The simple magic of an oven will never cease to amaze me.
Subjected to its heat, pudgy rounds of dough become crusty loaves, liquid batter rises into golden-crowned cakes, pastry puffs, biscuits bake and incredible aromas escape around the edges of its door.
Normally baking requires some sort of skill, an understanding of the alchemy of ingredients and an ability to weigh, whisk, beat and blend. Butter, sugar and flour are combined, flavours and textures far greater than the sum of their parts created. Whether an amateur cook or a professional chef, it’s satisfying to know that baking is both a science and an art.
It’s rare to find a recipe which involves just one ingredient, an oven and an hour of your time. Meringues are easy but involve the techniques of both whisking and folding while something as simple baked fruit requires a little love in the form of sugar, butter and basting. Here I’m talking about a recipe involving a tray, some chocolate, a spatula and the power of an oven. It doesn’t get much more amazing than that.
Caramelized white chocolate is the current obsession of the baking world. By all accounts this is a second wave of interest: the idea has been around for several years, but like any trend has taken a little longer to turn itself into a universal obsession.
The premise is this: take white chocolate, roast it in the oven and watch it transform into liquid gold. Hate white chocolate? You’ll love the golden, caramel notes of this version. Love white chocolate? An excuse, not that you needed one, to enjoy it spoon-by-liquid-spoonful. Scared of making caramel? You’ve got yourself a safe alternative. Obsessed with making caramel? Another string to your sugary bow.
I jumped on the bandwagon and caramelized a batch of white chocolate last weekend, watching anxiously as the chunks browned, seized, crumbled then finally melted into a pool of peanut butter-coloured gloop. Not a million miles from caramel or melted chocolate but at once unique in texture and flavour, several spoonfuls made it into my mouth before I even began to consider using it for anything other than eating neat.
The result is these brownies. Filled and topped with caramelized white chocolate, they’re an indulgent treat for anyone with the sweetest of teeth, tasting of toffee, caramel and golden-baked biscuit. The taste is not dissimilar to these dulce de leche brownies, but the texture is firm and fudgy. A little less cloying than white chocolate chunks, a little less obvious than oozing caramel.
If you try one new recipe this week, make the caramelized white chocolate. It’s delicious, it’s different and it involves very little skill, just one ingredient and an hour of your time. If you try two new recipes, make these brownies. They’re everything that’s good about baking, the joy of alchemy and the amazing transformation of ingredients in an oven.
Caramelized White Chocolate Brownies
(makes about 12 large brownies)
For the caramelized white chocolate
250g good quality white chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Green & Blacks)
Good pinch sea salt
For the brownies
300g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
180g lightly salted butter, diced
180g light muscovado sugar
4 medium free range eggs plus one yolk
115g ground almonds
100g plain white flour
15g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk
One quantity caramelized white chocolate (see above)
For the caramelized white chocolate
Preheat the oven to 125 degrees C. Put the chocolate on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for ten minutes.
Remove the chocolate from the oven and spread thinly over the baking sheet with a clean, dry spatula. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Repeat the process of spreading and stirring every ten minutes for about fifty minutes. At some points the chocolate may look lumpy, dry and chalky – don’t worry, as it continues to cook it will smooth out into a thick, chocolate caramel.
Once the chocolate is a deep, golden brown, remove from the oven and stir through the sea salt. Pour it into a container until ready to use. You can store the caramelized white chocolate for several months – it will harden, but you can melt it again in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water.
For the brownies
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Grease and line the base of a 23cm square brownie tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl suspended over a bowl of water. Set aside to cool slightly then whisk in the sugar.
Beat the eggs and extra yolk into the chocolate mixture, one at a time, beating continuously until thick and glossy. Gently fold in the ground almonds then sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder and fold to combine. Stir in the milk.
Scrape half the batter into your prepared tin. Drizzle over half of the caramelized chocolate then top with the remaining brownie batter. Drizzle the remaining caramelized white chocolate over the top then drag a skewer diagonally across the top both ways to create a lattice pattern.
Bake for 25 minutes or until set but still slightly squidgy then remove from the oven and allow to cool before cutting and enjoying.