Thursday 25 July 2013

Choco-Caramel Sauce

This is an I-can't-stop-spooning-this-straight-into-my-mouth-oh-****-down-my-dress-ah-who-cares-WANT-MORE-SAUCE sort of sauce.

Essentially, you make a dry caramel, then you stop it with lots of double cream, then you pour it over dark chocolate to make a caramel ganache (!!), then you add a bit of salt. Then the aforementioned spoon incident occurs.

It took a few tests to get the right ratio. The first time I didn't add enough cream or chocolate and it was way too thick. The second time I didn't have enough caramel and the chocolate was overpowering. The third time I hit on this combination and it's been reliably brilliant ever since.

At first I poured it over chocolate ice cream but I found that the flavour of the ice cream swamped the caramel and disrupted the balance. In the end I made a batch of my favourite vanilla ice cream, which works brilliantly.

When I started to churn the vanilla, I realised that I hadn't managed to get the base of my ice cream maker cold enough. After five minutes I gave up and scraped the slushy mixture into a box and froze it. I only stirred it up once with a fork but it still has a lovely smooth texture. I don't think the initial time in the ice cream machine did that much, so I reckon if you don't have one then stirring it around two or three times would give pretty good results.

I thought about adding extras - some raspberries for an acidic touch, some toasted flaked almonds for a textural crunch - but in the end simplicity won. It doesn't need anything else.

Choco-Caramel Sauce

55g white sugar (granulated or caster)
150ml double cream
40g dark chocolate (70-85%)
big pinch of fine sea salt

Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the bottom of a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and watch carefully - after a few minutes, the sugar will start to liquify at the edges. Don't stir it - you can flick some of the crystals onto a liquid bit, but don't fiddle too much. Once it's nearly all melted and starts to caramelise, swirl it all together. Keep heating until you have a deep golden-bronze colour (see above).

Take off the heat then pour in the cream and vigorously stir it in as it bubbles up (watch out, it is very hot). If you have a few clumps, whisk them in while it is still hot. Leave for a couple of minutes to stop bubbling and cool down a bit. Chop the chocolate up into small chunks and place in a small bowl. Pour the caramel over the chocolate, then leave to sit for a minute before stirring into a glossy sauce. Add the pinch of salt and stir through.

Pour over ice cream while warm - if it cools down too much and becomes too thick, pour some boiling water into a slightly bigger bowl and immerse the sauce bowl in it for a minute or two. Stir till smooth (dip again if it's still too thick). The sauce will keep in a covered bowl in the fridge for 4-5 days.

(Makes one bowl, probably enough for 3-5 sundaes, depending on size. If you don't eat it all first.)

Three more recipes that involve a dry caramel:
Salted Caramel Brownies
Cider Caramel, Sautéed Apples and Cinnamon Ice Cream
Salted Caramel and Walnut Braided Bread

Monday 22 July 2013

Tarta de Santiago + Food 52

As you might remember, almost exactly a year ago I posted about the Tarta de Santiago, a wonderful almond cake from Spain. I was contacted a few months ago by Food52, one of my favourite recipe sites, asking if I would write about the recipe for their Small Batch column this summer.

So if you'd like to read a bit more about the cake or would like to see the new step-by-step photos, then I recommend you head over to Food52.

Or, if you fancy reading about a different European cake, how about the Toscakaka, an utterly delicious Swedish caramel almond cake from earlier this year...

Thursday 18 July 2013

Dutch Baby (a.k.a. Puffed Pancake)

I've eaten a puffed pancake for breakfast every day for the last three days.

So how about apricots roasted till soft with brown sugar and a dab of vanilla alongside a spoon of crème fraîche and a dusting of icing sugar?

Or raspberries soaked in a few glugs of dark maple syrup with a spoon of crème fraîche?

Or maybe some lemon juice and caster sugar, the classic combination?

I had my first taste of a puffed pancake in San Francisco last year. They were part of the breakfasts at a B&B we stayed in - sizzling hot and brilliant.

The moment we settled down in our rented house in Berkeley, I set to work, tweaking the ratios time and time again until I hit on one that really worked.

Yet I didn't share. It's not like me to clutch a recipe to my chest, but I did. Maybe it's because I also use it to make yorkshires and toad in the hole, things I'd always loved but never perfected before.

Mum and I both make it all the time in its various guises and (I know this is tempting fate) but it's never failed, always turning out excellent results.

(As a rare savoury aside, our toad in the hole: heat the oven to 200C/390F, get a small roasting pan and add four chunky, high quality pork sausages and 2/3 of a red onion (cut into thick slices), along with a good drizzle of olive oil. Roast for ten minutes or so. Make a two person batter as below, adding plenty of salt and pepper and a small handful of chopped herbs. Quickly pour around the sausages while the pan is still in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sausages are cooked and the batter is puffy and bronzed all over but not totally dried out. Serve immediately with some greens.)

The only thing to watch out for is overcooking. I served a toad in the hole to Stephanie when she was visiting that I'd overcooked by mistake (and a touch of cooking-for-a-food-blogger nerves) - it's really not as good with papery sides or without a slightly squishy, almost custardy bit at the bottom.

I always make puffed pancakes in a cast iron skillet but you could use a small roasting tray or a cake tin that doesn't have a removable bottom if you don't have one.

So here go you. Something so good I nearly didn't share.

Dutch Baby a.k.a. Puffed Pancake

For one, in a 6" skillet:
35g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 large egg
75g milk
a lump of unsalted butter, about 8g or 1 1/2 tsp
optional: 1/2 tsp sugar

For two, in a 10" skillet:
70g plain flour
2 pinches of salt
2 large eggs
150g milk
a lump of unsalted butter, about 15g or 3 tsp
optional: 1 tsp sugar

Place your skillet in the oven, then turn the oven on to 210C/410F. Place the flour, salt and sugar (if using) into a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the egg and whisk until you have a smooth, glossy paste. Add the milk in three goes, whisking until smooth in between each splash. Transfer to a jug for easy pouring (I usually weigh my milk out in the jug then re-use it).

When the oven has come up to temperature, dart in and add the butter to the skillet in the oven and close the door. Wait one or two minutes until the butter has melted and heated up, then swiftly open the door, pour the mixture into the skillet in the oven and close the door. Don't worry about scraping the jug out, it's better to be quick.

Bake for 20-23 minutes for the small skillet and 22-25 minutes for the large. Serve immediately with whatever toppings you've chosen.

(Serves one or two)

Three more breakfast recipes:
Seville Orange Marmalade
Brûléed French Toast
Homemade Granola

Thursday 11 July 2013

Emiko's Elderflower & Polenta Cookies

I've decided to start a new series of recipe reviews. Each month I'll pick a recipe that has been posted online on a blog, website, newspaper or somewhere else. It might be a recipe that intrigues me, an unusual process, something that I can't imagine the texture or flavour of or just something that I really want to eat. I'll make it, photograph the process, honestly tell you what I think and link to the recipe.

To start, I have a Pinterest board filled with recipes I'd like to try. If there's one you're particularly interested in, like it on the board and I'll take it into account.

I'd also love to hear if you have any new suggestions - if you could leave a note with a link in the comments or send me an email that would be wonderful.

So, for July: Polenta and Elderflower Cookies by Emiko Davies.

This recipe easily covers the 'intrigued', 'unusual process' and 'can't imagine the texture or flavour' categories.

Emiko is one of my favourite bloggers. She lived in Florence for many years before moving to Melbourne with her Italian husband and baby daughter. This recipe comes from Artusi's 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a source of many of Emiko's recipes. I always learn something from her posts - without fail, they're both beautiful and intelligent.

Every year, I make my family's elderflower cordial recipe (the photo above is of this year's batch). It's one of my favourite drinks and a ritual I look forward to. Before I read Emiko's post, I didn't know you could cook with dried elderflower - I'd only heard of cordials, syrups, wines and other drinks.

In the comments, we had a chat about how to get dried elderflower - Emiko bought hers as high-quality tea but I was wondering if I could dry my own.

So, when I went out to collect the flowers for my cordial, I picked a few extra to dry (the same rules apply - make sure it's from a secluded spot away from traffic with healthy, creamy-white flowers). I used a needle and thread to string them up by the stem between the handle of my window and a nail in the wall that I hang a lovely Dutch cake tin on (here's another photo). After a few days they seemed to have dried out - in the end, I left them for a week.

Once I'd taken them down, I gently stripped the flowers off the stalks with my fingers. It was a bit of a pain - the dried stalks snap easily and fall into the bowl - but in the end I had heap of flowers in the bottom with a film of pollen coating the china.

The recipe is simple - you cream the butter and sugar, add an egg yolk, then stir in the polenta and elderflower. The dough is then rolled out, cut and baked until golden. The mixture is easy to work with - as it has no gluten, you can reshape and roll without worrying.

The final texture is, for lack of a better word, gritty - but that's surprisingly pleasant, in a crunchy sort of way. I think if I make them again I might use a mix of polenta and flour, to balance out but still maintain the crunch.

I thought they tasted best straight out of the oven. The flavour of the elderflower is distinctive and recognisable from the cordials but slightly dustier and, well, dried. It reminds me of the difference in smell and taste between fresh and dried herbs. I ate one with a cup of Earl Grey and the elderflower really pulled out the bergamot flavour, which I don't normally notice.

In conclusion: a fun experiment, an unusual texture and a new way of using elderflower.

Some notes on the recipe:

- I halved the recipe as I only dried four heads of elderflower. I'm not sure exactly how much the dried elderflower weighed but I had a small handful overall and I used it all. I made eleven cookies from the dough.

- I used precotta instantanea polenta, as that was finer than the bramata, which was the only other type I could find. I had to go to an Italian deli - I couldn't find it in the supermarket except as a ready-cooked slab.

- I used icing sugar and unsalted butter (I was going to add a pinch of salt but forgot). I didn't need to add water.

- My butter was a bit warm as it was a hot day so I chilled my dough for 15 minutes to cool it down before I rolled it out.

- They took 10 minutes to cook.

Three other posts where I've linked to the recipe:
Seed Cake
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Cumin and Lemon Cookies

Thursday 4 July 2013

Treacle Flapjacks

"Ther gooth a brook, and over that a brigge,
Upon the whiche brook ther stant a melle"

The Reeve's Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer

When we were in the Lakes a few weeks ago, we decided to visit Little Salkeld Watermill, one of the few remaining working watermills in the country. It's a charming place. Loose chickens scratch around in the car park. At the back, you can walk down a tiny pathway through the bushes to see the clear water swoosh rhythmically down the wheel. If you climb the steep wooden stairs through the faint haze of dust you can see the huge, grooved millstones at work, grinding flour from wheat, barley, rye and spelt.

One of the millers took us on a very extensive tour, demonstrating and explaining how each part moved and linked to the next (I think he took a bit of a fancy to mum... though thankfully our visit didn't end up quite as eventful as Chaucer's tale). I really recommend it if you're nearby - it's fascinating to see the ancient technology in action.

The mill also has a lovely tearoom and shop where you can buy the flour. Though I didn't think they looked that interesting, I bought a treacle flapjack after our lunch, mainly out of curiosity. My first bite was ok. Yet as I kept eating, the flavours started to develop. By the end, I was smitten.

When I got home, I started playing around with various flapjack recipes. At first I didn't think an all-treacle flapjack would be right, so I used varying ratios of treacle to golden syrup. They were delicious (a tablespoon or two of treacle adds depth and takes away some of the sweetness) but they weren't what I'd eaten. I then found a Cranks recipe online and decided to brave a full treacle version. It worked.

They're dark, sort of malty, a tiny bit salty and incredibly addictive.

I've had serious issues resisting them. I ended up skipping supper one night - which very rarely happens - so I can definitely attest to their ability to keep hunger at bay (except for the hunger for more flapjacks, of course).

Treacle Flapjacks
(adapted from the Cranks recipe)

150g unsalted butter
75g black treacle
75g brown sugar
pinch of fine sea salt
225g porridge oats

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Crumple up a bit of baking parchment and line a 7"/18cm round tin (or similar). Add the butter, treacle, sugar and salt to a big pan and place over a low heat, stirring until the butter has melted. Turn off the heat then stir in the oats. Scoop into the tin and press down. Bake for 23-25 minutes until the edges have darkened. Leave to cool then slice up when they're just slightly warm (if you do it too soon they crumble). They keep in an airtight tin for 4-5 days, maybe a bit longer.

(Makes 12-14 small flapjacks)

Three other posts that involve oats:
2012: Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
2011: Porridge
2009: Ginger Oat Biscuits