Frankenbrownie (or, The Modern Prometheus)

It’s been a tricky few weeks! So my wonderful boyfriend and partner in crime treated me to a copy of the fabulous book “Outsider Tart: Baked in America” by Davids Muniz and Lesniak, the owners of our favourite bakery just down the road, Outsider Tart. If you’ve not been, darling, go. It’s more than worth the trip to wild West London – they do brunch and all sorts of exciting meals, have an adorable general store-type area with goodies from across the pond and the most amazing coffee and cakes of all kind.

The cakes. Good lord.

They span the full spectrum of gooey to sticky to crumbly to JUST GIVE IT TO ME NOW. All served in extremely generous slabs that will keep you going all afternoon. I can particularly recommend the NYC Crumb Cake with its hit of cinnamon and crumbly brown sugar goodness and the incredibly sticky, caramel-topped Snickers Brownies (do not wear your Sunday best to eat one of these).

Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been trying out recipes from the book – loads of really tempting, interesting ideas – and often they’re regional American treats that I’ve never heard of, let alone tried before. So when I saw a recipe for something called a Mile High Brownie, I had to give it a go… If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that it’s quite light on photos of the finished articles so I had to follow the recipe without really knowing what it was supposed to look like in the end…

So what is a Mile High Brownie? Well, its momma was a cookie and its daddy was a brownie and they made one freaky (but delightful) offspring… Imagine a crust that’s halfway between cookie and blondie, a layer of fudgy chocolate filling and more crust crumbled on top, it’s a real Frankenstein’s monster of a cake (hence the title of this post). I tweaked the recipe a bit as I forgot to get a couple of things – the authentic version has fruit, nuts and bran mixed into the chocolate but I didn’t have these so I substituted shredded coconut and blitzed-down porridge oats to give it some structure. Here’s the recipe for my version:

Frankenbrownies

Frankenbrownie – a cake of many parts.

For the crust:

  • 380g plain flour
  • 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1tsp salt
  • 225g unsalted butter at room temp
  • 450g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 250g rolled oats

For the chocolate filling

  • 1 small can condensed milk
  • 350g chocolate (I used fairly basic dark chocolate here – milk might be too sickly)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 75g rolled oats, blended into a fine powder in the food processor
  • 125g shredded coconut

This makes a massive batch – enough to fill a standard roasting tin and cuts into about 20 decent size squares.

Line a roasting tin (9 x 12 inches or thereabouts) with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 180C (or fan equivalent).

For the crust – combine the flour, bicarb and salt in a bowl and set to one side. Cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and add the vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture a little at a time until just combined and fold in the oats. It will look like cookie dough. Take about 2/3 of the dough and press into the base of the roasting tin firmly to form a nice flat crust. Pop the remaining dough into the fridge wrapped in cling film.

In a bowl over just steaming water, melt together the chocolate, condensed milk, butter and salt and leave to melt, stirring occasionally. It might start to thicken but don’t be alarmed! It’s supposed to look like chocolate fudge. Take off the heat and add the coconut and oats.

Spread this sticky mixture evenly over the base and get the remaining dough out of the fridge – crumble it as best you can into little pieces and sprinkle evenly over the chocolate, there should be some little gaps but mostly covered. Bake for about 30 mins until the topping is looking golden brown and slightly crispy. Leave them to cool in the tin and cut into sensible-looking squares.

 

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Lebanese Rice

This is my absolute favourite rice dish at the moment. You seem to be able to get it in delis all over London and combined with chicken schnitzel and a big squeeze of lemon, it’s pretty hard to beat… It hadn’t occurred to me to make it at home until a colleague was doing a larder clean-out and brought a pack of vermicelli into work and I made off with them… And now I have to force myself to make rice any other way.

If you’ve never had it before, it’s gorgeous. Savoury and rich and more interesting than plain rice has right to be… It is good. It’s broken up noodles, sautéed in butter and rice, cooked with stock. Perfect with anything but we had it the other night with crisp chicken thighs and garlicky courgettes.

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Lebanese Rice (Serves 3-4 comfortably!) 

  • A fat slice of butter (about 50g)
  • 125g vermicelli noodles (I use these ones – you can find them in the kosher bit of the world food section in Sainsburys!)
  • 250g basmati rice
  • 500ml stock (I use chicken but veg would be fine if you’re that way inclined!)
  • Salt

Crunch up the noodles until they’re about a centimetre long – I lay the bag on the worktop and bash with a rolling pin. Heat a medium saucepan (need a lid for it!) and add the butter. Let it melt and then foam and then add the noodles – stir them in the butter and they’ll start to brown. You’re aiming for a medium brown all over but keep an eye on it and don’t let it linger too long in the pan without stirring as the colours change rather quickly…

Add the rice and stir to coat in the butter and pour in the stock and a generous pinch of salt. Bring it to the boil and then stick the lid on and turn down the heat to gently simmer for a while (check the rice packet – 12-ish minutes probably) until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.

Top tip for fluffy rice – when it’s cooked, turn off the heat, lift up the lid and lay a clean tea towel across the pan (not on top of the rice, sweetie) and pop the lid back on and leave for a couple of mins for the excess steam to be absorbed by the towel. And the rice will have dried out a bit and be lovely and fluffy!

Serve and enjoy!

 

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Brownies 2.0

Happy Bank Holiday weekend!

I decided to spend a little time in the kitchen this weekend and wanted to make something a bit different… But I completely failed to decide what. Cookies? Brownies? Cake? Biscuits? Pie? Anyway, I ran through the entire cookbook library and just couldn’t decide what to make. And then I remembered a picture that somehow ended up in my twitter feed of a brownie with an oreo cookie baked into the centre and it just sounded too good to pass up… And then I thought about splitting the mix – half blondie, half brownie with oreos in the middle. Now we’re onto something…

I love brownies (and my mum makes the world’s best ones) but I also love a blondie – I’ve made the gingerbread-spiced ones from Edd Kimber’s The Boy Who Bakes quite a few times and they are fab – really squidgy and chewy. So combining the two can’t be a bad thing, right? As Mae West said – Too much of a good thing can be wonderful. And who am I to refuse la West?

One thing that can be difficult with brownies is getting the texture right – often they can be too cakey and fluffy or so gooey they don’t actually bear their own weight… They need to have some structure but also have a degree of damp softness. The difference is in the beating – if you work the mix, you’ll start to develop the gluten and get more structure but if you prefer a gooier affair, just gently fold until the mixture combines and no more…

Anyway – I have since found out that what I’ve made is a variation on what is called a ‘slutty brownie’ (a true SB is made with packet mixes – cookie and fudge brownie) but I’m really pleased with this brownie/blondie version even though it needs marginally more work than making up mixes… But it’s actually super easy. I used half-quantities of some go-to recipes, hence the weird quantities of ingredients. Makes a 9″ square pan but if you double up, it’d make a roasting dish worth, I should think.

Two-tone brownies

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For the blondie layer:

  • 113g butter
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125g plain flour
  • big pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g white chocolate, chopped into chunks

For the brownie layer:

  • 63g butter
  • 160g dark chocolate
  • 13g cocoa powder
  • 30ml sunflower oil
  • 130g soft light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs plus an extra yolk
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50g white chocolate, 40g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

Plus a pack of oreos – original, chocolate, double stuffed… Whatever, darling.

You could make both layers at once if you’re more organised and dextrous than I am but I made the brownie one first, put it in the tin and then made the blondie and combined them. But whatever you think most sensible.

First though, butter and line a 9″ square baking tin and preheat the oven to 180C (fan).

For the brownie layer:

Melt the butter together with the dark chocolate and the cocoa in a saucepan and whisk together oil, sugar, vanilla and eggs in a bowl until well-combined. Add the rest of the ingredients to the whisked mixture and fold to combine and then stir in the melted chocolate mixture. Pour this into the bottom of your roasting dish and place the oreos on top in a regular fashion – you should hopefully be able to fit them all in! If not, just eat the remaining ones as you go, I won’t tell anyone.

For the blondie layer:

Again, melt the butter and when melted, add the sugar, stirring constantly, until combined. Take off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes and then add the eggs and fold in the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the chocolate and pour over the top of the oreos/brownies. It might need a little coaxing to get it into the corners but it will hopefully cover it all!

Bake for about 30 minutes but do have a look after 25 or so. If you poke a skewer into the middle it should be wet with crumbs clinging on, but not totally liquid, if that makes sense… It’ll solidify as it cools so definitely err on the side of gooey. As if I needed to tell you that.

Leave it for a good while to cool down and firm up before cutting into squares – makes around 25 mini- or 16 regular-sized portions (but, frankly, a mini one might be a better idea as they are very sweet and rich! Pace yourself and have two.)

Enjoy!

x

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Chocolate and almond biscotti

I decided on a whim to attempt these this afternoon – we had just enjoyed an iced coffee and a simply enormous chocolate croissant at a café in Kew this afternoon and I was feeling inspired to make something a bit Italian – so I channeled my inner Nigellissima-era Nigella Lawson and gave these a try.

Not nearly as complicated as I had initially thought, as it turns out. Rather faff-free biccies (if one ignores the whole cut-into-slices-and-bake-again bit… But that’s not too bad, really). You just whip eggs and sugar into a frenzy, fold in some flour and bicarb and whatever flavourings you fancy and away you go. Almost all the recipes I found online used a pitiful-sounding few grammes of nuts or chocolate so I’ve beefed this up to 50g of each. Come on… One could lose 25g of almonds in an eye and barely notice.

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Chocolate and Almond Biscotti 

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g of almonds (whole, not flaked, ground or otherwise)
  • 50g of dark chocolate (you could probably use chips here)
  • Flavouring – zest of an orange or a lemon would be nice (probably optional)

Preheat the oven to 160 C (fan oven) and line a baking sheet with parchment. Roughly chop the almonds and chocolate and put to one side. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add the sugar and whisk (I used an electric hand mixer) until light and fluffy. Measure out the flour and bicarb and sieve into the egg mixture, throw in the nuts and chocolate and the zest and fold in until combined – it’ll be a sticky-ish dough.

Plonk onto a floured surface and roll into a sausage just shorter than your baking sheet and flatten out a bit and transfer to the tray. Bake for about half an hour or until lightly browned – it’ll swell up a bit but don’t be alarmed. Once it’s got this far, lift out to a chopping board and slice diagonally into 1cm-thick slices. Reduce the temperature of the oven to about 140C and place the sliced biscuits back on the baking tray (sliced side up) and bake for a second time to crisp up. Turn over after about 10 minutes and bake for another 5 minutes or so until nice and crisp on both sides and then place on a wire rack to cool.

Buon appetito!

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bulgar wheat pilaff

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I’m really into bulgar wheat at the moment – it’s great in a lunchbox as part of a salad with some parsley, chopped tomato and cucumber with lots of olive oil and a big squidge of lemon juice and it’s just so much more interesting than couscous…

Here’s another way with bulgar wheat – cooked with stock and spices, it makes a great accompaniment to curry or tagine or anything with a lovely rich sauce to mop up. I should say, this is probably as authentically middle-eastern as toad-in-the-hole but I think it’s great, anyway.

Bulgar wheat pilaff – serves 3-4 (it’s surprisingly filling!)

  • One large onion
  • Vegetable oil – a good slosh
  • Ground cinnamon – 1/2 tsp
  • Garam masala – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Bulgar wheat – about 150g
  • Chicken stock – I use those stock jelly pot things, 1
  • Butter – a generous slice

Put a large saucepan on a medium heat and cut the onion in half and slice the onion relatively thinly. Cover the base of the pan (and a little more) with the oil and cook the onion until it is golden with small brown bits and then add the spices and give it a good stir – it should smell pretty wonderful at this point…

Add the wheat and stir to coat with the spices and oil and then cover with boiling water from the kettle (plus about a centimetre – you can add more later on if it starts to get too dry) and add your stock cube/pot/whatever. Pop the lid on and simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the wheat is tender with a bit of bite and the liquid has been absorbed. Check the seasoning and stir in the butter just before serving

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orange marmalade cake

With the snow falling outside, I embraced the cabin fever and baked something. Sometimes only cake will do.

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I ended up choosing the sticky orange marmalade cake from the Great British Bake Off cookbook. This is a pretty fab book – I was lucky enough to get a copy a couple of birthdays ago and I turn to it regularly. It’s a really good all-round baking book and I’ve made quite a few things out of it before, my favourites probably being the very moreish chocolate crackle cookies.

This seemed like a great cold weather bake and I just happened to have a jar of mum’s home-made marmalade in the cupboard… It’s just a pretty standard sponge stirred through with a generous splodge of marmalade to make the sweet, rich sponge a bit more interesting. Once the cake is done, you warm through more of the marmalade and spread it over the top of the cake and leave it to cool before drizzling over some glacé icing. I didn’t alter the recipe much except to let the marmalade down a bit with a tablespoon or so of water to make it a bit more liquid and poked the cake all over with a skewer so the syrup had a chance to sink into the sponge to make it extra sticky, leaving the shreds of orange on top.

It’s quite a grown-up cake (with the strong kick from the marmalade) and I think a little wedge would make a lovely afternoon tea, if that’s your bag (and makes a nice change from its mainstream sister, the lemon drizzle). Otherwise, scoff it anon. It’s a great chance to show off some lovely home-made marmalade if you happen to have some knocking around!

You can find the recipe here if you want to give it a try.

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Compost Cookies

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Compost Cookies are one of the trademark items on the menu at the world-famous Momofuku Milk Bar in New York – combining cookies with potato chips, pretzels, coffee, chocolate and butterscotch chips, oats… I’ve never tried the real thing but they sound pretty nuts, no? It sounds like it shouldn’t work. At all. Like licking the bottom of your larder. So of course I had to give them a go.

I didn’t go the whole hog – these are a streamlined, compost-lite version just taking the caramel, pretzel and chocolate from the original and using my favourite, go-to cookie base. I chose the combination to reflect my favourite flavour combination du-jour: salted caramel. And anyone who doesn’t love a chocolate covered pretzel doesn’t really like food at all. Salt, sweet, crunchy, soft… It’s got it all going for it!

I always turn to the chocolate chip cookie recipe in Edd Kimber’s The Boy Who Bakes – it’s fab just with dark chocolate (or I love them 75% dark and 25% white chocolate combined) and is a magnificent foil for other flavourings – I made a Christmas-themed version last year with white chocolate, dried cranberries, orange zest and nutmeg which went down rather well.

Anyway, so here’s my version of Compost Cookies – well worth a try (even if it’s just for seeing the look on peoples’ faces when you tell them what your serving them).

Makes about 40 (yes, I know, it’s a huge batch).

  • 500g plain flour
  • 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1tsp Baking powder
  • 1tsp Salt
  • 225g of butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 220g Caster sugar
  • 220g Light soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g dark chocolate (decent but don’t bankrupt yourself, moderate cocoa content)
  • About 100g of cheap toffees (just the basic ones from a supermarket will do)
  • About 75g of salted pretzels

Chop the chocolate into chunks, chop the toffees and crush about 2/3 of the pretzels into big chunks leaving the rest whole (just because it looks interesting!). Sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the eggs a little at a time and then add the vanilla. Fold in  the flour mixture (gradually) until just combined and then fold in the chocolate, toffee and pretzels being careful to keep some of the pretzels whole. Wrap the dough and put in the fridge for at least an hour or two but overnight if you have time (I’m really not that organised).

When you’re ready to go, preheat the oven to 180 degrees (C, 160 fan) and start making the dough into 45g balls – roll them with your hands or with a tablespoon or something. 45g is a good-sized cookie but if you want monsters, 60g is a good size too. You chill the dough and form into balls so that the cookies don’t melt too much in the oven – you end up with a thick, chewy cookie rather than a mean, thin, snappy thing. Line 2 baking trays with parchment and  bake the cookies in batches of 8 to a tray. They’ll probably take 15 mins or so but keep a close eye – they want to be a light gold around the edges but they’ll be very soft until they cool down so don’t use firmness as any indication of done-ness. Cool on the paper until they’re firm enough to slide onto a wire rack.

These are seriously good. Eat them warm (even with a scoop of ice cream if you’re feeling particularly wanton) and serve up to universal admiration.

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Ginger loaf

So it’s got cold. Again.

After a lovely weekend off visiting people, I fancied a speedy bit of baking to ward off the cold and I turned to Edd Kimber’s Guinness Parkin – a very good, dense, toothsome kind of ginger loaf which is an absolute breeze to make and a great thing to have knocking around the house if you are in the mood for a bit of old-fashioned, cakey goodness.

You can find the recipe here: it really is very good and despite all the treacle (yes, that’s a whole half-tin of the black stuff) it’s neither too sweet or overly bitter. I don’t keep Guinness in the house (haven’t developed a taste for it) so I make Edd’s non-alcoholic variant with milk which turns out just fine indeed.

Procedure-wise, it’s dead easy – melt the butter, cream the sugar and eggs into a froth, melt the treacle into the milk/Guinness and then mix everything together and fold in the dry ingredients. You bake it for what seems like forever but it does go from completely liquid to done-to-a-turn in a blink of an eye so keep an eye on it…

I didn’t stray from Edd’s recipe (he won the Great British Bake Off for a reason, kids) but I do like to add a cheeky glacé icing to drizzle over the top – the cake is very rich and dark so some lighter sweetness is quite welcome and using lemon juice instead of water makes for a more interesting icing – about 3tsp of juice to 100g of icing sugar is about right for a drizzle-able icing.

Anyway, give it a try! If you like spicy, gingery cake, this is the cake for you.

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Casting on

When you’re a knitter, there’s a couple of questions that you always get asked:

“You’re knitting?!” – No, I’m playing the harmonica…

“What’s that?!” – (I quite like this one) Oh this old thing…? Well, it’s just a little project I’m working on…

“How long have you been knitting for?!” – It’s this one that I’m going to answer here. Every knitter has this story and this is my version.

Flash back to October 2010… Those crazy, hazy days…

My darling housemates bought me a fantastic-looking book called Knitting Mochimochi by Anna Hrachovec with an amazing selection of strange, knitted creatures and I experienced the first inkling of the common knitter’s impulse of “KNIT ALL THE THINGS”. Only problem, at that point, I couldn’t knit. Slight issue.”Oh,” they said “we assumed you could knit!” – and that was that. My destiny was set.

Like quite a lot of people, I tried when I was rather younger but the complexity of the pointy sticks and the wool and the yarn-goes-here, put-the-needle-here,  in-round-through-off business was just far too baffling so I gave up and went back to watching The Simpsons or whatever I was doing. This time around, however, I was determined…

I started by pestering my mother and my brother’s girlfriend to help me learn and I went along to John Lewis in Peterborough (impossibly glamorous, I know) to pick up knitting supplies… I grabbed a large ball of chunky, squidgy, navy-blue acrylic (“that’s enough for a scarf, surely?” yes, I know, I know) and some needles (enormous, plastic 6mm ones) and excitedly went home to learn.

Why does everyone start off with a scarf? They take forever and that’s not what you want as a newbie! Knit a suitably-sized square, fold it in half and sew up the edges and you’ve got yourself an iPod sock – bam! Instant gratification! Anyway, I started with a scarf. More of a stole, really – barely stretching around the neck once – but I did it! Yes, the gauge may have ranged from ‘impossibly tight’ to ‘absurdly loose’ and I may have dropped and added stitches at random (which made it have a fascinating, wavy edge – entirely deliberate, I promise) but it was done!

And that was it, I was hooked. I went on to try doing cushion covers, more scarves and other square things and, yes, the knitted creatures from my first ever knitting book.

An early knitted effort

An early knitted effort

Chunky navy acrylic was my gateway drug and I’m now hopelessly addicted…

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beef stifado

We had a friend over for dinner tonight so I wanted to try something new… And drew a complete blank. All I managed to decide was that I really fancied some potatoes dauphinoise and so (creatively) googled “what to serve with potatoes dauphinoise” and this came up… Worth a try? Gosh yes.

I’ve never made it before but it was fabulous (if I say so myself) – it’s a very rich, tomatoey, beef stew with a really interesting spicy flavour. I started here and tinkered around with it a little – mostly by leaving out the shallots (because who can be bothered to peel 500g of shallots?! I mean really.) and, because our guest doesn’t drink, leaving out the wine (and wine vinegar) and substituting with a good glug of sherry vinegar.

  • Beef, lean casserole steak – about 750g would be enough for 4 people I think
  • Onions, 2, thickly sliced
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • Olive oil, lots – probably close to 100ml
  • Sherry vinegar, a good slosh, around 100ml again
  • Stock cube (I used one of those chicken stock jelly pots)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • Cloves, 4
  • 1 tsp of ground nutmeg
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Tin of plum tomatoes
  • black pepper
  • salt

Fry the beef in batches in a very hot pan with a tiny bit of vegetable oil to seal and colour the meat and add the onions, garlic and olive oil and let the onions soften – might be worth turning down the heat a little. Add the vinegar and let it simmer for 5 mins to burn off the harsh sourness – it’ll smell a little strong but don’t worry. Add everything else (apart from the tomatoes), give it a good stir to mix everything together and open your tin of tomatoes. Pour them into a large bowl and squidge them into rough chunks with your hands and throw away any hard bits of stalk, pour into the pan. Season well and add about 500ml of water from the kettle before putting everything into an oven dish and cover (I use foil) – cook in a medium oven (about 180 degrees, fan) for 2 hours until the meat is tender and coming apart slightly – keep an eye on it and top up the sauce with more water as it needs it. The sauce should be very shiny, rich and thick. We had this with potatoes dauphinoise but it would be equally lovely with some rice or crusty bread and I would imagine it’d be even better the next day having rested overnight in the fridge (if you can resist scoffing the lot, right there and then).

 

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