I only bake one thing; chocolate brownies. It doesn't matter whether it's spring, summer or winter. They're a perfect treat any time of the year. Great for dessert, for a dinner party, for a snack or for packed lunches.
I've never been very patient with cake making - my arm gets tired with all the butter and sugar beating. Then my eggs tend to curdle. I'm obviously not a natural baker. I don't have all the fancy kitchen gadgets to do it for me and I loathe packet mixes. But brownies are, in my opinion, easy. Not only easy, but delicious, and never stay in the cake tin for long.
I've tried lots of recipes. Delia's, Jamie's, Gordon's and various ones from the BBC's Food pages. All claimed to be the 'best ever', or the 'perfect' recipe, and yes all were good. But Delia's were definitely more chewy and thin, and very, very quick to make, whereas Jamie's recipe required a shopping trolley full of ingredients - and a raid on the bank account. Delicious they were, but I knew I wanted to find a recipe that was 'perfect' for me - without costing a fortune and taking hours to make.
My delighted children were the guinea pigs who went through weeks of tastings while I tried different variations of my own. A good chocolate brownie must be squidgy in the middle with ideally a slightly crunchy top. Good to eat cold, and even better slightly warmed up and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nuts or no nuts? I love chopped walnuts in my brownies but rarely add them, as a number of my friends and their children are allergic to nuts.
Now I'm asked to make brownies for friends' birthdays, and when my children take one of my brownies to school as part of a packed lunch - their friends beg for a piece. So I reckon I've got it right. I'm almost reluctant to share my recipe. But that would be selfish - so here's my 'best ever' chocolate brownie recipe. Try it, and I think you'll agree.
The type of tray you use to bake the mixture in is really important. It took me several attempts to find the right size and depth for even baking. I use tinfoil trays because they have thin bottoms and edges that ensure the inside mixture cooks without the outside of the brownies cooking too quickly and burning. I use a size that is 33cms x 20cms and a depth of 4cms. Or you could use a 25cms square tinfoil tray just as effectively. This provides you with a good, thick brownie and of the right consistency. For a dinner party I cut them into 12 generous square portions. For every day munchies and school lunch packs they can make up to 18 nice chunky portions. They are very rich and laden with calories so the smaller pieces provide enough of a treat to make you feel satisfied and a little wicked. If you store the brownies in an air tight tin on their own, they can keep for over a week. Though I doubt you'll ever find out as they will get eaten rather quickly.
150g of good dark chocolate
100g of milk chocolate
300g of golden caster sugar (you can use granulated white sugar to economise for everyday brownies)
3 large free range eggs
250g of butter (or you can economise and use margarine for everyday brownies)
120g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
½ teaspoon of baking powder
A good pinch of ground sea salt (yes, really)
Icing sugar to dust after baking
Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4
Line your tinfoil tin with greaseproof paper and butter the paper slightly. It makes the brownies easy to get out without them breaking.
In a large bowl over some simmering (not boiling) water, melt the butter and the dark and milk chocolate until smooth.
In a separate bowl or cup, beat the eggs.
In a separate bowl sift the flour.
Remove the chocolate and butter mixture from the simmering pan of water and add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Then add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Then add all the other ingredients and fold and mix everything thoroughly until you have a silky consistency.
Pour your brownie mix into the baking tray, and place in the oven for between 20 and 25 minutes. Oven temperatures vary so it's important to keep an eye on your brownies. I start checking mine after about 15 minutes. Get a skewer or knife to check when they are done. You don't want to overcook them so, unlike cakes, you don't want a skewer to come out all clean. Watch out for when the top of the brownies are cooked and start to crack and come away from the side of the tinfoil tin. Use your skewer and stick it in the middle of the brownie. If it comes out a little gooey and wet, your brownies are done. Don't worry, as they cool, the butter in the mixture will set more, and the brownies will be firmer in the middle but still slightly gooey.
Allow to cool in the tray for at least 2-3 hours so that the brownies really set. If you try and cut them any sooner they may crumble and the consistency won't be right.
When they're cool, dust with icing sugar over the top.
Then cut into squares - and eat!
I promise you - these really are the best ever brownies.