baking at home

Salted Caramel Sauce

Sweet buttery caramel with a touch of saltiness. It’s one of those flavour combinations that take you by surprise. Sweet and salty together? I was a skeptic but when the balance is created well it really is divine.

There are a couple of keys to success when making salted caramel sauce:

1. A deep heavy based saucepan – make sure you use a very clean (no food bits at all or burnt areas) heavy saucepan when making caramel. Why? If there are burn marks or food remnants this will taint the caramel and create burnt not caramelised sugar. The heavy saucepan also ensures an even cooking and prevents the sugar catching on the side and burning in spots. Why deep? See the next point

2. Have your cream warm – cold cream plus hot caramel equals a hot, dangerous mess. Adding any liquid to hot caramel requires care and attention and having warm cream reduces the risk of the hot caramel overflowing in your pan. A deep pan will also ensure that the caramel doesn’t bubble up and overflow – and bubble up it will

3. Take your pan off the heat when adding the cream – the caramel will keep cooking even when off the heat so by removing the direct heat source you will stop the cooking process from the source and add the cream safely 

 Please though, be aware when making caramel that it become extremely hot – when it becomes caramel stage it can be at temperatures of over 110 degrees celsius – plus with caramel it sticks to the skin and keeps burning. So how do you keep safe when cooking with caramel?

1. Use a long handled wooden spoon – this will prevent the sugar from conducting heat into the spoon and will keep your hands well away from the caramel

2. Have a container of ice water ready – if you do happen to drip a little caramel sauce on yourself plunge the area straight into the icy water – it will harden the caramel and stop it from cooking on your skin

Don’t let this safety tips deter you from cooking – I just like to educate you on how to keep safe in the kitchen! 

 

Now for the recipe:  

 

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Undercover Chef Tip – Having your cake and cutting it too

Undercover chef tip - Cut the cake

 

Ever starting cutting up a beautiful birthday cake and found by the third slice it looks a little less than beautiful? So what to do? 

An easy solution is to warm up the knife in hot water to allow it to cut through the icing cleanly. 

So how do you warm up the knife easily? Just place some hot water in a measuring jug, dip the knife in for a few seconds, slice through with ease, wipe off the knife with paper towel, re-dip and continue to cut, repeating the dip and wipe with each slice. 

The result? Lovely clean slices that do justice to the cake. Woohoo. 

 

Baked apple goodness for a winter night

I love vintage tea towels. Especially when they have old school recipes on them that remind you of foods you used to eat when you were young. This was the case with one of my favourites, a cooking with apples tea towel. Bright friendly colours keep you company as you wipe up your dishes but also gave me inspiration for dessert at my friends this week.

As a child dessert wasn’t a bit thing at the end of a meal. Sure there was coffee and biscuits but actual desserts weren’t a big feature so when my mum made her fabulous baked apples everyone was always around the dinner table, the oft used excuses to disappear into teenage bedrooms forgotten. Well for my siblings anyways. Being eight year younger I was always happy to hang around the dinner table with Mum, not having reached the joy of teens years just yet. But I digress. My Dad wasn’t too much of a sweet tooth preferring a slice of cheese and fresh apples after dinner but loved Mum’s baked apples,  so we knew that Dad was in Mum’s good books when they appeared after dinner.  Such a simple dessert but coupled with ice-cream it was such an easy after dinner treat.

Lo and behold my fabulous vintage tea towel featured a similar recipe transporting me back to my childhood. Their recipe also featured glace cherries and brandy made into a sauce with the buttery goodness left behind, a step which I left out because a) I don’t really like glace cherries and b) I thought the caramelised buttery sauce was nice enough without a splash of brandy which I don’t actually have on hand anyways!

So I know I haven’t really revealed the full temptation of a baked apple as yet. Just the title doesn’t really give away the treat it is, so I will explain the very simple method and try and entice you even more. Quite simply, you just core out the apple’s whole, score the skin so it doesn’t burst open and make a mess and then stuff the cavity of the apple with a combination of softened butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Imagine then baking these stuffed apples for about half an hour in which time the butter and sugar caramelise to a butterscotch sauce at the bottom of the pan and the apple flesh cooks down to a soft, sweet filling. No we are talking hey? Now put that delicious apple into a bowl, top with vanilla ice-cream and enjoy! You can thank me later, don’t worry.

Ingredients (serves four)

4 granny smith apples (these bake really well but if you have a favourite apple by all means use them!)

3 tbsp softened butter

2 tbsp brown sugar

pinch cinnamon

Method

  1. Core out the apples and score the skin
  2. Mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl until combined and softened
  3. Spoon and push the butter mix into the cored cavity of the apples
  4. Either place the apples in individual ramekins and on a tray to bake or onto a paper lined tray with the edges folded up to catch the butter sauce
  5. Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 min or until the apples have softened
  6. Remove from oven and serve with vanilla ice-cream. If you have baked them on a tray, put into serving dishes and carefully pour over the remaining sauce sauce from the oven tray.

The proof is in the pudding

What to have for dessert. Almost as much a quandary and what to have for dinner. I’ll admit I have bought and cooked my share of frozen desserts before. Why? Laziness to be honest. Sometimes I convince myself that is too hard to make a dessert from scratch so I buy an apple pie or pastry and bake it. Of course I am more often than not disappointed in the dessert and wish I had just baked my own but alas, there we are.

So what do you do when you just couldn’t be bothered but you’d prefer not to buy a frozen dessert? Pudding. Puddings are some of the simplest and easiest desserts to make. Four or five ingredients, stirred, put into a mould and baked. Like a cake but with less pressure and you don’t have to ice them. Self saucing puddings are even better. The accompaniment is baked into the dish for you! All you need do is sprinkle some berries or whip some cream and voila, an easy peasy dessert is made. Of course you can also buy frozen self saucing puddings but you really don’t need to when they are so easy to make.

I baked mine in individual pots to make serving easier and more attractive. Puddings don’t look that elegant when spooned out onto a plate so for a dinner party dessert, individual pots are the way to go. At home by yourself and wish to have something warm to eat? By all means, grab a spoon and tuck in straight from the dish. I do 😉

So, to the recipe:

Ingredients (makes four individual puddings)

1 cup of self raising flour or 1 cup of plain flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 tbsp of cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

80g butter

1 large egg

For the sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups of boiling water

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees
  2.  Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the sugar until combined
  3. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly
  4. Whisk the egg and milk together in a jug, add the melted butter and combine
  5. Pour the mix over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine
  6. Spoon the batter into individual ramekins and place onto oven proof tray
  7. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and cocoa powder, mix until combined sugar is dissolved
  8. Carefully pour the sauce mix over the back of a spoon onto the top of the pudding batter. The liquid should reach just under the lip of the ramekin
  9. Place the tray carefully into the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until the puddings have risen and the liquid has cooked through. The puddings should be soft to touch and spring back when touched.
  10. Remove from oven, allow to sit for 2 minutes and serve with cream or ice-cream and berries
  11. Enjoy!

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

Finding inspiration can be a little elusive sometimes but I have been lucky lately and had it handed to me each day. I have been participating in Stephanie Alexander’s A to Z food photo challenge – A letter a day relating to food. It has been lots of fun and today was the letter L. Of course the obvious is Lemons! Who doesn’t love this citrus fruit? It has so many uses, freshening up a salad, tarting up a dessert, giving a kick to a marinade! Lemons do it all. My favourite application though? Lemon curd.

It’s tart, its buttery and it tastes so good when you like the bowl. Or the spoon. Or your fingers when you dip them in the bowl. But shhh…don’t tell anyone 😉

I am fortunate enough to have access to a lemon tree that has large, juicy and non-waxed/pesticide skin. They are as lemony as lemons can be and they have such an intense flavour. If you can get access to organic or as close to it does make a difference to have the juicier lemons and to use the skin in cooking without worrying what’s in it.

Lemon curd is easy peasy but there are a few hints:

1. Use a low to medium heat as there are a lot of eggs in this recipe and they can over cook very quickly

2. If the mixture seems to be cooking too quick, remove from heat and keep stirring whilst it thickens and finishes cooking

3. Cut your butter into small cubes to allow it to melt and mix into the cooked egg mixture evenly

4. If there appears to be large cooked egg bits in the mix if you had the heat too high, don’t despair! Either give it a quick blend with a bar mix or pop it in a blender and give it a quick whiz to mix together before adding the butter. Pass through a fine sieve and add the butter as normal

5. If you’re really unsure, place the mix into a bowl over simmering water and cook out slowly – it make take up to ten minutes to thicken so be patient

6. If you’d like to store the butter for future use (I don’t know how you can’t help but eat it with a spoon right away!) then follow the usual preserving rules – boil the bottle and lids first and place on clean tea towel to air dry, pour the curd mix into the jar when still hot  and place a lid on straight away and leave to cool. The cooling action will create a vacuum. I would recommend keeping the jar in the fridge to err on the side of caution, but with this method it will last at least two weeks unopened. Opened use within a couple of days.

So the recipe: (the photos feature a 1/4 amount of this recipe – this will make enough for one large lemon tart)

500ml lemon juice

500g sugar

12 eggs

6 yolks

360g butter

Method:

1. Separate eggs and mix yolks with whole eggs.

2. Put sugar and lemon juice in pan, bring to simmer and stir until sugar dissolves.

3. Add lemon sugar mix to eggs slowly and whisk together.

4. Put into wide based saucepan, stir egg mix over stove until thickened, approx 5 minutes

5. Remove from heat, stir in diced butter until well combined

6. Strain through fine sieve and bottle if saving for later or put into container ready to spoon over scones, sponge, into a tart shell or just go right ahead and stick a spoon in. I did 🙂

Let Them Eat Cake (birthday cake that is)

It was my boyfriends birthday recently and course we had to celebrate with cake! What is a birthday without cake after all! I have always enjoyed making birthday cakes for friends and family and watching their delight as everyone sings a song in their honour whilst embarrassing them with how off tune it all is. These days birthday cakes know no bounds as flights of fancy in icing have seen the rise of more and more creative baking feats achieved. I prefer to make simple cakes but I do enjoy the fruits of other peoples labour don’t worry! For this birthday as Davin loves cheesecake and chocolate what better way to combine the two to celebrate his day than this chocolate cheesecake recipe.

This recipe was given to me by my sous chef at Il Centro Brian. He has cooked this for his lady and her friends and due to their rapturous response deemed this recipe a winner. From the response of Davin and his family and my own enjoyment, I’d have to agree. His version has white chocolate but I am more of a milk/dark chocolate fan so went with that. Traditionally cheesecakes are either baked or set with gelatine but the addition of butter plus the chocolate to this recipe allows it to set firm in the fridge without the use of gelatine. This is particularly handy if you don’t have gelatine on hand or don’t use it often enough to buy for one cake. Feel free to stir through some berries of chocolate chips or whatever ingredients take your fancy to make it your own.

Chef’s Notes:

– A food processor makes turning the biscuits into crumbs easier by far but if you don’t have one there is the old fashioned way that my mother and I used to do which is put the biscuits in a bag and crush with a rolling pin or meat hammer until crumbly. I recommend this method after a stressful day.

– A springform pan is the one where there is a leverish catch in the side with releases the band away from the base. This is to allow easy release of the cake from the pan, especially as it quite delicate and flipping it out as per a normal cake may cause it to break. If you don’t have one of these tins, ensure you line a cake tin with baking paper and ensure you have a long piece of paper that overlaps the side of the pan to lift the cake out

– With baked cheesecakes the base is baked for a few minutes before being left to cool. This is to ensure the base doesn’t melt back into the mix when baking, a step no necessary with cold set cheesecakes

– If you can’t find mascarpone, ricotta will suffice. The addition of the mascarpone adds a little tartness and a lighter creaminess than just cream cheese by itself

So, without further ado, the ingredients:

100g sugar

200g chocolate (white, milk or dark)

300ml pure cream

200g marscapone

250g cream cheese

100g butter

200g biscuits of your choice (arrowroot, chocolate, ginger snap)

2 teas sp vanilla

Method:

1. Melt chocolate and 30g of butter together and stir until combined

2. Process biscuits until fine crumb. Melt remaining butter and mix through biscuits until evenly coated.

3. Line spring form tin with baking paper to ensure clean release and press biscuit mix into base of spring form tin until even. Place in fridge for at least 15 minutes until firm.

4. Whip sugar and cream cheese together, add cream and whip together. Fold together with mascapone, add melted butter and chocolate mix  and stir through gently.

5. Pour on top of biscuit base and cool until firm, approximately 2-3 hours or overnight

6.  Decorate as desired – I used freckles or you could use strawberries, berries, crumbled chocolate or biscuits, whatever you fancy

7. Cut a big slice, sit down and enjoy every bite!

Not just a pumpkin scone – my mother’s pumpkin scones

pumpkin scone finished v3

 

Well actually, this is a recipe for pumpkin scones, but not just any pumpkin scones, old school recipe from the 60’s pumpkin scones -mmmm. Once again I baked some treats from my mother’s high school recipe book and happened across the pumpkin scones and with a 1/4 pumpkin looking forlorn in the fridge and no immediate use in mind a scone it was destined to become!

A few hints for getting the pumpkin to the mashed stage as per the recipes request

– steam if you can don’t boil: pumpkins already have quite a high moisture content and boiling floods them with even more creating a sloppy mash even if you drain it well – steaming prevents this from happening thus ensuring you won’t need to add a lot of flour to compensate

– if you can, bake the pumpkin at a low heat (150 degrees Celsius) until soft for a lovely texture – the low heat ensures the pumpkin doesn’t over colour

As these are home made pumpkin scones and thus have no preservatives if you’d like to have them for more than a couple of days (if they can stay around that long!) freeze them and defrost and toast for an afternoon tea later in the week. Once again I served mine with apricot jam (its a weakness) and lashings of butter. Delicious!

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups SR flour

1 cup mashed pumpkin

60 g butter

1 egg

60g sugar

1/2 cup milk

Method

– Rub butter into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

– Make well in centre of flour, mix milk with egg and sugar, fold into flour with a butter knife

– Add mashed pumpkin and mix to soft dough

– The mix will be sticky, flour your hands and use a piece of baking paper to roll the dough out onto

– Once the dough is rolled to about 3 cm thickness cut into rounds with cutter and place on tray

– Brush with milk for a more golden colour if desired

– Bake in oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10-15 min until golden

– Allow to cool, crack open, butter up and dig in. Yumm….

pumpkin scone ingredients

pumpkin scone dought rolled

pumkpin scone mixed

pumpkin scone finished v3

Let’s Get Baking – Jam Drops

My oven isn’t the trustiest for baking more delicate foods such as cakes and desserts but biscuits and pies that require heat but aren’t quite so temperamental work wonderfully. I was looking through my bookshelf and found my mothers recipe book from her year 10 home economics classes and was excited to find jam drops and pumpkin scones written in amongst the more old school lambs brains and calves livers. Needless to say I skipped over those options and pulled out the ingredients for the baking.

This recipe is for the Jam Drops. I used apricot jam as it is my favourite jam but feel free to go wild with your choices and mix them up with whatever tickles your fancy. Just a few notes here – makes sure you make a decent dip in the biscuits to hold the jam as when they rise  the jam can spill out over the biscuit.

The biscuits aren’t meant to be super firm so as long as they are golden they will be cooked. Remember though, if you make smaller versions less cooking time, larger versions will take a little more. Aim for about ten minutes and check from there. Nothing spoils baking like having them in the oven too long! Trust me, the first batch had a lovely charcoal base which was not the intention!!

So the recipe – My Mother’s Jam Drops

Ingredients:

60g butter

60g sugar

2 eggs (large)

150g self raising flour

1/2 cup jam

Pinch salt

Method:

Cream the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs one at a time mixing well, Mix in flour and salt to form firm dough. If the dough seems a little sticky still mix in some plain flour to bring together.

Roll mix into small balls and place on tray in lines about 5cm apart. Using a measuring spoon or whatever else is on hand, push small indentations into the balls and fill with jam.

Bake in a moderate oven (175 degrees) for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool on pan. Serve with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or just eat them straight off the tray as I am inclined to do 🙂

 Enjoy!