Being Yorkshire born and Durham bred, baking and desserts were part of every day eating, especially with an array of seasonal ingredients to look forward too. I can still remember the excitement and anticipation I felt as Bramleys and blackberries season grew ever closer, ready to be muddled together with a buttery crumbly topping and a dredging of demerara sugar for crunch and flavour.
Growing up in the early eighties, my diet consisted of seasonal produce, natural home baked, roasted, cooked and prepared food with occasional new innovations of convenience foods. I preferred the home cooked from scratch option as so much love and attention went in to every creation. I learned to bake from the age of 6 or 7 as both my Mum and Grandma allowed me to get involved, get my hands dirty and have a mix or two, and then scrape the cake bowl clean of the buttery uncooked floury cake batter. It’s still magical to see how these basic raw ingredients, with a relatively short blast of heat in a metal box, leave the oven with such glorious textures, flavours and aromas.
From a young age, I knew food and cooking would be my career path and training to become a chef in Durham was indeed a highlight of my life so far, during which time I discovered French cooking with glorious amounts of butter, cream and most importantly for me, sugar. Sugar is part of my life and always will be, it fuels my whole existence and I chose to specialize in Patisserie when joining Marco Pierre White’s Criterion Brasserie in 1996. I learned to truly cook in his kitchens and became head patissier in his Quo Vadis restaurant in Soho and remember feeling complete and whole as I spent more time in this pastry kitchen than out of it. Sugar once again was the stronghold of my life and without it I would not be sat writing this today.
At my two successful chocolateries in London we hand make everything from scratch using French chocolate of the highest quality, seasonal ingredients and of course hundreds of kilos of sugar.
For ten years my choice of sugar has been Billington’s organic and unrefined golden caster, light and dark muscovado, demerara and molasses. I’m a purist and even my sugar has to be of the highest quality with complex flavours and textures. I learnt from a wonderful lady who was working with Billington’s that not all sugars were the same and some disguised with overcoats of caramel colour concealing white sugar beneath and I haven’t used anything else since.
Only Billington’s sugar gives my chocolates, cakes and brownies their balanced sweetness without the tooth aching sugary sensation that over refined white sugars can give. Balancing sweetness with chocolate is vital for a rounded and well-finished truffle, too sweet and the complexities of the finest cocoa beans will be compromised and ripped apart.
Billington’s golden caster and dark muscovado gave me the inspiration to develop the ultimate chocolate fudge brownie for my shops and we sell hundreds each week, as well as my team eating a few too! Being seasonal and with Easter approaching I wanted to create something traditional but with a modern take, so the classic Simnel cake was my platform. We had this traditional cake at home every Easter, with my Grandma ruling the kitchen and the only one allowed to bake this very unique cake with a squidgy layer of marzipan baked though the centre of the cake.
Aromatic cinnamon and nutmeg with brandy soaked vine fruits, Billington’s golden caster sugar and an incomprehensible amount of 70% Valrhona were muddled together topped with real marzipan pieces and a showering of dark muscovado, then baked to a fudgy dense texture and rested for 24 hours before cutting and wrapping. A well-balanced taste with rich chocolate and toasted nutty marzipan, what makes this brownie so very special is the melt in the mouth dark muscovado crust giving a treacle toffee finish.
If you wince at the thought of the heavy traditional Simnel cake then this recipe is a gusty spring breath of fresh air. Easter week would not be the same if I didn’t share this new brownie recipe with you. It will become, I am sure, as big a part of your Annual Easter celebrations as it is mine and it’s all down to Billington’s amazingly pure and flavoursome sugar.
For more information visit www.paulayoung.co.uk