I’ve never really fulfilled a stereotype. I was never a nerdy Doctor Who fan, a geeky IT support guy… my wannabe rock star days involved very little in the way of drugs and women (and too much alcohol and cigarettes). Perhaps at school I was as awkward and bewildered as any teenage boy, but I think there were some worse off in that regard than myself.
However since becoming a freelance writer, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops – privately owned and chains – in what seems to have developed into a quest to find the greatest chocolate brownie ever created.
It is a quest that perhaps originated in childhood.
In the old days, those halcyon days of the 1980s and 90s when very few people could really cook in the UK (and if they could, the results looked horrendous, served on garish plates with obscenely floral table cloths) my mum would make some rather delicious chocolate brownies based on a recipe from an M&S book about cake baking.
My sister and I would devour the results in hours, leaving little for Mum and Dad to enjoy.
Soon after I went freelance, I revisited this recipe in order to find a good snack at home for tea breaks and was astonished to find that the brownies, while good, were lacking in several respects. Their squidgy nature, once admired, was now troubling, leaving them resembling nutty meringue (perhaps a walnut meringue cake, another classic from childhood).
Instead I’ve been wholly seduced by the dense, more moist variety that surely has borrowed much from our American cousins. Back in the 1970s when that M&S book was produced, our only taste of American cuisine here in the UK was through McDonalds, for shame. These days, with easy (although arduous) transatlantic flights, the flavours have been swapping sides for a while, particularly between New York and London.
So this afternoon I sit with a Costa Coffee brownie, newly restored to the menu after the Christmas line ended, deciding how much to have with the first cuppa. You can never eat chocolate too fast, and with something like the chocolate brownie, savouring each mouthful is part of the reason for buying it.
(I’m also a little sensitive to rich food, so it makes sense to take it slow.)
But while this is quite simply THE most enjoyable chocolate brownie I’ve had in a long time, I have to ask myself: is it the best you can buy?
And so, a quest begins…