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After a long hiatus, a brilliant Ottolenghi brownie!

The last time you heard from me was February 1st, 2015. What’s happened since you might ask? Well, I ran a half marathon, fell pregnant (though the order might have been reversed), had a baby, changed jobs, moved house 3 times, ran another half marathon and now spend my evenings running around a two-nager trying to convince her that it is a good idea to sleep. Life has been pretty intense – my dark circles have gotten darker, I have very little time to myself but it has also been a lot of fun, more so since my daughter started to talk. I stay home on Mondays with my girl and have discovered that cooking and baking are wonderful things that I can share with my daughter. She absolutely loves it, particularly if she is allowed to sample the goods. Husband/Daddy is always happy to be the guinea pig of our experiments which is great!

For those who have watched Love Actually (or cringed through it as my husband did), there is a line where Emma Thompson says “Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel”. I am taking the liberty to rehash this quote to “Ottolenghi is the man who taught the cold (often dead) English palette how to taste”. For those who don’t know, Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli born, English chef with restaurants and cafes dotted all over the posh parts of London. His cooking style has huge middle-Eastern influences with loads of flavour, a celebration of all things vegetable and vegetarian, and a soft spot for sweet things. He has written a series titled “The New Vegetarian” for the Guardian which I highly recommend for those looking for interesting vegetarian recipes.

I was given his book “Sweet” for Christmas and this book is what spurred this resurgence in blog writing and photography. And of course, my little girl….And my forever encouraging husband who spent a couple of evenings retrieving my password for miceinmybelly.com which had long been forgotten…..

Hope to see you more often than once in 3 year  – Love, M

Ingredients:

  • 250gms unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (1-2cm), plus extra for greasing
  • 250gms of dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into 3-4cm pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 180 – 200gms  of caster sugar (original recipe calls for 280gms but it doesn’t need that much sugar)
  • 120gms of plain/standard flour
  • 30gms Dutch processed cocoa powder^
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 gms halva* broken into 1cm pieces (recipe calls for 2cm pieces but small the better in my opinion)
  • 80g tahini paste*

^Nice little post on the difference and usage of Dutch processed cocoa and ordinary cocoa powder.

* Available in most large supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s) and Middle Eastern stores. I have linked you to the brands I used in my recipe.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC in a standard or 180ºC in a fan-forced oven or Gas Mark 6.
  2. Grease and line a 23cm square or 30 x 20cm rectangular tray with baking paper. If you are using non-stick paper, you can skip the greasing. If you are feeling lazy and your tray is non-stick, skip the baking paper too 🙂
  3. You are supposed to do this over a pan of simmering water but I truly can’t be bothered As a working parent, time is of the utmost importance and washing as few dishes as possible is a time-saver. The tip here is to always use short bursts of power to keep from burning your chocolate (Ottolenghi is going to never let me enter his restaurants!).
  4. Place the butter in a medium-sized, microwave-proof bowl and heat for 40 secs (800W power) until the butter is warm. Throw in the bits of chocolate and stir until the start to dissolve and keep stirring.
  5. When about 70 to 80% of the chocolate bits have melted, put the bowl back in the microwave for another 30 seconds and repeat the stirring process. You should have a pretty glossy looking ganache at this point. If not, give it another 20 seconds and stir. Allow the ganache to cool.
  6. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar using an electric mixture until pale and creamy. Continue to beat until the mixture is thick enough to leave a trail behind it when you lift the whisk out of the bowl.
  7. The step above is worth doing and not cutting corners on. For this step, I’d highly advise using an electric beater as it took a while (though Ottolenghi says it takes 3 mins) or recruit some able-armed friends/family to help out as your arms will get tired very quickly.
  8. Once the eggs are whisked, fold in the cooled chocolate mixture until uniformly mixed i.e, no white streaks through brown chocolate. It should be a uniform, lovely brown when finished.
  9. Then, sift in the flour, cocoa and salt into the chocolate mixture and fold it in until, once again, you arrive at a nice even brown mixture. Watch the bottom of your bowl as that’s where unmixed flour lurks !
  10. Finally, fold in your halva pieces. I wanted them more uniformly distributed across the halva hence I made smaller pieces than recommended. For those that are hooked onto halva, try not to eat it all up before this step of the brownie (I ate everything that wasn’t required for the recipe. Bad mummy!)
  11. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and smooth it out so it fills out the corners and the top is more or less flat with a few halva bumps here and there.
  12. I find that, over time, my tahini settles in the bottle such that it is really thick at the bottom, thins towards the top and has a layer of sesame oil at the very top. No amount of shaking the bottle is going to even this out. So take a strong metal spoon and give your tahini a good mix before getting spoonfuls of it out for the next step.
  13. Dollop spoonfuls of tahini around the brownie surface, sort of evenly but really, wherever you like.
  14. Then, take a bamboo skewer or a knife with a narrow pointy end and dip it into the tahini just as far as you feel some resistance from the chocolate layer beneath.
  15. Now move the skewer/knife to make as many wondrous patterns as you can (example in the pictures below).
  16. You will loose some detail once the brownies are baked but it’s still very pretty.
  17. Finally, bake the brownie in the oven for 23 minutes (Yotam is precise if anything) such that there is a slight wobble in the middle but the surface is well done. The brownie will get firmer as it cools.
  18. If your tray is wider/larger than recommended, your brownie layer will be thinner, so lower the cooking time by a minute or two (21-22mins).
  19. If your tray is smaller, then your brownie will be thicker so give it up to 25 mins to finish off.
  20. Serve it warm and gooey at 30 minutes post-baking or cool and moist 1-2 hrs post-baking.
  21. The brownie is a visual, textural, olfactory (think nose) and gustatory (think tongue) treat. In other words, stuff some in your mouth, chew and enjoy!

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