Monday, 3 September 2012
On Thursday, I had to make a choice: sign the contracts for my Oxford place and run into town to meet the deadline, or wait and see if an offer would come through on my book proposal.
I've written thousands of words in the past few weeks, trying to clarify the decision I had to make. This is the third day I've sat here, sifting though and trying to form this post. What do I say?
I chose university. It was always a case of two wonderful opportunities battling it out. I never stopped wanting to do my course. The timing wasn't right for the book - it never worked (or flowed, as my hippy mini-me would have said). An offer had been predicted to arrive a few days before the deadline but missed it. The true death blow was that my enthusiasm and faith in the idea had slowly seeped away. I couldn't start such a huge and difficult project without the belief that it was worth writing and that I would be proud at the end, whatever offer had turned up.
I also chose to concentrate on this blog. This means that I don't have to save recipes or ideas for the book - I can give you all of them, immediately, free and as I imagined. This isn't just a stepping stone or a platform formed of numbers and statistics. I'm proud to say that I'm a blogger.
In a lot of ways, I've already made this decision before. In the spring, I decided that I didn't want to work in a professional kitchen, left Cordon Bleu and accepted the offer for the course I'm starting in a few weeks. Food doesn't seem to translate into work particularly well for me. I was tempted back to the flame and here I am again, slightly singed.
Because of this, I've had to make a few more choices. First, I'm taking a break. When I decided to do this masters, I wanted to spend the summer reading and doing language work in preparation. The proposal has swallowed a whole season and now I have a few precious weeks to wake up my academic brain and enjoy my reading lists. So I'm going to leave for a bit, probably somewhere between two to six weeks. I've promised myself I'll be back by the 14th October at the latest and I'll still pop up on twitter every now and again. I haven't managed to work out scheduled or guest posts so I'm afraid there will be a period of silence.
I have also, very sadly, had to cancel the Teas. When I announced them I thought that I would be nearly ready for both the MSt and the Teas by now, whatever happened. But yesterday I still needed to do most of the recipe testing, buy all the plates, cutlery, teapots, flowers, make the menus, organise pretty takeaway boxes, organise organise organise - and that's without the actual food preparation or cleaning the house just days before I start the course. Everyone has been fully refunded and if I do decide to try again, they will get first refusal of the places.
I want to feel that pull, to really want to come here and photograph and cook and write. It's been lost in the past few months of book chaos and I can see it in every post. Yet even in the days since my decision was cemented, the desire to come back has started to creep back in, slowly but surely.
I hope you'll forgive me. For this break, for cancelling the teas, for not giving you a book.
These brownies were made to satisfy a craving: simple, unadorned with nuts or extra chocolate. They improve each day - on the first night, I didn't think they were anything special. Now I think they're just right.
(Also - the two middle photos aren't of the brownies - they're of some failed hazelnut rochers I made. Apologies for any confusion.)
Brown Butter Brownies
(adapted from my Snickers Brownies, which were adapted from Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course)
110g unsalted butter
50g unsweetened 99% dark chocolate*
110g light brown sugar
90g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 big pinches of fleur de sel or other sea salt flakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Chop the butter into slices and place into a medium sized saucepan or frying pan. Place over a medium heat and melt. Keep heating as it bubbles, sizzles, foams and turns into brown butter. If you haven't made brown butter before or want more tips, try my step-by-step Foundations post. Pour straight into a mixing bowl. Leave to cool for a moment while you chop the chocolate into small pieces. Once the butter has cooled a little (it will burn the chocolate if it's still very hot), tip the chocolate in and stir until it has melted.
Lightly beat the eggs together in a small bowl. Line a small tray (a square 8", or 7" by 11" tin or similar) with some foil or baking parchment. Weigh the brown sugar, caster sugar, flour and baking powder into a bowl. The brown butter-chocolate mixture should have cooled a little more by now, so whisk in the beaten eggs, followed by the dry ingredients. Keep whisking until everything is fully combined and very smooth. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle with the fleur de sel. Bake for 25-30 minutes - it will haven risen before falling, so expect slightly raised crispy edges. The middle should be set. Leave to cool on a wire rack for five minutes then remove from the tin and slice. I think they taste best after two days, if you can resist that long!
(Makes 9 brownies)
*I used some of a bar of this that found its way into my suitcase on the way back from California. I have seen unsweetened chocolate in quite a few UK supermarkets.