Salted Caramel, White Chocolate, and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Not that I’m planning on doing anything exciting, probably just an evening of curling up with sticky, gooey brownies, bemoaning the end of War and Peace.

I’ve got major War and Peace withdrawal symptoms. My Sunday evenings just won’t be the same without those stunning costumes and James Norton’s brooding silhouette. The only cure for my BBC period drama-itis will probably be the eventual return of Poldark, but in the interim, brownies instead.

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For the past year, A has gotten a huge hopeful grin on his face every time I suggest baking salted caramel brownies again. Unfortunately for him, talk has never turned into actual baking of the aforementioned brownies, until now. Behold, salted caramel heaven!

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These are supposed to be a homemade version of Paul A Young’s famous salted caramel brownies from his veeerrrry expensive chocolate shop. I had the pleasure of finally sampling this illustrious brownie, and boy it was good. Mightily expensive at £5.95 a brownie but I can quite honestly say it was one of the most delectable brownies to have passed my lips.

The homemade version are a bit squidgier than the official version, and I can’t quite replicate the exact chocolate flavour – probably because Paul A Young uses a particularly fancy chocolate. I used a combination of Waitrose continential, and my stash of Valrhona.  The recipe is pretty much lifted directly from Poires au Chocolat, this time I sprinkled on some white chocolate chunks before baking.

They are really rich brownies, so a small square goes a long way. They have a smooth, dense texture that with each mouthful slowly melts in the mouth, releasing an intense shot of chocolate and caramel flavour.

It’s maddeningly tricky photographing brownies (and in fact, most chocolate/brown baked goods) so they appear photogenic, but I think I just about managed to refrain from making them look like somebody scooped them up from the soil outside. I think my next bake will definitely have to be something iced and pretty! Got to get round to using my stash of flowery cupcake cases after all.

I don’t tend to bake especially for Valentine’s Day, but if you are feeling particularly romantically inclined, I’ve stuck a couple of luuurvely (haha) links underneath to dive into:

Felicity Cloake makes the perfect chocolate pots for two.

Date and rum cookies, just perfect for wooing and twoing.

If you want to get out and about, biscuit icing classes for two with the Biscuiteers.

Or if you’ve been on a January diet, and are still somehow managing to avoid all things biscuity and carb-filled, how about buying the love in your life this custard-cream cushion? 🙂

Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

It was last weekend. A was sat on the sofa, intermittently groaning, immersed in the rugby. I was sprawled on the floor, pondering brownies. Priorities, priorities.

These brownies are serious bites. Each one comes with a rich seam of golden, salted caramel, and a sprinkling of bitterly dark crunchy cocoa nibs on top.

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I was inspired to bake these after salivating over the brownie selection in Paul A. Young’s chocolate shop. However, they’re pretty expensive, so I thought I’d have a go at the recipe on Poires au Chocolat instead.  Not to mention that they’d use up some of my cocoa nibs. You know when you buy all these exotic baking ingredients and never get round to using them up? Yeah that happened. Anyone got any other good uses for cocoa nibs?

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They taste every bit as good as I expected them too, rich nuggets of dark chocolatey flavour, crammed full of silky buttery caramel, and the sprinkle of cocoa nibs perfectly balancing the rich buttery sweetness from the other ingredients.

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Texture-wise, they’re very different from any other brownie I’ve made before. These are baked for only 20 minutes on a rather low oven temperature of 160˚C. This makes them very soft at room temperature, the interior of each piece sticky and gooey. After a stay in the freezer overnight, they firmed up considerably, with the dense, smooth texture of homemade fudge.

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Although I think that the aim of the cooking instructions is to achieve this textural state, I prefer my brownies to be a little firmer. So I baked a second batch, throwing in a little more flour, at a slightly higher temperature for longer. They’re more robust once cut than the originals, and a tiny bit cakier around the crust. However, they’ve still got that smooth dense fudge-like texture inside, and just as much rich chocolatey flavour that I love.

My brownies are a little on the tall side, as I don’t have a good eye for measurements, and the cake tin I thought was 20cm squared all along is actually a tad smaller at 18cm. It simply makes these bites even more truffle-like, rich and decadent so I’m not complaining too much!

Salted Caramel and Cocoa Nib Brownies

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat

For the salted caramel:

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 50ml double cream
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

For the brownie:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 275g dark chocolate, chopped finely
  • 4 eggs
  • 90g plain flour
  • small handful of cocoa nibs

Make the caramel. Toss the sugar in a dry saucepan, and gently heat until it melts and turns golden brown. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Then stir in the butter, followed by the salt, until smoothly combined. Scrape the caramel into a bowl and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a 20x20cm tin with baking paper.

Using the same saucepan for the caramel again, gently heat together the butter, sugars and syrup until melted and combined. Take off the heat and add in all the chocolate. stir until melted and uniform.

Lightly whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then gradually incorporate them into the brownie mixture, whisking together to combine. Then add the flour and beat everything together until smooth and glossy. Pour into the prepared tin.

Spoon/drizzle the cooled caramel evenly over the brownie mix and use a skewer/sharp knife to lightly swirl it through. Scatter the cocoa nibs on top.

Bake for 25 minutes, then take out and leave to cool. Once cool, freeze or refridgerate overnight until solid. Cut into squares.

The Perfect Chocolate Truffle

When you don’t know what to get somebody, an edible gift is usually a good way to go. Whereas a box of chocolates or macarons is pretty amazing to receive, I do enjoy going the extra mile, and making presents from scratch!

Today I was reading the Guardian article on making the Perfect Chocolate Truffle, and immediately had a strong desire to make some. Chocolate truffles always go down well as gifts, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment with some new recipes instead of always sticking to my go-to formula.

I tested out four recipes in total:

  1. My recipe for milky chocolate truffles
  2. Paul A. Young‘s chocolate muscovado truffles
  3. Cocoa & Me classic chocolate ganache truffles
  4. Tartlette’s truffes au chocolat

For the truffles, I used a mixture of Lindt Cooking chocolate, Lindt 70% eating chocolate, and Valrhona Noir 68%. I dusted the results in Green & Black’s cocoa powder. All of the truffles tasted equally fabulous, it was quite actually hard to discern any difference between the chocolates I’d used, but my favourite was the Lindt cooking chocolate, which had the most round-bodied flavour.

My own recipe for truffles always turns out slightly soft, which makes it perfect for using as a topping for chocolate cakes, but slightly difficult when it comes to forming little spheres, rolling them in cocoa powder, and packaging them up neatly.

I melted down milk and dark chocolate together, and combined it with an equal quantity of double cream. This mixture I popped into the freezer to set. It is quite soft, so it was with speed, and some difficulty that I rolled them out into balls, covered with cocoa powder, and stuck into the fridge.

Next up was the Paul A Young truffles. They looked very straightforward, and in terms of method and ingredient volumes – very similar to my own go-to recipe. However, the cream and sugar formed a much thicker mixture in the pan, and it was much richer-tasting as well, the dark chocolate being unadulterated by any additional milk chocolate flavours. Very delicious. This also took quite a long time to set, so I resorted to chilling the ganache in the freezer, and similarly, was on the soft side when it came to rolling them out and coating the balls in ganache. Another one to keep in the fridge.

Cocoa & Me  is one of the cutest blogs ever, written by a Japanese market stallhaller in London, she has some of the most beautifully crafted baked goods I’ve ever seen. Not surprisingly, I was keen to give her basic ganache truffles recipe a whirl.

The ganache split as I was making it, but it wasn’t too disastrous, so I gave it a good whisking, poured it into another bowl, and stuck it into the fridge, hoping it wouldn’t do any further separating whilst it was chilling.

The Cocoa & Me truffles set really well; a lot firmer than my usual go-to recipe, rich and dense. Whilst I do enjoy the convenience of not having to coat the truffles or leave them in the fridge permanently, these had a slightly crumbly texture which I wasn’t too fond of. The meltier texture of softer truffles somehow seems more luxurious, although it is more tricky to handle. This would be a good robust truffle if you were packaging them up and handing them out as gifts.

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Cocoa & Me truffles

Finally, Tartlette’s recipe! It is unusual here in that it doesn’t require any double cream, but relies on dark chocolate, butter, icing sugar and egg yolks. This was handy as I’d just used all of the cream up!

I made a half batch as I didn’t have quite enough butter, reduced the quantity of icing sugar to 50g, and altered the method for greater simplicity by heating the chocolate and butter together in a bain-marie; whisking the egg and icing sugar together, and finally mixing the sugary eggy mixture into the melted chocolate and chilling the tempting chocolatey goo in the fridge.

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Tartlette truffles

I actually really loved the Tartlette truffles, and they went down very well with everyone (except the resident chocolate hater). They had a great texture and flavour, and like the Cocoa & Me truffles solidified nicely, which is always a plus in my book as it means I don’t have to roll them in an additional coating of chocolate. They had a slightly less smooth mouthfeel than my usual truffles and I’m not quite sure why. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, just noticeable.

These truffles are definitely one to make again, and possibly experiment further with by adding other flavourings e.g. adding a bit of jam, and rolling them in freeze-dried raspberry powder.

So …

What wins the prize of Perfect Truffle?

Well, I still prefer my go-to recipe in terms of simplicity, and all-round pleasing flavour, especially when it comes to a younger, more sweet-toothed audience. Accolades for flavour and ease of packaging go towards the Tartlette ones. For the sophisticated palate, the Paul Young truffles are a winner. Pick and choose your chocolate vice 🙂