I always wonder how people like emergency medical personnel or bomb disposal experts manage to do their jobs properly. I mean, can you imagine trying to concentrate on the specific and difficult job you were trained to do, while all around you there is chaos, noise, and people calling out and generally distracting you? I wonder how they find that small piece of quiet space somewhere within themselves and inhabit that to filter out all other distractions to deliver the service they are trained to do. I also think that if the army or emergency services ever need trainers to design a training task and then recreate the kind of distracting circumstances described above as a dress rehearsal, I should volunteer.
Picture the scene. A suburban house in London. A summery braai/BBQ in progress in the garden. A slab of brownies baking in the oven for dessert. 21 guests finding excuses to come into the kitchen on the pretext of fetching a glass of water, a napkin, some salt, or a fork; when all the time the only thing they are doing is checking whether the brownies are out of the oven yet. Finally, I could wait no longer and had to open the oven door, releasing the irresistable aroma of warm, chocolatey goodness and luring the guests to the kitchen as surely as a mermaid lures a sailor onto rocks.
Clutching my tray of brownies protectively as close to my chest as the hot baking dish allowed, I managed to get it to the conservatory unscathed where I had hoped for a couple of minutes of peace to set up a shot and get some photos taken before the devouring hordes descended. Alas: no such luck! Guests circled like vultures, watching my every move, waiting impatiently for me to be distracted by an f-stop so that they could pounce. I kept trying to concentrate and pretend they were not there but it is hard to pretend a marauding hand has not really appeared in the bottom corner of your picture!! In the end I had to concede defeat and invite everybody to serve themselves (cue sonic boom as some guests practically broke the sound barrier sprinting for the brownies!). And unlike bomb disposal experts, at least I get a second chance to get it right, plus I get to eat my work afterwards
Until the mid 2000s, my experience of cookie chips was confined to dark chocolate or milk chocolate. But a trip to the US in 2005 changed all that. In the baking aisle, I found something astonishing: a mind-boggling array of baking chips from dark to milk to white chocolate, via butterscotch, cinnamon, peanut butter, mint, cherry and rainbow-coloured. Phew. My fancy was immediately taken by the peanut butter chips which I carried home with me in my suitcase and used in these awesome double peanut butter chip cookies. Every time I visited the US or had friends coming over, I would always ask for a bag of peanut butter chips for baking – but recently I discovered a far easier way to get hold of them: simply order from American Soda who deliver all over the UK. Easy! The hard part, of course, is to keep your guests off the baked goods
These brownies could not be simpler to make and pack a huge punch in terms of deep chocolatey flavour and peanut buttery goodness. Try to underbake them slightly rather than overbake them – you want the centre still to be a little gooey. To me, there are few things better that the combination of sweet and salty flavours that the cocoa and the peanut butter chips provide – try them and I am sure you’ll agree!
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CHIP BROWNIES (makes about sixteen 5cm square brownies)
230g butter (softened) plus a little extra for greasing
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup soft brown sugar
90g cream cheese
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups (1x283g package) peanut butter chips (I used Reese’s, available in the UK from American Soda)
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Grease a 5cm deep baking tin or oven proof dish about 30cmx20cm.
Using a mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and cream cheese. Add the eggs and vanilla a beat well to mix.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Stir into the wet ingredients until everything is moist and well-mixed, then stir in the peanut butter chips.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 mins or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out almost clean (a little bit of gooeyness is desirable, as I said!). Allow to cool for 10 mins or so, then cut into squares and serve warm with ice cream. They will also keep well for a couple of days in an airtight container.
Don’t forget to enter the draw to win a copy of Vanessa Kimbell’s book Prepped - competition closes at midnight on Thursday 8 September!
And while you are here… please don’t forget to send me your favourite braai or BBQ recipes by 23 September for Braai the Beloved Country, my annual event celebrating summery outdoor cooking. Click here to read the submission guidelines!