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.

Advertisements

Magic and Sparkle

decorated Christmas Cake

So here it is, at last, the day before the day.  With only one more sleep to go until the big man flies by, we are ensconced, with family, in a place none of us have ever been to before, but that has enough comfortable sleeping spots for everyone to fit in.

We have released the Christmas Cake from it’s catacomb of greaseproof paper and tin foil, and duly covered it in the requisite marzipan and icing. Then, just for good measure, we have sprinkled a little edible glitter on the top.

Of course we haven’t, as I write this, managed to wrap all the presents yet, but then it has become tradition for himself and I to leave some wrapping for the dying embers of Christmas Eve.  I remember one year I was still wrapping presents on Christmas Day as the family were walking up the drive, which does somewhat eradicate the notion of being ‘ready for Christmas’.

To be honest, I’m never quite sure what ‘being ready’ means, although I must have been asked the question more than fifteen times over the last week.

To which I always reply, ‘no, not quite’ and raise my eyes skyward.   It’s a tradition.

Meanwhile, the wee boy has managed to spend the whole day, once again, in his pyjamas, whilst son #1 is experimenting with various drinks combinations, most of which include pepsi – a drink he is only allowed on special occasions – all of which, in my humble opinion, taste vile.  I don’t however, have the palette of an 11 year old boy.

The chocolates, nibbles and various other food items we don’t buy any other time of year, have all been opened, and we are slowly devouring our way through the lot.

If we’re not eating food, we are talking about it.

Gradually, throughout the day, we have sashayed from drinking tea, to coffee, to something that sparkles.

And so the magic begins.

Only one more sleep to go…

Coffee and Walnut Cake

coffee and walnut cake

It has reached the time of year in our household that, for 10 months prior to November, always sounds very romantic.  Until it starts to get closer.  And then the reality sets in.   Not only that, every year, without fail, we are not prepared for the shock.

‘What on earth is she talking about?’  Whispered the voice at the back.

Well, for us, we are just about to hit celebration season.  And this is how it goes:

Me, him, the little ray of sunshine, the day we met, youngest brother-in-law, wedding anniversary, mini him, another brother-in-law, Christmas.

I know.  How lovely all to be born within a month of each other…

As a direct result of this birthday montage, there is also an onslaught of cake to be made to compliment said birthday celebrations, and this year, for me, it’s coffee and walnut cake.

My favourite bit of this cake, as a child, was the icing.  I enjoyed the cake out of politeness, but honestly it was really just seen as the bit to endure, to get to the bit I loved.  So much so, I used to sneak into the kitchen when I thought no-one was looking, dip my finger in the tin holding the cake, and swipe a good dollopful of icing, before quickly closing the lid.

On reflection, this technique was not the cleverest really, as when my mum next opened the tin, there would often be a large crevice where icing once was.  Like every good thief, I would completely deny any knowledge of the incident, although it was obviously one of us.

Back to the cake.

So, I mix 225g of butter and 225g of castor sugar together, although sometimes I half and half the castor sugar with soft light brown.  I then add 50g of walnuts and whizz them altogether in my trusty Kenwood.  Add 3 eggs, one by one, 3 dessertspoonfuls of espresso coffee, 225g of self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

Divide between two prepared cake tins and bake, gas mark 4, for around 25 minutes depending on your oven.  As mine is a little contrary I tend to open the oven way too early on, and spend the next 10 minutes hoping that, as I’ve turned up the heat a little, this will counterbalance the cake dip.  It’s not the most successful technique, but you can’t blame me for trying.

That is a down side to being an eternal optimist.

Once cooked, let the cakes cool on a rack for around 10 minutes before turning out and peeling the greaseproof paper off.  Once again, my over eagerness often catches me unawares and I take the cakes out of their tins way too early, so they stick to the cooling rack.  But hey, I figure it will have icing on it to cover any glitches and life is way too short to get in a tizzy about such things.

The icing is a combination of 300g icing sugar, 175 butter and a dessertspoonful or 2 of espresso coffee.

Here’s a little tip for icing sugar.  Sieve or give it a whizz round in the trusty Kenwood before adding the butter, otherwise it is an absolutely devil to get smooth.

Dollop half in between the cooled cake sponges, and half on top.  If you’re feeling particularly fancy, you could create a lovely pattern on top and sprinkle on some walnuts.

Either way, this is an absolutely delicious cake for any time of year, so cut yourself a good slab, make a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy.

 

 

 

Coffee

photo (52)

It’s a funny old thing, coffee.  When you’re young, it tastes like old men’s socks, although the exception to this is coffee and walnut cake, and then one day, right out of the blue, you have a cup of coffee and it tastes absolutely divine.

Why this is I have no idea, although I did once read that, as children we have a whole heap of taste buds that gradually disappear with age.  So it could be that, or perhaps it’s a right of passage affair.  Either way, coffee has taken on an almost evangelical quality in terms of it’s status in our society.

For me, this awareness was raised as a direct result of the television programme, ‘Sex and the City’.  When those girls bought coffee, they bought it like they meant business.  Every time.  It became a symbol of independent city living and as a result, we all bought into the notion that coffee was more than a bit player in the film of our lives.  It was the perfect accessory to the phrase ‘Places to go, people to meet, appointments to keep’.

And as a consequence, after watching an episode, who didn’t secretly swish down the street with a take away coffee in hand and a Carrie Bradshaw monologue drifting around in their head?

But my love of fresh coffee was superseded by Carrie and her chums.  My love of coffee began way back when I first travelled around Italy and discovered the Bialetti. An ingenious cooking gadget that makes coffee like no other I have ever experienced.   So it is to this beautiful piece of 1930’s design that today, I raise my coffee cup and say ‘Thank-you’ Alfonso Bialetti.   Beautiful design, wonderful coffee.

Entering the age of technology

photo (39)

 

Guess what I’m doing?  Prepare to be astounded.

I am, in fact, sitting in Waitrose cafe, free coffee at my side typing on my laptop, and I don’t mind telling you, feeling very chuffed with myself.   You see, although I have seen very groovy people type away on their laptops in cafes, and watched endless reruns of Nigella tap tapping away at her computer, surrounded by books, looking very glamorous and relaxed, I never for an instant imagined that this could be me.

I am usually flying round places packing things in, grateful that I don’t have toilet roll hanging out of my pants.

However, this morning I woke up and thought, I have a whole heap of things to do and read which are all on the laptop.  Which means, in effect, that I could be anywhere with wifi and accomplish these things.  I cannot tell you how this has transformed my thinking.

You see usually, when I have an administration morning, I am at home.  ‘How lovely’, I hear you say.  Well, it is and it isn’t.  When I’m at home I am distracted by things that need doing.  Mainly cleaning.  When I say I’m distracted, I don’t mean that I am distracted because I get on with these tasks.  On the contrary.  I just sit, work, and feel more and more guilty about not having done the tasks, often to the point where I will, that evening, telephone someone in order to discuss the household tasks I haven’t yet completed.

Although, to be fair, I’m sure there’s a law somewhere that states you do have to talk about your most dreary tasks for many, many hours, before really knuckling down to them.

Today though, the cleaning dichotomy is not even in my peripheral vision.  Today, I am getting distracted by people.  Glorious, interesting, diverse and almost without exception fascinating, people.  You know the other wonderful thing I’ve realised about ‘working’ on a laptop in a public space is that you become invisible to those around you.  Ooo, all these things I’ve yet to learn.

And so it is that I find myself catching up with the age of technology, ever so slightly, feeling very glamorous and indulgent.  All I need to do now is knuckle down and actually work.

The thing about trees…

 

balatonbranch

 

Sitting in my garden, surrounded by trees with the last glow of the day casting a glorious light on proceedings, I can’t help but feel content.  Yes, there are weeds and slugs and other wee beasties surrounding me.  Yes, there is the tinkling of the ever present ice cream van which continues until the final rays have bid their farewell to the day and yes, the blithering fox is still squarking away in the allotments down the road, an ever present being at this particular time of year, but it’s lovely.

 

There is, however, a downside to having a large cherry tree in your garden, just above where the car is parked.  Bird poo.  The bat mobile (I promise you it looks nothing like a bat mobile, but 4 year olds enjoy naming things, and who am I to quash imagination?) spends every evening as an open target for all the flying wildlife that enjoy a stop over on the cherry tree’s branches, before going on their way, and consequently, every morning, we potter down the garden to see how much coverage has happened overnight. I’d like to believe that I could keep this barrage under control, but sadly, it just doesn’t figure high enough on my agenda.  But there comes a day when the embarrassment of driving around in a bird toilet gets the better of you.  And today was that day.

 

Morning things happen and, just before I knuckle down to things which cannot be put off any more, I go for an indulgence from the wonderful Waitrose.  A free coffee.  Did you know you could pick up a free beverage every day with a Waitrose card? Genius, as I always have a quick saunter around, looking at things I’d like to buy if I had the money.

Which sometimes, I do.

So I head off to Waitrose and suddenly have a slight misgiving.  Can I really drive through the car park in a bird toilet?  I take the bull by the horns, decide it’s not my issue, and, head held high, I find a spot, do the necessary, and dismount.  Do you dismount from a car?  Anyway, I get out.  Slowly, I scan the other cars in the car parking area, looking to see just exactly how much the bat mobile stands out in the crowd.  The car next to me is covered with some sort of sticky stuff.  The car opposite has also been treated to a bird party.  The car next to that obviously has issues with a muddy driveway.  And so it continues.  Well, actually, I stop looking and flounce up the escalator with a spring in my step.

 

Later that day, myself and my beautiful 4 year old assistant clean the car.  Just as we’re about to leave, we hear hear a large plop on the roof.

 

That’s the thing about trees.