Sunday, 21 July 2013

brownie politics + a recipe for espresso pecan brownies

espresso pecan brownies
when i was in secondary school i had a classmate whose mother made exceptional brownies. they were gooey and fudgy with a thin, flaky epidermis several shades lighter than the deep brownness of what lay beneath. in fact they were my first real brownies and became the benchmark for all others in islamabad. no other brownies ever measured up to them and even my own attempts to recreate them at home failed miserably. in those years the closest i ever got to approximating auntie r’s brownies were through betty crocker’s brownie mix.

a few years later when we started travelling to uncle sam’s land i met the world of brownie. like the cookie, the brownie comes in denominations – thick, chewy, crisp or cakey. should they be dark or milk chocolate? should there be nuts or chocolate chips in them? should they be eaten warm with ice cream and hot fudge sauce? the brownie universe is riddled with questions of texture and taste. it appears that its history is as chequered as its personality. there are several myths about the creation of the brownie none of which can be substantiated. the only certainty is that the first recipe was published in fannie farmer’s boston cooking school cookbook in 1906.

making the batter
i wonder what fannie farmer would think of the proliferation of brownie recipes today. there are endless variations from the more traditional (chocolate with walnuts) to those with swirls of peanut butter, nutella or cream-cheese or little pillows of marshmallow or bursts of chocolate or butterscotch chips. what is more, they all assert themselves to be the ultimate brownie recipe. my favourite is a simple one from martha stewart that has a fudgy texture. it is a foolproof recipe.

recently, my brother’s fiancé brought me pecans from her trip to dushanbe. the present came with a caveat, which was that i had to make something for her with them. my first thoughts were to adapt the canal house ‘better than nutella’. i had made a jar of it as an edible gift for my sibling and a had been gently reproachful of the fact she barely got to partake of it. but then i was told that the pecans had to be married to coffee.

coffee and chocolate are a perfect marriage. nuts are kinfolk.

caramelised pecans
to me pecans are dearer than walnuts and almonds. i treat them as a luxury nut, one that deserves a little special treatment. so rather than an everyday brownie i decided i wanted to make something truffle like. i remembered my first ever paul young brownie. it was around five years ago when the guardian had put together an easter chocolate tasting at its headquarters. a year or so later i bought one for i. they really little squares of richness, like the ganache inside a truffle and are rightly known as london’s best brownies. i decided that they would be a worthy partner of some espresso caramelised pecans.

this batch of brownies has an extended life. most of them were dispatched to a who froze some to carry to pakistan for my brother. half a dozen of them are tucked into my freezer and the remaining few were eaten by o, i and a couple of friends. 

{espresso pecan brownies}
for the espresso pecans

thirty grams golden sugar
one tablespoon instant coffee
one tablespoon butter
one hundred and fifty grams pecan halves

grease a shallow baking tray liberally and put aside. you will need this to place the nuts onto to cool.

place the butter and sugar in a non-stick pan. once the butter had melted add the pecans to the pan along with the instant coffee. stir then gently and consistently until the sugar is molten and has fully coated all the nuts. 

remove the heat and carefully spoon them onto the greased baking tray. try to separate as many as them as possible. leave them to cool.

for the brownies 
barely adapted from poires au chocolat who adapted them from paul a. young

one hundred grams unsalted butter
one hundred and fifty grams caster sugar
sixty grams light brown sugar
forty grams muscovado sugar
seventy-five grams golden syrup
two hundred and seventy-five grams good quality seventy % dark chocolate 
one-teaspoon instant coffee
four eggs
seventy grams plain flour
roughly chopped caramelised pecans (see above)

preheat the oven to one hundred and sixty degrees celsius. grease and line a twenty by twenty cm square tin. 

this batter is made in a saucepan so use one that is large enough to accommodate everything comfortably. you will also need a silicone-coated whisk if you saucepan is non-stick. start by placing the butter, sugars and golden syrup in the saucepan. heat gently until all the ingredients have melted together and then beat until smooth. 

remove the saucepan from the heat and add the chocolate. stir the chocolate into the still warm mixture until it has melted fully and the batter is consistent in colour. 

break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them together before incorporating them into the batter. lastly, add the flour and beat the batter until very smooth. pour the batter into the prepared cake tin. sprinkle the roughly chopped caramelised pecans over the top and tuck into the oven.

bake for twenty minutes and then take out and leave to cool. you will have to cool these brownies overnight in the fridge or freezer before you can cut them. a very impatient o demanded for one to cut before hand and it was quite a disaster so don’t be tempted unless you want really uneven brownies. 

the next day slice them using a very sharp knife dipped into hot water. you will want to make almost bite sized morsels, as these brownies are incredibly rich. they taste lovely at room temperature and even better when they are cold. they also freeze well. 

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