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Sour Cream Brownies

Chocolate is so amazing I swear it makes the world go round. Well, I guess I might be biased being a chocolatier and all. I do have to point out, though, that chocolate is made from the fruit Theobroma cacao whose name literally means "food of the gods" in Greek. That's not just a coincidence, right?

 

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Where does chocolate come from?

Scientists believe that chocolate has been around for at least 2000 years. The word chocolate can even be traced back to Aztec times as "xocoatl". The word "xocoatl" was used for the bitter drink made from cocoa beans that the Aztecs liked to enjoy. It was how cocoa beans were used until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in central America


It is believed that Mayans and Aztecs used cocoa beans in important rituals due to their mystical properties. It is only when the Spanish arrived that the drink started to resemble what we are more used to today. The Aztec king, allegedly, shared the bitter drink with conquistadors to which they added cane sugar and honey, deeming the original drink too bitter.


Chocolate then made its way to Europe where it became a fashionable drink among the rich in the 18th century. When the Industrial Revolution came around, chocolate was more widely available because it could now be mass produced. Everyone now had access to this treat and the high demand in chocolate led to the need for cocoa plantations.


Before the need for mass production, Theobroma cacao trees were native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. The trees are very picky with the type of climate that they thrive in and can only grow within 20 degrees of the equator. They need a hot and humid climate so when demand for cocoa increased, cocoa plantations spread to West Africa and Southeast Asia. Today, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia and Côte d'Ivoire produce 79% of the world's cocoa production.

 

How do you make chocolate?

Making chocolate is a long and labour intense process. I always find it amazing that we can get something so amazing from a very bitter bean.


Harvesting

First things first, the pods need to be harvested by hand, harvesting them with a machine can damage the trees. They are harvested when they are orange and are opened up to reveal the seeds.

Cocoa pod and cocoa beans


Fermentation

The Seeds are then placed in large fermentation trays. Different plantations have different methods at this stage although many cover the beans with banana leaves and then they are left to ferment for 2-7 days. This fermentation is important to develop the chocolate flavour and aroma. This stage also removes the sticky white pulp that each seed is coated with.

 

Drying the Beans

After the beans have been fermented, they are dried. The beans are laid out flat on sunny platforms for 3-5 days to dry out. Each day they have to be turned multiple times so that they dry quickly.


The dried beans are then delivered to the chocolate factories where they are cleaned and roasted. The beans are roasted in larger rotating ovens to draw out their distinct flavour and to remove the hulls from the beans. The beans then head over to the winnowing machine to crack the beans and separate the hulls. After all this, you are left with the cocoa nibs. Almost there...

 

Conching

The nibs are ground down into a thick paste called chocolate liquor (which does not contain alcohol). It is the main ingredient in baking chocolate. This cocoa liquor can also be placed under high pressure to separate it into cocoa powder and cocoa butter.


However, to make eating chocolate the chocolate liquor (or cocoa solids) can also be mixed with additional cocoa butter, milk powder, sugar and soy lecithin in varying amounts to produce dark, milk or white chocolate. When you have all the ingredients, they then go through a process called conching which is a process of rolling, kneading, heating, and aeration. This is very important for the production of gourmet chocolate as if produces the chocolate's final flavour, aroma and texture. The longer the chocolate is conched, the smoother the chocolate.

 

Tempering Chocolate

When you have all that done, the chocolate needs to be tempered. Tempering is incredibly important to get the final shine and snap for your chocolate bar. If you have ever had your chocolate go grey and grainy, that is when is has been taken out of temper. It doesn't look appealing and it doesn't have the smooth texture of delicious chocolate. This is probably because your chocolate got took hot and then cooled down without the right 'crystals'.


Trying not to get into chemistry too much, tempering chocolate just ensures that there are the right type of 'crystals' in the chocolate by cooling and heating it in a particular way. Once it is done, the chocolate can go in a mould to set.

And there you go; your chocolate bar is made.

 

Health benefits of chocolate

You may be hoping that chocolate has some health benefits and well, it does. But we do have to break that down a little. Milk and white chocolate, unfortunately, have too many sugars and fats added for them to have much benefit in eating them (other than delicious satisfaction). They are only high in calories. However, dark chocolate contains enough cocoa solids to have a decent amount of beneficial antioxidants. Now, again, this statement needs to broken down. It only, really applies to 70% chocolate and above and it also doesn't mean that we can swap out fruit and vegetables with dark chocolate. Everything in moderation.

 

Could we be seeing the end of chocolate?

Cocoa trees are very particular plants. They only like to grow near the equator where it is warm and, more importantly, humid. Unfortunately, climate change threatens to ruin this particular environment that cocoa trees thrive in.


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) we could face a 2.1 degrees Celsius increase in temperature in the main cocoa producing countries by 2050. That may not sound like a lot but because there will be no increase in rainfall the increase in temperature will reduce the amount of humidity that the trees rely so heavily on. There will be less land that will be suitable for cocoa trees and production of chocolate could be significantly reduced. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 89.5% of chocolate producing locations (294 locations in total) would become unsuitable by 2050.


It all sounds a bit doom and gloom for us chocolate lovers but it isn't all bad news. Scientists and farmers are working on multiple strategies to keep cocoa production going. Some farmers have started planting taller trees next to the cocoa trees to helps trap moisture in the hopes of maintaining humidity. Another option is to move the plantations to cooler locations with greater rainfall.


Scientists have also announced that they are aiming to develop disease-resistant cocoa. Because of the reducing viable land for cocoa trees, the crops will need to be planted closer together which will increase the spread of disease. Fewer trees lost to disease means more chocolate produced.

 

Ethics of chocolate

Sadly, chocolate has a complicated history when it comes to ethics. According to Slave Free Chocolate, 2.3 million children currently work in chocolate production in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Children in this chain are vulnerable to slavery, trafficking and other violent labour practices. The International Labor Rights Forum states that these children are often exposed to chemicals, work long hours and are denied education. Many children are also sold into slavery to never see their families again. Some are kidnapped.


Large chocolate companies such as Hershey, Nestle, Cadbury etc have accepted responsibility for this problem and have promised to remedy this. However, 20 years have gone by and the deadline for action is repeatedly pushed back.


Cocoa farming also affects the environment. Much of the land used for cocoa is becoming less and less viable because the soil ends up providing very little nutrients over many years. To make new plantations, other trees and land are often burnt to make space, affecting wildlife and contributing to greenhouse gases.


If you wish to find ethical chocolate look for the Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Fair for Life certification


 

Sour Cream Brownies


Prep time

15-20 minutes

Cook time

30-35 minutes

Serves

12

 

I have used banana to replace egg in this recipe because I often find myself forgetting to buy eggs. Banana makes a great replacement in this recipe especially if you use yellow ones. This is because yellow ones won't take away from the chocolate flavour but still adds a gooey-ness.


I also added sour cream to the recipe when I some left over from fajita night and didn't want it to go to waste. It gave the brownies an extra crispy top and extra squidgy middle- Yum!

Sour cream brownies

200g Plain flour

250g Caster Sugar

15g Cocoa powder

pinch Salt

½ tsp Bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp Baking powder

1 small Yellow banana (mashed)

100g Sour Cream

150ml Semi skimmed milk

1tspVanilla

150ml Sunflower oil

50g Dark chocolate

 

Tips/Notes

This is an incredibly easy and versatile recipe. If you like nuts or chocolate chips you can stir some in to the batter before baking. If you want to add some fresh fruit, you can but you may need to bake the brownie for an extra 5 minutes.


If you don't have sour cream, you can also replace it with the same amount of milk. This will make them slightly more cakey but they are still wonderful brownies.

 

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

Grease and line a 9 x 7 inch baking tray.

 

Making the Brownies

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder


In a separate pan place the banana, sour cream, milk, vanilla, oil and chocolate and warm on a low heat. Make sure to stir the mixture occasionally to stop the chocolate from burning. Once the chocolate has melted, add to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth and fully combined. Fold in whatever extras you may want to add.

 

Baking the Brownies

Bake for 35 minutes remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 12 equal pieces and enjoying.

 

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About Me

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Hi and welcome to Baking with Sally. I am a food scientist, chocolatier and baker and it is

my passion to promote mindful nutrition and food waste reduction through EXCITING and DELICIOUS recipes.

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