By Linda Galloway @ Daffodil Soup
I cook and bake for a living and in recent years, two American imports have dominated the cake and coffee scene.
Cupcakes, getting ever larger and more diverse, and brownies, both of which my clients never seem to tire of. I had a bright idea the other day, still to be tested, to combine the two and make a brownie cupcake … it’s probably already been done, but I should still give it a go.
Now you can do a lot with a cupcake … flavourings, icings and, most obviously, decoration. I have even seen a cupcake inside a cupcake, complete with icing … if you want to investigate some of the myriad incarnations have a look at the Cupcakes take the Cake blog. All of life is there.But it is very hard to pretty up a brownie. That’s what it is … brown. And while most people would be happy with a straightforward, up and down chocolate brownie, there are those that would tinker with it. I would never put icing on a brownie – it’s OTT for something so rich, so sweet, so complete in itself.
A brownie should be fudgy; sludgy even, but with a papery crisp top layer, probably cracked in several places. It has been said, possibly by Nigella, that it’s not possible to undercook a brownie. I disagree, although a still-liquid brownie can go back in the oven or – even better – be frozen and later reheated in the microwave to eat with ice-cream (or be broken up and folded into softened ice-cream, then refrozen).
Whatever you do, don’t think about the calories. Dark chocolate is good for you!
Anyway, so for a basic brownie recipe as good as you’re likely to get, I use an old one from BBC Good Food magazine, from around 2005. I double the quantities and bake in a roasting tin lined with GPP, and it makes 16 very decent sized brownies, or 32 canape-sized ones.
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The basic brownie recipe
- 370g unsalted butter
- 370g dark chocolate (a supermarket own-brand version, minimum 60% cocoa solids)
- 550g caster sugar
- 6 free-range eggs (medium)
- 1tsp Vanilla extract
- 180g plain flour
- A generous pinch of salt
- 40g cocoa powder (Green & Blacks or Bournville. Not drinking chocolate)
Preheat the oven to 180C and check the oven rack is in the middle. Line a roasting tin with GPP.
In a glass/microwaveable bowl, break up the chocolate, add the butter and microwave on full power for 2 mins. Leave for 1 minute and stir to combine. Done.
Alternatively, put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until melted.
Put the sugar in a bigger bowl, break in the eggs, add the vanilla and whisk gently until just combined – you do not want to incorporate too much air.
Add the chocolate/butter mix and whisk again to combine. Tip in the flour, cocoa and salt and fold in gently. You’re basically there – pour the mix into the roasting tin and bake for JUST 35 minutes, no more and no less.
Now ring the changes.
I started with adding white chocolate and milk chocolate nibs. They add interest but don’t contribute much flavour, as the dark chocolate is pretty overpowering.
Then there’s raspberries and/or blueberries – a great combination with chocolate but not very elegant as the raspberries get mushy and make slicing rather difficult. This is a good one to serve warm as dessert with creme fraiche or ice-cream.
Nuts go without saying. Walnuts, brazils, pecans … all marry well with chocolate and add texture and crunch. Brazils or pecans would go well with raspberries and blueberries for a powerful triple whammy to which I would be tempted to add the zest of an orange or two, to cut the richness.
For a Christmas brownie, fold through a jar of mincemeat – it will add lively fruit and spice notes.
Cream cheese adds colour contrast and a good kick of acidity but don’t be shy – you’ll need a 300g tub, and I use a supermarket own-brand, not the premium one. Pour half the mix in to the tin, dollop the cream liberally (use two teaspoons), the cover with the remaining mix and smooth over.
Now for the finale: Peanut butter AND cream cheese. Fact is, I found a jar of PNB in the cupboard with a use-by date coming up and one thing led to another. I used the whole jar. Frankly, you need a good whallop of it for the flavour to come through.
I took them to a party and they proved very effective in bolstering the blood-sugar levels of the serious vodka drinkers. Hmmm. Stolichnaya brownies, anyone?