Saturday, September 20, 2014

Creme Caramel - slow baked

I have had a severe multi-dose of procrastination, indecisiveness and writer's block - all of which I am going to use as my excuse for the long gap from the last post. It's not all hopeless. I got over the indecisiveness when I ticked the voting paper today for the NZ general election.  I also knew whether I would have voted aye or nae for Scottish independence but sadly expat Scots, who really still care about their beloved country's future, were not given the vote.

Back home when I was a child I would not have given the vote to creme caramels.  I hated them with a passion and don't remember why.  I think it was just the taste, which is everything really.

Late last year in Ortolana restaurant, I ordered a salted caramel flan and got it into my head that I was ordering a pastry tart filled with custard and strawberries (I know, I'm a little mixed up at times). I had to be convinced I had ordered it when it arrived and glumly tried it.  It was nice in the way that it was better than I'd expected but wasn't quite what I'd had in mind.

So it still seems a little strange that I'd want to make these creme caramels, but I had half a tin of sweetened condensed milk I wanted to use and, bingo, saw this recipe and thought "why not?". (Be assured I don't vote for political parties in the same flippant manner.)

The result is that the caramel sauce worked (I thought I'd burnt it at first), the custard set, they were easy to bake and looked pretty good (but would look much prettier with some added decoration e.g. fresh or marinated strawberries which I didn't have). 

Once baked, they just had to languish overnight in the fridge. Ideal for do-ahead desserts. Oh, and I did like them and can't imagine why I didn't before?

Creme Caramels

Makes 4

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 a 400g tin of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Turn your slow cooker onto the HIGH setting.  Pour in 2 cups of hot tap water.  

Lightly spray or grease 4 ramekins, cups or small bowls (which can hold 3/4 cup of water). Check beforehand that they fit in the slow cooker (I used two upturned tiny soy sauce bowls to allow two of the ramekins to be at a different level so they would all fit in).

For the caramel: Heat the sugar over moderate heat in a medium saucepan, preferably with a pouring spout.  DO NOT STIR.  Tilt the pan carefully to ensure all the sugar melts evenly and turns golden brown. As soon as it reaches that stage and still without stirring, pour equal amounts into the bottoms of the ramekins.

Place the eggs, milk, condensed milk and vanilla into a mixing jug or bowl and beat until combined but not frothy. Pour this mixture through a fine sieve into the ramekins.

Carefully place the filled ramekins into the slow cooker.  Put the lid back on the slow cooker and turn the setting to LOW. Cook for 4 hours or until custards set.

Once set, turn off the slow cooker and carefully lift out the bowls.  Cover with plastic film and leave overnight in the fridge.  Remove from the fridge half an hour before serving.

To turn out the custards, run a small palette knife or similar, around the top.  I turned them out onto a flat, stainless steel pastry scraper so I could easily transfer them to a serving plate. Otherwise you can scoop them out onto your hand (I did not trust myself with this!).

And there you have it, a caramel topped custard with a pool of caramel sauce.

Recipe from Slow Cookers & Crockpots by Simon & Alison Holst

This is my entry for September's Sweet New Zealand hosted by Karen at Mummy Do It (I remember those words!).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chocolate & Hazelnut Caramel Slice

Chocolate & Hazelnut Caramel Slice 

Well, here I am on my wonderful work-free Friday.  Work, that is, in the paid sense.  The other unpaid kind is what’s eating away at my day today.  That, and the incessant pull of social media just in case I’m missing something interesting. I often wonder how I get more done when I have less time at home but I already know the answer. So I’ll just call it pottering and look upon it as a form of relaxation.

I’ve been listening to a radio discussion on Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) that made me laugh out loud. A study has found that many women with a retired husband at home suffered stress related symptoms such as insomnia, headaches and depression (and presumably extra work cleaning up after the husband’s “bright ideas” or projects?).  As I was chortling away (in my defense, it was presented in a humorous tone), a certain thread of trepidation crept in, making me realize I too would find it difficult not to have my cherished “home alone” time. It’s a long way off but I am thankful then to have a large shed where he can mess around until his heart is content and I won’t be setting foot in or cleaning it.  Whew!

One thing I did achieve today was making this slice.  I’d been thinking of driving 20 minutes to experience a similar one at a local café but decided to stay put, brew a good coffee and make this using some leftover chocolate ganache and sweetened condensed milk I had in the fridge.  I’m glad I did.

The recipe comes from the Little & Friday cookbook given to me as a Christmas present last year. Eight months later, I hadn’t baked one single thing from it so it was time to change that. 

It’s a wonderfully gooey, fudgy, chocolate slice.  I expected it to be similar to Millionaire’s Shortbread (my recipe here) but the chocolate base and caramel & hazelnut filling are both different and gorgeous and I love the hazelnuts. Not surprisingly it’s an “in demand” best-seller for Little & Friday.

I'm entering this for Sweet New Zealand, hosted this month by Munch Cooking.

Chocolate & Hazelnut Caramel Slice 


175g butter, softened
2 cups icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
½ cup good quality cocoa
1½ cups plain flour
½ tsp salt


2 x 395g tins sweetened condensed milk
200ml golden syrup
100g butter
1 cup roasted hazelnuts*, chopped


¾ cup chocolate ganache

*To roast hazelnuts, heat oven to 180°C.  Place hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes.  Leave to cool.  Rub hazelnuts briskly in a tea towel to remove the skin and chop into about quarters.


Preheat the oven to 150°C. Grease and line a 25cm square tin (leave an overlap of baking paper lining for easier removal from tin).

Place the butter, icing sugar and vanilla in a cake mixer and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat until well combined. Sift the cocoa, flour and salt together and add to the mix, again until well combined.

Press the mix firmly and evenly into the base of the baking tin.  Bake for 10-15 minutes in the centre of the oven.

While the base is cooking, prepare the filling by combining the condensed milk, golden syrup, butter and hazelnuts into a saucepan.  Heat slowly over a low heat then pour over the cooked base. 

Return the base and filling to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes or until set.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once cool, spread a thin layer of hot chocolate ganache over the top.  I removed the base and filling from the baking tin before I spread the ganache on top.

Once the ganache has set, use a sharp knife to cut into squares or slices. Dip the knife in hot water and wipe off with paper towel between each cut for easier slicing.

Ganache (makes 1 cup – use ¾ cup for above recipe) 

200g good quality dark chocolate (I use Whittaker’s 72% Dark Ghana)
½ cup cream

Gently melt the chocolate and cream in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (the water should not touch the bowl).  Stir until melted and smooth.  Leave to cool and thicken. 

Leftover ganache can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks (or eaten by the spoonful if you are so inclined!).

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ginger & Sultana Loaf

I'm a huge fan of very dark, sticky and spicy gingerbread and the last time I baked one, I posted it way back in 2011 here, so it's been a long wait...

Unlike the earlier gingerbread, this one won't knock your socks off, but it is a good, moist loaf with chunks of stem ginger and sultanas. If you can, use stem ginger (I used Opies Stem Ginger in Syrup which comes in a jar) as it really adds to the flavour of the loaf.  If not, leave it out (you'll still get the taste from the ground ginger) or use chopped crystallized ginger instead. 

Like most gingerbread loaves it improves with age over a week but as noted in my last gingerbread post, I've never tested that theory as nothing ever lasts that long (unless it's inedible).

And, as I've used one in my photo, let me just say how much I love hellebores or winter roses. I have little clumps of them under trees and their hidden beauty always makes me smile. One trick I learned from an English home and garden magazine was to leave the picked hellebores somewhere midway between the cold outside and warmth inside (the entrance way works for us) to let them adjust to a warmer temperature.  They then won't droop so quickly when they feel the heat. Me? I never droop in the heat - bring it on!

Ginger & Sultana Loaf

100g butter
100g dark cane (or soft brown) sugar
100g treacle
1 egg, beaten
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
150ml warm milk
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
50g sultanas
2 pieces of stem ginger, chopped (optional)
(I add any syrup clinging to the stem ginger too - nice & sticky!) 

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. 

Grease and line a loaf tin.

Place the butter, sugar and treacle in a saucepan and heat gently until melted, stirring constantly.  Allow to cool slightly, then beat in the egg.

Sift the flour and spices into a mixing bowl, then stir in the melted mixture and beat well to combine.

Mix the milk with the bicarbonate of soda and add this to the mix.  Stir in the sultanas and the stem ginger. 

Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Energy Balls

I have become quite addicted to these, taking them to work each day to have at morning coffee break. 

Like a lot of things in life, I’ve come to these late.  By some kind of osmosis I’ve gone from barely noticing them in café cabinets to realizing that people everywhere are making, buying or eating them. They have now seeped into my skin and I am habitually whizzing up some form of them to substitute for a muffin, which I’m presuming is a good thing, right?

I store them in the freezer and drop one in a ziplock bag on my way to work.  I favour eating them straight from the freezer as they’re chewy and dense and the eating sensation lasts just that bit longer.  Once they come to room temperature they’re softer and therefore disappear faster. 

A colleague makes a blockbuster chocoholic version of these.  Gigantic, fudgy spheres with, wait for it, a surprise square of chocolate in the centre (think Caramello or other flavoured squares of chocolate bars). Full on.

I’ve gone for a more restrained version that you can be all virtuous about eating (although, as with most things, in moderation).  Whilst it’s not a quite the same as a chocolate hit, they do deliver enough of a consolation and they are so easy to make.

These treats bear some oddball names such as amaze balls (although I think that’s actually a brand?) and the more frequent bliss balls.  Well I have to say that just sounds a bit dodgy and reminds me (not in a good way) of David Beckham’s moniker Golden Balls!  Enough of that – I’ll stick with energy balls, thank you.

Energy Balls

16 pitted and chopped dates (Medjool dates are best)
1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 cup almonds
2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder

zest and juice of 1 orange
a pinch of sea salt (optional)

½ - ¾ cup desiccated coconut for coating
If you’re not a fan of coconut, roll them in crushed nuts or sieved cocoa powder.

Use this recipe as a base but the possibilities are endless.  Substitute the fruits and nuts shown for other dried fruit (apricots instead of dates) and nuts; add different flavourings – after reading The Kitchen Maid’s version, I’ve taken to adding a teaspoon of orange blossom water to mine. 
If you can’t get Medjool dates (and you really want to as they are soft and thick with a sweet taste), soften hard dates (or apricots) by heating in a little water (or the juice of the orange from the recipe). If you use a little water, you won’t have to drain but to be on the safe side set aside any drained water in case you need to add to the mixture.

Grind the nuts in a food processor until fine.
Add the dates, cocoa powder, orange zest and juice and salt.
Process the mixture in the food processor until it is smooth and forms a ball.
Roll into walnut or golf-ball sized balls (your choice – I started with walnut and upsized to golf-ball.  I used a mini-ice cream scoop to measure out the balls.)
Spread the desiccated coconut on a plate and coat the balls in it.
Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Store in the fridge for about 2 weeks or in the freezer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spiced Shortbread with Sultanas & Almond

A batch of just-baked shortbread is cooling on the wire tray.  Bill is looking at the biscuits intently.  What‘s he looking for, I want to know? The smallest, the biggest, the ugliest?  Of course it’s the ugliest. He knows I’ll be taking a photo for the blog and saving the best for that.  Stealing a perfect biscuit could mean a rap on the knuckles with the rolling pin for him. But he also wants one while they’re still hot. They may never taste as good. I take a bite of his.  He’s right.  I take the runner-up in the ugly contest. God, it’s divine. Warm, soft but slight crunch at bottom edges, buttery, rich.  Every inch of willpower is needed to hold me back from having another one. Having had it drummed into me from an early age I’m very good at holding back until the baking has cooled.  Not any longer. Hot shortbread is my new love.

I adapted this slightly from a recipe from New Zealand chef, Peter Gordon.  I substituted the rice flour with semolina and used all white flour instead of a mix of wholemeal and white, only because I didn’t have either.  

One day I’ll try the true version and let you know how that turns out.  In the meantime, I’d rate this one of the top shortbread recipes I’ve tried.  I halved the recipe and managed to get 13 or 14 biscuits. I’ve given the full recipe below (my version) which Mr Gordon says yields 20 serves but you may get more than that.  Instead of hand-beating for the first step, you can blitz for a few seconds in a food processor, scrape down and blitz again. 

And don’t forget to try them while they’re still hot!

Spiced shortbread with sultanas & almond

280g butter, at room temperature
180g caster sugar (plus 2 tbsp extra for topping)
2 tsp allspice
80g sultanas
120g semolina
260g plain white flour
roasted almonds, split lengthways in half (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray or two with baking paper.

Place the butter, sugar and allspice in a bowl and beat until smooth and well-combined, scraping down the sides once and beating again.

Add the sultanas, semolina and flour and beat until dough just comes together.  Place on a worktop and gently knead for a few seconds. 

Roll the dough out on a gently floured board and cut out biscuit shapes using a cutter.  (Alternatively you can just pull bits from the dough, roll them into balls and press flat with your fingers or a fork onto the tray.)

Using the extra two tablespoons of caster sugar, sprinkle the tops of all the biscuits.  Push a halved almond into the middle of each biscuit. Rest in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking until golden for approximately 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool a few minutes on the tray.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool (or not as the case may be – do try them when they’re hot!).