Here is a secret: it gets better. It always gets better, or at the very least it gets easier, and it is getting easier for me, thanks to the endless bounty and kindness of the NHS. It gets better, and I am getting better, and to celebrate I made these brownies. I make no apologies for the butter and the sugar in this recipe: some occasions merit this sort of profligacy, and getting well is one of them.
I am not well yet, but I’m bloody getting there, and I haven’t done it by myself. Obviously, my greatest thanks go to my forever friends sertraline and diazepam, but there’s some people who helped, too, just a bit.
John, my Tall Man; Lily, Duncan, Emma, Harry, Tash, Caroline and everyone else, you know who you are: all of you who have forgiven my flakiness and my crying in corners and my last-minute cancellations; all of you who have had to edit me while I sobbed at any kind of criticism; all of you who have had to work with me while I failed to reply to emails or sign contracts or do anything of any use; my sisters, who put up with an awful lot; my parents, who do everything in their power; my grandparents, who are purely magic; the paramedic who made a joke about my pyjamas; the psychiatric and crisis departments of the Royal London Hospital; my GPs; my counsellors; and you, reading, who have sent me messages and read these blogs and loved me when I most needed loving- these brownies are for you, and I wish I could make them for all of you in person. Thank you. Have a brownie. Hell, have two. Cheers.
Second Love Salt Caramel
Makes enough for 24 brownies, and copious snacking. 10 mins. cooking time, 40 mins. chilling time.
This is broadly in cup measurements, because I am lazy, and I stole this caramel from Smitten Kitchen, roughly enough, and she uses cup measurements.
Half a cup of Demerara sugar, the thick brown kind.
4 tablespoons of salted butter. Nobody spoons out butter. Guess this with your eyes. I used the end of a packet.
A good pinch of sea salt.
3 tablespoons of double cream.
This is proper salted caramel. It’s not soft, or gentle: it’s fuck-off salty caramel-y dark dark sticky goodness, and it is sinfully good. It is dirty: this caramel will pin you down and murmur the filthiest of murmurs into your grubby desperate mouth and you will like it. You will like it, and you will want more, and you’ll be ashamed of yourself but you’ll want more anyway. You must not make this caramel. It will break you. It will break you and you will die of it and it is dirty, dangerous, gorgeous stuff. In short, it’s your second love: not your first love, all tender sweet nostalgia, but the second love, the one who you still think about sometimes, who was a bastard, yes, but so handsome, so charming, so utterly dirty…. This is the salt caramel for that second love. Second love salt caramels: this is the second love, and you should make it, and you will not regret it until you’ve eaten it all and there’s no more and you’re grasping desperately with sticky hands at nothing. It’s pornographic, that’s what it is. It’s obscene, and you know you want it. Fucking salted caramel. Fucking yes. Yes. Anyway, this is the caramel.
Take your sugar, and a saucepan, and a medium-high heat. Melting sugar is a lovely thing: the granular turning, pleasingly, into the liquid. It looks like magic. It is magic. Stir it, if you need to. You might need to. When it’s liquid, and coppery brown, stir through the butter, beating it in thoroughly. Then spoon in the cream, and a pleasing pinch of sea salt, stir it once more (widdershins, for luck: this is magic, after all), and return it to the heat, stirring and simmering while it spits and bubbles and foams astonishingly. It will cling to everything it touches. It is fantastic.
Lay out some parchment paper on a plate; grease the parchment paper briefly. Pour the caramel onto the paper, and while it cools, scatter over some flaky sea salt. Then freeze it. I had to transfer it onto the top of a Roses tin, to fit it into the freezer: this worked completely fine. Anyway. Freeze it. Forty minutes, ish.
Lift the frozen caramel, parchment paper and all, onto a chopping board: slice into smallish shards. (You need ~forty-eight shards for the brownies below, so factor that in.) Taste. You see? This stuff is deadly. This stuff is frightening. This stuff is sexy.
It Gets Better Brown Butter Brownies
Makes 12 brownies. I know. Don’t balk. Come with me on this. ~20 minutes prep; ~15 minutes cooking.
Two cups of brown sugar
250g unsalted butter. Unsalted is important.
One cup of walnuts
Four cold eggs
Two tsp. vanilla
Two-thirds of a cup of ordinary flour
One and a half cups of cocoa- dark as you like, but Bourneville is fine.
A packet of chocolate buttons. Shut up. Stop judging me. Do it.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease a muffin tin. Grease it properly, because these are the stickiest little puddings ever made.
Put the eggs in the fridge: I use Burford Brown eggs, because they are only a bit more expensive, and they have gorgeous orange yolks, and taste like eggs should. London eggs are so often pallid and sad. These are not. These are great, if stupidly posh. Measure out your dry ingredients: do this now, before you begin. Measure out the sugar and the cocoa into one bowl; and the flour into another.
Take the pan you made the caramel in- you can wash it properly, if you like, but I didn’t bother- and put in the whole pat of butter. I know. I know. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m bloody not, at all. Melt the butter, and keep going: brown it, while it foams gloriously and spectacularly and the liquid underneath is goldening and darkening and giving off this wonderful warm nutty scent that catches, somehow, and then take it swiftly off the heat, and stir in the sugar and the cocoa and the vanilla and a splash of cold water, and whisk it briskly. It’s magic.It’s completely magic, and turns swiftly into a beautiful glossy ganache-type thing. Let it cool for five minutes- I think this is to stop the eggs…scrambling. In these five minutes, crush the walnuts. I used a hammer. I am an idiot.
Grab a friend- you have plenty of friends! They love you!- and give them the eggbox. Ask them to pass you the cold eggs, one at a time, and you crack them whole into the mixture, and you whisk the gold yolks neatly and precisely into the whole. Four eggs, one at a time, beaten in. It’s so shiny. Keep whisking. Sixty strokes. Go. Tip in the flour, and whisk and whisk and whisk until your arm falls off. Sixty strokes for this too, says Alice Medrich, who wrote the recipe upon which the recipe from which this recipe is adapted is itself based (yep), and I agree with her. Sixty. Your arm will hurt. It will be worth it. Stir in the walnuts, and, um, the crumbled chocolate buttons.
Quickly, so nothing melts, spoon ~2/3 of the mixture into the muffin tray. Press into the tops of each one a shard of that obscene salted caramel, and cover with more mixture. Press a second shard of salted caramel onto the top of each one. Bake. Twelve minutes seems about perfect. Leave to cool for AT LEAST ten minutes. I am not joking; nor am I usually one to wait for things to cool. If you don’t leave these to cool, it will be a disaster. Leave them to cool.
Ten minutes will seem like forever. I suggest organising this so that you’re eating dinner while you wait- we had mussels- so it’s less painful. But they are worth waiting for, in any case.
Vanilla ice-cream. Berry ice-cream. Just plain double cream. Just on their own. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.
Happiness is neither a bluebird nor a butterfly: it is a brownie, and making these I felt like myself again, and I haven’t felt like myself in a bloody long time, and I am so happy, and I am so happy that I ate one of these for my breakfast the next day and I didn’t even worry one little bit. They are even better the next day.