Friday, October 4, 2013

Is eating five pieces of caramel slice a bad thing?

I had no intention of blogging about caramel slice when I made it for a family get-together yesterday. I've made it plenty of times before, after all - I've broken away from my self-imposed edict of trying new things for the past few weeks - and there are plenty of outstanding caramel slice recipes out there, not least of which is Larissa's extraordinary caramel slice.
For all that yesterday's caramel slice went over a treat - I ate two pieces and I'm pretty sure my sister-in-law ate four (hi Amanda!) - I wasn't really happy with it. I was in a bit of a hurry and forgot to sprinkle some salt over it, which of course makes all the difference to sweet dishes, and I felt I'd undercooked the base slightly, leaving it lacking in crunch.
Then lying in bed after the get-together, I had a brainwave: since I'm melting butter for the base anyway, why not take it a step further and make brown butter for that extra depth of flavour? And, while we're increasing the nutty flavour, why not toast the coconut before mixing it into the base?
Fired with enthusiasm, I revised how to brown butter and dived into caramel slice for the second day in a row. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it, right? And the added depth of flavour that came from the toasted coconut and brown butter made it worth the extra few steps in the method. I ate three pieces just to be sure!

Caramel slice

1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
125g unsalted butter

Caramel filling
395g can condensed milk
20g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
Pinch salt

150g dark chocolate
Optional: Peanuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Place coconut in a slice pan and toast for a few minutes - when the kitchen smells like a Bounty bar, pull it out of the oven, give it a stir and then return it to the oven until lightly brown. Place toasted coconut in a bowl and then wipe out the slice pan and grease and line it with baking paper.
Sift flour into the bowl with the coconut and stir together with the sugar. Brown the butter and pour the bronzed liquid into the dry ingredients, then mix well. Press into the base of the slice pan and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool while you make the filling.
Combine condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring the whole time - for about 8-9 minutes or until lightly caramelised. The mix will thicken and have a distinct caramel taste when it's ready.
Pour the caramel over the base, smooth it with a spatula and sprinkle the salt over, then bake for 10 minutes. Let it cool again before melting the chocolate, pouring it evenly over the slice and smoothing with a spatula. If you're using the peanuts, sprinkle them evenly over the chocolate (or under the chocolate, if you prefer).
Put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to set before attacking, or using a hot, dry knife to cut it into slices if you're going to be civilised.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The miracle of the marshmallow

The thing I love most about baking is its alchemy - watching basic ingredients transform themselves into something completely different. Something greater than the sum of its parts.

Take meringue. Just egg whites, beaten to within an inch of their life, and with caster sugar added little by little, and they magically transform into a delicate, magical meringue.
Then add a hot sugar syrup and you've got a whole new level of alchemy - the marshmallow.

Fast Ed of Better Homes and Gardens made marshmallows last week and I carefully followed his recipe, even down to the peanut butter and jam flavouring. Since Eddie mentioned that time is of the essence in this recipe, I carefully measured out all of the ingredients and got them ranged on the kitchen bench in convenient locations based on the order the recipe called for them, Yes, I truly reached a whole new level of baking nerdiness.

Soft and light

But once I was organised, the whole recipe took about 30 minutes to go from egg whites and honey (yes, honey - the great thing about the Fast Ed marshmallow recipe is that it uses basic ingredients rather than call for glucose or agave syrup or what-have-you) to thick and fluffy meringue.

Before I folded through the peanut butter and jam, I put some unflavoured marshmallow in a separate lined tin and left both overnight to set. Next day, I used a hot knife to cut squares of marshmallow and roll them in a mixture of icing sugar and potato starch (Ed uses cornflour, but I had potato starch in the cupboard) and it was time for the big taste test.

The marshmallows really did turn out miraculously light and fluffy and, while the peanut butter and jam ones were tasty and fun, my favourites were the unflavoured ones - the honey taste shone through and the  ethereal texture was the star of the show.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ending a hoodoo ... Sort of

Like Greg Norman and the majors, I have a long and fraught history with apple cakes. In fact, you could say they're my bogy cake.
The only apple cake I have had even the slightest hint of success with is Clotilde's grandmother's pear cake, a beautifully simple yet impressive cake that, as she promises, tastes even better the next day. I think one of the reasons that cake succeeds where so many others have failed (apart from being idiot-proof) is that it's so carefree - the recipe specifies that if bits of apple stick to the pan, just scrape them out and plop them back on the cake! How can you go wrong?
Sadly, it hasn't been the case with all the others I've tried. The first apple tea cake I ever attempted passed the skewer test with flying colours, looked delicious as I unmoulded it - then the whole middle section, which had stayed liquid despite an hour in the oven and the skewer test, gushed through the rack and on to the bench. It took me a while to get over that one.
Then I made an apple spice tea cake for my workmate Stacy's birthday from a cookbook that's never failed me before. Mindful of the liquid centre debacle, I left it in the oven for a full 15 minutes longer than the recipe said, skewer-tested it three times - and then dropped it as I tried to unmould it.
But, like Norman struggling back for one last British Open, I was determined not to let the cake beat me. And I had a recipe I'd torn out of one of those free supermarket magazines to attempt.
This cake required a hell of a lot of mucking about - I counted four bowls and two dishes on the bench at one point, plus the usual measuring cups and sifter - but it tasted great as I licked the bowl, so I slid it into the oven with a light heart. Until I noticed the thin batter was dripping out of the bottom of the springform tin as it cooked. Luckily it was a slow drip, so not too much batter was lost before the cake cooked enough to seal the leaks.
In the end it came out of the tin fully cooked and in one piece, and it was light and delicate - enough of a win that I took it to share at work a few days later.
The original recipe called for the apples to be tossed in 2tbsp Grand Marnier, which I replaced with orange juice as I don't like the taste of alcohol in cakes. But I found the orange taste overwhelming, so I've left that step out of the recipe below.
So I'm not declaring the hoodoo over just yet. But at least this time I've made the cut.

Apple and custard tea cake
550g Granny Smith apples
1 1/4 cups plain flour, plus 2tbsp extra
1 cup caster sugar, plus 1tbsp extra
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
3/4tsp cinnamon, divided
1 cup canola oil
1 cup milk
2 large eggs 
2 tsp orange zest 
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
Sifted icing sugar, to serve

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm pan.
Peel, core and quarter the apples and chop into chunks. Set aside.
Whisk together the 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup caster sugar, baking powder, salt and 1/4tsp of the cinnamon.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, whole eggs, orange zest and vanilla.
Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until smooth, being careful not to over-mix.
Transfer one cup of batter into a small bowl and mix the last 2tbsp of flour in. Whisk egg yolks into the batter in the large bowl and stir in apples.
Transfer the apple batter into the cake tin and press the apples down to submerge them. Pour the reserved batter evenly over the apple batter.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon together than sprinkle evenly over the batter.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and carefully unmould the cake.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with double cream. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Treading gingerly

Well, what a week it's been. Last weekend I was all geared up to make ice cream, but I had so much running around to do that taking a whole day to churn (I can't justify the cupboard space an ice cream maker would occupy) became impossible.
Then the past few days were such a shemozzle that ice cream just wasn't going to cut it - I needed cake. Preferably some sort of filling, warming cakey cake.
The cake I chose, gingerbread loaf, is one that I've paused on many times while flipping through the recipe folder, but somehow other cakes have always called to me more loudly. It's very quick and easy to make and I loved it, although it's not a cake that will be to everyone's taste; it has quite a dense, almost dry texture that still manages to stay fluffy inside a deliciously crunchy crust. I increased the ginger a little and, if you like ginger, another teaspoon wouldn't be overwhelming.
The original recipe suggests dusting it with icing sugar, but I've been dreaming about lemon icing for the past few days and, frankly, I think it would be a little too dry without some sort of icing or glaze. It has a lovely caramel flavour, so it'd also be nice with a syrup poured over it when it's straight out of the oven to enhance that sticky gingerbread quality.

Gingerbread loaf with lemon icing (adapted from a Donna Hay recipe)

1/4 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
65g butter, chopped
1 egg

1 1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
3 tsp boiling water
3 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 160C. Place honey, golden syrup, sugar and milk in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until all combined and the sugar is dissolved.
Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (I used a KitchenAid, but you could use a food processor or rub in the butter with your fingertips like a crumble). Add the syrup mixture and beat until smooth, then add the egg and mix until well combined.
Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake for an hour, or until it passes the skewer test.
Turn out on to a rack and allow to cool before icing.
For the icing, put the icing sugar in a bowl and stir in the water and lemon juice, a teaspoon at a time until it reaches the consistency you want. This icing sets hard quickly so pour or spoon it over the cake as soon as you're happy with it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unfinished business

 WHO knew it's been almost three years since I stopped posting on this blog? Not blogging doesn't translate to not baking, as followers of my Facebook and Instagram feeds can attest. (While I'm here, the complaints on social media about people who obsessively post pictures of their food make me sad. I post pictures of food and I'm not ashamed to admit it!)

One of the reasons I stopped blogging is that I have a very bad habit - I don't depart from my favourites very often. Not for me the adventurous MasterChef-style experimenting with food; I know what I like and I like to bake it regularly. Brownies? Check. Chocolate cake? Check. Cheesecake? Check. Macaron tower? I'll be over here with the brownies, thanks very much.

But trying new recipes can produce outstanding successes, such as these chocolate lace crisps I made yesterday after having the recipe on my shelf for, ooh, about five years. When I bit into this crunchy yet delicate biscuit, I thought, "I can't believe it's taken me so long to make these."

It inspired me to tidy up the folders of recipes I've torn out of magazines and printed from the Internet over the years, and frankly I was embarrassed to see how many recipes I've loved the look of, brought home and then promptly ignored.

And so I vowed to start blogging again, which I hope will help inspire me work through this pile of unbaked recipes. Unless I have a request for an old favourite, I will only bake these untried goodies and I'll blog the results, success or disaster. Here we go!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't panic!

THE other week I decided to make an apple custard teacake to take to my mum's place. I'd torn the recipe out of Good Living a year or so ago and never gotten around to making it, but I had a few Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl that needed to be eaten, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

Filled with enthusiasm, I began with the custard. I heated the milk and vanilla until it was steaming but not boiling; whisked the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and creamy; carefully poured the hot milk in a thin stream over the yolk mixture until it was combined and smooth; filled the sink with ice water in case of any sudden curdling; then transferred the would-be custard back in to the saucepan and stirred over a low heat.

Then - panic! I turned away to check on the time, stopped stirring, and a dirty great lump appeared, right in the middle of my milky mixture. Thank God I filled the sink, I thought, and plunged the saucepan in the cold water and beat until the mixture smoothed out again.

The only trouble was that now I had a smooth mix, but it was still the consistency of milk, not - as my boyfriend thoughtfully (and helpfully) pointed out - the consistency of custard. And certainly not like the custard his mother used to make. I'd panicked too early, he suggested.

I made the custard cake anyway but it was not like I had imagined it to be, so this week I was determined to make custard until I bloody well got it right ... or at least until it was like Dicko's mother used to make.

As I often do in times of stress, I thought: What would Nigella do? And pulled How To Eat off the shelf. Sure enough, Nigella knew. She recommends using single cream, or pure cream as it's called on my supermarket shelf, and she's incredibly helpful in offering up both a set recipe and a set of guidelines on the quantities of ingredients used.

For every egg yolk used, Nigella says, you'll need 100ml of cream and a heaped teaspoon of caster sugar. You can either infuse the milk with a vanilla pod or stir in about a teaspoon of vanilla extract at the end.

Determined not to panic, I took a deep breath and began. 200ml of cream, heated almost to boiling point, was poured on top of two egg yolks and two teaspoons of sugar that had been whisked together (in the KitchenAid; yeah, I'm lazy) until thick and lightened in colour. Then I washed and dried the saucepan, as Nigella recommends, poured the mix back in and started stirring over low to moderate heat.

It would take 8-10 minutes, Nigella said, and after eight minutes I had, well, milk. But I was determined not to panic, and I kept stirring. Then 10 minutes had gone past. I still had milk. There was swearing. I still had hope, though: it smelled like custard. Surely I hadn't done anything wrong - had I?

I kept stirring, and lo and behold, after 12 minutes there was a visible thickening. I could hardly dare to believe it. Did I have custard? I kept stirring until the 15-minute mark, took it off the stove and gave it a good solid beating in the cold water in the sink.

"That looks more like the custard Mum made!" Dicko said encouragingly.

I popped it into the fridge to chill and made a few meringue nests out of the two egg whites I'd saved from the custard. Then it was the moment of truth: the custard came out of the fridge and I swirled the saucepan. No movement! I stuck my finger in (yes, lazy and disgusting) and it tasted like custard. I took it over to Dicko for the final say.

"That's the custard Mum used to make!"
As you can see from the top of the post, we had it on top of the meringue nests with some berries. Best pavlova ever.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Merry Christmas and a happy new oven!

PLEASE forgive my long silence. The last few months of 2009 passed in a whirl of renovating, moving and swearing - the last item, obviously, caused by the first and second items!

Part of the move, however, was having a whiz-bang new cooktop and oven installed. I cannot describe the hours I lay awake at night agonising about the cooktop and oven: what if I'd measured the holes wrong? What if the new appliances arrived and were the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong voltage? What if I just picked the wrong ones? My God, the stress!

But they arrived, and they fit (with a bit of tweaking) and for two weeks I was too scared to do anything more difficult than boil the kettle on the cooktop and toast a sandwich in the oven (which, might I point out, has a special setting for grilling small things like sandwiches or a single chop; I love my oven). I would sit for minutes on end gazing lovingly at the stainless-steel wondrousness of the business end of the kitchen, but I couldn't quite work up the courage to use any of it.

Luckily, Christmas came along.

Every year I take some sort of dessert to my family Christmas, whether I've been asked to or not. I'm not sure whether that makes me a fabulous guest or a really annoying one. This year I was determined to make cupcakes, to give me a chance to use my brilliant cupcake carrier, and in keeping with the Christmas theme I settled on rocky road cupcakes.

To test out both the cupcakes and the oven, I did a test run the week before Christmas, obsessively reading the oven instruction manual to make sure I had the cakes on the right shelf, the right tray, so on and so forth (attentive readers may have noticed that "she'll be right, mate" isn't really part of my vocabulary).

And lo and behold, the cakes (carefully placed on the middle shelf, on a wire rack) rose perfectly evenly, perfectly brown and perfectly cooked. New oven, welcome to the family.

Rocky road cupcakes

Makes about 20

To make the cupcakes

2 tbs cocoa powder

(The recipe says one quantity makes 12 cupcakes. I found it only made 10, or 11 slightly smaller ones, but I do use a Texas cupcake tin, so that probably explains it.)

Once you've made your cupcake batter according to Nigella's recipe, spoon half of it into 10 patty-lined cupcake holes. Put those in an oven pre-heated to 200C, and to the remainder of the batter add the cocoa powder and beat well.

Spoon the chocolate cupcake batter into the patty pans and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until a skewer stuck in the middle comes out clean.

To make the milk chocolate rocky road

150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
150g marshmallows, quartered
100g glace cherries, quartered
a healthy sprinkling of desiccated coconut

Melt the chocolates together and mix in the marshmallows, glace cherries and coconut. Go by eye - if the chocolate looks too runny, toss in a few more marshmallows, cherries, nuts or whatever.

Do the same for the white chocolate rocky road, but with 300g of white chocolate.

To assemble

Using a sharp, pointed knife, cut a circle in the middle of each cupcake and scoop out the inside, as if you are making butterfly cakes. The cake innards can be frozen to make a trifle, or just left in the pantry and eaten over the next few days if you're anything like me.

Use two teaspoons to pile a generous scoop or two of rocky road into each cupcake - white chocolate rocky road for the chocolate cupcakes, milk chocolate rocky road for the vanilla cupcakes.

Dust with sprinkles or other decorations if desired and allow to set at room temperature.