Walnut and Macadamia Brownies

In the past week I've used 1kg sugar, 600g chocolate and 450g margarine in pursuit of the perfect vegan brownie.

In the past few years I've eaten various attempts at brownies by restaurants / cafes and only been impressed by one - Herbies in Exeter. They were kind enough to give me their recipe, however when I eventually tried it I found it to not work at all :(

They suggested they be cooked at 300oC, which when I tried at my oven's max (260oC) they burnt within minutes.

More interesting than the recipe itself is the technique - to take them out of the oven half way and knock the air out by banging a counter. I've not found reference to any other recipes using this technique through Google. If makes sense though - allow the mixture to rise creating texture but then knock the air out.

There seem to be many recipes online for what is essentially badly cooked cake mixture - not my idea of brownie! I've lost count of the number of forum posts I've read where people have claimed to have discovered brownie when their chocolate cake attempt went badly wrong.

To me a brownie should be crisp on the outside, cakey towards the egde then fudge (boarding upon gooey) in the centre. Not 'fudgy' - why make it fudge like when you can make real fudge?

The recipe I've created is essentially fudge (sugar + fat + chocolate) with enough flour and raising agent to separate out and form cake at the edges. I used Herbie's slamming technique, but increased the cooking time, lowered the temperature and added 2 slams.

I'm really pleased with the result - it excludes ingredients not generally found in British kitchens (egg replacer, specialist flours etc) and is simple to make. I used macadamias and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. I would recommend that you do use some form of nut though - my final test omitted them (for cost) and it didn't cook as well.

One important thing to note: these brownies improve with age. When you take them out of the oven the very centre will appear to be too gooey. Only when they've fully cooled (several hours later) will they have reached the right consistency. The first time I made them I thought the recipe was a failure - it wasn't until I tried them again a day later that I realised they were near perfect.

If you use a different size pan to me (e.g. they're thicker or thinner) then you'll need to play with the cooking time.
Wet Ingredients:
  • 300g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 150g Soya Margarine
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 120ml Soya Milk
  • Dry Ingredients:
  • 125g Wholemeal Flour
  • 40g Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • Other Ingredients:
  • 140g Chocolate
  • 75g Walnuts
  • 75g Macadamia Nuts
  • Start by melting the wet ingredients together in a pan over a low heat. Use a whisk to ensure they're fully combined and the sugar dissolved. Be careful not to overheat or take the mixture to the boil - it'll change the consistency if you do (e.g. you'll make toffee):

    Leave to cool - if it's too warm when you add it to the dry ingredients then it'll melt the chocolate and again change the end consistency.

    Mix the dry ingredients, then thoroughly combine in the wet:

    Chop the chocolate into chunks if not using chips. Chop or break the walnuts. Chop the macadamias if whole. Add to the mixture and stir briefly:

    Line an 11x7 inch pan with silicone sheet or baking paper, fill and even out with a spatula:

    Place in a 200oC (180o fan) oven for 10 minutes, then remove and bang down on the top of the cooker. If it's risen at all you should see it deflate. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove and bang again, then place back in the oven for its final 10 - it should have 30 minutes in total.

    Finally remove from the oven, bang for a third time and place the tin in an ice water bath to stop the cooking (a larger pan with ice cubes and water will do the trick - just make sure the water doesn't go over the sides!).

    Leave in the pan for a few minutes, then lift out:

    Leave to cool for a few hours, then slice into 12, remove from the silicone/paper and leave to cool completely - overnight is best. If you don't you'll find it quite gooey in the centre (a good thing?).

    I'll experiment with using the brownie in other recipes (ice cream, sundaes, cheesecake etc), but it's incredibly moreish on its own (I've eaten a lot of this stuff this week!). Today we enjoyed some with mint tea:

    Something I don't make nearly often enough - handful of mint steeped in water with sugar. It's so much better than tea from bags!

    Fry Ups

    I'd like to call this a Saturday morning staple, but in reality we're usually still in bed by 12! I've eaten many mediocre/bad fry ups in cafes and hotels - how hard is it to get wrong? On reflection I think I'd rather stay at a good B&B without breakfast than one that specifically makes crap cooked vegan breakfasts and costs the same.

    My fry ups vary each time dependent on what's available, but the absolute must is fried bread. It's got to be cooked properly too, so that it's full of flavour, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle without being overly fatty. Tofu scramble makes a regular appearance too, the recipe of which also varies each time.

    As I had my camera set up in the kitchen this lunchtime; here's today's:

    Fry minced garlic and sliced chestnut mushrooms in sunflower oil, then crumble smoked tofu over the top, stir and add tamari, concentrated mushroom stock, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Finally; garnish with fresh parsley before serving:

    Plain tofu works too, along with other ingredients such as red/white onion, peppers, other types of mushroom and whatever dark looking sauces are in the cupboard - soya sauce, vegetarian worcester sauce etc.

    Meanwhile, fry some kind of potato product (in this case hash browns, which taste nasty cooked in the oven but great fried), redwoods bacon and tomatoes in the same pan:

    Add slices of decent quality fresh bread and plenty of ground sea salt. Once its soaked up the existing oil add more and turn them over - add more salt.

    I'm not really a great fan of salt (I bought my current bottle of table salt in 2004), but in this case it works really well (the same applies to baked potatoes).

    Always cook the fried bread last (add the others to the top of the scrambled tofu pan to keep them warm) and serve straight away with red/brown sauce and anything else you fancy. I'm not really a fan of beans but often add a sausage or two :)

    Hot Praline Chocolate

    Quick post so I don't forget the magic formula. I do that - I go through phases of making something regularly then several months later can't for the life of me remember the recipe.

    This is *the* best hot chocolate I've ever tasted.

  • 3 pumps Sweetbird Hazelnut Syrup
  • 380ml Alpro Fresh Soya Milk
  • 6 squares Kinnerton Dark Chocolate
  • 3-4 Vegan Marshmallows
  • Soyatoo Squirty Cream
  • Chocolate Shavings

    Any brand of syrup (most are vegan) will work, though I'm not sure if the pump amounts are the same. Praline is my favourite - I'm not a fan of 'toasted marshmallow' syrup or ones designed more for coffee (butterscotch, gingerbread etc). I've blogged previously about using Kahlua or Creme de Menthe instead which is also good, but alcoholic too.

    Whilst you can make hot chocolate simply by heating milk; microfoaming it with an espresso machine's steam wand will give you a much better mouth feel. Always add the syrup to the milk before steaming - that way the foam contains the flavour and doesn't go all beany.

    This recipe doesn't strictly need marshmallows, but they're a good addition if available. I've found its better to melt them in advance - otherwise you don't really pick up their taste and end up having to eat them separately at the end with a spoon. I use a blow torch because it's quickest and more fun than using a lighter. The best brand I've tried are Alternative Stores (sold online and in Vx). The only brand I wouldn't recommend is Anandas - all that we've tried (from One Earth shop in Birmingham) have tasted stale.

    Kinnerton Dark is in most supermarkets, is cheap and has a fairly low cocoa content, making it less bitter than say 70%. You can use the chocolate of your choice, but the trick I learnt through trial and error it to not add too much. Otherwise it won't dissolve properly and you loose some of the hazelnut flavour.

    If you've a food processor then I highly recommend using it to grate an entire bar of chocolate, then store it in a small tupperware and use it for icecream and topping hot chocolate. We recently acquired a bag of Montezumas hot chocolate shavings which give the same effect, though costs quite a bit more.

    Method: Pump the syrup into a large mug, break up the chocolate and add, then cover with soya milk. Microfoam to about 70 degrees:

    Stick a spoon in and give it a good stir under the surface so that the chocolate incorporates into the milk without destroying the foam:

    Toast the marshmallows, then float on the surface:

    Top with squirty cream and shavings:

    Enjoy immediately! :-)