Damn (Photos: Amanda Thompson)

Recipe: An extremely good chocolate brownie

Planning a big blowout of illicit dairy deliciousness? This is the brownie for you.

How great was Covering Climate Now last week? I was engrossed, following along with these practical, sobering and funny discussions about what we are (or are not) doing well now and should do in the future to change the course of where we are heading. How about a little round of applause for the brave Spinoff staff who went deep vegan for us? I say for us because there’s no way I’m playing along at home, dear readers.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire the commitment. I believe. I get why we should all look hard at our disturbing national reliance on pushing blameless animals around to prop up our GDP. I’m not a big fan of all those poor cows messing up our soil and water balances just so excitable mall kids in Asia can be confident that the millions of tonnes of mass-produced plasticky goop on their pizzas is a genuine Kiwi mass-produced plasticky goop. Anyone who’s ever breastfed can’t help feeling at least some fellow sympathy with a dairy cow, if nothing else. What a life.

Photo: Amanda Thompson

But it’s just too late for me. A bit of butter makes everything better, the old saying goes, and I come from a family that probably have this etched across our clogged and dying hearts. Ruddy-faced generations of us have been burdened by an Anglo-Saxon compulsion to grow huge and hearty off the literal fat of the land. I still remember the huge fuss when government subsidies were removed from dairy products and as a society we had to learn that cheap protein didn’t just come, delivered every morning for 4 cents, in a pint bottle. It was a hard lesson for a country that outlawed margarine until 1974. Until my grandfather’s inevitable death of heart disease, my clearest memory of him was the way he had perfected a deft flick of his mighty wrist to cut a thick slab of butter from a cold pound block. He’d effortlessly transfer it on to the top of his slice of white bread, pikelet or boiled potato where it would glisten like a half-inch-thick gold paving stone. Using butter sparingly was something that happened to other (potentially still alive) people. Poor Gran. I still remember her outright dismay when the cardiologist told her they would have to switch to “marge” after his first heart attack. We’ve come a long way.

We can all still cut down on animal products in a lot of ways, and we should. We do. Gran wouldn’t believe what enjoyment my family gets out of a can of chickpeas. But as Alice Neville discovered last week, when it comes to baking, most vegan varietals are frankly shit. If I had to spend the rest of my life trying to pretend that coconut cream makes a good frosting, I’d just pack up my cake tins and be done with the whole business. Here’s where butter and eggs come into their own and I don’t think any nut-based product will ever convince me otherwise.

I have a special occasion this week and I rolled out the big guns. The Special Recipe. Many friends and even enemies over the years have begged to know the secret behind this brownie, unfortunately nicknamed crack brownie because of its tendency to send you, hopelessly craving, back for more. If you were planning a big blowout of illicit dairy product deliciousness, say, to welcome some erstwhile vegans back into the butter-and-egg-gobbling fold? This is the recipe you would want. Trust me.

Photo: Amanda Thompson

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ILLICIT BROWNIE

  • 250g butter
  • 220g 50% cocoa solids dark chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 large or 5 small eggs – I have no advice if you only have medium eggs. Do your best.
  • ¾ cup cocoa
  • 1 cup flour
  • about 2 cups of something for texture: this recipe is old. In the 90s I used pistachios, in the 00s I used freeze-dried berries, now I’m a bit partial to whole hazelnuts. They’re all good. This time I went with the kids’ favourite – big chunks of white chocolate.

Melt the butter and chocolate together. I go old school and break the chocolate into the warm butter I have already melted on the now-turned-off stove, so it won’t burn – but whatever method you feel safest with. 

Once you’ve achieved silky smoothness, chuck in your sugar. Making sure it’s not too warm, beat in the eggs and vanilla. Take some time over this – the eggs are the only thing making this cake rise so go fierce on them.

 Then fold in your cocoa, flour and nuts/berries/chocolate chunks carefully. Put it in a paper-lined tin and cook on low, about 160°C, for about an hour. You will need to be patient and check often. Too hot an oven and it will be black on the outside, too long a bake and it will end up dull dry chocolate cake.

Take it out when it is still squidgy inside and you will be in omnivore heaven. Serve with cream – of course.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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