I think I was always destined to live in the States. From a young age, there were a lot more American influences in my life than most English (and definitely English-Cypriot) kids growing up in the 80s. I am not just talking about media influences when I say this as we were all consuming iconic American TV shows, music and movies of the era. You see, my family was extremely close with an American couple who were living in London. We spent a huge amount of time with them every week and, as well as many other influences they had on our lives, they shaped some of our childhood food experiences. For example, marshmallows in England were the nasty pink and white twisted sponges that didn’t seem to provide much eating pleasure. But on their visits home, our friends brought back real American style Marshmallows to toast together in our wood fireplace (of course we used Greek kebab style skewers for roasting!). On Pancake Day, they made us American style pancakes with syrup and gave Mum a box of Aunt Jemima mix for us to try at home. I deeply loved this couple and I think America felt more like home when I moved here in 2003 because of those warm memories as a kid.
This wasn’t all though. When I was in my late teens, my aunt bought an American kid’s cook book which I borrowed and started using. I tried out several recipes but it was the one for brownies that sealed my destiny. In my early twenties, I used that recipe to raise about £1000 in Sunday morning bake sales for a church youth group. It became my trademark and I should have known that a move away from England was looming!
OK so perhaps it may sound like I am being slightly extreme in suggesting that making brownies all the time in the late 90s was a sign that I was destined to live on the other side of the Atlantic BUT you have to remember that a) I was brought up in a tight-knit Cypriot community so b) no one else around me made them! At the time brownies were really only found on the newer American style restaurant dessert menus, buried under heapings of vanilla ice cream finished with a waterfall of caramel and chocolate sauce swirling into the bottom of the dish; Or, they were found on the shelves of cool bakeries in trendy parts of town. I was the brownies diva in my little London community and I moved over here in 2003 with confidence that I could make an excellent American classic.
Then, I met (through the TV of course, not literally!) Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa and my former inferior brownie recipe was completely abandoned. Our ‘friend’ from Food Network introduced me to the world of real chocolate brownies, sans-cocoa powder, and I can NEVER go back! Please understand, this is not because I had a ‘bad’ recipe but because these were so indulgent, rich and fudge-y that I would never use cocoa powder again! Brownies are still one of my trademark desserts and wherever I have taken these for pot lucks or served then at dinners, people can’t get enough. So, it seems only natural that I now share my brownie (not so) secrets with friends. Don’t be frightened by the recipe. Yes, as with all exquisite food, it does begin with lots of things that are not healthy BUT you can have your other zucchini or black bean brownie concoctions the rest of the year. Why waste that one moment of indulgence on something that is sub par? If you’re going to splurge and allow yourself a moment of true guilt free pleasure, make it count and this is the recipe you need! Also, this recipe makes a HUGE amount of brownies so you won’t be eating the whole pound of butter and chocolate in one sitting! I have only adapted a couple of very small elements over the past 5 years of making this but if you want the original you can find it here or in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook where Ina originally adapted it from chocolate globs in the Soho Charcuterie Cookbook.
- 3 1/2 sticks of butter
- 1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- 6 ounces dark chocolate chips (as dark as possible!)
- 6 extra-large eggs
- 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules (feel free to use decaf if you want to avoid the extra caffeine).
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
Let’s get to my favourite part- the chocolate! And this has lots of it. You begin by melting almost all the chocolate (hold back about 12 oz of semi sweet chocolate) with the butter over a double boiler (this is my sorry version of one but basically any glass bowl that can fit comfortably over the top of some gently boiling water will do)
Two important things to note: Heat is on low and the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Keep stirring and eventually it will become this beautiful Wonka-esque river of chocolate. See…
And if you resist drinking the whole thing, you can step aside to mix some of the other ingredients while the chocolate cools. (but licking a finger that ‘accidently’ gets covered in chocolate is acceptable as long as you don’t double dip!)
Next gently combine (no beating) the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. It just effortlessly comes together with a fork so no need to even think about plugging in the mixer. Take that, store-bought mix!
Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture. Don’t add the melted chocolate while it is still hot or you will cook the eggs. Sift together the cup of flour (set aside the 1/4 cup for now), baking powder and salt, then gently stir this dry mix into the chocolate abyss. Now you can begin to see from the colour of this batter that something magical is taking place!
For a final touch, toss the walnuts (if using them- I generally don’t because of so many people with nut allergies these days) and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour.
Can we pause and just talk about how I love the sound the chips make as they tumble in and bounce off the sides of the bowl…just me?
This little secret is marvelous for a couple of major reasons. First of all, dusting them with flour helps the chips stay mixed into the batter instead of sinking to the bottom. Don’t skip this step- you will regret it when trying to remove the brownies from your pan! Secondly, even though they melt during the baking, once the brownies have cooled, the chips turn hard and offer a bonus textural element and extra chocolatey yumminess! (which you can never have too much of in my opinion!)Then, add this dusty mix to the chocolate batter.
Pour into a 12×12 greased baking sheet or cake pan. I tend to find that if you are using a good non-stick pan, you can get away with a spritz of canola cooking spray but it’s important to cover the pan well without adding extra grease to your batter.
Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then tilt the pan up towards you and then bang it down on the oven shelf. I know this sounds weird but don’t skip this step, it forces the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough making your batter cook evenly.Bake for about 15 more minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly and then refrigerate. I recommend taking them out and bringing them to room temperature before serving.
I promise once you have tried this recipe, it will change your whole brownie life and no box or previous attempts will ever match up to this pure indulgence. I have experimented with a lot of different flavoured brownies using this as a base (such as peanut butter, raspberry cream cheese and even bacon) and some are trickier than others to figure out successfully. If you make suggestions below of brownie variations you would like to try, I will pick the most interesting, try them out and post my suggestions so you too can make them at home.