Friday, 10 May 2013

banoffee brownie

Happiness is to be tucked in bed by an open window and to have a rain-scented breeze rustling in. I have been sniffing those little wave of coolness quite frequently these past days having been overcome by an evil cold that has stolen my voice and left in its stead a chesty (and painful) cough. But my sense of smell remains and happiness does prevail, especially as I am equipped with my Kindle.

Thomas Hardy is the author I have currently attached myself to. His writings, set in a society where honor and conduct are keenly regarded subjects, query the institution of marriage and class and follow the lives of sometimes tortured subjects flailing against it, not necessarily by choice but by situation. It is a revealing comparison against complacent 'modern day' views now adopted.

The novel that really did give me a kick on the was 'Jude the Obscure.' The mental grief of each weary character, and their paths of reasoning- I understand! Yet personally cannot agree concerning marriage. The question of marriage is not about its effect on society, whether good or bad. For me, it is because it is written in the Bible that I shall abide. It is odd that in Hardy's many books, and despite the numerous biblical quotes therein, that this was not a consideration explored.

Just because I always have an eye perked for food (drink) related subjects, Hardy also provides a suggestion for aspiring cider brewers looking for a good blend. According to Hardy in 'The Trumpet Major,' a fine cider can be made from a judicious mix of "Horner and Cleeves apple for the body, a few Tom-Putts for colour, and just a dash of Old Five-corners for sparkle- a selection originally made to please the palate of a well-known temperate earl who was a regular cider-drinker, and lived to be eighty-eight." Though, of those varieties, only the Tom-Putts cultivar seems to exist still.

Finally, in light of one of my successful recipe tweaks, I present to you my banoffee brownie. I mentioned in my earlier post on brownie types that Nigel Slater's cakey brownies, with their intense chocolate flavor flavor and muddy texture, brought me great joy indeed. However, fudgey is a desirable quality to have, and I determined to give a little fudgey leaning to those brownies. Thus I added banana puree to the batter for squidge.

It also happened that I had made a quantity of dulce de leche, and who doesn't love banoffe pie? So I tipped that in too. For some reason, my blobs of dulce de leche dissipated during the baking and I never discovered any gooey cavities of the stuff. Possibly my blobs weren't big enough. What I did find to have staying power was dulce de leche not made by the schoolday method of boiling tins but by zapping it in the microwave. Its resulting texture was slightly different: less smooth and liable to harden into a crusty lump of (mostly) sugar. But this way, I had my golden nuggets of sweet.

As I had some extra dulce de leche on hand, I served the brownies with a squeeze of loose dulce de leche cream to pare off some richness (you know things are getting intense when cream is used to lighten the pud).

(makes one 30 by 30cm tray)
300g castor sugar250g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter, softened
60g flour   
60g cocoa powder
2g salt

100g egg30g egg yolk
200g ripe bananas5g baking powder
75g whole milk250g double cream
794g condensed milk (2 tins)

  • Line a 30cm by 30cm tray with aluminium foil (I used a griddle pan as I didn’t have a tray, but just adjust quantities to suit the volume of the trays you have and watch cooking times).
  • Make the dulce de leche from the condensed milk by popping into the microwave for 1 min intervals at around 700W, and whisking between until it reaches the coloration you want. Set aside 100g of the dulce de leche.
  • Microwave the bananas until split and steaming, blend to a puree (or not depending on the consistency you like) and set aside to cool.
  • Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool so it (or the bananas) won't melt the creamed butter.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.
  • Cream together the sugar and softened butter.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs and yolks with a whisk so as not to curdle it.
  • Beat in melted and cooled chocolate, and the banana puree.
  • Fold in the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder mixture over 3 incorporations.
  • Pour half of the batter into the tray and smooth. Drop dollops of dulce de leche all over the batter. Use around half of your dulce de leche (omitting the 100g earlier set apart).
  • Pour the remaining batter into tray and smoothen its surface.
  • Drop smaller dollops of dulce de leche over the surface and use a knife to create a marbled effect.
  • Bake for 40min (start checking at 30 min as you do not want to overbake it and make it all dry). Brownies are down when, after inserting a toothpick/knife, there are still bits of moist crumbs clinging to it. If it comes out completely clean (as is the norm for most cakes), the brownies are overdone. The brownies will also continue to cook a little after their removal from the oven.
  • Whisk together the remaining 100g of dulce de leche with the milk until it has dissolved.
  • Add the double cream to the dulce de leche flavoured milk and whisk to soft peaks.
  • Pipe cream over cooled and portioned brownies.

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Updates soon to come!

Friday, 3 May 2013

candied pecan brownies

One of the reasons why I dig walnut chunks out of any brownie I eat is because, having been baked and left to stew within it, the nut has typically reached an inevitable state of sogginess. Thus, in the making of my own brownies, I made it a point to candy the pecans (a far superior nut to the walnut in my tasting) to ensure a good crunch.

The brownie recipe I used is identical to that found in Leite's Culinaria, save the addition of the candied nuts, and a slight tweaking of the proportions to make one 30cm by 30cm tray. You can see very clearly the effect of a few good minute's stirring on the batter (I have included a photo before and after).

I played a little with the amount of sugar used in the candying as I didn't want a jaw breaking sugar crust, but had to bear in mind that some of the sugar would dissolve during the baking. A ratio of 2:3 by weight of sugar to pecans was what I was happy with. I'm no master at candying nuts but David Lebovitz has written up a rather handy guide. Simply caramelizing the sugar and pouring it over hot nuts does not work. Use as many pecans as your generosity allows.

On a completely separate note, and one I feel I have to raise as you scrutinize my many photos of the brownie concoction process, I have a pointy bone to pick with queue etiquette. Queue jostling is a recurring cause of grief in my life. I claim an expansive personal space and am ever too aware of encroaching subjects. In large crowds, or where there is limited space available, I have no choice but to accept that people are doomed to brush by me. However, to have my space intruded upon by a great hulking brute exuding sweat, a real problem in the summer, while standing in a queue seems absolutely unnecessary when space abounds.

Fortunately I have a few remedies to deal with this. Shopping bags serve as great little barricades. Or, if I have a handy rucksack with me, every now and then I would suddenly spin around, as if something had caught my eye, allowing my bag to clear an acceptable berth. Yawning and stretching is a pretty good tactic too, especially if you 'unconsciously' direct your outstretched arms towards a face. Or just direct their attention to bits of your person (elbows perhaps) that is especially close to them (like a boxer does with his jabbing hand) and the offenders tend to leave a little more room.

Nevertheless it still begets the question why some people insist on standing right up close behind me in a queue? Surely they can not think that if they are standing closer to the front of the queue the waiting time is less even if the number of people before them stays the same. Or do they think that nudging themselves along as tight as sardines would somehow make the queue move along faster? It all seems pointless to me. As a polite person in a queue, there is little you can do to be served sooner.

There is the space argument of course, and truly in some queues, squeezing together is required for throughway to be maintained. However, a case in point would be while I queuing to check-in on my way back from France recently. The hall was vast yet the individual behind me insisted on shuffling himself and his luggage so close behind me, in complete disregard for the marked line behind which he should have stood, that he bopped me with his skis and I could feel my baby hairs ruffling under his breath.

Move back smelly man! And yes, I am one of those people who heartily approve of glaring bright yellow lines marking out the boundaries of a queue. But really, sidling so close to the fellow ahead all seems so pushy and in the end to no effect, so why do it?

This blog will be moving to a new, more appropriately named, domain soon:
Updates soon to come!