March madness has begun! No, I don’t mean the annual basketball mania. I mean the seasonal scramble when spring is not quite here and we’re doing everything in our power to force it here, if only to be pointedly told by Mom Nature that it will get here when it gets here.
Earlier last week, my friends R & R announced that they would be in the Bay area with their adorable tot T on Saturday and requested a round-up of the ol’ college gang. Ever eager to do so, the bunch of us looked up the weather, whooped in glee as it promised to be warm(ish) and sunny and decided to meet at Fort Kronkite for the first picnic of the year. Our wonderfully laid plans were summarily thwarted as Saturday dawned as a blustery, cold day. The weather websites had changed their forecasts without notice and now promised no sunshine. After trading several phone calls, Amey, V and I bravely trudged on to Fort Kronkite, only to be driven back by gale worthy winds. As V regretfully contemplated his decision to wear shorts that day, Amey hurriedly called and urged the rest of our friends not to cross the Golden Gate and stay in the city. We’d meet instead in Golden Gate Park.
We found a sheltered nook near Stow lake, laid out our blankets and proceeded to gorge on our potluck picnic, trying hard to be oblivious to the incredulous stares of people walking by. All I can say is thank God for blankets and the wonderfully warm, gooey chocolatey brownies I’d baked.
These brownies came together really quickly early Saturday morning while Amey was trading those phone calls on weather updates. The recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s Cooking with Jamie, one of my favourite cookbooks. I love his recipes and his rabid enthusiam for food, incredibly infectious. (He’s easily one of my favourite chefs and I was recently thrilled to discover we also share a birthday. May be I can be as good with food too someday!) The smell of these brownies baking early in the morning filled my apartment with a wonderful aroma, the kind I remember out of baking class in school, a room I never wanted to be near in the period just before the lunch bell ’cause it smelled so good! It’s the kind of smell that makes you disregard all good sense as you court third-degree burns trying to get at the pan while it’s still in the oven. Soft and crumbly, yet impossibly gooey and scrumptious, these brownies were a huge hit with all of us, ending the wonderful motley meal we had in the park in a sublime crescendo. And you know what? Unbearably cold days disappear into the background when you are in the company of good friends and good food!
Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Cooking with Jamie. Makes 8-10 large according to the book but I made 25 smaller pieces. Let me assure you there were several seconds and thirds.
Unsalted Butter – 1 cup plus 2 tbsps
Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa solids) – 7 oz good quality
Cocoa Powder – 3/4 cup
All-Purpose flower – 1/2 cup
Baking Powder – 1 tsp
Superfine Sugar – 1 3/4 cup
Eggs – 4, large (Jamie urges you to use free-range or organic, as would I.)
Dried Sour Cherries – 2 1/2 oz
Walnuts – 1 1/3 oz, chopped
Zest of 1 orange
Crême Fraîche – 9 fl oz
– Preheat your oven to 350° F.
– Line a brownie pan with parchment paper.
– Sift together the all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a bowl.
– Set up a double boiler on the stove with simmering water in the lower bowl and a bowl on top, taking care that the water does not touch the underside of the bowl above.
– In the top bowl, melt the butter and the chocolate and mix until smooth. Once this has melted, add the cherries/nuts if you are using them.
– To this mixture, slowly add the sifted flours and stir until converted into a smooth batter. I used my trusty single spinner electric hand mixer.
– Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of pan comes out with just a few crumbs. It should not be completely dry as you would want one inserted into a cake to be.
Allow to cool, in the pan and then for a few minutes out of it before cutting. Serve by themselves or with the crême fraîche
I’ve been dying to use my new Citronge liqueur so added that to these brownies. It served to complement the orange zest and gave the brownies a wonderful zing. Also since I couldn’t find 70% dark chocolate I used a combination of Ghiradelli’s 100% dark and bittersweet chocolates. Eating a tiny piece of the 100% dark made me gag. But since the chocolates were already in the batter, I couldn’t change anything except pray it would be sweet enough. I’ve eaten brownies that were sweeter but no one complained these weren’t sweet enough I used dried cherries for the first time in my cooking and used walnuts as they are my nut of choice in sweets. I whipped some cream with some orange zest and Citronge to dollop atop the brownies instead of the crême fraîche. It think it worked well.