Friday, October 5, 2007

Caramel Nougat Bars – similar to Mars Bars

I often read the posts by the experts on e-gullet regarding chocolate, wishing I had the skills to make such wonderful things (and enough people to eat my experiments). Recently they’ve been discussing a book called Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling ... and I decided I just had to have a copy!! It arrived on Friday and I’ve been anxiously waiting my first chance to try out a recipe. I’ve been thinking about experimenting and trying to create a bar similar to an Australian Mars Bar – but with dark chocolate (70%) and a salted caramel. In Peter Greweling’s book he has a recipe for “Sleeping Beauties” that looked like a suitable soft chocolate nougat layer for my creation! The salted caramel recipe would of course be my favourite recipe of all time – from the Tartlette blog: Salted Chocolate Caramels.

Unfortunately I took the caramel layer to 2degC higher than I meant to ... so it lost its gloss and set quite a bit harder than I was aiming for (I wanted chewy but this was just a bit hard to chew!!). Oh well ... more reason to make more!

The nougat recipe required cocoa butter – and on quick investigation the only size I could find to buy was 5kg – and the recipe only called for 20g!!! So I substituted with copha (a vegetable shortening) hoping I wasn’t going to ruin the recipe. I also ran into a bit of trouble whipping the combined egg whites and sugar syrup ... I don’t have fancy kitchen equipment, and this called for a stand mixer ... something with decent power ... I only have a little hand held beater ... so I whipped as long as I could, but the poor thing started to struggle when the mix was still too warm (the directions said whip until 50degC, I stopped around 65degC) ... I really didn’t want to see smoke coming out of the little thing!! It does beat its heart out for me!!

Mixing in the chocolate to the whipped whites/sugar

The nougat layer ... it worked like a sort of plastic. Very amusing to play with! Of course the only problem with sugar cookery in my mind, is that you can’t taste as you go along – burning tongues just doesn’t give much feedback!!! The book said to lay it in 12”x12” ... my pan was only 8”x10” (I only have pans!) ... and still the nougat layer was only just enough. Could be because I didn’t whip enough air into it – or it could also be that the layer should have been thinner and I didn’t roll it out enough. I was aiming for bars not little chocolates.

Attempting to temper the chocolate (Lindt 70%) ... I still need to get this right ... some of my bars turned out in temper ... some didn’t. The ones that worked best were when I got to the end of my dipping, and I got sick of trying to balance the thermometer in the bowl and just threw it out and let it do what it wanted!! I really struggle to get it down to 32degC and keep it there without dropping too low ... so I keep upping the temperature – but I go too high. Wonder if Santa could bring me a temper machine for Christmas?!?!?! Of course – it would have to be an itty one because I really don’t do much chocolate work – though with my new Greweling book I’m inspired!!

The outcome (this one was obviously an edge one so the layers aren’t even ... all the better looking ones were kept to give away, and this one donated for chopping for photos!) ... a VERY chewy (oops) caramel layer, with a lovely textured nougat (surprisingly close to what I was aiming for!), surrounded by dark chocolate.

I was receiving emails from co-workers all day raving about these!! And everyone agreed I needed to experiment more to get the caramel right – just so they can eat more!! But ... I think I’ll try something else from the book rather than immediately repeat this recipe. All the other photos look so wonderful; I want to eat them all!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Baking with a friend is pleasure in deed!

After eating a number of my donations to making my work colleagues larger one of them requested a baking day at my place to learn some of my magic tricks (which just goes to show you can fool people … my only magic baking trick is to read recipes carefully and add vanilla to everything!!). Any reason to bake and I’ll be there … and this was a chance not to just make one thing, but multiple things – heaven for me!!!

I took in a number of cook books for her to pick out ideas … and the menu was decided on: New York Cheesecake, Cinnamon Scrolls and Florentines. Florentines being the only one I haven’t made before, we used a cheesecake recipe I’ve been inflicting on people for years because I love it and the cinnamon scrolls we went for a Nigella recipe.

The one downfall in most cheesecake recipes (in my opinion) is the base … I know you need something to hold it together when serving, but I’d really just prefer more cheesecake than base. A little while ago I discovered a pastry that I actually liked when making a Caramel Chocolate Pistachio Halva Torte (I just need a large number of people to eat this and I’d make it again!). The halva pastry is very subtle but is something much nicer than a biscuit (or cookie for those in the USA) base. Originally from Epicurious I just halve the recipe (which makes two bases … as I often bake two smaller cheesecakes so I can give one away).

New York Cheesecake with Halva base

Halva Pastry (if making half the cheesecake mix, or making a single cheesecake then divide in half)
1 ¼ cups plain flour
½ cup plain halva (approx 3 ½ oz)
1 tblspn sugar
¼ tspn salt
½ cup butter (make it not a full cup)
1 egg yolk
1 tblspn vanilla
1 tblspn cold water (may not be required).

Pulse flour, halva, sugar and salt in food processor, add in butter, yolk and vanilla. Add water if it hasn’t come into clumps, form into ball by hand, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Divide batter between two small cake tins that are lined with baking paper. You can roll out this pastry, but we didn’t bother.

Cheesecake Mix (original recipe from Epicurious)
1kg cream cheese (original recipe calls for 8oz, but that is annoying since our packages come in 250g blocks – so I use 4 packs)
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 tblspn plain flour
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tblspn lemon juice (or to taste)
5 large eggs (or in my case – 1 goose egg and 2 chook eggs!)
2 large egg yolks
½ tspn vanilla essence or paste

Using an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, and lemon zest/juice until smooth (you can use a food processor, but mine doesn’t contain quite the entire mix without making a mess!!). Add in eggs and yolks and vanilla. Don’t beat too much – you don’t really want air in it, just for it all to be mixed through.

Pour into baking tin with crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 550degF or until just beginning to go golden (you don’t want brown at this point, just want it to puff up a bit and change colour a tiny bit). Lower oven temperature to 200degF (leave oven door open until you are sure it has dropped temperature). Bake for 1 hour (watch it doesn’t brown too much – cover with foil if it does). If baking in a single tin it may take up to 2 hours. Cheesecake is cooked when it is no longer wobbly in the centre.
Remove from tin and cool on a plate. Serve small slices – this is delicious!

Oddly this was the least eaten item at work – personally I can’t understand that, since I adore it … it could also be that at work they like un-messy items … a sticky cheesecake piece doesn’t quite meet that. Much easier to just grab a cinnamon scroll:

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns (Nigella Lawson “How to be a domestic goddess”)
600g bread flour
100g sugar
½ tspn salt
21g (3 sachets) dried yeat
100g butte meltedr
400ml milk
2 eggs

Ok … so I cheated … I put all the ingredients into my breadmaker on a dough setting … and walked away!

The hand method would be to combine the ingredients, knead for about 5 minutes. Place in oiled bowl and put in warm spot for 25 minutes for the first rise.

Nigella instructs to take a third of the dough to make a layer at the bottom of a baking pan. Then to roll out the rest of the dough into a large rectangle. Then spread with the filling (I’ve doubled and changed the spices from the original … next time I’d even double the filling again from this).
Filling: mix together 150g butter softened (you want this to spread easily on the dough and not tear it), 150g sugar, 3 tspn cinnamon, 1 tspn allspice, 1 tspn ground ginger. Maybe even brown sugar would make them sticker?!
Roll up the dough into a looooong sausage. Chop in half, then half again … then each section into 5 pieces. It doesn’t matter if it looks like the dough has squished together the layers – they’ll come back once you bake them. Place in the tin. Rise for 15 minutes until nearly doubled in size. Bake at 230degC for 20 minutes – you want them very brown, not just golden or they wont be baked through in the centre ones. Grab the parchment paper and buns and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Eat!!

As bread can be quite temperamental, putting in three sachets of yeast seems to be an insurance policy – this bread is going to rise, and rise quickly!!! The outcome was probably a bread that is a bit sweeter than I like, but even though I doubled the filling – if I make them again I’ll probably make them even stickier and double it again!!! It really could take a lot more cinnamon/butter mix … and possibly also spread along the bottom layer. I assume the bottom layer is there so that the filling doesn’t leak to the bottom of the pan and brown too quickly … so if it is there to soak up more filling (which it didn’t in ours) then I’d like to actually make it work hard!!

Even though by the time they got to work they were nearly 2 days old – 10 seconds in the microwave and they were delicious again.

My sister had previously made up the original Nigella recipe for Florentines, so I got some hints from her about what I needed to change. First up was the almonds used – she recommended pre-sliced almonds rather than chunks (this could be because the ones we are used to buying all have slices not chunks so we have a preference for that), then she said to increase the flour a bit as her mix was too runny and spread out beyond the actual nut mix.

My additional changes were to add my own mixed peel. I can’t STAND peel, anything made with it is horrid, so I thought I’d try to make my own and see if I just didn’t like mixed peel vs just not liking manufactured stuff. Well, you wont be surprised when you find out that I love my homemade version – funnily enough candied peel tastes like … candy peel!!! Yummy sugary sweetness offset by a citrus tang. Easy to make – never again shall the horror of purchased peel come near my cooking! The only issue with the homemade version – it is very tempting to snack on, so storage is going to be a problem!!! Padlock maybe???

Candied Peel (Stephanie Alexander “The Cook’s Companion”
Citrus peel
Cold Water
Icing Sugar
(note: all amounts depend on how much peel you start with!)

Juice citrus fruit (I used a mix of lemons and oranges ... 3 lemons, 1 orange) use juice for something else! Slice peel (including pith) into thin strips. Put in saucepan and cover with cold water and bring to boil. Drain peel, and repeat boiling with new cold water, repeat again. The repeated boiling removes the bitterness. Weigh your drained peel and add the same amount of sugar to the saucepan (with no water). Bring to the boil, and let bubble until the peel looks translucent (some of mine didn’t quite get there, still tasted nice, just not so pretty!).

Place on wire rack to drain. Stepahanie’s instructions say this could take 12 hours to multiple days ... so with my impatience, I’m not into waiting ... I placed the rack over a baking pan and put it in a warm oven to help the syrup drain off faster – probably for about 10 minutes, then left over night. Cover with icing sugar and store in a sealed container – should last a couple of weeks.

Baking the Florentines – I knew they could be tricky and the first batch were a complete and utter mess … thrown in the bin! A slight change to my method – and out came a lovely version! They are like a brandy snap, they spread, except of course with a Florentine the nutty bits don’t spread leaving them in the middle and the mix burns on the edges whilst the centre stays uncooked. So I began by refrigerating the mix and instead of putting them in the oven and leaving them for the entire baking time, I took them out half way through, pushed in the edges, then baked again. A fix … but I’m still wondering if baking them in a muffin tin might work? Or some other form to enclose them so the edges aren’t thin. Looking at the ones you buy, they definitely don’t look like they’ve just been baked on a flat tray. I nearly attempted the muffin tin idea – but couldn’t face cleaning it out if it was a disaster … maybe when I have more time it might be worth a try!!

Florentines (original recipe Nigella Lawson “How to be a Domestic Goddess”)
100g flaked blanched almonds
80g candied peel (please don’t use the bought stuff … leave it out otherwise!)
40g glace cherries
25g unsalted butter
90g castor sugar
40g plain flour (Nigella calls for 15g)
150ml whipping cream
50g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate

Chop cherries and peel into small pieces (no bigger than a pea). Melt butter and sugar, stirring the entire time, add the flour and mix so it creates a ball. Remove from heat and add the cream. Stir in the fruit/almonds.

Refrigerate mix (trust me, makes it easier!). Place spoonfuls of mix on a lined baking tray … spread out the almonds etc, making it a bit thinner in the middle, the mix spreads a lot so don’t place them too close on the tray. Nigella’s instructions are to bake at 190degC for 10-12 minutes (this was a disaster for me!) … I baked them for about 7 minutes at 150degC, squished in the edges back to the nuts then put in the oven again for another 5 minutes until golden. Once they are cooked, you can’t move them immediately – but don’t leave it too long either. Wait until they are just firm, then cool on a wire rack.

Melt chocolates and drizzle over the backs of the Florentines, making wavy lines with a fork if that tickles your fancy!! Apparently the recipe makes 30 … but that includes the first batch you’re likely to stuff up!!!! I made mine quite small and got about 25 … plus the 10 or so I burnt!!

Custard Tarts

Although I’ve been baking, I haven’t been blogging!! So I have quite a few updates to put up … and plans for more as I’ve just received two new cookbooks. Peter Grewelings “Chocolate and Confections” and Elizabeth David’s “English Bread and cookery”. Peter Grewelings’ book is full of delicious photos that I just want to eat!!! Elizabeth Davids’ book is surprising … I bought it because I felt it was one of those ‘must have if you are serious about making serious things’ … and am actually enjoying reading it!! I keep finding wonderful lines such as her discussion on crumpets that seem like they come from a “plastics factory”, and I never expected to actually want to read about the history of ovens associated with bread! Now I know why it is a ‘must have’ … it’s good!!

Linking into Elizabeth Davids dislike of plastic crumpets from supermarkets, a common treat here is a custard tart … which do mostly resemble yellow rubber – they too could bounce when dropped! I went to my trusty cookbook by Stephanie Alexander (my resource for basic recipes) and adapted hers only slightly. As per normal I was making individual tarts – my muffin tin being the best I could come up with. I made up her shortcrust pastry recipe (with some additions!), and the custard mix (I resisted additions, it was very very hard NOT to put vanilla in them!). Apart from the pastry shrinking more in the blind-bake than I expected, with a dusting of nutmeg these delicate little custards out did anything I’ve bought before!!

The original recipe was to be made in a single tart … so I had a bit of left over custard mix, which refrigerated for two days until I made more pastry (and I froze some custard mix in little silicon dishes so I can bake a custard for myself as a treat after dinner one night). I’ve cut the original custard filling mix in half – you may still end up with leftovers depending on how deep your little tarts are!

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (original recipe Stephanie Alexander “The Cook’s Companion”)
180g unsalted butter
240g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 tblspn castor sugar
1 tspn vanilla paste (or essence)
approx 2 tblspn cold water
1 egg white (reserve yolk for filling)

Place all ingredients except the water in food processor (just because I’m lazy making pastry!), whiz until it looks like crumbs or starts to come together. Add just enough water so it does come together. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

Roll out and cut out rounds to suit muffin tins (note pastry will shrink so make a bit bigger than you want to finish with). Line with baking paper, then fill with pastry weights (or dried beans). Bake blind for 15 minutes – or until golden. Remove pastry weights/beans, brush shell with egg white, bake for 5 minutes. Makes approximately 20 small tarts
(depending if you like to eat raw pastry dough and it disappears before cooking – why do I often like raw things better than the cooked version?!)

Custard Tarts (original recipe Stephanie Alexander “The Cook’s Companion”)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup cream
2 tblspn castor sugar
freshly grated nutmeg

Oven 160degC

Warm milk and sugar until sugar dissolves (milk should not boil). Whisk eggs and add warm milk. Pour into the tart cases, bake for 45 minutes until just puffy (they should not brown). Grate nutmeg over the top whilst warm. Serve cold.

The outcome are delicate little custards that stand alone as themselves. No need to embellish these tarts as the joy is in their simplicity. They were eaten with much relish at work – many going back for seconds!