Coffee breaks are a big thing in my lab. Before I elaborate, I should probably explain my work situation (work as in uni work). As a postgrad, I have a desk. A whole desk all to myself, which is kind of exciting. I mean I effectively had my own space in the computer lab in the last few weeks that I was writing my dissertation (of doom) in St Andrews, but that was more because I claimed it by spending about 18h a day there and leaving my papers and files scattered around it for the 6h that I wasn’t because I was sleeping or eating, but now I have a desk that’s actually mine and doesn’t require scattered highlighters and papers to mark my territory. I’m clearly going up in the world.
Now this desk is located in the fairly large marine lab, half of which consists of postgrad desks and the other half is the actual lab bit with lab benches and microscopes and chemicals, none of which I actually use. Other than an invisible line there’s no separation between the desk-filled half and the proper lab half of the room, so the whole thing is classed as a lab. Food and drink aren’t allowed in labs. Thus, no food and drink at our desks. Which means… no coffee. Which is an issue. And explains the importance of the coffee break. The lab is also quite cold, which makes it all the more frustrating that we can’t have hot drinks at our desks. Coffee breaks mean that we get to venture upstairs where it’s a bit warmer. Coffee breaks are also ideal for bringing in baked goods that you don’t want to eat an entire batch of by yourself. And baked goods are a great way of making friends with your labmates.
This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Lucy of The Kitchen Maid and she has chosen “coffee” as the special ingredient, which is an excellent choice because I love the combination of coffee and chocolate. In fact, they almost pair a little too well, and I actually found it rather difficult to choose what to make because there are just so many possibilities. I think that coffee and chocolate complement each other best in something fairly rich, so after much indecision I finally settled on coffee and walnut brownies. The walnuts were the result of some last-minute inspiration, but they go so well with both coffee and chocolate, that they just seemed like they’d make the perfect addition. And they really did work wonderfully, adding a little bit of crunch and balance to the soft, rich chocolateyness of the brownies. The coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate – you can definitely taste that it’s there, even if it’s not a distinct flavour and you can’t quite put your finger on it. I think this might be my favourite brownie recipe ever.
I brought the brownies in for yesterday’s afternoon coffee break and they went down a storm. One of the guys who works in an offshoot of the marine lab further down the corridor had his kids in with him so they joined us for our coffee break. I think they’re about 5 and 8 years old. Whilst their dad was making his coffee and whatever drinks they were having they were eyeing up the brownies sitting on the table, but clearly too scared of all the adults they didn’t really know to ask for some. I didn’t want to offer them some without first checking that nuts were ok though – I hear that inducing somebody’s child into anaphylactic shock is considered rather bad form. The fact that there’s caffeine in the brownies totally didn’t cross my mind until after they’d each had half a brownie and their dad said “these are so good, but they taste a bit different to standard chocolate brownies, what’s that extra flavour?” “That’s probably the coffee. Oh my gosh, coffee. I just gave caffeine to your kids. I am so sorry!!” Awkward. I don’t have any younger siblings or young cousins, so I’ve had minimal experience with small children… Can you tell? We concluded that there was probably less caffeine in a brownie than in several sips of coke, so they probably wouldn’t go totally crazy. He even let them have another half each when they asked for more. Since I’m spending this morning at the aquarium, I won’t have seen him by the time this post publishes, so I’m not sure how that worked out…
Coffee & walnut brownies
Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts
If you’re not a huge fan of coffee or you want a slightly more subtle flavour, you can decrease the amount of coffee down to 1tbsp dissolved in 2 tbsp of boiling water. You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home. These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long! These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee.
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
150g caster sugar
70g walnut pieces or halves
60g all-purpose flour
1. Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.
2. Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water. Add to the chocolate and butter mixture and melt together, stirring occasionally. When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
3. Sift the flour into a small bowl. Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the roughly chopped walnuts.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture. Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin. Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 15-20 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.
5. Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.
Enjoy! And uhm, perhaps avoid feeding them to small children…