Cake Of The Month: Peanut Butter Brownies

July has been kind of grey. Not exactly wet, but not sunny either. For a rubbishy English summer, you need a cake that is equally at home doing a children’s party, family barbecue or solitary Netflix marathon. Brownies always go down well, but peanut butter makes everything better. If you are allergic to peanuts go for a cheesecake brownie instead.

If you already have a favourite brownie recipe, use that. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with this recipe based on the one found in The Hummingbird Bakery book.

Basic Brownies

With this recipe as a starting point you can make any flavour that takes your fancy.

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 175g butter
  • 325g golden caster sugar
  • 130g plain flour
  • 3 eggs (any size)

Preheat the oven to 170°c/gas mark 3. Grease and line a rectangular traybake tin.

Break the chocolate into chunks and put in a saucepan/heatproof bowl with the butter. If you use a medium to large saucepan/bowl you can do all the mixing in it and save on washing up. Place over a pan of simmering water and stir gently till melted.

Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Sift in the flour and mix well. Beat in the eggs.

Pour into the prepared tin [Add extra ingredients at this point, for peanut butter brownies take half a jar of crunchy peanut butter and sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Dot the brownie mixture with the peanut butter] bake for around 30 mins. It should be glazed and flaky looking on top but still a little soft in the middle but a little over cooking won’t hurt it. Leave to cool in the tin on top of a wire rack.

Makes 12 to 18 squares

PB brownies are particularly good if topped with milk chocolate. Melt 200g of a good quality milk chocolate and spread over the cooled brownie slab. leave to set then cut into squares or cut into small squares and completely coat each square in chocolate (you can thank me later).

All about that pizza base

Pizza has to be one of the most popular fast foods in the world, Americans alone consume 350 slices per second! What do you picture when you think of pizza? Probably a triangular wedge of lovely chewy dough, laden with grease dripping cheese and pepperoni (36% of all pizzas are ordered with pepperoni on top) not exactly a healthy choice, at least not from a takeaway. My personal favourite is a Pizza Hut deep pan pizza with anchovies, pineapple and sweetcorn, and yes I am aware that two of those toppings would cause many people to condemn me as freakish and disgusting. It does mean choosing a pizza takeaway for the whole family can take hours of heated argument!

In my opinion pizza gets bad press, what’s that wrong with a meal of bread, cheese, meat and vegetables? Obviously making it yourself is a better option, pizza dough is super easy to make and doesn’t have to have any oil added to it. You can use wholemeal flour to bump up the fibre content (I use half white, half brown) Make your own tomato sauce by cooking down a punnet of tomatoes or a tin of passata, with a pinch of salt and pepper, teaspoon of sugar, fresh or dried herbs and maybe a pinch of cayenne.

I top with a blend of mozzarella and emmental cheese which are both mild tasting and melt well. Then add your choice of vegetables: sweetcorn, onions, pepper, spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes all work well even sprouting broccoli and shredded salad leaves! If you’re a meat eater add some lean mince, chicken, tuna or whatever, it doesn’t have to be processed meat.

How is it sounding now? You can enjoy a healthy pizza…unless it’s Fast Food Day, in which case deep fry that baby! Bliss.

Simple Pizza base

Enough for two adults and two children

  • 14 oz (420g) strong bread flour
  • 8floz (230ml) warm water
  • 1½ tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • semolina or polenta for sprinkling

Put the water in a large bowl and stir in the yeast.

Add one third of the flour and mix to a paste. Add another third of the flour and the salt and combine to make a soft dough.

Using the remaining flour to dust the work surface and your hands as needed, knead the dough for ten minutes. Pop it back in the bowl and cover with clingfilm/ a damp tea towel/ a shower cap, and leave in a warm place for forty minutes.

Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes to knock out the larger air bubbles. Roll out to fit a baking tray or divide up to make individual pizzas. Sprinkle the baking tray with semolina or polenta to stop the base going soggy.

Top with tomato sauce, cheese and whatever else you fancy and bake in a medium hot oven till the cheese has melted and is starting to brown. Or roll out rounds of dough, top, then fold over like a pasty and deep fry until golden, you won’t regret it!

Your mamma is so fat…

In a world where we are encouraged (quite rightly) to respect others whatever their race, creed, colour or lifestyle choices, fat bashing still seems to be socially acceptable. I recently saw a comment on youtube suggesting that fat people should only date other fat people because they had similar “interests and hobbies”. I don’t really consider being overweight a “hobby”, it’s not like one day you wake up and decide to collect body fat!

There are of course many factors that contribute to obesity, lack of education about healthy eating, poverty, lack of exercise, health issues and so on. I dare say many of us could try harder, but..

We are designed to eat and store fat for leaner times and the food industry is geared to make us buy and eat as much as possible. Manufacturers and supermarkets use a cunning variety of psychological tricks to make us feel hungry, to buy more and to crave more.  In supermarkets for instance: the smell of fresh bread (or doughnuts) and pictures of people eating, both make us want to eat too. Unhealthy foods seem to get a disproportional amount of advertising, sugar and fat fill our brains with feel good chemicals and like any drug you need more and more to get the same buzz. Pringles for example, are allegedly designed to have the same snap and crunch as a fresh vegetable, triggering a response in the brain to eat more (so that’s why once you pop you can’t stop?) (mmm, Pringles)

According to research scientist Margaret Leitch, losing weight is “physically painful” as we were designed to store calories not to lose them. Our bodies just haven’t caught on to the fact that modern life is so much more sedentary. So are we fighting a losing battle and destined for the floating chairs in the  Wall-e film?

Leitch stresses the importance of behavioural  changes such as getting enough sleep and exercising, not because you will lose weight, but for it’s positive effect on our moods. I suppose if we are feeling good about ourselves, we are less likely to engage in self destructive eating habits? I guess I would have to read the book “Fat Planet” which is most likely available in all good book stores etc, etc, to find out more.

Anyway, the point is there is no simple answer for why we eat all the pies, or what to do about it. Positive behaviour is a good place to start, so off to bed with you and if possible walk to the office tomorrow!

High Tea vs Low Tea

High tea – sounds a bit posh doesn’t it? Interestingly, high tea was the meal that would be enjoyed by the working classes at the end of the day. Most of the family would be out working long hours; high tea would be an easy to prepare hot meal, probably followed by cake, with copious amounts of tea to wash it all down, eaten at the “high” table. In fact, most of us (in Britain at any rate) still call our main meal in the evening “tea”.

By contrast, afternoon tea would be eaten at “low” tables, in comfy chairs, as a stop gap between lunch and dinner. Unless you had a rare day off work, afternoon tea would be a weekend treat, only being served on a daily basis in the houses of the well to do and possibly middle class house wives getting together for genteel gossip.

These days, when pretty much everybody works, I think the class distinctions are lost; afternoon tea is an occasional treat, to be fitted in around our hectic lifestyles. Also I find it far easier , being a tea dripping, crumb dropping, cream spiller, to eat at the “high” table even if it’s just cake and scones. Conversation flows better at the table for some reason. There is no longer any “high” or “low”, only “tea” and that’s good enough for me!

In Nicola Humble’s fantastic book “Culinary Pleasures – Cookbooks and the Transformation of British Food” a fascinating journey through the evolution of British cooking and cookbooks, Ms Humble does gives some interesting history. After the Great War (1914-1918) society started to change, more women were going out to work and the middle and upper classes were finding it increasingly difficult to find domestic help, by the 1930′s afternoon tea was regarded as an outmoded institution, only for posh people and children. However, during the second world war (1939-1945) afternoon tea became popular again. I suppose that during times of great stress, traditions and sweet food are very comforting (my mum once told me that during a recession, sales of sweets, cakes and biscuits actually increase) maybe the increase in interest in baking today can be put down to a similar cause? Anyway, after the war afternoon tea again fell into decline. Let us raise it up once more!