There are some things that chocolate cannot fix.
I don’t mean this flippantly at all. What I mean is that some things cannot be made better by anything. Not chocolate, not time, not anything.
I’ve not posted a recipe on the blog in well over a month now and for this I am sorry.
I lost my beautiful father a few weeks ago after a sudden and brief illness and I just didn’t feel like baking or making chocolates or anything at all. Anyone who follows this blog will know that my love of chocolate is encoded into my DNA thanks to my dearest Papà and that my greatest joy in baking was always to bake for him. He loved dessert and chocolate more than anything. I have so many things I will miss but not seeing his unbridled joy when surprised with cake, dessert, or a new chocolate I created will forever change my culinary universe as well.
Late last week I ventured back into the kitchen and grabbed a large bag of couverture. I wanted to thank some very special people who had shown extraordinary kindness towards Mum and me over recent weeks. I had no idea how to repay their kindness but found myself baking a batch of brownies. I baked another batch, and then another. There is a strange comfort in baking brownies. I think it’s a lot like baking a favourite cookie. For me there is also the ritual of melting a large amount of couverture … something that always calms my heart and mind. It feels like a safe place for one’s soul. As though nothing bad, no sadness, or grief can touch you. At least for a little while. So I kept baking brownies and then gave most of them away. It didn’t make it better but it helped me express my heartfelt gratitude in the only way I could.
These brownies are very special to me. I have been baking these in exactly the same way since I was a teenager. It was one of my earliest recipe obsessions and one that I spent endless months experimenting and perfecting. Gazillions of brownies were consumed in that time by my Papà, my friends, and I. They have, I think, the perfect balance of cake crumb and inner gooiness. A perfect brownie needs a decent amount of gooiness. They are not too sweet but their chocolate intensity is extreme. Of course it is. I don’t believe in restraint in matters pertaining to chocolate.
They are incredibly versatile too. I have made these in versions that are gluten-free, flourless, and with so many flavour variations, I have lost count.
Are they the world’s best brownie? Maybe. Brownie perfection is a matter of personal taste. But these earned me the nickname of “Brownie Whisperer” so my guess is I’m a’doin’ somethin’ right 😉
They were my father’s favourite and have always been very special to me. I hope you love them too. Treasure every moment of joy you share with those you love ❤
Sugar Free Baking Giveaway
About the same time my father was admitted to hospital, I had launched a sugar-free baking giveaway competition on the Facebook page. I also sent an email to all subscribers of the blog. The timing coincided with Natvia’s Sugar Free Bakeoff competition (still underway, so click on the badge on the right and enter to win great prizes!). The timing was unfortunate obviously, for me, as I was unable to promote it much, although it has been on the Facebook page for over a month now.
There was only one entry by talented chef Chris Davey, but happily it was an AMAZING entry and Chris will be featuring in a guest post here on the blog to share his sweet version of the Cauliflower Protein Bread. As well, Chris gets a fab hamper pack of sugar-free Natvia products to try. Watch this space for Chris’ awesome recipe.
Now, though, brownies are whispering …
Brownies are obviously very different to chocolate cake. My best tips for brownie success are:
1. Do not aerate the brownie batter. If you mix in air you will create air bubbles that will expand in the oven. This will create air pockets and an uneven texture. Use a whisk to stir the ingredients together. I use a whisk because it helps combine the ingredients more quickly and evenly than a spatula. There is no baking powder or other leavening agents added to the mixture because they are not meant to rise like a cake.
2. Never overbake your brownies. These should take about 20 minutes in total to bake. Test the centre with a toothpick. The toothpick should have slightly underbaked crumbs sticking to it when removed. This is essential for that lovely gooey crumby texture that you seek. Always check your brownies around the 18 minute mark, as ovens do vary.
3. Always use a good quality chocolate for these brownies. Even if you add nuts, caramel, fruits, liqueurs, spices, or whatever you wish to add. The chocolate is the main feature and a poor quality chocolate will leave you with very ordinary brownies. I have tried all varieties of chocolate and have found that they are best when using an excellent 64% - 72% cacao chocolate or couverture.
4. Do not substitute the brown sugar with white sugar. The brown sugar is crucial for both the flavour and the texture of the finished brownies. I would also recommend using the amount of sugar stipulated in the recipe. Reducing the sugar in this recipe will adversely impact the texture as well.
5. Want to make a large batch? I often do too. Double the recipe and use a 20cm x 30cm rectangular tin. Take extra care not to overbake the brownies. For this size tin, they will still take about 20 minutes to bake to perfection.
300 grams dark couverture (64% - 72% cacao)
125 grams unsalted butter, cubed
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
155 grams eggs (3 x 60g in the shell)
150 grams soft brown sugar
5 grams vanilla bean paste or seeds of 1 vanilla pod
140 grams plain flour*, sifted (or finely ground nuts)
*You can make these gluten free by substituting gluten-free flour for the plain flour or finely ground nuts. Almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews work best for this recipe. Make sure to grind the nuts finely for the best result.
Preheat the oven to 180℃. Line a 20cm x 20cm square cake tin with baking paper on the base and up the sides. Set aside.
If your chocolate is a solid block, chop it finely. If you have chocolate callets or buttons, there is no need to chop the chocolate further.
Place the chocolate, butter, and sea salt into a heatproof bowl and microwave for 60sec on full power. Stir the mixture. Return to the microwave for 30 second bursts until the chocolate is mostly melted. I only needed two further 30 second microwave intervals for this amount of chocolate. Stir the chocolate and butter until smooth. Set it aside to cool slightly. If you do not have a microwave, place the heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted.
Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl. If the brown sugar is lumpy, push it through a sieve before adding to the eggs in the bowl. Add the vanilla and stir together with a whisk until combined. There is no need to whisk the mixture to aerate it. Add the sifted flour (or finely ground nut meal) and stir until smooth. Finally, stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 20 minutes. They should test done around the edges but still be soft in the centre. It is best to underbake these so keep an eye on them after about 15 minutes.
Let the brownies cool completely in the tin then carefully transfer to a board and cut into bars. I find it useful to use a small pointed knife and I wipe the knife after each cut.
Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for at least a week. Well, they could ... but they won't :)
1. Add 30 ml of your favourite liqueur to the brownie batter when you add the vanilla. Triple Sec and Grand Marnier or Cointreau are really special, as is Amaretto or Frangelico.
2. Add some finely grated citrus zest (orange, mandarin, yuzu, or lemon)
3. Before baking, press some fresh or frozen whole raspberries into the brownie batter.
4. Swirl through some peanut (or other nut) butter, salted caramel, cheesecake mixture, or whatever you like through the batter just before baking. Awesomeness.
5. If you want them even richer, glaze the cut brownies with a ganache. This is fantastic if you cut them into bite sized pieces to serve as petit fours with coffee at a party or special dinner.