When you’ve been out all night and stumble blearily from the house the following evening, having risen less than an hour previously only to head straight to another shindig (don’t judge, it was bank holiday weekend), it’s a given you’re feeling pretty shitty. And hungry. No – HANGRY.
Stomach grumbling, hungover and headache-y, shin, knee and cheekbone black-and-blue from a tipsy fall, I was right on the verge of turning back and spurning the birthday bash for my bed. And SUDDENLY! I discovered a brown box on my doorstep, evidently left there by the kindly neighbour who acts as my personal pigeonhole whenever I miss the postie.
A present never fails to act as a pick-me-up, and given my sorry state, I very sensibly decided that there was no time like the present to open it. And what a pleasant present it proved to be: a nonet of the best brownies known to man, woman, or indeed gender ambiguous human.
I’d like to say that I dragged them to my friend’s 30th along with my exhausted posterior, but that’d be an outright lie. Instead, I placed the parcel tenderly on the kitchen counter, shed a few tears at the unfairness of it all, and, before long, made very short work of a big fat homestyle Pakistani feast with my best friend en route to the partay.
But those brownies were always on my mind. And, arriving home like a dishevelled Cinderella at the stroke of midnight, a feast seemed de rigeur.
As I may have mentioned, these are no ordinary brownies (and nor are they M&S’s). These are hand-baked to order in micro-batches by B Is For Brownie founder Lou Cox – and, in this very happy instance, were made with Grenadan chocolate that went all the way from bean to bar to brownie in her home kitchen.
And in my kitchen, the quarter kilo didn’t stand a chance against the midnight munchies: silently sliced and quietly devoured; mercifully far too dense to leave a telltale trail of crumbs in their wake. Richly cocoa-y with enough acidity to prevent their earthy flavour veering into muddy territory, they made this pig happier than one in the proverbial.
So how does Lou do it? It’s a bit Blue Peter both on paper and in practice – ‘you will need a grinder, Grenadan cocoa beans, deodorised cocoa butter, a chopping board, a wine bottle and a hair dryer’. The range might sound strange, but amateur bean-to-bar chocolate makers are a resourceful bunch, and these sort of bits are their key kit.
After cleaning the beans with a light roasting in a low oven, Lou removed the shells in a painstaking process which, she reports, took over an hour with just half-a-kilo of beans; using the aforementioned chopping board as a cracking tool. A wine bottle was the next weapon of choice – used to break the beans into rice grain-sized cacao nibs.
The kind of grinder used in small-scale DIY chocolate-making will be familiar to most Indian households – closely resembling the wet’n’dry mixie that makes short work of the hardest spice seeds. With the motor running and melted cocoa butter acting as edible WD40, Lou added the nibs to the blending bowl; blasting the lot with the hair dryer all the while. Why? Why, because the heat helps keep proceedings smooth, of course.
With the conching continuing for five hours, it’s a fair bet she suffered arm strain – but, as the old adage has is, there’s gain from pain. With the cocoa liquor poured out and set into a solid slab, Lou’s chocolate was ready and she was getting set to bake.
And lo, dear reader, #BeanToBrownie was born.
Tempted to try?
B Is For Brownie’s Grenadan #BeanToBrownie costs £21 for a 500g slab, made to order and requiring 1-2 working days’ work time. Lou’s next experiment will be with unshelled cacao beans.
To place an order, click here
- Read Lou’s own account of B Is For Brownie’s #BeanToBrownie process here
- Read about Paul a. Young’s Marmite brownies here
- For recipe inspiration, read about Will Torrent’s ‘Chocolate At Home’ cookbook here