Time for sharing a secret: ultimate chocolate brownies

November 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Posted in baking, musings, puddings | 1 Comment
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One of the best things about the Great British Bake-Off was the “signature bake”: the weekly challenge to make something that each of the contestants saw as their best – the thing that they made often and made well (I am always disappointed when someone confessed that it wasn’t really a signature dish but instead something that had decided to do  in the run up to the competition because they thought they would impress the judges more). The idea of a signature bake is brilliant – something that you love making and that your friends and family love to be on the receiving end of…  I have a number of recipes that are my failsafes, the things I turn to when I just want to bake, and that I know will always go down well. But the premier example – the recipe that is without comparison – has to be chocolate brownies – to be precise Nigella Lawson’s chocolate brownies – to be found in both How to be a Domestic Goddess and Feast (appearing as snow-flecked brownies).

Having made these brownies countless times – and to near universal acclaim – I feel I should share them with you (in blog form) and also pass on my brownie baking tips – that I have discovered over time to make the brownies as near to fool-proof as possible! (Some have suggested that I shouldn’t write this post – that my secret should remain secret – but I think the perfect brownie is such a wonderful thing – the knowledge MUST be shared)

Making them: pretty simple (and I can more or less do it on autopilot now!) But step 1 is to melt chocolate and butter together – I do it in the microwave – slowly! Then while that is melting, the eggs, sugar and vanilla are mixed together – I usually do this in the Kenwood, so that mixing can occur while I get on with the next stage – but really it’s not hard and can easily be done by hand or using a hand mixer. Once the chocolate and butter is melted, it’s added to the sugar/eggs mixture and mixed until smooth (It’s better if the chocolate is slightly cool – if its hot when you add it to the sugar the mix ends up being oily – which does not change the taste but just ends up looking slightly less lovely). Then add flour and salt and mix once more and then add “the fun”.  Nigella suggests walnuts, and snow-flecked brownies use white chocolate chips – but I made an amazing discovery when I added mini-eggs to the batter one Easter and discovered that the crisp outer shell prevents the chocolate melting – so you get solid chunks of chocolate and a hint of the sugar shell. When it’s not Easter time – minstrels are the chocolate of choice – they make for an ultimate chocolate hit. Once everything is combined – its put into a lined tin and into the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes.

One of the key challenges of making the perfect brownie is to get it to be perfectly squidgy – I want my brownie to be fudgey and gooey and not at all like a cake! This requires courage from the baker  – because what you have to do is take them out of the oven at 25 minutes – when the top is dried out and crisp (usually a little crack or two on the surface). At this point – the inside of the brownie is still molten and were it to be a traditional cake – it would be considered seriously undercooked. But trust me: this is necessary to get the right texture. Then leave the brownies to cool and then preferably leave them overnight without cutting them for the goo to set into the perfect moist and fudgey middle.

Eating them: I don’t want to be boastful – but these brownies are amazing! A usual response is “these are the best brownies I have ever eaten”. They work on their own with tea or coffee or with ice-cream and even chocolate sauce for the ultimate pudding! There is always some in my freezer – so any emergency can be dealt with.

Next time: I will continue to refine and perfect – perhaps trying some other additions to the batter to see what they would do – I’m curious as to what would happen to chunks of a crunchie bar…

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Cake disasters – Recipe 69: Nigella’s fancy cake

September 13, 2011 at 10:56 am | Posted in baking | Leave a comment
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Sometimes life, and even baking doesn’t turn out the way you want… and sometimes it can all go rather wrong… The question is – how do you react to the problem? And in the interests of full disclosure to the 3 people reading this blog I thought I would share a recent disaster (actually it worse than that – it’s a repeated disaster)

So as I have repeatedly mentioned, I know plenty of people who avoid gluten and wheat, so love trying out new cakes in the quest to find the best gluten-free version of most cakes, preferably ones that taste brilliant and no-one realises that they are “safety cakes” as a colleagues recently named them! In Nigella’s How to Eat  (If you don’t own this book – you really should buy it…. it’s a wonderful read!) she has a recipe for “fancy cake” – the fancy element coming from its shape as it is made in a brioche tin. The ingredients are just ground almonds, eggs, sugar and grated lemon zest – so I thought it would be good to try out – on the first occasion to have a pudding with some creme fraiche and strawberries.

Making it: Its pretty simple, although the eggs to have to be separated and whisked separately – the white on their own until they form stiff peaks, and the yolks are whisked with sugar until they are pale and thick.  Then the almonds and lemon zest are folded into the yolks and sugar, and finally the egg whites – trying to retain the precious air to keep it light. The batter is poured into a well-greased brioche tin and cooked for an hour. Once the cake came out, I left it to cool and then tried to remove it from the tin. DISASTER. Cake stuck to tin and came out in several chunks.

Eating it: Sunday lunch was with friends – so I decided that I would still serve this somewhat imperfect looking cake… and despite its unpromising appearance it was delicious. It was a robust texture and moist because of all the nuts. It provided a scrumptious backdrop to the fruit.

Next time: So given it tasted great, I though it was worth trying again. This time I greased the tin even more carefully and followed Nigella’s instructions to remove it from the tin after 10 minutes of cooling. But again it stuck… in fact it stuck even more – and came out in lots of pieces. I was in a quandary – I knew I had taken a risk in trying the cake again, but I had promised a new cake for the boss – and I didn’t want to renege on the promise. I also knew that the cake was delicious from its previous outing, so decided that despite looking dreadful, it was worth allowing substance to overrule style, and for my pride to be put aside… so I took it to work anyway! And happily, it was not rejected for looking a mess…. and it was all scoffed!

So before there is another next time…. I think I need a new brioche tin – as this one is seriously not as non-stick as it claims to be – its gorgeous pink exterior does not compensate for its failures! Or perhaps I need more patience and a new technique for removing cake from tin…

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