The best brownies in the world, ever

It’s a big claim, saying you make the best brownies ever, but I do. At least, that’s what various sets of workmates in two hemispheres have told me when I’ve turned up with these little beauties at Christmas time. There’s something about these particular brownies that makes everyone go all sort of dreamy and dazed and happy. Then they tell you how amazing you are, so everyone’s a winner!

Lucy’s Brownies

This recipe, which came from my mum and is possibly an Annabelle White recipe originally, is especially dedicated to my dear former colleague Andy, a talented writer and a brilliant cook who has impeccable taste in music and makes the best cups of tea in the world. Andy, I’ve promised you this recipe for years – now, here it is. Merry Christmas!

The trick with brownies is to undercook them ever so slightly. They should be wobbly in the middle (like Santa) but set around the edges. My trick is to freeze them when they’ve cooled – eliminates any fears about them being too runny and ensures a fudgy texture. This recipe makes LOTS so it’s ideal when you have a lot of brownie lovers to pamper.

450g dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa solids)
350g butter
1tsp vanilla essence
2Tbsp instant coffee (powder)
2 cups caster sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 cups cashew nuts (roasted and salted or not, as you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a large baking dish – like a roasting dish – or several brownie pans.
Put the chocolate, butter, vanilla and coffee into a large saucepan. Melt over gentle heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool to room temperature, then add the sugar. Mix well, then whisk in the eggs. Lastly, fold in the flour and nuts. Pour into the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes (check earlier if you are using small pans), until the edges are firm to touch but the middle is still soft. Let cool in the pan. Turn out carefully, then wrap well in cling film or foil, then put in the freezer. If you’re taking them to work for morning tea, take them out of the freezer just before you go. They thaw quickly (and taste fabulous frozen!). Pile them onto a platter and shower with icing sugar. Add strawberries if seasonally appropriate and serve with love.

Do you have a special end of the week – or working year – treat? Add a link to it here and spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Good enough to eat: Body Scrub

It was called pampepato and it was going to be the answer to all my Christmas present woes. I’d found the recipe for this medieval Italian treat – a kind of panforte – and bought all the ingredients. I set aside an afternoon in my tumbledown kitchen and imagined all the grateful recipients sighing with joy as they bit into their handcrafted festive treat.
Then I took the finished products out of the oven.
“Oh,” my flatmate said, peering over my shoulder. “It looks like a whole lot of cowpats.”

I’ve since learned that Christmas plus stress plus the best will in the world will not necessarily equal success. By this stage in the game it’s far too late to make chutneys and jams, but you can make this – a no-cook, no stress body scrub. And your friends and family will love you for it.

Chocolate Olive Oil Body Scrub
I snitched this recipe from Melissa at Tiny Happy, who has a really gorgeous blog about the things she makes for her shop. I’ve changed the proportions a tiny bit and added cinnamon for a bit of festive spice. It’s moisturising and exfoliating (especially good for getting rid of dodgy fake tan streaks) – and possibly the most waistline-friendly way to get a serious chocolate hit. Enjoy!

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (not raw sugar, unless you have the hide of an elephant)
1/2 cup cocoa
2tsp cinnamon

Mix everything together until well combined. Add a little more oil or sugar to get the consistency you desire – it should be a nice blend of grittiness and viscosity. Pack into a small glass jar and decorate in a festive fashion.

Sweet sweet Friday: Truffle Fudge

Do you know how hard it is to get a babysitter at this time of year? Trust me, it’s more difficult than getting your hands on the latest Marc Jacobs handbag or sending all your Christmas cards on time. It’s been touch and go, but The Boy Wonder and I are off to a Christmas bash on Saturday night, thanks to dearest Sally stepping into the breach. I’ve promised her dinner, wine, season six of Peep Show, and a shopping mission on Sunday in return. The cherry on top is a box of this dreamy fudge – which also doubles as my entry in this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge. 

Without a doubt, this is the easiest thing I have made all year. It requires about as much effort as making a cup of tea or opening a bottle of wine. In fact, with just three ingredients and a little bit of melting involved, you can probably make it while you’re boiling the kettle or looking for the corkscrew. The hard thing is knowing when to stop eating it…

Dreamy Date Truffle Fudge

250g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa), roughly chopped
1/2 cup date syrup
1 cup peanut butter

Put all ingredients in a pot and melt together over low heat. Stir well, then pour into a lined dish. Smooth the top (put another piece of baking paper over the top of the mixture and smooth with your hand for the neatest result). Let cool for 10 minutes, then put in the fridge to set (about 20-30 minutes). Turn out and cut into squares. Dust with cocoa if the mood takes you, then pack into a pretty box. Store in the fridge.

Do you have a sweet treat for the end of the week? Post a link here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Chocolate Fig Christmas Cake

After much prevaricating, my Christmas preparations are finally underway. I’ve yet to buy any presents or make any decorations, but I’ve finally made the cake, with help from the Small Girl and the Boy Wonder. We have a tradition in our house that the Christmas cake must be stirred by all parties in the house – and they have to make a wish while they do it. I’m not sure the Small Girl understood the wishing concept, but she really loved stirring!

Teddy got to try the mixture too – he’s having a liedown to cope with the sugar

What are they wishing for?

This cake is intrinsically linked with celebration. My mother and I made it together one Boxing Day for our wedding cake, giggling like teenagers; my dear friend and mentor Denise kindly emailed me the recipe when we were living in the UK for our first Christmas abroad and earlier this year I made a vast version for Ann and Steve’s wedding cake. The recipe originally came from Peta Mathias, a chef and bonne vivante par excellence. Peta, with her lust for life and flaming red hair, is always described as “irrepressible” and that’s exactly the same way I’d describe this cake. It’s full of bold flavours and not for the faint-hearted. Make this and you’ll never look at a traditional fruit cake in the same way again. When it’s being a wedding cake it needs a coating of chocolate ganache, but at Christmas I think it’s best plain (even if it looks a little bare). Tumble a few decorations on top if you want it to look more festive.

Peta Mathias’ Aunt Edna’s Fig and Chocolate Fruitcake
This is Peta’s recipe, with a few tweaks here and there. She uses all figs – I use a mixture of figs and prunes; she adds slivered almonds, I leave them out because I used to make this for nut-allergic Sophie and discovered that they don’t actually add anything. I use orange zest instead of lemon and have reduced the amount of chocolate a tiny bit because you can have too much of a good thing.

400g dried figs, cut in quarters
300g prunes, cut in quarters
200g raisins
brandy and orange juice for soaking fruit
300g butter
300g brown sugar
1Tbsp black treacle
grated zest of two oranges
5 large eggs
2Tbsp brandy or rum
350g flour
1tsp salt
2tsp baking powder
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp ground cinnamon
600g dark chocolate smashed into little bits

Soak the fruit in a bowl, covered in a mixture of brandy and orange juice for 24 hours (I’ve left it for up to 48 hours with no ill-effects).
When you want to make the cake, preheat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 24cm cake tin. Don’t worry about the brown paper treatment – lining the tin with baking paper is enough.
Cream the butter, sugar and treacle, then add the lemon rind. Whisk the eggs and brandy or rum together and stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the sieved dry ingredients. Drain the prepared fruit (save the extra liquid for a little cook’s tipple when the cake is done!) and stir that into the mixture, then mix in the chocolate.
Pour into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 90 minutes, then turn it down to 150C and cook for at least another 60-90 minutes. Test by plunging a skewer into the middle in the usual fashion. Keep an eye on it – it may be done sooner. Cover the top with a piece of baking paper or foil if it looks to be getting too dark.
Let it cool completely in the tin, then turn out and wrap in greaseproof paper and store somewhere cool and dark until the big day. You can feed it with more booze if you like.

Sweet sweet Friday: White Chocolate Plum Mousse Cake

I don’t know much about parenting but I have learned in the last 18 months that it’s not a good idea to attempt complicated kitchen manoeuvres when the Small Girl is awake. So I don’t know what came over me a couple of Saturdays ago, when I decided to make a cake I’d spotted in Cuisine magazine for a dinner party we were going to that night. The Boy Wonder was hanging around, having breakfast and reading the paper, and I figured he and the Small Girl could amuse themselves while I played happily on the other side of the island.
They both have an unerring talent for choosing their moments to really need me when I really need them to be not needing me, if you get my drift – and so I made more than a few cock-ups along the way because I wasn’t concentrating on the task at hand. But even though I fretted about it all the way to the party, this cake was a winner. Six adults demolished it in seconds and hailed me as some kind of kitchen genius. Perhaps I should cook with the Small Girl around more often.

White Chocolate and Black Plum Cake
This cake, which I have adapted from one by Ginny Grant in the September 2010 issue of Cuisine, is like a softly set mousse. It contains no flour, making it ideal for the gluten-intolerant.
It might look a little flat when you turn it out of the tin, but the incredible combination of lightness and richness soon makes up for that. Good with a generous dollop of whipped cream (who says your thighs need to have a gap between them?)
Black Doris Plums are a very New Zealand ingredient – the sort of thing that you can’t buy from orchards any more, only in tins. If you can’t find a suitable plum to substitute, I suggest trying tinned apricots.

850g can Black Doris plums (a dark purple plum, similar to an Omega), drained, halved and stones removed
250g good quality white chocolate
150g butter
150g caster sugar
4 eggs
zest and juice of one orange

Preheat the oven to 120C. Line a 22cm round cake tin with baking paper and grease with butter. Line a large roasting dish (big enough to hold the cake tin and around 5cm deep) with a tea towel and put the prepared cake tin on top.
Place the plums in the prepared cake tin, cut side down. Set aside while you make the batter.
Place the chocolate and butter in an ovenproof bowl and put in the low oven to melt. Keep an eye on it – about five-10 minutes should be enough. Remove from the oven.
In the meantime, put the orange juice into a measuring cup and top it up with water if necessary to reach 75mls. Pour this into a small saucepan and add 100g of the sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has come to the boil. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes, then add this to the chocolate and butter mixture.
Beat the eggs with the remaining 50g of sugar until very light and fluffy. Pour in the chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Carefully pour this batter over the plums in the prepared cake tin.
Pour just-boiled water from the kettle into the roasting dish (that the cake tin is sitting in) until it comes halfway up the sides of the tin. Carefully put this in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, or until the cake has just set. Let cool in the water bath before turning out onto a plate. If you’re making this in advance (which is advisable, unless your guests are fine with being ignored for about half an hour), then put the cake in the fridge and turn it out just before serving.

Do you have a favourite end of the week baking treat? Add it in here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…