Hazelnut, coffee and sea salt brownies

Brownies are something that I find myself coming back to bake time and time again. I can’t recall ever meeting someone who has been able to resist sampling a fresh batch of brownies – as Nigella once said, however much people have eaten, there is always room for a brownie. They’re also very difficult to get wrong, and thus are, I find, very soothing to make.

I’m definitely of the ‘fudgy’ brownie party as opposed to the ‘cakey’ one, but concede it is possible to go too far on this front – I want my brownie to be dense and moist, not verging on raw batter.

These particular brownies were born out of a need to use up a 1kg tub of hazelnut praline paste that I bought on a whim at the dawn of England’s third lockdown. Unlike most lockdown impulse-buys, I haven’t regretted this one – I initially used it in a crème mousseline for Paris-Brests, but have since put it in buttercream, ice cream and several batches of brownies. Comprised solely of caramelised sugar and toasted hazelnuts, the praline paste is not dissimilar in texture to Nutella (but without the cocoa). You could make your own by blitzing homemade hazelnut praline in a food processor, or omit it entirely and just increase the quantity of chopped, roasted hazelnuts that sit in the centre of the brownies.

These are particularly decadent brownies with quite a grown-up feel to them – there’s bitterness from both the dark chocolate and the coffee, tempered by the earthy sweetness of hazelnut and the hit of sea salt. They’re particularly good with a strong cup of coffee (for a double-whammy of caffeine), but would be equally delicious served warm as a pudding, perhaps with a mascarpone cream. The quantities here make a slightly smaller batch than as standard, but I find this works well to cut them into 16 smaller squares, as they are rather rich.

  • 150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I use 50-60% cocoa solids)
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 90g plain flour (I use Doves Farm gluten free plain flour)
  • 12g cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 110g soft light brown sugar
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g hazelnut praline paste (see intro)
  • 50g chopped, roasted hazelnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C Fan/Gas 5. Line a 20×20 square metal baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate and the butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with about 2cm simmering water, stirring the chocolate as it melts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl and fork together to combine. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, both sugars and vanilla extract with an electric hand whisk until thick and pale – around 3 minutes. Pour in the melted chocolate, scraping every last bit from the bowl with a spatula, and whisk to combine. Mix in the dissolved coffee before folding in the dry ingredients until just combined.
  5. Pour half the brownie mix into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Then, pour the hazelnut praline paste in an even layer over the brownie mixture – if the paste is quite stiff, heat it in the microwave, stirring at 10 second intervals, until it is looser and easier to pour. Scatter the chopped hazelnuts evenly over the praline paste, and then slowly pour over the remaining batter in an even layer over the hazelnuts. If there is any exposed praline paste or chopped hazelnuts, gently tease the brownie batter over it so that it is evenly covered.
  6. Bake the brownies in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the surface is set with a shiny crust, and is beginning to crack. The surface should be relatively firm to touch, with the promise of a slight wobble beneath. It’s better to take them out too soon rather than too late, as they will continue to cook once they are out of the oven.
  7. Allow to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting the brownies into 16 squares with a sharp knife. The brownies will keep well in an airtight container for up to five days.

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