Thursday, 28 November 2013

Brownies - my secret weapon

Most working women struggle with feeling guilty about not being their children's primary carer. I know I identified completely with Alison Pearson's character Kate Reddy in "I don't know how she does it" who bought mince pies and bashed them about with a rolling pin to look homemade for her child to take into school. Most of us secretly want to be able to spend afternoon's in the kitchen whipping up home baked treats for our children when they come back from school. The reality is often very different - I tried cooking with both my children when they were small and chaos ensued.

I found a few shortcuts really helped. Most weeks I made a batch of something - biscuits, fairy cakes or muffins to go in the children's lunch boxes. Not only did they feel I was 'present' in their day - their friends loved eating them too which made my children feel good. You can freeze most of these kinds of snacks too so you could make a big batch once a a month. The trick is to find an easy recipe that you can do quickly. I used to do it on Sunday evenings while the children were getting their things together for school with the Antiques Roadshow in the background. Brownies were always most in demand and here's my favourite recipe from The Little Red Barn Baking Book by Adriana Rabinovich - it is quick and easy and always works.


125g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
110g good quality plain chocolate (min 70 per cent cocoa solids)
110g unsalted butter
150g dark soft brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C/Gas 3. Butter and flour a 23cm square cake pan.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of hot water (you can use a microwave but keep an eye on it). Remove from the heat, add the brown and caster sugars and leave to dissolve slightly, then stir to combine. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Add the nuts and stir. The mixture should be very glossy. Gently fold in the flour. Don't over mix.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan to form an even layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until just set in the middle. A wooden skewer inserted should come out with a few moist crumbs on it. Don't over bake. leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Makes 16-20 brownies.

The other tip I would pass on is doing Sunday lunch. Sometimes it was the only time in the week I had the time to cook a proper family meal from scratch and it has the benefit of being very easy to do for lots of people so it can double up as your weekly entertainment - family, friends or quite often my children's friends. People of all ages seem to love it and it is no more work to cook for eight or ten than four if you do a roast lunch and the dishwasher can take the strain afterwards. Having the family and our friends around me made me feel like a 'normal' person at least once in the week and I found it did me as much good as anyone.

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