Life is uncertain. Eat Dessert first.

Brownies

Afternoon Tea: Lemon Squares, Half-blondie/Half-brownies, Crunchy Top Scones

“There are few hours in life more agreeable then the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

A dining experience that has come back into vogue in the last few years, the rebooted 21st Century Afternoon Tea can sometimes fall between being a stuffy, mock-aristocratic pastiche, or a doilies and egg sandwich “granny chic” event. This article lists a couple of the best options for Afternoon Tea around Ireland.

The key to hosting a successful Afternoon Tea at home is a diversity of sandwich fillings served on a selection of breads, a variety of tea (and coffee) options, and a selection of bite-sized cakes! Tray bakes are your best bet, as they can just be cut into slightly smaller portions then you would normally serve.

I’ve previously blogged about the Half-blondie, Half-brownies – the other treats in the photo are Lemon Squares from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, and Crunchy-Topped Sweet Scones from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookbook.

LEMON SQUARES

Preheat the oven to 170degC.

For the base, put 290g plain flour, 70g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, 230g unsalted butter and 2 tsp grated lemon zest in a freestanding electric mixer and beat until the mixer resembles breadcrumbs. Press the dough together with your hands, then press it evenly into the base of a deep baking tray, lined with baking parchment. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until light golden. Leave to cool, with the oven left on, while you make the topping.

Put 210g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 tsps grated lemon juice in a bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk until well mixed. Pour carefully over the baked base and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the top has set. Leave to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

CRUNCHY TOP SWEET SCONES

Sieve 450g plain flour, a pinch of salt, 25g caster sugar, and 1 and a half heaped tsp of baking powder into a large bowl. Cut 85g butter into cubes, toss in the flour then rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk 3 eggs with 215ml milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.

Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to 2.5cm and cut into scones with a ring cutter. Put on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with jam and a blob of whipped cream.


Cookies and Cream Fudge Brownies

Lorraine Pascale’s “Baking Made Easy” comes up trumps again. These amazing brownies came out perfectly (the photo doesn’t do them justice). Can’t recommend them enough – probably the best brownies I’ve ever made!

Preheat the oven to 180degC. Grease a 20cm square baking tin, and line with baking paper with the paper overlapping the sides.

Melt 165g butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and add 200g of grated chocolate. Leave to stand for a few minutes until the chocolate goes soft then stir together.

Whisk 3 eggs, 2 egg yolks and 2 tsp good quality vanilla essence together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 165g soft light brown sugar in two additions, whisking between each. Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes stiffer. Once the egg mixture is ready pour the chocolate into it, again around the side so as not to knock the air out.

Add 2 tsp flour, 1 tbsp cocoa powder, a pinch of salt and a third of a 154g packet of Oreo biscuits, broken up into pieces. Stir until everything is fully combined, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Scatter the remaining packet of broken Oreos over the top, pressing them in slightly. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. The middle should be very slightly gooey. This is the tricky bit to get right!

Leave the brownies to cool in the tin. The top will sink and crack a little. Pull the brownies out using the overlapping paper and cut them into squares. Eat until you think you can’t fit another one in, then finish them off and make another batch!


Half Blondie, Half Brownie

These incredibly rich treats are available to taste for free in Quack and Dirk (http://www.quackanddirk.com/) today, Saturday 19th March. Come on over for a sample!

Linda Collister’s “Brownie Bliss” contains, as the name suggests, a whole host of brownies, blondies, and sauces to go with them. This recipe uses cream cheese instead of butter, and walnuts are added at the end to give a contrast in taste and texture.

Preheat the oven to 180degC, then grease and line a 23cm square brownie tin. Break up 100g of 70% cocoa solid chocolate, put it in a heatproof bowl, and set it over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Melt the chocolate gently, stirring frequently, then remove the bowl from the pan and put aside to cool. Melt 50g white chocolate in the same way.

Put 3oog cream cheese in a bowl, add 200g caster sugar and beat until smooth with a hand-held electric mixer. Beat 3 eggs together in a bowl, and then gradually beat into the mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Gradually add 100g of sifted plain flour, stirring at low speed on the mixer. Transfer half this mixture to another bowl. Add the melted dark chocolate to one portion and mix thoroughly. Mix the melted white chocolate into another portion. The dark chocolate mixture will be stiffer then the white.

Using a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the dark chocolate mixture into the prepared tin, spacing them evenly apart, with gaps between the blobs. Pour or spoon the white chocolate mixture over the top to fill in the spaces. Use the end of a chopstick or the handle of a teaspoon to marble and swirl the two mixtures together, then scatter 75g of broken up walnut pieces over it.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30mins until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin before removing and cutting into 25 small pieces.


Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie

From The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, this triple-layer dessert is a cinch to make but looks and tastes amazing. Very difficult to stop after just one slice!

For the brownie base, melt 200g of roughly chopped dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. When melted take off the heat, and then cream 200g unsalted butter with 250g icing sugar in a large bowl. When it’s light and fluffy, gradually add three eggs, lightly beaten, mixing well each time. Beat in 110g of flour bit by bit until you get a smooth mixture. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate, mix thoroughly, and then pour the mixture into a 33x23x5cm baking tray lined with greasproof paper. Smooth the top so it’s flat.

For the cheesecake layer, beat 400g cream cheese, 150g icing sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until smooth and thick. Gradually add two beaten eggs, beating the mixture until it’s smooth and creamy. Be careful not to overmix or the cheese will split. Carefully spoon this mixture over the brownie and smooth it out, being careful not to mix the two. Bake in a preheated oven at 170 deg C for 30-40mins until the cheesecake is firm to the touch and light golden around the edges. The centre should still be pale. Leave to cool completely in the tin, then refrigerate for at least two hours.

When you are ready to serve, remove the brownie/cheesecake to a board. Lightly whip 300ml of whipping cream, then add 100g icing sugar and 150g raspberries, and whisk until firm but not stiff. The raspberries should break up and turn the cream pink. Spread the topping evenly over the brownie and decorate with more raspberries. Enjoy with a cup of coffee!