They say that anyone can buy a good house, but good neighbours are priceless.
We happen to be blessed with the most wonderful neighbours in our whole building. Ok, it’s a small building with only 5 tenants, but it is still a wonder that we love to get together regularly for dinner, with a new host on each occasion and dinner being a casual affair where we each arrive in our house-slippers and even bring along chairs or an assortment of dinnerware if need be. We go on picnics together, attend each other’s wedding and even babysit if the need arises. One particular neighbour is so sweet to occasionally leave boxes of Lindt chocolates on our doorstep, he being an employee of this awe-inspiring local institution. If you have had a horrid day at work, coming home to find a little treasure of pralines at your door not only does wonders for your spirit, but almost makes you believe in the fairy godmother.
So you can imagine my delight to come home one day to find not one, but two (!), 2.5 kg industrial-sized bags of tip-top chocolate chips on my doorstep! Not quite like your average chocolate chips, these small, unpolished coin-sized pieces of chocolate are perfect for melting or for chopping to use in various baked goods. They come in a variety of grades which you can mix together to create your own custom blend of chocolate. What makes them more special is that they are not available for purchase by the ordinary customer; these specially manufactured chocolate chips are produced primarily for the local chocolatiers to use in their exquisite creations. My head is still spinning from the excitement of the numerous ways in which I can put this chocolate to a deserving use …
And what better recipe to show off good-quality chocolate than the humble brownie?
For a long time, I had been faithful to Nigella Lawson’s Snow-Flecked Brownies which first appeared as a variation to her Brownie recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess, and which was later granted a special status as a recipe in its own right in Feast. This particular recipe was quick and easy to whip together, not to mention fail-proof. It remained my go-to brownie recipe for perhaps a decade, a testament to my loyalty.
But then there were whispers in the foodie community that there was a better brownie recipe on the block, a recipe that was bound to convert anyone who had tried it. That recipe belongs to Nigel Slater and comes from his evocative cooking journal, The Kitchen Diaries. Although I was curious to try Nigel Slater’s recipe, I found it difficult to diverge from the usual path whenever a craving for chocolate brownies ensued. But faced with 5 kg of chocolate, I thought now would be the right time to take risks in the kitchen.
With a decent 250 g of chocolate in the recipe, plus a generous amount of cocoa, I had an inkling that this recipe could not go wrong. As with any recipe where chocolate is the predominant flavour, you should use the best quality chocolate and cocoa you can afford. I often use chocolate with 60% cocoa solids in my baking – it tends to be a good compromise if you are serving both kids and adults as it is not too sweet and not too bitter. To that end, I don’t necessarily always use Lindt chocolate in my baking; given the amount of baking I do, I often opt for the supermarket brand (which is made by a reputable local chocolate factory anyway) and reserve the more expensive chocolate for special occasions where I definitely want the chocolate to stand out.
For this recipe, I used Lindt Trinidad chocolate with 68% cocoa solids and Bensdorp cocoa from Dean & Deluca, the latter being a staple ingredient in my pantry ever since I first discovered it on my first trip to New York. Since then, whenever I find myself in New York for work or play, I always make the time to bring back a tin or two of this rich, dark cocoa. I have even asked colleagues visiting from New York to pack a tin in their suitcase. In return, I make sure they go home with a good supply of Teuscher chocolates.
As with any brownie recipe, this particular recipe was fairly easy to put together. I love that some of the chocolates are chopped up into small chunks and folded through the batter to provide nuggets of sweetness as you cut through a slice. Baking brownies in a square tin makes a lot of sense because you will have a few fudgy slices in the centre for those who like their brownies really gooey, and the slices around the edges tend to be drier, yet still wonderfully moist. They keep quite well for a few days under a covered dish, if you can manage to restrain yourself from eating them all in one sitting.
Upon biting into my first slice of this brownie, I needed no further persuasion as to which was the better brownie recipe. Nigel Slater’s My Very Good Chocolate Brownie Recipe is more than very good. It is, without a doubt, the best brownie recipe. Ever.
Perhaps it is the top-quality chocolate which I used in this recipe which gives it the deep, dark, chocolate flavour. But the use of little flour in Nigel Slater’s recipe certainly makes the brownies less cake-like and more deliciously dense and fudgy. Just so that I could be sure of my verdict, I made these brownies a second time which was a sign in itself that there will be a decade yet of Nigel Slater’s brownies before I will try any other.
- 250 g (8 oz) chocolate (68% or 70%
- cocoa solids)
- 60 g (2 oz) plain flour
- 60 g (2 oz) cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 300 g (10 oz) caster sugar
- 250 g (8 oz) butter, softened
- 4 eggs - 3 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Line a 23 cm (9 inch) square baking tin with baking paper.
- Melt 200 g (7 oz) of the chocolate in a bain-marie and set aside to cool slightly. Chop the remaining chocolate into gravel-sized pieces.
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.
- Beat the sugar and butter together until it is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, together with a tablespoon of the dry ingredients.
- Beat in the melted chocolate, and then fold in the remaining dry ingredients and the chopped chocolate pieces.
- Pour the mixture into the baking tin and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes. A skewer inserted in the middle of the cake should come out sticky but not with raw cake mixture attached to it. The cake will also continue to cook as it cools.
- Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack before slicing.
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