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This month Gemma Simmonite shares a very special recipe that has seen Gastrono-me go from humble beginnings on Bury St Edmunds market to today’s fabulous restaurant in Abbeygate Street

By Gemma Simmonite

OK, we’ve waded through January, we’ve starved and abstained (well some of us did), we endured its dark and freeezing cold mornings and it’s equally dark and chilly nights. We know we’ve still got a way to go, but there seems to be fresh hope on the horizon. The mornings are starting to get a teeny bit lighter, there’s early little life emerging in the flowerbeds, which feels like everything is beginning again for us all. There are love hearts decorating the high street and whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s or not, it’s kind of a nice excuse to treat yourself or a loved one. Kids can see a half-term on its way, and our minds are turning to holidays in the forthcoming year. So yeah, it’s hope, and dare I say a little frivolity is starting to fill our souls.

Now when my particular soul needs filling, it’s generally chocolate I reach for – shallow I know, but you know I’m not alone. Did you know that when it’s chocolate you’re craving, it could be a sign that your body is deficient in magnesium? Apparently, chocolate is quite high in it and therefore turns out it’s a mood-boosting food. Either way, I’m still reaching for it, it makes me happy, and hey, maybe, just mayb, I’m balancing my magnesium levels? Yeah I know, I’m not fooling any of you with that. . .

So let’s turn to my recipe. It’s no spoiler alert to say that it’s chocolatey in nature this month. I’m going to share with you our Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie. It’s older than Gastrono-me, and a very precious recipe to me. Call it a late Valentine gift. It used to be one of our most popular sellers at Bury St Edmunds market, where we started, when we were oh so small and so painfully new. It remains on our restaurant’s menu today, and probably always will for posterity.

Gastrono-me's peanut butter brownie (7191063)
Gastrono-me's peanut butter brownie (7191063)

It was a very brutal beginning to our life in catering when we created this brownie – I will never ever forget the eye-burning early starts, where we’d probably only had about four hours sleep because we were still baking like crazy into the early hours. It was just Mike and I amongst a sea of stalls – selling tools, large knickers (you know the stall), pet supplies, linens, and veg. There were no foodie stalls like you see now, just some breads and eggs. Did we stick out like sore thumbs on that very first day? Good god, yes. We were literally watched by traders with arms folded, as if we were the day’s entertainment.

We shakily unpacked our delicate little china plates, numerous cake stands and broderie anglaise tablecloth to the mirth and catcalls from the traders, it was fairly soul destroying, but we stuck out our chins and made out that we knew what we were doing. We didn’t. But god bless the lady selling hats, she was literally our guardian angel that day. She helped us, gave us tips, and generally helped the new kids on their first day of market school. Thank you Joan and Jeff for your kindness, it has never been forgotten.

Man,we perished that day, it was way below freezing and we were not prepared for that kind of cold. It was not long before we too were clothed in thermals, ski wear and thick boots in the ensuing weeks, SO not attractive but kept us alive. That and the comfort breaks to M&S, where I confess I lingered longer than I should, just to escape the cold! We got faster and better, we got to know our customers. Some are still much-loved friends and customers of Gastrono-me.

The stories we heard on those market days – tales of sons in Afghanistan, broken hearts, and impending weddings. It was the embroidery of the stall, you talked, you passed the time and it mattered. Would I ever want to do it again? Good god, no! It haunts me to this very day the brutality of it. The times our stall blew away despite being weighted down with huge breeze blocks we lugged out of a clunking van. The time the said ‘clunking van’ didn’t start and I sat and cried on the doorstep that my entire weeks preparing and baking had ended with nought takings. The time our tarpaulin split and released a torrent of rainwater all over our home-baked produce, and despite having nothing left to sell, we had to stay in place until we were allowed to leave at 4pm. It was the the very hard yards.

We dreamt of a roof over our heads, a commercial kitchen to cook in, a café to sell it all in. It happened on St John’s Street and it’s happened again for us on Abbeygate Street. We’re very grateful. It’s still early mornings, for breakfast is the meal of the day we cut our teeth on. All through the day, and now late nights. But it’s not outside and we have a fabulous team that show up and have our backs. It’s bigger than just Mike and I, and for that we’re extremely grateful. I hope you enjoy our peanut butter brownie, it has a lot of love and history baked into it.

Gastrono-me Peanut Butter Brownie

Makes 8 generous slabs

12 x 8 brownie tin

300g soft brown sugar

150g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids at least

150g salted butter

3 large free range eggs

3 ripe mashed bananas

110g sifted self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

For peanut butter batter:

35g melted butter

40g icing sugar

120g peanut butter

A handful of salted peanuts for topping

Break up the chocolate into rough pieces and add to a saucepan with the sugar and butter, then melt over a low heat, slowly mixing now and then to ensure nothing is sticking and the sugar is dissolving. When you have a nice cohesive mix, set it aside to cool a little.

In another bowl beat your eggs with the ripe mashed bananas, add this to your now cooled chocolatey mixture. Pour in your sifted self-raising flour and your teaspoon of baking powder. Don’t over stir, but make sure everything is combined and you have no traces of flour, little nubbly lumps of banana are fine though.

Pour into your greased and lined tray.

In another bowl, mix together your melted butter, peanut butter and icing sugar. Word of warning, you will need willpower not to lick the spoon here. Drop little dollops of the salty sweet batter over your brownie mixture and draw through with a skewer or the end of a knife. You’re going for a swirly effect, so embrace your inner artist. Finish off by sprinkling over a handful of crushed peanuts.

Bake in a preheated 180C oven for 15-20 mins, you’re looking for it to have risen a little, and for the top to have set. It will still feel a little soft, unlike a spring-back ‘sponge feel’, but if inserted, a skewer should still come out cleanish, not wet. The idea of a good brownie is that it is fudgey and soft, not over baked.

This is delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream as we do in the restaurant, but equally delicious cold with a cuppa. These brownies last beautifully in a tin due to the moistness of the banana. So nothing left to do but to sit back relax, take a bite and dream of spring!

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