Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Playground Politics

It's hard to believe that half term is just around the corner and it's also hard to believe just how far the twins have come along since that fateful first day at pre-school. I'll never forget it. I had taken the afternoon off so we could pick them up together. Bristling with excitement, the plan was to go out for a meal and spend some quality time soaking up their experience, expecting fast, gabbled chatter and wild-eyed enthusiasm. Isla poked her head around the door first. She waved and then blinked and then frowned and then quickly disappeared. The curly mop of Fin then came bouncing into view. He knew straight away that our arrival meant it was hometime and immediately he burst into tears. A wailing Isla was soon ushered back out of the classroom and with wavering smiles and open arms, we knelt to receive them. But they wouldn't come. Things got slightly hysterical after that. In full view of the other parents, the pair put on quite a display. Fin leapt for his coathook and would not let go. After 5 minutes, I was practically pulling on his ankles, lifting him in the air, trying to prise him away from the wall as he screamed all the while. Meanwhile, my wife was wrestling with our daughter on the floor, desperately trying to put Isla's coat on whilst she thrashed about the place. Raised eyebrows and furtive glances transformed us into demon parents. 'Oh those poor, poor kids'. But they weren't really poor kids, they just enjoyed themselves a little too much that day.

Like I said, we've come a long way since then. The twins get the fact they can go to school everyday, have fun and glady share events on the walk home. But I am starting to worry that other anti-social elements are starting to fester, which permeate from the very culture of school life itself. It's all to do with birthdays and sweet treats. Now I don't mind this policy of parents offering out mini Haribo bags or tiny Mars bars at the sound of the bell. That's one way of making little Johnny popular on his birthday. We all sing, which makes his day, makes him feel loved and I have nothing against that. The twins are certainly happy as they wander down the school path with cocoa grins. But, well how to put this. Some of the mothers have started baking. And I can't help feeling that now an element of competition is starting to creep in. Which can't be healthy for the kids.

One by one, I've seen them walk in, with puffed up chests and warm glowing cheeks of pride, carrying tupperware boxes filled with sponge slices, bursting with cream and jam, dusted icing sugar, wrapped in pink napkins. Fruit cake and bread pudding has also made an appearance, to be dispensed oversized into small clutched hands but the biscuit was well and truly taken the other day. Someone turned up with cupcakes. Now I am not a cupcake fascist but after seeing the vivid purple and green swirls of buttercream topped with dinky little flowers made from royal icing and that simpering, simpering smile, I thought 'that is it, enough is enough'. So I made some chocolate brownies yesterday for the twins to take in today.

Their birthday is in April but I've told them to keep quiet, I hope they do.

This recipe is taken from St Nige's Kitchen Diaries and I used a large portion of the chocolate I received at the weekend, promoting Chocolate Week. The one week of the year that children, Mums, Dads and dentists relish with joy.

Very Good Chocolate Brownie - 12 portions

ingredients

300gms golden caster sugar

250gms butter

250gms chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)

3 large eggs plus 1 extra egg yolk

60gms flour

60gms finest quality cocoa powder

½ tsp baking powder

method

You will need a baking tin, about 23cm x 23cm, preferably non-stick, or a small roasting tin.

Set the oven at 180°C/Gas 4. Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking parchment. Put the sugar and butter into the bowl of a food mixer and beat for several minutes till white and fluffy. You can do it by hand if you wish, but you need to keep going until the mixture is really soft and creamy.

Meanwhile, break the chocolate into pieces, set 50g of it aside and melt the rest in a bowl suspended over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. As soon as the chocolate has melted remove it from the heat. Chop the remaining 50g into gravel-sized pieces.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder and mix in a pinch of salt. With the food mixer running slowly, introduce the beaten egg a little at a time, speeding up in between additions. Remove the bowl from the mixer to the work surface, then mix in the melted and the chopped chocolate with a large metal spoon. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa, gently and firmly, without knocking any of the air out. Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top and bake for 30 minutes. The top will have risen slightly and the cake will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges.Pierce the centre of the cake with a fork - it should come out sticky, but not with raw mixture attached to it. If it does, then return the brownie to the oven for three more minutes. It is worth remembering that it will solidify a little on cooling, so if it appears a bit wet, don't worry.

With the food mixer running slowly, introduce the beaten egg a little at a time, speeding up in between additions. Remove the bowl from the mixer to the work surface, then mix in the melted and the chopped chocolate with a large metal spoon. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa, gently and firmly, without knocking any of the air out. Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top and bake for 30 minutes. The top will have risen slightly and the cake will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges. Pierce the centre of the cake with a fork - it should come out sticky, but not with raw mixture attached to it. If it does, then return the brownie to the oven for three more minutes. It is worth remembering that it will solidify a little on cooling, so if it appears a bit wet, don't worry.

Sea Salt and Valrhona Manjari Orange Chocolate (which was going cheap at Waitrose)


Burford Browns by Clarence Court

I'm melting! I'm melting! Oh what a world!

Before the oven


Soft, moist and fudgy chocolate brownie (much better than any cupcake)

10 comments:

Pavel said...

Where is it going to end this playground escalation of confectionery? If you see the cake maker from big fat gypsy wedding you know it's gone to far. Great post!

G said...

They do look damn good brownies. Too good to waste on kids!! :)

Mind you, I used to run a racket selling out of date chocs to other kids when I was at school, so I probably can't complain if my kids (when i have them!) get given sweets and cakes!!

Food Urchin said...

Pavel - I can see it happening now, parents carting bigger and bigger cakes down the school path and a documentary will soon be born

G - did you? you smart little entrepreneur you, now this is the kind of behaviour I'd really like to encourage

G said...

Yeah - I was making more money than the tuck shop at one point. Headmaster came and had a word with me about running a private business on school premises! Threatened me with suspenstion if I didn't stop!

You'd have thought they would have wanted to reward that kind of entrepreneurial spirit. Or employed me to run the tuck shop!!

Freddy said...

G, better than me. I used to sell copied CD's! Made a mint though ;)

Those brownies look awesome, I wish when I was a kid there was this kind of competition going on.

Erin said...

What, the competition baking is only starting now?! As soon as my NCT group organised the tea afternoon rota it started... I was up to three different kinds of baked goods when they came to mine. I won, of course.

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

Children are the little people right? And they eat? New thing every day!

The Grubworm said...

Damn, you can always rely on St Nige in a crisis, particularly if that crisis involves chocolate...

But be careful Dan, I can see the escalation kicking in. and you only need to look at the Cuban Missile Crisis to see where that leads. Soon it'll be a sugary MAD situation.

Still, as long as you keep pulling out the big guns and aren't afraid of triggering a cakey apocalypse, then you should be okay. I just hope the other side blink first ;D

Food Urchin said...

G - what a rubbish Headteacher!

Freddy - no wait, hang on, that's piracy, tut tut *he says whilst squirreling away dodgy DVD's*

Erin - We didn't really get involved with NCT, which is probably a good thing when it comes to baking

Dom - they don't just eat everyday, they bleed you dry

The Grubworm - A UN peacekeeping mission has already been dispatched to the playground

The Ginger Gourmand said...

Oh the things I have to look forward to when Baby GG gets a bit older... He seems to have 'show my parents up' tendancies like your twins already and he's only 14 months. What hope is there for me?! (Should I mention that I spent weeks planning Baby GG's birthday cake and a good half a day baking it?)