alfajores payes – TSP christmas cookie week

stackbutton2It’s 1.23am on Friday 20th December, 2013. Instead of getting ready for bed, I’m kneading a batch of cinnamon shortbread dough. Why? Well, firstly because I promised you a recipe for alfajores payes in this post from almost a fortnight ago. Secondly, because I kinda like my friend Erin from The Speckled Palate.

Erin’s hosting a Christmas Cookie Week this week and today’s the deadline for adding to the gorgeous stack of delights including salted caramel thumbprint cookies, vanilla bean shortbread cookies and classic coconut macaroons (all recipes available via the Christmas Cookie Week link). As abovementioned, by contribution to this week’s cookie goodness is a recipe for alfajores payes, chocolate-coated Argentinean shortbread cookies filled with thick salted dulce de leche caramel.

spreading dish

The recipe I’ve included for alfajores payes was originally sourced here from The Gourmet Traveller. After completing a trial batch, I made some minor changes including a reduction in the diameter of the cookies (my first batch were 6.5cm but I found them to be a little too large, so I’ve reduced the measurement in the recipe to 5.5cm), doubling the amount of cinnamon for spiced goodness (from 1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and adding a sprinkling of sea salt atop the dulce de leche before sandwiching the cookies together (the little ‘pop’ of sea salt flakes adds a gorgeous layer of complexity to this already divine Argentinean biscuit).

I also chose to make the shortbread dough by hand rather than with a food processor, because… well, I’m a bit like that. Floured hands, cold butter and a wooden bench make me feel like I’m doing good in the world.

setup

You may also notice that I’ve dipped my sandwich biscuits into the tempered chocolate rather than spreading it with a pastry brush. This was mainly due to being time poor, however I have included both techniques in the recipe text below. The advantage of brush application is that the top and bottom layers of chocolate set independently, creating a neater finish. Dipping each biscuit is far more efficient but will likely create a ‘foot’ of chocolate that pools as the liquid sets.

As this will likely be my last post before the Christmas arrives, I’d like to wish everyone a blessed, merry and peaceful Christmas week. Thanks for the Christmas wishes and inspiration over the past month!

two

Alfajores Payes (cinnamon shortbread with caramel filling)

Makes 24 sandwich biscuits.

*Begin this recipe one day ahead.

Biscuits:

  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour, sieved
  • 1/4 cup (40g) pure icing sugar, sieved
  • 250g cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dulce de leche filling:

  • 395g can sweetened condensed milk, unopened
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes

To serve:

  • pure icing sugar, to dust, or
  • 150g tempered melted dark chocolate (65% cocoa solids), to coat

For the dulce de leche: Place the can of condensed milk in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cook, covered with a weighted lid, over low heat for 3 1/2 hours. Do not uncover or touch the can whilst it cooks as it may explode.

Turn off the heat, then leave to cool completely (for at least 2 hours) before removing the can. Ensure that the can is completely cold before opening it. Transfer the caramel to a bowl, add in 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes and stir to combine completely. Cover and refrigerate whilst you make your biscuits.

For the shortbread biscuits: Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and 1/4 tsp fine sea salt in a bowl. Dice the butter and add it to the dry mixture gradually, rubbing it in until the mixture comes together. Knead until a dough forms, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

Roll the dough out to 5mm thickness on a floured work surface, then cut into rounds using an upturned glass or a 5.5cm diameter cookie cutter (re-roll the scraps). Transfer to flat, even baking trays lined with baking paper, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Remove the biscuits from the refrigerator once chilled, and transfer directly to oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes on the tray, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

To serve: Spread half of the cookies with dulce de leche. Sprinkle on a few flakes of the extra sea salt, then top with the remaining biscuits. Place onto a wire rack.

spreadcircle

Temper your chocolate (I’m not going to go into the finer details here, see David Lebovitz’s guide or my friend Trixie’s blog for instructions), then brush one half and sides of each biscuit with melted chocolate.

dip dipped

Tempered chocolate cools fast, so if you’ve processed your chocolate properly the coating should set within the hour. Turn over and brush the other side with melted chocolate, stand until set (as explained above, I placed all of my melted chocolate into a shallow bowl and dipped half of each biscuit into it. After allowing excess chocolate to drain, I placed the biscuits onto lined trays to set).

chocolate

Store your biscuits in an airtight container in a cool place for up to four days.

the-speckled-palate-blog-banner-MOVING

A huge thanks to the gorgeous Erin also for the opportunity to participate in the event that is Christmas Cookie Week. Make sure you check out The Speckled Palate‘s official link for much more cookie goodness!

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saffron pear and dark chocolate tart

crust

It was Federal election day yesterday. For over fourteen hours, Australians around the country were scratching their heads, queuing, eating sausage sizzles and numbering boxes on white and green ballot papers. At 6.00pm Western Australian time, the last polling station closed as the sun dipped below the horizon. Counting began and we, the people, waited.

From a personal point of view, Aaron and I waited at our friend Manuel’s house. For the first time, we held a spur of the moment ‘Election Party’ complete with multiple televisions, a barrel bonfire, high carbohydrate snacks and plenty of soothing beverages.

applecab radishes

We lounged on outdoor couches as the media counted votes and seats, snacking on pistachios whilst commenting on the value of Australian democracy (for which, to clarify, I’m very grateful) and our strange Prime Ministerial candidates.

The most prominent were 1. Clive Palmer, an eclectic, singing oil and gas billionaire with an AU$70 million aeroplane, a replica Titanic and a Jurassic Park-under-construction, 2. Tony Abbott the lycra-clad, foot-in-mouth Liberal, 3. present Prime Minister for the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd the backstabbing ‘psychopath’, 4. Bob Katter and his ‘quality blokes and sheilas’ and 5. Christine Milne the self-professed Greens ‘underdog’. Ah, dear. Quality indeed (if you’re interested in further pre-vote commentary on this present election, take a look at Rob Pop’s excellent post on his blog, Humans are Weird. So good, as is this post-election blooper reel).

tablelectionfirepit

My food contribution was a platter of pulled pork rolls with extra chilli and pork crackling, all of which were inhaled in minutes with cold Coronas and earthy Shiraz. As rain started to fall, we retreated to Manuel’s ‘band room’ to play lego before eventually heading home at 12.30am (just kidding. That Duplo actually belongs to our friend’s child, Lorena. I just wish it was mine).

It’s now 9.00am on Sunday, 8th September 2013. We have a new Prime Minister – the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott – a former Rhodes scholar, boxer and trainee Priest who wears lycra bicycle shorts, has three ‘not bad looking daughters‘, makes unfortunate media gaffes and smuggles budgies to the beach. Our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has conceded defeat and retreated to the back bench.

pears peel

This morning’s media is full of the night-that-was, with rife speculation over the future leadership of the Australian Labor party and various candidates who failed to retain their seats. In the glare of the morning sun, other marginal candidates are up to their usual antics while I sit on my couch crunching through a bowl of almond granola, organic yoghurt and strawberries.

I’m unusually tired, bleary eyed and vague. I’ve also realised that half of this chocolate tart post has been consumed with political sentiment. Okay, let’s revise.

chocolate

It’s been a very long time since I made a ‘proper’ chocolate tart. Brownies, yes. Flourless chocolate cakes, fondants, mousse and pavlova? Yes. But a pastry base, filled with chocolate ganache? I think it’s been about a year… the last significant effort being a luscious salted caramel and 70% cocoa tart that received rave reviews at a Summer dinner party.

This particular tart was made after I discovered a recipe by Matthew Evans in a recent edition of SBS Feast magazine (an occasional magazine-stand indulgence, due to its beautiful multicultural recipes and inspiring photographs). I immediately fell in love with the combination of star anise, saffron, pear and dark chocolate, lovingly wrapped in buttery pastry.

saffronopen

Now, as you well know… I struggle when following recipes. I’m constantly tempted to exercise my ‘creative license’ through adaptations, substitutions and omissions. This time round, I’m proud to say that I almost followed the exact recipe; my two modifications were: 1. the substitution of 70% cocoa dark chocolate for half of the specified milk, and 2. the substitution of 50% more Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum instead of the specified brandy.

I loved this tart. Every bite announces the bitterness of dark chocolate on the palate, softened by sweet, saffron-infused pear, notes of star anise, buttery pastry and the warmth of rum. It’s spectacular to present also; black-brown against soft yellow with streaks of fine crimson and powdered sugar.

staranise

Due to its richness, I’d recommend serving this tart in fine slices with a dollop of double cream or crème fraîche. If desired, you can also reduce the saffron-infused poaching water down to a syrup. It looks beautiful when drizzled onto the plate.

halfeaten

Saffron Pear and Dark Chocolate Tart

This tart takes roughly 4 hours to make. I’d recommend starting the day before if you can.

Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Evans, published in Feast, Issue 23 / August 2013

Pastry:

  • 230g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp raw caster sugar
  • 110g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup (220g) raw caster sugar
  • generous pinch of genuine saffron
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 pears (Beurre Bosc or Gold Rush preferable), peeled, halved and cored
  • 200ml full-fat thickened cream
  • 10 star anise
  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 3-4 tbsp rum or brandy (to taste)
  • Icing sugar, to serve – optional

To make the pastry: place the flour, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor bowl. Process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg yolk with 60ml iced water. With the food processor motor running, gradually add the egg yolk and water to the flour mix; process until the mixture just comes together.

pastrymix

Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling.

pastrycase

When adequately chilled, roll the pastry disc out to a 3mm thick circle. Line the base and sides of a greased 24cm pie dish or tasrt pan, then prick all over with a fork. Place the unbaked pastry case in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Remove the pastry from the freezer, then line the case with baking paper and pie weights, uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until the base of the pastry is dry to touch. Set aside to cool.

poaching

To make the filling: place 1L of water into a large saucepan with the caster sugar, saffron and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then add the pears. Bring to a simmer (if the pears start floating, weigh them down with a saucer so that they are fully immersed in the liquid). Cover with a cartouche (see image on right), reduce heat to medium-low and poach pears for 30 minutes or until tender (easily pierced with a knife).

poachingpearmont

Allow to cool, then cut each pear half lengthwise into two pieces.

Place the cream and star anise into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the cream to just below boiling point (small bubbles should just be appearing). Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

creamstaranise sieve

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Strain the cream through a fine strainer to remove the star anise and any ‘milk skin’. Place back into a medium pot and reheat. Add chocolate all at once, whisking continuously until smooth.

melted

When the mixture is glossy and lump-free, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the brandy or rum. Allow to cool.

To bake: preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Evenly spread the cooled tart shell with the star-anise flavoured ganache, then very gently lay the pears onto the surface in a circular pattern, as below (try and make sure that the pears don’t sink too much).

prebake

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or until the ganache is just set. Cool completely before cutting with a heated knife.

Serve with double cream, dusted with icing sugar if desired.

piece4

vegan coconut caramel and dark chocolate slice

compolikeIf you’re an Australian child of the 90’s, you may remember the Cadbury Caramello Koala advert featuring a bastardized version of Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow‘ (you can watch the video here). I both loved and hated that song. It got stuck in my head for days, torturing me with a caramel-filled earworm that’s remained attached to my brain stem some sixteen years later.

But despite the lyrical annoyance, I still eat the darn things. Why? Well, they’re delicious little koala-shaped Dairy Milk chocolates filled with smooth, sticky golden caramel. They’re blissful enough to overcome the strongest of psychological aversions, particularly as chocolate-covered caramel is one of my all-time favourite vices.

cocktailmakingOver the past few years, I’ve probably eaten at least one Caramello Koala a week; definitely more at my last workplace, where Cadbury fundraising boxes were a permanent charitable fixture in the lunch room.

However, as of this week, I’ll no longer be reliant on Caramellos for my chocolate-covered caramel fix. I have a new favourite: Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice, the delicious brainchild of my gorgeous friend Krystel (aka Zendarenn) who visited last Sunday for a cooking catch-up, complete with elderflower Mojitos, board games and a tasting panel of hungry men.

cocktail2Caramel slice is a popular treat in my homeland of Australia. It’s known as ‘Millionaire’s shortbread’ in Great Britain, possibly due to its obscene richness when made with lashings of butter and refined sugar. In terms of deliciousness, it’s got the trifecta: crisp, buttery shortbread topped with smooth, rich caramel and a layer of thick, melted dark chocolate. It’s like a Twix bar on steroids, and in my sweet-toothed brain, that’s definitely a good thing.

We ate these caramel slices in the cool of the evening after feasting on a pulled lamb shoulder, young courgettes with preserved lemon, goats cheese and olives, herbed roasted Royal Blue potatoes and homemade lemon aioli. After the first bite, six self-proclaimed ‘gluten-free and vegan intolerant’ carnivores were reduced to quiet murmurs of chocolate-coated caramel bliss. They swiftly went back for seconds, and for some, thirds. Complete success.

caramel2potatoes2In terms of food intolerances, Krystel’s recipe is an absolute dream-come-true. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free, and whilst it does contain refined sugar, it’s in significantly lower amounts to many other caramel slice recipes in the blogosphere. As the caramel is made with coconut milk, there’s also an additional rich, fragrant hint of coconut goodness in every bite.

If you’re allergic to nuts, you can easily substitute the nut meal in this recipe for oat flour or rice flour. I’d probably increase the melted fat (Nuttelex or Earth Balance) by 25g to compensate for the additional dryness, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

This is the perfect recipe for a portable lunch box treat, coffee accompaniment or dessert. However, despite the ‘healthier’ ingredients, it’s still rather rich. I’d recommend you start with a small piece and come back for seconds.

omglsVegan Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice

Begin this recipe one day ahead. Makes about 20 small pieces

Biscuit Base:

  • 125g Nuttelex, Earth Balance or other vegan spread, melted
  • 1/2 cup (65g) almond meal, hazelnut meal or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 cup (65g) rice flour
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut

Coconut Caramel:

  • 2 x 400g cans full-fat coconut milk (do not substitute coconut cream*)
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 30g Nuttelex
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Chocolate Layer:

  • 170g vegan dark chocolate (dairy-free, 70% cocoa solids or greater)
  • 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil

For the coconut caramel: Combine coconut milk and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower the temperature to a slow simmer.

coconutmilkmontCook, stirring occasionally, for around two hours or until thickened and halved in volume. Carefully stir in the Nuttelex and golden syrup (be aware: the mixture may splatter at this point).

syruprunContinue to cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes golden brown, thick and glossy (about one hour). Set aside whilst you prepare your biscuit base.

For the biscuit base: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm slice pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the rice flour, nut meal, coconut and melted Nuttelex until just moistened (the mixture should resemble coarse breadcrumbs). Tip the mixture into your prepared pan, then press down firmly in an even layer.

basemontBake for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned. Pour over your caramel filling and spread it into a smooth layer.

caramelpour2Bake for around 10 minutes or until the caramel is darkened and bubbling (it may resemble a moonscape at this point but don’t be overly concerned; the surface will smooth a little as it cools). Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before adding your chocolate layer.

For the chocolate: Using a double boiler or microwave, melt the dark chocolate and oil together.

chocomontMix well, ensuring that the oil is fully emulsified, then pour over the cold slice. Smooth gently with a knife to create an even surface.

caramelchocRefrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight before eating in small pieces with a hot cup of coffee. So, so good.

caramel3 caramelcuNotes:

  • The initial condensing of the coconut milk can be done the day before. Just store your thickened condensed milk in an airtight container or jar until ready to use.
  •  If you can resist temptation, make these bars one day ahead of serving to give the flavours some time to soften and meld together (all of us agreed that they were even better – with a crunchier base and tastier filling – the next day)
  • *Don’t be tempted to use coconut cream in place of the coconut milk. Though the cream thickens well during the condensing process, it tends to split into a layer of coconut solids and coconut oil (the latter of which rises to the top in an oily film during the baking process). If you do use cream, you may need to blot off a layer of coconut oil on the caramel after baking before adding the chocolate layer.
  • This slice gets ridiculously hard in the refrigerator so leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Krystel and I would also recommend using a hot knife (dip your knife into boiled water, dry it then cut whilst still hot) to prevent the chocolate from cracking and splintering.
  • This slice can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks

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flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup. with hippy vic

clseupIt’s just passed three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been up for approximately four hours, mostly spent in a sleepy daze whilst sitting in the dappled sun from our balcony window. Ice cubes clink in my water glass, dancing merrily in transparent liquid. Cheerios crunch against my teeth. I’m still a little dazed from the fullness of the Saturday-that-was.

‘Fullness’ is a good descriptive actually, in every sense of the word. We spent twelve hours of our Saturday between three beautiful houses, eating, drinking, laughing and cooking with wonderful friends. Yes. Twelve hours. That’s three meals with a little exercise and driving in-between (emphasis on ‘a little’ as to be honest; we mostly just ate).

beeThis massive day of food was the brainchild of my gorgeous friend Hippy Vic, who was first introduced to you in my Curing Olives post two months ago. Vic has spent the past month organizing a progressive, roving menu between her home and two mutual friends’ houses, all of whom live about 20 minutes north east of the Perth city centre.

wineRegrettably, Aaron and I spent most of the day eating and not taking photographs. However, I can provide the full day’s menu, as follows:

Breakfast by Floss and Simon: Soft-poached eggs with crispy bacon, herbed tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, hash browns and sourdough toast / tea and coffee / fresh orange juice

Lunch by Alex and Merryl: Hot Turkish bread with artichoke dip, extra virgin oil and dukkah / grilled chicken, vegetable and crisp-fried haloumi stacks with lemony crème fraîche foam / homemade vanilla bean ice cream, salted caramel apples, Cointreau, fresh strawberries and sweet hazelnut dukkah / fresh apple, triple sec and Hendrick’s gin cocktail / coffee

Dinner by Vicky and Laura: Slow-roasted lamb shoulder / mint pesto / lemon pistachio tabbouleh /  baba ghannouj with lemon oil / cucumber and cumin yoghurt with smoked sea salt / marinated eggplant with chilli and garlic / pomegranate salad with micro-greens, avocado, pistachio and soft-curd feta / Persian flatbread / flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup (recipe to follow) / Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)

Twelve hours of absolute food indulgence. Both Aaron and I left Vicky and Mark’s house in a state of slightly sleepy, full-bellied bliss.

candlechocNow, without further ado, let me introduce you to Hippy Vic‘s recipe for Flourless Orange and Cacao Cake.

Vicky and I made the cake at around 6:00pm last night. She states that the original recipe was transcribed from her friend Melissa’s recipe book (Mel originally found it in a recipe guide for the Thermomix appliance) but ingredients and quantities have been swapped around in reckless abandon, eventually creating an entirely different version of the original cake.

In flurry of nut meal and cacao, I snapped urgent photos of the cooking process as the last of the afternoon sunlight faded into blackness.

choccinnamonThe cake was eventually served at around 8:30pm, with the last minute addition of a fragrant spiced orange syrup (due to concerns about dreaded cake ‘dryness’ from Vicky… though she needn’t have worried).

I sliced up some home-grown Valencia oranges and threw them into a saucepan with a cinnamon quill, star anise, some raw sugar and fresh orange juice. After the simmering liquid reduced to a syrup consistency, it was poured over the rustic, warm cake and topped with spiced slices of chewy orange rind. It was perfect addition to the dense, dark cake… the rind contrasted beautifully against the chewy, chocolatey crumb.

*I must apologise for some of the poor quality, 60’s-magazine style photographs in this post. The finished cake was shot entirely in artificial light and has a resultant yellowish tinge (oh, it hurts).

straightoutovenFlourless Orange and Cacao Cake

  • 200g finely ground nut meal (we used 160g almond meal, 40g hazelnut meal)
  • 2 whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 large, free-range eggs
  • 200g raw caster sugar
  • 40g organic cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g good-quality dark eating chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
  • Optional: 2 tbsp Cointreau or other good-quality Triple Sec

Half-fill a large saucepan with water, then add your oranges. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 60-90 minutes or until a knife easily pierces through each fruit (if your water boils down too much, add more as required). Drain fruit and discard cinnamon quills. Leave for 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

blendmontWhen adequately cooled, slice each orange into pieces and add them into the bowl of a food processor.

Process the fruit until smooth, then tip the blended oranges into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground cinnamon, cacao powder, nut meal, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, chopped dark chocolate and Cointreau (if using). Mix well.

eggchocPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm round springform cake tin (or just shove baking paper in and force it to conform, if you’re Vic!), then set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat your (happy) eggs to soft peaks. Gently fold them into your orange mixture, then pour the lot into the lined cake tin.

stircacaoBake for 30-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Serve as it is, with cream and/or ice cream, or topped with the spiced orange syrup (to follow).

cakesideSpiced Orange Syrup

Makes about 1/4 cup syrup

  • 2 (small) whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw caster sugar (to taste, we only used about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 star anise

Slice your whole oranges into 0.3cm slices, then place into a medium saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to a gentle simmer. Simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the orange peels have softened and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

orangesRemove your orange slices from the syrup, then set aside. Discard star anise and cinnamon quill. Whilst still in the tin, pierce holes all over the top of your cake with a thin skewer, then pour over the spiced orange syrup. Allow to soak for about 5-10 minutes before removing from the tin and transferring to a serving platter.

Top your cake with the orange slices in a circular pattern. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if desired.

cakechocmontNote: If you’d like a good read, the beautiful Hippy Vic has a couple more posts up on her own site, including her latest post which includes a recipe for Mauritian Goat Curry (from fellow bloggers Alex and Priya, aka Boy Meets Girl Meets Food. Also worth visiting for fantastic recipes and travel posts)

boozy black cherry brownies

goodcloseEleven months ago, little Laura the fledgling blogger clicked ‘publish’ on a comprehensive recipe for her very own version of walnut fudge brownies. In her mind, these weren’t just any brownies; they were the best brownies in the world. Or possibly, the stratosphere.

In fact, these little squares of chocolatey goodness had been known to melt hearts, win friends and rescue cats out of trees. In a word? They were magnificent; unequivocally loved by lovers, family and friends for over ten years.

cocoamontOver the next few weeks, the rain came and went; grey changed to green and Winter slowly melted into Spring. As the trees started to sprout new leaves, Laura’s little post sat virtually untouched on the dusty shelf of cyberspace. As the days passed, her mind began to question the worth of the little post. Was it special? Was it nonpareil?

Despite being a touch unyielding, the answer was a deep, dark recalcitrant ‘no’ that chimed from the depths of the Google ocean; for this is where the brownie recipe sat, obscured by weeds of advertising and over eleven million moist, chocolatey clones.

silhouetteSo, after that long introduction, you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m posting yet another brownie recipe. Ha. I’m wondering the same thing, actually. By feeble explanation, this recipe wandered into my head spontaneously whilst I was staring at a bag of cherries.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be well aware that I’m all for seasonal, organic and local produce. Homegrown, if possible. I don’t normally tolerate imported fruit, particularly if it’s likely to have been waxed and sprayed prior to transport. However, after two months of mind-numbing apples, pears and oranges at the markets (darn boring Winter fruit) my resolve shattered and I squirreled home a bag of plump, dark stone fruit from the US of A.

cherrypitsUpon arriving home, I rinsed the fruit lightly, watching beads of moisture splash into the sink. I ate one, my mind flickering through options for dessert consumption: cherry pie? cherry clafoutis? black forest cake? Distractedly, my glance fell upon some nearby port wine and… click. Boozy cherry brownies: the dessert fairy had spoken.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that these are the best brownies in the world. Because they’re not. Well, probably not (how can you tell, with another eleven million comparisons?). I’ll tell you what I do know. These brownies are rich with dark chocolate, moist and fruity from the soft, boozy cherries and decidedly fudgy without being cloying. They’re naturally bittersweet. Their dark tinge of streaky crimson looks beautiful on the plate as it seeps into accompanying ice cream.

chocolatecutOh, that reminds me: on Saturday night, we ate them warm à la mode; drizzled with chocolate fudge and adorned with clotted cream. Four spoons clinked upon stoneware as we scraped up the last drops of melted vanilla and port wine. So, so delicious.

I’d encourage you to try these if you want another brownie recipe in your repertoire. All superlative claims aside, they’re pretty darn good.

slabBoozy Black Cherry Brownies

Makes about 16 good-sized pieces

  • 150g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (65g) unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa
  • 150g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 cup (200g) dark brown sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (150g) plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (a good pinch)
  • 400g fresh black cherries, stoned and halved (weight after stones have been removed)
  • 1ooml good-quality port wine (substitute sherry or kirsch, if desired)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (360 degrees f). Grease a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) brownie pan and line it with baking parchment. Set aside.

Place your halved and stoned cherries into a medium bowl. Gently pour over the port wine. Leave to macerate overnight, or for at least one hour prior to cooking.

cherrymontPlace your chocolate and butter into a sturdy glass or metal bowl over a pan of simmering water (using the ‘double boiler’ technique). Allow to melt gently, stirring occasionally.

dboilmontWhen the last pieces of butter are slowly disappearing, remove the bowl from the heat and set it aside whilst you prepare the dry ingredients.

Sift your cocoa and flour into a large bowl. Mix in the brown sugar and salt, then make a well in the centre. Beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork before gradually whisking them into the cooled liquid chocolate mixture. Fold the now-thickened custard into the dry ingredients with most of the soaked cherry mixture (reserve a few cherry halves to top the brownie before baking). Stir well to thoroughly combine.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the egg white mixture gently into the brownie batter, taking care not to knock out all of the air pockets. The mixture is ready when it’s lightly speckled with egg white (no large patches of white should remain).

bowlmontPour the mixture into the prepared pan and top with your reserved cherry halves.

prebakeBake the brownie for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted liberally with good-quality cocoa.

strawbtop

Notes:

  • These brownies can easily be baked alcohol-free; just add in another 20g or so of butter to compensate for the reduced moisture.
  • Feel free to play around with fresh and dried fruit, nut and booze additions: raspberries with Chambord, flaked almonds and chocolate chips with Amaretto, orange zest with fresh orange juice, Grand Marnier or Cointreau (or any other brand of triple sec), dried sour cherries and Kirsch. I haven’t tried all of these combinations but I’m intending to (at present, I can vouch for the orange and raspberry versions. Both are incredibly delicious).
  • Pitting cherries can make you look like an artist (I was going to say ‘axe murderer’, but that sounded pretty bad). Be warned; wear gloves if you’re intending to split and hand-pit your fruit. The stains take ages to scrub off.

*Another last minute fact: these brownies are made so much better when they’re consumed with friends and family that you love to bits. Azza-the-awesome, I love you. Matt and Caryse, thanks for your unmatched wit, warmth and continued foodie inspiration (you guys are ah-mazing!) and huge thanks to little Boss for the wide-eyed tongue poking (I’m practicing for the next battle, just you wait!).

peanut butter, banana and cacao ‘cheesecake’

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Definition: Cheesecake (from Wikipedia):

‘…a sweet dish consisting primarily of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (not always cream cheese), eggs, and sugar; often on a crust or base made from crushed cookies or graham crackers, pastry or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked. Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, fruit sauce and/or chocolate.’

Houston, we have a problem. This cheesecake has no cheese. And, uh… no eggs, no sugar and no cookie base. I guess the obvious conclusion is that it’s not actually a cheesecake. At all.

nibsmontHaving said that, the concept of a raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ definitely isn’t a new one. A quick search via Google reveals over two million variations on the raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ concept. Granted, most of them are from late 2012 to early 2013 (arguably, a period where raw food has burgeoned in popularity) however the Laura-Jane aka The Rawtarian posted a raw cheesecake recipe in February 2011 that has since formed a basis for many adaptations around the blogosphere. Like this one, created last week (by me, the skeptical omnivore) as a going-away-party contribution for my gorgeous friend Kerryn (who has her own vegan blog, Lawn and Tofu Salad; hilarious hand-drawn photo extract from Kerryn’s blog below) who will soon be departing for a six-month trip around Europe.

DBAVtoattractguysI’m kinda jealous, but happy for her at the same time (don’t you hate mixed feelings!); she’ll be doing an organic farmstay, visiting family and friends, tearing up London and attending a Jane Austen Festival in the birthplace of Austen; Bath, Somerset, in South West England. If there’s anyone who was born to dress as Elizabeth Bennet and dance with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, it’s Kerryn. Though, upon reflection she may have fated quite poorly in male-dominated 18th Century (the birth time of Jane Austen). She’s one of the strongest, most opinionated and intelligent women I know; despite being absolutely beautiful, she’s more known for her love of chemistry, superior intellect, vegan diet and sharp wit.

Actually, she and Jane, both with ‘extraordinary endowments of mind’ probably would have become fast friends and started a revolution. But again, I digress… back to the going-away-party (those words don’t really require hyphens but I just felt like putting them there).

coconutoilmontIt was held on a cold Tuesday night in a hearth-warmed kitchen in suburban Perth. With cold hands, we sipped homemade tomato soup from vintage earthenware bowls before devouring spicy bean chilli with organic corn chips, cashew sour cream, cashew cheese and guacamole. I ate and ate. Then ate some more, and washed everything down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Everything was delicious, but notably cashew-dominant.

After finishing the savouries, we sat around the communal table and contemplated life’s big questions (mostly political issues, with a dash of life and travel). I sipped from a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea with a dash of almond milk and realised that I was very full; not uncomfortably so, but to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to eating a wedge of dessert-style cashew cheese. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’d be aware that I’m quite a fan of vegan food. I make many vegan salads and I love using flax eggs, chia seeds and nutritional yeast. However, despite the fact that my diet has been about 80% plant-based for over a year, the idea of cashew cheese, cashew sour cream and raw dessert was entirely new to me. And, perhaps by bad design, I consumed all three in one night.

cakemont2So, the main event (aka the central theme of this post): at about 9.30pm, the vegan cheesecake appeared. It looked beautiful; glossy, rich, thick and dark against the ripe red strawberries. The scattering of cacao nibs resembled chocolate chips and all mouths at the table (vegan, coeliac, omnivorous and 50% carnivorous) uttered words of absolute praise and expectation. My stomach turned. I dished out small pieces to all guests at the table, making sure to include a few ripe strawberries. To be honest, this cake is exceptionally appealing. The layers of vanilla (speckled with date) and chocolate were distinct and moist in texture, with scattered ribbons of peanut butter and crunchy cacao.

toppings2My first bite was a delicious surprise. This cake is moist, creamy and texturally pleasing; each bite had a crunch of bitter cacao, sweet notes of date and banana, and undertones of rich chocolate. The date and nut base was chewy. I can only describe it as ‘savoury but sweet’ due to the toasty notes of almond and walnut, enrobed with sweet Medjool date and pure cacao. Murmurs of pleasure could be heard around the table, alongside some obvious flavour analysis: ‘I can taste banana… oh, and there’s some date in there’; ‘…yeah, there’s some peanut butter, but I’d call it Banofee Pie’.

For a first attempt at a raw vegan cheesecake, I was quite happy with the feed back. Especially from those in the carnivorous category. But strangely, half-way through my slice, I paused. My spoon hovered over the cake and my brain switched into ‘dislike‘ mode. I was quite confused, and attributed the negativity to ‘cashew overload’. I pushed my plate away.

pbmontThe following evening, I completed a ‘cake post-mortem’ with my husband after a dinner of homemade lamb koftas, flatbread, tzatziki, carrots with pomegranate molasses and amped-up tabouli with lemon oil and goats cheese. He simply commented that the cake ‘tasted good’, but as a ‘cheesecake’, it failed dismally. I scraped the last shiny pomegranate beads off my plate, chewing my last piece of meat thoughtfully. Yes. It made sense, as… well, vegan cheesecake sans cheese is really a nut pie. Delicious, but… well, pointless if you’re an omnivore and you’re hankering after a creamy slice of cheese heaven. After savouring several chunks of smooth, salty and utterly creamy goats cheese, I understood. My brain, my sensory memory and my mouth had been in absolute, unresolvable conflict. It hurt.

So, after that ridiculously long introduction… let me just say that this cake is delicious. If you’re vegan, feel free to call it a ‘cheesecake’ as it’s composition (discounting ingredients) resembles the aforementioned dessert quite well. However, if you’re an omnivore like me, I’d recommend calling it a Nut Pie; this may avoid personal confusion, cheese withdrawal symptoms and painful (unnecessary) brain activity in the middle of the night (for a food obsessive like me). Either way, make this cake. It’s a deliciously healthy addition to any dessert repertoire.

caketopPeanut Butter, Banana and Cacao ‘Cheesecake’ (aka ‘Nut Pie’)

Makes one 20cm cake

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts) soaked for 1 hour
  • 3/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)

Filling:

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
  • 1/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (substitute any liquid sweetener, e.g. maple syrup or honey)
  • seeds from one vanilla bean (substitute 1 tsp natural vanilla essence)
  • 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
  • water, as required

Extras:

  • 4-6 tbsp organic (no salt or sugar added) peanut butter
  • 5 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 x 200g punnet of strawberries (optional)
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced (optional)

To make the crust: Blend the soaked and drained nuts in a food processor until they reach a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. Add in the chopped dates and cacao. Blend until the mixture starts to stick together.

crustmixPress into a greased (I used coconut oil) and lined 20cm springform tin, ensuring that layer of mixture is even and around 3-5mm thick. Refrigerate whilst you make the filling.

cashewsoakmontTo make the filling: Blend the soaked and drained cashews in a food processor until they reach a fine consistency. Add in the dates, bananas, coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches a creamy, smooth consistency (add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets ‘stuck’  around the blade, or if it appears to be too thick).

bananadateSeparate the mixture into two bowls. Add the cacao powder to one, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and chocolately brown with no dry patches of cacao. You now have two batches of filling to create attractive layers in your cake: 1) vanilla with banana and date, 2) chocolate.

layer1To assemble: Remove your cheesecake base from the fridge. Pour or spoon over the vanilla filling and smooth with the back of a knife. Warm your peanut butter briefly in the microwave until it’s smooth and easy to drizzle. Pour half of the peanut butter onto the vanilla filling, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs.

layer2Now it’s time for layer two: carefully place spoonfuls of your chocolate mixture over the vanilla layer, taking care not to displace the ripples of peanut butter and scattered cacao nibs. Smooth the mixture out until you have an even layer, with no patches of vanilla showing through. Tap your tin softly against the bench top to ensure that no air pockets remain.

layer3Ripple over the remaining peanut butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs (reserve 1 tbsp for serving). If necessary, use a knife or spoon to ensure that the peanut butter is evenly distributed on the final layer of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.

layer4To serve: carefully loosen the sides of your springform tin. Use a large flat-bladed knife or spatula to ease the cake away from the base of the metal tin. Remove all traces of the baking paper and transfer to a serving platter.

Cut half of your strawberries (optional) and scatter some over the top of the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries around the sides of the plate, to be eaten alongside the cake (*I didn’t have an extra banana to spare, but definitely add some fresh slices to the top of the cake if you have one on hand. The fresh fruit compliments the rich chocolate and banana filling perfectly). Top with the remaining 1 tbsp cacao nibs.strawbsWarning: This cake is very (very!) rich, so I’d recommend serving it in small slices with a hot cup of tea (even for those with big appetites; err on the side of caution. You can always have a other slice if you finish the first one with gusto. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

strawbdateNotes:

  • Use the best quality blender or food processor you have to make this cake. Anything less will either result in blender burnout (adding a ‘burnt’ taste to your mix or breaking your blender altogether… uh, yep that’s me) or a grainy consistency within your filling. Invest in a good blender for the long-term (I have recently ordered the Ninja online, can’t wait til it arrives! Thanks Whit and Sally!)
  • If your mixture seems too firm/viscous and gets stuck in your food processor, feel free to add a little more water or another complimentary liquid (e.g. a little bit of almond or oat milk). If your mixture becomes too loose, it may require a few hours in the freezer to set before serving. Leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
  • Feel free to substitute different nuts for the base layer of this cake. Great complimentary flavours include macadamias and pecans. I wouldn’t recommend switching the cashews for another nut in the cake filling though; cashews are a reasonably neutral, subtly sweet nut. Other varieties such as almonds and walnuts would likely become overpowering.
  • This cake would work beautifully in individual tart pans or jars for a dinner party. Make sure you grease each pan or jar well with coconut oil (as it would be difficult to line each with baking paper) and sprinkle the sides with raw dessicated coconut to prevent sticking. Take a look at this beautiful vegan chocolate cheesecake from The Bojon Gourmet, served in individual jars. Perfect for an extra-special vegan indulgence.
  • I also considered topping this cake with a drizzle of Coconut Chocolate Butter from Loving Earth, but my jar of butter sadly solidified in this chilly Perth Winter weather. Next time, I am going to blitz the sucker in the microwave briefly, before succumbing to a delicious river of chocolatey, coconutty goodness. I recommend that you do, too.

*Have a wonderful trip Kerryn! Can’t wait to follow your blogging adventures at the organic farmstay!

dark chocolate, sea salt and walnut cookies

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Get ready for an obscene statement.

I love cookies.

Okay, so that might be just slightly anticlimactic; especially seeing as almost the entire population of the Western world shares the same view. What may be a little more surprising is the fact that I love pretty much all cookies, whether they be soft or crunchy, chewy or crumbly, well-browned or pallid and slightly underdone. As long as they’re buttery and crammed with ‘the good stuff’ (e.g. chocolate chips, toasted nuts, dried fruit) I will happily consume every last crumb with a satisfied smile on my face. Cookie goodness equals happy Laura; especially when accompanied by a fresh cup of piping hot tea.

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In recent months, I’ve realised that this kind of statement may seem quite unusual to some bakers. Most cookie consumers seem to be a lot more discerning, especially when it comes to the hallowed chocolate chip variety. In fact, some bloggers have even gone to the extent of testing and comparing various recipes for flavour, consistency and texture (see here, here and here for some examples) in the hope of finding the ‘ultimate’ chocolate chip cookie. As this ‘research’ is entirely subjective, the jury remains out as to which cookie reigns supreme. However, as far as I can tell, American audiences largely favour the soft, chewy cookie varieties whilst the British prefer crunchier, crumblier versions that stay true to the original definition of biscuit. Yes, Americans and Canadians, I classify your ‘biscuits’ as ‘scones‘. You are entitled to argue.

beatermont

Anyway, moving on. You’ll find below a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie that my 20-year-old self first discovered whilst reading the January 2004 edition of Good Taste magazine in a Woolworths supermarket. The main draw card was the walnuts; I love anything with walnuts, especially when combined with dark chocolate. So, after a moment’s deliberation, I squirreled the magazine home in my handbag (after paying for it, of course), hauled out my mother’s old General Electric hand-held mixer and spent the evening covered in flour, butter and melted chocolate. By the next day, all of the cookies had mysteriously disappeared. The recipe was declared a great and glorious success.

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Fast forward, uh… nine years. I’m still baking these cookies as part of my regular rotation. Sometimes I mix things up a bit by adding dried fruit, white chocolate, macadamias instead of walnuts, sea salt (as per this more sophisticated version) or extra butter and more eggs (read on to ‘notes’ for information on how these ingredients change the consistency of a cookie). Each variation has been equally delicious and eagerly consumed by my friends, family and work colleagues.

So. If you haven’t already found your favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, I’d encourage you to try this one. It’s not a chewy cookie recipe (unless you try one of the variations below) but you’ll end up with a deliciously crisp, crunchy cookies with buttery dough, smooth dark chocolate chunks and the bitterness of toasted walnuts. Try them on their own, with a fresh cup of char or crumbled up over vanilla ice-cream and hot fudge sauce. Either way, they’re absolutely delicious… and with the protein-packed nuts and antioxidant content, I convince myself that they’re healthy, too. Sort of.

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Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt and Walnut Cookies

Adapted slightly from this recipe by Sarah Hobbs.

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 100g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 free-range egg, at room temperature
  • 225g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour, sifted
  • 200g dark eating chocolate
  • 150g (1 1/2 cups) walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Murray River flaked pink sea salt (or other delicate sea salt), optional

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line two medium baking trays with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together with an electric beater until pale and creamy. Add in your egg, then beat until thoroughly combined. Sift in your flour, then stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add in your walnuts and dark chocolate. Stir to combine.

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Use your hands to roll tablespoons-full of mixture into balls. Place the balls, 2-3cm apart, onto your prepared trays. Flatten slightly with your hand or a fork.

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Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, swapping the tray positions in your oven half way through. When ready, your cookies should be light golden. Remove from the oven, then set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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When your cookies are almost cooled, sprinkle each with a few flakes of good quality, mild sea salt. This little step is entirely optional, but trust me; the crunchy, salty flakes pair perfectly with the earthy, sweet dark chocolate, butter and brown sugar. Yum.

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Notes:

  • As aforementioned, this recipe will produce thick, crunchy, crisp and crumbly chocolate chip cookies that are more in line with a traditional English biscuit. If you’d like them to be chewier, I’d suggest adding an extra egg yolk during the whipping process, alongside a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Add 1/4 tsp baking soda to the flour during the sifting process, then continue as per the recipe.
  • If you’d like thinner, crispier cookies, you need to add more butter (try 150g) and substitute the brown sugar for white, granular caster sugar. Brown sugar is more acidic and hydrophilic, which means that it retains more moisture during the cooking process. White sugar, being less dense, can help produce a crisper end product. Increasing the butter content will also add further milk protein which aids in browning and crisping.
  • If you’re baking these cookies on a warm day and the dough seems to be too sticky, refrigerate it for a while before baking. Don’t add more flour, as this will likely produce a drier, hard finished product.
  • Over-mixing your dough can also result in tough cookies (and contrary to the saying, this is not a good thing). When flour is combined with liquid, the embedded gluten starts to develop into a network of protein strands that become stronger and more elastic when mixed. This holds your baked goods together (a positive) but can also toughen them (a negative) if over-worked. In any cookie recipe, use the minimum amount of mixing required to create a uniform dough (a good indicator is that there should be no visible patches of flour).
  • I these bake cookies between two baking trays (or cookie sheets) to allow space for spreading. Even if you have room for both trays on one oven shelf, I’d suggest rotating your trays between two different oven positions half way through the cooking time to allow for better air circulation and heat distribution. Most ovens have hot spots (mine definitely do!) so this will result in a more evenly baked product.
  • Do you tend to eat left over cookie dough? I’ve recently broken the habit. Why? Well, cookie dough contains very perishable items, the most significant of which is raw egg. Consumption of chicken eggs in their raw state can lead to serious food poisoning (and death) through the ingestion of salmonella, so if you’re going to eat raw cookie dough I’d suggest making a special egg-free batch.

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End note: This recipe reminds me of my beautiful, talented and generous mother (as I continue to use her now-gifted, 25+ year old mixer; she also adores anything with nuts and will always be my first official taste tester) and my best friend, Vicky (who consumed a whole tin of these in one week whilst pregnant; she has now added this recipe to her own family’s repertoire). These amazing women are inspiring, supportive and generous with their love and time. I’m so grateful to be traveling through the ups and downs of life with them. Oh, and whilst I’m adding links, also check out the freshly minted website of my husband and new official taste tester, Aaron. He and the poker boys gave these cookies their manly endorsement last night, so they must be good.

hazelnut praline truffles

There’s a slow breeze drifting through the door. It’s cool, not cold, and heady with the sweetness of grass, fresh rain and sprouted freesias. Outside, the sky is inky black, peppered with glowing streetlights and shadows of cloud. Today is the third day of the second month of Australian Spring: October 3rd, 2012. And despite being a working day, it has started well.

Yes, started. It’s 12.15am to be exact. I’m mostly awake out of stubbornness, fingers primed for a flow of words despite the intoxicating pull of sleep. I chew absentmindedly on a stick of apple-green gum, thinking. It’s been an awfully long time between posts. Twenty two days to be exact. That’s enough time for a hamster to give birth to a litter of young and get impregnated with the next… darn productive creatures.

As for me? Well, I’ve worked for fourteen days, discounting a public holiday. I’ve eaten one box of Cruskits, drunk about two litres of milk, made some cherry almond rocky road (one of my very favourite chocolate treats… I’ll share the recipe sometime), completed about sixteen home aged care assessments and fallen asleep by candlelight. Oh, and I turned twenty nine. At 10.32pm, whilst sitting with my two favourite people in a tiny restaurant called Blackbird on Claisebrook lake.

Yep, twenty nine. One year older than the average age of retirement for an NFL player… sad huh? Comment of the week: “Ah, you’re still under thirty… that means you’re still young!”. Young? Yeah, I guess… probably in the same way that Olivia Newton John still looked ‘young’ as a thirty year old teenager in Grease. Delightful, in a wrinkled kind of way.

Anyway, moving on. The main reason that I’m writing this post is to share with you the ‘recipe’ (or rather, my notes) for creating hazelnut centred, rum infused 70% cocoa truffles, drenched in smooth chocolate and crunchy praline. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that right at the end of my recipe post for Chocolate Truffle Cake, I mentioned that any leftovers could be easily transformed into dense praline truffles in no time. This supplementary post explains my method on how to do just that.

As you read my notes below, you’ll realise that there’s a sad absence of step-by-step photography. That’s primarily due to the fact that these truffles were made on the run, in preparation for a dinner at a friend’s house. I plan to embellish on this post one day, but in the meantime I’d encourage you to check out my beautiful friend Talitha Sprigg’s Oreo Truffle tutorial via High Tea & Trinkets. It contains step-by-step photography on how to shape, chill and decorate your truffles with minimal fuss for a shiny, uniform finish. As with my notes, her recipe takes kindly to any variations you fancy… so feel free to experiment until you create your own version of chocolatey perfection.

Hazelnut Praline Truffles

Makes about 20

  • 2 medium slices of room temperature ganache-iced Chocolate Truffle Cake* (or other chocolate mud cake, preferably ganache-iced)
  • A splash of good-quality rum
  • 1 quantity of hazelnut praline, crushed*
  • 20 toasted, peeled hazelnuts*
  • 1 block (about 200g) of 70% cocoa good quality dark chocolate (not cooking chocolate)

*recipes and tutorials can be found in my Chocolate Truffle Cake post.

Crumble your cake into a bowl, then add in a generous splash of rum. Work the mixture together with a spatula until it becomes smooth, glossy and melds to itself. Set aside briefly.

Divide your mixture into about 20 pieces (or less, if you prefer bigger truffles). Flatten each piece into a disc, then place a hazelnut in the centre. Fold the mixture around your hazelnut, pinching the edges together. Roll the finished ball, with the enclosed hazelnut, in the palms of your hands until it becomes round and smooth. Place onto a tray lined with baking paper, then repeat with your remaining nuts and mixture.

Place your finished balls into the fridge for about half an hour to firm up (if you’re pressed for time, use the freezer). In the meantime, cut your block of chocolate into pieces and place them into a glass bowl over a double boiler to melt. When the mixture is almost smooth, turn off the heat and leave your bowl to stand over the hot water until you’re ready to coat your truffles.

To decorate: Remove your chilled truffles from the fridge or freezer. Gently drop one ball at a time into the melted chocolate, turning it to coat evenly. Lift it out from the chocolate using a fork and spoon, one on each side, suspending the truffle over the bowl briefly so that any excess chocolate drips away. Gently place your coated truffle back onto the paper-lined baking tray, taking care not to mark the sides of the truffle with your fork.

Leave for a few seconds, until the surface of the chocolate clouds slightly (indication that the chocolate is setting). Sprinkle over a pinch of crushed hazelnut praline before the chocolate sets (gently press onto the surface with your fingers if required). Repeat with your remaining balls and chocolate.

Leave your truffles to set at room temperature, then store them in an airtight container. If desired, they can be refrigerated, however be aware that this increases the risk of ‘chocolate bloom’ (separation of sugar and fat from the cocoa solids, which results in the formation of a powdery white substance on the surface of your chocolate. This is usually caused by exposure of the chocolate to moisture and sudden temperature changes).

Notes:

  • There are thousands of truffle recipes on the internet, most of which use a pure ganache as the truffle filling. I prefer using dense, flourless cake mixed with a little melted ganache and alcohol as the result is a dense, rich truffle that’s slightly less cloying (it’s a little like a cross between a cake pop and a truffle). The hazelnut meal in the Chocolate Truffle Cake also adds a delicious savoury note and a little extra nutrition (clutching at straws, I know!).
  • This recipe lends itself well to adaptations. Try adding some diced glace ginger into the mixture, some freshly chopped or dried mint leaves, peppermint essence, spices (cinnamon and cardamom, possibly with some dried chilli) or different nuts. Almonds work especially well with a complimentary splash of Amaretto in place of rum.
  • If you can’t be bothered with the melted chocolate, just roll your truffles in coconut, crushed pistachios or organic cocoa powder. Beautiful and deliciously easy (though in regards to the latter, don’t inhale whilst eating them… trust me).
  • You can pretty much use any chocolate in the process of making the Chocolate Truffle Cake… same goes for coating your truffles. White chocolate made with pure cocoa butter works well as an offset to a dark, bittersweet centre. I’d just recommend that you don’t buy compound or cooking chocolate of any type. Not only can you taste the difference, but there’s also a subtle textural variation due to the added vegetable fat and sweetener. When melted, this can produce a grainy consistency.
  • Your finished truffle balls can be frozen, uncoated, for up to one month. Just shape and freeze them in a single layer on a baking tray, then when they’re no longer sticky to touch, place them in an airtight container or snap-lock bag to freeze until ready for use.
  • This is a great way to use up any leftover cake sitting in your fridge. Lemon cake works especially well with some melted white chocolate and a splash of limoncello in the mixing stage. Before serving, coat the balls in pure white chocolate, then decorate with some candied lemon rind. Easy.

P.S. I finished this post at 7.52am. Yes, I did sleep and eat a bowl of Mini-Wheats in between.

chocolate truffle cake

Monday night, 6.00pm. I’m sitting on the couch in a T-shirt and shorts, absentmindedly peeling an orange whilst the sun dips below the horizon. The scent of citrus lingers in the air, and my fingers tap aimlessly on blackened keys. For the first time since starting this blog I’m admittedly suffering from the condition known as writer’s block.  Well… not to say that I’m producing a work of literary genius, but it’s definitely more attractive to read a blog post when it’s meaningful and orderly, as opposed to randomly assigned ideas in broken format.

So, chocolate. Clink. My ice-cubes spin in watery space, intermittently hitting the frosted glass with muffled sound. Predictably, this makes my mind wander towards thoughts of Summer heat: sand, flies, wafting humidity and volleyball by the ocean. A bit like yesterday, as a matter of fact, when a few of us gathered by the seaside for fish, chips and ice-cold ciders on the first 30 degree (86 degrees f) day of the season. That season being Spring, not Summer… the first week of which has brought a hailstorm, power cuts and everything in-between. Today was surprisingly a balmy 26 degrees (79 degrees f) with scattered patches of cloud and low humidity. Tomorrow’s forecast is cloud and rain. Go figure.

What’s any of this got to do with the recipe post for today? Well… nothing really. But since I’m already reading like a weather report I might as well start rambling about climate change, greenhouse emissions, accompanying ozone depletion and El Niño. Yep, I know. You’re not here for jumbled social commentary. You want rich, dense chocolatey goodness in a recipe format. So that’s what you’re going to get.

The recipe that you’ll find below is for a chocolate hazelnut cake that has recently become quite a hit in my office environment. In fact, during the sampling process there were actually cries of “Holy Mackerel Laura!” through my office door. As I can’t recall another occasion where I’ve heard that expression in my immediate vicinity, I thought it’d be appropriate to christen this confection as my ‘Holy Mackerel!’ Cake. That title didn’t quite make it to publication though… mostly because it’s associated with oily fish. Title, take two: Chocolate Truffle Cake. Much better.

This cake heavily leans on a recipe for Nutella Cake by Nigella Lawson, and like all of Nigella’s recipes it’s moist, decadent and complex in flavour. As it’s name suggests, it’s pretty much a boozy praline truffle in cake form, as there are layers of smooth hazelnut and bitter chocolate with a spiced rum finish.

Enjoy this cake in small slices with a dollop of cream, extra hazelnuts and shards of crisp praline. For the coffee-and-cake people amongst you, I’d also suggest a smooth shot of espresso… the warmth and bitterness cuts beautifully through the rich density of the cake.

Hazelnut Truffle Cake

Makes one cake

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 100g melted organic 70% dark chocolate
  • 400g/1 jar chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella or Oxfam Organic)
  • 100g (plus 50g extra, reserved) fresh hazelnut meal
  • 1-2 tbsp good quality rum
  • 1 quantity dark chocolate ganache (recipe below)
  • 1 cup hazelnut praline (recipe below)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a round 23cm spring-form tin.

Whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then set aside. Melt dark chocolate and butter gently over a double boiler (glass bowl over a pot of simmering water) until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and beat in the chocolate hazelnut spread. Once smooth, set your chocolate mixture aside to cool slightly.

Using a fine sieve, sift your hazelnut meal into a bowl. Discard any larger pieces that have gathered in the netting, then weigh the remaining meal. If the total is under 100g, repeat the sieving process with your reserved meal until you have the appropriate quantity.

Add the sieved meal into your chocolate mixture with the egg yolks and rum. Fold the mixture together well with a spatula, and leave it to cool a little if necessary.

Once at room temperature, beat in a large dollop of egg white to lighten the mixture. When you can no longer see any defined white patches, gently fold in the rest of the egg whites a spoonful at a time. Discard any liquid that may have separated from the beaten whites.

Pour the mixture into your lined spring-form tin and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending upon the heat of your oven (mine is not fan-forced so I ended up baking it for about 55 minutes). When done, the cake should have risen slightly and a defined crust should have developed on the surface. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out with just moist crumbs attached.

Cool your cake in the tin over a wire rack. When it’s at room temperature, cover the tin with plastic wrap and place the cake into the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour or preferably overnight. Chilling the cake makes it much easier to ice whilst also easing the process of removing it from the tin. Don’t attempt to peel the bottom lining off your cake whilst it’s still warm… it will collapse, and so will your baking confidence.

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

This quantity of ganache ices the top of the cake only, which to me is more than enough. If you wish to also cover the sides, I’d suggest doubling your ingredients.

  • 120ml thickened cream
  • 120g organic 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • a splash of rum (if desired)

Gently heat your cream over a double boiler on a low simmer. When it begins to steam (not boil) remove the bowl from the heat and carefully incorporate your chocolate and alcohol. Mix well with a balloon whisk, ensuring that you agitate the bottom of the bowl to remove any melted chocolate. Keep whisking until your mixture is smooth, evenly coloured and glossy (there should be no visible oil or grainy particles in the mixture; if you see these, your ganache has ‘split’. See ‘notes’ for instructions on how to fix it). Set aside to cool slightly.

As mentioned above, try to ice your cake whilst it’s still reasonably cool. It allows the ganache to set quicker (stopping an overflow on the edge) whilst also preventing any possible overheating which will again result in split, oily ganache.

Once your cake is on a presentation plate, spoon a dollop of ganache into the centre. Spread it from the centre to the edges in firm, even strokes using a palette knife or rubber spatula. Add more ganache as needed until you have a smooth, even surface, then leave the ganache to set slowly on your counter top (I find that placing the cake directly into the fridge at this point encourages cracks to develop). Once set, refrigerate until required. Just before serving, scatter over your hazelnut praline.

Hazelnut Praline:

Please note: This recipe involves the handling of very hot sugar syrup (to caramelize, sugar needs to reach around 160 degrees c/320 degrees f) which is almost impossible to quickly rinse or rib off the skin upon contact. It causes nasty burns and significant blistering, so don’t allow yourself to become complacent at any time in the cooking process.

  • 1 cup raw organic hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup white caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Place your hazelnuts on a dry baking tray, then toast them in the oven for 10 minutes or until the skins start to crack and peel away from the kernels. Remove the nuts from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. When easy to handle, place the nuts onto a clean tea-towel or piece of kitchen paper and rub them gently to remove the skins.

Prepare another baking tray by lining it with some greaseproof paper. Set this, and your skinned hazelnuts, aside.

Place your caster sugar into a heavy-based, dry saucepan over moderate heat. Cook, without stirring, until you see the sugar on the edges start to liquidize and bubble. At this point you can stir it gently with a fork until the mixture is free of any sugar granules. Use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any crystals that form on the sides of the pan.

Allow the mixture to simmer. Don’t be tempted to stir at this point as you might cause the sugar to seize. You will eventually see a dark toffee stain spread throughout the liquid sugar in patches. When this occurs you can gently agitate the pan until the entire mixture is a dark shade of gold. Add in your toasted hazelnuts, tossing to coat. Tip your mixture onto the lined baking tray, shaking it slightly to separate any clumps of nuts (remember this is hot sugar, don’t be tempted to use your hands). Leave it to set for at least half an hour.

To serve your praline, you can either blitz the lot in a food processor for a moderately fine crumb, or as per my photographs, just chop it roughly on a board. In either case, I’d recommend leaving some hazelnuts whole for both texture and presentation purposes.

I’d also suggest adding your praline just before serving the cake, as any residual moisture in the ganache will gradually melt the sugar (especially if condensation collects under cling wrap). Store any remaining praline in a cool place within an airtight container.

Notes:

  • Ganache is made by combining cream and chocolate together into a smooth emulsion. Continued whisking breaks down the fat in both ingredients, allowing the particles to integrate. However, overheating the mixture can destabilize the emulsion which results in ‘splitting’.
  • Split ganache is recognizable by it’s oily, granular nature. Take a close look at your mixture; if it’s split you’ll be able to see a layer of oily cocoa butter floating on the surface. Don’t panic though, I usually find that I can fix the mixture in one of the following ways:
  1. If your mixture is still warm: add in another big spoonful of pure, cold cream. Whisk it in until the mixture returns to a shiny, smooth consistency.
  2. If your mixture has cooled: gently heat about 50ml of cream until it starts to steam. Add it into your mixture a little at a time, whisking continuously until the mixture recovers it’s smooth, shiny consistency.
  3. Use an electric hand whisk to try and vigorously re-emulsify the ingredients. This sometimes works as a last resort.
  4. If none of the above have saved your mixture then… well, you can try adding a little liquid glucose but I’d probably just bin the lot and start again. Sorry.
  • To prevent splitting, make sure that your cream is not overheated prior to adding your finely chopped chocolate. Whisk it well, and don’t leave your mixture unattended or the chocolate may melt unevenly (creating patches of oil, which might not re-emulsify) or seize (which will leave little chunks in your finished ganache).
  • If your mixture has seized, microwave the ganache in very short (15-20 second) bursts until there are no remaining solids in the mixture. Whisk well until it recovers its smooth, even sheen.
  • Substitutes: If you prefer almonds to hazelnuts, this cake works extremely well with the substitutions of almond meal and whole almonds in the praline. You can even experiment with Amaretto for a complete almond truffle experience.  Yum. If you dislike the thought of using bought chocolate hazelnut spread, you can easily substitute it for a homemade version as follows (thanks to the amazing recipe writers at all of these sites):
  1. Vegan, milk-free, lower-calorie chocolate hazelnut spread (with honey in place of sugar)
  2. Vegan chocolate hazelnut spread (with soy milk and powdered sugar)
  3. The whole shebang chocolate hazelnut spread (with condensed milk and dark chocolate… well, at least you know exactly what’s in it, right?)
  4. A real Italian version… buon appetito! (with hazelnut oil, cream and honey)
  • It goes without saying that any leftover chunks of this cake transform extremely well into truffles. Just mash your remaining cake crumbs in a bowl, add a little more liqueur if desired, then roll the mixture into balls. Coat your truffles in crushed, toasted nuts, leftover ground praline, organic cocoa powder, toasted coconut or more melted organic dark chocolate. Deliciously easy.
  • Oh, and if you want to prepare for the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has a whole host of online resources available for free. Check them out here (remember the double tap) whilst also reading about other interesting things such as… climate change! Yep, you’ve already had your chocolate goodness. Now I’m back to social commentary (no, not really).

Foot (not hand) note: the photo above was taken by Aaron on a recent stormy September night. The blustery rain of the afternoon turned into hail, and after some intermittent clatter on our windows the lights spluttered out. Power cut. After some lighting of candles, we sat huddled on the couch, happily eating chicken salad whilst sipping on cold berry cider with chilled fingers. Ice cubes clinked against glass, swimming in crimson, and despite the 4 degree (39 degrees f) temperature we felt warm in the flickering candlelight.

Three hours later, we returned to the land of technology and were welcomed by two successive episodes of Community. Awesome. Oh, and though my writer’s block seems to have turned into writer’s diarrhoea, the cider we drank was delicious… freshly crushed boysenberries, transformed into Boysencider by the guys and girls at the Old Mout Cidery in Nelson, New Zealand. Definitely recommended. With or without the power cut.

walnut fudge brownies

Brownies must be one of the most useful, adaptable baked goods known to man. At a pinch, I’d say that it’s due to the fact that:

  1. Everyone (well, almost everyone) loves chocolate
  2. On a good day, they can be mixed and shoved in the oven in under 15 minutes, and
  3. They’re a cross between a dense, dessert-style fudge cake and a transportable cookie or slice.

The last point has meant that in recent years, brownies have transformed from being just a mid-morning coffee snack to an acceptable addition on fine dining dessert menus, commonly à la mode with lashings of clotted cream. They’ve even entered the wedding sphere, either as the official wedding cake or dressed-up cake pops with icing tuxedos. However, despite their mass popularity, there’s an outstanding point of contention that has spawned many a poll in cyberspace:

Fudgy Brownies vs. Cake-like Brownies.

Now, for me this isn’t even an issue. As you can probably see from my photographs, I like them dense, fudgy and intensely chocolatey, with a slight crackle of crust on the top. Eaten warm with ice cream, the brownie becomes a molten, smooth chocolate dessert, studded with toasted nuts. Pretty much heaven in a bowl.

Anyway, regressing from my chocolate moment… I do respect that there’s an element of the population that finds the fudge consistency intolerable. For those of you who prefer a lighter, cake consistency, I’ve written some adjustments in the ‘notes’ section which should help with the transformation. However, the rest of this post is pretty much centred around my version of the perfect brownie: dark with 70% cocoa content, dense with cocoa butter and infused with the earthy flavour of toasted walnuts.

The recipe below is the product of many months of trawling through recipe books and internet pages claiming to have the ‘best’ recipe for brownies. These have ranged from light cocoa based, sugary concoctions to flourless cakes and dense nausea-inducing ‘Slutty Brownies’ baked with Oreos and chocolate chip cookie dough. Now, even though the latter has the temptingly inappropriate tagline ‘…oh so easy and more than a little bit filthy’, well… I’ve decided that I’m a brownie purist. Sometimes the original, unadulterated version is all you need.

As you’ll see below, my recipe for brownies contains organic 70% dark chocolate, toasted walnuts and smattering of milk chocolate chips, lovingly coated in real dairy butter. On this particular occasion, I also had the privilege of using the most beautiful free-range eggs I’ve ever seen, generously supplied by our lovely friend Helen and her partner Dirk. I can’t get over the variations in colour, from soft blue to green to speckled peach. They’re definitely photo-worthy, both in and out of the shell.

My husband introduced me to Helen, his classmate and friend, at an end-of-year gathering last year. By the warmth of a bonfire, we drank red wine and ate hot baked potatoes laced with chilli beans, cheese and sour cream; absolutely delicious, made even better in wonderful company. I don’t remember the last time I felt so comfortable at someone’s house I didn’t know… it’s definitely a tribute to both Helen & Dirk’s hospitality. Since then, Helen’s become our official lemon and egg supplier. Thanks Helen, you’re going to be getting a supply of lemon curd very soon!

So, read on for what I’ve found to be my favourite brownie recipe. I’m not going to say it’s the ‘best’, as that’s entirely subjective, but for me it’s absolute perfection: gooey and fudge-like in the centre, with a light golden crust and a touch of bitterness from the high cocoa content. Brownie goodness in it’s purest form… no Oreos required.

Dark Chocolate Brownies
Makes 16

  • 140g unsalted butter
  • 200g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa, I use Green & Black’s Organic)
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 2 whole free-range eggs
  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 80g plain flour
  • 50g walnuts, lightly toasted, chopped
  • 50g organic milk chocolate (I use either Cadbury baking chips or chopped Green & Black’s Organic Milk)
  • Sifted organic cocoa powder, to dust

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Grease and line the base of an 18cm square slice tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Chop your chocolate and butter into small, even pieces then melt them together in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Use a spatula to stir the mixture frequently, and when the mixture is almost smooth, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool (the residual heat will melt any remaining small lumps).

In a separate bowl, combine your eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla and a good pinch of salt. Add the egg mixture into the cooled, buttery chocolate and mix well with a balloon whisk. Sift in your flour, and continue to mix thoroughly until smooth and glossy. Stir in your toasted walnuts and chocolate chips.

Pour your mixture into the prepared tin. Smooth the top with a spatula, then tap the tin a couple of times on your bench surface to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only moist crumbs attached (as opposed to sticky, liquid mixture).

Allow the brownie to cool in the tin. There should be an even, light brown crust on the surface with a few cracks. When cooled, turn it carefully onto a chopping board and remove the greaseproof paper. Cut it into whatever size pieces you like (I cut it into 16, as they’re pretty rich) then dust the lot with sifted organic cocoa.

These brownies will keep in an airtight container (in the fridge, if you’re in a warm climate) for approximately one week. I usually stack mine with a layer of greaseproof paper in between. Alternately, you can wrap and freeze them for up to 2 months.


Notes:

  • The texture of a brownie is directly related to the ratio of fat (butter and chocolate) to flour. As mentioned previously, I prefer mine as fudgy as possible, however if you prefer a more cake-like consistency, there are adjustments you can make:
  1. Add in about another 20g of flour (100g in total) to firm up the mixture. Test your batter consistency: it should be slightly more rigid and less glossy.
  2. You can also remove the melted chocolate (thereby, removing the cocoa butter) and replace it with about 3/4 cup (80g) of unsweetened organic cocoa. To compensate for the bitter quality of the cocoa, you’ll also need to increase your brown sugar to around 250g. Leave your flour as per the original recipe, at 80g.
  • Slicing: The denser your brownie mixture is, the more difficult it will be to cut after baking. To make life easier for yourself, I’d recommend leaving the brownie to cool in the tin completely prior to cutting (yes, you can!!), and wiping your knife between cuts with a cloth rinsed in hot water. The latter avoids an over-accumulation of moist, sticky brownie crumbs, which ruins your cutting surface.
  • Avoiding ‘split’ chocolate: overheating chocolate can result in ‘splitting’, or separation of the cocoa solids from additional fats. Split chocolate both looks and tastes grainy, so to avoid chocolate disaster I’ve recommended a ‘double boiling’ method in this recipe (i.e. a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water).
  • However, despite the indirect heat, double boiling adds an extra element of risk: water. If any condensation or splashes of water get in your mixture, it can also result in the chocolate ‘seizing’ (solidifying unevenly) or splitting. To avoid this, try and keep the simmering heat as low as possible (there should just be bubbles forming on the water surface) whilst making sure that your bowl and cooking instruments are dry before use.
  • If preferred, you can use the microwave your butter and chocolate on low in a microwave-safe bowl. Restrict the cooking to short (20-30 second) bursts, stirring at each interval. Remove your mixture when there are still a few small solid pieces remaining; the residual heat will finish off the melting process.
  • Flour substitutes: This recipe works reasonably well with gluten-free plain flour of the same quantity (80g). You can also substitute refined spelt flour (with most of the coarse bran removed) or plain wholemeal flour, however be aware that with bran flours the consistency of your mixture will change. Expect a denser, potentially grainier finished product.
  • Additions: If you don’t like walnuts, other good nut substitutes include toasted macadamias, peanuts and pecans. Great fruit additions include dried sour cherries, cranberries and raspberries, all of which have enough acidity to ‘cut’ through the richness of the dense brownie mixture. No Oreo cookies. No.

Nutrition and Chocolate:

  • Fat: yep, overindulging in chocolate can make you fat, as cocoa beans contain approximately 50% fatty acids (saturated palmitic and stearic acids, plus mono-unsaturated oleic acid). Cocoa butter isn’t high in cholesterol, however when factoring in milk chocolate’s added dairy (milk fat) cholesterol levels may be adversely affected in very high quantities.
  • Sugar: Cacao (cocoa) beans themselves contain starch and dietary fibres, with a very low amount of simple sugar. However, the manufacturing process of solid chocolate adds between 13% (bitter, dark chocolate) and 65% (some baking chocolates) sugar to what you eventually consume. Have a look at the ingredients list. If sugar is the first ingredient, don’t buy it.
  • Antioxidants: Now, the good news. Cocoa beans contain polyphenols, with beneficial flavonoids (antioxidants) which reduce the blood’s ability to clot. This can therefore, in combination with other factors, reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. But in saying this, everything needs to be in balance, people.
  • Stimulants: Cocoa beans contain low amounts of caffeine (less than that in coffee, tea or caffeinated soft drinks) and theobromine, which is a mild stimulant with a diuretic action. This isn’t anything you’d need to worry about unless you’re a parrot, dog, cat or horse (theobromine is toxic to all of these creatures) or if you’re elderly and are planning to eat a large amount in one sitting (as your body may metabolise the substance more slowly).
  • Anti-depressant properties: Cocoa and chocolate can have a positive effect upon the levels of serotonin in the brain, whilst also containing phenylethylamine, a stimulant similar to dopamine and adrenaline. Some therefore argue that chocolate can assist in alleviating the symptoms of depression. However, exposure to light and exercise are more effective, scientifically tested methods that will lead to overall health and well-being. So chocolate might be helpful in moderation, but it’s definitely not an advisable ‘cure’.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Cocoa is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, manganese and the vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and pantothenic acid.

For more history and brownie baking tips, check out this article from Shirley Corriher at The American Chemical Society. Science can definitely be interesting.

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