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The best laid plans of mice and men…last minute brownies & my trip to Playgroup Festival

When I wrote my last post I thought I was completely organised and ready for my weekend away at Playgroup Festival with only the final task of a baking a couple of batches of banana bread to complete. That was, until I spoke to my friend (and recent birthday girl therefore one of the main reasons I was taking cake to a festival!) and discovered the severity of her hate for banana’s doh! You know what they say about the best laid plans!? So in the last few minutes before leaving the office I changed tack and decided to make brownies instead I mean everyone loves brownie’s right?! I opened my dilemma up to my community of food lovers and bloggers on twitter, asking for brownie recipe recommendations and oh man they did not disappoint!

I was recommended these sea salt caramel brownie’s from the Baked Cookbook by @1mgoldstars, these from @yummly, @beaniebright told me to try Nigella’s flourless chocolate brownies which did look amazing but in the end I decided to follow a tip off from @newmassaros for these ‘ultimate very chocolatey brownies’ from The British Larder…

To make these amazingly gooey, deliciously chocolatey morsels you will need…

300g unsalted butter

300g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa)

5 eggs

450g caster sugar

Seeds from 1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

150g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

1tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a baking tray (approx 34 x 25cm x 6cm deep) with baking paper.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and put it in a bowl with the butter over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until fully melted.

In another bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until they become thick, creamy and pale (don’t panic it doesn’t take long, even with a hand whisk and some elbow grease!).

Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the egg mixture slowly, whisking continuously to make sure it doesn’t curdle.

Finally sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into the mixture and fold it in carefully.

Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin and smooth it over.

Bake for 20 minutes before checking on it. The aim is for it to be gooey in the middle but as the recipe says it ‘should not wobble’. If it’s still a bit wobbly when you shake it just pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes and then check again.

Once you’re happy, leave it to cool (bear in mind that it carries on cooking as it cools). Then slice it into as large or small a sections as you fancy…

As I was cutting mine I panicked that I’d been a bit hasty and taken it out of the oven prematurely and that it was too gooey in the middle, however I was assured by @lexeat that it’s impossible to have an over-gooey brownie and lo and behold my fears were allayed when I offered it to my festival friends and they all fought over the gooeyest pieces from the middle J 

I can also confirm that it got even better after 2 days in a warm tent…I kid you not! Perfect festival baking!

Now a bit more about Playgroup…as I mentioned before it’s a very small, independent festival only in its second year. We were told there were only about 2000 people there, which made it wonderfully intimate and friendly and even I couldn’t get lost! J 

Everyone had thrown themselves into the spirit of the woodland animal fancy dress theme and my friends, who love an excuse to dress up, were no exception…

Due to its size the number of food stalls was minimal but it was very much a case of quality not quantity as the ones that were there were pretty darn good. One of my faves, which I stumbled across on the Saturday morning in my search for a good coffee was ‘Shitehawkes Coffee & Doughnuts’…

Where I was served by a man wearing a dressing gown and serenaded by a waistcoat-clad, shaven headed ukelele-er and funnily enough they served coffee…

and little French style doughnuts…

I also sampled a delicious vegetarian breakfast of scrambled egg, mushrooms cooked up with thyme, fried new potatoes with chilli flakes, grilled tomato, veggie sausage and a doorstep slice of soft granary bread and salted butter from the Lounged out Lizard tent and a great cuppa from Grannys Gaff but for me,the winner had to be Smokey Joe’s Caribbean Barbecue…

The pulled pork roll with salad and mojo mayonnaise was unbelievably tasty and worthy of some silent, eye closed savouring… 

Smokey Joe himself was a bit camera shy but I managed to pap him in the end (with his consent of course J)…

My friends also tried the jerk chicken and judging by their rave reviews I’d say Joe’s range of sauces may well be worth a try…

I also indulged in a fair amount of ‘Badgers Brew’ a light, hoppy, lager, which was brewed and named especially for the festival and of which we somehow managed to drink the bar dry!

We left the 3 day Playgroup extravaganza totally sated…with delicious food and drink, good music, an amazing pretension free atmosphere and great friends…how can you go wrong!

I’d just like to leave you with one of my favourite pics of the weekend…

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What to do with a fridge full of cream cheese…

Is it me, or does Philidelphia always seems to be on offer at the supermarket? I’m not a huge fan but for some reason I feel compelled to grab a bargain and end up stockpiling it! So here, my friends, is what to do if, like me, you happen to find yourselves with excessive amounts of cream cheese in your fridge…make cheesecake brownies!…

I asked my old mate google what to do and from his list of suggestions I was drawn to this recipe on the Joy of Baking site.

For the brownie layer you need…

113g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

115g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

250g granulated white sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

65g plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees and line a tin with greaseproof paper. I used my standard brownie tin, which measures approximately 20 x 30cm.

Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and melt. Remove it from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and salt and beat well with a wooden spoon, until the batter is smooth and glossy (it should take about one minute). Spread the brownie batter into the prepared tin but keep back about 1/2 cup of the mixture for later.

Now for the cream cheese layer…

227g cream cheese, at room temperature

65g granulated white sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

Use a handheld mixer to blend the cream cheese until smooth. Then add the sugar, vanilla, and egg and blitz again until creamy and totally lump free! Pour/ spread the cream cheese layer as evenly as possible over the brownie layer. Lastly, spoon small dollops of the reserved brownie mix over the top of the cream cheese filling and with your kitchen implement of choice swirl the two batters to make a pretty pattern without mixing them too much (if that makes sense).

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the brownies start to come away from the sides of the tin and the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Put the brownie’s in the fridge for a few hours, this will make them extra fudgy and firm enough to cut. Once chilled, remove the brownies from the pan and cut into squares with a sharp knife. They were so deliciously gooey that cutting them neatly was not an easy task. If I’m honest I don’t think they’ll last long enough to be judged on neatness but if you’re a perfectionist like me I recommend that you arm yourself with a glass of hot water for dipping the knife in and a cloth to wipe it on between cuts. Store the finished brownies in the fridge, where they’ll keep really well for several days.

I preferred them straight from the fridge but felt I should test them at a variety of temperatures so that I could vouch for the fact that they are totally scrummy in all conditions and…at any time of day 🙂

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The trauma of competitive baking…

A few weeks ago in a moment of spotaneous madness I entered myself into a Great Brownie Bake Off being organised by Louise from the Chocolate Consulltancy. I’d recently made a successful batch of brownie’s as blogged here and was feeling confident. I took the competition very seriously and spent Friday night diligently baking what I hoped would be my winning brownie’s (wishful thinking maybe). On Saturday morning I transported them to Look Mum No Hands in time for the 1pm deadline.

The place was packed and at this point my nerves really kicked in. But luckily Louise had lined up a whole day of chocolate based baking demonstrations, which took my mind off the competition. I watched Fred Ponnavoy, Head Chef at GU

whip up an amazing banoffee style chocolate desert…

and then a GU Pear Belle Helene, which was made up of pear poached in vanilla, layered with mascarpone cream with green cardamom, GU chocolate ganache and topped with caramelised puffed rice mmm…

At this point there was a break in demonstrations whilst the judging commenced. There were 25 brownie entrants and 11 judges…

It was all very official and the judges took it very seriously. I was intrigued by the whole process so got closer to get a better look. I made the mistake of watching the panel taste my entry…

I’d taken a bit of a risk by submitting a brownie containing pear and brazil nuts and hoped that the judges wouldn’t be brownie purists. It was a totally nerve wracking experience watching the judges cogitate and deliberate over my humble brownie and if I’m honest I don’t think my gamble paid off.

I backed off, left them to it and watched some more demonstrations including one by Edd Kimber, winner of the Great British Bake Off who made Chocolate and Banana Whoopie Pies

I also drank copious amounts of coffee and Suki Tea

At 5.45pm the winner was announced…Louise M’s brownie’s were apparently the best by far! It was a real shame that she wasn’t there to collect her prize, she’d gone home early, convinced that her brownie’s were underbaked! Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to have tasted the winning entry.

In my quest to constantly improve my baking skills I was interested to find out the feedback that my brownie’s had received from the judges so I collected my score cards and read their comments. I kind of wish I hadn’t…’cloying’, ‘too loose’, ‘textures didn’t quite work together’, ‘dominant vanilla note’ but…I’m clinging to the fact that the most common observation was along the lines that it was ‘a nice cake but not a brownie’ so I guess it’s not all bad. It was a fun day but I left feeling a little deflated and now have a renewed respect for all the entrants in my Birthday Cake Bake Off…competitive baking is a pretty traumatic experience!

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Birthday baking

I am now the very proud owner of a gorgeous, sexy, empire red, shiny new KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer. I have been dying to get my hands on this little beauty for a while so when I finally unwrapped it on my birthday it was only a matter of minutes before I’d donned my apron and was whipping up a batch of raspberry cheesecake brownies from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I chose this particular recipe, not only because it looks amazing but because it has 3 layers, for which the recipe tells you to use a ‘freestanding electric mixer’ woop!

But don’t despair…you can still make it by using a handheld mixer or even good old fashioned elbow grease!

I’ve written out the recipe below if you fancy giving it a go…how can you resist when faced with brownie porn like this??…

Raspberry cheesecake brownie – 

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees and prepare a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray by lining it with baking parchment.

brownie layer – 

200g dark chocolate roughly chopped

200g unsalted butter

250g icing sugar

3 eggs

110g plain flour

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until smooth. Mix the butter and sugar (in my case I used the paddle attachment and my spanky new KitchenAid…sorry to brag!) until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well before adding the flour. The turn up the speed on your mixer and beat away until the mixture is smooth. Finally pour in the melted chocolate , give it a final mix and pour into the baking tray. Smooth this layer with a palette knife and put aside for the time being.

cheesecake layer – 

400g cream cheese

150g icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

Mix the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract together slowly until smooth and thick. Add one egg at a time. The mixture should be smooth and creamy, at which point you can increase the speed of mixing to make it light and fluffy but be careful not to overmix as it will split. Spoon the cheesecake mixture on top of the brownie layer, smooth it out and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheesecake layer is firm and golden around the edges. Leave to cool completely and then cover and put in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight if possible.

cream topping – 

300ml whipping cream

100g icing sugar

150g raspberries plus extra to decorate

Whisk up the cream, sugar and raspberries until firm but not stiff. 

Remove the brownie from the tin, spread the raspberry cream mixture on  and decorate with the extra raspberries.

Then put the kettle on, make a cuppa, sit back, relax and savour….

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rain rain go away…

It may be the end of August but in my book Summer shouldn’t be over yet and yet the rain just won’t go away! It’s been a miserable day, I trudged home under a miniscule, ineffectual umbrella with soggy pump-clad feet, which is enough to put anyone in a bad mood. But…I decided all should not be lost…I cracked open a beer, donned some warm socks and my apron, put on my new Andreya Triana album and started comfort baking…surely the answer to everything!?

In my eyes Chocolate Brownie’s are the ultimate choice in comfort baking. I decided to laugh in the face of danger and mix it up a bit though…so these weren’t any normal bog standard brownies…they were chocolate brownies with pears and brazil nuts. I had the saying…’if something ain’t broke don’t fix it’ ringing in my ears but I decided not to err on the side of caution and take a risk. I used 70% dark chocolate and ripe, ready to eat conference pears…

I only cooked the brownies for 30 minutes and they were cooked to perfection…

You couldn’t exactly taste the pear but it definitely added to the texture and sweetness. They are exceedingly moist and have that sticky brownie-like consistency without being cloying. 

Check this out for a bit of food porn to chase the wet weather blues away…

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