Oh. I love the holidays. Not in September when the shops are trying to part you with your hard-earned. Not in October when you finally get around to buying a few bits for your nearest and dearest. Not in November where you start thinking about stealing a march on the wrapping. And not the bit in December where you have to get a move on with the wrapping because you didn’t get around to it in November. Not the R.S.I. from all the cards you have to write. Not the running out of batteries and sticky tape. Not the planning and organising. Not the food shopping. I love the bit when all the commercial guff is over and done with. The bit where you are warm indoors looking out on the winter frosts. The bit where even though you don’t do church and stuff you will happily sit and listen to the carols. Mid December onwards. And especially the last couple of hours of Christmas Eve. No noise. No fuss. A glass of something celebratory and a sense of calm. The joyful peace of the simple things. Fambly and friends. Good food and good company. I’ve never been one for the summer. I think I might have the polar opposite of seasonal affective disorder. I much prefer to be heading towards the winter months. As soon as the leaves begin to turn brown it’s like a signal that everything is about to pick up. Even the celebrations start to get better. Who cares about Eton mess and summer pudding when the most exciting thing you have to look forward to celebrating in July is the summer solstice at Stonehenge? Not for me thanks. Give me a chilly bonfire night or Christmas any day. Well not any day. I should imagine they would still need to be around November 5th and December 25th respectively. For reasons of timing and tradition if nothing else. But I digest.
Deep and crisp – uneven.
The food of the winter months in the UK has always had to be honest and sturdy. Always. If you think back to the days when our gone-befores were foraging up and down dressed in burlap sacks. They needed the stodge for the energy and warmth. Things have moved on since then but there’s still nothing to beat a good bit of Yorkshire Parkin when it’s parky. I love it when overrated summer berries give way to the pick of the orchard. When vanilla and elder make way for honey and treacle. And warming spices such as ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. For me that’s when baking gets back to being proper baking again. And as Christmas arrives the most underrated of the festive flavourings is Allspice. So I’m giving you today’s recipe in advance of then, in case you want to make it for yourselves. A simple but lovely hot chocolate brownie. It rises nicely during baking before settling in the middle during the cooling to leave a claggy delight. Deeper and more cakey around the edges. Shallow and squidgy in the middle. You might think the person who gets a centre piece would feel short-changed somehow. But I’ve seen people diving in face first to make a grab for them before triumphantly announcing “it’s the best bit”. And the top has a delightful crackle effect that looks very festive with a snowy dusting of icing sugar. It’s the perfect little treat for any carollers you might have. Or better yet. Bake a little tray of these ready for any guests calling around on Christmas Eve with cards, prezzies or even just good wishes. One of these beauties with a glass of Irish cream liqueur is a Christmas gift in itself. You could even leave one out for Santa.
I should cocoa.
Cocoa powder is one of those things in life where if you skimp on the expense you are only cheating yourself. You need to find a really good cocoa to suit your taste or else every chocolate cake you ever make will be a huge disappointment flavour-wise. Cocoa powder is pure chocolatey goodness. Drinking chocolate on the other hand is crammed full of stuff like milk powder and sugar and countless other unnecessaries. They are not the same thing at all. Hot chocolate mix is a lot like cheap toilet paper. A false economy. You might think saving a few pennies is worth it but sooner or later the decision will hit you in the arse. We’ve all done it. Bought drinking chocolate in good faith under some nostalgic notion that when the weather turned, you and your kith and kin would be sat in front of the fire like a 1950’s Christmas card. Toasting marshmallows and drinking hot chocolate. It was a nice thought. But you tried it once and it wasn’t how you thought it would be. And now you’re stuck with that huge tub of unwanted chocolate mix. You don’t want to waste it but you don’t know what to do with it either. Well worry not. In this recipe it is not only preferable to use drinking chocolate powder. It’s absolutely essential. Otherwise they turn out to be overly strong and underly sweet. I have tried making these brownies using the good stuff – and it was not good. Take my word for it and stick to the cheaper hot chocolate mix. Yule be glad you did.
A tin to bake it in.
You don’t need anything fancy for this. These brownies can be baked in any old shallow 20cm square cake tin. They’re not the biggest tray of brownies. But they don’t need to be. They are so rich that you can cut them into fairly small squares or bars and nobody will complain too much. What they lack in size they will more than make up for in flavour. Though if you are anticipating a large crowd there should be nothing stopping you from simply doubling up on the mixture and baking it in a 23cm x 33cm tray bake tin. And if you’re pushed for time when you’re getting the last-minute Chrimbo preparations out of the way, you’ll be glad to know they don’t even take that long to make. They really are a Christmas cracker. Now here’s that recipe… Enjoy.
- 84g Margarine.
- 140g Plain Flour.
- 160g Drinking Chocolate Powder.
- 150g Caster Sugar.
- 1 tsp Allspice.
- 1 tsp Baking Powder.
- 2 Large Eggs.
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract.
- 20g Icing Sugar.
- Place a shelf one position up from the centre of the oven. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4. Line a 20cm square cake tin with tin foil.
- Melt the margarine in the microwave. Use a pastry brush to lightly grease the tin foil with a little of the melted margarine. Set the remaining margarine aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl and using a hand whisk – mix together the flour, drinking chocolate, caster sugar, allspice and baking powder until well combined and aerated with no lumps.
- Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the cooled margarine. Whisk together until smooth.
- Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture.
- Using a wooden spoon stir everything together until combined. Take care not to let too much air get into the mixture or the brownies will be full of holes.
- Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.
- Bake for 30 minutes or just until the centre of the brownies looks set.
- Cool completely in the tin before carefully removing.
- Dust lightly with icing sugar and cut into squares just before serving.