Fudgy Chocolate Brownies: infinitely adaptable

Experimenting with peanut butter and salted caramel brownies.
Experimenting with peanut butter and salted caramel brownies.

Recently, I was asked in an interview, “what do you contribute to a team?” The first thought that popped into my head was brownies. However, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a professional way to answer the question? So, instead I answered something about how I am a really good team player and the many different skills I’d bring to the team, rather than saying that my contribution is a baked sugar high laden with chocolate. I meant to mention my excellent brownies at the end as an aside, but I forgot.

Immediately once the interview was over and as I reflected on how it went, I wished that I had led with the brownies though because it would have revealed more of my true self. My flatmate and colleague concurred (now assigned to the status of previous flatmate and colleague: that teaching job contract having just ended and we’ve moved out). Though, we then agreed in the next breath that my crack cookies are my best work. So, another time, I’ll be that little bit braver, relax and say, “brownies and cookies.”

The first time that I made these during lockdown was at the beginning of marking many, many student essays whilst living at my sister’s. I’d broken a personal record and spent 5 hours on a paper, checking for plagiarism and looking up citations, and still hadn’t finished it when thoroughly fed up and discouraged, I decided to put it down until the next day. A WOD (workout of the day) with 100 burpees and an evening spent singing, baking these brownies put me in a better mood. I left it out on the side to cool down and develop even more flavour overnight. My sister said that her contribution to my happiness was not diving into them that night. I shared a photo of them on a work group chat and subsequently made friends with a colleague who wanted the recipe.

Pretty Raspberry Brownies
The raspberry burst brownies which fuelled the essay marking

Awkwardly, I didn’t have the recipe at hand to share. It lived in the form of an excel spreadsheet, a hangover from my baking business days. Instead, I sent her a link to my raspberry burst brownies and made a mental note that it was time to publish this recipe.

I created this recipe in Cambodia whilst supplying brownies for a cafe because I wanted to create a brownie with more height and volume that I could adapt with a variety of fillings, such as cheesecake and salted caramel. In addition, my usual go to, very easy brownie recipe which the raspberry burst brownies are adapted from suddenly stopped working for me after I upgraded my oven. They were coming out cakier. Some people prefer their brownie consistency like that but I much prefer them to be fudgier with that delightful cracked top. The timing of it might have been purely a coincidence and have nothing to do with me switching from one of these electric toaster ovens to a standing oven cooker. I’ve shared the only decent photo that I appear to have of my toaster oven for you. If you’ve always lived in the UK, then you may have no concept of what I’m talking about. In most parts of S.E Asia, ovens do not come standard in a furnished kitchen. This is the oven in which I began my baking business and I used it for the first 2 years. It only allowed me to do one tray of cookies, a cake or brownies at a time and by the end it wouldn’t heat above 150°C. When I moved and invested in a new oven, it was a game changer.

My toaster oven that lived on the floor
My toaster oven lived on the floor. I’m piping coconut churros.
my new oven
I moved apartment and my new oven fitted into this space perfectly. This was taken the day the oven was delivered and fitted. If you look carefully you can see I had to buy extra long wiring because the power socket was on the other side of the room.

Anyway, it gave me an excuse to try out a new brownie making method for me that I’d seen Ed Kimber use in this video in which you mix the eggs and sugar for about 10 minutes until they form into a ribbon stage (I’ve explained what ribbon stage is in step 4 of the method) and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mixing the eggs and sugar for that long, creates volume and structure and I deduced, would help me create that dense fudgy consistency and crinkly top each time. It did. At the bottom of the post, I’ve also included for you, a few photos of the different flavours that I’ve played with and how I’ve adapted them.

I played around with the sugar quantity. Most brownie recipes ask for larger quantities of sugar, but I’ve always liked the challenge of seeing how little sugar I can add to baking and it still taste good. From experience, 150g is too little but anything between 200-230g is perfect. I’ll adapt it depending on the additional flavours I want to add. For example, with salted caramel, I use less because of the added sweetness from the caramel. With raspberry I use more to counteract the tartness of the raspberries.

Brownies components ready to mix together
All the components ready to mix together

I prefer to make these in a stand mixer using the whisk attachment because it is easier to leave the stand mixer running during the egg and sugar whisking part whilst getting on with other tasks, rather than holding an electric hand mixer for 10 minutes.

Top tip 1: if using an electric hand mixer, place a tea towel underneath the bowl to keep it stable and stop it moving around.

Top tip 2: once baked, leave these to cool down completely, cover and place in the fridge overnight. Not only will they taste better as the flavours mature and deepen, but they will also be cold. Cut them with a sharp knife and you’ll get those beautiful clean lines.

So here’s the recipe for the Infinitely Adaptable Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They’ll make between 12-16 brownies or 20 mini brownie bites.

Ingredients

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 150g dark chocolate (at least 60%), broken up, roughly chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200-230g caster sugar (depending on how sweet you’d like them and the additional flavours you want to add)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of instant coffee granules (optional) – I use it because it helps bring out the chocolate flavour
  • And then whatever flavours* you’d like to add, or not.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep tin. For this quantity a 20cm square tin or a rectangular 27×20 or 28×18 will work.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together and just after it has melted, add in the salt, vanilla extract and the optional instant coffee granules and leave it on the side to cool down. There are various ways you can melt chocolate and butter.
    • The more cautious, ahem proper, approach is to use a bain marie, that is put the butter and dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl that can sit on top of a saucepan with simmering water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water in the saucepan. Slowly melt the chocolate and stir regularly. This way you won’t burn the chocolate.
    • Another easier way is to use the microwave. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, place a paper kitchen towel on top of the bowl so that butter won’t pop out as it melts. Melt it in 20 second bursts, stirring each time.
    • My way, is to use a heavy bottomed saucepan. I put the chocolate and butter in it and melt it at a low heat, stirring regularly. I take it off, just as the last few chocolate/butter bits aren’t quite melted because they will melt in the residual heat of the saucepan.
  3. In the meantime, measure out the flour and cocoa powder into a small bowl. Sieve it if there are lots of lumps in the flour and cocoa. Otherwise, use a whisk to loosen and mix them together.
  4. As soon as the chocolate/butter mixture is off the heat, crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl and add the sugar. Use a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on high speed to start whisking the eggs and sugar until they are at a ribbon stage. Ribbon stage is when the egg and sugar mixture are a pale yellow colour, doubled or even tripled in volume and when you lift the whisk over the mixture, the batter will fall slowly and leave a trail like a ribbon that will hold its shape for a few seconds. It will take about 10 minutes. I still use a timer to make sure I beat them for long enough. Don’t start beating the eggs/sugar until the chocolate/butter has melted because the chocolate/butter mixture needs this time to cool down.
  5. When the eggs and sugar have reached a ribbon stage, reduce the speed to low and add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar. Whisk until it all appears to have mixed together. If you are using an electric hand mixer, you may need to turn off the mixer, add the chocolate/butter and then switch it back on again to avoid a mess. I speak from experience, haha.
  6. Now fold in the flour and cocoa powder using a spatula, or a spoon until it is well combined.
  7. Pour into the baking tin.
  8. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes. They should be firm to touch at the top but still wobble when you shake it. Leave to cool completely in the tin and if you can bear it, cover them and leave them overnight in the fridge. They will be easier to cut and the flavours will have deepened.

*You can add various flavours to this, or not if you want them plain. I’ve given you a few of suggestions and photos below. Do let me know how else you adapt them.

For raspberry burst brownies 2.0, I add 90g of raspberries. I mix in half before I pour it into the baking tin and then scatter the remaining half where there are spaces.
For raspberry and white chocolate, do the above and add 100g of chopped white chocolate. Mix half the chocolate into the batter with the raspberry and then fill the spaces with the remaining 50g.
Walnut Brownies
For nutty ones, I use 100g of nuts. For this one, I’ve used walnuts. I pick out 12-16 walnut halves to place on top for evenly then roughly chop and mix in the rest to the mixture before I pour into the baking tin and then place the remaining walnut halves on the top.
Salted Caramel and Hazelnut Brownies
For hazelnut and salted caramel. I made these to use up leftover ingredients as I was packing to return to the UK. Use 100g of roughly chopped hazelnuts and 100g of salted caramel. I mixed in half the hazelnuts into the mixture, then after I poured it into the tin, I blobbed salted caramel with a teaspoon evenly and scattered the rest of the hazelnuts over the top.
Swirls of cheesecake in brownies
Swirled cheesecake brownies, but I’ve realised that the salted caramel and the cheesecake ones are a little more complicated, so I’ll post those recipes another day.

What happened next with that interview? How many points have I accumulated? In this current job hunting cycle, I racked up 103 points. Incidentally, I got offered that job, even without the promise of these brownies. So, I’m currently in the throes of transition once again and relocating down to the Midlands.

Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies

I meant to publish this recipe a few months ago, but I didn’t have the photos ready.  I still don’t have the perfect photo sequence for how to make these cookies.  But it’s the middle of the Open and these cookies were thought up between a few crossfitters so better like this than never, right?  Besides, what better timing than the middle of the CrossFit Open Games to tell you how I got started on CrossFit and baking paleo cookies.

The ingredients for the cookies minus the bicarbonate of soda

I started CrossFit in February last year.  I had been given a tough teaching schedule at my school and they weren’t letting me push back on it.  As I despaired, I felt God say to me, “Han-Na, you’re stronger than you think you are.” Since I often experience God in physical activities, I decided to also translate that into trying out CrossFit to see how strong I was.  This was after months of pushing back on my coaches because I was very happy in the Bootcamp classes and not interested in getting stronger.

Pretty soon, it was clear to my coaches, that I had the potential to lift heavy weights.   I, on the other hand, intimidated by lifting anything vaguely heavy and the technicalities of the lifts, really did not enjoy the barbell work for the first few months.  Not long ago, one of them encouraged me, as I was going for my 1 rep front squat max, that I had the ideal physique of a squatter.  I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, do you?  Still, I managed 72kg that day, which I was delighted with.

Then one day, one of my coaches asked me when I was going to bake some paleo cookies for her.  I told her that Christina (of Joyfully Nutty) and I had just been talking about how to use cashew almond nut butter in baked goods and so why not try them in a cookie.

So, thank you Minna and the CrossFit community for pushing us into trying to make these paleo cookies.

I use the Dazed and Cashewed, cashew almond nut butter from Joyfully Nutty.  You could make these with a cashew nut butter or an almond nut butter, it comes down to preference.  I went off the back of Julie Wampler’s recipe from Table for Two, and experimented with reducing and changing the sugar to make it suitably paleo.  I was also baffled as to whether palm sugar is paleo or not.  It would appear that the paleo community embrace coconut sugar but differ on palm sugar.  The little personal research that I’ve done suggests that palm sugar is produced in the same way as coconut sugar, and therefore is paleo.

Then I discovered this delightful nugget.  With the addition of different spices, I could halve the sugar or omit the sugar completely and they would still result in tasty ‘sweet’ morsels, that are soft yet chewy.  Curious, I tried a sugar free version, which admittedly, is more delicate and will thus crumble more easily, but because there’s a lot of dark chocolate, you hardly notice that the sugar is gone.

Top tip: by adding spices, you can reduce or omit the sugar.

I believe that you could make these vegan by replacing the egg with flaxseed or chia seed but I’ve yet to try it.

Baking these is a cinch (read the method below), which is another reason why I like them.  You want to satisfy that cookie craving but don’t have to wait 24 hours to rest the cookie dough.  From start to finish, you could be sitting down with a cookie (or twelve) in 30 minutes, or less.

So here is the Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies, adapted from Table for Two.

Makes between 12-14 cookies

  • 1 large egg
  • 60g palm sugar (*optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 250g cashew almond nut butter
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate*, broken into chunks. Or you could use dark chocolate chips. I use small round discs of chocolate.
  • *use one that is at least 65%.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF or gas mark 4.  Line a large baking tray (or two depending on size) with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the egg, sugar, salt, cinnamon and turmeric together in a small mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the cashew almond nut butter and the bicarbonate of soda and mix until it is all combined.
  4. Stir in the dark chocolate.
  5. Place generous tablespoon dollops (sort of ping pong ball sized) of the cookies on the baking tray.  I use a 1½tbsp cookie scoop for the sake of ease now.
  6. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 12-15 mins, or 10-12 mins in a fan oven.
  7. They will have puffed up a bit and be lightly golden brown in colour.  As they cool they will collapse slightly into themselves.  At this point, I like to place a chocolate disc on top of each cookie because I like how it looks.  Allow them to cool completely on the baking tray and then store them in an airtight container.
  8. In Cambodia’s humid climate, they’ll keep outside the fridge for about 3-4 days.  I normally store them in the fridge and they’ll happily chill out there for 2 weeks.  Or they freeze well.  But you know, they’re pretty tasty straight out of the freezer too.

The verdict?  You’d never know that this was a gluten free, dairy free cookie.  Soft  in texture and rich in flavour.  I get orders for these, with sugar, without sugar, without chocolate… hehe.  So you know that they’re customisable.  I like them as a pre-workout snack.  I also like them because it’s such an easy recipe.

Claire’s Chunky Chocolate Cookies

Chunky Chocolate Cookies

What’s my favourite chocolate cookie recipe so far? The recipe that came from a calendar of chocolate recipes and my then-housemate Claire baked, back in the day when I wasn’t very good at trying out new recipes. And, wow. Didn’t they smell gorgeous and taste incredible… with that wonderful chewiness that cookies should have, and a bit toffee-ish flavour (that’s the brown sugar talking)!! Lekker, lekker, lekker!

Without wanting to sound too much like a cookie monster, I decided to have a go baking them because I wanted to eat MORE! It turned out to be a really simple recipe (hurrah); a bit too simplified perhaps? I made quite a few basic mistakes when making these.

For instance, I discovered that cookies splay out in the oven, so if you don’t space them out enough, they can all meld into one big rectangular cookie, which you have to cut apart.

Next, I found out that if you don’t use baking paper, it’s hard to get the baked cookies off the baking sheet.

Then, there’s minutes in baking them so that they’re soft and chewy and them being rock hard. Err on the side of chewy caution, my friend and use a timer!

Finally, this is less of a mistake but a definite learning point. It was an eye-opener for me to realise how much sugar goes into making cookies. I kind of thought of them as a ‘healthy’ snack before then, but 500g of sugar doesn’t quite fit that category. Hmmm…. So, let’s say that you wanted to cut down the sugar a bit, then I’d try reducing the amount of white sugar you put in. I’ve not tried this yet, but I’d experiment with between using half or two thirds of white sugar. I’m not entirely certain how that will affect the chemistry and flavour. However, I would definitely not scrimp on the brown sugar because it’s the brown sugar that produces that more-ish nuttiness to the cookie’s flavour. That first time, I even asked Claire whether she’d put toffee in the cookies.

chocolate cookie dough

So, I’ve amended the method section so that you can build on my experience. Also, at the bottom of this post, I’ve listed some of different combinations that I’ve created by adapting this recipe.

This makes about 55 regular sized cookies (by regular, I mean 10-15 cm). Claire advised me later that she often halves the recipe so that there’s not an eruption of cookies. You can freeze them, if you have space in your freezer. I have rolled my spare cookie dough into ball shapes and frozen them in a ziploc bag. Later, all I’ll need to do is put the cookie dough balls out on some baking paper and sheet to defrost for an hour at room temperature, then pop them in the oven. A wonderful, ‘instant’ treat to have up your sleeve!

Ingredients

  • 250g soft dark brown sugar
  • 250g white sugar
  • 280g butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 300g chocolate, roughly chopped into chunks (you can use dark, milk, white and in any combination)
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 500g plain flour
chunky chocolate cookies 1

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prepare 2 baking sheets/trays with baking paper or greaseproof paper.
1. Mix butter with sugar until creamy and fluffy, with an electric mixer. If you don’t have one, then use a wooden spoon and beat hard!
2. Add the eggs, chocolate chips and vanilla essence and mix well. Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt to the flour and add to the other ingredients. Sitr to form a thick cookie dough.
3. Take ping-pong ball size amounts of the mixture, roll it into a ball and place spaced apart on the baking sheet/tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes in the oven. The cookies should be slightly golden brown. Let them rest for a few minutes and then gently place on a rack to cool.

chocolate chunk cookies 2
The top ones have been baked for 5 minutes too long and are too hard, whilst the bottom rather anaemic looking ones have been baked perfectly so that they’re chewy but with a bit of crunch.

Ideas for different flavours?
I’ve adapted the recipe a few times and substituted the 300g chocolate for:

  • 100g dried cranberries, 100g roughly chopped macadamia nuts & 100g roughly chopped white chocolate chunks
  • zest of 2 lemons & 300g dark chocolate chunks
  • 100g roughly chopped brazil nuts & 200g dark or milk chocolate chunks

Kids love the lemon and dark chocolate one – or at least the kids I’ve baked with when babysitting them.