Brownie Showdown: Pentagon Brownies

Pentagon brownies...worth the hype?
Pentagon brownies...worth the hype?

Pentagon brownies...worth the hype?

When we heard about the 26-page Pentagon brownie recipe published recently, we couldn't resist trying to bake them. Emphasis on trying

. What better time for the next Chow Bella Showdown? We gathered the staff and got them baked -- er, baking.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Tune in all week to see who baked what and learn who won in a final post by New Times food critic Michele Laudig.

You may have heard in the last month or so about the Pentagon's elaborate 26-page brownie recipe. NPR did a great little piece about the over-the-top ridiculousness that is the government's protocol for baking one of America's favorite chocolaty sweet treats.

Since I'm not much of a baker, and I don't have a brilliant signature brownie recipe of my own, I gladly volunteered to wade through government paperwork for the sake of being able to taste the Pentagon's brownies. (I was hoping that this meant that they were the same brownies that the First Family eats, but now that I'm done, for their sake, I really hope they aren't.)

NPR quoted Jeremy Whitsitt of the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate: "One thing we like to say is, 'What would happen if you cooked a meal, stored it in a stifling hot warehouse, dropped it out of an airplane, dragged it through the mud, left it out with bugs and vermin, and ate it three years later?'"

Apparently, making sure the food is still edible after all of this is even more important than actual taste quality...

So my first question is this: Under what psychotic, war-torn circumstances would it be imperative to drop brownies from an airplane, drag them through the mud, and then serve them to some hypoglycemic G.I.?

Next, it must be made clear that the 26-pages are a bit misleading. The entire packet includes the recipes for "Cookies, Oatmeal; and Brownies; Chocolate Covered". Additionally, I suspect that between 2/3 and 4/5 of the recipe was full of government mumbo-jumbo.

Examples of government mumbo-jumbo:

Section 3.2 Ingredients. All ingredients shall be clean, sound, wholesome, and free from foreign material, evidence of rodent or insect infestation, extraneous material, off-odors, off-flavors, and off-colors...Section 3.2.7 Water. Water used for ice making, formulation, and washing shall conform to the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

On top of all this, there are special instructions in case certain ingredients could not be obtained in traditional form. For instance, if liquid eggs are nowhere to be found, dried ones may be substituted to certain specifications.

(Again, when would it be so necessary to make brownies or oatmeal cookies that you'd have to do it with powdered eggs? If you don't have access to eggs, my guess is that there are other more important things to focus on that you also probably don't have access to. And you likely have big enough morale problems they won't be solved with sweets.)

Despite all of this, I baked the brownies, with a few modifications explained below.

As much as I don't like to give the government credit for very many things, I must say that they may not be entirely to blame for the unpleasant taste and texture of the brownies I produced. There are a few things you must be aware of.


Problem #1: The instructions were all given in terms of weight, but with no unit described. I thought about it for a few minutes, and decided that ounces made way more sense than pounds or grams. I don't own a food scale. So I attempted to convert the weights to measurements that I could understand. Cups.

Problem #2: Certain ingredients weigh more than others, and one cup of cocoa powder is much different than one cup of vegetable shortening. Therefore, 2 ¼ cups shortening went into the recipe, and approximately 1/10 of a teaspoon of salt went into the same bowl. I immediately knew my proportions were off.

Problem #3: To make matters worse, I wasn't careful enough about my measuring. This was because once I made the conversions from the presumed ounces into cups, many times the number of cups was something like 1.678. I translated this as: 1 ½ cups plus a little bit...

Problem #4: I didn't buy enough sugar or nuts.

Problem #5: Some ingredients, like chemical leavening, "trace amounts" of an unspecified type of flavoring, and dextrose, anhydrous, (whatever that does,) were not available at my local Tempe grocer. So I left them out. I'm sure this had some effect.

Problem #6: While most of the instructions were incredibly specific, some were very subjective, like, "Whip eggs in large bowl on high speed until light and fluffy...Bake at 350ºF until done (30 to 45 minutes)." I'm not sure if the government and I see light and fluffy quite the same way.

Problem #7: There were too many ingredients in the frosting portion of the recipe that I couldn't obtain. So I substituted Betty Crocker in a can. Sorry.

Problem #8: Me. Yes -- me. I am a terrible baker. I didn't know what size pan to use. They somehow baked much faster than they were supposed to. They didn't smell like normal brownies. They were a little too floury/cardboardy smelling and not sweet enough. I think this had to do with my initial lack of sugar. And I didn't weigh and cut the brownies to specification either. I'd be a bad employee for the C.I.A.

I think it goes without saying that these are far more trouble than they're worth. And since we thought it would be a tad on the ridiculous side, (even for us,) to include the recipe in the blog post, here's the link. (If just reading it won't make you tired and nauseous...)

The most obscene brownie recipe in the country.

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