“Ignatius, we gotta go now,” Mrs. Reilly said. “I’m hungry.”
She turned toward him and knocked her beer bottle to the floor where it broke into a spray of brown, jagged glass.
“Mother, are you making a scene?” Ignatius asked irritably. “Can’t you see that Miss Darlene and I are speaking? You have some cakes with you. Eat those. You’re always complaining that you never go anywhere. I would have imagined that you would be enjoying your night on the town.”
Ignatius was back on radar, so Mrs. Reilly reached in her boxes and ate a brownie.
“Like one?” she asked the bartender. “They nice.”
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, Chapter 3
Let's not skirt around this - Ignatius J. Reilly is a not your everyday hero. He is lazy, unsympathetic and frequently downright rude (as evidenced above). It doesn't stop the book being great. Published posthumously after John Kennedy Toole suffered through years of rejection letters, it captures a slice of America, and an assortment of characters, rarely seen in literature. It is now widely recognised as one of the most important American novels of the late 20th Century and a unique view of life in New Orleans - a statue of Ignatius now stands in the city itself. It's also full of references to food.
I could have gone with hot dogs for this post, but I settled instead on these brownies, which are a perfect match for Ignatius: gluttonous, dark and not much to look at. They've been developed from the best of brownie recipes - the one in Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. I decided to add some caramel and a pinch of salt, which elevates the brownies, delicious as they are, to a completely decadent and wholly gluttonous treat.
Eat with friends (tackling this batch solo may result in heart failure), but anyone who can resist the temptation of a little off-cut while they're still warm is a stronger-willed person than I am.
Salted Caramel Brownies
Serves up to 16
300g golden caster sugar
250g salted butter
250g dark chocolate
3 eggs (and one additional egg yolk)
60g spelt flour (or gluten free flour)
1/2tsp baking powder
125g caster sugar
60ml double cream
1/2tsp Maldon (or other flaked) sea salt
22cm square baking tin
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Butter and then line the tin with greaseproof paper; the brownie will be too delicate to 'turn out', so do make sure you have plenty of paper to grasp hold of once it's baked.
2. Before you prepare the brownie batter, make the caramel. Melt the sugar and 4tbsp water over a medium heat, stirring until dissolved and then boiling the syrup without putting the spoon back in. Allow it to turn a rich golden brown, then remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and cream. It will sputter and spit, so be careful of your hands. Add the salt and set the caramel aside.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together until light and creamy. Try and use an electrical implement (electric hand whisk or stand mixer) if you can, so you can get the mixture really light.
4. Place 200g of the chocolate (broken into chunks) in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Once mostly melted, remove from the heat and stir to melt the final pieces.
5. Crack the eggs, on at a time, into the creamed butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the yolk in too. Pour in the melted chocolate, then chop the remaining 50g chocolate into small pieces and add this too. Sieve the flour, baking powder and cocoa into the mixture and fold in with a spatula until just combined. Do this gently, but do make sure you get rid of any white streaks of butter.
6. Pour the mixture into the tin, then smooth out the top. Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel over the top, then use a skewer to swirl it into the mixture. Place the brownie batter in the oven for 30 minutes. The batter will have risen a little and should have flaked on top. Remove from the oven when a skewer inserted comes out sticky, but without raw dough on it. Err on the side of too short a time in the oven; you can always pop it back in for a minute or so, but you can't reclaim the dense fudginess the middle of a brownie should have. Do remember that it will continue to set while cooling. Allow to cool in the tin for twenty minutes or so, then pull out and cut into squares.