Sunday, 25 March 2012

Exciting times!

In the back of Pear Shaped I bemoaned the lack of great brownie brands in the UK.  And then a lovely  lady called Lauren informed me, via the medium of Twitter, that Bluebasil do a pretty amazing brownie.  I have to admit I hadn't even heard of Bluebasil - even though they've won a Great Taste Gold award for their brownies last year.  Shameful on my part.

I wrote to Bluebasil and they very kindly sent me a package of treats.  Which really was amazing, as I had a shockingly hard week last week, but when I walked through my front door on Friday night, I was greeted by this:

inside of which was this:
and then THIS!
and THIS!
Truth be told, I would have loved them just on the basis of the beautiful packaging and the note alone -  I'm a sucker for nice touches.

But seriously, the brownies were outstanding.  Super squidgy, fudgy, mega-chocolatey.  I ate the white chocolate chunk brownie at room temperature and it was absolute perfection.  I let my mate Dave have a share in the classic chunky one and he agreed that they were amazing.  I almost saw a flicker of a look on his face that seemed to suggest they might be better than the ones I make but Dave is a smart lad, aren't you Dave?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Brownie of the year 2012, plus it's recession friendly(ish)

My brilliant editor Claire gave me this recipe ages ago.  I baked them, loved them, forgot to blog them.

Since then I've been on a long, failure-filled quest towards the perfect brownie.  Last week I baked a recipe from an ex-Gavroche chef.  His version: awesome, mine: a runny disappointment, not worth typing up.

I return to Claire's recipe today.   As ever I decided to muck about with it and try to make it my own by reducing the sugar and adding dark chocolate chips and vanilla extract. It's in the oven as we speak and I am writing this, half-fearful, half-hopeful.  Suffice to say I licked the spoon to the point of indecency, so flavourwise at least I think it'll be fine...

Here's the line up:
250g unsalted butter
100g plain flour, sieved
400g dark chocolate (Bourneville), broken into melt-able pieces
3 eggs
240g dark muscovado sugar
70g dark chocolate chips
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Three points on ingredients:

Firstly and most importantly: chocolate.  We live in an age of chocolate snobs.  Anything less than Valrhona 70% solids in the shopping basket marks you out as someone who forages from the bins behind Nando's.  Consequently a good old fashioned bar such as Bourneville is no longer as widely available as, say, Green & Blacks.

Unsurprising.  Cadbury make both and charge a lot more for the latter.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Bourneville is better chocolate, just that sometimes, in some recipes - for example this one - you don't need to jizz £2+ on 100g of dark chocolate.

Secondly - dark muscavado sugar:

Reminds me of Fozzie bear...  Not my favourite muppet (lacks edge: give me Animal, Piggy or Waldorf.)  But a muppet nonetheless, and I do love muppets.  I digress.  Dark muscavado, with its treacly smell and soft brown granules holds the promise of melting caramel goodness and makes white caster look somehow chemical and un-foody.

Finally: the dark chocolate chips.  These are entirely unnecessary for a happy, healthy brownie.  Some might argue they're gilding the lily (a misquote from Shakesepeare's, King John, 1595.  The text actually says to gild refined gold, to paint the lily.)  The point is, you don't need them but I love them and will attempt to put them anywhere I can.  Admittedly these chips look a little old and dusty, possibly also from 1595...

However the packaging promises great things:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.

2. Line a brownie tin with greaseproof paper.

3. In a medium sized bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt - stir briefly to mix - and put to one side.

4. Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (I usually put an inch of water in the saucepan.)  Melt very gently, stir a lot, you do not want to overheat the chocolate.  Bourneville is a lot lighter when it melts than posher chocolate (37% cocoa solids vs. 70%+).

Remove from the heat when both have melted and are looking beautiful and velvety.

5. In your final bowl, i.e. the bowl you're going to end up putting all the ingredients in (so make sure it's big enough and has room to stir and whisk) break the eggs.

6. With an electric handwhisk, whisk them on a gentle speed for a minute to get some air in.  They should just look beaten by the time you're done - you're not expecting any major state change.
7. Keep whisking gently and add the dark muscovado sugar, one spoon at a time.  (Tablespoon or approximation is fine, the point is to do it gradually.)  By the end of this stage you should have a medium caramel coloured, quite thick combo of egg and sugar.  The whole egg and sugar stage should take no longer than 3 minutes.

8. With a metal spoon, mix in the melted chocolate and butter mixture and the vanilla extract.  When you're done it'll look like this:
9. With a spatula - in this instance with Albert the spatula - gently fold in the flour, baking powder + salt mix.

10.  When combined chuck in the chocolate chips, give one more gentle stir with the spatula, and pour into the brownie tin.

The mixture will be extremely thick (cast of TOWIE thick) at this point.

11. Put in the middle of the middle shelf of your oven for 40 minutes.  As per the golden rule of brownies, most clearly articulated by Ottolenghi in his first book, timing is all: better to under than overdo, watch like a hawk, know your oven, etc.

The finished brownies should have risen and be starting to firm up on top.  Put a skewer in and it should still come out a bit sticky (I lack skewers, hence the fork):

I was slightly scared of the monster I'd created at this stage.  As you'll see it has developed a slightly plasticky looking, wrinkly film, which looks even more alarming in close-up:

Fear not.  It all works out in the end.

Leave to cool in the tin for about 30 mins, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Have just eaten this brownie at around 50 minutes after oven-release time, and I have to say it is  definitely the best brownie I've baked or eaten this year.  It is everything I ever want in a brownie:

Intensely chocolatey
Perfect texture combo: definite firm crispy crust on the top, immediately giving way to light yet lush fudginess, with the added treat of semi-molten melted chips within.

Warning - it is full on and not for the faint hearted.  If you don't like extremely rich, deep, dark chocolate brownies, then avoid this brownie.  But if you like brownies that look like this:

  and taste like happiness, then give it a go.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Jamie Oliver's Bloomin Unbrilliant Chocolatey Fudgey Raspberry Brownies

I love Jamie and I love his recipes.  I think he is sincere and a force for good in the world.  So I am totally going to take the blame for this debacle of a brownie.  I say debacle - actually they tasted utterly delicious, but they're just too squidgy (a sentence I never thought I'd type) - and that's after I let them cook on for 10 minutes longer than the recipe dictated.

To be fair, I did muck about with the recipe (I took the sugar down to 320g, and I still think it was overly sweet.)  Also I used medium eggs, not large - an amazing chef recently told me that he only ever uses medium eggs;  less eggs should have made for a drier mix.  And I added 30g of dark chocolate chips.  None of these things should have caused too much trouble in the greater scheme of things.

It's a very easy recipe to make.  Here's the line-up:
Melt the butter and chocolate over hot water.  Sieve the dry ingredients together in a large bowl:
Mix the two together, then stir in your beaten eggs.  I then added raspberries and dark chocolate chips:
I baked for 35 minutes, as at the recommended 25 it was still totally wet in the middle.  As I said, the taste was awesome, and it has served to underline the fact that raspberries in brownies are also a force for good in the world.
I shall see how they develop overnight as I'm not a quitter.

postscript - I took the remainder in to work, and had supremely nice feedback, including the word 'stunning' - from a man whom I'd taken for a mute. 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Triple chocolate brownies by Antony Worrall Thompson

My friend Baz raved about this triple chocolate brownie recipe so even though I'm deeply brownie-nut-averse I thought I'd be open minded.

Disturbingly I did not have enough dark chocolate in my home - a rare occurrence and one I put down to stoned poltergeists.   I was 4 ounces under - a shortfall I tried to bridge with white chocolate: big mistake.

Why did I not just go round the corner to Budgens and buy more chocolate? 

Because.  That's why.
So the first problem with using white and dark chocolate instead of just dark, is that when I came to melt the butter and chocolate together at stage 1, the white chocolate wouldn't melt.  The white chocolate should have melted before the dark because of its higher fat content.  However some errant chunks like this refused to lay down and die: 
I don't know if this contributed to the problems I had later - I suspect it didn't help.

I eventually reconciled myself to the rogue chunks, then added the sugar to the chocolate.  (I used10oz, not 12oz - I always under-sugar and find it usually works out fine.)
Then the eggs and vanilla essence.  Then fold in the flour:
 the milk and white chocolate chunks:
and pecans:
A quick note on my soux chef's shirt - on her request.  This is not just any old cowboy shirt, this is a cowboy shirt from Rockmount Ranch, a shop in Denver where they invented poppers (shirt poppers, not sniffing poppers) - so that cowboys wouldn't lose buttons if they snagged themselves while out wrangling.  Rockmount Ranch made Elvis's shirts, and some of the shirts for Brokeback.  It's an excellent shirt.  Digression over.
Right.  Finish folding in your chunks and nuts and you'll have this luscious scenario:
I baked them for 24 minutes.  Unfortunately they needed longer - a fact I only discovered when we were eating the brownies an hour later.  I should have stuck a skewer in, but I don't mind a gooey brownie - in fact I actively encourage it.
Triple chocolate brownie
I suspect the additional white chocolate did not help matters by contributing more fat to the equation.

From a taste point of view though these brownies were totally delicious.  Super chocolatey, excellent combo of white, milk and dark chocolates, the pecans were fine.  However, because of the vast amount of personal errors in making this, I'm going to rebake with correct chocolate and longer cooking time, and repost.  I wonder if putting less sugar in is also a problem...hmm...  Till next time.

Postscript:  The day after, these brownies had firmed up and were pretty damn luscious - a strong 8.5 out of 10.  Will definitely remake with key learnings, and repost.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nigel Slater brownies - day 3

A revelation!  These brownies are getting better with age.  They are the Alec Baldwin of brownies.

The flavour's still super-chocolatey but the texture's getting denser rather than drying out as one might expect.  They've gone from from a 7.5 to a definite 8.1.  Magic.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Nigel Slater's brownies - day 2

I think it's important to know how a brownie stands up over the course of time.  While there's nothing quite like a still-warm brownie to make you feel that all is ok in the world, ideally you want to make a brownie that can last - theoretically - several days, for practical as well as regular-pacing-of-treats reasons.

I returned to this brownie today and was impressed.  While I still feel it's too crumbly for my liking, the flavour is excellent, and when you hit a melted chocolate chunk it really delivers on the delight front (much like the little chocolate fishy in Phish Food.)

Things I have learnt from this brownie:

My ultimate brownie will definitely have chunks of chocolate in it.
Ditto sea salt - I love a bit of salt to bring out the sweetness.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

And so it begins... Nigel Slater's Very Good Chocolate Brownies

Nigel Slater is one of my favourite food writers.  His books are so beautifully written, and The Kitchen Diaries is a particular favourite.  His writing is so gentle and so precise, and his palette flawless - he never over-complicates any dish.

My friend Priya is a fantastic cook.  She too is obsessed with brownies but because she's very slim I never give her enough credit for her obsession.  She's made me Nigel's brownies before and my memory of them was positive, if hazy, so I thought they'd be a good starting point for my odyssey. 

The recipe is quite straightforward - all the usual suspects, no accoutrements.  It calls for golden caster sugar, rather than regular - and has equal parts cocoa to flour.  I reduced the sugar by 10g to 290g, and upped the chocolate chip chunks from 50g to 70g (I used Waitrose cooking chocolate as I'm a sucker for the packaging.)

First, cream together the butter and sugar, if you have a blender all the better / quicker.

Melt the majority of the chocolate

Add the eggs, plus an extra yolk, to the sugar / butter combo.

Add the chocolate chunks
and the molten chocolate
then fold together with a metal spoon, along with the flour, cocoa and baking powder, plus a pinch of salt, and you're in business.  Very simple indeed.  Today's helper, the delectable Mr. Newman (no relation - although I actually think he has shades of a young Paul Newman, no?)

Thirty minutes at 180 and you're done.
I'd take them out at 28 minutes next time, based on my oven's performance - as the outer frame of the brownies was slightly overdone.

The verdict

Very very chocolatey, good, dense and crumbly.  7.5 /10.

Nigel's brownies are crumbly, deep, dark and uber-chocolatey.  They don't offer much in the way of resistance, and personally I like a brownie that puts up a bit of a fight with my teeth.  They're dense without being fudgey (I do like fudgey).  In places they are light, but when you hit a seam where a chunk of chocolate has melted, you hit full on motherlode of dark chocolate - great if you have a cup of tea or a glass of milk to hand.

The taste and depth of chocolate flavour is great, but for me the texture is too cakey.  I think this photo is mildly misleading - it looks like the brownie is supermoist, which sadly my rendition wasn't.