Vegan chocolate and raspberry brownies

V

I remember my first “proper” batch of brownies, if you don’t include the feeble attempts made by a child. It was the end of summer, but still warm outside, and I spent most of my time in the back garden reading. Despite the pleasure of those lazy days, I remember baking the brownies in the spirit of consolation for a good friend of mine who was hurting. I wanted to make her something sweet, even if it was no more then a momentary distraction from her pain. The process was, therefore, a mixture of emotions, and I think that’s partly why it’s remained so fixed in my memories.

For my first attempt, I went for quite a childish topping: M&Ms, instead of sticking with a classic recipe, because I wanted the brownies to be colourful and comfortingly nostalgic. They gave the brownies this wonderful texture, it felt like biting into huge chocolate chips. I remember being unconvinced by the recipe itself. I was an avid baker, but had never come across this technique before, and it seemed unnecessarily complicated for such a simple treat—little did I know that it’s precisely this technique that makes brownies one of the best desserts known to humankind. 

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie.

I was working as a chef at a vegetarian cafe at the time, and made hollandaise sauce in a similar contraption every morning. Lacking the proper equipment, i.e. a double boiler, I improvised with a large metal Ikea mixing bowel and a saucepan. I followed each instruction and measurement with as much precision as my aged weighing scales could muster. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just put all the ingredients in the same bowel and mix them all together. I was too confused to be convinced, but too ignorant not to follow instruction.  

When the final product came out of the oven, I knew it was a special moment in my culinary journey. They looked and smelt just like a freshly baked brownie should look and smell—moist but not wet, gooey but not uncooked. I cycled them over to my friends house with a devout dog-like devotion, and we ate and cried and lay in each others arms. 

It was going to be alright.

IMG_6062.jpg

Brownies have always been one of my favourite treats. During my third year of studies, I lived five minutes away from a coffee shop named The Brew & Brownie, which had a different type of brownie every day or so. I became so enamoured with the taste of these nutty or chocolatey or boozy combinations, that I would pop in on my way home from uni or work far too often for my stomach or wallet to handle. There’s something special about the texture of brownies that’s different from other baked goods. It’s so soft on the inside that it’s almost a liquid (without being raw—I am not a fan of undercooked cakes), and yet it has this outer shell, that’s almost flakey or crispy when you bite through it. The combinations of flavours are endless, so you can use up any ingredients you have at home, or update the traditional chocolate brownie with something a bit fancier or more experimental.

As I began being more ethically aware of the tolls of the dairy industry, I increasingly reduced my intake of dairy. Which meant sacrificing my weekly, sometimes daily, brownie intake—probably for the best. I started baking and cooking with vegan ingredients, but I was still too scared of making vegan brownies in case I “ruined” them. It was years later, after I introduced gluten free brownies to the menu at work, that I was reminded of my insatiable love for brownies. We only used vegan chocolate at the restaurant, but the gluten free brownie recipe wasn’t vegan (it contained eggs and traces of dairy). I stole a little of the vegan chocolate from work and began, like a mad scientist, experimenting with the vegan brownie recipes, until I baked a brownie with the same texture of the beloved non-vegan brownies I had inhaled as a student. 

IMG_6179.jpg
IMG_6224.jpg

This particular variation of my vegan brownie recipe was inspired by a box of Booja Booja raspberry vegan truffles I received as a present from a beautiful Welsh lady. I was invited to dinner, and had taken on the responsibility of providing pudding. I took inspiration from the Booja Booja truffles sitting enticingly on my desk, and wanted to create a raspberry chocolate brownie recipe, with fresh fruit and a raspberry swirl. I served them warm with Alpro soya single cream, and my dinner companions were not disappointed by the result. 

I really recommend this recipe, whether you’re vegan or not, it’s a lighter take on a traditionally heavy dessert, without actually tasting any healthier. After you’ve perfected this particular recipe, try and experiment with other ingredients. Nuts are always a good addition (try replacing a cup of flour with a cup of ground almonds, for example), or add some booze if you’re feeling naughty. I always encourage a bit of naughtiness when cooking, it’s one of the few greatest pleasures in life.  

 

Recipe

2 cups whole spelt flour (or plain flour)(for gluten free, use 1 cup ground almond, 1 cup rice flour)
1 1/3 cup cacao powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup vegan butter (I like using Pure Soya)
1 bar quality vegan chocolate
2 cups golden caster sugar
1 1/2 cups almond milk (or other dairy free milk)
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (or if you want to treat
yourself, add chopped Booja Booja raspberry truffles)
2 cups raspberries
1/2 cup raspberry jam (I’m a bit of a jam snob, so I like to
buy nice brands of seeded jam, but any old jam will do) 

 

Pre-heat the oven on 180C and line an oven proof dish with baking paper. Brush a little bit of melted vegan spread or olive oil over the surface of the paper and put to one side. 

In a double boiler—or you can use a heat proof bowl over a saucepan filled with boiling water (about third of the way up)—melt the chocolate and butter together, until it forms a smooth liquid. Once it’s melted, stir in the sugar until it fully dissolves, and then remove from heat and leave to cool. Once cooled, add the almond milk and stir until fully combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cacao powder, salt, and baking powder. In a small bowl (or mug) add the chia seeds and 1/3 cup of boiling water and leave for a couple of minutes to combine. The chia seeds should turn into a jelly, this replaces the eggs in the recipe. 

With an electric whisk, or an enthusiastic wrist, combine the chocolate and flour mixtures, a quarter of the chocolate mixture at a time. Once the mixture is smooth, add the chia seed paste and mix until fully combined. The cake mixture should be the consistency of thick melted chocolate, if it’s too thick, add another 1/2 cup of almond milk.

Pour the mixture evenly into the baking tray. 

With a heaped teaspoon of jam, swirl the jam into the brownie mixture. Continue this until you’ve used up all the jam and there are even swirls around the tray (feel free to use more jam then the recipe suggests, don’t worry how precise you are at this stage). I stir the jam in a small bowl (or directly in the jar) before I do this step, so that the jam forms an even liquid, and less gelatinous—this makes it easier.

Dot the excess chocolate (or Booja Booja truffles) and fresh raspberries around the tin at regular intervals. Remember, you want each brownie slice to have raspberries and chocolate pieces, but if you overload each slice, you might compromise the texture of the brownie. 

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Check after 20 minutes, and then again after 30, by placing a skewer into the middle, if it comes out clean then the brownies are ready. Depending on your oven it might take a little longer. 

Let the brownies cool a little before cutting them into smaller pieces. I usually opt for 3x4 or 3x5, depending of the size of the tin. The brownies will keep for up to four days, and can be kept in the freezer for a month. 

Serve warm with dairy-free cream or ice-cream (or dairy alternatives), and enjoy. 

Sheer bliss.

The photographer for this collection was Rem Berger www.remberger.eu