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We’re about to head off to Limerick to see in the new year – but I’ve just got enough time to squeeze in one last post for 2007…

People get just a wee bit possessive about their brownie recipes. On two different occasions recently, I was chatting to some friends, both exceptional cooks, and mentioned that I’d stumbled across a fantastic brownie recipe.

‘What?!’, each one glared at me accusingly, ‘Better than mine?’

Erm. How to answer that?

I think I mumbled something diplomatic like ‘No, of course not…’. But, and this isn’t an attractive quality, my brain was screaming, ‘Yes! Yes it is! It’s the best-ever brownie recipe in the world and it can’t be beat! Just wait till you try it!’

Clearly, I’ve also fallen victim to the Brownie Syndrome. Every cook thinks they’ve discovered the secret combination of ingredients that leads to brownie nirvana and and I’m no exception. However, there are probably as many ‘ultimate’ recipes out there as there are brownie lovers – it depends on vitally important matters such as how much flour you add to achieve your preferred consistency and whether you like nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chunks or perhaps fresh raspberries scattered through the mix. Serious stuff.

This contender for the crown (the winner! the winner!) comes from the kitchen of (who else?) Dorie Greenspan. As it happens, there are eleven different brownie recipes in ‘Baking…’ and I’ve got to admit that I’ve only tried two so far. But with its wonderful fudgy texture and the warm hint of cinnamon that hits the back of your throat, I just can’t see how anything could top this version. Guess I’ll have to try them all and report back…

Hope you all have a wonderful new year’s celebration – see you all in 2008!

French brownies from Baking – From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan

You’ll need:

½ cup of plain flour
a pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins
1½ tablespoons water
1½ tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa content), finely chopped
180g (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar

1. Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Line an 8-inch square baking tin with foil, butter the foil and place the tin on a baking sheet.

2. Whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon together.

3. Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to the boil over a medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum and let it warm for about 30 seconds, then turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum with a long match. Allow the flames to die down and then set the raisins aside.

4. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate melts. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring until it melts. It’s important that the chocolate and butter doesn’t get very hot. However, if the butter isn’t melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you’ve got a couple of bits of unmelted butter, leave them – it’s better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole.

5. Working with a stand/hand-held mixer, in a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale – about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter mixture, mixing only until it is incorporated – you’ll have a thick creamy batter.

6. Then finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. Fold in the raisins, along with any liquid remaining in the pan. Scrape the batter into the baking tin.

7. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the top is dry and crackled, and a thin knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to warm/room temperature.

8. Carefully lift the brownies out of the tin, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any dark rum the first time I made this recipe, so I just left out the raisins (step 3) and added about a teaspoon of vanilla instead. Not sure if it made any difference, but the resulting brownies still tasted good 🙂

Don’t be tempted to add more than the amount of cinnamon specified. One eighth of a teaspoon may not sound like a lot (especially to a cinnamon fiend like me) but it’s just right.
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This is something I used to dream about in my last job, staring at a watery cuppa and a stale bun, wondering how I was going to cram all the work in unless I developed several clones. One day, I quietly vowed, on that tantalisingly out-of-reach day when I have nothing much to do except please myself, I will make delicious muffins. And I will take the chance to slow down and appreciate them properly, fresh and warm from the oven – every last soft, rich, chocolatey bite.

Today was that day.

And they were goooooooood.

Ok, I’m not working at the moment but I’m not completely free to please myself forever – unfortunately my bank account won’t allow it 😦 So now I have to find a new job. But at least I’ll have some proper muffins to help me through any stressful times!

Chocolate choc-chip muffins from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 12

90g unsalted butter
110g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 190C/ gas mark 5. Butter or spray a 12-hole muffin pan or line with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

2. Melt the butter and half of the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or do this in a microwave). Remove from the heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined.

4. Pour the liquid ingredients, as well as the melted butter-chocolate mix, over the dry ingredients and with the whisk, or a spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter.

5. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from the pan.

Cook’s notes

I chopped up the chocolate into pieces that were a bit to small – so most of them melted into the batter as the muffins cooked. But they still tasted fab, so no biggy.

However, I’d probably crank up the chocolate chunk quotient next time. I’d say use 55g for the melted choc that becomes part of the batter, as per directions above, and maybe 100g for extra chocolatey chunk goodness.

Last night I couldn’t stop thinking about cookies – more specifically, chocolate chip cookies. Don’t know why but I got all twitchy around 10pm last night and had to make a batch. So, with my favourite baking book in hand, I marched into the kitchen like a woman possessed and this was the result:

Crispy round the edges and a little bit chewy in the middle, with big chocolate chunks melting slightly into the vanilla-scented dough… Just what I was after. (I was going to say, ‘Just what the doctor ordered,’ but I don’t think that cookies are an approved medical treatment. Yet.)

Mr. B waited for the shortest amount of time possible after they came out of the oven before crumbling warm cookies over homemade vanilla icecream (thanks again, David Lebovitz). Oh wow, that was good.

He was supposed to take the rest round to his mum’s house today on the way to work (Mr. B, not Mr Lebovitz) – but the tub is still on the kitchen worktop. I think this means he doesn’t want to share. And, secretly, neither do I…

Chocolate chip cookies from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 45 cookies

You’ll need:

2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
225g (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips (about 2 cups)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper

2. Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda.

3. Working with a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well blended.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Beat in the vanilla too.
5. Using a rubber spatula (or reduce the mixer speed to low), add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. Then add the chocolate chips and the nuts.

6. Spoon the dough in slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each spoonful.

7. Bake the cookies – one sheet at a time – and rotating the sheet at the midway point – for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are brown around the edges – they may still be a little soft in the middle.

8. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Cook’s notes

Doh, I forgot to add the nuts. That’s what you get for late-night baking.

I used a mixture of plain chocolate and Green & Black’s Mayan Gold – a spicy orange chocolate that added a little fillip to the flavour.

A slightly rounded tablespoon of dough may not look like much on the baking sheet but be warned – these babies spread. I added a bit more dough to the first batch in the oven, convinced that the amount specified would produce teeny cookies. I ended up with several mutant ‘figure-of-8’-shaped ones instead. Still tasted good though 🙂

Dorie notes that the dough stores well in the fridge for 3 days or that you can freeze it. Even in full cookie-craving mode there’s no way we could get through a whole batch. (Forty-five in one sitting? Maybe another day…) So I’ve taken her advice by freezing individual portions on a tray and bagging them when solid, ready for the next time I want cookies late at night.

It doesn’t matter if I walk into a shop with a strict list of ingredients, I will inevitably walk out with something I never knew I needed until that precise moment. That’s why my cupboards are crammed with crap, er, esoteric foodstuffs.

Anyhoo, what I like to call the ‘supermarket zombie effect’ – brain switched off, automatic pilot engaged as you wander numbly round the aisles to the strains of muzak and whinging children – kicked in the other day at the supermarket and I left with 10 peaches. (Two packs for 4 euro! Bargain! But how does that work for the farmers?)

Once I’d returned home and re-engaged my brain, I examined my haul and I’ve got to say that I didn’t have high hopes for the little suckers – most of my impulse buys turn out to be bad ideas that end up mouldering in the cupboard, fridge or a bowl somewhere until they look like science experiments. However, probably because it’s peach season, these ones were really pretty good. More than that, they were excellent. Yay for seasonality and eating things at their proper time.

Normally, when I’m lucky enough to stumble across perfectly ripe fruit, I like to eat it in its raw state, juices messily dribbling down my chin (you can’t take me anywhere). So it’s been peaches with everything for the past couple of days. Then my baking gene kicked in and I just had to do something that meant at least a few of those peaches, some flour, sugar and butter would meet up in the oven to perform some kind of sweet alchemy. (Eurgh. Why am I hearing some kind of Barry White-esque tune as I write that? I’m not bloody Allie McBeal.)

Dorie Greenspan to the rescue again (although not from my sudden Barry White problem). I’m really going to have to write some kind of slavishly sycophantic fanmail to this very sweet-sounding lady – all the recipes I’ve tried so far from her latest book has produced amazing results. I’m also going to have to make sure I don’t publish every single recipe from her book online, otherwise her publishers might, understandably enough, get a bit pissed off.

The original recipe is for a winter upside-down cake with cranberries – something I’m bookmarking for the festive season. This version is the alternative she suggests for the summer months and it’s sublime – the already succulent peaches become silky soft, melting on your tongue, and then there’s the lighter-than-expected cinnamon-scented sponge which complements the fruit beautifully…

I love cinnamon a lot – so much so that I usually chuck in some extra when I’m baking. But, bearing in mind how well Dorie’s other recipes have worked so far, I exercised unheard of restraint and just put in the one teaspoon she recommended. And, of course, she’s absolutely right.

Upside-down peach cake from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

You’ll need:

1 cup of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A pinch of salt
3 ripe peaches
190g butter at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of full-fat milk

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease an 8-inch round (and 2-inch deep) cake pan and place it on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and set aside.
3. Melt 80 grams of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan. Set aside.
4. Skin the peaches by dropping them briefly in boiling water. Pit and slice the peaches, then lay them out in a pattern on top of the butter/sugar mix in the cake pan.
5. In a large bowl, beat the remaining 110g of butter until smooth. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and continue to beat until creamy – about 3 minutes.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the vanilla and briefly beat this in too.
7. Using a wooden spoon (or a lower speed on a stand mixer, if you have one), add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk and then the rest of the dry ingredients.
8. Spoon this mixture over the peaches in the cake tin and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
9. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a thin knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 30 minutes, so that the peachy juices have a chance to settle into the cake.
11. Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate and serve.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
December 2017
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