Food shopping takes me ages. There are just so many things to consider: how much is it? Where is it from? Is it in season? What’s in it? Does it have any additives? Which brand is better? I try to buy as locally and as seasonably as possible — it’s better for the environment, the producers and, generally, it’s cheaper — but of course there are some things that just can’t be made or grown close to home.
Organic products have become increasingly popular in recent years, and I can see why. But I’ve always found it somewhat confusing that fairtrade products haven’t received the same attention. Of course, if you can afford it, then buying organic is great – but is that really more important than making sure that the people who grew or made your food were treated well and fairly paid? Fairtrade products cost a little more, but is it ever justifiable to support the exploitation of others? If I’m going to spend more on food, it’ll be for fairtrade, not for organic. Eventually, when I’m earning, I hope to be able to buy both; but if a compromise must be made, I know what’s more important.
I thought of all this whilst shopping for the ingredients for these brownies. I went to dinner at a friend’s a few days ago and was tasked with providing dessert — brownies are always a safe choice. The cocoa trade is of course one of the most notorious for exploitation; the average income of a cocoa farmer is less than $2 a day, and much of the chocolate in our shops is actually the product of child labour or slavery.
The lack of focus on such an important topic, relative to the hype surrounding organic food, is just one of many issues that I have with the modern health world. I really support the drive towards better eating and living, but I worry that it has sometimes gone too far in encouraging a very self-centred and obsessive approach to health. I’ll always advocate eating well and being active, but not if that comes at the expense of your sanity or the wellbeing of others. I’ve tried to find a compromise here, using slightly unorthodox ingredients that are a little more pricey but, I believe, worth it for a good, rich, fudgey, gooey brownie that will be popular with everyone but that won’t give you the energy crash or bloating of a regular brownie. Brownies will never be a health food, but it’s all relative. A little bit of sugar and chocolate isn’t going to kill you; just please make sure it isn’t going to kill anyone else.
- 250ml pure maple syrup (1 cup)
- 1 x 170g jar almond butter (0.5 cups)*
- 100g coconut oil (0.5 cups)*
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 60g (3/4 cup) fairtrade cocoa powder
- 150g (1.5 cups) ground almonds
- 100g (1 cup) finely chopped fairtrade dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
*if you wish, I think you could probably replace the almond butter and coconut oil with 225g (1 cup) butter instead. However, I haven’t tried this personally so cannot vouch for the outcome. Directions:
- Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (fan assisted). Line a 24cm/9inch square cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease it with butter or coconut oil.
- In a saucepan, very gently heat the coconut oil, almond butter and maple syrup and stir together, until it is all melted and runny and combined. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the ground almonds and cocoa powder and mix to combine. Pour in the cooled syrup mixture, vanilla extract and beaten eggs, and mix well (but not too vigorously as you don’t want to get too much air in it.)
- Lastly, stir in the chocolate chips (you could also add some chopped nuts or coconut or anything else you fancy!)
- Pour the mixture into the tin, even it out with the back of a spoon if necessary, and bake for about 30 minutes. You want it to be just cooked, and a skewer should come out clean, but no more than that.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once the tin is cool enough, put it in the fridge and leave for a few hours to firm up and get fudgey, for want of a better term. Finally, cut into 16 squares, transfer to an airtight container, and store in the fridge until needed.