As part of our 15th birthday celebrations, we’ve trawled through the archives to bring you some of the best, weirdest and most salacious articles published on Crikey since our launch on February 14, 2000.
*This article was originally published on June 4, 2010.
Crikey was particularly taken with a leaked 26-page Pentagon recipe for baking soldiers’ brownies. So we decided to assign someone the task of actually making them. Nicole Eckersley, who brought you Yiddish Grandmother Chicken Soup, somewhat foolishly agreed. A sex shop visit and some very bad icing later, this is her story.
It was with great excitement that I began the task of cooking up a batch of the 26-page Pentagon-issued recipe for brownies, MIL-C-44072C (pdf), that’s been doing the rounds. Sadly, it isn’t the most up-to-date version, with a MIL-C-44072D now in existence.
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Those who managed to read past the first page without popping a blood vessel would realise that this “recipe” is actually a specification, complete with scope. In fact, this document is nothing less than a preserved string of the DNA for the mortar of every American military operation — the MRE, or Meals Ready-To-Eat. These single-serve vacuum-packed lumps fill the stomach on which the US army marches. They last up to three years, including exposure to extreme temperatures and apparently, someone’s got to make ’em. Today, that someone will be me.
The first problem with making a brownie to milspec, as opposed to from a recipe, is working out what ingredients go in the damn things and how to find them.
The ingredients are listed in percentages by weight, causing me to wear out the keys on my calculator. Criteria for each ingredient are listed separately, sometimes twice. The recipe calls for things such as “anhydrous dextrose” and “sorbitan monostearate”, which I’m fairly sure are made-up words. The chocolate coating also requires fortification with thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, ascorbic acid and retinol in palmitate form, which turn out to be vitamins B1, B6, C and A.
The question of just where to obtain powdered vitamins late on a Saturday afternoon is quickly eclipsed by the problem of vegetable shortening. The only readily available shortening in Australia, Copha, is solidified coconut oil, and section 3.2.4 specifically states that coconut and palm kernel oils shall only be used in the chocolate coating. I’m going to need an alternative.
I’ve baked with Crisco before, but the place I bought it last time is 40 minutes’ drive away and probably closed. Luckily, it turns out that speciality sex shop Eagle Leather sells it, for reasons best not thought about too much. And it’s open! The nice gentleman at the counter puts my Crisco in a brown paper bag for me. I ask for a receipt to submit to Crikey. (I very much hope this information is of use to expat bakers landing on this page from Google in the middle of, say, a late-night Thanksgiving pie emergency.)
Back at the supermarket, I give up on the E-number additives pretty quickly. The irony is that my pantry is probably full of E-491 and E-435; I probably put it in my mouth six times a day. But I cannot buy it alone for love nor money. Industrial cooking is so far removed from my kitchen as to be unreplicable.
The vitamins are a different story. I know that it must be possible to buy these things alone; there must be health nuts out there who put vitamin A powder on their bran flakes and vitamin C in their tea. I’ve already won the dextrose fight with the help of the health-food aisle.
I’m left with a tough decision. Crush a multivitamin, use a packet of Biggest LoserTM brand meal replacement shake — mostly skim milk powder and vitamins — or refuse to adulterate the mixture with items not within the scope of the US government specification. It’s a tough call: add to the very specific approved ingredients or allow the troops to become malnourished.
At home, I find the decision has been made for me: I accidentally bought full-fat skim milk. Can’t have fat soldiers! I think. Biggest Loser shake it is, plus two crushed vitamin C tablets. Later, this turns out to be a severe mistake.
My able assistant, Anna, chops the walnuts (light-coloured, conforming to US No.1 of the US Standards for Shelled English Walnuts) into the regulation size: between 2/8 inch and 4/8 inch. It takes her an hour and 20 minutes. They’re a bit on the large side, but I suspect that if I point this out, she’ll punch me in the throat.
Once built, the mixture tastes about halfway between spray-on whipped cream and the nougat in a Mars bar. It could be worse, I suppose, but I don’t really want to lick the spoon. I smoosh them into the tray to the required depth of 5/8 of an inch and turn my attention to the coating.
All the protein and extras in the diet shake quickly turn the chocolate coating into something like fried coffee grounds. This is very much at odds with the MIL-C-44072C requirement of “smooth mouth-feel” of 20 microns or less. In fact, it would be more accurate to say this coating tastes like mud pie with a hint of vanilla-choc-orange. This may be the worst thing I’ve ever cooked without it actually having caught fire. It’s worse than the time I accidentally thickened the mushroom gravy with sugar instead of flour. I’m not even sure it conforms to the “Salmonella-free” requirement, because it looks like congealed food poisoning already.
Luckily, once they’re baked, the brownies aren’t too bad. The edge bits could probably be used by a soldier to, say, chip their way out of a poorly built prison, but the middle bits are nice, and taste less like foam rubber than I thought they would. I think about coating just one, to show I tried. Then I think about maybe coating a matchbox instead. Then I throw the whole lot out.
On testing, the Crikey staff found the brownies quite acceptable, even without their vitamin-enriched choc-lard coating. As Amber said, “Well, it’s not baqd, but if I were in a war zone, this would be the best brownie I’d ever eaten.”