Something old, something new…

March is here with exasperatingly schizophrenic weather. It’s hot and dry in the afternoons and gusty in the evening. It’s unlike Mumbai, this weather. Like London (which has just one climate – drizzly), we too have just one climate, humid. Till a few years ago, the mercury dropping below 20 degrees was a reason for dinnertable discussion. Now, we quietly pull out our sweaters in the winter.

Freaky weather or not, I am glad March is here. I have a long overdue holiday planned this month, but the reason I love March is because it kickstarts with a very special birthday. My best friend celebrates her birthday on March 1. And given my drive to make a dessert every week, I knew what her gift was going to be.

Selecting the cake was another matter altogether. Cream and chocolate cakes, as gorgeous as they are, are predictable. Moreover, I didn’t want to risk any icing mishaps, given that she commutes by train. So, the easiest cakes were brownies and I would have stuck to the conventional, chocolate brownie if I hadn’t chanced upon this amazing recipe for Rum and Mint brownies from Dan Lepard, who writes for the Guardian (you MUST check out his blog and his website. If you live in the UK, you could attend some of the interesting workshops he conducts. Do write back if you have ever attended or are planning to attend one).

The cake turned out perfectly, though very different from what the picture on the website suggests. And what stole the show was the peppermint. I have never had a peppermint cake, let alone baking it, and the recipe was as delicious to eat as it was easy to make.  The ingredients are easy to find and aside from the fact that you might have an extra bowl to clean because of the cream cheese mix, it is totally worth the effort. You’ll be left with a minty aftertaste, an interesting surprise, given that it’s a brownie. The tanginess and smoothness of the cheese and the dark flavours of cocoa and rum will leave you reaching for more.

More importantly, for me, it did the job I wanted it to you. She was surprised  and she loved it. So, this week’s Dessert-A-Week project is a success.

Here is the recipe that Dan Lepard suggests:

For the cream cheese mix:
175g cream cheese (room temperature)
75g caster sugar
1 egg yolk (egg at room temperature)
25g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp peppermint extract (or essence)
1 tsp vanilla extract (or essence)

For the brownie:
225g dark chocolate (I substituted it with cocoa powder and drinking chocolate, as I ran out of cocoa powder. It turned out fine and wasn’t very sweet)
100g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk (eggs at room temperature)
50ml dark rum (Yay!!)
175g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Making the cake

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/325°F. You need a square baking tin for this and you can either line it, or you could butter the tin and dust it with cocoa powder. I chose the latter. The cream cheese mix is a one bowl affair where you just add all the ingredients and beat it till it is smooth and… creamy. (duh!)

2. For the brownie, you need to start by melting the butter in a saucepan and then adding the cocoa/chocolate. If you’re using chocolate, you may want to try the double boiler method, although this recipe doesn’t quite call for it. As long as you have a smooth, thick mix to work with, you will be okay.

3. There are two ways of getting started here. While the chocolate and butter are melting, you could whisk the eggs, sugar and rum. Or you could spoon the chocolate mixture into a bowl and then add the sugar. Make sure you don’t put in all the sugar at once. Although you are using caster sugar, which mixes far easier than regular granulated sugar, ensure that the sugar is well incorporated into the mix before adding more. You’ll have a thick mixture at this stage.

4. If you’re following the latter step, the next thing you need to do is add the eggs and the rum, and whisk the batter till it is smooth.

5. Once that’s done, fold in the flour and baking powder. Again, do this gradually, preferably scooping tablespoons into the mixture.

6. Now comes the interesting part. Empty the brownie batter into the cake tin. Then, heap on the cream cheese mix and make swirls. Basically, here’s an invitation for you to go wild with the cake design! Trust me, my abstract fork-work didn’t affect the taste one bit.

7. Once that’s done, pop into the oven and bake it for 20-25 minutes. You may need an additional 5 minutes depending on your oven. Let it cool and slice away!

A wonderful, wonderful bonus of this recipe is that you will be left with some cream cheese that can be used up to make interesting dips.

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