Choclette, at Tin and Thyme, has set us the task of baking with chocolate and butter in this month's We Should Cocoa challenge. Whilst I've always been a firm believer in baking with butter, I have had occasion to use substitutes - I experimented quite a lot with oils, when my son was still living at home and on a low-saturated fat diet, and I've used Pure sunflower spread and coconut oil for non-dairy baking. I would say that, in general, substituting baking spreads for butter, or using oil in recipes, works very well, especially in sponge-type cakes, where oils, in particular, make very moist cakes.
However, there are, for me, two categories of baked goods where butter cannot be substituted so successfully. One is flapjacks, where you need a hard fat to get final texture right and where butter is much better for flavour once you go down the route of using saturated fat. The second category is brownies, especially if you like dense fudgy brownies, as I do. With growing evidence that butter is healthier than spreads and baking products based on hardened vegetable oils, there's really no reason not to use butter when baking these types of things. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that it is the amount of sugar that we should be worrying about - whether it's refined cane or beet sugar or sugar from more 'natural' sources, such as honey, maple syrup, or fruit molasses.
Anyway - back to brownies! In the past I've tried brownies made with vegetable oil, mayonnaise and puréed fruit and vegetables in an effort to reduce saturated fat levels, and while the results were usually acceptable, these substitutes made brownies that were lighter and cakier than brownies made with butter. Other than butter, coconut oil gives the best result, but that is because it is an oil with high levels of saturated fat, which makes it my choice for non-dairy brownies,
Having decided to make brownies for this buttery challenge, I looked for ways to make my basic recipe more exciting. I had some Lotus brand Caramelised Biscuit Spread leftover from Christmas, which I thought would make a good addition to brownies, especially if I could swirl it across the top of them. Because this spread is very sweet, I decided to add some salt to the brownies to offset the sweetness a little. I used a bar of sea-salted milk chocolate, chopped into chunks, in the main part of the batter, and sprinkled a little vanilla/sea-salt mixture on top too.
140g plain chocolate - at least 60% cocoa solids (I used 70%)
140g unsalted butter
300g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
160g plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa
100g milk chocolate with added sea-salt (I used Green and Black's)
200g caramelised biscuit spread
1/2 teaspoon sea salt flakes*
*I used vanilla sea-salt, made by adding a split vanilla pod to a cup of flaked sea-salt, in a jar, and leaving it for a couple of weeks, shaking occasionally. The vanilla seeds come out into the salt.
Line a shallow 20cm(8") baking tin with parchment and pre-heat oven to 180C.
Melt the chocolate and butter together, in a large mixing bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove the bowl from the heat.
Stir in the sugar, until there are no lumps and the mixture is quite smooth.
If the mixture is more than lukewarm at this stage, let it cool a little more, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour and cocoa into the chocolate mixture and fold in.
Weigh 150g of batter into a small bowl, and stir the chocolate chunks into the larger portion of batter.
Spread the larger amount of batter into the prepared baking tin.
Weigh the biscuit spread into a microwave-proof bowl and heat for 25 seconds on full power to melt. I got the idea of melting the spread from this recipe on the Biscoff site. (This could probably be done in a small pan over a low heat, if a m/wave isn't available.)
Drizzle the melted biscuit spread over the surface of the brownie batter, letting it spread out naturally to cover as much of the surface as possible.
Pour the remaining brownie batter, in three stripes, across the surface of the biscuit spread, then use the end of a spoon to mix the chocolate batter and biscuit spread into swirls, without going too deep into the main brownie mixture. Using a small amount of the brownie batter on top of the biscuit spread layer in this way makes it easier to swirl the two mixtures together.
Sprinkle the sea-salt flakes over the surface, then bake for about 30 minutes until the brownie mixture has set, and a probe comes out with just a few damp crumbs adhering to it. The biscuit spread will crust over but still be liquid at this point, so don't confuse that with wet batter!
Leave until completely cold before cutting into pieces - the biscuit spread stays liquid for a surprisingly long time!