It’s always fun to see what search terms lead readers to strand on this little island in the vast sea of the internet. The most interesting recent search term was “how to grow a cook”. Though I might not really want to know what that person was after, it got me thinking about how you can assure that your kids will grow up to be cooks. Not the chefy kind, but the kind who’s comfortable around kitchen knives and pots and pans.
When I compare my and my husband’s upbringing as far as cooking is concerned – well, they couldn’t be more different.
My mother-in-law was apparently so worried about the many dangers lurking in the kitchen that she had a baby gate installed by the door and when she was cooking the kids were not allowed in the kitchen. When I met my future husband in the student dormitory in Oslo, Norway, he was equipped with hand written instructions provided by his mother: “boiling potatoes – 20 minutes, cooking rice…” and the only thing he was reliably good at making, was coffee.
By contrast, when I look at my childhood photographs, it seems I spent half the time sitting on the kitchen counter and playing with the scales, watching my mother cook. Cooking was something that was a normal part of the household life, meals were made from scratch daily, even though my parents both worked full time when I was older. Growing up, I naturally got more and more involved in the preparation of food. The advice I got about boiling potatoes was “they’re done, when they’re done”.
These exemplary stories might lead you to conclude that upbringing is indeed important, were it not that we both have sisters who were subjected to the same treatment. My sister-in-law who was not allowed in the kitchen, is now an enthusiastic cook and an avid baker with a collection of cookbooks. My sister, who used to sit right next to me on that kitchen counter, left home in blissful ignorance of the most basic cooking techniques. She only started cooking (and growing vegetables) after she had kids and still calls our parents regularly to ask: “why is that batter not rising?!” (Answer: because you killed the yeast by adding boiling milk).
But still, I think it’s important to include kids in what’s going on in the kitchen and when they want to help, with anything, let them help. Almost all young children are fascinated by the alchemy happening in the kitchen and want to be included. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and so did my kids from an early age. My daughter is now 13 and knows her basics. But honestly, the only thing she really wants to do in the kitchen, is bake brownies. She even declared a quest for the perfect brownie recipe.
She baked these to sell during our annual open garden day in July. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the taste of plain brownies, their looks are kinda homey. A rosette of ganache piped on top can change that completely. It can make them pretty, elegant even, party-worthy. They’re still your good old brownies, just a little smarter.
Chocolate brownies with ganache topping
Adapted from Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations
Makes 24 normal sized brownies or 48 one bite sized brownies
250 g (1 cup + 2 tbsp) butter, cut into pieces + more for buttering the baking dish
200 g (7 ounces) bittersweet chocolate (70 % cocoa), finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ packed cups) light brown sugar
125 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
100 g (4 ounces) chocolate, finely chopped
80 ml (1/3 cup) cream
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp golden syrup
1 tsp unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 F). Butter a (9 x 13 inches) baking dish. Line with baking parchment.
In a medium bowl, set over a pan with gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a another bowl, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add the melted chocolate mixture and fold in. Add flour and salt and fold in as well. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until an inserted tester comes out clean, but be careful not to overbake – about 20 to 25 minutes. Let the pan cool on a wire rack. Using the overhanging parchment, lift the brownies from the pan and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the ganache topping.
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a heavy saucepan, bring the cream, milk, syrup and butter to boil. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes, then stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool completely, stirring now and then. I let the ganache cool in the fridge to speed things up, but it has to be stirred regularly and watched closely to prevent it from becoming too solid.
Cut the brownies into 24 squares if you want normal sized brownies, or into 48 squares if you want them one bite sized.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip with the ganache and pipe a rosette on each brownie. If you wish, you can dust the brownies with confectionars’ sugar before serving.