On Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up! and Why Brownies Are Good for The Soul

18 January 2018

Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up!: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want is a rousing love letter to eating and the joy it brings. Inspired by Ruby’s writing, sales, marketing and publicity assistant Jess Harris offers her own recipe for salted caramel brownies.

Eat Up! is out on 1st February.

You’re intimately acquainted with the loose, lost, frustrated feeling of the quiet Sunday afternoon. It’s when you say you’re chilling out, recharging your batteries, even doing that frightful neologism: life admin (because everything, these days, is labour to tick off a to-do list). Instead, you’re slumped on the sofa. You’re idly reassessing your life, thinking of all you’ve done wrong, quietly contemplating jacking it all in and moving away. In severe cases, you even long for the grey busyness of Monday morning so you can forget.

Forget, or be distracted. Mental illnesses, especially anxiety disorders, can make this weariness worse and before you know it your stomach is tying itself into long, tight, loopy knots. But help is at hand in the form of the sunshine-bright, life-affirming manifesto Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh. It’s a love letter to the role of food in bringing people together, making people better, and spreading happiness. In recent months, Ruby’s writing has led me to detangle my Sunday-night neuroses.

Among her memories of eating, cautions against fad diets and joyful recollections of food in culture, in Eat Up! you will find Ruby’s own recipes, written in the meditative and celebratory language of love. Ruby has her own recipe for ‘More is More Caramel Swirl Brownies’. But, inspired by her, here’s mine.

Melt 200g of butter in a gently-heated saucepan, stirring carefully. Imagine the hard chunks of butter are worries at the back of your mind. I’m not good enough; I’m heading down the wrong path. Let them warm and melt instead. Take it off the heat and add 200g of chocolate (half milk, half dark: pieces of patience and self-compassion), and cover, so they soften together without troubling you.

Pour half a tin of caramel into a bowl and whisk in 200g of golden sugar and four eggs. Enjoy the feeling of working your arms: get the blood moving around your body, get the caramel loosening, and watch the mixture come together under your guidance. Add the now silkily-smooth chocolate and butter and stir until gooey. Think about when you made brownies as a child, getting the mix everywhere. If you want, get the mix everywhere.

Sift in 130g plain flour, 50g of cocoa powder, and a fat pinch of (sea) salt. Smell the melted butter and the chocolate and the caramel as you mix, with the salt a fault line through it all. This is going to be so good: more than that, it’s something good that’s come straight from you, and it’s going to make others happy, too. Think about who else is going to eat them – even if it’s just your colleagues at work tomorrow. Imagine how it’ll feel to see them enjoy them.

Pour half the brownie mixture onto a baking tray and slather half of the caramel over it, along with a generous scattering of sea salt. Top it off with the rest of the mixture, then plenty more caramel. Bake at 180C / gas mark 4, for 25-30 minutes. Lick the bowl, if you want.

When they’re done, the caramel will be firm, but the brownie will wobble. Enjoy that first breath of brownie scent as you pull it from the oven (careful!). Ideally you should wait until it’s cool and hard before you cut it into pieces to eat, but I won’t tell if you dig out a caramel-infused chunk right away and feel its salty sweetness burn your tongue.

The first time I made this anxiety cure, I held my hand on the brownie surface when it was cooling. I was thinking of the warmth it held; the warmth it would give me; the warmth and contentment I felt by bringing it into existence.

You can get your copy of Eat Up! here.