One of the best things about food, especially good food, is its ability to provide instant gratification. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t appreciate a batch of freshly baked goodies or a hearty pot of home-cooked goodness. Which is why it makes the perfect gift – not just as a house warming present or an addition to a potluck – but as a sincerely appreciated surprise at any event. Not only is it completely unique to the person who made it, it also shows the recipient the amount of thought, care, time and effort you've put into it. Basically, its a great way to win you brownie points, regardless of who you're looking to impress – impressed they will be – and you'll be bumped up a notch on the popularity meter.
One of my easiest, go-to recipes is the one I always turn to, particularly when I'm feeling lazy and want maximum benefits with minimum effort. In such dire times, a warm batch of good old brownies are the safest bet, because even those without a sweet tooth will find these hard to resist.
In terms of cooking steps, technicality and taste, this recipe is a dream – with only two bowls and baking tray as the main hardware, and a handful of easily available ingredients – this is as close to being fuss free as it gets.
Here's all that you need to start:
• 2 cups sugar
• 200gm (about a cup) of butter
• 2 tsp vanilla essence/extract
• 4 eggs
• 170gm (2 x 2/3 cups) flour
• 1 cup cocoa powder
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 level tsp salt
As with any baked goods, the rule of thumb is to mix all your wet ingredients together first, before gradually adding in your dry ingredients. The second point to keep in mind is to always have all your ingredients at room temperature. So be sure to take the eggs and butter out of the refrigerator at least half an our before cooking. If you manage to forget to do this, like I frequently do, then simply unwrap the butter, put it in a bowl and stick it in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds; and for the eggs, simply wash under tap water for a bit, then leave on the table and let our hot, humid weather work its magic and do some good for a change.
Once you have everything at the required temperature, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, vanilla extract and sugar together in a large bowl.
Any brownie worth having will have a moist, almost chewy consistency, which can only be brought about through the use of regular sugar. Unlike that in other cakes (which ideally need to be light and fluffy) NEVER use icing or powdered sugar – you need the larger grains in regular sugar to melt down during the whisking and then baking process to add to the sough-after chewy texture in brownies. In my latest attempt at brownies, I used a cup of brown sugar and a cup of regular sugar for an added molassy flavour.
In a separate bowl, measure and sift out the flour, cocoa and baking powders. It's a good baking tip to always sift the flour through a sieve, so as to remove all the lumps, which will produce a smooth batter.
Once all the wet ingredients are well incorporated using a whisk, start adding the dry ingredients in batches.
Mix in the first one or two spoonfuls of the flour and cocoa mixture using the whisk, then ditch it for a spatula.
Using the spatula, gently fold in the rest of the dry mixture, until you have a nice thick chocolate batter.
A good brownie batter is generally thicker than cake batter, which is slightly runnier in consistently.
Pour the batter into a greased 16 x 16 square tin or baking dish and smooth out the top as best as possible using the spatula.
Bake in a preheated oven at 250°C for 15-20 minutes. While most cake recipes call for the low-and-slow method, I've found that with brownies, the best results can be had doing pretty much the opposite. Baking it for a relatively short amount of time at a high oven temperature makes the batter rise almost as soon as it hits the oven, giving it just enough time to form the top crust, while still remaining sumptuously gooey and indulgent inside. Unlike in cakes, you don't necessarily need the inserted skewer to come out clean.
Once you've taken it out of the oven, give it five minutes to cool down a little and then cut into however small or large pieces you desire. Cutting while still warm, I find, makes for cleaner edges. Then pack into a container and proudly present away.