Madeleines, Madisonville and Medrich’s Praline Bars

Praline Pecan Brownies

In pre-just-about-anything-interesting early-1970s Western Kentucky, Michelle spent lots of preteen time at “The Youth Center,” hanging out after school and at weekend parties.  The Youth Center was across the street from Michelle’s junior high school, which had lunch offerings of heavily processed items like pre-made pizza, frozen corn, potato chips or a cold “hamburger” with painted-on grill marks. Readers will not be shocked to learn that Michelle often skipped her school lunch, instead waiting for one of her favorite things:  a Youth Center blonde brownie.

In the blessed decades that have sped us away from the disco-drenched sadness of the Seventies, Michelle many times tried to recapture the taste of those chewy blonde brownies with chocolate chips, but was never successful.  She always thought it had to be the Youth Center’s dependence on industrial ingredients like Crisco that are (of course) banished from Gourmandistan’s pantry.  But with the advent of Facebook with its groups like “You Know You’re From Madisonville, If…,” Michelle stumbled across what was supposedly the long-gone Youth Center’s brownie recipe.  Surprisingly, the recipe didn’t call for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil products. But it also didn’t live up to Michelle’s memories.  This recipe from Alice Medrich, while not even using chocolate chips, is a close if not better approximation of Michelle’s madeleine—the perfect combination of dark chocolate and chewy praline, more candy than brownie.


  • Servings: one 8-inch square pan
  • Print

(adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate)

  • 5 TB. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c. + 1 TB. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 large cold egg
  • 1/4 c. AP flour

Position rack in lower third of oven.  Preheat to 350°.  Line bottom and sides of an 8″ baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl (we use a glass mixing bowl) and set in a wide skillet of simmering water.  Stir from time to time until mixture is melted, smooth and fairly hot.  Remove from skillet and set aside briefly until mixture cools a bit.

Stir in vanilla and egg with a wooden spoon.  When batter is thick and shiny, add flour and stir until mixed in.  Then beat vigorously for 40 strokes.  Spread evenly in lined pan.

  • 1/4 c. AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 TB. butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. + 2 TB. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Combine melted butter, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir in egg yolk and vanilla. Then add flour mixture, followed by nuts.  Drop spoonfuls over the top of brownie batter.  (Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely cover; it will spread while baking.)

Bake until edges of topping are well-browned, about 20-25 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on a cooling rack.

Lift up ends of foil liner.  Cut now, or after refrigerating.


  1. What an astonishing recipe! I have never seen quite this set of procedures, and look forward to adding this to the family collection of brownie and blonde brownie faves. How do you make just one 8″ pan’s worth, though? Does the recipe double?
    I think I may have even heard of that Youth Center, courtesy of people who were probably a couple of years ahead of Michelle in high school. It wasn’t their fault that when they mentioned this particular hang out option, all the rest of us — veterans of driving an unvarying, repetitive route at night, hoping to connect to others but having on place to go — turned green. Not healthy green.

    • Rona: You’re absolutely right about the rather odd procedure. The good thing is, if you get a sweet craving, you don’t have to wait for butter to soften. I don’t know why you couldn’t double this and use a bigger pan. In fact, this recipe is a variation of the plain cocoa brownie recipe—which you halve. The first time I made them, I didn’t notice that and so there was lots more chocolate. But they were still good.

  2. They certainly look good!

    I remember that my elementary-school cafeteria served fried baloney, among other delicacies. I did like its Rice Krispy treats, though.

    • I actually remember good food in elementary school days: yeast rolls, honey buns (better than Vanderbilt’s!), etc. But by the time I got to Jr. High, it was abysmal. I should’ve made more clear in the post that pizza, corn and potato chips were all on the same plate in one meal. I like starch, but really…

  3. Beth

    Oh these sound yummy! Couldn’t help but think that any of the 9 eggs I just took from the nest boxes would work perfectly well since they were VERY chilled!

  4. Pingback: Progressive Farmer Pecan Praline Bars | Gourmandistan

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