Monthly Archives: March 2013

Caramel Brownies

I am going away on Wednesday. Home, to be precise. For the first time in a year. To say I am excited is to underestimate my capacity for excitedness. I have a day of fieldwork and focus groups tomorrow and then I will be free, for three whole weeks. Of course I mean this in a PhD-free kind of way which means that there are books and transcriptions going with me as I cannot actually not work for three whole weeks. But I will be working in the sun. And there might be a thunderstorm. And there will be steak. And wine with bubbles. And friends.

But first there are these brownies. I know. This blog has at least four brownie recipes on it – and at least two other caramel brownie recipes. If you think a fifth is too many, I apologise and we can part ways now. But if you choose to stay, you will not be disappointed. These brownies are epic. Bitter, truffley, chocolateness rounded out with a salted caramel finish.

And they’re wheat-free. You see, the other thing I’ve been doing in the last few weeks of silence is not eating wheat. There. I said it. I feel like a traitor. This blog, after all, is about the good things in life. But I’ve decided to do an experiment and go wheat-free for a month. I want to see where I end up. The good news is that I still feel compelled to eat chocolate brownies. We’re not going all salads and vegetables on this blog. I’m just adapting things. And experimenting. So, about these caramel brownies.

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This recipe is adapted from one on Poires au Chocolat, a blog I read fairly regularly. It’s entertaining and the recipes always look like something out of a shop. Emma’s recipe has regular flour in it though so I experimented with ground almonds and spelt flour and have ended up with truffle-like brownies, almost bitter from chocolate but cut through with the sweetness of the caramel. (Although there’s a bitterness to my caramel too because I took it quite far along the caramel stage…) One is enough but there is the temptation of a second. The texture is just insane.

Caramel Brownies

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat

For the caramel:

75g golden caster sugar

60g double cream

10g unsalted butter

1/8tsp sea salt

For the brownies:

100g butter, unsalted

200g golden caster sugar

50g dark brown sugar

275g dark chocolate, 70%

4 eggs

40g ground almonds

30g refined spelt flour

Make the caramel first by placing the golden caster sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I use golden caster sugar because that is what I have in stock but beware, it reaches caramel stage faster than ordinary caster sugar). Heat, without interfering, until the sugar starts to caramelize around the edges, then swirl the pan to distribute the melting sugar. Continue to swirl as the sugar darkens and cook until it’s a deep golden colour. Take it off the heat and pour in the cream. Stir and return to the heat if necessary to combine and melt the last of the sugar. Add in the butter and lastly sprinkle on the sea salt. Leave to one side to cool.

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Preheat the oven to 160C. Melt the butter, sugars, and golden syrup together until the sugars have dissolved and everything is combined.

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Chop the chocolate roughly and add in to the mixture, off the heat. Leave to sit for a few minutes before stirring. Beat the eggs lightly and then beat into the mixture. Lastly fold in the ground almonds and spelt flour, be careful not to over-mix as there is a risk the mixture will split. Pour this into a lined baking tin (either square or rectangular will do). Pour the caramel over the brownie mixture.

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Use a knife to swirl the caramel mixture into the brownie mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes. You want the mixture to be set, so it wobbles like a custard or chocolate tart. If you over-bake it you’ll lose the truffle-like texture. A knife inserted won’t come out clean. Leave the brownies to cool in the tin and then place them in the freezer overnight.

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The brownies will be risen when you take them from the oven but will sink back down once cooled and will pull away from the sides of the tin and shrink slightly in the freezer. Allow to thaw slightly before slicing into squares. Store them in the freezer, individually wrapped in baking paper and clingfilm. Allow them to thaw for about 15 minutes before eating.

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Cranberry and Dark Chocolate Cookies

Today I’m taking a break from the Italy posts and telling you about these rather wonderful, amazing, addictive cookies. They’re perfect for an afternoon snack – especially when you get home exhausted from the day and are even better late in the evening, past the hour of acceptable consumption, eaten on the couch, with a trashy movie. I was also going to make a pear tart tomorrow but some of the children I’m working with at the moment are baking bread and I’m going to have to go into school so I figured I’d share these with you today instead.

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I made these on Sunday in a fit of energetic inspiration and they’re still good, two days later. I suspect they last a while. They’re dense and bitter with dark chocolate which is broken by the sudden, unexpected sweetness of the cranberries. I think it’s a bit of a take on Christmas cookies made with white chocolate and cranberry and being that my current state of mind is a bit like a child on Christmas eve, I feel they’re appropriate. These are adapted from Bouchon Bakery, a book with which I am slightly obsessed. It’s Thomas Keller’s latest book. I have referred to The French Laundry Cookbook before. I am obsessed with the way they make brioche. The man is a genius. I want to make pretty much everything in the book and have already been converted to his shortcrust pastry, which I will tell you about at some point. But first, these cookies.

I adapted the recipe from Chocolate Chunk and Chip cookies. I couldn’t find any recipes that called for white chocolate and cranberry so I gave up and decided to do my own thing with one of the recipes that looked like it would take a lot of dark chocolate and some dried fruit. I never have chocolate chips in the house, mostly because I prefer to use chocolate that I can chop, so I used all regular chocolate, chopped roughly. Keller says that the chips hold their consistency whilst the chunks of chopped chocolate melt. I find they melt a little but overall hold quite well in the cookie. There’s enough dark bitter chunk for me to be satisfied. Keller’s recipes are extremely precise (60g of egg for example) so mine is an adapted version of his recipe. I did weigh everything (including the egg!) but I used golden caster sugar instead of granulated, black treacle instead of molasses, chocolate chopped into chunks for the entire chocolate amount required, and finally, I added in 100g of cranberries. This makes quite a few cookies. The instructions are to divide the dough into 6 equal portions, at 150g each and then cook three on a tray. 150g seems a tad excessive to me so I weighed them at 50g and cooked six on a tray and still had them spread together slightly (in a totally manageable way) so I feel like 150g is way excessive a weight for a cookie.

Cranberry and Dark Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery

240g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

135g dark brown sugar

15g black treacle

105g golden caster sugar

120g dark chocolate, 70%

170g butter, unsalted, room temperature

100g cranberries

60g egg (I weighed the egg and filled to 60g with buttermilk)

Place the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a bowl. Stir and set aside. Beat the butter in a warm bowl (Keller says until it looks like mayonnaise) but I think it’s better described as thick and fluffy. (I heated the bowl with hot water and dried it before adding the already partially softened butter. I didn’t feel the need to reheat the bowl, although he says you can.) Mix the two sugars and treacle together as best you can. (I think the aim of this is to be rid of the lumps that sometimes arise in very dark sugars). Roughly chop the chocolate and then the cranberries.

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Add the sugars to the butter and beat until lighter and fluffy – about four minutes. Then beat in the egg (if necessary weighed to 60g with extra buttermilk). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

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Add the flour mixture in two additions. I switched to a spatula here, to fold the flour in. Lastly fold in the cranberries and dark chocolate pieces. The key thing is to not over mix.

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Now cover the bowl in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour. (Gives you time to wash the dishes…)

Line two trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 160C.

Using an ice-cream scoop, weigh the mixture into 50g portions. Roll these between your palms and then squish them down onto the baking tray, lightly.

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Bake for about 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown. (The thumb test doesn’t work with these cookies). Remove from the oven and cool on the trays for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

I made about 24 cookies and they’re still good at the end of day two…

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Tuscan Bread

So here’s something you should know about bread. You cannot be distracted when you make it. You cannot start to make bread and then take a nap, for example. Nor should you be corrupted by friends for a glass of wine (which turns into two bottles). It will mess with your bread. There. I’ve said it. You can’t say I didn’t tell you.

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I started a starter (I love that), on Thursday evening because the instructions said it needed 24 hours before you could turn it into bread. Great, I thought. I can make bread on Friday afternoon. All will be well. That was before the nap and the wine.

It turns out, and I’d been told this before but sort of regarded it as pastry/baker folklore, that you can over-proof bread. I’ve never done it, even though I’ve left breads to proof for hours at a time but on Friday evening I obviously pushed this luck a bit far. I turned the starter into a bread and proofed it in the oven (off, obviously). Then I knocked it back and shaped it and left it to proof whilst I had a nap. First mistake. When I got up, just in time to go to dinner, the loaf was ready to go in the oven and I thought, it’ll survive half an hour whilst I eat. So I went to dinner. Then friends invited me to join them for drinks. Just one drink I thought. Three hours later I returned home to a loaf that had proofed up and then started to sink back into itself. A sure sign of over proofing. Whoops. I baked it anyway. I wasn’t about to throw out all that flour and I guess a small part of me thought I could still get away with the bread neglect. I was wrong. The bread was super crunchy and tasted stale. So I admitted my mistake and started again, with another starter.

Seeing how much bread the recipe made, I halved it and made the loaf yesterday morning. It turned out wonderfully. It’s not life-changing bread but good, solid, white loaf, that works excellently with marmalade at breakfast time. I spent most of yesterday afternoon slicing it and eating it with vast quantities of butter and marmite. You’re supposed to cook it on a stone, to get a good crust and baker-oven effect but I don’t have one so mine only had a good crust for the first hour. I don’t really mind though.

Tuscan Bread

Adapted from Bringing Italy Home

For the starter:

5g active dry yeast

125ml warm water

50g white bread flour

50g 00 flour

For the bread:

125ml warm water

generous pinch of salt

125g white bread flour

125g 00 flour

olive oil for covering

To make the starter, combine the yeast and water in a large bowl and stir. Leave, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the yeast is foamy. Stir in the flour and combine until the mixture is smooth. Sprinkle over some extra bread flour and cover with a tea towel. Leave, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

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To make the bread, stir the warm water into the starter and add in the salt. Add in the flour in four goes, starting out with a wooden spoon to combine but then kneading with your hands. Both times I made this I had to add in a little extra water (about two tablespoons) to get the last of the flour to combine with the dough. Don’t be afraid to add extra water if your dough is dry.

Knead the dough lightly for about five minutes, then place in a clean, oiled, bowl, turning the dough around in the bowl so it is covered in olive oil. Cover with clingfilm and place in a warm, dry place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).

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Knock back the dough and shape it into a loaf.

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I suspect you can bake this in a loaf tin if you desire although this will make it look less rustic. Place the shaped loaf on a lined baking tray and proof again for 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 220C. Slash the dough lightly with a bread knife.

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Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

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Allow to cool before eating.

Braised Artichokes with Peas

I made dinner last night from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. I roasted a chicken leg and thigh with garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary (I have a mini herb garden growing nicely on my window-sill at the moment), and to accompany it, I made these artichokes. I chose artichokes because I’ve never really cooked artichokes before. My friend Sarah and I tried the last time I was home but we were superbly unsuccessful – we couldn’t work out how to cook them or how to eat them. They have always puzzled me – these spiky green (or purple) vegetables, most of which you have to remove in order to eat. Mystery I tell you.

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Well, they’re less of a mystery now, although I’m still kind of sceptical about them. I followed Marcella’s comprehensive instructions (and illustrations) to trim the artichokes down and remove the choke. I kept questioning how much I was taking off and where the leaves were breaking from (should they really be breaking off this much? Why does the picture look like they just snap off easily whereas I’m using scissors? It was a serious half hour of self doubt.) But eventually I had something that sort of resembled the pictures –  I say sort of, because I later discovered (at the eating point), that, in fact, I should have taken more of the outer leaves off and I had to extract some of the more chewy pieces.

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The actual recipe for braising is pretty simple. Once you’ve cleaned and peeled the artichoke, and removed the choke, you remove the stalks (peeling them of the hard, green exterior). You then slice the artichokes into wedges and rub everything with lemon to keep it from going brown. You then sauté some shallots (I used two) in olive oil until tender before adding in half a garlic clove. Fry this until the garlic turns slightly golden before adding in the artichoke and six tablespoons of water. Reduce the heat so the pan is simmering and put a lid on. Cook the artichokes for about 15 minutes, until they’re tender to a fork at the thickest point. Add in half a small cup of frozen peas (which you’ve thawed), salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley. You can put in some more water if the pan is threatening dryness. Replace the lid and cook for a further five minutes. The artichokes should be tender.

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I served this with my roasted chicken but I suspect it’s a good accompaniment to many dishes (this serves two as a side). It felt almost like a spring dish, with all the green elements and the artichokes have a wonderful earthy taste whilst the parsley just lifts things slightly. I originally ordered two artichokes (online grocery shopping is my new favourite thing) but I only used one for this recipe. So I’ll be cleaning another artichoke sometime this week.


And so begins March. Gosh. Can the year slow down slightly? I’m starting to get dizzy. March marks the almost half-way point of my PhD. It’s 19 months until my hand-in date. To celebrate, and to prevent me from losing my mind, I’ve decided to start up a new project here on Philosophy and Madeleines. Every month, for the next 19 months, I’m going to be cooking and baking and dessert-making from a different country somewhere on the planet. And to clarify, that doesn’t mean I will be in the actual country (sadly!), merely that I will be making dishes from it’s cuisine in my tiny kitchen here in Nottingham. I feel I’ve been getting complacent in my cooking and baking skills. I tend to do the same dishes over and over again, which is nice and easy and relaxing, but I think I need to push my boundaries a bit more and this is the best way I can think of to do it.

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The challenge will be not only to cook from one place but to also not buy any more cookbooks whilst completing this mission. There. I admit defeat to the cookbook gods. My addiction to cookbooks is getting out of hand and something needs to be done to stop it. So, this is it. I’ll need you all to remind me I can’t buy anything new from time to time, I think. Instead of buying books I’m going to be using my local library. (This part makes the challenge more challenging, I think.) I’ve already scoped out the library’s cookbooks and I think I’ll be okay for a while. I’m going to borrow various books on the country of the month, including memoirs/travel writing/food writing/recipe books, and will be using them to cook/bake from for the month. I’ll also be using any relevant books I happen to have on my shelves. So that’s it. That is the challenge. I do hope you’ll join me on this new adventure.

And so to begin. This first month I am cooking and baking from Italy. Italy seemed the logical choice to begin a challenge like this one – I like pasta and pizza and risotto and olive oil as much as the next person and finding out about the various regions and their different dishes seems like a fun idea. The cuisine is also as old as they come and there is loads to read about it.

So to Italy we go.

I’ve borrowed the following books from the library (and my own bookshelf) and shall be using them to cook from this month. I might add a few more as the month goes on, I’m not sure yet. (Which is part of the adventure I guess!)

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Bringing Italy Home by Ursula Ferrigno

The Food of Italy: Region by Region by Claudia Roden

A Year in the Village of Eternity by Tracey Lawson

Delizia! by John Dickie

I’ve also borrowed a copy of Jamie does… Spain Italy Sweden Morocco Greece France, mainly for a quick reference point and fast recipes. We all need a little Jamie in our lives after all.

I thought I’d start with dessert today. It’s Friday and something quick and easy is often necessary on a Friday, especially if it’s been a rough week. Tiramisù is a classic Italian dessert which Claudia Roden writes is fairly new – she was writing in 1989 but I guess she means new in comparison to dishes which have been around since the 1100’s or before. Now, I don’t think you can mention Italy without someone mentioning tiramisù. The other books I’ve got don’t reference tiramisù at all so I read Jamie’s version in Jamie does just to see about method. He makes his the same way as Claudia, but uses more ingredients and flavours. I wanted to keep things simple and fast so I’ve followed Claudia’s recipe but I made my own sponge fingers. The resulting dessert is rich and satisfying. The rum is incorporated into the flavours so it doesn’t taste alcoholic (I left out the brandy in the recipe because I don’t have any at the moment) and the dark chocolate adds a bitterness which cuts the richness and keeps the dessert from being too overwhelming. I remember making this at cooking school and thinking it was amazing but when I consulted that recipe this morning I worked out why I hadn’t made it since – a list of ingredients, including gelatine, and a method which was convoluted and long. This is simple, quick and satisfying. You’re supposed to leave it overnight (according to Claudia) but I felt it was okay to eat after a few hours of chilling. She also makes it in one big dish but I quite like it in individual moulds – it’s up to you how to serve it really.

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Adapted from The Food of Italy: Region by Region

2 tbsp rum

1/4 cup strong black coffee

8 sponge fingers

250g mascarpone

1 egg

2 1/2 tbsp golden icing sugar

50g dark chocolate

Makes 4

Mix 1 tablespoon of rum with the coffee and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, separate the egg and whisk the yolk with the icing sugar and mascarpone. Once the mixture is smooth, add in the other tablespoon of rum.

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Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture and lay them in the bottom of four ramekins, if necessary, break them to fit. Brush any leftover coffee mixture over the sponge fingers.

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Whisk the egg white until stiff and fold into the mascarpone. Spoon this onto the sponge fingers.

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Put the chocolate into a blender and blend until finely powdered (Claudia calls this pulverising). Sprinkle over the desserts and refrigerate for at least four hours if not overnight.

Lady’s Fingers

We had to make these at cookery school and I haven’t had cause to make them since. You can cheat by buying Boudoir biscuits (or the equivalent if they’re not available). Just break them to the size you need when using.

50g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

pinch of salt

50g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar (25g) until pale and at ribbon stage.

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Whisk the egg whites until foamy and then add in the salt. Whisk to soft peak and then add in the other half of the sugar in three goes, forming a soft, glossy meringue.

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Sift half the flour over the yolk mixture and fold in, followed by half the meringue. Repeat.

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Fill a piping bag and pipe strips onto your baking sheet.

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Bake for about 15 minutes, until the fingers are golden along the edges, and slightly coloured on top. Remove from the oven and slide the baking paper onto a cooling rack so they stop cooking and don’t dry out. Cool and use as needed.

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