Most times we encounter the faux-brownie, the bastard of boxed chocolate mix with a large slather of cringe-inducing tub frosting. Nothing sends me into a blind rage when someone tells me they’ve slaved over their homemade recipe and it tastes much like the Duncan Heinz versions I had as a kid. What can I say? Back then I didn’t know better. Other times we find ourselves chowing on hockey puck chocolate, so dense and stiff you crack a tooth at first bite. And possibly the most criminal of all brownie infractions: the sawdust brownie. Far worse than the boxed business because after slaving away at the homemade version you find you’ve over-mixed the batter, over-baked the goods, and now you’re left with a cake that falls apart when you touch it. And the taste? Chocolate sawdust.
Here’s a pillow. Scream into it.
For years I’ve been at war with the BROWNIE. My first foray into the kitchen was with a boxed mix and some hard-boiled eggs. Determined to surprise my mother with a sweet treat, I raced home from the supermarket and set to work on my very ambitious project. Since I didn’t understand the difference between using cooked eggs and fresh eggs, I found myself picking out whites from the batter. When my mother finally came home from work, she sniffed the errant batch and clipped down the hallway. Door locked, television blasting, I was left with a tin of chocolate that found its new home in the garbage bin. Looking back at it all, although I was fifteen, I should have known better.
Fast forward to this afternoon when the threat of a storm derailed my work travel plans. After a slew of emails and airline phone calls, I found myself with some free time to be idle. To bake. And after I few clicks, I stumbled onto an old favorite, Citrus + Candy, and who knew that I would be immediately smitten by her luscious, simple brownies.
This version is flour-free, light, chewy and rich. You won’t find a moister batch or a more simpler recipe.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Citrus + Candy, with modifications
100g (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
100g (6 tbsp) natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 tbsp nutella
120g (1/2 cup + 1 tsp) caster sugar*
1 tsp vanilla
100g (1/2 cup) dark chocolate, chopped
2 eggs lightly beaten
100g (1 cup) almond meal (almond flour)
*Believe me when I say there’s a difference between confectioner’s, granulated, cane and caster sugar. The consistency of caster sugar is much like sand, a more finely ground version of granulated sugar, and it absorbs quickly into recipes — reducing the grit factor.
Preheat oven to 170°C/340°F and lightly grease and line a 20cm/8inch square cake pan with parchment paper. I like to use coconut spray as it’s no muss, no fuss, but feel free to use softened butter or regular cooking spray.
In a pan over low heat, melt the butter, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla extract then whisk together until smooth. Remove from heat, add the chopped chocolate, allowing it to settle for a moment, and then stir to combine. The mixture will be all slick and glossy. Beat in the eggs [I tend to whisk in a little bit of the egg to temper the mixture before sliding the whole lot in. But, for the love of GOD, please keep whisking vigorously, or you’ll have chocolate scrambled eggs and you’ll weep and stomp and throw your pan against the wall. I say this because I’ve done and I’ve wept and thew my pan to the floor), then the almond meal. Whisk vigorously to combine. Don’t freak out if you see specks of almond flour, this is all good and normal.
Pour into tin then bake for about 15-17 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in tin for about 10 minutes then turn out and serve slightly warm and dusted with cocoa powder or icing sugar. Today you’ll find me hoovering said brownies with a hot cup of coffee.