Brownies

Brownies

There are many cakes that I will probably, through lack of knowledge of their existence, never bake.  But a brownie is not one of them.  Although to be fair, it has only been in the last couple of years that I have even considered making them at home and not just buying them to eat when meeting friends at the coffee shop.

Brownies have recently become synonymous with morning coffee, perhaps in part due to their American origins, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is more likely because they compliment a hot drink wonderfully, so they, like so many other cakes, have naturally veered towards the morning or afternoon ‘nibble’ slot.   Although according to thenibble.com brownies are actually a bar cookie as opposed to a cake because,

“…brownies are finger food, like cookies, and cake is eaten with a fork”

I don’t know about you, but I can eat cake very nicely without a fork, thank-you. Moreover, I always presumed the classification process was more about how the item was baked and it’s consistency.  But who am I to argue?  Although there is another issue, on our little island, regarding whether it should be taxed or not, based on the classification of whether the food is a biscuit or cake.  And for those of you who are the slightest bit interested, may I guide you to the ‘Jaffa Cake Fiasco’ for more, vitally important and gripping details.   *Ahem*

Meanwhile, the brownie recipe I follow is a gloriously simple one, promoted by the one and only Nigella Lawson, who, for any of you that didn’t see it, read out with wonderful precision, the Eurovision results for our little island this year.  A show dedicated to all things gloriously ironic and ever so slightly camp.  Perfect for our sense of humour.

And now let me shimmy, seamlessly, to the ingredients.  You will need 375g butter, 375g good dark chocolate.  Melt together, leave to cool slightly.  Meanwhile, mix together 225g plain flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 300g chopped nuts (usually walnuts, but yesterday I did a mixture of walnuts, pecans and almonds simply because I didn’t have enough walnuts) into a bowl.   Then add six large eggs, 500g castor sugar and 1 tablespoonful of vanilla extract into another bowl and whisk together.

When the melted chocolate mix has cooled slightly, add the whisked egg mixture and then the flour nut combo.  Pour into a greased and lined rectangular dish, depending on the size of brownie you would like.

Cook at gas mark 4 for around 25 minutes.  As soon as the mixture stops wobbling, and the top has cracked and turned a lighter brown, whip them out of the oven and leave to cool before cutting.

Make a coffee (or tea) and sit down, brownie in one hand, drink in the other, for five minutes – or 30 seconds in my case –  of absolute pleasure.

Homemade Fruit and Nut

homemade fruit and nut

Recently we made the decision to get rid of our microwave.  Mainly because it has been sending out sparks regularly, and also because, apart from warming things up like milk, we no longer really have any use for it.  What I mean by that is, everything that we use it for can be done on the hob.  Like melting chocolate, for example.

However, it turns out you really do have to pay attention to detail when transferring these skills to the hob.

I have been trying to make another batch of chocolate slices for the wee boy to take to two of our most treasured girls as a little treat and thank-you for looking after him.   This involves melting some milk chocolate which I used to do in the microwave. Give or take the odd mishap where I forgot that it needs turning in order that the pieces in the centre don’t burn, all went well.

When melting chocolate on the hob, you need to place it in a bowl which sits over a pan of simmering water.  Two elements which in themselves are simple.  For some reason putting them together complicates the issue.  So today, whilst dashing to get everything done in the shortest amount of time, I prepared both pans for the base and chocolate melting, congratulating myself on the way at my efficiency, and set to with the base whilst allowing the chocolate to melt.

Very gradually a strange smell emerged which was familiar, and yet, new.  I looked outside to see if anyone was burning wood but could see nothing.  I then decided to just give the chocolate a stir whilst it was melting which is when I noticed that it was slightly burning on the bottom, rather like it used to in the microwave when I forgot about it.

However, thinking I had rescued the chocolate in time, I turned the heat down and continued with other things.  But the smell intensified, until I had no option but to lift the bowl with the melting chocolate up, as it smelt as though the pan was burning.

It tuns out that I hadn’t even put any water in the pan.

Undeterred by this slight flaw of domestic goddess-ness, I whizzed up some almonds, mixed them with sultanas and put them into the melted, burnished chocolate, spread out on a bit of foil and popped into the fridge.

You know it actually tastes rather delicious.

Pan de Higo

Pan de Higo

Whenever I taste something delicious, I want to know how to make it, and this Spanish Fig Cake is no exception.  Turns out, it is the easiest thing in the world. However, there is a ginormous caveat here.  I have my suspicions that because it is so very simple, there is wild competition out there regarding the type of figs and almonds you use.  Apparently, it makes all the difference in the world to the taste.

Well, it may make all the difference to some people, but I just wanted to give it a go with the figs and almonds I can buy in the shop round the corner.  Which is exactly what I did.

It also seems to me, that once you have the basics – 1lb dried figs, 2/3 cup of almonds, 1 tablespoonful honey, 1 teaspoonful spices 2 tablespoonfuls of fortified wine or brandy – you can play around with the ingredients to suit yourself.

So, for example, I, in my first attempt, used ground cloves and cinnamon as my spices, and a lovely brandy called Lepanto that Shirley very kindly donated to us at Christmas.  Next time, I’m going to try a different combination.

Meanwhile, you are supposed to process the figs in a food processor, and then toast and process the almonds (you could, of course, use sliced almonds, but give them a cheekie quick toast anyway, as the heat brings out their natural oils). However, I don’t have a food processor, so I just used my beautiful mezaluna.  I then went on to read a blog by someone who cursed using a food processor on the figs as it nearly ruined his blades.  Who knows.  What I do know about using a mezaluna is that, through sheer laziness, I don’t think I chopped them enough.

It’s a learning curve.

So, when you’ve chopped, put everything into a bowl and mix together with your hands.  Get a piece of greaseproof paper and line a tin – I used a Victoria sandwich tin, but once again, I think it’s totally up to you.  The main thing is to push it all together, fold over the greaseproof paper, place a plate on the paper and something heavy on top of that.

Leave at room temperature for 2 days.  Yes, 2 days.

*twiddles thumbs*

Eventually you can open up the Pan de Higo, make a cuppa and cut yourself a slice.

I absolutely love it, and am desperate to try another combination of spices though I must remember to put more effort into the chopping this time.

Cherry and Almond Cake

cherry and almond cake

I have decided to try and increase my baking knowledge and dip my toes in an area I am unfamiliar with, but would like to conquer.  That may be a little over optimistic. Just to present something which doesn’t taste inedible would be a start.

Of course, I am referring to the vegan family of cakes.  Actually, more specifically, vegan cakes that are not chocolate based.

And why is this?  I hear you ask.

Well, there are a few people in our lives that, for one reason or another, have opted to go down the strict vegetarian or vegan route.  Savoury food doesn’t present a problem, but I am sick and tired of having to whip something up that isn’t really in my repertoire and therefore tastes like cardboard.  Or vinegar.  Or vinegar’d cardboard.  It just seems totally unfair.

So it is to this end that I am taking the bull by the horns and forcing myself to learn. This has been made easier by recently meeting someone who runs an interesting blog called Veggie Runners. Well, interesting if you’re vegetarian and a runner, not quite so compelling if you are neither, but still, they have some great recipes, and this is one of them.

But wait, just before I reel off the ingredients, there’s something you should know. This little number has Chia seeds in it.

For those of you who may not be completely au fait with Chia, they are being hailed as one of the world’s superfoods.

A foodstuff that has an enormous amount of health properties which can only aid in making you feel tip top and Bristol fashion about almost everything.  I would list those properties here but it would take too long, so just click on Chia and read up on them yourself.  Suffice to say they are linked to the Mayans.  Chia being the Mayan word for ‘strength’. You make up your own mind.

So, the ingredients are as follows:

250ml soya milk, 125ml vegetable oil, 225ml soya yoghurt, 70g glace cherries, 250g plain flour, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 175g brown sugar, 100g ground almonds, 1 tablespoon chia seeds

Whisk the vegetable oil, soya milk and sugar together until frothy then add all the other ingredients.  Mix.  Pour into a greased and lined tin – one of those rectangular ‘tray bake’ style ones – and put into the oven gas mark 4 for 30 – 35 minutes.

It is at this juncture that I have to admit to not using the original flavourings (go to veggie runners and check it out) of rosewater and pistachio nuts, however, to be honest, you could use any combination you fancied.  We just happen to like almond and cherry.  Although after the following conversation, it may just be me.

Wee boy: Ooo cherries

Me: would you like one?

WB: yes please

Eats a cherry

WB: so mummy, what are these?

Anyway, when you bring it out of the oven, let it cool before turning out onto the rack.  It has a similar density and texture to what my auntie Sheilagh used to call tea bread, but does genuinely taste delicious and, to my delight, there is absolutely no after taste of cardboard or vinegar.

We put a very plain liquid icing sugar topping on, and covered in cherries.

You could do whatever takes your fancy.

Strawberry and Almond crumble

photo (53)

Well I was going to write about my infamous chocolate slices today, and rant about the use of the word tiffin, but I have found myself delightfully distracted by stumbling across Nigella’s recipe of the day on twitter.

As you may or may not be aware, I do have a huge amount of respect for Nigella. Not because of her television programmes, her sultry looks to camera, or her seemingly glamorous lifestyle.  In fact none of the typical love her or loathe her arguments cross my mind for more than a second.  The reason why I think Nigella is fabulous, is that in spite of all the heartache she has suffered over the years, her passion for food remains.  And her honest passion is just so obvious, as any lover will testify.

Therefore, it is to this end that I follow Nigella on twitter.  Now for me twitter, facebook and the other social media forums, are something that I dip in and out of. But with twitter I am especially drawn to the notion that you can ‘pop in’ for literally seconds, and get a snapshot of what those you follow are thinking.  Which gives me endless amusement and knowledge.

So today, when I dropped in for a few seconds to see what was happening on twitter, Nigella had posted strawberry and almond crumble, to which my mind said, ‘ah ha, we have some strawberries that we didn’t eat yesterday, I’ll use them’.  Of course, when I went to check the weight of the strawberries, (you need 500g, hulled), to see if I needed to buy more, the box I had were festering in the vegetable rack, oozing a red liquid which even to me, looked unpalatable.

And so it was, that I had to trundle off to the supermarket and buy more strawberries, and some almonds, and actually almost all the ingredients, which was not my intention but once I have the idea in my head, tell you what, there’s not much that stops me…  Barring lack of money, time, or just forgetting what I went for.

Having gathered all the ingredients together, I made the crumble which I have to say is extremely easy, and popped it in the oven.  Now, taking into consideration that my oven doesn’t always understand what it has been designed to do, I checked on the crumble regularly to make sure it didn’t come out half burnt, and did exactly as instructed i.e. left it out for ten minutes before serving.

The verdict?  We all agreed it was sweet, indulgent and absolutely delicious.

I’ll definitely be slotting this recipe into my repertoire.  Thank-you, once again, Nigella.

http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/strawberry-and-almond-crumble