Sometimes a girl just needs chocolate. And when I mean ”needs”, I mean fishing under sofa cushions for spare change and then running down to the local shop in your pyjamas kinda “need”. And today, I really, really needed a chocolate fix. Was this due to the civilized meal with friends that turned into a raucous Make You Own Margarita night back in Casa Biriyani? Or maybe the fact that it’s Sunday and I know I have 5 more days of tired, fractious and stressed out pupils to deal with before heading off to Caribbean bliss in Cancun? Either way I knew I “needed” chocolate from the moment I woke up and I needed it fast.
Luckily, because I am super organized I always have good cooking chocolate in my baking cupboard. Unfortunately, both YM and I had been nibbling at it in secret (without letting on to each other). I opened my cupboard to discover that my good cooking chocolate had quietly disappeared as a result of two-pronged, silent attacks all through the week. So, another Sunday was spent traipsing around the supermarket and all because I had my heart set on fulfilling my chocolate craving with homemade chocolate brownies.
Brownies are one of the first things I actually managed to bake successfully. When I was growing up in Bahrain there was only one bookshop on the island that carried books in English. As we were a very bookish family we were rarely satiated with the meager fare on display at the Family Bookshop (a total misnomer –unless your family wanted a library that consisted of coffee table books of Bahraini oil rigs and ‘practise at home’ maths books). Luckily, my dad used to receive a book catalogue from England once a year. We were each allowed to choose 5 books and the day that Dad came home at lunch time with that shiny paper catalogue was probably one of my favourite days of the year!
I absolutely adore reading. I love the total escapism and the power that words have to create a picture. I love that no matter how tedious my day has been, as soon as I open a book I can be falling madly in love with the handsome lord of the manor, running for my life from the Mafia across eastern Europe or sipping champagne in a New York cocktail bar. As a total fantasist, I need this opportunity to get carried away so I can stay focused and practical in my day job. I know what happens if I don’t read a book for a while. My daydreaming permeates my school work and drifting off into a well constructed daydream involving sexy American spies with a life or death mission to complete when trying to teach twenty 15 year olds about the wonders of diffusion can be pretty humiliating (trust me).
This love of reading was nurtured by my parents and has been carried through to my adulthood. My book collection easily climbs above 500 and is one of my mother’s daily complaints. She doesn’t understand why I need to hold onto my books after I have read them. I don’t really either. It probably sounds insane but when I read a book I always emotionally involve myself with the story and the characters. So much so that giving a book away after reading it feels like I am giving away a part of myself (because I have invested so much of myself when reading it in the first place).
However, these airy-fairy justifications don’t really work when your 3 for a tenner Waterstones specials are cluttering up your parent’s attic space. And it especially doesn’t work when your parents move back from living abroad for 25 years and have 25 years worth of tat to store urgently. Last year I bought YM a Kindle for Christmas. I say ‘bought’ but I used his credit card by mistake (honestly!) and to date it has 40 of my books and 2 of his. I also have managed to fill two of the living room bookshelves even though we have only been in Mexico a year and a half. The conclusion to this story then…. I’m probably a bit mental. And Amazon one-click is enabling my behaviour. I’m sure there is potential for a law suit somewhere here.
Anyway, one of the books I ordered from my dad’s catalogue when I was 9 was a children’s cookbook, “Jane Asher’s Eats for Treats’. I have no idea what prompted this rather random choice. Up until this point I had never actually thought about making food. Just eating it as quickly as possible so I could go back to whatever mysterious 9-year old fantasy I was in the midst of that particular day. However when the book arrived I was instantly smitten. It was a hard-backed book with simple recipes to cook with your mum at home. Each glossy page had children representing pretty much every British ethnic minority joyfully stirring things. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and I really wanted to join that party.
My first experiment from this book was a total disaster. My friend and I decided to kickstart our future careers as chefs by attempting to make peppermint creams. These ordinarily are one of the simplest sweets to put together with very little actual cooking involved. However, plain white sweets are a bit too boring for a couple of 9 year old girls. Especially when my mum had bottles of food colouring in various garish shades hiding behind the mayonnaise in the fridge. So we decided to colour them blue, orange and red. However, having never done anything like this before we decided to add about half a bottle of each colour to the mixture (against all warnings).
The result mixture tasted rancid and bitter. Half a kilo of icing sugar had to be thrown out and the colour stains never really faded from the table. My friend gave up after this but I was even more determined to succeed. Especially when my mum made cooking and baking look so easy. So I kept trying (and failing miserably). Fortune cookies that were too brittle to be folded, muffins that were distinctly chewy, a sponge cake that had the texture of sawdust. In my young eyes Jane Asher (and not my total lack of experience) was consistently letting me down.
Until I tried her chocolate brownie recipe. It was an incredibly simple all in one recipe with actual chocolate being substituted for cocoa powder and drinking chocolate. The result was rather anaemic looking brownies that were really brown cakes more than the dense, fudgey, chocolatey goodness that is a decent brownie. However, I actually made something edible! Something that my mum and dad didn’t politely take a bite of, pronounce delicious and then chuck in the bin when I wasn’t looking! Hurrah! My future as a cook was set!
Since I have gotten older I realized that as brownie recipes go, there is really no substitute for butter and chocolate if you want a decent brownie. I’ve tried a lot of different recipes for brownies but the best one I have found is Suelle’s from her superb blog Mainly Baking. In fact, I have tried a few recipes off this blog and they have been total winners every time!
So, here is my stolen recipe for the ultimate chocolate brownie, guaranteed to fulfill ANY chocolate craving and ridiculously easy to put together. Thanks again Suelle, you have made all the occupants of Casa Biriyani very very happy!
You will need the following:
- 600g of sugar (yes – that is the correct amount- its what makes them gooey I promise)
- 250 g plain flour
- Vanilla extract (I didn’t have any but I have proper vanilla sugar as a damn good substitute!)
- 200g butter
- 250 good dark chocolate (60% cocoa plus)
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
- 4 large eggs ( or 4 medium ones and a tiny one in my case!)
Good brownies are all about good ingredients. Don’t try and substitute proper butter or decent chocolate for margarine and Cadburys Dairy Milk – you will be sorely disappointed. This is ironic coming from me I know, but this is one of the rare cases where substituting ingredients will not work.
Begin by pre-heating your oven to 175 degrees C. Line a baking tin with baking parchment and oil the sides as well.
Now break up your chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Ideally, try and use a big bowl you can eventually mix everything else into. This fab recipe is an all-in-one job so it saves on washing up if you pick your bowl carefully!
Now add your chopped up butter.
Place your bowl on top of a pan of boiling water and gently stir until both the butter and chocolate melt into a rich silky chocolate sauce.
Once the chocolate mixture has cooled (it needs to be warm but comfortable when you stick a finger in – if you need to remove your finger – it’s too hot!), add your sugar. Stir it in until everything is well combined.
Now add your eggs one at time. Make sure you combine your egg really well before cracking in your next one. The mixture should start to look glossy again.
Sift in the flour and then the cocoa powder.
Stick it into your baking tin. Ideally the mixture shouldn’t be more than 3cm deep.
Pop the baking tin in the oven. It will take over an hour for these brownies to bake. It really depends on how gooey you like them. I tend to cook them for an hour and then test them every 10-15 min after that. When the toothpick comes out almost clean that’s when I tend to take them out of the oven.
When they are ready to come out, you must resist temptation and leave them to cool in the tine for at least 5 minutes. Then cut them into squares using a really thin, really sharp knife. Needless to say, with two hungry boys living in Casa Biriyani, no way was waiting ever going to happen. I also don’t have a sharp thin knife. So my brownies have fuzzy edges and look like they are falling to pieces. But they are the epitome of dark, fudgey chocolatey more-ishness which thankfully means I won’t be running down to the shop in my pyjamas tonight!