now must hear about Aunt Patty! I have a feeling whipped cream may not be the only unusual story. Love your blog

Rhonda Sittig

This party looked like big fun! Lucky girl. I have a whipped cream idea. I always keep a box of vanilla instant pudding in the cupboard and add a tsp. to each pint of cream when I make whipped cream– to stabilize it for all evening out on the sundae table or next to the apple pie…

Margo, Thrift at Home

ha, I love this kind of birthday party! We have yet to do the friends kind yet – only family and grandparents so far!

And as for following the rules that you signed up to bring 2 things to the bake sale and by dad-gum you were going to BRING 2 things, I totally get that. I’m a good girl and I can’t help following the rules. It’s the curse (ok, blessing sometimes) of the eldest daughter.

Jam @ Family Bites

These are my very favourite kinds of birthdays – simple and unique. I LOVE the idea of a brownie sundae bar – so much more fun for the kids verses being handed a slice of cake on a plate.


We’ve been doing birthday brownies for years now – neither of my kids like cake! I love a birthday brownie. Been making a martha stewart one recently. Totally delicious.