Monday, December 3, 2012

The best brownie in the world?

Sin - that would be gluttony - never tasted so good

The best brownie in the world? 

Sometime earlier this year - I don't remember when, it's been a busy year - I needed to make something for a dinner party or a birthday, and came across a recipe in my recipe volumes I hadn't made before: twice cooked chocolate brownies.

Fudgy brownie goodness
The recipe came from an old issue of delicious. - November 2009, to be exact - from chef Ben O'Donoghue (you can also find the recipe here). It looked relatively easy, so thought I'd give it a try.

They're pretty easy to make - melt chocolate and butter; beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in Betty; pour in chocolate mixture; gently fold in flour and nuts; pour batter in to tin; bake until nearly cooked.

My goodness, they were good. Everyone else thought so, too. Ever since, these brownies have become legendary. I've made them a few times now - either for dinner parties or work colleagues - and the reactions I get each time range from ecstasy-inducing mumbles, to exclamations of how good they are. I like making people happy.

I made them for my friend Katy's dinner party recently and realised I had never blogged about them, but didn't want to until I had good photos. Then, last week, Katy had a busy week at work and I was cajoled (not that I needed much convincing) into making them again to cheer her up.

The result of taking them to work
I took them into work and this time I brought the camera with me. I should've taken photos of my colleagues' reactions when they realised what I'd brought in - some grinned and did little claps, others squealed with delight. But I stuck to photos of the brownies.

And, I seriously have to admit, they must be some of the best brownies I've ever made. They're rich, fudgy, with a hint of saltiness from a pinch of salt, and crunchy from the macadamias. Oh, and chocolatey. Very chocolatey. Lots of butter, lots of sugar and lots of chocolate. No-one ever said that something this sinfully good was good for you.

They're called twice cooked for a reason. While they're perfect as they are, you can take it to the next level by steaming them for dessert. I did this for the first time last night. I probably didn't steam them long enough to make them truly warm and fudgy, but no matter - with some vanilla icecream, it goes down really well as dessert.
Steamed up with icecream for dessert

Back to sharing them at work, and most people took seconds. I made the mistake of having two, one straight after the other. They're delicious, but spacing them out is recommended. While polishing off the first one, it prompted me to ask my colleague Alex - an American, and therefore perhaps considered an authority on the subject of brownies - whether she thought these were the best brownies in the world. She considered for a moment, before replying that she's had lots of different types of brownies, so it was hard to judge, but that these were pretty damn good.

From an American, that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pumpkin perfection

Pumpkin perfection

Creamy - but without the cream - butternut pumpkin soup is a winner

So we're back into my favourite time of year - autumn and winter - and with it, comes my favourite type of food - comfort food. Perfect pastas, brilliant braises, steaming soups.

Soups are one of my most favourite things to cook and eat. They're so easy to make, yet can be as simple or as decadent as you like. They can be clean, nourishing and light - like chicken noodle soup - or they can be dense and knock your socks off, fending off any would-be cold - like my spicy barley and lentil soup.

I've written before that there's a few things you can't get in Switzerland. But I was pleasantly surprised when the shops started stocking butternut pumpkin a few weeks ago. (Which, I must add, I was shocked to discover that butternut pumpkin - as it's called in Australia - is not actually a pumpkin at all, but rather a squash.) Picking one up, I suddenly had a craving for butternut pumpkin soup.

Perfect pumpkin creaminess
I had plenty of recipes amongst my recipe books and volumes, but none really suited what I wanted; a rich, smooth soup, easy to make, creamy - but without the cream. I've never been a big fan of cream in anything, but especially in soups. However I found the perfect recipe - pumpkin and chive soup. This recipe uses potatoes - the starch of which provides the smooth creaminess - a tiny bit of sour cream - for depth of flavour - and a sprinkling of chives - for a hint of crunch.

After sautéing onion and garlic, and then simmering peeled and cut potatoes and pumpkin in chicken stock (add veg stock to make this vegetarian-friendly), it's time to break out the equipment and whiz it all up in a food processor, in batches, to a super smooth, creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper, add sour cream and finely chopped chives - and voila - pumpkin soup perfection. 

Peel, chop, simmer, whiz, stir - very easy to make. Sweet pumpkin taste, balanced by starchy potatoes and dense sour cream - very tasty. On a cold, wintry night, what else could you ask for?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Great cakes!

Can't quite decide whether these were a triumph or transcendent - on the border, so will give both ratings!
Great cakes!
So I have been cooking this year, just not posting. With autumn and winter approaching - my favourite seasons for food - I'll try and post more. 

But I can post on a couple of recent triumphs, both cakes. Baking cakes is something I've always found cathartic, and given a rather frustrating week at work, I felt the need to bake two. 

I decided to make one for a friend's birthday party I was invited to, and then another when I realised a colleague who complains he doesn't get cake in his office would be in town just before his birthday. 

Then the hard question of what to make. I have so many cook books and recipe scrapbook volumes, that I haven't looked into even half the recipes. Then I found two I had never made before that were easy, simple to make, and - more importantly - sounded delicious. 

For my colleague-who-never-gets-cake, I settled on melt-and-mix white chocolate cake with a dark chocolate glaze from Donna Hay's Modern Classics Book 2. Ms Hay is the queen of quick, simple cakes that taste delicious and this one was no exception. 
Melt-and-mix white chocolate cake
The sweet white chocolate and vanilla cake perfectly contrasted the slightly bitter dark chocolate glaze. The cake itself was not too dry, but did take a little longer than expected to bake. 

It was definitely a hit with all of my colleagues though, with some going back for seconds afterwards and there being none left at all by lunch the following day. 

The other cake I chose for the birthday party was a lemon and raspberry loaf cake. This came out of one of my recipe volumes, and I think it's from the cooking section of an edition of Perth's Sunday Times newspaper.

Although the recipe called for frozen raspberries, fresh ones are currently in season here in Switzerland, so decided to use those instead. It was a good choice, as I think the juice from the fresh berries made it delightfully moist. 

Lemon and raspberry loaf en fete
The flavour of tart lemon and raspberry complemented each other well, with the lemon coming through in the icing on top. Interestingly, several friends had a hard guess trying to pick the fruit that was in it (I hadn't told them), which I was a little surprised by; looked fairly obvious to me! At any rate, comments of 'great cake!' were backed up by the cake having been polished off with nothing left at the end. 

I think of the two, I preferred the taste of the white chocolate cake, but found the lemon and raspberry one easier to make (all done in Betty, my Kitchenaid) and it also turned out more moist, which is something I like in a cake. Thumbs up for both, and they'll definitely go into my list of tried, tested and trusted cake recipes.