Today I have been thinking about cake. Generally speaking this has been a normal day for me. Cake is satisfying, whether to eat or simply think about; the softness of the crumb, the smooth crack of icing under your teeth. Ok, I appreciate eating cake is much more satisfying than just thinking about it, especially for someone like me who has a big tooth and it’s described as ‘sweet’.
So, thinking about cake inevitably led to me baking one, but in the interim I was mentally concocting recipes, mixing flavours and, at one point, comparing varieties of vegan frosting (there is more than one way to make vegan frosting you know, I’ve learnt a lot in one day).
Like many other enthusiastic bakers, I have a habit, which, in my family’s eyes a bad habit because it results in yet another cake cooling on the wire rack. The habit is merely looking at a recipe and I’m already considering how this flavour would work with another, could I mix this with that, what if I just threw in some Earl Grey tea, I bet that would work. Even when I was young I would disappear into the kitchen after dinner and start experimenting. These sweet concoctions wouldn’t taste great but I was only allowed to use the microwave so, in my defence, I was limited. One particular example of these experiments resulted in a trip to A&E after an energetic jump to peer into a cupboard resulted in the top of my head smashing into said cupboard’s door. Although experiment-induced-A&E-trips have mercifully ended there (touch wood) it hasn’t quenched my thirst for trying new things. (That said, I still managed to severely burn three fingers from burnt caramel only a few months ago, the trip to the Burns Unit felt very familiar.)
Thus, inevitably, thinking about cake led to baking a favourite – Honeycomb and Sea Salt Chocolate Brownies.
The classic chocolate brownie is infamous – soft and fudgy, melting on your tongue at the first bite through the crisp papery crust. Effortless to eat three on the trot, before going away for 15 minutes and coming back for another, brownies must contain a cruel addictive chemical which leaves the eater stupefied and shameless. Only later, when all the brownies are gone, is there a twinge of regret that you should have saved one for breakfast the next day.
Although I adore brownies, a plain one does not engage me as much as one stuffed with raspberries, white chocolate chunks, or salted caramel, or topped with marshmallows and melted chocolate, or pecans and toffee. The list goes on…
Honeycomb and sea salt was a combination that would not rest until I sampled it. Becoming insanely gooey, the honeycomb melts into the chocolate batter leaving a caramelly warmth, gently speckled with salt. Once out of the oven and on a cooling rack cover with crushed honeycomb and sea salt. Leave to set (if you can resist) and the clusters glue to the brownie, giving a satisfying chew as you devour them.
N/B These brownies are the best I have ever eaten and I don’t say that lightly! Experiment with them in anyway you wish or leave plain, just try to avoid A&E. I don’t want to be held accountable.
Honeycomb and Sea-Salt Chocolate Brownies
Makes 16 small brownies
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp water
200g golden caster sugar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
185g dark chocolate
275g caster sugar
1 tsp sea salt flakes
40g cocoa powder
85g plain flour
- Grease and line a deep baking tray with baking parchment. To make the honeycomb, pour the golden syrup into a large pan and add the sugar and water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved – you may need to agitate the mixture with a wooden spoon handle to ensure all the sugar melts.
- Once dissolved, turn up the heat and boil the syrup for about 5 minutes until it starts to turn golden brown and smells rich. Swirl the pan occasionally to examine the colour. Allow the caramel to turn a deep amber but don’t let it burn!
- When you think it is ready, turn off the heat and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda. The honeycomb will immediately froth! Stir vigorously to distribute any lumps of soda and quickly pour into the lined tray. Leave to set for half an hour.
- Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas mark 4 and adjust the oven shelf to the middle. Grease and line a brownie tin, roughly 20cm square.
- Cut the butter into cubes and break the chocolate into shards. Put both in a heat-proof bowl, cover and melt in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir gently to combine and leave to cool. (If you don’t have a microwave melt in a bowl over gently simmering water, stirring regularly.)
- Break the eggs into a bowl and pour in the sugar. Whisk with electric beaters until pale, almost white, and double the volume. This can take 3 to 8 minutes. When you pull out the beaters they should leave a defined trail of mixture.
- Pour in the cooled chocolate and butter, sprinkle with the sea salt and gently fold together, so not to knock out the air, until a consistent dark brown and all the chocolate has blended with the eggs.
- Sift in the cocoa powder and flour, and gently fold until fudgy and gooey.
- Crush 100g of the set honeycomb into large chunks and shards. Tip into the brownie batter and fold gently.
- Pour the chocolatey mixture into the lined tin, spread evenly into the corners with a spatula and bake on the middle shelf for 25 mins (for very gooey brownies) to 35 mins (for a more cakey texture) so the sides of the cake are just coming away from the tin. Please remember the melted honeycomb will make the batter seem really runny but don’t be fooled! After 25 minutes check regularly with a skewer – you want some mixture clinging to it.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes to set (try to control yourself please) before lifting out onto a wire rack and removing the paper. Sprinkle with chunks of honeycomb, sinking the crumbs into the soft centre, and a dusting of sea salt flakes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares and eating them then and there.