Brownies are a regular crowd-pleaser: they’re easy to bake, fun to eat, and are totally portable.
Plus, if you’re in the habit of pushing the culinary envelope like me, they’re like a blank canvas that can be embellished in any way you want.
I am not speaking, of course, of those illicitly-laced brownies made by more degenerate individuals who have fallen into the habit of indulging in some rather iffy substances normally frowned upon by the bulk of civilized society. You can actually give your wee cakies a kick without breaking the law.
You can swap the normal vanilla for brandy, framboise, and even cassis. (Creme de menthe and Cointreau work wonders, too.) You can swank things up by using macadamia nuts or toasted pistachios in the place of the usually wonted walnuts or peanuts. If you’re so inclined, you can soak raisins or other dried fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and cherries in rum or some other liqueur for the sort of treat that is gorgeously grown-up, particularly when served with a large scoop of proper vanilla ice cream. You know how these things go: the only thing limiting you is your own imagination.
Since I was taking a batch of brownies to the company outing and there was a rule totally banning the consumption of anything alcoholic, I decided to gussy up a batch without liqueur and concentrated on giving these moreish bars intensity through the use of other ingredients that, while not inebriating, would give a totally different flavor profile.
Black sugar ended up being my go-to ingredient for this particular recipe. This was an accidental find in our regular supermarket: a granulated sugar that was much, much darker than the more finely-textured muscovado and the taste was totally intense: a deep, rich sweetness with all the duskiness and the ferrous tang of molasses. When used instead of regular white sugar for baking, the taste becomes like caramel: a toasty, tangy sweetness that also adds a touch of smokiness to the aroma. Paired with unsweetened cocoa, the black sugar seems to make the bittersweet taste of the chocolate more intense and the aroma is headier, stronger. The further addition of coffee and cinnamon to the batter also help to put these bars a cut above more juvenile examples of their ilk.
Black Sugar Brownies
- 1 cup dark brown sugar (get the darkest you can find)
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup salted butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- 1 cup milk
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 50-gram dark chocolate bar, finely chopped
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably an enamel one) over medium heat, melt together the sugars, cocoa, butter, shortening, and vanilla. Cook whilst stirring constantly until the fats have all melted and the mixture starts to boil. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a couple of minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4; grease a rectangular baking tin.
Whisk the eggs into the cocoa mixture until well-combined. Stir in the milk and espresso powder and mix. Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda; mix until well-combined. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the chopped chocolate. Bake for 18 minutes; remove immediately from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before cutting.
Makes approximately 36 squares.