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.


  1. I swear by these - I've made them umpteen times and never had a bad batch:

    P.S. I've just finished reading Pear Shaped, and there are no blogworthy words to explain how much I loved it. I saw some All In American Cookies in M&S today, clearly they've been reading too.

    1. Oh my! Those BBC ones look delicious - am very into the combo of chunks involved in the recipe. I shall try them next time I do brownies. (Am just doing the Claudia Roden orange and almond cake from Pear Shaped for the first time tonight - and think I have put it in too small a tin - 8 minutes still to go and it's about to tip over the edge...)

      Very glad you liked the book. And I shall investigate the All In cookies - they sound entirely up my street!

  2. I have a very similar recipe, gorgeous aren't they. I have also got into the habit of adding sultanas and toasted skinned almonds for a 'fruit and nut' brownie, my kids love them!

  3. Stephen, that is inspired. While I don't normally allow a nut near a brownie, I do love nuts. Do you do flaked or whole almonds? (I was discussing only the other day how much I love a raisin and biscuit Yorkie - and yet it would never have occurred to me to introduce a raisin, or indeed a sultana, to a brownie.)

  4. hiya!!! just made that recipe, not trying to blow my own trumpet (actually i am) but my recipe will give yours a run for your money!!! i make THE best brownies this side of West sussex. They are toffee and as i just found out i have a problem with digesting wheat, they are wheatfree, for some reason that makes them yummier!!!! if you're ever round my country side, i'll defo make you a batch!!! lol.
    also loved loved pear shaped. such a breath of fresh air, having said that, i was quite sad that (in my own amatuer interpretation)that sophie sort of used will to get over james. she's such a strong woman, with an amazing job and lovely friends and family, did she need a 'will' to come along and make her feel special? or did o just interpret it wrung? All the best herions i think dont necessaily find 'true love' with a man and maybe there is or will be a man along the way but they are so happy and content in themselves that its just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself(sorry not going on a mad feminist rant, i'm not a lesbian or against men, i'm in fact married lol, i just happen to know people who are actually happy without being in a relationship and this is a true revelation to me!!!). having said that, great book!!!! urging my daughter-in-law to purchase a copy as i intend to read mine again on holiday!!! lol xxxxxx

    1. Hello! Well first things first, would you consider sharing your recipe with me? Would love to try them, am always on the hunt for great brownies - and toffee sounds delicious.

      And also, I have to tell you that Will was not the happy ending in the first draft! She did initially just go off and do her own business, and that was her happy ending in itself. I totally agree that men should not be the cake, but the icing, if that! My new book does not currently have a man saving the day - but we'll see if it makes it to final draft that way... I'd like to think that enough readers would like an ending where there wasn't a man coming to the rescue, but we'll see...

    2. oh wow!!! was a bit worried i'd get a telling off!!! lol. looking forward to more of your books!!!!! and yes, you are right, i suppose because of how imperfect and crazy this world is, we all like to escape once in awhile into fairytale land ;-). My recipe is a bit all over the place as i add and take away as i see fit lol!!! but making a batch next week for a friend and will right it all down and send to you and would love to know how you get on!!!!
      ps- i normally hate custard, but reading pear shaped made me crave custard and brownies!!! lol xxxxx

  5. Fishangel, how's that recipe coming along? It's going to rain all bank holiday weekend, and I need a project that involves staying in and eating...

  6. ok so here it is!
    400g chocolate (300g nice milk chocolate, 100g dark/plain chocolate)
    4 eggs(3 eggs if you are using wheat flour)
    85g wheatfree flour
    270g soft brown sugar, i use muscovado
    300g butter
    1 tsp baking powder
    ( 200 g white chocolate cut into chunks to put in the brownies)


    melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl, heat oven to 140 degrees (fan) or 160 degrees (gas)
    whisk eggs and sugar in another bowl until its got a glossy look, fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, add the butter and chocolate mixture and stir properly to mix. Then add the white chocolate chunks(optional)
    cook for 40-50 mins. when its done, the top should be firm to the touch, if you insert a knife in the middle, it should still be (only) slightly goey. let it cool, then cut into 16 pieces......

    ps- never sure about the time, but just keep an eye on it so it doesnt over cook!! hope you have a fab bank holiday! we're making mulled wine this weekend with peanut butter cookies!!!!! and the DETOX starts on tuesday lol!!! xxxxxx

  7. I only managed 2 pieces in one go, even though I wanted more! They really are amazing!

  8. Probably shouldn't have read this at night, seriously craving these brownies right now! They look amazing Healthy Brownie Recipe

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