Sometimes, you make a recipe that you know people are just going to love. It's hard to put your finger on exactly how you know this. Maybe it's because you yourself were just blown away upon first tasting it, and uttered a deeply antisocial grunt of 'ohmygodyum' with a mouth half full as you took your first bite. Maybe it's because it happens to incorporate a certain set of ingredients that are generally just pleasing to everyone. Maybe it's because it's sugary and cakey and is the kind of ridiculously moreish sweet thing that everyone just loves to partake in.
All of the above applies to this recipe.
One of the things I love about being a student again is that there are people around me every day who I can force my baked goods onto. There's nothing worse than whipping up a calorific feast in the privacy of your own kitchen only to be forced to devour the entire lot, when really you only wanted a few pieces to quality control. What could have been a pleasant sugary treat suddenly turns into a couple of extra inches on your thighs, and no one is happy.
What a hard life.
Anyway, now I can bake with peace of mind. I have neighbours. Supervisors. Friends. Sometimes people I don't know very well but who I am sure will appreciate cake. It's a good network to have.
And if all else fails, there are lots of ducks on campus. In fact, the other day a duck was so intent on stealing my/my friends' lunch that it actually nibbled my exposed toes in a desperate bid to get me to part with my couscous. That was somewhat unexpected. The moral of this story is: probably don't feed ducks your lunch. They get accustomed.
Also, don't take pity on it and throw it one of the chickpeas from said couscous. The duck will not appreciate this, and you will have wasted a chickpea. Not sad if you don't like chickpeas, but I really do. I'm cool like that. Every chickpea thrown to an unappreciative duck is a chickpea wasted.
Back to the point. I bake a lot of things. I test a lot of recipes that I make up in my head, and need to turn into reality. Sometimes they are a little bit out of the ordinary, like maybe a mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake, or a lime, lemongrass and ginger cheesecake. Or a quince and marzipan cake. Things that I am surprised don't exist already, because they just seem to make sense. So I make them happen.
And yet for all the creative love and skill that goes into something like that, all the many minutes of ingredient and technique planning, of scribbling down ideas while you're supposed to be writing a PhD, of deliberating in the aisles of the supermarket, of tasting as you go, tasting, tasting..
...what people actually seem to prefer is a totally trashy, chocolate- and butter-heavy blondie.
I can't even be cross, though. Much as I love some of the recipes I've created over the years, after a couple of bites of these I seriously considered never bothering to make anything more sophisticated ever again.
That basic combination of butter, sugar and chocolate appears in so many permutations, but it probably beats any other for sheer gastronomic satisfaction. Sure, dairy is nice - a lovely cheesecake can be a beautiful thing - and fancy sugary concoctions like meringues or macaroons have their place. But for serious tastebud and texture appeal, you want something like a good brownie or blondie. Rich. Moist. Gooey. Slightly crunchy on the outside. Inducing salivation with the very first taste.
These are what you'd call crowd-pleasers, in the dessert world. There's a reason restaurant dessert menus pretty much always feature some form of chocolate brownie. It's the ultimate 'treat yourself' food. While I hate to apply adjectives like 'sinful' and 'naughty' to food (no really, I loathe it), that's kind of what a brownie is.
Decadent. Decadent is a better word.
Much as I love to experiment with desserts, I also love to get into the kitchen on a beautiful summer evening, put on my apron, switch on some ridiculous music (think Carly Rae Jepsen), and spend twenty minutes mixing together vast quantities of fat and sugar in the knowledge that EVERYONE WILL LOVE ME FOR IT. I'm often pretty good about not licking the spoon (often because I bake straight after breakfast, having brushed my teeth, and I can't really be bothered to go and brush them again), but with these it's totally inevitable.
This is a recipe I've developed over a few different tries. The first time I made it, from an internet recipe, I was in love. Guttural, primal, salivating love. I've tweaked it (after making it at least four times, much to the delight of my nearest and dearest) to incorporate a few other favourite ingredients: cardamom, which goes wonderfully well with white chocolate. Pistachios, which also go excellently with white chocolate but also with raspberries, which are the star of the show here.
Actually, having said that, the star of the show is the brown butter and white chocolate base. It's basically everything you could ever want from a baked thing. Moist and cakey, with a ridiculously delicious biscuity-caramel flavour from the mixture of molten, brown-flecked butter and sweet chocolate, with a delicate fragrance of cardamom in there, so slight you can barely put your finger on its presence. There's also a mixture of light and dark muscovado sugar in there, beaten with eggs to a glorious caramel creaminess. Then on top you have a fabulous crunchy crust of white chocolate chips, which keep their shape and deliver little pockets of oozing sweetness, and toasty pistachios. The raspberries are crunchy on top and gooey within, sweet and sharp, balancing out all the sugary goodness around them.
I use frozen raspberries for these, which are much cheaper than fresh. You don't need fresh. You just need them to be bold and purple and stain the surrounding cake with their delicious sweet-tart juice, brightening the rich canvas of chocolate and butter. You could adapt these, too, to your taste - maybe use hazelnuts, almonds or pecans instead of pistachios (I reckon any of those would be divine); blueberries instead of raspberries; a mixture of milk and white chocolate; a little ginger instead of cardamom.
Think of them as a blueprint for all your most ridiculously decadent dessert dreams. Forget making anything more sophisticated - I can guarantee people will appreciate these more.
Raspberry, white chocolate, pistachio and cardamom blondies (makes 2 x 16-20 blondies):
- 300g butter
- 300g white chocolate chips (or chopped white chocolate)
- 200g light muscovado sugar
- 200g dark muscovado sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 6 cardamom pods, seeds crushed to a powder
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 200g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 280g raspberries (I use frozen as they're cheaper)
- 60g pistachios, roughly chopped
In a large, wide saucepan, heat the butter until bubbling then cook over a medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the white solids separate from the gold liquid, then brown flecks start to appear, the colour darks, and it smells biscuity (for a tutorial on the technique, see here). Leave to cool for five minutes, then stir in half the chocolate chips to melt them. Grease and line two 8x8 inch cake tins, and pre-heat the oven to 165C.
In a large bowl with an electric whisk, or using an electric mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs until pale and creamy - about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the cardamom and vanilla, then the white chocolate and butter mixture. Gently beat in the flour and salt, then when you have a smooth batter fold in half the remaining chocolate chips and half the pistachio nuts.
Divide between the two tins, then scatter over the raspberries. Scatter over the remaining chocolate chips, then the pistachio nuts. Bake for 45 minutes, or until firm and golden on top with only a very slight wobble in the centre (they will continue to cook as they cool).