The brownie. A source of contention for so many people, known to break up relationships and forge great divides within the baking community. Okay, perhaps not this extreme but let me tell you, I have been involved in several debates in which both sides have hotly argued the same thing, over and over again:
- ‘Fudge-y’ or ‘cake-y’?
- Plain, or contain nuts (if so, which? Hazelnuts, walnuts, macademias?) and dried fruit (again which?)
- Traditional or jazzed-up (salted caramel/Oreos/white chocolate chunks – the list is endless).
You can see the picture I’m trying to paint here, can’t you?
Brownies, as you probably gauged from the title of this blog, are my favourite of all the baked goods. A brownie fiend for as long as can remember, I have tried and tested more brownie recipes than I should admit to! I’ve even had brownies instead of a birthday cake, a true reflection of how far my love for them stretches…
No food brings me more delight than a brownie. Which only increases my disappointment when I eat a bad one. In London, as with many places, so many foodie establishments (coffee shops, bakeries, market stalls etc.) produce fake brownies. You know, that crumbly tasteless cake thing that you’ve had before? When a shop attempts to pass off said sad square as a brownie, the anger that boils up inside me is akin to someone insulting a loved one (maybe a tad dramatic?) But seriously, stop it. This is a cake, masquerading as a brownie. How dare you.
In my opinion, a REAL brownie has a hard, cracked top, and a fudge-y centre. A traditionalist at heart, I do occasionally permit a few pieces of walnut to break up the density, but that’s usually as jazzy as I will go. These are not light treats, these are whoppers – the bad boys of cake inciting feelings of naughtiness and smugness, while transported you to a rich, dark, chocolate heaven.
That said, I recently discovered something marvellous, contradicting my purist vision of the perfect brownie. After reading her column in The Guardian for months, and drooling over her marvellous creations, I made a trip to Claire Ptak’s Violet Bakery in Dalston. If you haven’t been yet, I urge you to go to the mecca of seasonal baked treats. Claire’s Tahini Halva Brownie has stuck in my mind since my first very first taste. They were incredible. I never attempted to make them pre-diabetes, which I do regret. I have promised to make them for the boyfriend though, who felt almost as strongly about them as I do!
My own brownie recipe is certainly not in tune with a diabetic lifestyle. As a newly diagnosed diabetic desperately trying reduce her blood sugar levels, they are probably one of the worst things that I could eat right now. I am determined, however, to create a brownie recipe which is suitable for diabetics, and still hits the spot. I refuse to give up one of my biggest pleasures. Instead, I will adapt the recipe to suit me (she says, very hopefully..)
For now though, and for those of you who do not require a diabetic-friendly version, I hope the following tips come in handy when you make your own:
The Chocolate: Use the BEST chocolate you can find. I promised a friend I would make her brownies, and after a very, very long day, grabbed the first thing I saw without thinking, The cocoa solids were 40% (not sure how this even qualifies as dark chocolate) and the other ingredients listed were as long my arm. Needless to say, the brownies were pretty awful. Trust me, the darker and more bitter you can get it, the better. There’s plenty of sugar in a brownie to counteract the bitterness!
The Cocoa Powder: the quality does not need to be as high as the chocolate, but this does also make a difference. Brownies can become quite expensive if all ingredients are good quality, but again, it makes all the difference. I use Cadbury’s Bournville cocoa or Green & Black’s when I’m feeling extra flush.
The Cooking Time: the key to creating the most decadent, almost truffle-like brownies is in the cooking time. Under-cooking the brownies by about 5 minutes (trust me) makes A HUGE difference.
Once cooked (5 minutes under) I leave the brownies in the tin to cool, then pop them in the fridge. Due to the shorter cooking time, they won’t be cooked and will still feel very wobbly. If you try to cut into them now, the goo in the centre will spill out everywhere. Leave to set in the fridge, and after a few hours you will discover you have created a hybrid: the brownie-truffle dessert. It’s a wicked experience.
Further tip: orange zest and juice of 1/2 an orange in the batter. It’s bloody glorious.
Love Becca x