Saturday, 17 December 2016

Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel

Before we start, I apologise for what I'm about to reveal. You might have been trying REALLY hard to banish those hefty Christmas eating habits, and here I am about to ruin it.

There's chocolate... Yep, we all love chocolate... Salted caramel... Yep, that too... And the addition of booze... Now we're talking! Smoky booze at that; hell yeah!

Here we go then; Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel.

Like a magpie, I was drawn towards this diamond of a recipe from Thomasina Miers’ Guardian column just before Christmas (she’s the lady that won 2005’s Masterchef and has since gone on to open up the Mexican street food chain Wahaca). I vowed to make the brownies as soon as I had the chance and, to be honest, I couldn’t wait any longer. I was incredibly good last week; I snubbed the scraps of various cheeses and meats in the fridge, avoided the mountain of Miniature Heroes, and didn’t even touch a drop of alcohol. But, after all that virtuous eating, something had to give, and these luxurious umber squares were it.

The recipe calls for the caramel to be made with mezcal; it’s that pungent smoky spirit from Mexico, made from agave plants. It’s not easy to find in the shops - I’m pretty sure no supermarkets stock it yet - but it’s a good thing to have, especially if you dabble in cocktails at home. Master of Malt stock a number of mezcals, but this entry-level priced bottle seems like a good place to start, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida (70cl, 42%) is £41.83 from Master of Malt. The tasting notes of “smoked almond, a little light peach juice, hints of potpourri and mixed spices with tobacco and cinnamon on the finish” sounds like it’d work a treat for these brownies!

Alternatively, if you don’t want to fork out on a bottle (or simply cannot wait for postage like me) a peaty whisky would work too. The salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper still gives it that Mexican-Aztec feel, just you might have to shake your maracas with a kilt on instead.

Nowhere does peat better than Islay, and you can get the Laphroaig 10YO for £28.00 in Sainsburys, though Tesco have the Isle of Skye’s Talisker Storm on offer for £30.00 (down from £40.00). I sneaked 2tbsp of my other half’s Kilchoman 5YO 2009 Original Cask Strength, but you might have to go for something else as it's been discontinued.

These salted chocolate brownies are perfect as they are, but to spruce them up for a dessert, simply serve them with softly whipped cream. Oh, and if your will power is as low as mine, and you’re concerned you might scoff the lot, you could always freeze some to save for a rainy day.

Let’s do this... Sorry. Not Sorry.

Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel
Makes 20 brownies

For the brownies
  • 240g unsalted butter
  • 240g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • 1 small pinch ground cinnamon
  • 130g plain flour
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
For the caramel
  • 4 tbsp whole milk
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsp mezcal (or whisky)
  • 1 large pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  1. Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Grease and line a 20cm x 26cm rectangular cake tin. 
  2. For the caramel, put the milk, butter, mezcal, cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Put the sugar and two tablespoons of water in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and simmer rapidly until the sugar melts and the resulting syrup starts to darken in patches. Turn down the heat a little, and swirl the pan around (don’t stir with a spoon) to amalgamate. Once the sugar has turned a very dark reddish-brown (if you overcook the caramel, it will turn black and bitter, but do try to take it far enough to develop some lovely dark complexity), add the contents of the milk bowl and quickly stir in. Whisk over a medium heat until all the ingredients are well combined, pour out on to a baking sheet lined with baking paper (or a silicone sheet), and refrigerate or freeze to thicken.
  3. Now for the brownies. Melt the butter in a medium pan over a low heat. Once melted, stir in the chocolate, being careful not to burn it. Once the mixture goes smooth and velvety, add the sugar, salt and cinnamon, stir until the sugar melts, then gradually sift in the flour, stirring to combine. Beat the eggs bit by bit into the chocolate mixture, until fully incorporated, then pour the lot into the prepared tin.
  4. Remove the caramel from the fridge or freezer, and sink spoonfuls of it deep into the cake mix, until you’ve used up two-thirds of it; dribble the rest on top of the brownies. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cake is firm on top but still slightly gooey inside. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares.

You can find the recipe, along with a couple of other alternative dessert ideas HERE.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The best gifts for whisky lovers: Stocking fillers and secret santa

Although it seems like the people of Britain just can’t get enough of their gin, believe it or not, whisky (and vodka) still outsell the juniper stuff. In that case, it’s pretty likely that you know a whisky fan or two. If you’re struggling with what to buy them for Christmas, here’s a round up of the best stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers.

Stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers

1. Drink it right: Glencairn whisky glass

Glencairn whisky glass - best gifts for whisky lovers

Recognised as the 'definitive glass for whisky', these are a must for any whisky lover. The glass even won The Queens Award for Innovation. The tapered sides help to enhance the nosing experience, and there's a solid base so it's hard to knock over, even after you've had a few. (£4.95, The Whisky Exchange)

2. Ballin’: Whale ice ball maker

Whale ice baller -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Kikkerland

Know someone who loves an Old Fashioned, and er, whales? Then it won’t get more perfect than this whale-shaped ice ball maker (£9.99 Amazon).

3. The knowledge: '101 whiskies to try before you die' book

Whisky book -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Amazon

Author Ian Buxton has been working in the Scotch whisky industry since 1987 and there aren’t many people that know more about it than him. For anyone who really loves their whisky, but wants to try something new, ‘101 whiskies to try before you die’ is the one to get (£9.09, Amazon).

4. Boozy cheese: Amber Mist

Whisky cheese - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Snowdonia Cheese Company

Everyone likes cheese right? Well how about cheese with added booze? The Snowdonia Cheese Company’s ‘Amber Mist’ combines smoky peaty Scotch with mature cheddar. It’s £4.50 for a 200g truckle, or £35 for a whole 2kg wheel if you’re feeling generous/really hungry.

5. Feeling frisky: Whisky condiment kit

If whisky cheese isn’t enough on its own, then it’s time to talk condiments. You can now make your own whisky mustard with this kit. Or if that's too much effort, there’s a huge range of whiskey/bourbon glazes, sauces, and marinades in most supermarkets now.

6. Whisky beer

Whisky beer -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Tennent's

Can’t decide whether to get a beer related present, or a whisky one. Well, now there’s no need to compromise. You could go for the 1488 premium whisky beer (£1.95, Waitrose), or Tennent’s beer aged with whisky oak (£2.50, The Whisky Shop).

7. Nuts for whisky: Candied whisky nuts

Candied whisky nuts - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Fireball Whisky

If you want to make a homemade gift, you can’t go wrong with candied whisky nuts. All you’ll need is some nuts, water, sugar, and whisky. This recipe suggests Fireball Whisky, but if you’re not a fan of the cinnamon then simply use something else.

8. Alcohol-free aftershave

Whisky aftershave - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Nervermore Body Company

When you're looking for a new fragrance, you may not immediately think, 'I definitely want to smell like booze', but the folks at Nevermore Body Company have bottled whisky in a whole different way. The aftershave is alcohol free, so it's unlikely anyone will be wandering around smelling like they had a heavy night the night before. It's apparently their most popular scent. (£9.96, Etsy).

9. Whisky wedge

Whisky wedge - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Amazon

We've already seen a wedge of whisky cheese, but now for the whisky wedge (as seen on This Morning!). For friends that love angles, slow melting ice, and drinking whisky in a triangle shape, look no further. (£18, Amazon).

10. A wee dram, or three

If you want your gift receiver to be able to drink some whisky, but you don't quite have the budget to stretch to a whole bottle, this little taster set of Glenfiddich whiskys is the one to go for. (£10, Sainsbury's)

As you've been so thoughtful thinking of lovely gifts to buy all your whisky loving friends, I think you deserve a drink. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Weird and wonderful wine racks

Wine racks tend to be at best boring and at worst unsightly. If you're going to go to the trouble to lay your favourite bottles on display, just begging to be picked up and their corks popped, you might at least go to the effort of finding a wine rack with a bit of character.

We've searched high and low for some of the best, prettiest, and downright brilliant wine racks around:

Take, for instance, this completely original, eye-poppingly stunning wooden gnarly tree wine rack from Paul Williams Design on Etsy. It may only hold six bottles (he can make different sizes on request), but it's worth the £140 price tag just on beauty alone.

If you like your design more minimal, Black + Blum have created the metal flow wine rack, which is all swirly but so subtle you hardly notice it's there. It's £30.00.

Okay, so it only holds one bottle, but I heart the Wine for Your Life bottle holder so much. You can pick it up from Bouf for £11.50.

I'm trying really hard to be reasonable and not include this because the shipping it so expensive, but OH MY GOD IT'S A WINEOSAUR BOTTLE HOLDER! It's made from gorgeous birch wood and stained with either walnut or a mixture of beeswax and orange oil. I love it so much I'd happily pay £32.64 for it, but as it's from the States the shipping is an extra £26.75. May just move to the States so I can buy all of The Backpack Shoppe's stuff.

Another silly design which is actually available in the UK is this genius cactus wine rack. Not one for those that like their furnishings subtle, it is still pretty cool in my books. It's available from £123.30 on Amazon.

Red Thumb Print on Not On The High Street do some seriously sexy wooden furnishings, but they don't come cheap. Still, I do adore this whopping 150cm tall oak wine rack for its simple, understated style. It holds an impressive 16 bottles, however it is £160... They do a 6 bottle one that starts at £85.

I love the simplicity of this honeycomb wine rack from Habitat. It's on trend in a gold finish, and simple enough not to offend anyone. Practical and classy, what more could you want? Also, it's £30.

If you're planning to spend a bit more, but still like things relatively simple, then how about this handmade copper wine rack from Proper Copper Design? It's not the cheapest at £240, but it's really rather lovely. 

We have some other epic bottle storage design companies coming your way over the next few weeks, so I'd start saving now.

*This post has been updated for 2016 with new links, prices, and one or two completely new ideas*