What makes a good brownie? A simple, homemade mix of cocoa, sugar, flour and eggs? A glossy crust? A warm, buttery centre?
For the U.S. military, the answer lies within 26 pages of detailed specifications and requirements for the chocolate-coated brownies and oatmeal cookies it serves its troops.
In recent days, the document, labelled MIL-C-44072C, has gone viral, featured by American public broadcaster NPR, The Huffington Post and popular food websites such as Chow. Many are boggled by the extent of the guidelines for what is often considered one of the easiest desserts to make.
"Only the Pentagon could come up with a 26-page recipe for brownies that suck," one Huffington Post reader commented via Twitter.
"Think the feds will make health care simpler, more accessible and more affordible [sic] Pentagon's brownie recipe - 26 pages," another quipped.
Among the elaborate requirements, the shortening used "shall have stability of not less than 100 hours as determined by the Active Oxygen Method (AOM) in Method Cd 12-57 of the Commercial Fats and Oils chapter in the Official and Tentative Methods of the American Oil Chemists Society," and the "dimensions of the coated brownie shall not exceed 3-1/2 inches by 2-2/12 inches by 5/8 inch."
In addition, "The moisture content of the uncoated brownie shall be not more than 8.0 percent."
Phone messages left at the Pentagon were not returned on Tuesday, but Jeremy Whitsitt of the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate told NPR there's good reason for the precision involved in military cooking.
"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?'" he said, noting that food made for the military must hold up under such conditions.
NPR reports the brownies may actually last that long if they're properly packaged. It also notes that the Pentagon has an updated version of its specifications that includes guidelines for lemon-poppy-seed cake and chocolate-banana-nut muffin tops, expanding the total number of pages to 31.
A good brownie? By military standards, maybe so. But a tasty brownie? That's another matter.
Why does it take the greater part of 26 pages to list the specifications for a simple brownie?
Below are direct excerpts from the document, MIL-C-44072C, titled "Military Specification Cookies, Oatmeal; and Brownies; Cocolate [sic]Covered."
Ingredients (formula according to parts by weight):
Whole eggs (liquid basis) 13.0
Dextrose, anhydrous 4.4
Chemical leavening - as required
Flavoring - trace
Shelled almond pieces shall be of the small piece size classification and shall be U.S. No. 1 Pieces of the U.S. Standards for Grades of Shelled Almonds. A minimum of 95 percent, by weight, of the pieces shall pass through a 4/16-inch diameter round hole screen and not more than 5 percent, by weight, shall pass through a 2/16-inch diameter round hole screen. The shelled almonds shall be coated with an approved food grade antioxidant and shall be of the latest season's crop.
a. Whip eggs in large bowl on high speed until light and fluffy.
b. Combine sugars, cocoa, salt, and leavening; add to beaten eggs, and whip on high speed until thick.
c. Add shortening slowly while mixing on low speed.
d. Scrape bowl and whip on high speed until thick.
e. Mix flour, nuts, and flavors together and fold into batter; mix until uniform.
f. Pour batter into pan at a rate that will yield uncoated brownies which, when cut such as to meet the dimension requirements specified in 3.4f, will weigh approximately 35 grams each. (Experimentally, a panning rate of 14 to 16 grams per square inch was used.)
g. Bake at 350
Ms. Karas added that in her own recipe, she would probably use white and brown sugar, noting that the dextrose required by the military's directions is something that "most scratch bakers and home bakers or small bakeries would never use."
She concluded, "I would not make that recipe again. It just comes out kind of bland."
Having quickly glanced through the 26 pages, chef David Robertson of the Dirty Apron Cooking School in Vancouver offered these thoughts: "It's almost more confusing than anything because most people think of recipes as one page, and away you go. If students had recipes this long, cooking schools would have a 10-year program. … You have to be half-chef, half-scientist, it looks like, to put this together."
Imagining the taste of the brownie, he said, "… The first thing that would come to mind is dry, quite crumbly … but basically they've got something that could be preserved for four to five years here. A soldier could lose it in the jungle and come back and find it … four years later and still eat it."
He added, "I think it's safe to say I won't be using this recipe any time soon."
Dubious taste aside, the Internet is abuzz with people sharing the Pentagon brownie formula, and some are even eager to replicate it in their own kitchens. Below are some reactions on Twitter:
MNMarquez: Anybody willing to try?
Achwastek: @MNMarquez: let's do it! RT Anybody willing to try?
Darkthreads: The next time I make brownies, I'll be sure they're up to mil spec
Joopspeak: mmmm brownies - pentagon approved baking instructions
InAGaddaDaVegan: bet i could veganize it =:D
Olgs: wants to make Brownies using 27 pages of instructions