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Cakes and Treats > The Best Chocolate Brownies 14 March 2008

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, comfort food, desserts, easy, Recipes, specials.
7 comments

This is the ultimate in easy, comfort food. A treat with a cup of tea, or a delicious dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or cream. My brownie recipe has been a long search. I’ve done much researching of many different ideas and recipes. A lot of trials, tests and tweaks later, its a very good thing for my belly (and that of my chief tasters) that the quest is over, and perfection has been reached!

 

Chocolate and Walnut Brownie

Chocolate Brownie

Now, here are the three things that I’ve discovered are the key to making the perfect brownie:

1. Undercooking!

Don’t be tempted to cook the brownie mix as you would a normal cake. Test it with a knife and the middle should still be quite wet. The trick is to also gently press the top of the cake to check that it has firmed up slightly, but still has some give. This should give the crisp top and gooey centre typical of the perfect brownie.

Be careful – it may take a few goes to get the timing perfect with an individual cooker – once you’ve got it right, remember to write it down so you know for the next time!

2. Icing Sugar (or confectioners sugar)

This definitely makes the best consistency of brownie. I have tried several combinations of sugars, from caster to muscovado. But it is fine icing sugar which definitely gives the best texture, its thanks to a recipe by Marcus Wareing (author of How to Cook the Perfect...) that I tried it.

Remember, a brownie mix is dense and fudgy, unlike cake mix that is typically beaten and aerated. Also, you don’t cook brownies for very long. So there isn’t much mixing or cooking time for the grains of other sugars to dissolve and blend properly. Go for the confectioners sugar! This recipe also adds some golden syrup helps the gooeyness along.

3. Nuts

Although they are not in all the recipes, I’m sorry, but for me a brownie is not a brownie without some walnuts (or you could use pecans). After trying a recipe by Pierre Hermé, I am also a convert to toasted walnuts. This is a very quick and simple first step and really makes a difference to the flavour, please try it! Also, as I tend to avoid scoffing all my brownies in one go, adding nuts improves the keeping time of cakes and biscuits, so I also add a few spoons of ground almonds with the flour as well to aid moistness.

OK, those are my top tips, now here is the recipe…

This makes enough to fill one round cake tin (18-20 cm wide). Which gives you at least 10-12 brownie slices, depending on greediness. I know brownies are traditionally square, but I use my favourite loose-bottom cake tin and treat it more like an un-iced cake. Also, this way every slice has some crispy outside and gooey centre – it’s the taste and texture that make these brownies the best!

(Of course, if you want square brownies, just use a square or rectangular tin. Remember to double the quantity I’ve used if you have a large rectangular tin (30×20 cm) – and you’ll also need to cook it for 5-8 minutes more.)

 

Ingredients

100g walnut quarters or pieces

150g good quality dark chocolate (I recommend Valrhona manjari, but any good quality, high cocoa content chocolate will do) – chopped/broken into similar sized pieces (aids even melting)

90g unsalted butter – diced (to help even melting)

2 tbsp golden syrup

150g icing sugar

75g plain white flour

15g ground almonds

20g cocoa powder (I recommend Divine)

2 large organic/free range eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional, try Ndali or make sure you use an extract, not a synthetic vanilla flavour)

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 130 degC (fan)
  2. Spread the walnuts on a flat baking sheet and place in the low oven for 10-15 minutes until toasted. Put the timer on, you must not burn them! (When they are ready – they will be lightly browned and mellowed in flavour, just take them out of the oven, pour onto a clean tea cloth, wrap up and bash them against the worktop to slightly crush into smaller pieces, then open up the cloth to let them cool).
  3. Whilst the walnuts are cooking, weigh out the rest of the ingredients. Place the chocolate pieces, diced butter and golden syrup together in a medium-large glass bowl. This will be the bowl you mix everything together in, so make sure it’s big enough.
  4. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. (Make sure the bowl does not touch the water, you just need a small amount in the bottom of the pan to provide some steam). Stir occasionally with a large metal spoon to melt and combine. (See my post on chocolate crispy cakes for chocolate melting tips).
  5. Whilst the chocolate mixture is melting, sieve together the icing sugar, flour, ground almonds and cocoa powder into another bowl.
  6. When the chocolate mixture is nearly smooth and melted, remove from the heat and stir until completely smooth. Then leave to cool whilst you prepare the cake tin.
  7. Grease the cake tine and then line the base and sides with baking parchment (if you are using a loose-bottomed tin then just line the bottom). Then grease the lined base and sides carefully with some extra butter.
  8. The walnuts should be done by now, once they are out of the oven, turn it up to 180 degC (fan).
  9. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat together with the vanilla extract (if using). Just do this by hand as well, you don’t need to worry about making the mixture airy and light – you want a stodgy mix!
  10. When the chocolate mixture has cooled to room temperature (takes at least 5-10 minutes, test it if you are unsure, it can’t be hot as it will scramble the eggs – but don’t wait too long or it will be too stiff to combine with other ingredients) add the beaten eggs and stir vigorously to combine. The mixture will begin to thicken up quite quickly.
  11. Then add half of the dry ingredients and mix together vigorously until smooth, continue adding the other half, then the walnuts, beating each time until smooth. The final mixture will be thick, dark and gooey.
  12. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. If you like, you can smooth the top a little using a knife – place a metal knife in a cup of hot water until warm, remove and wipe off the water, and use to smooth the top of the mixture.
  13. Once the oven is heated up, place the brownies in for 13-15 minutes.
  14. To check they are done, the top will be dry looking and slightly cracked – carefully and gently press on the top, which should be beginning to firm but not solid. A knife inserted into the centre should come out moist. Be careful not to overcook the mixture.
  15. Leave them to cool in the tin – don’t be tempted to remove them yet! Once cool, carefully remove them from the tin – peeling off the parchment paper. Sieve the top with a little icing sugar.

Serve with cream or ice cream for a delicious dessert, or just with a cup of tea or coffee for a decadent snack.

Yum!

Brownie

The Finished Brownie Cake

 

Desserts > Raspberry Pavlova 25 November 2006

Posted by cath in desserts, easy, fruit, Recipes.
2 comments

pavlova

This is a really quick Raspberry Pavlova you can also eat throughout the winter…all you need is meringues, frozen local raspberries and a tub of double cream.

I like M&S meringues, they use free range egg whites and they are the best bought meringues I’ve tasted.

You can make this dessert in the summer with fresh summer soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries etc. But it’s winter now, and I don’t think buying imported strawberries etc. is worthwhile – especially when you’ve got a supply of frozen raspberries. I buy mine from the Strawberry Shop at the farmers market here in Edinburgh.

This pavlova is easy, it makes a great winter dessert as it’s rich and creamy and very reminiscent of summery days. (Of course it makes a nice summer dessert too…when the time comes…)

You will need

Double cream – roughly 1/4-1/3 pint per person

At least a dozen raspberries per person (fresh, frozen or a mixture of other fruits)

1 meringue nest per person

Icing sugar to sprinkle on top

Preparation

  1. If you’re using frozen raspberries, remove the raspberries from the freezer to begin to thaw whilst you whip the cream. (They do not have to be totally thawed, if they’re still frozen this will cause some of the cream inside the pavlova to freeze – like instant ice cream.)
  2. Pour the cream into a large bowl (see picture below).
  3. Using a whisk (electric assistance is good for large quanities) carefully whip the cream until it holds a peak (see note below for tips).
  4. Now you can build the pavlova. On each plate place a meringue, top with a spoon of cream, then top with half the raspberries. Continue to add a spoon of cream, then a few raspberries in layers until you run out. You can either go high, piling each layer on top of the last, or sprinkle more rasperries around the meringue. For extra indulgence you could make a sandwich with an extra meringe on top. Finish with a rasperry on top.
  5. For an extra sweet, snowy finish, sieve half a teaspoon or so of icing sugar all over the top.
  6. Serve immediately.

Notes:

Whipping Cream: This can be a little tricky until you get used to it, here are some tips…

preparing to whip cream
preparation

 

  • Use a large bowl, you can get a better whipping action and won’t splash as much.
  • It will take a while before you start to notice the cream thickening, especially if whisking by hand, but it will happen – just persevere!
  • When you notice the cream starting to thicken be careful not to overwhip – the best way to do this (especially when using electric whisks) is to stop now and then and try to form a peak with the cream.

soft peak
beginning to form a soft peak

 

  • Once you start to get some very soft peaks (they will fall back down quickly if soft), only whisk without electrical help. With a few extra turns of the whisk, you should notice the cream thickening quickly and you’ll soon get a soft yet thick cream.
  • Once it holds a peak – stop whisking.

whipped cream
soft whipped cream

 

Pavlova
The finished Pavlova

Strawberries and more uses for that Vanilla Sugar… 29 May 2006

Posted by cath in cakes and treats, desserts, easy, fruit, Info and Cooks Notes, ingredients, shopping notes.
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Strawberrys

Yesterday we had fresh strawberries (Scottish) from the Farmers Market, and to be extra bad we were dipping them in my home-made vanilla caster sugar.

The vanilla sugar worked really well with the strawberries…so tick another reason why you should go buy some fairtrade vanilla pods from Barts Spices or Ndali.

If you’re still buying strawberries at the supermarket – stop! These fresh strawberries from the market were much juicier and sweeter, and had a better bite to them than the imported stuff, or strawberries that have simply been travelling and kicking around too much in depots.

Summer is definately here, but the strawberry pick your own time (here in Scotland) is not quite upon us. We should be out picking our own at Lowes farm by the end of June…more about that when the time comes.

Here is another picture in the meantime…

closeup

Desserts > Rhubarb-Ripple Ice Cream 19 April 2006

Posted by cath in desserts, freeze-friendly, Recipes.
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freeze-friendlyDesserts

Good for making from scratch, or for using up left-over rhubarb and custard.
Ingredients:
600g rhubarb (trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces)

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 vanilla pod

175g caster sugar

250ml whole milk

500ml double cream

4 egg yolks

Stew the rhubarb:

  • Place the rhubarb in a saucepan with the orange juice and zest and 50g of the caster sugar.
  • Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the rhubarb is completely soft.
  • Rub the mixture through a sieve into a separate bowl. Chill the juice and purée in the fridge.

Make the vanilla custard:

  • Put the milk and half the cream in a pan with the vanilla pod and heat gently until almost boiling – then remove the vanilla pod.
  • Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar, then pour the hot vanilla milk and cream on to them, whisking all the time.
  • Return the custard to the pan and stir constantly over a very gentle heat until it starts to thicken.
  • Remove from the heat and continue stirring as it cools. It should thicken further.

Making the ice-cream:

  • Combine the custard with most of the rhubarb purée, mixing thoroughly.
  • Lightly whip the remaining double cream and fold it in to the rhubarb and custard mix. Taste the mixture, it should be sweet, add some icing sugar to the mix if you think it needs it.
  • The ice-cream needs to be freeze-churned. You can use an ice-cream machine if you have one – I don't! By hand, put the mixing bowl in the freezer, remove it every hour or so and whisk up the half-frozen mixture. You’ll have to do this several times (I usually do it three times in about 1-1.5 hours apart – but it will depend on your freezer…)
  • When the ice cream is thick and starting to set, put it into the storage tub and make some holes and grooves in it. Drizzle little pools of the remaining rhubarb purée and rhubarb juice into the holes and gently turn the mixture a few times to spread the ripples around. Be careful not to mix them in too much or you won't have any ripples (easy to do – but not a disaster – you've just got rhubarb and custard ice-cream, that's all!)
  • Freeze again until solid.

You’ll have to take the ice cream out and leave it to relax at room temperature before serving.

About Vanilla pods:

You could use vanilla essence instead, or skip the vanilla if you don't like it!

I hear you can even buy fair-trade vanilla pods although I've not tried that yet.

You can re-use a whole vanilla pod easily: just rinse it well and dry it, you can infuse it into milk/cream again.

I also store the used vanilla pod in a jar of caster sugar – this means I can add a little extra vanilla to anything I want (including the custard in this recipe) by using the vanilla caster sugar instead. Definitely worth it if you like vanilla.

I would try it in coffee too – but I don't like suggary coffee or drinks – I'll try to find someone with a sweet tooth willing to try that for me :)