Chewy Fudgy VEGAN Chocolate Brownies

I have always loved brownies. Since going vegan, I have tried out many a chocolate brownie recipe, and I am sorry to say, that despite being delicious, they never turn out like real brownies. I would call them delicious chocolate traybakes… Just not brownies. I think one of the key features of a brownie is the gooey, fudginess, which I never find using vegan brownie recipes.

So, as I’ve done with a few things (e.g. Iced Buns), I thought I’d find a good non-vegan brownie recipe, and veganise the hell out of it!

I came across this recipe for Chewy Fudgy Homemade Brownies on the website Sally’s Baking Addiction. There’s loads of other delicious looking things that I’ll no doubt experiment with soon…

Needless to say, they came out pretty, pretty good! Crispy on top, fudgy, gooey and oh so chocolatey underneath… And with no eggs!

You see, eggs are the key to a gooey brownie. Compared to other cakes, the egg-to-flour ratio of a brownie is very different. Brownies have much less flour compared to egg in them, making them gooey instead of cakey. So, how did I do without eggs?

FLAX EGG.

One of my favourite discoveries over the last few years, it has enabled me to create vegan alternatives for so many classic bakes.

I’ve described the flax egg before, but just in case you missed it, here’s a quick (and easy) run through…

To make the equivalent of one medium* egg, whisk together a level tablespoon of ground flaxseed (aka linseed) with 3 level tablespoons of water in a cup/bowl/mug. Leave in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, whisking a couple of times, et voila! It will have the consistency of a beaten egg! You can then use the flax egg in the recipe as you would use a beaten egg.

So. Here’s my adapted recipe for vegan brownies!!

225g vegan dark chocolate (I used Plamil Baking Chocolate)

120g dairy free spread (I used Pure Soya Spread)

3 heaped tbsp ground flaxseed (roughly 25g)

140ml water

150g granulated sugar

50g light brown sugar

5ml vanilla extract (I used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste)

80g plain flour

10g cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt (1.5g)

  1. Place the chocolate and dairy-free spread in a glass bowl. Heat a saucepan of water, and place the bowl on top, so that the water does not touch the bowl. Stir them together as they melt, and once it is mostly melted, take the bowl off the heat and continue stirring until all the chocolate has melted. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool for around 10 minutes.
  2. Once the chocolate mixture is off the heat, combine the flaxseed and water in a large mug or a bowl, and whisk together. Leave it in the fridge for 10 minutes, occasionally whisking it.
  3. Organise your oven racks, so that there’s a shelf in the bottom third of the oven, and set to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C.
  4. Grease and line a 23cm x 23cm pan (or the rectangular or circular equivalent) with greaseproof paper or foil.
  5. Make yourself a coffee or have a little dance while you wait for the prepared ingredients and the oven to do their thing…
  6. Whisk the sugar into the cooled chocolate mixture, then slowly add in your flax egg and then the vanilla, until it looks all smooth and shiny.
  7. Fold in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, until they are completely combined.
  8. Pour the brownie mixture into the lined tin, ensuring it reaches the edges. Then slide it onto that shelf in the oven and breathe in that sweet chocolatey aroma as it fills the air.
  9. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the brownie comes out clean(ish). You might want to check it at around 40 minutes, as all ovens have their own personality, so you never know what it might be doing!
  10. Once it’s ready to come out, leave the brownie to cool in the tin on a wire rack.Try your best to let it cool before you start cutting it up and taking it out, as it might break apart if it hasn’t cooled enough. Although, it doesn’t really matter, because we’re just making these at home, not at a 5-star restaurant so WHO CARES HOW THEY LOOK I JUST WANT TO EAT THEM.
  11. If you do want to cut them up, so you can pretend that you’re going to eat them piece by piece, use a nice sharp knife once they’re cooled and cut into squares.
  12. Enjoy the fruits of your labour. Bon appetit!

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*To make large eggs, I just use a slightly heaped tablespoon of flaxseed and another teaspoon of water.

Fallin’

A few months ago, I set out to bake a cake for my dad’s birthday. A Victoria Sponge with a twist – Homemade Apple Jam! The jam was made, and all I had to do was bake a simple vanilla sponge.

But ohhhh no. I decided to do a little experiment. Maybe I’ll veganise a Mary Berry recipe? Surely you can’t go wrong with a Mary Berry…

Perhaps I changed too many variables at once… Perhaps instead of relying on the old marge and flour technique in my not so forgiving sandwich tins I should have lined them with greaseproof… Perhaps I should have let the cakes cool for longer before I coaxed them out of their tins…

But where’s the fun in that?

I personally love it when I turn a cake tin over and half the cake remains in the tin while the rest tumbles out, disintegrating into about seven large pieces and countless tiny crumbs. It really gives me a sense of pride and achievement. Makes me feel like a jolly good baker.

True to form, my initial reaction was to blame myself. Rubbish baker, why are you so stupid, what’s so hard about making a spongecake, etc.
However, what is slowly, hopefully, becoming my instinct crept in – to practise self compassion.

Compassionate Mindfulness has been an important practice for me for the last couple of years. As a result of my recurrent depression diagnosis two years ago, my dad started reading books upon books about depression. One ‘Overcoming Depression‘ by Prof. Paul Gilbert particularly stood out. A professor of Psychology, having suffered with depression himself, Gilbert writes about the evolution and causes of depression, ways of coping, developing our relationship with ourselves, and all with the method of mindful compassion.

I liked this book, as it was written by a medical professional, but had a spiritual edge. As helpful as religion and spirituality can be for some people, I haven’t been able to take much comfort in faith or belief in a deity or the concept of a created world, destiny, etc. I do however, love science. Evolutionary biology, psychology, medicine, physics… For some people, not every phenomenon in the universe is sufficiently explained by it, but I find that cold hard science, as some people refer to it, explains enough. I lapped up Paul Gilbert’s explanation of depression in terms of evolution, and as difficult as it is to deal with, I find the randomness of mutation and evolution fascinating and perhaps even more marvellous than the idea that things were created. For the complexity that is the universe to be the result of a number of random occurences, I find incredible. But anyway, I digress…

The now fashionable ‘compassionate mindfulness’ is essentially a repackaging of ancient Buddhist wisdom, which is sometimes referred to as a science. Long before particle physics, Buddhist philosophers theorised that everything is the universe is one and of the same, just different forms of the same thing. We now know that everything is ‘just’ varying arrangements of matter and antimatter. I’m digressing again. Back to compassionate mindfulness. The jist is that your brain is a fallible human brain, and as much as you would like to be able to have complete control over your mind, and be able to meditate and reach a higher consciousness for 20 hours a day, it may not always be possible. And that’s ok. Have compassion. If something you try doesn’t work, forgive yourself and forgive the world. Have compassion for others and accept their mistakes. Recognise thoughts for what they are – thoughts, electric impulses across synapses, fleeting, changing, thoughts. Not facts. They do not necessarily represent the world, nor do they necessarily represent you, or the holder or ‘observer’ of the thoughts. They can be influenced by your actions or your emotions, which in turn can be influenced by thoughts and by each other. This is also true for other people, so have compassion for them, as you do not know what thoughts, emotions or actions are affecting them. Practise being mindful. Your aim is not complete mind emptiness on day 1. The goal is awareness. Being present. Being mindful is to fill your mind with whatever you are doing/thinking. If you are eating, eat. If you are watching TV, watch TV. If you are sad, be sad. Don’t try to avoid certain emotions because they will always show themselves somehow. If you do though, forgive yourself. It’s a habit. You can’t change overnight. Just realise that you tried to avoid it, and get back to feeling it.

So that’s just a bit about compassionate mindfulness. As with many achievements of the ‘West’, it is a re-branded version of ancient Eastern thought. However, if it gets more people to try it, that’s great. This isn’t a competition for who realised how to be happy first. The main thing is that we have this tool and this knowledge and we can use it to make ourselves and the world better. With compassion and awareness.

Recognising that humans make mistakes is important. We will fall. But that’s how we learn to pick ourselves up (thanks, Batman films). Even if we learn nothing, if we just trip over our own feet and tumble, arms flailing, to the ground… Well, we’re only human.

Travelling With Heart

Season’s Greetings from the OC!

I am currently sitting by a window in the city of Laguna Niguel, watching the sky change as the sun goes down behind palm silhouettes.

I’ve been in the US for 2 weeks now. It took me a while to get here from home – 3 weeks to be exact. Why? I was visiting friends in Europe along the way! If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I hadn’t planned any of the journey aside from the initial journey to Amsterdam and my flight to the US from Stockholm. I used to be quite the plannner, but since my travels in India, during which none of my plans worked out, I’ve realised that being flexible on the road is brilliant. It means that I can decide to travel based on how I feel, following my heart rather than an itinerary.

In the last 5 weeks, I have been to a house warming party in Groningen, watched the recording of a Dutch rap, eaten homemade vegan ice cream in a Bochum cafe, looked after my best friend’s 6 week old baby, attended a seminar at the University of Copenhagen, had a vegan meal specially made for me at a little known establishment in Christiania, attended the exclusive Vinyl release party of a Gothenburg-based Folk-Progg-Fusion band, helped decorate almost 30 gingerbread houses in a professional bakery, and have been busily preparing for an Indian/Latina Jewish wedding in the sun soaked hills of Orange County, California.

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A Gingerbread Neighbourhood!

Based on what I’ve heard and read, these things aren’t on the standard traveller’s itinerary. En route to the US, I made my way through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, staying with friends every night (except for a couple on buses and another in Arlanda airport!). In my opinion, staying with people is the best way to travel. Doing it this way has enabled me to see places I would never have thought to visit, and have experiences I could never have predicted’.

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‘The View From A Bus’ Øresund Bridge

Staying with friends, and for a while in each place has also been extremely cheap! With the exception of my flight here and two train rides, I travelled between cities by bus. In my opinion, buses are a great way to around Europe, and from my brief experience on a Greyhound, in the US too. I have met some fascinating, hilarious, and wonderfully unique people on bus journeys, while enjoying the scenery of some beautiful countries (and the occasional ferry ride!). Admittedly, buses aren’t for everyone. Being short, I don’t need much legroom, while the taller traveller might struggle with comfort if confined to a window seat. I also don’t get travel sick, although there are ways to handle things for those who are. If time is pressing, buses may also not be the best option.

I, however, love them. They are one of the cheapest ways to get around, and are nowadays often equipped with complimentary WiFi, electricity, and toilets. The bus companies I have travelled with have had generous luggage allowances, conveniently located stops, and have been mostly punctual. Travelling slowly also allows for down-time, which I for one, definitely need. Whether it’s sitting on a bus, gazing out the window, or spending a day reading and watching films, while travelling, as in life, having time to myself is very important to me, to keep my mind and body in check.

Everyone has their own ways of travelling, and I love to hear them.

How do you do it?

The Adventure Begins…

This year is the year of adventures! Having been back from India for 4 months (ish), I am off on the next jaunt. This time, it’s The United States of America, via Europe…

The Route: London -> Groningen (via Amsterdam) -> Bochum (via Bremen) -> Copenhagen -> Gothenburg -> Stockholm -> Las Vegas -> Laguna Niguel -> ???

Weird route? Perhaps. However, don’t worry. All will become clear…

It started with my friend’s wedding in California at the end of December. How can I not be at the wedding of a best friend? So, California, here I come!

But another best friend is having a baby in November! In Germany! So, I have to go there as well.

Now, I thought, there’s no point in me going to Germany, then coming all the way home and going to the States. Too much back and forth. We can’t have that!

I’ll look up flights to the US from Germany, I thought! Ooh, very expensive! What to do? I wonder if it’s cheaper from somewhere else in Europe…

Good old skyscanner lets you search for flights from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in the US. The cheapest flight around the time I wanted to be in the US was from Stockholm to Vegas. Interesting…

Now, I realise that traipsing around Europe in order to get a cheap flight doesn’t really make much sense. Surely it would be cheaper to just go directly from somewhere else and not pay for travelling around. It probably would be! However, it’s not everyday you’re ‘on the continent’, and relatively close to your European friends, is it? So, while I’m in the area, I thought, I can see some other people! Friends, adventure and free accommodation! What more could I want?

I’m not a massive fan of flying, so the Euro-traipsing would have to be overland travelling. So, in order to get to Germany, I would have to go through France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Well, what a great excuse to visit friends in the Netherlands! Friends that I had met on my solo travels in India earlier this year! The type of friends you make and vow to see each other again, not knowing when, but hoping the opportunity will arise… And here it was! £20 bus ticket to Amsterdam purchased!

Before leaving, I had booked my bus to Amsterdam, my flight to Vegas, and my bus to Southern California. The rest? To be worked out somewhere along the way…

Simplify… Coconut Oil

Coconut oil… What can’t you use it for?? I love it, and what I love even more is how little of it I need to use. It’s the best thing to have around the house, and even better to take with when travelling.

It can be used as…

  • Hair conditioner (leave-in)
  • Moisturiser (hair, scalp, skin)
  • Lip Balm
  • Face Cleanser
  • Toothpaste (just add equal parts bicarb)
  • Deodorant
  • Lubricant (pretty much speaks for itself I think!)
  • Wax Residue Remover (after waxing)
  • Massage Oil (body, scalp)
  • Body/Face Scrub (mix with grainy sugar, rub all over, and be sure not to eat yourself)
  • Shaving Cream (rub onto skin and shave away)

Taking a jar of coconut oil with me when travelling saves so much space and effort. I can use the one jar for so many things, and if I am taking deodorant or toothpaste and run out, I don’t have to worry! If you travel with oil, make sure you use a container that seals well! It’s not fun getting oil on everything you own.

Coconut oil can also be used in food and cooking. You can use it to fry stuff, in baking, or even just spread it on toast! The possibilities are endless…

Remember, try and get your coconut oil from a responsible company, and the bigger the container, the better! It lasts aaaaaaaages. A jar of coconut oil can be expensive as a single purchase, but it can replace so many things that you won’t need to buy once you have the oil. And if you’re like me, you can always shop around to find the best price!

What uses do you have for coconut oil?

Simplify… Deodorant

I thought I’d just write out a quick note on homemade deodorant.

To be clear, THIS IS NOT AN ANTI-PERSPIRANT.

People often use the words deodorant and anti-perspirant interchangeably, so I want to clarify that anti-perspirant is a product that stops you sweating and deodorant is something that prevents or hides smell.

Most homemade deodorants are deodorants only, and will not have an anti-perspirant effect. However, there are some ways to get around this.

My recommendation for a homemade deodorant, is a combination of coconut oil (shocker I know!), bicarb and cornflour/arrowroot starch. Some people recommend an essential oil as well, which will smell great and help to prevent your sweat from smelling. However, this would have to be mixed in with your coconut oil, or would have to be part of a whole premixed thing.  As a traveller though, and as someone who wants to have as few bottles and jars of things as possible, I recommend carrying ingredients separately, so you can use them for lots of separate things, and therefore, am happy to use just coconut oil. You could definitely have a mixture of coconut oil and an essential oil and still use that for loads of stuff though. Some good, universally good-smelling oils are peppermint, lavender, lemon… Although the choice is yours!

Anyway… Back to the ingredients…

The coconut oil will make sure the other ingredients adhere to your skin, as well as moisturising the area, and will prevent some of the smell.

Bicarb and cornstarch are both very absorbent. They will absorb some of the moisture as a result of sweating, but not all of it! One way to combat this is to reapply the powders every so often.

Make sure to apply this BEFORE getting dressed, otherwise you might get a bunch of bicarb all down your outfit! Although, once you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll find the best way to apply it without getting too much all over you!

So, to use as deodorant…

  1. Spoon out about 1/4 teaspoon of coconut oil per underarm, and massage into the skin.
  2. Shake out the same amount of bicarb onto the palm of your hand and rub it in on each side, then do the same with the cornstarch/arrowroot. You can reapply the bicarb and cornflour/arrowroot during the day if you feel your underarms getting moist. Yea… moist. I don’t know why so many people hate that word. It’s so fun! Moist.

Now, if you have a super-sweaty day, and it will be an issue for you to be sweaty, you could opt for using an anti-perspirant instead, as you may be reapplying the powders a lot. However, if you’re not too bothered, or wearing a sleeveless top, then go for it!