This dessert needs no introduction. But it does require a fair bit of precision and understanding of how flour, chocolate, butter and sugar operate and work together with other ingredients. It’s the perfect comfort dessert for those days when you just need something other than your preferred adult beverage to look forward to. Like Mondays, for instance.
As an unabashed chocolate addict, brownies were one of the first recipes I attempted on my own, outside of school and independent of any supervision. It was my mother’s birthday and I wanted to surprise her with a home-made gift, especially as she’s an avid baker. I was only 15, and Internet access at that time was far less pervasive than it is now. Without a staple of cookbooks or Google to turn to, I improvised. I bought some chocolate baking bars, butter and walnuts from the grocery store, and set to work. I successfully melted the chocolate in the microwave, mixed it with the butter, added the flour, eggs, walnuts and sugar and somehow ended up with a gooey, chocolate paste that went into the oven. So far so good. The deliciously sensual aroma of baked chocolate and melted butter soon wafted around the apartment, and I was excited and confident about the prospect of successfully baking my very first brownie from scratch, and not out of a box.
The timer went off. The brownie came out of the oven, looking a little flat, but definitely cooked. I was content, and eager to present this ‘gift’ to my mother. She took up the knife, and I held my breath as its edge touched the surface. And stayed there.
“It’s too hard”, she said.
“What do you mean it’s too hard?”
*thud*thud*thud* My mother was stabbing the brownie, which had somehow donned a knight’s armor in the 30 minutes it spent in the oven.
And true enough, the sharpest edge of the knife made no more than a 2 mm incision on the surface of this rock-hard block of chocolate. I was incredulous beyond words. Instead of the luscious, soft dessert I had envisioned, I had produced a granite of a brownie that would take out your teeth if you tried to bite into it. After much stabbing and wrestling, we salvaged a few chocolate crumbs which we had for dessert while the rest went into the bin. It was the last time I ever improvised while baking without a base recipe to follow.
Brownies (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Bloomin’ Brilliant Brownies recipe)
For one 8-by-8-inch cake pan
As the name suggests, these brownies are really Brilliant, yielding a soft, chewy, chocolatey crumb guaranteed to satisfy any manic chocolate cravings. It’s the best brownie recipe I’ve encountered so far, and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree after trying it out.
1½ sticks/ 200 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, softened
6 ounces/ 160 grams dark chocolate (60 to 70%), broken up
1.5 ounces/ 40 grams chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)
2 ounces/ 52 grams all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
10 ounces/ 288 grams granulated sugar
2 ounces/ 64 grams cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C and grease the cake pan. Melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water and mix until smooth. Take the mixture off the heat and add the nuts, if you’re using, stir.
In another bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and sugar. Add this to the chocolate and nut mixture and stir well until the flour is fully incorporated. You should have a very thick paste at this stage. Add in the beaten eggs and mix until you get a silky consistency.
Pour the mix into the pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. This brownie is best left a little undercooked and moist in the center, but slightly springy on the top. Cool in the tray and cut into chunky squares. If you’re preparing this for a party or a food festival, lining the tray with parchment paper before adding the mix will make it easier to remove the brownie from the pan and serve it in nice, even squares. Otherwise, do what I do and scoop straight from the pan, crumbs and all.
Serve hot or cold on its own or, as Jamie suggests, crème fraîche mixed with orange zest. My take on it would be a scoop of frozen yogurt or vanilla ice-cream.