Alice in Wonderland: The Toklas Brownie

I know you’re busy, but I’d just like to take a moment to raise the subject of chocolatey desserts and Moroccan hash. When the editors brought up the idea of a DOPE Food Issue, I thought of that warhorse of the canna-kitchen: pot brownies. We think of brownies as the OG of edibles, but why is that? Why not pot muffins? Why not cookies or lollipops? There’s a reason even your granny from Wisconsin knows what you mean by “special brownies.” There’s a bit of a story behind the most well-known of chocolatey desserts, but I promise treats for everyone at the end.

Once upon a time, in the rowdy little city of San Francisco, there lived a thoughtful young woman named Alice. She was basically happy, but a bit too smart for the Barbary Coast, so she took off for Paris, a world-class city that had the additional advantage of not being a smoking pile of rubble as was the City by the Bay post-1906 earthquake.

On her first day in Paris, Alice met the famous American poet, Gertrude Stein—they remained together for the rest of their lives. With Gertrude by her side, Alice spent her days hanging around with brilliant loudmouths like Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. But she remained the shy girl from San Francisco, too shy even to write her own memoirs. The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas was actually written by Gertrude Stein.

It was a smash, earning the couple a place on the list of the greatest nonfiction books of the 20th Century—20th on that list to be exact. The book made Stein famous, and when she died in 1946 her publishers wanted to milk it, so they talked Alice into writing a book about her late life partner.

Alice started writing, but when she ran out of stories, she decided to fill the remaining pages with recipes. One of her loudmouth genius friends, Brion Gysin, suggested a recipe he’d brought back from Morocco.

North Africa is a land of great desserts, one of the most popular is majoun. Majoun can be eaten by itself, or you can stuff it into crumbly sugar-dusted holiday cookies called maamoul. Majoun is an easy-to-make pastry ball, containing dried fruit, nuts and honey. Oh, and marijuana.

The Toklas Brownie
The Toklas Brownie

Alice probably thought it was pretty funny publishing a recipe containing illegal narcotics. She joked that conservative ladies’ clubs would love her psychoactive fudge, and she claimed to be “shocked” when the American publisher rejected the recipe. But the British editors kept it in, and in 1954, the first widely published recipe for pot edibles was sent out to bookstores across England.

The publication of Alice’s recipe for “Haschich Fudge” became a major news item, the kind of thing late night TV hosts would have joked about in their opening monologues if late night TV hosts existed back then, and the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook became codeword for cannabis edibles.

The meme evolved with the 1968 movie “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.” In a crucial scene, a surprisingly well-groomed hippy empties her salt shaker of weed into some fudge brownies she’s making from a box. Why she kept her weed in a salt shaker is lost on me, but this bit of mischief results in everyone laughing uncontrollably over their dessert. Not the most nuanced portrayal of recreational cannabis use, but not entirely off-base either. In those days, many Americans considered drug use a threat surpassed only by nuclear annihilation, so this was actually a step forward.

Ultimately, brownies became the flagship dessert of the psychedelic generation. Eventually, most Americans came under the impression that hash brownies were Alice B. Toklas’ gift to the world. But the world’s most famous recipe for pot edibles is not for brownies or fudge, it’s majoun.

Majoun comes in many varieties, and it can be cooked without cannabis, but for my experiment, I toasted some flower, then pulverized it with a mortar and pestle. One thing Alice didn’t mention is the importance of decarboxylating your active ingredient, heating it to release its psychoactive properties. To do this, I put the crushed flower in a slow cooker with some butter and some cannabis oil for about 16 hours on low. Finally, I combined the ingredients and kneaded them by hand. Alice recommended her fudge be enjoyed with some mint tea, which sounds like the perfect pairing for this simple and exotic treat.

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