A beautiful day here in Cape Town – this last day of 2014. For us it’s been an exciting year in many ways and we approach 2015 with lots of anticipation.
To celebrate this last day of the year we’ve decided to do something different and something we don’t often do here: we are sharing a recipe with all of you. A very special recipe – Auntie Clara’s Chili-Chocolate Brownies.
The original recipe lives in a tiny, hand-written book that I’ve been writing down special recipes in for the last 30 years. The tiny size is handy; the book has traveled with me all over the world and I’ve baked and cooked from it on several continents. It contains all the most important and most loved family recipes written down in a variety of pencils and inks, and looking at the stained and well-handled pages you can tell that it’s been well-used.
The recipe in the book goes under a different name and has been altered in various ways over the years. Today’s recipe is the one we use these days and the one that our friends will recognize.
200g best quality butter
300 ml sugar
2 large eggs
vanilla essence to taste
finely chopped fresh chili to taste
100 ml best quality cocoa powder
200 ml flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1. Melt the butter and mix it with the sugar, eggs, vanilla and chili.
You will notice that a lot of butter goes into these little goodies; butter is essential to this recipe so use good butter.
I usually use good quality vanilla essence because it’s handy and I like the flavour of the particular one I have, but you could use vanilla extract or scrape out the seeds from vanilla pods just as well. What kind of vanilla you use will obviously decide how much you need. I like vanilla so I usually pour a generous couple of tsp out of my bottle.
The same kind of thing applies to the chili; how much you need depends entirely on the kind of chili you have at hand – and the sensitivity of the people you are serving the brownies to. Jalapeños you can be generous with – Carolina reapers not so much. Big boys may want their brownies stronger than little girls – or vice versa. In any case you need to consider that the chili will be added to a mixture high in butter which tends to dilute the strength of the chili quite a bit and you still want a decent kick. I.e. it’s a good idea to add a little at a time and taste your way as you go. Nothing prevents you from adding more chili at the very end when you’ve mixed everything – and trust me, that’s when the tasting gets really good!
2. Mix cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt.
If you’re a zealous cook you’ll sift the dry ingredients together, but if you’re like me you’ll just use a spoon to mix them and that seems to work just fine. What you do need to pay attention to is the salt, because just like the butter and the chili, the salt is what makes these brownies. I strongly feel that life is too short for bland deserts and for me a good rule of thumb is that the sweeter the cake the more salt it needs for balance. Now, in this case the amount of salt needed depends on the butter you use. If the butter is unsalted or lightly salted you’ll need more and if it’s very salty you’ll need less. Again, a good excuse to taste and check the batter at the very end (once you get into tasting the batter you might find the volume decreasing substantially in which case it may be a good idea to make a double batch from the very beginning.. ).
3. Mix the wet and the dry ingredients
Mix well but no more than necessary, check the taste one last time and if you still have batter left, pour it into a small rectangular dish lined with baking paper. Bake in a 180C oven for appr. 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Once out of the oven you let the brownie slab cool down completely before cutting it into 3cm by 3cm squares. The squares are meant to be small enough to pop whole in your mouth – while maintaining poise and a ladylike demeanor.
In mango season I like to serve these with a simple mango coulis as a dipping sauce: pureed fresh mango with a little sugar and lemon to taste.
And there you have it: a mouth-watering combination of sweet, salty and hot mingling with rich flavours of cocoa, butter and vanilla – our famous and much loved chili-chocolate brownies!
Enjoy and have a great 2015!