Almost every student who has passed through district 65 and 202 in the past 10 years has at least heard of the legendary Brieva Brownies. For those of us who have had the chance to sink our teeth into one of the intensely rich and sweet Brieva Brownies, it was a life changing experience. I remember the first time I ever had one. It was in 2nd grade and at Kingsley Elementary School. Tess Brieva walked into school that day holding a large tray full of the deep golden brown bars flecked with all the colors of the rainbow. Immediately a crowd of her closest friends who had tried these delicacies before created a circle around her clamoring for them. As someone with a major sweet tooth I quietly sauntered over and asked for one. I took one bite and it was like love at first taste. Warmth and happiness rushed through every cel of my body. From that day on Brieva Brownies have been my favorite dessert, better than anything I could ever make or anything I’ve ever tried at the pastry shops in Paris I eat at every summer.
If you’ve never had a Brieva Brownie before I can’t fully put into words how amazing it is, but I will do my best. The first thing you notice when biting in to them is how perfectly chewy they are. Your teeth slowly sink into them. Then your taste buds are blitzed by deep toffee flavor, sugar and chocolate. The bar is like a sweet buttery vessel for all the toffee bits, chocolate chips, and m&m pieces within it. They’re rich, sinful, decadent, and Brievalicious (I have to make up a word to convey the culinary beauty of these baked goods). You can’t have just one either, they’re so addicting that you keep on eating them until there are none left or your entire body has shut down due to a sugar overdose. Mrs. Brieva should stick warning labels on her brownies that state they are highly addicting and consuming more than 3 at a time may result in instant death.
Brieva Brownies have been my culinary “white whale” for many years now. Every year for my birthday I ask Tess for Brieva Brownies. Whenever they’re available I do anything in my power to obtain at least two. Earlier this year Mrs. Brieva made some for a bake sale, so I drove across Evanston to the bake sale and bought up every Brieva Brownie they had left. Recently just having them wasn’t good enough I needed to be able to make them. I tried reconstructing the recipe 10 times in the span of a month, each time bringing my brownies to school and have Tess and my other friends familiar with Brieva Brownies taste test them. Each time I came up short. The words “they’re close, but not as good as Mrs. Brieva’s” haunted my sleep. Finally I just gave up.
At the beginning of my Senior Studies project I had a brilliant idea, maybe Mrs. Brieva would teach me how to make her brownies for my project. I contacted her and she happily agreed to bake with me during spring break. Mrs. Brieva is the epitome of an Evanston hero. She’s a loving mother, coach, and active participant in the community. I’ve known her for a long time, but have never spent much time with her, yet was lovingly greeted as soon as I stepped into the Brieva household. Learning to make Brieva Brownies from the creator and master of the recipe was a truly amazing experience. I find it very interesting how other people bake. I’m someone who pays attention to every little detail and measures out my ingredients very precisely. Mrs. Brieva on the other hand, uses the “eyeball method.” Maybe this difference in baking style was why my brownies always came up short. While she taught me, I quickly jotted down detailed notes so I could remember how to make the brownies since the only original copy of the recipe lies locked in Mrs. Brieva’s head. As we baked we had a really amazing conversation. We talked about my senior studies project and I made my 30-second project pitch to her daughters who went on to follow my instagram and check out my blog. We talked about her amazing kitchen that had 3 ovens and was very high tech and open. She told me that she redid and designed the kitchen when they moved in, much like how my mother and I gutted our kitchen when we moved into our house and designed the kitchen so that we could both cook in it together. We also discussed college, and she even helped me decide where to go to college (following her advice, I committed to UW-Madison a couple hours after we finished baking). Finally I came prepared with a few questions I had about Brieva Brownies.
“How long have you been making Brieva Brownies and where did the inspiration come from?”
She responded with a story about her own mother. Apparently, her mother was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. Mrs. Brieva tried and tried and tried to replicate them, but just couldn’t do it. I found this very relatable, since I kept trying to make Brieva Brownies and fell short. Finally, Mrs. Brieva stopped trying to make her mom’s cookies and instead tried a bar and just kept adding in things like m&m’s and toffee bits. I followed up by asking her if she has since tried to make her mother’s cookies and she replied that she is done trying.
“How does it make you feel being known in the community for having the most outstanding baked goods?”
Mrs. Brieva said that it makes her extremely happy. She is happy when other people are happy so she’s glad she can deliver happiness in the form of her brownies. She went on to tell me that she will often gift people with Brieva Brownies for doing good things, whether it is part of the Evanston Angel’s Campaign or to the tech guy at the apple store for helping her out.
“Do you always have ingredients for Brieva Brownies on hand? Do you ever get tired of making them?”
When I asked this question, she had me come look in the corner of the kitchen where there was a stand packed with m&m’s, toffee bits, sugar, and chocolate chips. It was a stand completely dedicated to Brieva Brownie ingredients. There were enough ingredients in this stand to make enough Brieva Brownies to feed everyone in Evanston. Just as she popped the tray of brownies into the oven she turned to me and smiled and answered my last question with a simple “no I love making these.”
I had gotten 2 trays of Brieva Brownies, the story behind them, the recipe for them, and life advice, but there was one more thing I wanted before I left the Brieva household. I was dying for a picture of Mrs. Brieva holding a tray of her brownies. I asked her to be in a picture and immediately she started walking backwards away from me shaking her head and hands and saying “no no no.” Claire Brieva came over to us and said her mom doesn’t do pictures. I pleaded with her to do it for my blog, but it was the one thing she would not budge on. I found this whole situation hilarious and I think it speaks to Mrs. Brieva’s character. She doesn’t like to be in the spotlight or be given gifts or awards, what she truly gets joy from is raising her family and positively touching the lives of everyone around her. I finally settled for a picture of Claire and Jenna Brieva holding the brownies since I was determined to have a Brieva pose for a picture with the famous brownies. I left the house holding 2 trays of baked gold and a promise from Mrs. Brieva that we could bake together again soon; this time I would teach her one of my recipes.
- 2 sticks very soft unsalted butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar + 2 tablespoons
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 2 cups flour (use the dip and scoop method to measure)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 bag milk chocolate chips (12 ounces)
- 1 bag Heath bar bits or toffee bits
- 12 ounces mini m&m’s
1. Lightly mix butter, sugar, and eggs by hand in a large bowl.
2. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix well.
3. Add in toffee, m&m’s and chocolate chips and mix well.
4. Evenly spread dough into a high-sided square pan.
5. Bake at 315 for 30-40 minutes in a 9×13 pan.