The first and only time I've eaten a dessert made with carob was in the Algarve where there's an abundance of alfarrobeira (carob trees). Alfarroba (carob fruit) is a brown pod with inedible seeds. The seeds are discarded and the pods dried and made into carob flour or carob powder which is used in delicious cakes and desserts such as the incredible tarte de alfarroba (carob tart).
I've only seen carob in the UK in products in health food shops - it's treated like a super food, some call it 'healthy' chocolate. The carob bars and coated raisins are a far cry from the gooey cakes and tarts of the Algarve. I looked into the health benefits of carob (if you bake with it) and unless you're allergic to caffeine there's no health benefits to eating it instead of chocolate. However, it tastes incredible - like a cross between chocolate and figs - and that is a good enough reason to eat it as far as I'm concerned.
I have been trying to re-create my favourite dessert tarte de alfarroba for some time. I love the gooey texture of the tart, but I can't be bothered to make pastry, so carob brownies are a good compromise. They are rich, fudgey and delicious. They are also very quick and very easy to make. I made them for my dad yesterday on Father's Day. He's Portuguese. They got his approval.
I brought back loads of carob flour from Portugal to experiment with. It's quite similar to cocoa powder but slightly sweeter. I found mixing it with hot water gives better results (it can be dry like cocoa powder). You can buy carob flour (AKA carob powder) from Amazon or health food stores. It's quite expensive but you only need a little, so you'll be able to make loads of delicious brownies using one bag. It's kind of a good investment.
Easy Carob Brownies: Makes 9 servings / 18 small triangles:
- Vegetable oil for greasing
- 65g carob flour or powder
- 100ml hot (not boiling) water from the kettle
- 150g butter, cubed
- 250g granulated sugar
- Good pinch of salt (leave out if using salted butter)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 medium eggs
- 75g plain flour
- 50g sliced almonds (optional)
- Icing sugar to dredge
- Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 160 fan / gas mark 4.
- Grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with baking paper. Lightly grease the baking paper.
- Put the carob flour and the hot water in a small pan and whisk together until smooth.
- Put the pan on the hob over a low heat and add the butter, sugar and salt (if using). Stir until the butter has melted and the sugar has almost dissolved.
- Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool until slightly warm.
- Add the vanilla and eggs to the pan and whisk again until smooth and well combined.
- Add the flour and use a spatula to combine the flour into the mixture using a figure 8 motion.
- Pour the mixture into the greased tin and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the tin and give it a little shake. If the middle is wobbly put it back in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. If it doesn't wobble use a skewer to check if it has cooked through. If it comes out coated in mixture return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. The skewer should come out just clean when the carob brownies are ready. Keep a close eye on the carob brownies towards the end and check them with the skewer often so they don't over bake.
- Leave the carob brownies to cool in the tin. Remove from tin and place on a cutting board. Dredge generously with icing sugar and cut into 9 squares. Cut each square in half to make a triangle.
- Carob brownies will keep for 3 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.