I’m sure there’s a Brownie Consortium somewhere that meets regularly to debate such topics as Cakey vs Fudgy, The Role of Cocoa, and Walnuts: A Fresh Perspective. I also recently learned the brownie isn’t technically a cake at all, but a cookie. Fanny Farmer listed it as such in the 1906 edition of her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and in some ways that’s what a brownie really strives to be. Think of the best chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever tasted – the memory of the oven still lingering over it, a shatteringly tender shell, a warm, melting middle, rich but light and gone in seconds. I have used a brownie recipe from a children’s cookery book for the last few years and it’s served me well. It’s child’s play (as all baking should be, in my opinion) and not remotely fiddly and the results delight all humans. My allegiance is definitely to the fudgy camp. Why have cake when you can have a dark, dense bar, baked to a sugary crackle on the outside, with gently weeping chocolate within?
The brownie (named after its original ingredient, molasses) took off in the early 1900s in Chicago when it was made as a dessert item for ladies attending the fair. It needed to be flat and square, hence the absence of raising agents, so they could eat it easily from a ‘boxed lunch’. Touchingly, our most recent guests carried them around in a foil parcel in much the same manner.
I know it’s almost heresy to say this, but I don’t like walnuts in brownies. I prefer to keep to similar textures, something that releases its flavour in a liquid burst, rather than a hard, grainy morsel. Sour cherries, prunes, chocolate chips, cooked beetroot would all work. I don’t mind the bitterness of a cocoa nib, or the sunken, darker hit of alcohol. I just don’t want to be picking things out of my teeth.
Chocolate Orange Brownies
This recipe uses whole oranges boiled and pureed – skin and all. As it takes a couple of hours for them to be cooked through, add the zest of a large orange, and maybe try an orange-infused chocolate, such as Green and Black’s Maya Gold if you are pushed for time. However, there are dividends in using the whole orange approach – if you chuck another two on to boil, you can try Claudia Roden’s lovely almond and orange cake from her Book of Middle Eastern Food. The puree can also be added to muffins and quick bread, used as a base for custard or ice cream, as well as spread over baking salmon or mashed into a herby butter.
The orange is fresh and sharp here – ‘on the lip’ you could say – which is what a brownie needs. The chocolate is deep and steady, and the cocoa keeps things earthbound. Incidentally, the fudgy, chewy texture of these brownies comes from melting the butter with the chocolate, which prevents any air from being trapped. If you want something cakier and crumblier, go for the creaming method. And, of course, you can have a straightforward, orange-less brownie, by simply leaving out the orange component entirely.
Chocolate Orange Brownies
Inspired by Sweet Treats, Williams-Sonoma
175g (6oz) *good quality chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
25g (¼ cup) cocoa powder (such as Green and Blacks)
250g (2 sticks/1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
300g (1½ cups) organic cane sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
70g (½ cup) plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 organic, unsprayed oranges
Put the whole oranges into a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for two hours or until soft. Drain and leave to cool, then cut them in half and remove the pips and any stalks. Put the oranges, including the skin, into a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside. This can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for two days.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and line a 9 inch/23cm x 23cm baking pan with parchment paper. Break the chocolate into smallish pieces and put in a pan with the butter. Melt both over a very low heat, stirring occasionally with a spatula. Pour the melted chocolate and butter into a bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Stir in the sugar and the vanilla extract. Whisk in the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition. Now add the orange pulp. Whisking the mixture vigorously at this point will create a crisp outer layer to the brownie.
Gently fold in the flour and salt. Stir well to make sure there are no streaks. Scrape the batter into the baking pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out with a few crumbs attached but no raw stuff. Let the brownies cool a little before cutting them into squares. Serve warm with some ice cream or a dollop of crème fraîche. If you don’t want instant gratification, these actually improve with time; store in an airtight container and enjoy picking.