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:
100g plain flour, sieved
400g dark chocolate (Bourneville), broken into melt-able pieces
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:
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%+).
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.
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:
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):
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:
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.