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Historical Recipe: Bangor Brownies

Rachel A. Snell, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

Happy Valentine’s Day or Singles Awareness Day! Whichever occasion you celebrate, this is a day that calls for chocolate. And whether you’re baking for your sweetheart, your family, your friends, or yourself, who doesn’t enjoy a little history with their dessert?

"Bangor Brownies"

“Bangor Brownies”

Earlier this week, I discussed the history of the brownie and explored the dessert’s possible connections to Maine. In that post, I mentioned attempting a “Bangor Brownie” recipe from the Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf Papers at the University of Maine. (If you don’t know Brownie, she was a fascinating lady. You can read more about her here.) That recipe was a failure, at least in terms of my brownie expectations. With one ounce of chocolate and 1/3 cup molasses, it barely had a hint of chocolate. So, back to the drawing board, or file overflowing with brownie recipes, and I experienced success with a “Bangor Brownie” recipe from Mrs. Cornelia F. Phillips.

First, I tried this recipe from Mrs. C.L. Barden, Sr. of Pittsfield Maine:

"Bangor Brownies" Recipe from Mrs. C.L. Barden, Sr. of Pittsfield Maine.

“Bangor Brownies” Recipe from Mrs. C.L. Barden, Sr. of Pittsfield Maine.

  •  1-cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • salt
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 square unsweet chocolate
  • 1-cup chopped nuts

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix other ingredients and beat thoroughly. Spread mixture evenly on cake pan lined with oiled paper. Bake 15 minutes at 325. Remove paper from cake as soon as removed from oven and cut into small squares with sharp knife.

To be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with the recipe. It produces a cake-like brownie with a strong molasses flavor and just barely a whisper of chocolate. I suspect the biggest reason we didn’t care for it was our expectations: we wanted a rich, chocolaty brownie. This is not that recipe. For my next attempt, I decided to select a recipe with more chocolate. I still wanted to test the combination of molasses and chocolate, but all the recipes that included molasses in the Schrumpf papers had relatively small amounts of chocolate. Since I wanted to present a fairly authentic recipe with few modernizations, I opted instead for Cornelia Phillip’s recipe with its (comparatively) generous three ounces of chocolate.

Bangor Brownies recipe from Cornelia F. Phillips:

"Bangor Brownies" recipe from Mrs. Cornelia F. Phillips.

“Bangor Brownies” recipe from Mrs. Cornelia F. Phillips.

  •  ¼ cup butter
  • 1-cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 squares chocolate
  • ½ – ¾ cup flour
  • 1 cup nut meats
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients in bowl and beat until well mixed. Spread evenly in butter baking pan. Bake and cut into strips.

Brownie Schrumpf's Brownie Recipe.

Brownie Schrumpf’s Brownie Recipe.

I made a few small changes to this recipe to suit present (and personal) taste. In August 1957, Brownie Schrumpf published a recipe for “Brownies” in the Bangor Daily News that was passed to her from her aunt and that she had “used for over fifty years.” Brownie’s recipe uses a ratio of 1-cup sugar to ½ cup flour to 2 eggs. Since Cornelia’s recipe has a similar ratio to sugar to flour but contained no leavening agent other than eggs, I felt 2 eggs would produce a better final product. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla, as did Brownie. Interestingly, Brownie’s recipe calls for just one ounce of chocolate. I decided to stick with three. Finally, I halved the amount of nuts in the recipe because I felt it would be too nutty with a whole cup of nuts.

Updated Recipe for Bangor Brownies based on the recipes of Cornelia F. Phillips and Brownie Schrumpf:

  •  ¼ cup butter
  • 1-cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • ½ cup flour (to make these gluten-free I used ¼ cup  millet flour and ¼ cup cornstarch)
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl over a pot of boiling water or a double boiler. Sift together the flour, salt and, if making gluten-free, ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum. Cream the eggs and sugar together. Slowly add the chocolate mixture, followed by the flour mixture and, finally, the vanilla. Spread evenly into a greased 8-inch cake pan (or similarly sized baking pan). Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Final Product. Yum.

Final Product. Yum.

This recipe produces a dense, sweet, and chocolaty brownie that would be excellent as the foundation for a brownie sundae. Enjoy! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more about the history of Brownies and their possible connections to Maine, check out this post: Sweet History: Bangor Brownies

To learn more about Mildred “Brownie” Schrumpf and the research materials available at the University of Maine, check out this post: Fogler Feature: Mildred (Brown) and William Schrumpf Collection

Rachel A. Snell, “Historical Recipe: Bangor Brownies,” Khronikos: the University of Maine graduate history student blog (blog), February 14, 2014,

Image Credits:

Brownie and William E. Schrumpf Papers, 1905-1990s. MS 455. Special Collections, Fogler Library, University of Maine. Orono, Maine.

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