BOOK

Dark and fudgy peanut and smoked salt brownies from ‘The Little Library Year’ – a cookbook with a literary difference

By The Reading List 25 October 2019

Jonathan Ball Publishers/Composite: The Reading List

The Little Library Year: Seasonal Cooking and Reading takes you through a full 12 months in award-winning food writer Kate Young’s kitchen – and library.

Inspired by Young’s favourite works of fiction, here are frugal January meals enjoyed alone with a classic comfort read, as well as summer feasts to be eaten outdoors with the perfect beach book to hand.

Beautifully photographed throughout, The Little Library Year is full of delicious seasonal recipes, menus and reading recommendations.

***

The first signs of spring

Emily Dickinson writes of the light that exists in spring, a different

light from that which exists at any other point of the year. It’s the

light at the end of the darkness of winter, that rests differently on the ground, that creeps into corners and illuminates parts of the world that have lain in shadow for months. A light that encourages us to step outside our cosy homes, and back out into the world.

A Light exists in Spring

Not present on the Year

At any other period –

When March is scarcely here

– From ‘A Light Exists in Spring’, Emily Dickinson

Comfort food

When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip. – A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

My childhood was a comfortable one: a fiercely close sister, a warm extended family, and plenty of books and time spent in the kitchen. I grew up with a palpable love of home, and so sometimes find it difficult to explain my decision to board a plane to London as soon as I was old enough. Far from running away, I left because my parents had instilled in me a desire to explore the world that lay beyond our suburb. But my first year was tricky; Whitechapel was grey, the mould in our bathroom was pervasive, my commute was endless. I missed home desperately.

I had managed to find myself in a liminal state between one home and the next. And so, while I worked and waited, I became adept at seeking out comfort. I found it in a blanket I bought on a holiday in Mexico, which has followed me from sofa to sofa. I found it in the familiar, reassuring books I grew up with: I Capture the Castle, the Harry Potter series, Jane Austen’s novels, The Secret Garden. I brought comfort into my kitchen with tinned tomato soup, cheese on toast, deep bowls of chicken noodle broth, and buttered soldiers spread with Vegemite and dipped into runny-yolked eggs: food I could make on autopilot, without having to think. And slowly, as I started to think of England as my home, I found I needed to draw on these things less and less.

When I miss my family now, or when anxiety is eating away at me, or when “my brain begins to reel” (thank you, Ignatius J Reilly), I still seek out comfort. But my definition of it has broadened; I no longer seek only the comfort of my parents’ home, or of childhood, but of memories and of homes I have built here. I remember the cosy nights spent in my friend Jen’s old flat, when we cooked jambalaya in a weighty pot on the stove. I remember being inspired by EL Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler to make a deep dish of macaroni cheese one rainy night for the children I used to nanny. And I can measure my life in the various batches of brownies I have baked in whatever pan I had to hand, to share, still warm, with friends on the sofa.

Peanut and smoked salt brownies

These are my all-time favourite brownies. They’re dark and fudgy and rich and salty – everything I look for when I crave comfort. You can replace the peanuts with any nut you fancy, but there’s something pleasingly American about this combination. In A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J Reilly’s mother Irene sits with a box of brownies at the bar. Offering them to the bartender, she assures him “they nice”. Ignore this faint praise – these are better than nice.

Ingredients

  • 50g/ 1/3 cup peanuts (try to get unsalted ones)
  • 300g/ 10oz dark/ bittersweet chocolate
  • 250g/ 1 cup + 2tbsp butter
  • 150g/ 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 150g/ 3/4 cup golden caster/superfine sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 70g/ 1/2 cup plain/allpurpose flour
  • 50g/ 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/ 2tsp baking powder
  • A generous pinch of smoked sea salt

Equipment: 25cm/10in square cake tin/pan

Serves 12–16

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 150C fan/325F/gas 3. Butter and line the tin with parchment paper; the brownie will be too delicate to “turn out”, so do make sure you have plenty of paper to grasp hold of once it’s baked.
  2. Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan over a low heat until golden brown, then set aside to cool. Bring a saucepan of water to a gentle simmer, and melt 200g/7oz of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over it.
  3. Put the butter and sugars into a bowl and beat until light and creamy – the sugar should no longer feel grainy between your fingers. Try to use an electric implement (electric hand whisk or stand mixer) if you have one, so you can get the mixture really light; if you don’t have one, do beat for longer than you normally would.
  4. Crack the eggs, one at a time, into the creamed butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Pour in the melted chocolate, then chop the other 100g/3 1/2oz of chocolate, and mix this through. Roughly chop the peanuts, and fold them through. Sieve the flour, cocoa, and baking powder into the mixture and fold in with a spatula until just combined. Do this gently, but make sure you get rid of any white streaks.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tin, then smooth out the top. Place the batter in the oven for 40 minutes. After this time, the batter will have risen a little and should have flaked on top. Remove from the oven when a skewer inserted comes out sticky, but without raw dough on it. Start checking the brownies after around 30 minutes, and err on the side of caution; you can always pop it back in for a minute or so, but you can’t reclaim the dense fudginess the middle of a brownie should have. Sprinkle with the smoked salt, and leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares. ML

Kate Young is an award-winning food writer and cook. As a dedicated bookworm, Kate’s reading inspires her in the kitchen. After mastering the treacle tart from Harry Potter, Kate started blogging about her creations and was named Blogger of the Year in 2017 by the Guild of Food Writers. The Little Library Cookbook was shortlisted for Fortnum & Mason’s debut food book award and won a World Gourmand food writing award. Kate has written for The GuardianSainsbury’s Magazine and The Pool. Originally from Australia, Kate now lives in the English countryside. The Little Library Year: Recipes and Reading to Suit Each Season is available from Jonathan Ball Publishers (R550).

Visit The Reading List for South African book news – including recipes! – daily.

 

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