Chocolate & Peanut Butter Brownies

Luxuriously dark with a glossy shine and a delectable snap, chocolate and happiness go hand in hand. Dark chocolate contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that has the ability to boost levels of serotonin, which can help lift our mood, improve functionality and social behaviour.

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One of the issues anxiety sufferers have in common is low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is found in the gut as well as the brain so can have an effect on digestion too, this is why some anxiety sufferers can also have digestion problems. Serotonin gives our mood a boost and creates feelings of positivity. Without it we can feel low, become negative and find ourselves dreading and avoiding social situations. If we are able to do the opposite to how we feel, be social, go and have a chat with a friend or family member this will actually give us a serotonin hit and this can lift our mood. Diet and lifestyle changes such as exercise and being outdoors in the sunshine can also give us a much-needed boost.

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Cooking with chocolate always creates a bit of magic, the way it changes form from decadent, chunks to a rich, smooth, melting puddle. You have to steal a square or two while you work, quality control, I love letting it dissolve on my tongue flooding the mouth in a rich, bittersweet, chocolaty tide that lingers long after the chocolate has dissolved. Yum.

When choosing your chocolate treat the decision like you would with handbags- always buy the best that you can afford. Brownies are a great way to show off the mighty chocolate bar. They’re relatively quick to make, quite hard to get wrong if you follow the recipe and the best benefit, I think you’ll agree, is you can eat them while they’re still warm! Without any of the agonising wait that comes from baking a cake.

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Making and sharing these brownies over a cup of tea with a friend is the perfect way to give your mood a lift when you’re feeling down. In a situation that’s worrying you bringing along something you’ve made yourself can make you feel a little more courageous and confident. I know from experience it helps me when I tend to worry about social situations, especially if there’s a big group of people. Never in my many years have I seen someone fail to smile when offered a gooey, fudgy square of brownie. So go on and give these icebreaker brownies a go today.

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Chocolate & Peanut Butter Brownies

Makes 16

110g unsalted butter

150g dark chocolate, at least 60% cocoa solids, grated or finely chopped

85g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

150g golden caster sugar

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

50ml espresso coffee, cooled

75g peanut M&M’s some halved (optional)

FOR THE PEANUT DRIZZLE

60g unsalted butter, melted

60g icing sugar, sifted

200g smooth peanut butter

¼ tsp salt

*NB the peanut M&M’s aren’t essential but I think the colours are so cheerful when you tip out the bag you can’t help but smile. They also add a nutty crunch throughout.

Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3. Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment, cut into the corners so the tin is fully lined by the paper.

For the chocolate batter melt the chocolate and the butter over a pan of barely simmering water, avoid stirring it until it looks almost meted. Stir and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

To make the peanut batter mix all the ingredients together until smooth.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar using electric mixers until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Fold in the chocolate, coffee and flour using a big metal spoon.

Pour 1/2 of the chocolate mix into the tin, spoon dollops of the peanut mixture on top, and then pour over the rest of the chocolate mixture. Use a cutlery knife to gently drag and swirl the two together. Scatter on the M&M’s.

Bake for 60 minutes, a skewer inserted should come out with a few crumbs but not be wet. Cook for a further 5 minutes if you need to. Remove and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before lifting onto a wire rack. Allow to cool before cutting into squares….if you can wait!

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