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!