Monday, May 31, 2010

How to sleep on couches in London for two months and not outstay your welcome (a.k.a. best-ever Chocolate and Walnut Brownies).

When I arrived in London I managed to doss around the place for about eight weeks before the craving for a dressing table and chest of drawers all got too much and I moved into my own sharehouse. You don’t need a Ph.D in international relations to work out the obvious ‘to do’s when you’re occupying the communal lounge space in someone else’s house for a while:
- Always do the washing up. Everyday. This is a non-negotiable.
- Ensure ready supply of beer/wine and toilet paper.
- Befriend the annoying housemate and listen to their tales of woe so the paying tenants don’t have to.
- Develop a repertoire of curries, lasagnes, and stir fries that the biggest eater/guts/food stealer in the house can eat for a few days at a time.

(image above of Augustus Gloop's untimely end is reminiscent of what you might experience if you eat more than two squares of brownie in one sitting...)

I can’t remember where I found this recipe for chocolate brownies, but they were an absolute WINNER. In fact, I recently passed the recipe on to my mate Em who’d just arrived in London and was looking for ways (other than the list above, obvs) to butter up her generous hosts. It’s essentially chocolate, butter and sugar – clearly a no-brainer. Plus, noone seems to bake too much in this town – probs has something to do with the fact that you can’t swing a cat in most kitchens. Even the most neglected sharehouse kitchen cupboard will usually have a baking tray that could be used (as long as it’s about 5cm deep), although you can pick one up at most pound shops. Before setting out, check there’s a whisk of some description for beating the egg mixture. That’s a non-negotiable.

What to do first:
- preheat oven to 180 degrees
- grease and line (with grease-proof paper) a 20cm square cake tin

125gm butter, warmed to room temperature
200gm good quality dark chocolate (e.g. 70% cocoa), chopped roughly
2 eggs
230 gm (1 cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
60gm (1/2 cup) plain flour
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (oh my god, get Black and Green organic if you have to buy some - it's freakin' amazin... so much better than Cadbury etc. – you can tell the difference straight away if you're having it in a hot drink)
100gm (1 cup) chopped walnuts

What to do next:
- Melt butter and half of the chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water
- Remove from heat and leave to cool
- Whisk eggs, gradually add sugar until thick and foamy. If you’re doing this with a hand whisk, it will take a while, but you’ll get there eventually. (albeit with early-onset tennis elbow). Add vanilla essence and blend thoroughly. Add egg mix to chocolate and butter mix.
- Sift cocoa and flour over combined runny mixture, add walnuts and remaining chopped chocolate
- FOLD mixture with large spoon (be gentle otherwise they'll turn out rubbery). Folding is the secret of fluffy baking, my friends.
- Pour batter into tin and bake for 30mins, or top is cooked/dark brown. Put foil over top if it start to burn.
- Cut while still warm and leave to cool completely on wire rack.
- Dust with icing sugar if you're feeling particularly Donna Hay-ish.
- Do not consume more than two pieces in one sitting or risk falling into a diabetic coma and/or suffering massive heart attack.

Brownies will keep for a few days in airtight container but chances are, they’ll be gone by Day 2, especially if made at the start of the weekend. And especially if spied by hungry housemates returning home from a boozy night out.

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