Monday, 3 September 2012

Brownies & Book News


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*
2 eggs
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.

32 comments:

  1. I think listening to your intuition & the "flow" can be one of the hardest things to do...it's so tempting to try & force things and control outcomes. I find that when I listen to the universe instead of trying to control the universe, I'm never disappointed with where the path takes me. We live in a world that tells us "quick, quick, now or never!" and it just isn't true. I think you're being very wise. And I think that there is time enough to do it all, each in its season.

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  2. Brave decision, but it sounds like the right one for you! Are you coming back to Jesus or another college? I hope wherever you go is wonderful :D x x

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  3. I totally understand what you mean about food not translating well into work for you. I've felt the exact same thing, which is why I haven't looked too far beyond what I'm doing on my blog when it comes to baking-related stuff at the moment. You should do what feels right for you xx

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  4. Wow, it's not easy, but it sounds like you've done what's right for you - and what wonderful opportunities you have (and will continue to come your way, I'm sure). I'm also a strong believer in not spreading yourself too thin, though I'm not always the best at putting it into practice myself! Saying no to doing things is so hard but I think necessary when you want to continue to focus on doing something that you love and doing it well... good luck Emma, look forward to checking back in October!

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  5. Good on you for knowing what's right for you and going with it. :)

    All the best for the masters. It's in medieval studies, isn't it? So exciting!

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  6. It sounds you made the right decision. I'm glad you will carry on blogging after your break. Keep up the good work, Emma!

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  7. Don't worry, the book will come... I'm sure of it. And there's no reason why you can't do both! Good luck with everything...

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  8. I totally agree. The blog is outstanding. The offers will still be there in 3 or 4 years time if you then feel the time is right. Just keep doing it the way you want and enjoy your course.

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  9. Emma, I have to say I have so much respect for you. Your blog is amazing and you clearly have an abundance of talent when it comes to baking, but you have stood by your principles and chosen to continue studying instead. I can imagine that wasn't an easy decision to make at all and many would have gotten carried away with the thought of becoming famous and having a book published. I really admire you for sticking to what you wanted to do. I love your blog, and as others say, no doubt the book will come when the time is right. In the meantime, here's to many more beautiful blog posts from you!

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  10. Have to admit, I'm surprised an offer didn't come leaping at you full force - their loss. The publishing industry is largely unpredictable and not always sensible. And anyway, writing a book is something you can pursue any time, at any age. I applaud your decision to choose education; it shows you know exactly what you want and that you are in control of your destiny. I for one will continue to read this blog and get great enjoyment from doing so! Now to go off and make these brownies...

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  11. Congrats Emma on a tough decision. I second cheeniroti in everything s/he says regarding respect (mine) and talent and principles (yours). Wishing you all the best for preparing for and enjoying your masters.

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  12. Emma, wow, what a decision, and I'm smiling alittle inside, is that naughty? That you will be here blogging and sharing with us, yippee de yay yay!! I agree with the others, when the time is right, things will fall into place and a book won't feel the effort that it does now, it will be something that is so right for there and then. Education and gaining knowledge and experience to build you up into who you are, really matters and is such a huge part of developing. The book will come, I'm certain other publishers now knowing you're 'free' again will knock your door down in a year or so, and between then and now, you'll have complete stunning recipes and your personal enjoyment back to knock their socks off!! Keeping yourself happy and driven and doing something with everything you've got because you really want to do it, is a very precious thing. Time will tell and things will work themselves out xx Don't worry with all the details, cook, smile and do what's in your heart, it won't let you down :) xxxx

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  13. As a regular reader of your blog, I've been following your news with interest, Emma. I wish you all the best for the coming months. Keep doing what you love and do so well. As Fiona says, the offers will still be there.

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  14. Not all avocations are meant to become our vocation. I've learned this one too, which is why I so understand and appreciate the decision that you reached. When the book is ready to happen, IF it is ever ready to happen, it will - in a graceful way that is both a ton of work and yet effortless. You were very wise not to push it now. Enjoy a well-earned break, and please know we'll be here when you get back!

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  15. The moral of the story is: Do what your heart tells you to do. Noone can deny you of doing that, and noone will love you any less for it. As you can see from the above comments and those who follow you, we think you are an amazing person with great talents (academically and culinary). Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes they happen to light the path we are supposed to follow. I love your blog and will continue to follow it for as long as you are willing to share. Good on you for being true to yourself :)

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  16. Like I said on Twitter, congratulations on making such a tough decision. A cookbook sounds so glamorous and exciting but if you can't put 110% of your love and enthusiasm into it then the time isn't quite right. Keep working on your absolutely beautiful blog and I have no doubt that at some point in the future you'll produce a wonderful book to share with us all (and I'm still available for that recipe testing!).

    ps brown butter is the best!

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  17. Be happy! I love your posts, you're an excellent blogger, but do what you go to do, and the rest comes easy!

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  18. Why not self publish? You are a great writer and blogger with a big following. You don't need a traditional publisher. In fact they probably need someone like you more than you need them at this point. Best of luck to you - Kristen

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  19. Sometimes life works in mysterious ways we often can't fathom and certainly can't fight. Good luck with the studying and enjoying life back in Oxford.

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  20. Emma, I'm happy for you that you came to a decision that you can feel good about and be at peace with. I am sure that down the road you will have other book opportunities, maybe even better ones because your thoughts and perspective are more fully formed from even more life experiences. Congrats on your decision and enjoy your time away. :)

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  21. There is nothing more discouraging when you feel that disconnect in your writing - it is a perfectionist thing! Your blog is beautiful - I'm happy you'll be continuing to blog and sharing your yummy recipes.

    Enjoy your break and good luck with your Oxford course!

    ____

    “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”― Henry David Thoreau

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  22. I think you made a brave decision, but a good one. To continue having the beautiful creative ideas you put into your blog you need to be relaxed and happy. If you keep on doing what you set out to do I'm sure good things will continue to come. I love your blog.

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  23. Emma, I agree, I think you made a brave and good [though hard] decision. I love your blog, and look forward to seeing you back, when you are ready. Much love to you.

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  24. A brave and very understandable decision. I wish you all the best and I look forward to your yummie blog postings!

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  25. I recently started blogging and have been enjoying reading back over your posts for inspiration. Even in these early days I understand that life gets in the way of creativity (teaching languages & a 3 year old) and the frustration that comes with it. Best wishes for your studies. I am looking forward to hearing from you later in the Autumn. Victoria.

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  26. It's a tough decision but the key thing is that you feel happy and comfortable about what you've done, for you. Yes, you can always write a cookbook ...and use cooking as a means to experiment, to push boundaries in a way that academic stuff won't let you..I speak from experience.

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  27. Sounds like you've made the right decision for you at this time - good luck! xx

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  28. Dear all,

    I can't quite work out what to say individually - I wish I could - but I just wanted to say thank you. Your support meant - means - so much to me.

    Emma xx

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  29. Just found your blog.. enjoy it so very much.. Best wishes for your course by the way

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  30. Just found your blog.. enjoy it so very much.. Best wishes for your course by the way

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  31. You are a quitter - you quit the book, quit Corden, then your Mst. Quitting is easy. You let down your publisher, your tutors, then even those expecting something from Teas etc - why is everyone praising you?

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