I seem to attract a lot of Vegans. Perhaps there is a correlation between the type of open minded people I like to befriend and the conscientious qualities that often trigger an interest in Veganism. Or maybe it’s just the case that an increasing amount of people are moving towards plant based diets in a bid for better health and a better planet. Either way this can occasionally prove to be an interference in my overwhelming instinct to feed others. Feeding my lovingly crafted food to others is my greatest gesture of care, it is, in my opinion, the deepest and most natural form of bonding and acceptance. It can be confusing for me when I offer someone some cake or fresh bread only to have them politely decline; it’s not rational to be offended by this, they may simply not be hungry. One of the best things anyone can do when vying for my affections is to bake me something, to demonstrate dexterity in the kitchen and bring me a plate of something warm and nourishing. The first time I saw my partner rolling a lime on the kitchen counter I knew I adored him, not everyone understands such kitchen law. The first time I came home to find he had baked me scones I knew he adored me.
Baking for my friends and family has its challenges. My immediately family are all fat-phobic so platters of biscuits aren’t really appropriate gifting material. My mother has an intolerance to gluten, my partner to fructose and, as I said, a reasonable quantity of the people who cross my path are Vegan. Gifting food is no longer a case of making a base batch of shortbread. The internet is awash with Vegan recipes, every bookshop is full of Vegan cookbooks, there is no shortage of awareness or Vegan food fairs. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has been Vegan; creamy avocado cheesecake at a yoga retreat, lentil dal from a street stall at Auckland Diwali festival, fresh, olive oil laced tomato salad in Italy. I have eaten Vegan myself for stints and, because I genuinely enjoy avocado, nuts, fruits and vegetables I didn’t find myself floundering. But what of baking? Traditional baking relies on eggs for texture and butter for rich flavour, but in baking Vegan one must be open minded. Butter becomes margarine or, preferably, oil. Upon occasion I use oil as fat in non-Vegan baking, sometimes it is more appropriate. Eggs can become flax or chia ‘eggs’ or, in the case of brownies, no eggs at all.
I have had severe cravings for chocolate, as is demonstrated in my recent ‘fancy food shop’ purchase of Dutched Cocoa. A Dutch processed cocoa is a powder that has been washed in a Potassium Carbonate solution to achieve a neutral pH, this results in a darker-hued cocoa with a mellow , earthy flavour. I stared at the packaging of this cocoa, in its dark container and imagined the intense, deep chocolate flavour it would give to baking. Nothing would be a better vehicle for this delightful, bitter dust than a batch of dense, damp brownies.
Brownies do not teach me anything new, I have made countless batches in my 25 years; for a while a lighter-hued, chewy, Delia Smith version with granulated sugar and walnuts and later a wetter, darker version from the Usbourne First Children’s Cookbook. I’ve added raspberries, white chocolate, pecans, Maltesers, Rolos, marshmallows and all manner of over indulgent confections and flavours. Brownies are one-bowl, foolproof baking. The results are expected to be uneven and undercooked with a sinking, shade-paler cracked surface. They are one of the simplest and yet most satisfying sweet things to be created in the kitchen. Making them Vegan did involve some research and this was where my challenge lay. I’m often deeply disturbed by recipes that involve small amounts of lots of ingredients so the likes of ‘flax eggs’ and cornstarch were swiftly disregarded. In my limited experience of Vegan baking (Banana Bread, Muffins, Flapjack) I can conclude that recipes are often over complicated to compensate for the lack of egg; it is, more often than not, an unnecessary hysteria. My recipe came together from a variety of sources and is likely to be found, in slight variety, elsewhere so I do not claim to be its original creator, I can merely vouch for it.
The result was an excellent brownie. I used ginger for dark, spicy warmth and cooked and cooled it thoroughly to ensure it held together as one, damp mass. The top cracked as I cut it, created dark, craggy rivulets in the pale crust revealing the brooding, fudgy cocoa beneath. A beautiful success, a chocolate itch scratched and the Vegans in my life catered for.
Dark Ginger Brownies (Vegan)
5 tablespoons oil (anything bland like Rice Bran, Sunflower or Canola)
150 g good, dark chocolate (real dark chocolate is usually dairy free)
170 g self-raising flour (or Gluten Free flour mix)
4 heaped teaspoons cocoa powder (I used Dutched Cocoa but normal is fine)
100 g caster sugar
80 g light brown sugar (if you don’t have any then just 180g caster sugar)
1 tsp vanilla essence (I used the concentrated bean syrup)
230 ml Almond/Soya/Oat/Rice milk
100 g dark chocolate chips
50 g chopped candied ginger (I used candied rather than crystallised, less sweet)
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Use a square baking tin (roughly 20cm) line with greaseproof paper.
- Melt the 150 g or chocolate. I have always melted my chocolate on a low temperature in the microwave but I warn you, do this at your peril. I will have to change my habits for Patisserie school. The recommended method is placing the chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of gently simmering water and stirring until melted. You can choose whether to live dangerously or behave like a proper baker. Leave to cool slightly.
- Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl, then stir in the sugar, a pinch of salt and the vanilla. Stir in the oil, milk and melted chocolate until combined.
- Roughly chop and stir in the ginger and chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, spreading it out evenly. Place into the hot oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until cooked on the outside, but still gooey in the middle. I gave this as much time as it needed and would check by pulling the baking tray out and wobbling it. When the middle held more or less firm I removed it from the oven.
- Leave to completely cool. This was really important, these are impossible to cut whilst warm (unless you want to go with this as a gooey, brownie dessert) Once it is completely cold it will cut firmly. Then dust with icing sugar.