Raspberry and White Chocolate Brownies (or, stodgy cake to cure self-doubt)

Raspberry and White Chocolate Brownies

I am not very good at social situations. In small groups of people I know already that I love, I am ok; I can make jokes and I can laugh in the right places and offer support and I can feel like I am ok. But in a big group, or in a new group, I am Not Good. At parties full of unfamiliars I can often be found in a corner with the one familiar I have found, and when they leave to have a conversation with someone more fizzy I go and sit in the bathroom for a bit on my own or leave altogether. 

I have often not gone to things where I know I will only know one or two people. I am well-intentioned, normally. A Facebook event for a birthday, a friendly gathering or a flatwarming will pop up in my notifications and I will happily click to say I will come. But then, as the event draws nearer, my stomach will turn and I will feel sick and I cannot and therefore do not go. I remain in my pyjamas. Sometimes, I count down and try to convince myself: ‘Yes, I will leave in half an hour.’ But the half an hour passes, I do not leave. I promise myself again I will go soon, but instead I stay and probably fall asleep at an early hour. 

Raspberry and White Chocolate Brownies

Slowly but surely, my friends from Edinburgh are migrating down to London. Their lives begin again and I am invited to celebrate new jobs, new homes, new selves. I sometimes struggle to say yes to these things, often struggle to actually get there.

The weekend just gone, some friends threw a housewarming. It was a potluck dinner. In preparation, I made these brownies. They are good brownies. Thick, like slabs of peat, with a bit of sharpness from the raspberries, and a little extra crunch from the chunks of white chocolate. Great with cream, best when still a little warm, but good whenever. I baked them, cooled them, and put them in tupperware, ready to go with me. 

brownie batter

I thought about not going. I had so almost talked myself out of it. But then I realised I had made brownies. The brownies meant I went, because if I didn’t go the preparation would be wasted. Or I would have eaten a huge batch of brownies all to myself, which is a sure fire way to knock out any last trace of self-esteem you might hold on a Sunday afternoon. I went. 

My lovely friends cooked roast lamb, and it was delicious. I did some conversation, laughing in the right places most of the time, and it was lovely. I will never be someone who walks into a room and lights it up. I am not someone who shimmers and sparkles in any social situation. I am awkward and full of worry, but I can make these brilliant brownies, and so I can be brilliant, too; quietly, momentarily brilliant as each person takes a bite. That’s fine by me. 

Raspberry and White Chocolate Brownies

Raspberry and White Chocolate Brownies
Yields 16
Brilliant, thick brownies to bring to an occasion and make everyone feel better.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Ingredients
  1. 175g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for sticking your baking paper to a tin
  2. 150g dark chocolate, broken into bits (most brownie recipes say at least 70% cocoa, but I've never much noticed a difference... use the best you can afford)
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 300g caster sugar
  5. 75g plain flour
  6. 40g cocoa powder (again, the best you can afford, even if the value kind, will be fine)
  7. 100g white chocolate, broken into big bits
  8. A punnet of raspberries
  9. Icing sugar, optional, to dust
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 22cm x 22cm deep tin with greaseproof paper, using a little butter to stick the paper down.
  2. Put the butter and dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt together. I tend to use the microwave but go for a ban marie if you prefer. Set aside to cool while you do the rest.
  3. In a new bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and eggs together until they are very thick, like a mousse. This will take you several minutes but it is worth it.
  4. Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture. Fold it in with a big metal spoon (metal will stop the eggs deflating as much), gently but confidently.
  5. Add the flour and cocoa powder, and, again, fold in gently but confidently. Dip your finger into the batter and taste, it will be good.
  6. Add the white chocolate pieces and mix until well distributed.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin, spreading evenly and into the corners.
  8. Take a raspberry and push it, whole, into the batter. Repeat, repeat again until you have a lot of raspberries dotted in there or you run out. Take a knife and spread the top of the batter around again to cover the raspberries so they don't burn.
  9. Bake for 35 - 40 mins, or until the brownies are firm and a skewer inserted into them comes out clean-ish.
  10. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes or so, then lift out using the greaseproof paper. Cut into the desired number of squares (4 each way, making 16, seems right to me), then cool on a wire rack for a while. Put in tupperware, take elsewhere and share.
Notes
  1. You can mix the raspberries into the batter, but I think with this you get a big hit of raspberry flavour and I prefer that.
  2. The size of tin is a guideline, use what you have and adjust cooking time accordingly. I have never used the tin size a recipe stated.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Learning by Doing: The Failed Macarons

Food blogs sometimes fall into the trap that social media draws us into; that we are lured to as our lives become increasingly linked with the digital. Sometimes it’s easier and nicer and better to paint it all as perfect.

This blog isn’t about that. I don’t want that. 

Because let me tell you, tonight I baked some macarons so spectacularly bad they deserve to be shared. 

Lemon Macarons

LOOK AT THOSE MONSTROSITIES. 

These were my very first attempt at macarons. Which I think makes this slightly less tragic. They were supposed to lemon flavoured, so I coloured them yellow – they aren’t *that* overbaked. 

I followed the recipe at the end of James Morton’s book How Baking Works, a book which I one day imagine will be battered (both in that it will be tatty and in that it will have cake batter on every page) and then handed down to someone else. It is great, and it helps troubleshoot. 

In this instance, though, I can’t be sure exactly where the problem lies. I suspect I either under or over whipped the egg whites which is why they haven’t risen, or I gave them too stern a beating when adding the almonds and icing sugar. They also don’t have a foot on them, which means I didn’t rest them long enough (I rested them for 40 minutes, must try harder in future). Then they didn’t come off the baking sheet. This is possibly because I used greaseproof paper and the book does say use baking parchment, and also because I maybe took them off the baking paper when they weren’t as cool as possible (they’d had about half an hour). So they are a big old mess. 

DSC05474

Oh, and they are overbaked. I know this because I ate them, and meringue shouldn’t be that chewy. 

I did try and put a bit of lemon curd between them, you’ll notice. If you’re going to try something bloody well try it right, even if everything else involved is so obviously hideously wrong.

But, this week, Nadiya Hussein won the Great British Bake Off and it was MAGICAL. She is a lovely, deserved winner. 

Nadiya GBBO

So, these macarons were dreadul. But I’ll try again. I’ll keep trying. One day I will get them right. I can and I will get them right. 

Chorizo and Harissa Mac and Cheese (or, the story of Callum and a Camden Market copycat)

Chorizo and Harissa Mac and Cheese

My friend Callum visited this weekend, for a one-night-only extravaganza of a stay before he jetted off to Greece for a spell. Callum and I met in Edinburgh during university, but he now lives in his home town of Aberdeen and I am in London; opposite ends of this fair isle. It is rare that I see him these days. He, along with a few others, came to my house, I prepared a beer can chicken (as any special occasion demands) and we drank wine and there was piano playing and silliness.

By the way, if you are preparing a meal for friends one Friday night, maybe leave work a bit early of choose something that doesn’t take 3 hours, so you can sit down to dinner earlier than 11pm. But, if you do choose something that takes 3 hours, I wholeheartedly recommend a cheeseboard to distract your guests from the fact dinner is a long way away. 

I was planning on putting up a beer can chicken recipe, but I changed my mind. Partly because I didn’t take any photos of the prep or finished article because, as I say, it was late and we were hungry (and drunk). Perhaps another time. If you want to make one, it basically involves all the normal prep that goes into a roast chicken but you cook it standing, supported by a half full beercan in it’s bum. I was taught to make it by my friend Lillis and it remains the best thing in my culinary repertoire. 

Chorizo and Harissa Mac and Cheese

But this isn’t about beer can chicken. This is about Callum, and this is about things covered in cheese. I have lived in London for two years and in that time Callum has now visited twice (one day I’ll make it up to Aberdeen…). The last time he came, in July, was glorious. We wandered along the South Bank and drank beer and played scrabble. We also took a trip to Camden Market, where we looked at trinkets, drank a little more and ate delicious food.

In Camden Market, on all weekdays, stands The Mac Factory – the mecca of mac lovers. It sells delicious, creamy mac and cheese in its purest form or covered in various other glorious things. On a sunny Sunday in July, Callum and I sat by the canal with cider and brilliant mac and cheese. Two random men showed up with a keyboard and sang 80s pop songs out of key and it was perfect. 

The Mac Factory

This recipe is based on The Mac Factory’s Posh Spice, a spiced up Mac and Cheese with harissa and chorizo (ie the best food in the world). I have no idea how they made theirs, but I know it is infinitely tasty, and this isn’t a bad homemade substitute. 

This one is for you, Callum. 

Chorizo and Harissa Mac and Cheese
Serves 4
Mac and cheese with extra spice
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 chorizo ring, skinned and chopped (about a cup once chopped)
  2. 1 red onion, chopped
  3. 4 1/2 cups pasta (I used Spirali here, which is a name Sainsburys has created to make 'spiral' sound Italian and sexy)
  4. 2 tbsp oil (or quite a big glug)
  5. 3 tbsp flour
  6. 1 1/2 cups milk
  7. 3 tsps harissa paste
  8. 1 1/4 cup mature cheddar, cubed
  9. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  10. 1 ball of mozzarella, roughly shredded
Instructions
  1. Pop your pasta on to boil. Cook according to packet instructions.
  2. Heat the oil over a medium high heat in a saucepan. Fry the onion and chorizo, until the onion is fragrant and the oil has been released from the chorizo.
  3. Turn the heat down low and add the flour and stir quickly until everything is coated.
  4. Pour in the milk and add the harissa paste. Keep stirring, making sure the flour doesn't clump and the sauce thickens nicely. This might take a few minutes.
  5. When the sauce is thicker, add in the cheddar and parmesan and leave to melt, stirring once in a while. When melted, throw in the mozzarella and let that melt, too.
  6. Drain your pasta and then add it into the cheesy sauce.
  7. Serve.
Notes
  1. The Mac Factory top theirs with toasted bread crumbs and you could, too. I didn't have bread and didn't want to make some just for this.
Adapted from The Mac Factory
Adapted from The Mac Factory
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/