Olive oil and pecan brownies

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Not that brownies can ever be described as ‘good for you’ (shame on those who try!), but I’ve developed this recipe to use a wonderful, heart-healthy light olive oil instead of butter but still retain that gooey, more-ishness that a good brownie should have.

This is such an easy-to-bake recipe it would be perfect to get your children involved in the cooking. Maybe they could help could turn this into a birthday or Fathers Day treat.

It’s actually a highly adaptable recipe: you could swap out the milk chocolate chunks for the recipient’s favourite chocolate bar too or swap out the pecans for white choc chunks (double chocolate brownies!) or other fruit or nuts as preferred. Macadamias and hazelnuts/cobnuts make especially delicious alternatives that pair with the chocolate.

I‘m very flattered that Filippo Berio liked this recipe so much that they’ve added it to their website.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

  • Don’t use a fruity or virgin olive oil for this (as the flavour would overpower and it’d really be a waste too!), something like Mild & Light or a Classic olive oil would work very well here
  • Do stick to the right size tin. The brownie mix is the perfect volume for the height of a 20cm x 20cm (8″x 8″) tin… using a larger or smaller tin will change the texture of the brownie along with its height (a shallow wide tin would produce overbaked dry brownies and a smaller higher tin may mean the brownie is still raw in the middle)
  • When testing to see if the brownies are done with a skewer, this is not quite the same as testing a sponge cake…the brownie is supposed to be moist in the middle so the skewer will not come out dry. If it has a dry crust to the top but some sticky brownie mix on the skewer it’s done… if it’s very wet it still needs a little longer
  • You can substitute other nuts if you can’t find pecans. Walnuts are the closest match, but macadamias would also work well
  • You’ll notice I’ve put (g) grams for the olive oil, not the liquid (ml) millilitres. Grams and millilitres are interchangeable (for most liquids) when weighing out. I’ve used grams as it’s so very much easier to measure out the olive oil straight into your saucepan on a digital scale. If you don’t have a digital scale, just measure out the equivalent (100ml) in a liquid measuring cup

Equipment

  • Small saucepan
  • Bowl
  • Square baking tin, 20cm x 20 cm (about 8″ x 8″)
  • Baking parchment or paper
  • Wooden spoon
  • Flexible spatula
  • Digital scales (or liquid measuring jug)
  • Kitchen towel

Ingredients

  • Classic or mild & light olive oil (don’t use an extra virgin) – 100g
  • Dark chocolate, around 70-72% cocoa solids – 150g
  • Tipo 00 or plain flour – 150g
  • Eggs, large – 2
  • Caster sugar – 120g
  • Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
  • Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
  • Milk – 2 tablespoons
  • Milk chocolate – 100g
  • Pecans – 40g

Method

  1. Warm your oven up to 180°C fan/190°C conventional
  2. Put your saucepan on your scales and weigh out the olive oil and break in the dark chocolate
  3. Warm the olive oil and chocolate over a low heat, stirring with the wooden spoon
  4. Remove from the heat when the chocolate is almost completely melted: it will continue to melt
  5. Leave to one side to cool a little (you can use it once it’s got to about room temperature)
  6. Chop up the milk chocolate and pecans into large chunks and leave for later
    chocAndPecansAndOil
  7. Prep your baking tin by lining with baking paper or parchment and leave an overlap so you can use this to lift the brownies out once they are cooked
  8. Lightly oil the baking paper by dampening a sheet of kitchen paper in a little oil and rubbing it around the lined tin
  9. Weigh out the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, vanilla extract, egg and milk into the bowl and mix it all together until it is all fully incorporated
  10. The chocolate and oil should be cool enough to use now, so pour it into the bowl and mix it in thoroughly
  11. Add the chocolate chunks and pecans and swirl through the mix
  12. Pour the mix into the prepared tin, using the flexible spatula to get every last bit out and smooth the surface over with a spoon
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  13. Cook on the middle shelf for 23-25 minutes
  14. Once cooked, leave to cool almost fully in the tin, then lift out using the overlap of baking paper you left
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  15. Cut into nine large squares (or smaller bites if you prefer)
  16. Delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream or cream and strawberries or leave to cool and enjoy as a tea time treat
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Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Homemade ricotta – and ways to enrich, flavour or infuse it

ricottaGreenPlateOk, don’t be alarmed: it’s not full-scale, time-consuming cheesemaking.

However, you can easily, quickly and conveniently make your own ricotta and add flavourings yourself.

More often than not I just buy ricotta, but sometimes I make it myself if I’ve run out, I’ve got some full fat milk to use up or I just want my ricotta to be as nice as possible or flavoured a certain way for a particular recipe. (I’m not sure if I’m not just biased, but I think homemade is at least a little nicer than shop bought).

I’ve been using this method of half lemon juice and half vinegar to start the curdling process off for some years. I’ve only ever seen ricotta recipes that use either all rennet (not many normal kitchens have this to hand), all vinegar or all lemon juice only – this came about when I once ran out of lemon juice and had to improvise.  I liked the result and I’ve stuck to it ever since. Perhaps I should do a comparable, side-by-side taste test to see if what you use really makes a difference.

What is also different about my recipe is that I worked it out to be highly convenient for that pint or two-pint carton of full fat milk I might have in the fridge. It’s then much, much easier just to open a bottle or carton and tip it in your saucepan rather than other recipes which have a specific end amount in mind.

I’ve found that using 1 pint (568ml) of milk makes enough for two people for either a pasta filling, such as spinach and ricotta ravioli, or a light salad etc. A two pint recipe therefore is enough to serve four within a main dish or great for pastries or cakes calling for ricotta. Recipes on my blog which include ricotta are:

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Mango Cheesecake recipe – uses ricotta

Flavouring and enriching

See underneath the recipe for my ideas on how to flavour the ricotta or to make a richer, creamier version.

Notes

This takes time – but it’s pretty much all left to work on its own devices. There is only about 15 minutes tops of hands-on effort involved.

Equipment
  • Medium saucepan
  • Large bowl for draining
  • Colander or large sieve (choose a sieve/bowl combination that leaves a big gap between the bottom of the bowl and the bottom of the colander, so that the ricotta doesn’t sit in its own liquid and drains properly)
  • Muslin square (this is one place where it really has to be muslin – other cloths will have weaves that are too large or too tight for it to drain correctly)
  • Spatula
  • Tea towel (a very clean one)
Ingredients – based on 568ml / 1 pint of milk
  • Full fat milk – 568ml / 1 pint
  • Lemon juice – 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Clear distilled vinegar – 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
Ingredients – based on 1.36 l / 2 pints of milk
  • Full fat milk – 1.36 litres / 2 pints
  • Lemon juice – 3 teaspoons
  • Clear distilled vinegar – 3 teaspoons
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon
Method
  1. Pour the milk into the saucepan and add the salt
  2. Have the lemon juice and vinegar measured out
  3. Bring up to just under boiling – you must watch the milk as you need to catch it when bubbles start to come to the surface and the milk begins to let off steam, but has NOT yet started boiling properly (if you want to use a thermometer this will be 82C-84C). This takes around 5 minutes and remember to stir occasionally so the milk doesn’t catch on the pan

    WarmingMilk
    This is the point when you need to take this milk off the heat and add the acid
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat and immediately add the vinegar and lemon juice
  5. Stir the milk and continue to keep stirring while the curds and the whey begin to separate – about a minute or so of constant, gentle stirring

    curdsAndWhey
    What the milk looks like, just after the acid is added and the whey and curds are separating
  6. Place the muslin cloth inside the colander, then the colander over the bowl
  7. Tip the curds and whey over the muslin-strewn colander, so that the curds get caught in the muslin and the whey drains into the bowl

    draining
    The ricotta draining, through the muslin over the colander, into a bowl. Almost fully drained and just waiting to be given a squeeze and then it will be ready
  8. Cover it all with the clean tea towel (this keeps it clean and dirt-free. If you used a lid or hard surface you’d get unwanted condensation)
  9. Leave this to drain for a couple of hours at least (depending how your colander fits in your bowl you may occasionally need to tip out the whey if the bottom of the colander is sitting in the liquid)
  10. Squeeze the last of the whey out of the curds by twisting the muslin cloth together around the curds
  11. Dispose of the whey as you don’t need it (I’m told if you have pigs they love the stuff – I don’t think my cat would be interested…)
  12. Keep the ricotta in an air tight container in the fridge for up to three days or use immediately in a recipe

Flavourings

Once you’ve attempted ricotta, you may want to start adding to it.  There are two ways to do this: either add the ingredients after the ricotta has been prepared (basically just stirring them in) or by infusing the flavours at the early stage. As ricotta is quite bland but can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes it nicely lends itself to being flavoured.

Flavourings – adding to the finished ricotta

After it’s drained, you can add some additional flavourings. These are some of my suggestions or create your own:

  • Peppercorn
  • Chilli
  • Ham and pineapple (in place of ham and pineapple cottage cheese)
  • Nutmeg or ground cinnamon
  • Lemon and basil
  • Any fresh leafy herbs – thyme, hyssop, sorrel, tarragon, marjoram, lemon balm or verbena, fennel fronds 🌱
  • For sweet recipes:
  • Hazelnuts chopped in,
  • Crushed soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries,
  • A swirl of your favourite soft set jam
  • Honey and crushed figs
Flavourings – infusing the milk

Alternatively, you can add some ingredients (including some off the list above) into the milk as it warms as an infusion. In this instance you MUST sieve the milk into a separate bowl to fully remove the flavouring ingredient before you add the lemon juice and vinegar. Some suggestions are:

  • Peppercorn (less intense with no crunchy bits if you infuse!)
  • Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Cinnamon or cassia bark
  • Any of the leafy herbs mentioned above
  • Star anise, cardamom pods or fennel seeds
Enriching the ricotta

To make an even creamier ricotta I substitute up to 50% of the milk for double or clotted cream.

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My Limoncello Baked Cheesecake – the recipe uses ricotta and is on my blog