If you’re after an indulgent chocolate hit, as far as baked goods go, there’s nothing chocolatier than a batch of chocolate brownies (unless you eat pure chocolate from the store cupboard anyway). An American invention & widely popular almost everywhere these days, it’s unclear where the origins of these chocolatey squares lay. There are many different theories, mostly based around happy mishaps in the kitchen, such as a chef accidentally adding melted chocolate to a biscuit dough, a cook who forgot to add flour to a cake batter & a housewife who ran out of baking powder when making a cake for guests & baked it anyway, serving flattened cakes. It seems that no one truly knows where the invention was born.
Another popular theory is that a chef at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago was the inventor back in the late 19th century. Bertha Palmer, a socialite who’s husband owned the hotel, requested that the chef make a special dessert for ladies attending the Chicago 1893 World Fair. The dessert was to be cake-like but smaller than you’re average piece of cake so that if could fit into boxed lunches (plus it’s hard to remain prim & proper when tackling a large slab of chocolate cake, just ask Bruce Bogtrotter). The chef met her order by producing a brownie which was topped with walnuts & an apricot glaze. This same brownies is still made to the same recipe & served today at the hotel which is now The Palmer House Hilton.
No matter where these confections came from though, I think that we can all just be grateful that they did (dare we imagine a world without brownies). It’s the simple treat that can be enjoyed anywhere, suitable for any occasion or even lack of occasion, everyone loves a bit of chocolate. Where controversy lies though isn’t with our glutinous appreciation of the brownie but at it’s core, it’s texture. Should a brownie be cakey, gooey or fudgy? Each of us will have our own opinion on this but, much like how we take our tea, it’s all down to personal preference.
Personally, I’m all for brownie diversity (if ever there was a cause to champion, I feel this could be mine) & think that there’s enough room in the world for each kind, which should be appreciated on their own merit. Sometimes I crave the moist, gooeyness of a tray of brownies so difficult to cut that you wonder why even bother cutting it at all (mega brownie!). Other times, I enjoy the moreish, chewy, easily transportable chocolate hit of a fudgy brownie. A cakey brownie would be my least favourite of the bunch, I feel as though it needs to pick a corner… cake or brownie, don’t masquerade as either.
These chocolate brownies are somewhat more on the fudgy side of the brownie scale. Once cut, their edges go slightly crispy outside & have a chewy centre with the hidden contrasting crunch of chocolate chips throughout. These are the perfect kind of texture that I associate with a brownie, the sort that I remember from my childhood. Cut into neat, bite-sized squares & where less than two is never eaten. These are really simple to make & do disappear quite quickly, a real crowd pleaser so gift wisely or maybe make two batches! Even in world where there’s always something new to try or capture our tastebuds, a world of cronuts & deconstructed desserts, I think our love for the humble chocolate brownie will never fade, or at least it shouldn’t (then we know we’ve got issues).
- 250g granulated sugar
- 70g butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 80ml rapeseed oil
- 75g cocoa powder
- 65g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 130g chocolate chips
- Handful of edible flowers (I use a mix of pansies, nasturtiums, calendula & rose petals)
- Grease & line an 8″x 8″ square cake tin with baking parchment
- In a saucepan, gently melt the butter & mix in the sugar (it will look lumpy but don’t worry)
- Remove the pan from the heat & mix in in the eggs, oil & vanilla
- Sift over the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate, cornflour
- Use a spatula to fold through the dry ingredient before adding in the chocolate chips & mixing through
- Pour the mixture into the cake tin
- Bake the brownies at 170C for 25-30 minutes until set & a skewer inserted into the centre of the brownies still comes out with a few crumbs
- Leave the chocolate brownies to cool completely in their tin before slicing into squares
If decorating with edible flowers:
- Begin by pressing the flowers, lay them flat between two pieces of baking parchment & then simply weigh down with something heavy for a few hours (a baking tray with some heavy cook books on top works well)
- Once the brownies have cooled, place them in the fridge for a couple of hours, after which time their top should’ve gotten nice & sticky as the sugar reacts with the moisture in there
- Alternatively, you can cheat if in a hurry & mix up a quick sugar syrup to act as a sort of glue for the flowers (mix 30g sugar with 30g water, stir to dissolve the sugar before bringing to a quick boil for 3 minutes & leaving to cool)
- Carefully peel the pressed flowers from the parchment & press them onto the chocolate brownies slab before chilling for another hour & slicing for nice clean edges