Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

Brownies, redux: Trust no-one!

While the rest of South Africa is out doing something important today, I though I should do something important to. So I made brownies. Again. Yawn.

I know, I have said it time and again that I will stop this madness. But wait! This time I cracked it. Let me be clear: I have not found the perfect brownie, but I finally understand the brownie. And like all things in which one aspires to expertise, it has taken a lot of hard work. I have now read about, thought about, looked at, and actually baked, so many brownies that finding yet another page like this one no longer fills me with fear, trepidation, nightmares (!!), or the need to draw up shopping lists consisting of only eggs, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, butter and flour. Yes, there is a brownie called “Better Than Brad Pitt“, and I do not need it in my life.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that you cannot trust pictures or words on the interwebs. (And, as Julia Moskin recently pointed out in The New York Times, you should not trust recipe search engines either). Take-home lesson: be distrustful.

Just look at this recipe, for example, for “Bakery Style Chewy Brownies“, which comes with this picture:

Well that looks like a pretty damn fine brownie, and the word “chewy” hits all the right tingly bits in my brain. But if you look at the original recipe, the description reads “Thick and almost fudge-like in consistency“… So what is it – chewy or fudgy? In the brownie world, those words are basically antonyms. Said recipe also tells us that “The key to this brownies [sic] yummy chewy top is beating the eggs and sugar together for several minutes until they become very light and fall off the beater in a ribbon, so definitely don’t skip that step.” Well, just the other day I made the famous Supernatural Brownies, and they got exactly the same top without beating the eggs for an age. (The supernaturals are supposed to be the “perfect chewy brownie“, by the way. They are not. They are damn tasty, but chewy they ain’t.) So if anyone tells you that you must beat eggs and sugar together for many minutes to get that special crackled brownie-top, just step away from the Kenwood and remember, that’s bullshit.

So in the spirit of distrusting everything I read, I decided to finally try these famed browned butter brownies, which are described as (ugh) “fudgy on the inside”. Here they are, in all their sweet-baby-jesus chewy goodness, and packed with peanut-power too:

Anyone for coffee and brownies? (If you don’t like peanuts, you can have Kahlua-toffee, or fudgy-peppermint…).

Oh, and one more lesson learned: brownies make an excellent breadbrownie-and-butter pudding. Soak chunks in custard, sprinkle tops with sugar, bake. Try not to burn. Eat with Tahini ice cream. Or, you know, whatever other whacky concoction lurks in your freezer. (PS. You can of course trust me on this.)

 

Kenwood brings you… the exploding brownie!

Today is my honorary birthday. Which means today is the day that I acquired my first-ever (!!!) stand-mixer (!!!), which is a very early birthday present from my darling Philosophe (and to all those who think kitchen appliances are not cool birthday gifts: you are just wrong. They bring joy to all).

I admit I’ve coveted the KitchenAid ever since I saw it as a wee lass on Nigella’s counter on the telly. But after careful consideration, much research (including much eye-popping at the outrageous prices of those things in this part of the world), I settled on this little sexy number:

There are only a few things I hate doing in the kitchen. The first is making short-crust pastry (by hand), so that was the first item on the appliance-christening list. It worked like a charm (like, it works!!). We’ll see how it tastes later on a chicken pie, but so far so good. The second is being stuck in one place when you have to beat things like eggs and sugar till thick and pale (old-school, with a hand-held mixer). So much activity lost in those 3-5 minutes!

Brownies, then. Which was opportune, as I had just picked up some cheapo “panned almonds” from Woolies with no clear intent except to buy them before someone else did, seeing as they were half-price (it’s the old rule: only buy chocolate after Easter). And seeing as these “panned almonds” had some sort of white-chocolate-strawberry coating (who knows), I thought it would be clever to introduce a bit of “French” nougat into the mix for some more sweet-berry/nutty goodness (the Sailor lately informed me, by the way, that he has never seen “French” nougat in France. He’s French):

So far, so better. Until I pulled the pan out the oven and discovered that those Frenchies don’t like being in the brownie mix one bit:

This almost takes the cup(cake) for the ugliest thing I have pulled out the oven. Ah well, who says it has to be pretty. Besides, exploding things have a tendency to be rather damn tasty, isn’t that right, little piggy?

Happy birthday to me. Now committed to making bigger and better mistakes in the kitchen, so you don’t have to.

 

Alton Brown-ies (or, glutton for punishment?)

Being an honorary South African (or Swazi, or Dane), I am a relative latecomer to the phenomenon of Alton Brown – who, as per above, has apparently been teaching (American) geeks how to cook since 1999. He’s entertaining and whacky in a Heston Blumenthal sort of way, except the comparison stops at invention: they’re both mad scientists, but Blumenthal is definitely one up on the Willy Wonka factor (never mind snail porridge: how many people can actually get their dinner guests to lick the wallpaper?). Alton Brown is fun to watch because he explains how stuff works, in a way that you could actually try at home (I once mimicked his recipe for mint juleps: they was good).

So it only made sense that I should break my latest vow never to make brownies again with Alton Brown’s recipe. I like it because it only uses cocoa (no faffing about with melting chocolate), and it contains four eggs, which should produce some nice thick, chewy brownies.

And I planned to follow it exactly to the letter, so I could only blame Alton if they didn’t work. Except for one minor alteration, which was to add an entire box of Dalla Cia grappa chocolates. How beautiful it promises to be in execution:

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I wish I could say the above picture (of the brownie) came out of my own kitchen, but alas, my brownies are still cooling in the pan, so I borrowed this picture from someone who actually got it right (click on the image to visit that baker). And I may as well add right now that I didn’t have enough butter and couldn’t be arsed to go to the shop again, so I supplemented with a little oil. Oh, and I added some espresso powder too.

In theory, these will be the perfect ode to something the Philosophe and I call our cap-grap routine: cappuccino and grappa after lunch (which ideally includes a glass of some nice cold riesling for these hot summer days). But I fear that I – unlike Alton Brown – am a crap scientist in the kitchen. My last batch of brownies contained two whole boxes of Lindor chocolate balls. They should have been superb. Instead the whole lot ended in the bin.

Let’s hope the garbage trolls don’t get lucky again.

Strawberries soaked in vodka fail to impress

So after my recent bold declaration that this Doctor’s brownie adventures are officially over, I was naturally confronted with all sorts of Facebook banter offering yet more tips and tricks for that thing I had just renounced. The most evil of these was a recipe which calls for cocoa powder dissolved in hot water (rather than melting chocolate), along with the suggestion that the water be replaced by booze (Nina, you know who you are).

Talk of booze in food often takes the turn of trying to discover how best to keep it in there. If you dissolve cocoa in a cup of bourbon, won’t it all just evaporate during baking (for instance)? In other words, how does one maintain the integrity of a truly boozy brownie?

Well since brownies were out, and I had recently spotted a recipe for white-chocolate-raspberry blondies, things quickly spiralled downhill. In the fridge: raspberries, no; dried strawberries, yes. In the freezer: vodka, yes. The strawberries looked very pretty in their vodka bath, and the vodka looked very pretty when I removed the strawberries a few hours later (it was, in fact, bright red, which leads me to seriously doubt the naturalness of the dried strawberries. But hey, colourful vodka cocktail coming up soon).

Worse: the blondies were dry, and not boozy at all. Had they been presented at tea time as what old Danish aunties call “sandkage” (this one you can work out for yourself), they would have been a hit. But as blondies, they were dismal failures.

I’ve made blondies before, and they were yummy and chewy and more-ish, so I blame the recipe. But I should have known better – it came from a British magazine, and what do the Brits know about blondies? Like, who would actually follow a Jamie Oliver recipe for brownies? (Don’t bother, I already did.)

Speaking of which, I believe Mr. O is now doing his very own 30-minute meals. This is amazing. Because that is exactly what Rachael Ray has built an entire empire on. He was even on her show earlier this year. So it’s not like they don’t know each other. Couldn’t he have called it “29-minute Meals”? Or, “Dinner In A Jiffy”? Or, “Pukka Nosh in Half a Tick”? Really. Anything but “I’m Just Going To Take Someone Else’s Idea And Hope That No One Notices”.

Then again, maybe it’s all the same anyway. As Michael Ruhlman put it not long ago,

‘Part of the problem is the magazine editors and television producers drumming us over the head with fast and easy meal solutions at home. It’s the wrong message to send. These editors and producers and publishers are backing the processed food industry, propelling their message. What I say to you magazine editors and producers, to you Rachael Ray and you Jamie Oliver and your 20 minutes meals: God bless you, but you are advertising and marketing on behalf of the processed food industry.’

Well, I don’t know about the God bless you part. And hey, I’m all for knocking things up in a hurry, and if the Ray and the Oliver can make that happen, then good for them. But when it panders to a public that (apparently) hasn’t got the attention span to realise that what Sir O. says is nothing new, then I’m off that bus.

Those people they create would probably even say my blondies were delicious.

PS. To clarify, when I first heard about the 30-minute meal venture, I tweeted the man himself to ask if RR hadn’t been doing the same thing for years. His response:

I guess we don’t all interpret “potential problem?” equally.