January has left me yawning and yearning for my bed. Maybe it's the lack of sunlight, maybe it's the cold weather, maybe it's the body's general collapse after the long hours and long parties it has endured over the last month or so. Maybe it's all of the above. But now that all the Christmas and New Year festivities are over and the daily grind has resumed properly, or so it has been alleged, I have found that all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep until the sun comes out. Now, as I am, unfortunately, not a Blue Peter tortoise or a hibernating bear (and if you're reading this blog, I'm assuming you aren't either), going on an extended trip to the land of nod just isn't an option. Fear not, though, help is at hand and it comes in the attractive form of espresso chocolate squares.
I adore brownies, but have, of late, noticed a wanton disregard for what a brownie actually is. It seems that people think if it's brown and square-shaped, a brownie it must be. Wrong. Brownies are slightly chewy and have a crusted top that compliments their soft, nutty centre. They are not simply brown tray bakes containing the odd floating chocolate chip, cut into squares. Don't be hoodwinked by Cafe Nero and Costa Coffee's cellophane-wrapped slices. Their brownies would never get promoted to girl guides. Brownies are absolutely packed full of sugar and chocolate and that is exactly why they are so delicious, but they also contain flour. Nothing wrong with that. But I wanted to make a flourless chocolate cake to reduce the effects of the carbohydrate coma that seems to overtake me after lunch, but also for the growing number of friends and family with gluten allergies.
I created this recipe with brownies in mind, but they have, along the way, become something quite different. They still have the irresistible chewy charm of a chocolate brownie, but without the chunks of nuts or chocolate chips and with an extra kick instead. I addeed coffee in an attempt to keep the afternoon nap cravings still further at bay, and as a result they have become a bit more grown-up and will be unlikely to excite children in the same way that a traditional brownie will. Though if small children do manage to get their tiny gnashers round them, you could find these innocent looking squares excite them in another way altogether. So, if you'd rather not witness your children bouncing off the furniture, fighting like cubs and smearing chocolate hand prints all over the wallpaper, keep these cakes where the little darlings can't reach them. They can be our delicious little secret.
Espresso Chocolate Squares
Preheat the oven to 180 C or 160 C Fan assisted and line a shallow 8" square tin.
- 7 oz / 175 g unsalted butter, cubed
- 8 oz / 200 g good quality dark chocolate
- 3 oz / 75 g ground almonds
- 2 oz / 50 g cocoa
- 11 oz / 275 g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 oz/ 25 g ground espresso coffee - the fresh coffee itself, not the drink you make with them.
- A pinch of salt
- Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and suspend over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Leave to cool slightly.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Fold the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs and sugar.
- Fold in the ground almonds, salt and coffee.
- Sift over the cocoa and fold into the mixture until fully incorporated.
- Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes. An inserted skewer should come out slightly sticky.
- Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely.
- Turn the cake out, remove the baking parchment and cut into 16 squares.