Thursday, 14 March 2013
For the past ten days or so - ever since I got back to Oxford - I've been in the midst of one of those patches where every recipe I try seems to go wrong. It drives me up the wall (and, occasionally, drives tears down my face).
Earlier this evening I was reading The Year in Food when I came across Kimberly's description of weeks like these: "Where one week will feel smooth and productive, another will feel like I am trying to herd cats – the recipes are stubborn and lopsided and resist coaxing to the place where I’d like them to go." It inspired me to finally stop procrastinating and herd some words onto the screen.
To be honest, life seems to be full of herding unruly and unpredictable cats at the moment. One opportunity turns up, then disappears, then mutates, then another appears, changes, tangles, clashes and so on. Every opportunity I'm getting at the moment - both food and teaching related - is a challenge and seems designed to push me to my limits and out of my comfort zone.
I know that's a good thing and nothing makes you learn faster - but it doesn't make it any less dizzying or scary. Especially when everything is going wrong, the days are vanishing and the deadlines are looming.
Thankfully caramelised milk chocolate never seems to fail and this shortbread behaved itself impeccably three times in a row, like a little purring cat. Most of my recipes for this chunk of time seem to be finally coming into control too, perhaps taking note from these two.
Yet this obedient shortbread wasn't the first version of this post. My first idea was to make some viennese biscuits - you know, the ones that you pipe into nice shapes then dip into chocolate.
I couldn't find a trustworthy recipe to try out and surprise, surprise, the one I picked didn't go well. They literally resisted being coaxed into the right shape. I stood there squeezing and squeezing on the piping bag full of mixture, trying to make the dough come out. The piping bag became streaked with pale stretch marks but the mixture wouldn't budge.
In the end, I snipped the tip off and formed the biscuits by hand. Once baked, they were bland and boring. My guess is that getting it to a pipeable consistency that won't spread in the oven while maintaining taste is pretty difficult, so I shelved it for a later date. Do you have a good recipe for them? I'd love to know.
So, aware that I really needed something to just work, I went back to my Whole Vanilla Bean Shortbread and adapted from there. When I was tasting all the milk chocolate last week I kept thinking that coffee would go really well with it, so I flavoured it with espresso powder. I haven't tried it with real espresso but I imagine it would work too.
I also tried two more chocolates: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Belgian Fairtrade Milk Chocolate (£1.39) and Tesco Finest 40% Cook's British Milk Chocolate (£1.28). Both worked well and were cheaper than all of the ones I tried last time. The Tesco one has a totally inexplicable but pleasant honey aftertaste.
I tried drizzling the biscuits with chocolate, spreading it on the bottom and sandwiching. The sandwiches won both on taste and because you can't see the chocolate cloud once it's cooled.
Finally, while I really like making the caramelised milk chocolate and I do think it's worth it, for this recipe I think you could just melt the chocolate and stir the pinch of salt through if you don't have time. It won't be quite the same but I think they'd still be delicious.
The light coffee and chocolate flavours remind me of opera cake - it's such a good combination. These are the sort of buttery biscuits that come in a fancy tin (though, made at home, they're a bit fresher).
Caramelised Milk Chocolate & Espresso Shortbread
For the chocolate:
100g milk chocolate*
pinch of fleur de sel or fine sea salt
For the shortbread:
100g unsalted butter, cold to the touch but not rock solid
50g caster sugar
1 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp boiling water
2 pinches fine sea salt
135g plain flour
For the caramelised milk chocolate, heat the oven to 120C/250F. Break the chocolate up and place in a small oven dish. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, then take out and stir until smooth. Repeat every 10 minutes until it has been baking for 65. Stir in a pinch of salt then scrape into a bowl to cool.
Put the butter, sugar, combined espresso powder/water and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Blend until you have a smooth paste. Add the flour then blend until the dough forms clumps (you may need to scrape down once or twice). Tip out onto a sheet of baking parchment then form into a square. Roll out, turning the dough by a 1/4 between turns and trying to keep a square shape, until it is 3-4mm thick. Place on a tray and put in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170C/340F to bake the biscuits. Lightly grease a baking tray. Trim the sides and cut into squares - I use the width of my ruler, which is 3.5cm, and cut along it for a straight edge. You should have about 26 squares with a few odd shaped offcuts (I had 7 partial squares last time). Place onto the tray and into the oven and bake for 9-11 minutes, turning the tray halfway through. Leave to cool for a few minutes on the tray then remove to a rack.
When the biscuits have cooled, pair them up according to size then sandwich them with the chocolate (you may well need to re-melt it to spread it - place the bowl over a pan of simmering water). They keep for a few days in a sealed tin.
(Makes about 13 sandwiches or 26 singles + a few odd shaped ones)
* I used about 60g of the milk chocolate to fill the biscuits but I haven't tested caramelising less than 100g. If you're not caramelising it, perhaps try melting 70g (for a little leeway).
Some more recipes that include coffee:
2009: Coffee and Walnut Cake
2013: Toscakaka (Caramel Almond Cake)