Fudgy Brownies (and a special frosting)

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‘Rituals are not natural– we make them, and adapt them to our present requirement… Therein lies our freedom’– Margaret Visser, Rituals of Dinner.

Dissertation research has led me to uncover some incredibly fascinating, worthwhile reads, just like Rituals of Dinner. It has also made me realise that the title of any book may provide a hint of its scope, but never the insightful overlaps with other academic fields. It’s the most amazing feeling to be able to link a myriad different fields of interests to your own, or use their words to fit original insight. It’s actually been really rather fun to start archival research for the first time ever, poring over monstrously lengthy bits of letters and records to suss out their meat. Scour, amend, learn, watch. At the age of 21, it feels as if the world is at your feet. Just recently I had a small and bad mango. Lips puckered and I scowled. It was so full of potential, plucked too early. One shall not be like that mango.

Over the weekend I thought I’d go back to my roots and re-visit a personal favourite recipe of mine– my fudgy brownie squares. This time, I thought I’d amp them up a little with a special icing, made with mushy deglet noor dates (though use Medjool if you have them) and coconut milk. There are so many frosting options out there but this one is special with the bits left in. You know, bits. The stuff that keeps Ben&Jerry’s running, and people on their toes. What is Phish food without the phish? Speaking of which, I really hope they come out with a vegan version of that, soon. There is a smooth, innocent feel to elements left untouched and pure in flavour, such as a perfect scoop of pistachio ice cream. But couple that with textural contrast, say, the crisp shatter of the waffle cone underneath, and you’re 10 times better off.  Salted caramel with crispy bits? Ummm yes. Perhaps that is just the greed in me, though it does depend on mood. Sometimes, an innocent scoop of plain vanilla, or a plain, smooth brownie after your loyal avocad itoast, is the perfect treat.

My old brownie recipe is reliable and definitely can be veganised, but I modified these to be especially squishy (or squidgy, I’ve really been loving that word recently) and chockfull of lush dark chocolate. The old method of whisking until the batter pulls away from the sides of the bowl is not necessary here, but they still end up having chewy edges (best!) and a thick, ooey and gooey centre. This recipe takes half the time, and is thus double the fun.

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Fudgy Brownies with a date-coconut caramel frosting (makes 9 brownies in a 9×9-inch pan)

Ingredients

For the brownies:

250g (2 cups) plain flour (you could also consider using half whole wheat and half plain)

420g (a little less than 2 cups) sugar (I use a mix of granulated and coconut sugar)

80g cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

150g chopped vegan chocolate (I love Green and Black’s 70%, but use whatever you want! Lindt’s is wonderful too)

1 flax egg, made my mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

480ml (2 cups) non-dairy milk (I used almond)

40g (around ¼ cup) melted coconut oil or vegan butter (I used vegan butter and just melted it in the microwave)

For the caramel:

Handful of chopped dates– soak them in some hot water first for around a minute if they are not soft Medjool dates or something similar

Half a can of full-fat coconut milk

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. First, make the flax egg by mixing the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and set it aside. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the chopped chocolate. Then add everything else- the flax egg, melted coconut oil/butter, vanilla and milk, and mix well until everything is just combined. The batter should be smooth, not too sticky, and slightly wet. Place in the oven for 25 minutes. While it is baking, blitz the dates and coconut milk in a blender until the dates are broken up. Make sure the coconut milk has at least half of the solid top you see when you open the can. Leave some of the bits of dates in there for texture, but if you prefer, you could blend them all the way to make a smooth and thick frosting.

Let the brownies cool for 10 minutes before slathering on the frosting and cutting into squares.

10-minute Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Frosting

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Look down at my boots. The wind gets through even those. Tights? Never thick enough. But thank God for Barbours. It’s getting colder… And colder. Despite the bitter air and occasional drizzle that somehow makes the situation 5 times worse, I’m embracing the sudden transition into proper fall here in the UK. Couldn’t believe it when a friend posted a video of soft snow right outside her window, here in South Kensington. It’s happening!

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The cold means more warm chocolate somethings, topped with chocolate caramel peanut butter frosting. Chocolate anythings. Some days just demand brownies, and only brownies. The first time I made this and followed the initial recipe, the whole 20 minutes made it much too dry for my liking, so I adjusted proportions and timing. Lo and behold, everything was gooey and beautiful in less than 10. The excitement was too much. Too much.

You need that rich goo. A dark, deep, intense pleasure. If I want a good, fudgy brownie that’s chewy around the edges, my go-to recipe is right here, so I implore you to check that out as well; it’s just as simple and almost as quick. This is more a mix between a gooey mud pie and dense cake, but the change is welcome and delicious. Topped with caramel peanut buttery goodness, it really doesn’t get much better than this. What do I love so much about this recipe?

  1. It takes 10 minutes. And in my case, just 7, because sometimes miracles happen.
  2. You can use either natural or processed peanut butter (crunchy, if you may) without any disastrous consequence.
  3. You won’t stop licking and picking.

 

Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Frosting (adapted from Sorted Food’s Swedish Chocolate Brownie recipe- serves 9-12)

Ingredients

For the brownies:

110g (half cup) salted, melted butter (or use unsalted, and add a pinch of salt into wet ingredients later)

200g white caster sugar

2 eggs

130g plain, all-purpose flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

55g cocoa powder

40g dark chocolate, melted in a microwave in 30-second bursts

 

For the frosting:

90g ( slightly more than 1/4 cup) chunky/smooth peanut butter; natural peanut butter works perfectly here as well, just make sure it’s properly mixed through

50 dark chocolate chunks, melted in a microwave

75ml (1/4 cup) caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease a square/round 23cm baking pan. In a bowl and with a whisk, mix together the melted butter, sugar, melted dark chocolate and vanilla extract. Add the salt here if you used unsalted butter. Whisk in the eggs and cocoa powder, and continue whisking until the mixture is visibly and texturally stickier and glossier. At this point, add the flour and mix until everything is just combined. Pop the pan into the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes. Whilst it’s baking, mix together the frosting ingredients. You need a fork and self-trust (that you won’t finish the whole bowl before the brownies are even out).

Check the brownies at 7 minutes- there should still be a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and let cool for a half hour before frosting. Cut into as many squares as you want, then eat and be happy.

 

 

No-Bake Fridge Brownies with No-Churn Three-Ingredient Vanilla Ice Cream

Proud (me), happy (my stomach), sublime (everything about this).

If you’re in dire need of a some sin in your life, then I implore you to make these

no-bake, chocolatey, fudgy fridge brownies with no-churn vanilla bean ice cream.

AKA the epitome of i-am-lazy-and-my-oven-is-sometimes-incompetent type of baking. I have those days too.

When I’m all about easy, I mean it. This pairing of deep chocolate and smooth vanilla is irresistible. Classic. The best part is that you unload an inappropriate whopping of ice cream on a piece of brownie and nothing becomes goo for quite a while. I’m the sort who loves a beautiful melting mess, but the time delay prolongs the sensory pleasure of digging into the harmony of sweetness come together by the distinct separation of flavour. Then everything melds together, and the symphony is complete.

These brownies are fudgy, but still retain the texture of a brownie more so than plain old fudge. The addition of crushed biscuits gives it both sweetness and stability. An important point to note in this recipe is that the milk, cream and sugar should be boiled for at least 5 minutes so most of the water content has evaporated, before the other things are mixed in. This will yield the best fudgy texture after less time in the fridge. And the ice cream? It just couldn’t be more straightforward.

Ingredients

For the fridge brownies:

280g (1 1/4 cups) white sugar

120g unsalted butter

90g (less than 3/4 cup) plain flour

240ml evaporated milk/ whole milk/ light whipping cream/ coconut cream

1 cup crushed biscuits (I used Nice coocnut biscuits, but you can use anything you have in the pantry, such as crushed cereal or oreos!)

175g (1 cup) chocolate chips or chunks

pinch of salt

optional add-ins: more chopped nuts/ chocolate chips

For the no-churn ice cream:

600ml whipping cream

450ml (1 can) sweetened condensed milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract/ 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste/ the insides of one vanilla bean

Directions

Pour the milk, butter and sugar into a large saucepan and heat on medium heat until everything comes to a boil. The mixture will froth and seem to double in volume so it’s important to have a large, not small saucepan here. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, then take it off the heat and stir in the flour, salt, crushed biscuits and chocolate. The chocolate will melt and turn everything a rich brown colour. Pour this mixture into a greased 8×8 or 9×9-inch baking pan and place in the fridge to set for 3 hours, or overnight.

In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk, pour in the can of condensed milk, whipping cream and vanilla. Beat until you have soft peaks, then pour into a freezer-safe container (I just used a plastic tupperware box), cover and place in the freezer for at least 4-5 hours, or overnight.

And that’s it! Since these components are meant to be left in a cold environment, they last for ages in the freezer (or just leave the brownies in the fridge), and they can be taken out at any one point in time to enjoy together.

Brown

  • ‘Life has taught me that 95% of people are always wrong.”

That actually deserved its own bullet point. Don’t know where that’s from? Go have a little Internet peek. In fact no, scrap that, there’s really no need. What good will that do? Sometimes things are best appreciated without knowledge of every minute detail, with every painful little aspect fixed and screwed down in front of you. Analysis is one way of dealing with life, and then there’s a vague, casual, breezy bliss.

You’re probably wondering where all this is going.

I’m talking about brownies, friend. Brownies.

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Baking is an art which requires painstaking precision and by-the-book loyalty. There are typically a few tweaks here and there, as most of my fellow baking friends would agree whenever it comes to tackling recipes made by different people from different parts of the world. Thing’s like surrounding temperature and ingredient quality/origin and oven tolerance all varies from place to place, from country to country. I tried making a Nigella meringue once with my mother and realised only at the very end that no, our 40 degree weather was not the same as ‘room temperature’ in South London (we worked something out in the end). All in all, the ratio’s got to be right down pat.

Um.

Yes, brownies. I looked into my pantry and heard myself physically sigh as I realised there was no more dark, treacly muscovado sugar left. Can’t treat anyone or myself to dense, chewy, fudgy goodness anymore, I assumed. But just as how 95% of people are usually wrong, so was I. Wow, I can’t discount myself from anything anymore.

I stumbled across this recipe online, entitled ‘Robert’s Absolute Best Brownie Recipe’. You’re most likely not a human if you are not tempted by this alluring title, and really, who doesn’t indulge in some excessive link clicking. It looked too good to be true. I remember the first time I tried it I didn’t follow the instructions perfectly. Since there is so little flour (quarter cup only) in a whole batch, I turned up my nose and added more.

And more.

But there’s a science to this, and after my first try, I realised I was quite foolish. Childish even, for not being able to wait. The next attempt yielded something quite magical. And you have to be the one to try it before you can come close to understanding what exactly I mean. I think I should just get on with it.

~

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 8 ounces (228g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  • 2. Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with 2 long lengths of aluminum foil or parchment paper, positioning the sheets perpendicular to one other and allowing the excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan. Lightly butter the foil or parchment.
  • 3. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate and stir by hand until it is melted and smooth.
  • 4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs by hand, 1 at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute—time yourself—until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the sides of the saucepan. [Editor’s Note: There are two crucial elements in the making of these brownies. One is throwing yourself into the making of them by stirring them “energetically,” as the recipe stipulates. The second, also spelled out in the recipe, is making certain you stir the batter thusly for a full minute. It may appear to separate a few seconds into stirring, and it may appear grainy midway through, but when you stir with vigor for a full 60 seconds–and we do mean a full 60 seconds, along the lines of “One Mississippi, two Mississippi…”–you’ll end up with a batter that’s rich, thick, satiny smooth, and glossy as can be. Therein lies the difference between dry, crumbly brownies and the world’s best brownies.]
  • 5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center feels almost set, about 25 minutes.
  • 6. Let cool completely before cutting.

I adjusted the amount of sugar and removed all the additional nutty additions just to present the purity of the batter on its own. And see the bolded clause? That right there is the most important part. Get it wrong and the entire thing will crumble before your eyes. These things are depressing, so just follow and be honest with the timing. What you’re looking for is for the batter to suddenly pull away from the sides, yielding a glossy chocolate pool, almost gurgling and bubbling with stick and bick, rich and thickly dripping.

This is a base batter, so go ahead and add whatever you like before thrusting it in the oven, be it nuts, marshmallows, berries, cream cheese, or hell’s bells, more chocolate. The intense stirring time might vary actually, from 1 to a full 5 minutes. Mine took a full 5, whilst the other time I’m sure it took much shorter. My biceps were fit to look part of a rock crag. Though after sufficient bicep rest, I took these babies out of their scorching hell and let them rest, like a sighing thing, settling down, fudgy bellies swelling.

Raspberry Cinnamon Brownies

Don’t give me a plain brownie when you know the rainbow variations it is obliged to take on any time of the day, month, year… yes go on, go on.

So I was eating Strawberry Haagen Dazs in my room and well, you know those bits of frozen strawberry? Yes well, I can’t resist them. Wait a minute. Strawberries. Jam. Baking urge. I needed to comprehend my own absurd wants whilst being weighed down by post-school exhaustion.

I saw this recipe for brownies swirled and glistening with raspberry jam and decided to put a mini itty bitty wicky butty twist on it.

Cinnamon and nutmeg and a little cream. Oh and add a touch of textured, clunky marmalade from the orange Gods. Those were all the changes and that was it. But I want to revel in the pure divinity that is therapeutic baking on a Tuesday afternoon after school, with a history essay on cue and Hitler parading his lovely square mustache on the side, hands up, chest out and all. The tiredness was overwhelming, my lids needed a break from being opened up to the world.

I had to bake. I needed to bake. I needed to feel the flushed rigour of precision and sweet chemistry (yes, this is very very literal.)

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So. Here’s what the English call a recipe.

What you need for these diddlyumptious cuboids (or cubes, whatever works for the geometrical purists):

– 150g 70% dark chocolate

– 115g unsalted butter, in chunks

– 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

– half cup white sugar

– half cup brown sugar

– 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon

– 1 tablespoon double cream

– 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract (not essence, no no)

– 2 eggs and 1 yolk

– 3/4 cup plain white flour

– half teaspoon salt

– 16 teaspoons of raspberry/blueberry/ whateverfloatsyourboat jam, or a fruit-and-sugar compote which you don’t mind atop pancakes or waffles. Though more on the thick and glutinous side. Now I’m not saying to physically and painstakingly measure out 16 teaspoons beforehand. Oh please don’t die in the kitchen. You can do this after the batter is made, when you drop 16 teaspoons of jam in little 4×4 rows on top. Plain and simple and no dying.

I love baking brownies. I really do. And talk about a one-bowl job.

What to actually do for these diddlyumptious brownies:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C, and grease plus line a square 8-inch baking tin.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter over a bain-marie, which is really just a fancy way of saying dump the globs of black and yellow into a heatproof bowl and melt over simmering (not boiling) water.

3. Remove from heat and whisk in both sugars and cocoa powder.

4. Mix in eggs and yolk, vanilla extract and cream.

5. With a spatula or wooden spoon, add flour, salt and cinnamon. Mix until well combined and take a minute to gape at the gloopy, glossy consistency.

6. Pour into pan and drool a little more. Have any of you watched the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The introduction is practically dedicated to chocolate porn in all its pours and drop layerings. Pretty spectacular. That Wonka was quite something.

7. With a piping bag or teaspoon (despite the desire for excruciating perfection, I still reverted to the latter), put 16 dollops of jam on top of the batter.

8. With a knife, PLAY. Swirl it around and about the batter until you get what should resemble decadent, ornate swirls fit to look part of King Henry’s grand staircase. It may look unkindly messy at this point, but don’t give up hope. The swirls show up in the most gorgeous manner possible in the oven after the batter lightens and gains crusts and steeps and crevices in all the right places.

9. Bake for 25 minutes on the dot. No more and no less. Well, unless you have a peculiar oven of course. In that case you have a little more flexibility with time. It’s typically 25-27 minutes. There I offered some room.

I was satisfied and I was done, and I went up to my room to watch Daniel Craig in The Trench for some bloody ear shots and spilling guts. Chocolate Fingers smiled up at me.

I beg you to all make this, or at least try.

For warmth in the oven and in the heart.