Let’s start with some life advice from someone supremely unqualified to give it, shall we?
I really would recommend leaving university, if you are that way inclined, with at least a vague idea of what you would like to do with your life once you have clambered off the carousel of read-write-sleep-repeat. Instead of doing this, I cooked a lot. When I worried that I had no idea what my future career would be, well-meaning friends, family members, and supposed authority figures, would tell me that it would all come together in the end. ‘You’ll figure it out by the time you graduate!’, they said, blithely optimistic.
It didn’t work out exactly like that.
I did all the things you’re supposed to do. I won an internship for the summer between my second and third years. I wrote a CV. I went to all of the careers fairs the university offered. I saw a careers advisor. But I just… didn’t want to do any of the jobs that were real options. All of the jobs that I actually wanted to do (doctor, chocolatier, pilot, vet, recipe tester) were so wildly inaccessible to me, me with my English degree and my complete lack of experience, that I may as well have just said ‘I want to be a princess astronaut and have my own spaceship castle’, and left it at that.
Lots of people told me to do something I loved; not to worry about money or career progression at that stage, but to focus on doing something I enjoyed and trust that the rest would come later. Well, that’s all very well, but I needed money for WiFi and heating and croissants, and couldn’t afford to do unpaid internships. I was already deep in debt from degree number one, and I couldn’t bear the thought of further specialised study to actually get me onto a career path that might appeal, costing thousands of pounds and leaving me not earning for another year or two. So I left university feeling pretty directionless.
What I did have, instead of a five year plan and earning potential, was a fail-safe brownie recipe. It might not keep me warm at night (unless I eat enough brownies to cultivate an insulating layer of blubber) but it has other uses. I spent a summer testing various recipes, trying to find one that matched my brownie-ideals, and finally hit upon what I’m about to share with you below. I’ve memorised it and adapted it, and I genuinely can’t remember where the base recipe came from originally, so if you recognise it then please do let me know.
People are often down on brownies, thinking them dull and easy, but I think they are the solution to all of your dessert problems. They are incredibly quick and simple to make. They can be served hot and gooey, undercooked and fresh from the oven, with a scoop of ice cream. They can be served straight from the freezer in the summer, adorned with berries or sorbet. They are loved by children and adults alike. They keep, chilled, for ages. They are robust, and don’t mind a couple of hours in a hot car or a bumpy ride on the back of a bike.
Most of all, brownies are adaptable. Once you have a solid base recipe you are happy with, the possibilities are, if not literally endless, certainly numerous. Want to make them gluten free? Swap the flour for ground almonds. Want to make them vegan? Swap the eggs for apple sauce and the butter for oil. Want to feed people with allergies? Skip the nuts. Best of all, brownies are a vehicle. You can basically chuck anything you think would be good in there and call yourself a culinary genius.
Notes: This recipe makes dense, chocolatey, rich, fudgy (rather than cakey) brownies, as this is my preference. I always think you should be able to dent a brownie with your thumb.
275g dark chocolate (I use Lindt 70%)
190g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
200g caster sugar
100g granulated sugar (I find the granulated helps give the brownies a crackling top, but skip it and use all caster if that’s what you have)
200g of ‘extras’ – go wild. Chopped dark, white, or milk chocolate? Chunks of Mars, Crunchie, Bounty? Pecans, walnuts, peanuts? Peanut butter? Raspberries, strawberries, cherries, orange? Caramel, fudge, toffee? Bacon?
- Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Grease and line a rectangular baking pan (mine is 20cm x 30cm, but whatever you have will probably be fine).
- Melt the chocolate and butter together in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water. While the chocolate and butter are melting, sift the flour, baking power, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Chop and prepare any additions you want for your brownies.
- Dump the sugar(s), vanilla essence, and beaten eggs into the joyous bowl of chocolate loveliness once it’s all melted, stirring well after each addition. The longer and harder you beat the mixture after you add the eggs, the more crispy top you will get. Then add the chocolate mix to the dry mix and stir it all together. Chuck in any additions you may be using and stir again. Pour it into your lined pan.
- Bake. This takes 20 minutes in my rather fierce fan oven, but could be more or less in yours, so use your judgement. You want them just starting to crack on top, round the edges, but not quite set in the middle.
- Leave the brownies to set in the tin, if you want to serve them solid. You can cover them and pop them in the fridge or freezer when they’re cool enough. You can also cut and serve them immediately, hot and gooey, as a dessert. Or, er, just eat them straight from the pan. Not that I have ever done that.
Enjoy, and reflect proudly on the fact that you know exactly what you’re doing with your life.