A 26-Page Brownie Recipe? Only At The Pentagon Brownies are one of the simplest things in the world to bake -- that is, unless you're following the official brownie recipe for our men and women in uniform. The recipe has specifications on everything from nut size to water quality.
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A 26-Page Brownie Recipe? Only At The Pentagon

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A 26-Page Brownie Recipe? Only At The Pentagon

A 26-Page Brownie Recipe? Only At The Pentagon

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

A few months ago, Martha Stewart invited rap star Snoop Dogg into her kitchen to bake brownies.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Martha Stewart Show")

Ms. MARTHA STEWART (Host, "The Martha Stewart Show"): Can't you rap while we're doing this? Tell me what you're doing in rap.

SNOOP DOGG (Rapper): Trying to bake some brownies but we're missing the most important part of the brownies.

Ms. STEWART: Which is, which is, which is?

SNOOP DOGG: No sticks, no seeds, no stems.

Ms. STEWART: Which is, which is...

RAZ: Well, they stuck with a traditional recipe; about seven ingredients and instructions that can fit on an index card.

Basic brownies are about the easiest thing to bake - that is unless you're baking them for our men and women in uniform. We came across a blog post at Reason magazine this past week that linked to the Pentagon's official brownie recipe. It is 26 pages long with detailed specs for the finished product.

Mr. ART SILVERMAN: Section 3.3.5: The brownies shall be completely enrobed with the continuous use of...

Mr. JIM HOWARD: Section Shelled walnut pieces shall be of the small piece size classification...

Mr. ART SILVERMAN: Section 3.2.6: Whole eggs may be liquid or frozen and shall have been processed...

RAZ: We called up Jeremy Whitsitt who works with the Defense Department's Combat Feeding Directorate to find out why parts of his recipe seemed to require a dictionary and a lawyer.

Mr. JEREMY WHITSITT (Combat Feeding Outreach Director, U.S. Department of Defense): 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? Nothing, if that were an MRE.

RAZ: And it's true. These brownies will last for about three years inside a sealed military field grade food packet known as an MRE. But how do they taste? We called up Penny Karas. She's a baker who owns Hello Cupcake here in Washington, D.C., and she agreed to bake them for us.

RAZ: Okay. Penny, we are in your kitchen. First of all, thank you for doing this.

Ms. PENNY KARAS (Owner; Executive pastry Chef, Hello Cupcake): Sure.

RAZ: Okay. And have you read the recipe, the - all 26 pages?

Ms. KARAS: I read the relevant parts of the recipe and skimmed the non-relevant parts.

RAZ: Okay. Now, I have it - we have it in front of us here. And I'm going to ask you to make sure that we have all of the right ingredients. So let's just go over the list here. Do you have flour?

Ms. KARAS: We do.

RAZ: Okay. Good. You got shortening, some kind of shortening?

Ms. KARAS: We don't use it but we got it.

RAZ: You got it, okay. So you got some nuts, right? We're using what kind...

Ms. KARAS: Walnuts today.

RAZ: Walnuts, okay.

Ms. KARAS: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Are the nuts small piece size classification, U.S. number one pieces of the U.S. standards for graded shelled nuts?

Ms. KARAS: They are small piece size classification.

RAZ: Do the nuts pass through a 4/16th-inch diameter round hole screen?

Ms. KARAS: We measured them with a tape measure. We don't have that type of screen to measure them, so we did it another way. But yes.

RAZ: Okay. Let's get to it.

Ms. KARAS: Okay. The first thing I'm going to do is whip the eggs. So I'll get the eggs out.

(Soundbite of eggs cracking)

Ms. KARAS: The recipe also calls for a dextrose, which is another...

RAZ: Mmm, I love dextrose.

Ms. KARAS: ...type of sugar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KARAS: And we don't have it in our kitchen. We're a small scratch bakery.

RAZ: Penny whips up the eggs, shortening, flour, nuts, sugar, cocoa and vanilla into a thick paste. And then she scrapes it into a pan and pops it in the oven for about 20 minutes and then they're ready to eat.

You've started to cut a few here, right?

Ms. KARAS: Yes.

RAZ: And you have to cut it to the appropriate size when cool. The dimensions of the coated brownie shall not exceed three-and-a-half inches by two-and-a-half inches by five-eighths inch.

Ms. KARAS: Mm-hmm. Looks like we have exceeded the height of the specification by about three-eighths of an inch.

RAZ: You know what? There have been lots of people who've cheated the Pentagon out of contracts. I think they'll let you get away with this one. All right. So we got it. Now, the question is, is the texture of these brownies firm but not hard? So can we try?

Ms. KARAS: Sure. It's not so great.

RAZ: Yeah. They're awful.

Ms. KARAS: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: They're not very good. And they're really crumbly, right?

Ms. KARAS: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: But they're designed for MREs. They're designed to be preserved for a long time.

Ms. KARAS: Packaged, yeah.

RAZ: Packaged. And these would last...

Ms. KARAS: A good long time.

RAZ: And a final note to this story, the Defense Department has recently streamlined the recipe. It now includes instructions for cake and muffin tops as well. And as for the length? It's now 31 pages.

Thanks to Penny Karas at Hello Cupcake in Washington, D.C. for baking the brownies and to Art Silverman and Jim Howard for reading the recipe, which you can find at our website, npr.org.

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