Saturday, January 20, 2018

Chocolate chestnut brownies

A little while ago, I made these brownies for the first time. I love chestnuts and I tend to use them in savory and sweet dishes regularly, especially during the autumn and winter months, but never had I used them before in brownies. It was a revelation.

Chestnut and chocolate is, unsurprisingly, a match made in heaven, and these brownies are a shining example of this match. They are fudgy and dense yet soft and light. They have the full, intense flavor of dark chocolate and cocoa powder, with the sweet earthiness and nutty flavor of the chestnut and the salty kick of sea salt flakes that brings all the flavors to life, balancing the sweetness of it all.

The swirls of chestnut cream, soft and gooey, peaking out from the fudgy, dense brownies or hiding inside them, revealing themselves with each bite, create a flavor and texture contrast that I love.

Ordinarily, I don’t prefer the edges of brownies but the center pieces; with these brownies, though, where the chestnut cream meets the edges of the brownie and it becomes deliciously chewy, it makes those edges utterly irresistible to me. Perhaps this will happen to you to. Let me know if you do make them.

And if you’re in the mood for more sweet and savory recipes with chestnuts, check out these:
Sweet chestnut cream (Crème de marrons)
Chocolate and chestnut truffles
Chestnut cream truffles
Chestnut tiramisu
Chestnut ice cream
Chestnut soup with Port
Chestnut crêpes with creamy wild mushroom filling

Chocolate chestnut brownies

No need to bring out a mixer, this is all done by hand, albeit it needs some elbow grease to achieve a smooth batter. So if you’re having trouble handling it by hand, use an electric hand-held mixer but don’t overbeat the eggs and the rest of ingredients as you don’t want to incorporate too much air into the batter. We’re going for fudgy texture, not light and airy.

I’ve made these brownies with both homemade sweet chestnut cream and ready-made, and I have to say that I like both versions. The homemade chestnut spread is somewhat more creamy and smooth and less dense/sticky than the commercial one. If you choose to use ready-made sweet chestnut spread, make sure to use good quality because it will make a difference.

*Don’t use chestnut purée instead of chestnut cream because they are different both in flavor and texture. Chestnut cream or crème de marrons is puréed chestnuts with sugar and vanilla, it is sweet and has (obviously) a creamy texture, whereas chestnut purée is cooked and then puréed chestnuts, it is unsweetened and has a very thick and dense texture.

Yield: 16 brownies

115 g unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
170 g good quality dark chocolate (55-60% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
25 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 large eggs
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
140 g all-purpose flour
300 g sweet chestnut cream/spread (not unsweetened chestnut purée, *read more about this above), homemade or store-bought
Sea salt flakes for sprinkling on top (I use Maldon)

Special equipment: 20 x 20 cm baking pan, baking paper, large wire whisk

Preheat your oven to 175°C.

Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and line with baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the butter and melt over a medium-low heat, stirring often with a whisk. Once melted, add the chocolate and stir continuously until it melts. Take the pan off the heat, add the cocoa powder and whisk until incorporated and you have a smooth mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking vigorously until you have a smooth and shiny mixture before adding the next egg. Then add the sugar, the vanilla and a pinch of sea salt and whisk vigorously again to combine. Finally, add the flour and whisk just until incorporated and there are no visible white patches from the flour.

Pour half of the brownie mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth it out. Add 1/3 of the chestnut spread in dollops on top of the brownie mixture and using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, marble it gently. Pour the rest of the brownie mixture on top, smooth it out and, finally, dollop the rest of the chestnut spread on top of the brownie mixture. Again, marble it gently. Don’t overdo it as you want to have patches of chestnut spread in your brownies. Sprinkle the top with 3 good pinches of flaked sea salt, rubbing it between your fingertips to make it a little finer as you sprinkle it.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake the brownies for about 30 minutes. The center of the brownies should feel just slightly firm.

Take the pan out of the oven and place on a wire rack. Leave to cool for 30 minutes, then using the overhanging baking paper take the brownies out of the pan and leave on the wire rack until completely cool. Then slice into 16 squares using a long and thin knife.

They keep excellently for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container, or for a week in the fridge. I prefer to keep them in fridge as I like their taste better when they’re cold.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Easy chocolate fudge with hazelnuts and shortbread cookies

Happy New Year! Happy and Healthy 2018! May it bring to you all that you wish for and more!

Yesterday, on the first day of the year, I cooked, a lot. Greek slow-cooked leg of lamb with potatoes and this fudge. Because I hadn’t made a single sweet chocolate dessert throughout the holidays and I was feeling deprived.

This is the easiest chocolate fudge and the most delicious to boot. Dark and a little bit of milk chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, a dash of vanilla, a smidgen of ground espresso beans, a big handful of hazelnuts and leftover kourabiedes (Greek Christmas shortbread cookies), that you can substitute with any kind of shortbread you have on hand.

Cut into small cubes, no more than two bites each, it is quite sweet after all, it’s the best little sweet treat to have anytime of the year. Hope you enjoy!

Easy chocolate fudge with hazelnuts and shortbread cookies

Use good quality chocolate; it will make a difference.
This is a slightly chewy fudge, dense and ultra chocolatey with notes of hazelnuts and buttery shortbread.

Yield: 56 small squares

400 g sweetened condensed milk (1 can)
425 g good quality dark chocolate (55-60% cocoa solids), chopped
85 g good quality milk chocolate (at least 35% cocoa solids), chopped
40 g (2 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground espresso beans (or instant espresso powder)
Pinch of sea salt
100 g blanced hazelnuts, finely chopped
3-4 small kourabiedes (mine were two bites each) or other shortbread cookies, crumbled/crushed with your hands (if you’re using kourabiedes, tap off the icing sugar)

A bit of vegetable oil for greasing the pan

Special equipment: 20x20cm square pan, plastic wrap, baking paper

Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with some vegetable oil. Cover the sides and bottom of the pan with plastic wrap, leaving a big overhang to be able to cover completely the finished fudge. This will also help you to lift the fudge and remove it from the pan once it has chilled.

Add the sweetened condensed milk, dark and milk chocolate, butter, vanilla, espresso and salt in a medium-sized, glass heatproof bowl and set it over a pan of barely simmering water (bain-marie). Stir with a heatproof silicone spatula until the chocolate and butter has melted and you have a smooth and glossy mixture. It will be somewhat dense.

Take the bowl off the pan, add the chopped hazelnuts and crumbled shortbread cookies, and mix them in the fudge with the spatula to distribute evenly. Empty the mixture into the prepared square pan and smooth the top. If there’s any excess grease on top of the fudge, dab it with a paper towel. Cover the fudge gently with the overhanging plastic wrap and leave for 30 minutes to cool at room temperature. Then place in the fridge for about 4 hours or until is has chilled thoroughly and it is set.

Unwrap the top of the plastic wrap from the fudge and use it to lift the chilled fudge from the pan. Lay a piece of baking paper on a clean work surface and turn the fudge over onto the baking paper. Peel off the plastic wrap and using a long and thin knife, cut the fudge into 56 small squares.

You can keep the fudge covered with baking paper and plastic wrap in the fridge for a week.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cinnamon shortbread cookies with cinnamon sugar

The Christmas tree is finally up! We trimmed it yesterday evening and my home feels Christmassy and festive and of course I’m already knee deep in holiday baking. I made melomakarona the other day, my all time favorite Greek Christmas cookies, and I plan on making kourabiedes very soon, but today I made another type of cookie that’s become a tradition in my home during the holidays, shortbread. I love all shortbread cookies, but above all those flavored with cinnamon.

I have shared with you before the vanilla and cocoa versions, and here’s the cinnamon one. It not only has cinnamon in the dough, but it has cinnamon on top as well, as I sprinkle the cookies before baking with cinnamon sugar that I make with Demerara sugar and ground cinnamon, that accentuates the flavor of the spice even more, without, however, being overwhelming, and it is fantastic. If you haven’t been sprinkling your shortbread with cinnamon sugar, then you should get on it as soon as possible.

Hope you are already in a festive mood yourselves and baking up a storm. Do try these and let me know what you think. And don't forget to tag me in your photos on instagram if you do make them so I can see them.

Happy baking!

Cinnamon shortbread cookies with cinnamon sugar

This is a shortbread full of butter flavor and a delicate texture. It is, to me, the ultimate shortbread. See here the vanilla and the cocoa versions.

This recipe yields about 35 Christmas tree cookies that have a height of 7 cm and a base with a width of 6 cm. There are so many different kinds of cookie cutters out there so of course I don’t expect you to have the same exact cookie cutters I have, so you may end up with more or less cookies.

Yield: about 35 cookies

150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
55 g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
220 g all purpose flour, sieved
20 g cornflour (cornstarch), sieved, plus extra for dipping your cookie cutter
1 heaped tsp (5 g) ground cinnamon, sieved
A pinch of sea salt

for the cinnamon sugar
2 Tbsp coarse Demerara sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon

Special equipment: fine sieve, stand or hand-held mixer, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking paper, cookie cutters of your choice (see note above for cookie cutters I used), baking sheet(s), small food processor

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and icing sugar and beat, using the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer), on medium-high speed for about 8 minutes or until you have a very creamy and light mixture. Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add the flour, cornflour, cinnamon and salt and beat on low speed. At first you may think that the mixture will not become a dough because it will look very sandy but don't worry, after a minute it will come together (like in the picture below) and gather in pieces around the paddle attachment (or around the beaters) of your mixer.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball and then into a disk. At this point you'll see the actual texture of the dough which should be smooth and firm. Wrap it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, make the cinnamon sugar. In a small food processor, add the sugar and cinnamon and process for 5 seconds to combine. Don’t overdo it because you don’t want the sugar to turn into powder. We want it to add texture to the cookies when sprinkled on top.

Line your baking sheet with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Place the chilled disk of dough between two sheets of baking paper and using a rolling pin, roll it out to 0.5-0.7 cm-thickness.
In a small bowl, add some cornflour and use it to dip in your cookie cutter. In this way, the cookie cutter won't stick to the dough.
Remove the top baking paper from your rolled-out dough and using your cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them on your prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1.5 cm apart.

Note: It's best if you transfer the cut-out cookies from the baking paper to your baking sheet using a small offset spatula. This way you ensure the shape of the cookie remains intact. You need to work fast because the dough becomes warmer and softer as time passes.

Note: Any leftover dough, shape it again into a ball and place it in the fridge to firm up. Then roll it out same as you did before and cut out more cookies.

Sprinkle each cookie with the cinnamon sugar. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake the cookies for 8-9 minutes or until light golden around the edges. They'll feel a little soft in the middle but that's okay. Be careful not to overbake them.

Note: If you choose a different cookie cutter, either smaller or bigger, or even of a different shape than the one I used (see note at the start of the recipe), the baking times will change. Keep a close eye on your cookies while baking so you avoid any surprises.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to stand for 2 minutes. Then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Allow them to cool completely before you transfer them to a cookie tin.
They'll keep for 1 week, at room temperature, in a tightly closed cookie tin.