Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chocolate Dessert Cake

Hello dear readers,

I apologise profusely for the lack of posts recently. I am learning how to teach English as a foreign language so things are a little tense at the moment! Hopefully you can forgive me! This recipe ought to sway you...

This is the cake recipe for emergency dinner guests. You know, the people who turn up unexpectedly and expect food and drink. It takes about 5 minutes to bang together and then does its thing in the oven whilst you organise the rest of the meal. Genius. It's adapted from Nigella's Feast book which I just love love love.

Feast is the book I look at for inspiration, to find out about celebration traditions and for general food porn. Nigella can do little wrong and this book is just fabulous. The fact that there is an entire chapter devoted just to chocolate cake should explain why I love this so much.  

This is a store-cupboard recipe. Which is great because I discovered we have completely run out of 70% chocolate of any kind. The only chocolate in the house was the trashy, sweet, milky plain milk chocolate. Great for snacking on, not so great in desserts. But it's okay because Nigella has a cocoa based recipe here to which you add chocolate chips. Yay! Crisis solved. Now if I can just think of what to serve as the main meal...

Chocolate Dessert Cake
Adapted from Feast
175g unsalted butter, soft
275g caster sugar
2 eggs
200g cake flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb
50g cocoa powder
splash of vanilla
80ml buttermilk
125ml boiling water
175g chocolate chips (either dark or milk)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large loaf tin with baking paper.
Cream the butter and the sugar together until white and fluffy. Add in the eggs and beat to combine.
Add the vanilla followed by the dry ingredients. Lastly add in the buttermilk followed by the boiling water. Allow to beat for 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. (The mixture will initially be quite lumpy so this is an important stage.)

Remove from the mixer and fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about an hour. You want the cake to be cooked but not overdone. The cake should be stable but it's okay if there is some batter on the skewer.

After about 45 minutes, make the syrup.
125ml boiling water
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Bring the ingredients to the boil and reduce to a thick syrup.

When the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven. Pour the syrup over it evenly. Allow to cool. After 15 minutes turn out of the tin and cool on a rack.
Great served with ice-cream, cream or crémé fraîche.

 The princess and the unavailable M say they would eat the cake out of the trash. Need I say more?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trude's Chocolate Cake

Alrighty people. My life just got so hectic. This whole 8 to 5 thing is so overrated. I do not know how you all do it. Every day. Wow. Fortunately I only have 3 more weeks left and then I'll be back to being on sabbatical. (This is what I am now terming my current state of unemployment.) Phew. So, because of the unseasonable busyness of the last week (it's been one week and already I'm complaining - clearly real jobs are just not for me) I haven't really had time to bake up a storm. Yes, I did experiment with the caramel cinnamon sticky buns but there hasn't really been much else. But, as most of you are probably aware, yesterday was Father's Day. That day of spending time with our dads. Yup, mine entails feeding him. Easy. Simple. Until it gets to Saturday night and you realise you haven't thought about a dessert (genuinely) and there is no butter in the house and you're on a Monday deadline and must spend every available minute not cooking, working. Panic.

Never fear dear readers. Help is at hand, in the form of this recipe. It's another family classic and is conveniently my dad's chocolate cake of choice. Happy day. It doesn't need chocolate or butter, being a recipe from a time when such things were considered extravagant, it uses cocoa powder and oil. It's basically everything you would have in your pantry at any given time. Well, okay, everything I would have in my pantry at any given time. And it's easy. It's the cake I learned to bake first, when I was rather young. So you can totally do it. I am not giving icing today because I had an incident of failure with the icing yesterday and cannot under any circumstances reveal what I did to make it edible. Never. But this cake is lovely filled with chocolate mousse and drizzled with ganache. I also like it plain, served warm with custard, but that's just my custard thing talking. Ordinary butter icing would work well too or whipped cream and bar-one pieces... I leave it to your good judgement.

Chocolate Cake

4 eggs, separated
1 and 3/4 cups of cake flour
1 and 1/2 cups of caster sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3/4 cup of boiling water
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup cold water

First thing is to preheat your oven to 180C. Grease 2 20cm round cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water, whisking to get rid of lumps then set aside.
Mix together the egg yolks, vanilla and oil. In a separate bowl weigh the dry ingredients.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. (You should be able to hold the bowl over your head without the whites falling out.)
Mix the cold water into the cocoa powder, then whisk the cocoa powder into the egg yolk mixture and pour this into the dry ingredients. Carefully mix everything together. It will be fairly stiff at this stage.

Finally, fold in the whites in 2 stages. Fold about 1/4 in and roughly mix this into the batter. Then lightly fold in the rest.
Pour the mixture into the lined cake tins and bake for 20-30 minutes until the cakes spring back when touched and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before inverting onto racks. Allow to cool completely before icing...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sticky Caramel Cinnamon Buns

I have a little obsession with cinnamon buns. I love them. A lot. They are the ultimate comfort food for when you have a carb and sugar craving. This is my choice. Always. However, a good cinnamon bun is hard to find. I want my bun to be swirled beautifully with cinnamon sugar. It should shine in the light and should be relatively sticky. There should be NO raisins and NO white icing. Those are my conditions. As a result, I make my own. I have a tried and tested recipe that I almost always use. It turns out perfect cinnamon buns every time. But today I thought I would try something a little different. Something that would elevate the cinnamon bun to a new level of decadence. A sticky caramel cinnamon bun.

Obviously the only place to go for such a ridiculously over-decadent item is Flour. I've waxed lyrical about Flour before. It's a wonderful example of American baking and the recipes work. (Well, the ones I've tried anyway.) You make a brioche dough then roll and fill it with cinnamon sugar and pecans before proving it and baking it in caramel sauce. OMG. You could run the Comrades on this amount of sugar. Its insane. In a good way.

Caramel Cinnamon Buns
Adapted from Flour


320g cake flour
200g bread flour
150g stone ground cake flour
3 and a 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
95ml caster sugar
1 tablespoon salt
125ml cold water
5 eggs
310g unsalted butter, room temperature

170g unsalted butter
330g light brown sugar
120g honey
80g double cream
80g water

55g light brown sugar
50g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans, toasted and bashed

Firstly, make the caramel. Melt the butter then add in the sugar. Stir own to ensure it's all mixed up then allow the sugar to dissolve. Off the heat add in the water, honey and cream. If the mixture seizes, return it to the heat and allow everything to dissolve once more. Strain into a bowl and allow to cool.

Grease a rectangular baking dish.

For the brioche, place the dry ingredients in a standing mixer bowl. With the speed on low, add the eggs and water and allow the mixer to beat until the mixture comes together. It won't look like much yet. This takes 5 to 10 minutes.

Start adding in the butter, a large-ish cube at a time. Allow the dough to absorb the butter before adding in any more. Once all the butter is added, mix on a medium speed for 10-15 minutes until the dough is soft, silky and pliable.


Place the dough in the mixer bowl and cover with cling film. Allow the dough to prove for 2 hours. You can refrigerate it overnight at this point if you need too. Roll the dough into a large rectangle with the long side closest to you. Mix together the filling ingredients but only add in half a cup of the pecans. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough. Roll the dough down from the top, making sure its tightly rolled. Using a large knife, slice the dough into 12 equal pieces. Pour the caramel into the baking dish and sprinkle with the rest of the pecans. Place the buns cut side down into the caramel, allowing some space between each bun. Allow to prove for 2 hours in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Once at temperature, bake the buns for 35-40 minutes. They will get fairly dark on top but you need a long baking time to ensure the buns cook through.

Remove from the baking tray individually and spoon extra caramel and pecans from the tray. These are not particularly beautiful specimens but that taste extraordinary. You may need to run around the block after.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sunday Morning Pancakes

Everyone has their first cookbook. Mine arrived in the post, courtesy of a scheme Ngonu signed me up to where books arrived in the post as if by magic. Mostly they were fiction but occasionally they included reference books. My first cookbook was It's Fun to Cook. I take as testament to my destiny in desserts that the only part of this book that has been heavily used is the baking section. Some of the pages are stuck together, never to be undone. This book has lasted as a reference for many years and I still use it for some things, these pancakes are one. You can tell it was printed in the 1980's not only because of the bizarre illustrations but also because the recipes call for margarine and not butter. Anyone who grew up in the 80's should know about the butter-fear phenomenon that characterized our diets. Butter was evil. It would give you heart attacks and high cholesterol and thus ultimately result in your (untimely) death. Up until I was about 12 butter was really a rarity.Thankfully such times have passed and butter in moderation is now allowed. When I use this book now I most often substitute the margarine for butter and haven't had any problems to date.

The other thing that occurred as a result of this book was the princess' ability to flip pancakes and my inability to do so. I guess it is just a representation of our roles in the family but I cannot flip pancakes at all. I have a mental block. As such I never make pancakes unless the princess is here to flip them. I'm sure I could learn  but I think of it as a fair trade. I make the batter and she flips the pancakes. We both get breakfast. If only life could be this simple.

Adapted from It's Fun to Cook
1 egg
1/4 cup of caster sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon oil (one that doesn't overpower everything else so canola or sunflower)
1 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

Whisk the egg and sugar together until well blended. Add in the milk and oil followed by the dry ingredients. Whisk well. I like to let the mix stand for half an hour. Then give it another whisk. Heat a non-stick pan. Pour some oil onto a sheet of kitchen towel folded twice. Wipe the pan with this. Drop the batter into the pan and allow bubbles to appear on the surface before turning. Keep warm in the oven until eating... The recipe makes about 12 pancakes, depending on size. It feeds 3-4 comfortably.

Oh by the by, when I say pancakes I mean American-style pancakes (although we make them a more reasonable size). Sometimes these are called crumpets. They are NOT crepes.

If you want to make blueberry ones, drop the batter into the pan before placing blueberries on the individual pancakes. Flip as normal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spice Cupcakes

The princess spent some time working in the USA a few years ago and discovered something called spice cake. She's been obsessed ever since. I can't say I mind this development at all. Spice cake is awesome. It makes the house smell like Christmas. And who better to provide a recipe than the queen of all things American, Martha Stewart. No matter what you think about this women, you have to agree that she is a genius. She's made a multi-million dollar empire out of crafts and cake. There are no words.

The cream cheese icing is my addition, to soften the craving that took place a few days ago. Feel free to make a citrus glaze instead.

Spice Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
80g butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
4 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 180C and line 2 cupcake trays. This recipe makes 24.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy then add in the eggs. Sift together all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the milks. The mixture is fairly stiff.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for 18-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins before transferring to racks to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Icing
250g butter
250g icing sugar
900g cream cheese
splash of vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar together until white and fluffy. Add in the cream cheese and beat for about 5 minutes. Until the mixture is soft and spreadable and has turned white. Use to ice the cupcakes. Ices 24 cupcakes very generously. If you prefer less icing, make half to three quarters this amount.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Marble Cake

The princess requested something chocolate today, preferably with cream cheese icing. I feel like I've done a lot of cream cheese icing recently so I settled on something a little different. This recipe is from Ngonu, my grandmother, and is usually an orange-chocolate-vanilla marble cake. The princess objects to chocolate and orange for reasons I do not really understand, but then the princess has many food objections which I do not understand. So in efforts to appease the princess I'm making regular chocolate-vanilla marble cake.

The chocolate part of this cake is made with cocoa. Making cake with cocoa is something I don't seem to do very often even though the cake that is requested of me the most is a cocoa one - go figure. I guess I'm just not really a chocolate cake person. (I prefer brownies as a rule and they're all about the chocolate quality.) This cake brings back various memories of childhood and Ngonu and proves (to me anyway) that food is important for memory. The recipe is found in my mom's handwritten recipe book which I spent hours pages through as a child and which I still refer to for certain recipes. Eating this cake was my first experience of the magic of chocolate-orange. I don't make it often but it is one of my favourites. Especially with tea.

Marble Cake
200g unsalted butter, softened
375ml (1 and a half cups) caster sugar
4 eggs
625ml (2 and a half cups) cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water*
125ml (half a cup) milk plus 30ml milk**

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a bundt tin. Cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Add in the eggs, beating well to incorporate. Add in a cup and a half of the flour plus the baking powder and salt. Beat well then add in the milk followed by the rest of the flour.
Beat for 2 minutes on a high speed so that everything is well mixed. Then separate half the mixture into a new bowl and add in the cocoa powder to this half of the mix.

Put alternate dollops of the mixture into your tin and when all is added, swirl the mixture to create a marble effect with a knife.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Eat plain or with chocolate orange buttercream. Be careful when slicing because the top forms a crust which can crumble.

Chocolate Orange Buttercream
200g butter, unsalted, soft
200g icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
rind of one orange

Cream the butter and sugar until white. Add in the orange rind followed by the cocoa. Mix well and use immediately.

* Dissolving cocoa in hot water removes the bitterness sometimes associated with it.
**If you're making the chocolate orange version, substitute the 30ml milk amount for 30ml orange juice and add in the rind of one orange to the butter/sugar mixture.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lunch. 2pm

My best kind of sandwich. Lightly toasted ciabatta. Bacon so crispy it shatters as you bite. Sun-dried tomatoes. Lettuce leaves. On the side: olives and some beetroot with blue cheese. Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The quickest lunch in the history of the world

Sometimes, possibly often for you lot with real jobs, I need lunch like instantly. There are various reasons for this affliction. I forget to eat and suddenly realise I am ravenous to the point that eating small children is a real possibility, I have terrible time management and have actually scheduled writing a major essay and replying to various emails when I should be making lunch, I go out to do chores and whilst out become completely ravenous (see the issue above). You get the point. Sometimes you need lunch to be done in the amount of time it takes to heat a ready meal. Ready meals. Mmm. They taste so often like curdled muck that I just can't traumatize myself with them anymore. No really I can't. No matter how many small children are in danger. And, in the spirit of talking about instant food, why does anyone eat Pop Tarts? I sampled one the other day out of mere curiosity rather than need. (You can buy them at Thrupps.) Mistake. It tasted mostly of cardboard with a little artificial something-something thrown in for special effects. I think eating actual cardboard would have imparted more flavour (and been more enjoyable). So clearly you need a recipe that takes all of five minutes to put together. Preferably less. This is it. 

This particular carnation is adapted from Plenty - that book of vegetarian loveliness. I have recently decided that the meat binge I've been on has to come to an end. Not in the I'm-turning-vegetarian sort of way but more in the I-will-endeavour-to-eat-more-meat-free-meals kind of way. This is my attempt at that. I thought about doing a whole meat free week which seem to be all the rage at the moment and shuddered dreadfully. My body went into a kind of lock down, don't you even dare kind of mode that made me reconsider. Plus that takes more planning than I have energy for. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of veggie fare and eat more than the recommended five a day. But a whole week? I can think of two meals. That means I'll get to Wednesday and give up. Clearly these things need planning. Speak to me at the end of July and maybe I'll try again. Things are a little busy right now without having to think of how to feed myself without bacon. 

Anyway, I digress. Plenty is the kind of book everyone should have on their shelf. Its written by that genius man Yotam Ottolenghi - of Ottolenghi in Notting Hill. I want to make everything. And all that I've made so far has been legendary. This particular recipe can be made in large quantities to feed your masses and is super delicious. This is the cheat's version. Make your own pesto (with basil and parsley) if you would like to keep things more authentic. My need for lunch feels not. 

Courgette and Mozzarella Pasta
Adapted from Plenty
50g pasta, your choice, I like tagliatelle
2 round courgettes
2 long courgettes
glug of olive oil
2 tablespoons pesto
2 small balls mozzarella (Bocconcini work well here)

Slice the courgettes into 1cm rounds. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the courgettes until lightly browned. The courgettes should still have a small bite to them. Add in the pesto, followed by the mozzarella. Turn off the heat and allow the mozzarella to melt. In the meanwhile cook the pasta according to instructions. (I used fresh pasta-the four minute kind, which cooks whilst you make the sauce.) Drain the pasta and toss in with the sauce. If necessary, re-heat everything together. Enough for two.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Food at the Movies

I thought I would start a list of my favourite food movies and food scenes in movies. Its such a DVD type of day and I'm feeling far to lazy to begin something in the kitchen now. Sorry. I figured you could participate and tell me your favourites too.

I thought about starting with my favourite but then I couldn't decide what my favourite is. So the list is random. If you have a favourite food scene from a food movie, feel free to tell me and I'll update the list...

Movies About Food
Mostly Martha
Julie and Julia
The Princess and the Frog
Because I Said So
Food, Inc

Food Scenes
The bakery in It's Complicated
The bakery in Stranger than Fiction
When Summer breaks up with Tom over pancakes in 500 Days of Summer
Miss Pettigrew salivating over the patisserie display at the fashion show in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Cakes and bubbly in Marie Antoinette
Lady and the Tramp sharing spaghetti
Pollyanna eating wafers and green ice-cream

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Today I decided I would try something a little different here. I had a craving for a chocolate brownie but couldn't think of what to do with a whole tray so I thought I would pay a visit to Moemas to pick one up and then  because my trip coincided with the lunch hour I thought I would get that too and tell y'll all about it. Moemas is a cafe that makes salads and sandwiches for lunch and has various patisserie things. It also does breakfast but I can't tell you anything about that as I've never been there then. It opened in 2007 (I think), whilst I was still away, and everyone talked about it incessantly. For a while I went there a lot but of late I haven't been near them at all. My main gripe with the place is that in the time I've known them, the menu has hardly changed. They don't seem to do seasonal dishes and their pastries are the same ones that were there when I first went in 2008. Innovation? New products? New recipes? I usually find none of that at Moemas.

Today I was a little more fortunate. There was an aubergine salad with tomatoes that appeared new as well as a cauliflower one with caramelized onions. I ordered both as well as the broccoli salad with Halloumi and green beans and the beetroot with red onion. To go with the salads I thought I'd try one of their brioche pizzas, this one with crispy bacon, sun-dried tomato and more caramelized onion. (I usually order one of their pies, the pastry of which is excellent.) I hate to say it but lunch was incredibly unsatisfying. There was too much vinegar in the beetroot, the cauliflower was just on the raw side of al dente, the aubergine salad tasted of nothing. And why oh why were there sultanas with the caramelized onions? Sob.

The worst was the pizza. Maybe its just me but I want my pizza base crispy and I do not really want the base to have a flavour of its own, but because the base is made from brioche it is incredibly flavoursome and overpowers the topping. It was also too doughy for my liking. The best part of the pizza was the crispy bacon which I picked off the top. One unhappy Lexi there.

The desserts I purchased were a little more satisfying. I know what I want because in the intervening years since Moemas opened I've tried almost every dessert on display. (With the exception of jam-filled doughnuts.) (This is also why you need to be constantly innovating your best product-I know what I like but goodness it would be great if there was something new to try.) So, today the obvious choice was chocolate brownie. It's what drew me in in the first place. This is a squidgy brownie that is neither chewy nor cakey but somewhere inbetween. Its very dense and has an impressive chocolate taste. There are chocolate chips and hazelnuts hiding within which I like. I also bought the caramel pecan slice which is another favourite. I can only have about 1/8 of it at a time due to the intense sweetness from the caramel. I like the textures of this slice. The crunch and salt of the pecan, the chewy caramel, the smooth shortbread beneath. Winning indeed. I suspect you could run a half marathon if you ate an entire slice.

I bought two more desserts so I could give you a general idea of what's in store if you visit. The cheesecake is tart with lemon but has a texture rather akin to peanut butter. You know when the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth? That happens with this cheesecake. It's not necessarily a bad thing but today just felt too heavy. It also crumbles on you which I dislike. I want a slice that holds itself together as I eat it. But it does have a biscuit base which earns it major points. (I once had to make cheesecakes with sponge bases. I cannot begin to describe how much I despise them.) The other pastry I purchased was a lemon polenta tart. I love lemon and the curd in this tart is great. I especially love the use of polenta in the base which adds a crunch that perfectly balances the sweet, smooth curd. Yayness all round.

So you see, not everything at Moemas was disappointing. I would go for a 4pm pick-me-up hit and avoid the salads. But I would also buy the pies again (if they would just stop putting raisins and sultanas into the lamb pie it would get more airplay from me). They also make great cordials with sparkling water that are great on a hot summers day. Find them at The Parktown Quarter, corner 3rd and 7th Avenues. They're open all week.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Real Custard

I really feel this post needs little introduction. Real Custard is something my childhood missed. My memories of custard as a child are either Ultramel from a box or homemade 'Moirs' custard resembling a bright egg yolk with the thickest skin imaginable - the kind that when you tip the jug the skin falls into the bowl in a whole piece. (Just thinking about it now makes me slightly nauseous.) Fortunately I now know better and as chief cook in resident I never have to eat custards like that again (although I will admit to being partial to Ultramel under certain circumstances). Real Custard (spelt with capital letters so that you appreciate its significance and importance) is light and creamy and vanilla-y and yummy. I like my custard cold but if you're partial to hot custard you can eat it pretty much from the pan. It makes a great addition to various desserts... the butterscotch pecan bars listed here, tinned fruit, stewed fruit, ice-cream, jelly, hot desserts, cake. You get my drift. I'm a big Real Custard fan. But I am also the type of person who can eat the whole jug of custard without sharing so there you go. Maybe you don't feel exactly the same way. Shame.  I think I have written enough on the values of this Real Custard. Here is the recipe.

Real Custard
4 egg yolks
40g caster sugar
400ml milk
1 vanilla pod

Heat the milk and vanilla until scalding point. Whisk the yolks and the sugar together. Pour some of the hot milk into the yolks and whisk. (Tempering.) Pour the mixture back into the milk and give it a whisk to make sure everything is combined. Then stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the custard coats the back of the spoon. Strain into a jug and cover the top with some cling wrap if not using immediately. Will survive 3 days in the fridge.

This recipe works (as maybe you've guessed) in 10% increments. 4, 40, 400. So you can use pretty much any incarnation of this formula. (2, 20, 200 or 8, 80, 800) The amount made here provides enough custard for about 8 if serving with a dessert.

Butterscotch Pecan Bars

So, in continuing our lessons of what-to-do-with-excess-caramel, here is a recipe for butterscotch pecan bars. I think the 'bar' part of the title is deceiving (they're more cake-y than a bar) and they totally didn't turn out how I was expecting them to in my head. There are limited pictures in this particular recipe book you see... I suspect these are good for school bake sales. For me they don't really work as a mid-afternoon snack. There is just too much cake and not enough bar. I'm thinking of a redesign already but figured I'd share these with you anyway. I served them as dessert after Sunday lunch with Real Custard (recipe to follow) and peanut butter ice-cream. The custard and ice-cream add a necessary element, making the cake more spongy and thus less dry.

Butterscotch Pecan Bars
Adapted from All Cakes Considered

1 and a half cups pecans, roughly chopped
1 and a half cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
30g unsalted butter
splash of vanilla
1/2 cup butterscotch pieces (shards of previous caramel)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the pecans on a baking tray and once the oven is at temperature, toast for 6 minutes, shaking the tray at 3 minutes. Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. Bring a pan of water to the boil and in a bowl that fits over this pan whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Place the pan over the heat and add in the butter. Whisk slowly but steadily so that the mixture is moving continuously until the butter melts and the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat. Fold in the flour mixture followed by the pecans. Lastly fold in the butterscotch pieces.

Pour this into a square tin lined with baking paper and back for approximately 25-30 minutes. Less time will result in a gooey centre. (Your call.) Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Slice and eat!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Caramel Ginger Cookies

So you know the other day I made all those chocolate dipped caramels? And you remember how I mentioned in the post that I'd had to make them twice? Well the first batch I boiled for too long and ended up with hard caramels as apposed to the soft-chewy ones I'd been aiming for. But never fear, one can always make a plan with unwished for ingredients. In my case the extra caramel resulted in two new recipes. This is the first.

This recipe is courtesy of the Women's Weekly Cookies book. I love their books. The recipes are always simple and you can actually find the ingredients (always a bonus) but perhaps the best part of these books is the conversion pages at the end - helpful like nothing else. I love ginger and I've had this preserved ginger sitting in the cupboard brooding for lord knows how many years. (Actually I prefer not to know.) So I got to use both some of the ginger and some of the caramel in the cookies. Stroke of genius if you ask me. I ate about three cookies hot out of the oven. I would have eaten more if I hadn't started to feel slightly ill. (Too much sugar will do that to you. Or to me anyway.) The recipe makes about 40 cookies, depending on how large you make them. Don't expect them to last long.

 Caramel Ginger Cookies
Adapted From Women's Weekly Cookies
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarb
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried ginger, grated on a microplane
1 cup caster sugar
125g cold butter, in small pieces
1 egg
1 teaspoon golden syrup (or avocado honey which I used due to the lack of golden syrup in my house)
2 tablespoons preserved ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons preserved ginger syrup
2 tablespoons hot water
45 hard candies (or enough sliced caramel from previous adventures)

Preheat the oven to 160C. Place all the dry ingredients in a standing mixer. Add in the butter and beat until it resembles crumble mix. Add in the wet ingredients (syrups and egg) but not the water. If the mixture does not come together into a loose dough, add in the water.

Finally add in the preserved ginger pieces. Knead the dough lightly in the bowl with your hands. Then, using a teaspoon, form the dough into balls.

Place on a lined baking tray and press down lightly. Bake for 10 minutes. Place a candy atop each cookie (or the shards) and return to the oven for 4 minutes.

The caramel will melt over the top.

Allow to cool on the trays before packing away. (Obviously you can eat them warm from the oven, but be careful of the caramel which is hot!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I feel the need to mention how the obsession with peanut butter ice-cream came about before telling you all how amazing it was. On Wednesday I attended a little shindig hosted by WineStyle magazine and Real Time Wines. It was held at HQ in Sandton, a place I'd heard about from Cape Town people and which is now open here. The evening began with Pongracz MCC in its new 375ml incarnation which Andy (of Real Time Wines) said was just too big to drink through a straw. Well, I personally think that if I found myself in a park on a sunny day with a bottle of this stuff and no glass I would happily make do with a straw. (But then I have been known to do this before so perhaps I am just a heathen.) We then went on to do a blind tasting of six wines. My favourite turned out to be of the cheaper persuasion. I am not reading anything into that. Not at all. The whole purpose of the tasting was to illustrate that you can drink good wines that taste fantastic without breaking the budget. See? My kind of people.

The concept of HQ is genius really. They serve only salad, sirloin and chips. You get the salad (a take on a Caesar with Parmesan, lettuce and pine nuts) as a starter. You can then request how your steak is cooked but that is really all the contemplation that is required. As the person who finds what she likes on the menu and then only ever orders that (for ever more) this is exactly the restaurant I need. No guilt at not ordering something different. No menu envy. Genius I tell you. The steak (with its Café de Paris sauce) was honestly possibly the best steak I've had in Joburg. Ever. The chips were great, crispy on the outside and fluffy potato on the inside. They come around with more sauce and chips once you're about half way.

But the real genius of HQ is their desserts. I know right? A steak restaurant with palatable desserts? You can have my first born child. I am not one for ordering desserts. They are always a disappointment. (Obviously I reserve this judgement for regular restaurants and cafes. Michelin starred/AA rosette places are another story.) Crémé Brûlée is always overcooked. Cheesecakes are crumbly and not smooth. Chocolate quality leaves a lot to be desired. However, I was pleasingly surprised with the chocolate fondant I ordered at HQ. It had the correct melt-y centre. It was hot and sweet and densely chocolate-y. It was something I would order again. It is responsible for the peanut butter ice cream.    

Ah peanut butter. Here we are again. I feel there is no explanation necessary for you presence here today. Just thinking about you makes me hungry. You see, chocolate and peanut butter are a marriage made in heaven. (Apologies for the cliche. There is no other way to describe them.) And as someone who ate a ridiculously good chocolate fondant on Wednesday, I decided it was necessary to recreate said fondant for Friday but to serve it with peanut butter ice cream. Its a happy place people.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
250ml double cream
250ml milk
90g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup peanut butter

Heat the milk, cream and half the sugar to scalding point. Whisk in the peanut butter. In a bowl, whisk the rest of the sugar and the yolks until combined. Pour a ladle-full of cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk. (This is called tempering.) Then pour that back into the cream mixture. Return to the heat and cook to 72C. Usually this is the temperature at which the custard coats the back of a spoon. Due to the peanut butter, it coats the spoon from the word go. If you tip the pan so you can see the bottom, you will observe that the custard begins to cling to the bottom of the pan. The mixture is now ready. Strain into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge over night. Churn in an ice-cream churner according to instructions. Serve alone, between stroopwafels or with chocolate fondants....

Chocolate Fondants
Alas this is not the recipe from HQ (I am on a mission to get it though so watch this space) but from a fellow chef with whom I worked ages ago. He declared it to be the best fondant recipe in the world. Its definitely up there in my top five.

175g dark chocolate (the better quality you use the tastier the fondants will be)
50g butter
50g sugar
2 yolks
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter (30g)

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Melt the butter and the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar to ribbon stage (where the mixture turns white-ish and you can make a ribbon with the mixture).

Fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs and mix until combined. Finally fold in the flour. Mix just until it comes together and the flour is combined. Don't over mix.

Place in 4 greased ramekins and bake for 11-13 minutes, depending on ramekin size. Serve with ice cream of choice. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Caramels Dipped in Chocolate

All this week I've been thinking about a cake. Its a cake that I've made before but that I don't make often. It requires a fair amount of prep and as the person who prefers single bowl cakes with minimal mixing, this cake is up there in the 'when I have lots of time' category. I realise I've lost you, talking about a cake when the post is supposed to be about caramels. Sorry. Just hang in there a second. (And I plan to make the cake this weekend so you'll be rewarded at a later stage.) This cake is chocolate cake baked with meringue on top. It is filled with mascarpone and double cream and pieces of chewy, caramel filled chocolate. (See! Here is the connection.) So, I was thinking about this cake. A lot. And then I started thinking, maybe I should make some of my own chocolate covered caramels that I can then bash up and put in the centre of the cake? And then I started researching the caramels and the whole thing got completely out of hand which is why there is no cake. Only caramels.

So caramels. This is a side of the confectionery business that is not my forte. Sugar in general is my enemy. And I mean that not in a sugar makes you fat sort of way, I mean it in the whoops I burnt the sugar and ruined the bottom of the Le Creuset pan I was using kind of way. Sugar and me are only sometime friends. Turning sugar into caramel is easy. In theory. If you are patient and can wait by the stove whilst the sugar does its thing. Or at least wait in the kitchen. (You can smell the sugar change stages.) But no, I am the leave the sugar on the stove and walk away type (to read emails, books, watch TV, answer phones etc). This is not the type of person to make caramel anything. But, people can change. I can learn to wait by the stove whilst the sugar does its thing. I can make peanut butter ice cream at the same time! (More on that tomorrow!)

So, this recipe comes from Gourmet (small sigh of sadness that it is no longer with us) 2004 and the adapted recipe that I found on Good Life Eats which you can read here. Its actually incredibly basic. You make a caramel and add butter and cream to that and then boil it to the right stage. (That is the tricky part. I had to make this recipe twice.) You will need a sugar thermometer for this. I've done without one for years. In the kitchens I worked in we were taught to read sugar by learning how the bubbles looked at certain stages and how the sugar moved. But we never made anything like this (which goes to quite a late stage) and so I bought a thermometer this morning. I am already in full blown love with this gadget. You can expect many more caramelly things now that I have it. Anyway, the idea is that you allow the caramels to cool before slicing them. You then melt some chocolate and dip them, allowing them to cool again before consuming them in vast quantities. The hard part is not eating them whilst you dip! Oh and for those of you (like me) for whom Fahrenheit is a foreign concept, the measures are in Celsius.

Chocolate Dipped Caramels
Adapted from Gourmet 2004 and Good Life Eats
250ml double cream
75g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt*
vanilla pod
1 and a half cups caster sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup**
1/4 cup water

Grease and line a square baking tin with baking paper. Using a pastry brush, brush oil all over the baking paper. In a pan bring the cream, butter, vanilla and salt to the boil. Set aside. In another pan place the sugar, syrup and water. Give everything a stir so that the sugar and water bond nicely. Place over a medium heat and allow the sugar to dissolve-no stirring! Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization. Put the thermometer in the pan now so that it warms as the mixture heats. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil until you have a light golden caramel.

Do not be deceived by the slightly goldenness of the mixture if using golden syrup. You will still need to boil the mixture for about 5 minutes before it actually turns to caramel. (You can also check by smelling the mixture. When its ready it will smell decidely like caramel. Who knew?) Also, caramel in the pan always appears darker than it actually is so don't freak out if it looks a little dark. Freak out when it starts to smell burnt and turns black.
At this point bring the cream back to the boil, and carefully pour the cream into the caramel. Give it a quick stir and then leave it be. The mixture will boil up rapidly and will stay this way until you take it off the heat.

Now for the technicalities. Boil the caramel to 140C if you live at sea level. This is known as small crack stage. (Yes, laugh. I didn't invent the names.) If you live at altitude, like me, boil it to 122C. This is hard boil stage. You can take it to 125C (I did) but then the caramels will be fairly hard until you pop them in your mouth where they turn chewy. If you go only to 122C they will be soft-ish and you'll need a hot knife to slice them. I discovered  all this after making a batch that set like rocks. (Never fear, caramel pieces are never wasted in my kitchen! I'm going to do something with caramel cake.) It takes anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes to get to the various stages. The sugar will change colour from light golden to dark golden in the process. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, the bubbles will settle as it cools. Allow it to cool for two hours before slicing. You can eat as much as you want at this stage.

But if you're up for it, melt 200g of dark chocolate in the microwave. Carefully slice the caramels into squares. Gently does it.

Using forks dip them in the dark chocolate, shaking off excess by tapping the fork on the side of the dish, before allowing them to cool on parchment paper.

Wrap individually in wax paper or serve as is with coffee...

*If you want plain caramels, leave out the salt.
 ** Americans have something called corn syrup. No idea what it is or where to find it. Golden syrup works best and I love Lyle's (mainly because we've had it since I was a child and it is referred to as 'the syrup with the lion on it'-South African childhood right there) but feel free to use whichever brand you like!