The conversation went something like this –
#1 teenage son – Your brownies are better than the ones we had at that place the other day, Mum.
Me – Oh, thanks. I’m pleased about that. What made the difference?
#1 teenage son – The other ones were just like chocolate cake. Yours are like soggy chocolate cake.
Me – I guess that’s soggy in a good way then?
#1 teenage son – Yup.
So there’s a couple of things in this exchange to talk about. Firstly, it’s important that you appreciate that this, in the world of #1 teenage son, is ‘gushing’. It doesn’t happen very often and mostly you may blink and miss it, but when it does happen it means a LOT. So others may hear, “Your brownies are better than the ones we had at that place the other day, Mum” but experience has taught me to translate these words, when uttered by Mr non-gusher himself, as, “These brownies, Mum, are drop dead gorgeous. They are the most delicious BEST EVER chocolate brownies in the world. And you are such a fantastic Mum too … and beautiful … and smart too.” Well, maybe not those bits at the end, but you get the idea. And I guess what this also makes me ponder, is that when an enthusiastic gusher says positive or complimentary things perhaps it can mean less than a compliment from those individuals who are built from the same mould as #1 teenage son.
So the other thing I need to explore, is his use of the word ‘soggy‘. A small detail, you may be thinking, but let me put this into context.
I’ve been trying to perfect chocolate brownies for close to 10 years now. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive (perhaps if I truly was, I’d have nailed it in significantly less than a decade) but sometimes when I get my teeth into something (literally, often), I just want to get it right. Think Ben’s cookies.
Ten-ish years ago, I considered myself to be someone who didn’t much like chocolate brownies. I liked the idea of chocolate brownies, for sure, but the reality seemed to be dry at best, powdery at worst. And when they weren’t dry and powdery, they just tasted like a square of chocolate cake. Sounding familiar?
I tried out a lot of recipes and fiddled and faffed with them, but no joy. Eventually I settled on an adaptation of this Delia recipe as my ‘go-to’. I made (and sold) loads of these (I had a catering business in Bath at the time) and although they were yummy, there was still something that was niggling me. They certainly weren’t dry and they definitely weren’t powdery but they were GOOEY and that wasn’t right. So here’s the science bit –
A brownie should be a cross between a cake and a soft cookie with a fudgy texture. And the adjective which I’m going to use that I think perfectly describes the ideal brownie is ‘squidgy‘. It certainly is NOT ‘soggy‘, which implies a degree of liquid sloshing around (please take note #1 teenage son), nor should it be ‘gooey‘ (sorry, Delia). And god forbid it is ever dry or powdery.
‘Squidgy‘ is where it is at.
I knew what I wanted to create, but I just couldn’t get it right. And then, one day, I realised that the answer was right under my nose.
There’s a lot of things that we have in abundance in Dubai – sand; sunshine; tall, taller and tallest buildings; chilled (yes, really!) swimming pools; a plastic surgeon on every street corner; fancy cars that cost more than you and I would spend on a house – but we also have dates … and that’s the dried fruit variety, although I’m sure there’s plenty of the other type going on here too.
The dates in Dubai are insanely good. You get whole shops that sell nothing but – try Bateel if you’re here, and ask for the ones that they keep in the freezer. The gorgeous ones taste as good as the most delicious, soft, sweet caramels and I reckoned that the squidginess of dates was just what my chocolate brownies had been crying out for. BINGO – I was right.
You don’t need fancy dates for this (you are going to soak them in boiling water after all). Instead spend your money on good chocolate – it’s worth every penny. Or dirham.
And here’s why I know you’ll join me in embracing these chocolate brownies as the BEST EVER –
- There’s nothing difficult about these babies. Snipping the dates into little pieces is a bit dull but, seriously, what’s 10 minutes of drudgery for this amount of yumminess?
- You can prep all the bits beforehand if you want to. (Don’t you just love having a line of bowls all weighed and chopped and ready to go? Makes me feel like a proper ‘on the TV’ cheffy person.) Then combine and bake them when you are ready. This is good if you’re in a rush but have a bit of time now and then a bit more later.
- They make the house smell SO good while they are baking.
- Because of their ‘squidge‘ (a technical baking term, I’ll have you know), they keep really well – a week in an airtight container (I’m lead to believe), although I’ve never had any left beyond a couple of days.
- Devour them on their own served with coffee, a glass of milk or a chilled wine. Perfect as dessert with ice cream or go all out with ice cream AND a warm chocolate sauce. Heavenly.
So there you have it – the complicated world of chocolate brownies according to me. And just for the record, #1 teenage son – keep up the good work on the gushing front. And don’t forget – the correct description is ‘squidgy‘ NOT ‘soggy‘ …
- 300g (2 cups) finely chopped dates - I do this with scissors
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 185ml (¾ cup) boiling water
- 200g (7oz) finely diced butter
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 460g (2 cups) caster sugar
- 100g (1 cup) cocoa powder
- 150g (1 cup) plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 150g plain chocolate (I use 70% cocoa solids), cut into fairly small chunks
- 100g milk chocolate, cut into fairly small chunks
- Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F (gas mark 3).
- Line a 30cm x 24cm (12" x 9") tin with baking parchment - I use a roasting tray so that it is deep enough.
- Put the dates and the bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir to mix everything together and then stir in the butter. Leave to stand for at least 20 minutes - sometimes if the dates are really dry, longer is better.
- Now use a stick blender to mash the date mixture into a puree. If you don't have a stick blender use a fork to mash everything up as much as possible.
- Stir in the eggs and the vanilla until well combined.
- Add the sugar, cocoa, flour and baking powder and stir until thoroughly mixed.
- Now add the chocolate and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the tin, smoothing it into the corners and bake in the oven until it is set in the middle - this will be about 45-50 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares.
- Stored in an airtight container the brownies will last for at least a week - although that never happens in our house!