Betty wanted to know if the recipe for Zingerman's Magic Brownies could be made ahead and when to add nuts if you were going to add them.
The furthest "ahead" I have made these brownies is the night before a school event, and I would have to put a sign with skull and cross bones warning off any samplers. They definitely get eaten around here fast - no chance for me to make anything ahead around here - especially these brownies! But I did a little checking, and I read here that to freeze brownies or bar cookies, cool brownies or bar cookies completely, but do not cut into individual servings. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap again with foil. Freeze up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw at room temperature before cutting into individual servings. I think that would work fine. These brownies are very rich, so I don't think they'd dry out. Also, Zingermans sells them in sealed cellophane bags, so my guess is that they'd hold up pretty well in plastic wrap outside the freezer for a while, too. If I were going to add nuts, I'd add them as a last step - mixing them in right before spreading them in the pan. Or, just sprinkle them on top. Zingerman's makes them with nuts inside and sprinkled on top.
At Zingerman's, these brownies cost $4.75 per brownie...it's a big brownie, but yikes! You can make whole pan of them (about 6 Zingerman sized brownies) for $5.33, per my math. That's less than a dollar per brownie. Make them yourself....it's an easy recipe. By the way, when I was calculating the cost of making these brownies, I was shocked to discover how much a tablespoon of vanilla extract costs - $1.18! I buy mine in large quantity from Penzey's - it's a little more spendy than the supermarket stuff, which comes out to about 70 cents per tablespoon. I am wondering if it is cheaper to make my own vanilla....hmmm, let's look at the math:
Penzey's Madagascar Vanilla Beans - $28.65 for 15 beans or $1.91 per bean
Vodka (cheaper the better) - about 50 cents an ounce
To make vanilla extract, use 3 beans per cup of vodka and let steep in a lidded canning jar for 2 months. Split the beans lengthwise. For 1 cup (8 oz) of vodka, use 3 beans. Total cost to make 8 oz of vanilla extract is $9.73. For one tablespoon, that's 1/2 oz...it costs about 60 cents. So I guess I should give it a shot some day to make my own.