Michelle Darmody: Brownies, meringue pies and chocolate cake for one

— we can't have large gatherings but we can still have cake
Michelle Darmody: Brownies, meringue pies and chocolate cake for one

Dense and rich chocolate almond brownies

I think we all need a bit of comfort right now — a treat that will help us unwind. Unless you are living in a large family, a full cake may not be in order. Most of us have very few visitors and almost no social engagements at the moment, so individual comfort bakes might be the answer. As with cooking I have been gravitating towards firm favourites rather than new and innovative ideas for the past few weeks, something that I know will hit the spot.

Nothing is more comforting than a dense, sticky brownie and this recipe with almonds included is a real chocolate hit, that will get the endorphins going. You can leave out the nuts if you wish or use some dried fruit, such as candied orange peel or cranberries instead.

When making the meringue for the mini tarts, it is good practice to clean out the bowl with a little of the white malt vinegar before you start. Any oily residue, such as butter or even egg yolk, will stop you getting the most out of the egg whites, they will never puff up quite enough.

I happen to have some mince left over from Christmas and I add it to crumbles, baked apples, or any stewed fruit. If you do not have any mince, you can use dried fruit instead. Look out for dried fruit that is on the plumper side so that it becomes nice and soft during baking.

Individual citrus meringue pies

for the pastry:

  • 225g flour
  • 140g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 55g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 egg

    for the filling and meringue:

    • 50g butter
    • 160g golden caster sugar
    • the juice of 2 lemons, the zest of 1
    • the zest of 2 oranges
    • 4 eggs, 2 of them separated
    • 1/4 tsp white malt vinegar

      • Rub the butter into the flour, until it looks like rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix.
      • Stir the sugar and zest for the pastry into the egg, mix it lightly and add to the flour with a fork. Bring the pastry together with your hands then rest it for an hour in the fridge or overnight if you wish.
      • Preheat your oven to 180°C and grease and flour four 4-inch mini tart cases, preferably ones with a loose base.
      • Roll the pastry to about 3mm in thickness and cut out four circles larger than the tins. Gently ease the pastry into the tins, prick the base a few times with a fork and cover with parchment and either baking beans or clean coins. Bake blind for 20 minutes then set aside to cool after removing the beans. You can tidy up the edges of the pastry while it is still warm if you wish.
      • Place the butter, 110g of the sugar for the filling, zest and juice into a heavy based saucepan and heat it very gently until the sugar has dissolved.
      • In a bowl beat the eggs and the two extra yolks until pale and creamy. Add a large spoon of the butter mixture into it and then add the contents of the bowl back into the heavy based saucepan. Stir over the heat for about ten minutes until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside.
      • Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with 25g of the sugar, until stiff peaks form. Add the vinegar and then gradually whisk in the remaining 25g of sugar
      • Scoop the citrus mixture into the cooled pastry cases and flatten the top of each one, then pipe on the meringue. Place the tarts on a baking tray and bake for about 15 minutes until the meringue is starting to turn golden. Serve warm or cold.

      Pear and dried fruit mini crumbles

      for the topping

      • 60g spelt flour
      • 25g coarse wholemeal flour
      • 65g cold butter, cubed, and a little extra for rubbing
      • 15g light muscovado sugar, and a little extra for sprinkling
      • 30g porridge oats
      • 20g chopped hazelnuts

      for the filling

      • 3 medium-sized pears, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes
      • 1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes
      • the juice of half a medium-sized orange
      • 1 tbs of Grand Marnier or another orange liqueur, optional
      • 2 tbs of leftover Christmas mince or 1 tbs of golden sultanas and 1 tbs of plump raisins

      • Preheat your oven to 180°C degrees and rub a thin layer of butter onto 4 ramekin dishes.
      • Mix both flours together in a large bowl and rub in the butter until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, stir in the rest of the ingredients and set aside.
      • Mix the chopped pear and apple with the juice: as well as adding taste, the juice prevents the fruit from browning. If you are using the orange liqueur you can add this now, or else add another squeeze of juice.
      • Stir in the mince or dried fruit. Add this mixture to your four ramekins and press it down. Top it with the crumble mix and pat this down also. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar and bake for about 35 minutes, until the fruit is completed heated through and the crumble is golden. You can stick a knife in the centre to test the temperature of the fruit or it may bubble up at the edges over the topping

      Dense and rich chocolate almond brownies

      • 185g dark chocolate, broken into small, even pieces
      • 185g soft butter
      • 3 eggs
      • 270g golden caster sugar
      • 40g cocoa powder, sieved, and a little extra for sprinkling
      • 85g plain flour, sieved
      • 60g slivered almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

      • Preheat your oven to 170°C and line an 8-inch square tin with parchment.
      • Gently melt the chocolate and butter over a very low heat. Set aside to cool.
      • Whisk the eggs and caster sugar until the whisk leaves a trace in the mixture. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture until combined. Add in the sieved flour and cocoa as well as the toasted almonds. Gently combine.
      • Scoop the mixture into your prepared tin, flatten it out and bake for about 25 minutes or until the centre no longer wobbles.
      • Allow to cool in the tin then cut to the desired size. Sieve some cocoa on top before serving.

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