Along the Grapevine


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Pine Salt Chocolate Brownies

 

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Last April I wrote a post on collecting and preserving spruce tips and promised recipes using these ingredients later on. Now that winter is fully here, it is the perfect time for me to start experimenting, so I hauled out the spruce salt to put it to good use. When I saw David Lebovitz’s recent post on salty brownies, I decided to make my own version using my spruce salt. His of course is excellent, but called for ingredients I don’t have. Also, I wanted to make a vegan version just because I try to cut down a bit on the use of eggs in baking, except when really necessary. What I ended up with is definitely the best brownies I have ever had – something resembling a dark, chewy salted chocolate bar! After having missed Fiesta Friday for the last couple of weeks, I am bringing this to the party because I suspect that some of the guests, like me, enjoy a rich, not too sweet, salty chocolate treat. The pine flavour, though not very strong in this recipe at all, is a nod to the season.

In Lebovitz’s post, he describes how to line a pan with foil so that removing the brownies is made easy. A helpful tip for sure, but as I like to avoid using aluminum foil, I thought I’d share my own tip for baking. I often use edible leaves – grape leaves or corn husks from my garden which I blanche and freeze. I happened to have a huge pile of dried husks for making tamales, which I still haven’t got around to, so I used these instead. No waste! They will end up in the compost. To begin with, I poured hot water over four husks to soften them a bit, shook them dry and lined an 8″ square pan. Then I sprayed it with a little oil just to be safe. If the husks don’t lie absolutely flat, not to worry – the batter will weigh it down.

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And now for the recipe.

Pine Salt Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3 Tbsp water

6 oz unsweetened chocolate

4 oz coconut oil

1 cup cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbsp flour

2 tsp spruce salt

Method

Soak the ground flax seeds in the water and set aside. Melt the chocolate and oil in a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. When it is liquid, add the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Add the cocoa powder and the flax seed mixture, and mix well until the flax seeds are evenly distributed. Remove from the heat and add the flour and salt. Spread in a baking pan, 8 inches square or smaller if you want thicker brownies.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the pan before removing.

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If you don’t have salt made from spruce tips, you can use spruce picked in the winter too. The flavour of this amount is not very strong, and although the winter pickings are a little more bitter, it wouldn’t be a problem in this particular recipe. If you don’t have any edible greens, just use a coarse sea salt and some other flavouring, like cinnamon, chili or vanilla.


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Tips on Spruce

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This is the best time of year to collect edible evergreens. Not all evergreens are edible, but if you make sure you are picking only spruce or pine, you will be safe. The non-edibles or even toxic include yews, evergreen oleander and hollies.

I have picked spruce tips to begin with, mainly because I have so many on my property, but also because they are easy to identify and very easy to pick. I have not had time to experiment much with them in cooking, but if I wait until I work out more recipes, it will be too late for you to collect them while they are still at this desirable stage. They can be dried for later use, or infused in vinegar or honey or vodka. The new growth on the trees, small, pale green tips on the branches are at their very sweetest now. Just pluck off the small tip as you would a berry, remove the little brown husk covering the tip, and they are ready to use. Try one raw, and chew well to release the citrussy flavour which follows the initial taste of resin.

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I am beginning with three methods of preserving: in salt; in sugar; as a sweet syrup. All these are easy to do, and will keep until you are ready to use them. And they are all delicious.

With salt: Blend 1:1 in volume coarse sea salt and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Add to mayonnaise, salad dressing, fish marinade, roasted vegetables.

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With sugar: Blend 1:1 in volume sugar and tips. Chop in the food processor and spread on a sheet to dry.

How to use: Use in baking, add to tea, coat the rim of a cocktail glass.

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Syrup: Mix together 1:1:1 sugar, water and tips. Bring to a full boil, turn off the heat and let cool in the pan. Strain.

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How to use: As a sweet topping, add to drinks hot or cold, soft or hard.

 

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Check in later for a special spruce tip dessert I am working on.