Once when I was a young lad, having a thought to bake a cake, and so leafing through Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, my dad happened to walk past. As he did, ruffling my hair, he glanced down to have a look at what I was reading, as was his wont, and made one utterance.
“Brownies! Chocolate brownies!” And then he walked on.
Looking up at Dad, I was left with this memory of looking up at Dad, as clear as a bell. Chocolate brownies … curious! Clearly a vivid and delicious memory had been triggered. Dad was as keen as can be about North America, and Canada in particular. He had apprenticed himself to an advertising agency in Montreal in the 1950s having graduated from art school in Dundee. Curiously, apart from the bowls of spaghetti bolognese Dad ate at a huge restaurant in Montreal for mere cents (being paid very little), chocolate brownies were the only culinary memory Dad ever shared from his time there. It gave me the distinct impression that a brownie was North America in chocolate form.
Many years later, when I worked for a catering company in London called Duff and Trotter, the book ever at hand was the Silver Palate Cookbook – the bible for all delicatessen shops, the sole surviving copy of which I still have (a fair few having drowned in cake batter and other such incidents best left undisclosed). Its pages are covered in chocolate paw prints – particularly that with the chocolate brownie recipe.
There is a curious quality to a brownie, an almost unseemly amount of sugar to a most modest amount of chocolate. The sugar is vital for that fudgy, near chewy, almost indefinable great bite of brownie, so intensely chocolatey that only a Roald Dahl dictionary can define it (“scrumdiddlyumptious” springs to mind). For my part, topping the brownie with fudge was the result of a curious accident. One night, finishing dinner, I was left with a pot of fudge sauce and a tray of brownies. I tipped the fudge sauce on to the brownies and left it to set. Thinking only that a pleasant treat for elevenses would result, it was duly served up for breakfast the next day. Such was the response that we have served it like this ever since.
I have cooked and enjoyed chocolate brownie unembellished, or as sliders with ice-cream sandwiched between. I have enjoyed blondies, too. But it is the Silver Palate and Fannie Farmer recipes I still have the greatest fondness for, and a combination of the two inspired this recipe. Incidentally, while brownies were supposedly first named in Farmer’s 1896 book, it is said that, until the early 20th century, brownies contained molasses but no chocolate at all…
A thought for the cook: use the best, most bitter chocolate for this recipe. Not only is the resulting brownie very good indeed when made with a fine bitter chocolate, so too is the fudge icing to pour atop.
Great for elevenses, a 4pm pick-me-up or pudding heaped with ice-cream and fudge sauce. Almonds, whole and roasted golden, make a good substitute for the walnuts.
For the brownies
120g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
250g unsalted butter
4 whole eggs
120g caster sugar
50g plain flour
20 walnut halves, roasted golden
For the fudge sauce
150g golden syrup
120g dark muscovado sugar
300g plain chocolate (70%)
1 Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2. Line a dish or tin measuring about 33cm x 23cm with baking parchment.
2 Half-fill a pan with water and put it on a high heat to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Break the chocolate into pieces and put it, with the butter, into a large bowl. Place the bowl above but not touching the simmering water and let the butter and chocolate melt.
3 Crack the eggs into another large bowl and add the sugar. Beat heroically until pale and voluminous. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa.
4 When the butter and chocolate are quite melted, gently add this to the beaten eggs and sugar. Mix deftly, then add the sifted flour and cocoa. A swift but thorough mixing is required. Decant this into the lined baking dish.
5 Put in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife or a skewer. A trace of wet chocolate gooeyness is good. Remove the tray to a cooling rack.
6 To make the fudge sauce, put all the ingredients except the chocolate into a large, heavy-based pan. Put the pan on a moderate heat and bring to a simmer. Stir well and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Break the chocolate into pieces and beat into the fudge. Remove from the heat and stir gently until smooth.
7 Check on the cooked brownie – it should be reasonably flat. If there are chocolate crags risen around the edge then, by all means, topple them with a knife (the resulting shards are rather good stirred into vanilla ice-cream … just sayin’!).
8 Pour on enough fudge sauce to generously ice the whole tray of brownie. Any fudge sauce left can be scraped into a tub to kept for serving later as a pudding, accompanied by ice-cream should that fancy appeal.
9 Let the fudgy brownie now sit. The longer the better – a few hours preferably. When ready, cut 20 rough squares from the brownie, say 5 squares along one side, 4 along the shorter side. Lift each square on to a tray, popping a walnut half into the fudge in the middle of each. Gather them together on a tray. Warm the leftover sauce, and bring the ice-cream.
- Jeremy Lee is the chef-proprietor of Soho’s Quo Vadis club and restaurant; @jeremyleeqv