During these endless days of lockdown it’s good to find the little joys. In the last few days I’ve been carrying vases of tulips around the house so I can see them wherever I go, it snowed and as I write this the garden is still topped in what looks like a blanket of fondant icing although the garden furniture is slowly dripping in resigned protest, and I baked three times. It’s been a wild week.
One of those bakes was an experiment, and a sceptical one at that. I didn’t plan it to be a blog post. But, as an experiment, this recipe for blackberry and bay brownies was incredibly successful.
Like many food lovers, I’m drawn to unusual flavour combinations. When I cook, they make me feel like a potions master or a mad scientist, trying to make the biggest, most colourful explosion. Most of the time, weird flavour pairings reveal themselves to be unexpectedly delightful (as I say, most of the time, let’s not dwell on New Zealand’s jelly chocolate bar which I still regret eating) but we’re usually reluctant to take the risk because what we expect is ingrained. Sweet needs to be sweet. Full stop.
Adding herbs to desserts is nothing new or avant-garde. We’re all accustomed to recipes combining mint, thyme, rosemary or basil with fruit, so seeing blackberry and bay together was no surprise, especially as I made and devoured a bramble jam with them only recently. They share similar spicy notes which are no doubt captured in Jo Malone’s bottled fragrance, or in blackberry compote stewed with bay leaves then served in a crumble or dolloped on pancakes. However, it was the chocolate brownie itself which caused my scepticism.
After all, chocolate is a powerful flavour! There’s a reason why a simple bar of chocolate, chocolate ice cream, chocolate muffins, chocolate Angel Delight (although, that might just be me) hasn’t gone out of fashion as, often, the flavour doesn’t need any tinsel to dress it up. Does bitter dark chocolate work with a bay leaf’s floral flavour?
Yes, yes, it really does.
Amidst the musky, woody tones of chocolate and bay, the blackberries bring a juicy tang, and all three come together in an almost wine-like boozy hit of richness, along with the light muscovado sugar which dispels a warmth of caramel. The flavours are so intriguing, I return for another bite, then another. Then there’s the fudgy texture and crackly, crispy skin and I’ll just have another brownie.
I ate some blackberry and bay brownies and it occurred to me that sometimes those little joys are found in unexpected places.
Blackberry and bay brownies
- 200 g good-quality dark chocolate
- 125 g unsalted butter
- 3 eggs
- 250 g soft light muscovado sugar
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 100 g plain flour
- 175 g blackberries
- 5 bay leaves
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
- Break up the chocolate and, along with the butter, put it in a microwave-proof dish with a lid. Melt on low for 2 minutes, check to see if the butter has melted then repeat for another minute. Leave the lid on and set aside for the liquid butter to continue to melt the chocolate.
- Crack the eggs into a large bowl and add the sugar. Using electric beaters, whisk the mixture into a pale, foamy mousse. This will take about five minutes of constant whisking. The eggs will double in volume and when you lift out the beaters, a thick ribbon of mixture should sit on top of the mousse for about two seconds.
- Stir together the melted chocolate and butter and pour it slowly into the eggs. Fold together gently, gradually criss-crossing the mousse with dark streaks of chocolate. Sift over the flour and cocoa powder and fold it in until fudgy and there are no lumps of flour.
- Fold in 125g blackberries then tip it into the baking tray. Dot with the remaining blackberries and the bay leaves, gently pushing them into the surface.
- Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-30 minutes. You’ll know when they’re done as the brownies have a smooth ripple when you juggle the tray and the surface is crispy. Leave to cool in the tin then cut into squares.