As I write this, it is snowing outside. Soft flakes spiral to the ground like powdered sugar tapped gently through the sieve-like cloud cover. My best friends sit around me, laughing raucously at a slightly inappropriate joke, hitting each other affectionately on the back in praise of a particularly witty comeback or sly innuendo. Red gold flames glow in the stone fireplace and the scent of chocolate lays thick on the air. They’re trying to distract me – offering a cheek for a kiss, tickling the tender skin beneath my ribs and teasing me about my infamous mood swings. The atmosphere is so jovial that it fills the rooms with its own light. There is no space for negativity or hatred in this mountain cabin, not when it is filled to the brim with the truest kind of friendship and the warmth of constantly cooking food.
Eight of us – six boys and two girls including me – have trekked into northern British Columbia for a week of skiing, skating, hot tubbing and, mostly, eating. After hundreds of dollars spent at a Save On Foods, my baker best friend and I promised to deliver a week of manly meals ranging from spicy chicken enchiladas to pulled pork sandwiches on homemade brioche buns.
The cabin feels like a house full of puppies; people romping, playing fighting, flopping in twos and threes on couches for mid morning naps and eagerly lapping up food and affection in equal turns. I know that Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of romantic relationships but this year, the emphasis is on our friendships because while most people search for years for even one person to love unequivocally, I’ve been blessed with a whole group of people who will be there for me and I for them no matter what until we are old and grey and swinging on a porch swing at a retirement home in Florida.
Tonight is our last night together and in preparation for Valentine’s Day we have made these rich flourless chocolate brownie sundaes with salted caramel popcorn. The brownie recipe is adapted from David Leibovitz’s extraordinary gooey brownies and I could honestly eat the whole tray by myself.
The boys are easy to please but that doesn’t make their eloquent compliments – appreciative silence, continuous nodding as they eat, ‘fuck yeahs’, and grateful hugs – any less amazing. This is a great dessert to serve your sweetheart for the holiday before going to see 50 Shades of Grey or to eat with your girlfriends as you celebrate your singledom (old-school Beyonce style). Or, if you are really lucky, you can make it for a handsome group of boys who will devour every last crumb, suck off the caramel on every remaining kernel and make you laugh while doing so.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces (225g) bittersweet chocolate (I use Lindt's Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bars)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- ¾ cups salted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 10-12 cups of popped popcorn
- 1 pint vanilla ice cream
- For the Brownies:
- In a medium sauce pan over medium high heat, melt the butter and heat until browned. The mixture will froth and you must keep an eye on the liquid to ensure it doesn't burn. Once it is a golden brown and smells nutty, reduce the heat to medium low and add the chocolate. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is incorporated.
- Remove the mixture from the stove and allow to cool for a few minutes before adding the sugar and the two eggs, one at a time. Whisk in the coco powder and cornstarch.
- Line an 8-inch pan with parchment paper and/or coconut oil or butter. Add the batter to the pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the brownies to cool for 30 minutes.
- For the Salted Caramel Popcorn:
- Preheat the oven to 250 degree Fahrenheit.
- Make the popcorn. You can do this the 'easy' way like I did by buying microwave popcorn bags or by making it in a popcorn maker, on the stove, or in the oven.
- To make the salted caramel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan on the stove and add the brown sugar. Stir until dissolved and then bring to a gentle boil. Leave without stirring for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla, sea salt and baking soda. If the mixture separates, you can salvage it by adding a teaspoon or two of boiling water.
- Prepare two baking trays with parchment paper and evenly spread the popcorn over both. Drizzle the cooled caramel on top and toss with your hands or a wooden spoon until the popcorn is coated. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
- Assemble the sundaes by layering the warm brownies on the bottom of the bowl, the vanilla ice cream and then top with the salted caramel popcorn.