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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cooking with Altoids: Peppermint Fudge Brownies

So, cooking with Altoids, eh? What the heck? Altoid flavoured chocolate brownies?? What a way to ruin a good brownie! I agree - yes, it sounds like a complete crackpot idea.
Altoids are little chalky mint flavoured lollies from the UK, similar to Fisherman's Friends. They come in many flavours nowdays, but peppermint is the original. The tins are amusingly retro-daggy and apparently very collectable (??). When I saw a feature on the Altoids website a few months ago about Cooking with Altoids I was both amused and interested. It's such an unattractive name; Altoids sound like some type of rheumatism medication or stomach antacid!
See, it's been a year to the day today that I was sailing from Germany to Denmark on tour with my vocal ensemble, and trying to spend leftover euros in the giftshop. One of my fellow altos dragged me over shouting "Look! Look! Lollies for altos!!!" Naturally I had to buy a tin. But, honestly I didn't love them that much, and the tin has sat by my computer monitor for nearly a year.

The recipes using Altoids page (which doesn't seem to exist anymore?) gave suggestions for how to incorporate altoids in cooking; i.e. crushed apple sour altoids to crust a rim of a cocktail glass, or crushed ginger altoids in a stir fry (hmmmm). But what took my fancy was to flavour chocolate truffles with the cinnamon or peppermint flavour. Ooooh - that could be good. Trashy, but good. And how excited was I about getting down and dirty with my mortar and pestle?! What a talking point!

I had a bag of good dark chocolate couverture which would work well with mint, and instead of fiddly truffles, I thought brownies. And my choice of recipe wasn't difficult. Cathy from My Little Kitchen had, our of the sheer kindness of her heart and based on a single comment on her site, sent me a copy of her treasured Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies - from which she is cooking every single cookie recipe in an epic 3 year project. Check it out! I was so excited to receive an authentic American cookie-baking book, and it was my constant bedside companion for at least a week, reading through every recipe and making notes of the ones I want to make. So, with my nice chocolate and a new baking book, I chose Maida's Fudge Brownies, which she described as fudgy, moist and candylike. I thought the richness of them would work well with the strong minty flavour of the altoids.

I initially got down and dirty with only 5 Altoids. I didn't know how strongly they'd flavour the mixture and I wanted to go slowly. Couldn't taste a thing, so I crushed another 5. Still nothing. Another 5....now we're getting somewhere. In the end I crushed about 18-20 Altoids, and it gave a really lovely peppermint flavour that complemented rather than overshadowed it the chocolate. And the texture! Whoa! Were these the perfect brownies or what?! Perfect flaky top, perfect chewy, candylike crust and the most perfect gooey, fudgy centre. These were so perfect I can't find any more superlatives. I can only feel relieved that I packed them off with A. to take to his work as the 3rd installment of the baking-for-the-mystery-workplace project because I could have very easily eaten half the tin in one sitting. These are Cathy's next recipe, so I'll be interested to see how they turn out for her.

So, how were they received? Apparently extremely well. Who doesn't like a free chocolate brownie? I think the most cohesive review came from my friend who works in the next building to A. and who gets a sample from him of each batch of baking I send in. She sent me this email after tasting her sample:
"Mmmmm... I'm in crunchy/soft/gooey, minty, chocolatey heaven. Divine! The Altoids work really well - nice mint flavour but not too overpowering. Nice. Very nice.
[her workmate] liked the texture, although says he's not a fan of peppermint and chocolate together because chocolate is such a rich flavour and the peppermint is almost suprising because it's so "clean". Personally I think he's crazy - I've always loved peppermint and chocolate"
I understand where P. is coming from. Usually I feel the same way about chocolate and peppermint, but I'm with my friend on this example. This recipe does peppermint and chocolate really well and I think you'll be in brownie heaven with these. Even without the addition of Altoids. :-)
Read on for the recipe:

Peppermint Fudge Brownies
Based on the Fudge Brownies in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies

Makes 24 brownies

4 ounces/4 squares/125g dark chocolate*
1/4 pound/1 stick/125g butter, cut into large pieces

3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar*
1/2 cup brown sugar*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sifted plain flour
~20 peppermint Altoids, crushed to a fine powder

handfull small chocolate drops

Place an oven rack 1/3 up from the bottom and preheat to 350F/175C. Line a square or rectangle tin with greasproof paper, and set aside.
Melt the chocolate and butter together (in a double boiler or the microwave) until almost melted. Remove and stir until completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
With an electric mixer beat the eggs at high speed for about 30 seconds until foamy and slightly increased in volume. On low speed gradually add the sugar and beat for only a few minutes to mix. Add the vanilla, salt and chocolate mixture, scraping the bowl with a spatula until only barely mixed. Do no overbeat*. Add the flour & chocolate drops, still scraping the bowl and beating only until mixed. Now gently fold in the Altoids, tasting along the way (bonus!) until you reach the intensity of flavour you desire.
Pour into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out barely clean. The inside should still be soft. Do no overbake.
Remove the pan from the oven, place it on a rack and let stand for ~1 hour until only barely warm.
It is easier to cut into bars when chilled. It cuts most perfectly after being partially frozen.

*Maida notes: If you overbeat the eggs or the eggs and sugar, it will make the brownies cakelike, spongy and dry instead of moist. [Bleah! So, take note.]

Niki notes: I altered the recipe to take into account the fact that we can't get unsweetened chocolate in Australia, so I used dark and reduced the amount of sugar. I also chose to use half brown and half white sugar to increase the fudginess aspect, which works spectacularly well. And then for pure decadence I added a handful of little chocolate drops. The original recipe calls for the same amount of unsweetened chocolate (4 squares) and 1 1/2 cups of white sugar.


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