This year the Ladies Village Improvement Society of East Hampton on New York’s Long Island celebrates its 125th anniversary of working to keep the community well maintained and appealing to locals and visitors alike.
The members are marking the anniversary with a new book, “The Ladies Village Improvement Society Cookbook: Eating and Entertaining in East Hampton,” by Florence Fabricant (Rizzoli, $45). Besides some wonderful vintage pictures of the women in action through the decades, the book features more than 100 recipes, grouped into entertaining menus: “Lunch around the Pool,” “Breakfast for Weekend Guests,” and “Feasts by the Fire,” to name a few.
Many of the recipes are contributed by recognizable names, including culinary experts Ina Garten and Martha Stewart, Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert, Butter chef and “Chopped” judge Alex Guarnaschelli and Food Network star Katie Lee.
Tucked inside the “High Season Buffet” menu is a recipe from Ricky and Ralph Lauren for decadent brownies. (The Ralph Lauren Corp. founder’s home is in neighboring Montauk, but there’s a Polo Ralph Lauren store on East Hampton’s Main Street; visitors to the town were allowed to contribute recipes.) The recipe comes from the designer’s mother-in-law, whom he called Nana.
“Ralph loved Nana’s brownies so much that he offered to put a brownie department in his stores so he would not have to wait until his October birthday when she would make another batch for him,” Lauren’s wife, Ricky, says in the book. She adds that when her mother stayed with them at their oceanfront Montauk estate, she made the dessert for the family throughout the summer.
The secret to the generous, cakey brownies, besides their intense chocolate flavor, is the glaze on top, spiked with a healthy shot or two of rum. It breaks through the sweetness and lends a different kind of indulgence. It also makes it a treat specifically for adults: The glaze never gets hot enough to cook off the alcohol.
A version of the brownies without rum is a bestseller at Lauren’s Polo Bar in New York, but why go that route? These days, we deserve every indulgence we can get. And once you taste that heady alcohol glaze, you might wish he had put a brownie department in his stores after all. Maybe he still will, to juice the recovery. Here’s hoping.
This recipe from Ralph and Ricky Lauren is adapted from “The Ladies Village Improvement Society Cookbook.”
Nana’s Rum-Laced Brownies
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cups chopped walnuts, plus more for garnish (optional)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons dark rum or brandy
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with butter, and dust with flour. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter with the sugar over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla until mixed but not frothy. Stir in the chocolate mixture and then the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Fold in the chopped walnuts. Spread in the prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges are set and a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs attached. Let cool.
Meanwhile, make the rum glaze: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Stir in the vanilla and rum, and keep warm.
Spread the brownies with the warm rum glaze. Cut into 2-inch squares and decorate each with a walnut half. Refrigerate for one hour before serving. Makes 32 brownies.