salted caramel chocolate brownie tart

Since we are in December now, it’s totally okay to start talking about Christmas, and by that, I mean what we are all planning to eat on Christmas. In my family I am put in charge of the menu each year and the pressure to start planning is applied as early as September.

Even though I like to use Christmas as a time to experiment with new recipes, I know there is a lot riding on everything coming off as a success. Desserts are always the area that make me the most anxious – it’s not as easy to wing it with something that requires a strict set of ingredients, so I decided to do a test run of my planned salted caramel chocolate brownie tart.

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The name of this recipe is a bit of a mouthful, and it’s just as much of a process making it – a chocolate biscuit base, a layer of gooey caramel topped with a rich, dark chocolate brownie and glazed with a layer of even richer chocolate ganache.

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I adapted a recipe from the Akaroa Cooking School and used a sweet pastry base for my test run because I had some I needed to get rid of and wasn’t sure if all of the chocolate was going to be a sensory overload.

While the pastry was blind baking, I heated a can of condensed milk with 75grams of butter and several tablespoons of honey. I also added a teaspoon of sea salt because I love that salty juxtaposition. Once the butter was melted and the condensed milk had morphed several shades darker, I poured it over top of the base and baked for 10 minutes at 170°C. The caramel comes out another shade darker and had thickened nicely.

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While the caramel was cooking I got started on the brownie – 150grams of melted butter, ½ cup of cocoa powder, ¾ cup of sugar combined to a thick paste. I whisked in two eggs and folded through a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and another of baking powder. This makes a rather thick mixture and since I want it to pour evenly over the caramel layer, I might thin it with a bit of water next time.

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I popped it back into the oven for another 20 minutes before leaving it to cool.

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The ganache is simple enough; ½ cup of warm cream and 200grams of dark chocolate poured over the cooled brownie and refrigerated until set.

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This slice of heaven is definitely a chocolate lover’s fantasy, and while the pastry base is a nice touch I think I will be making a chocolate base come Christmas time – in my mind, you can never have too much chocolate!

 

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peppermint chocolate cake – an experiment with italian meringue

Recently, a friend of mine and I decided that it would be a good idea to establish a local chapter of the Clandestine Cake Club but following my recent botched attempts at cake-making, I thought it wise to give myself a little more practice before unleashing any more of my creations onto the general public. I was also recently gifted a bottle of peppermint syrup. These two mutually exclusive factors coincided over the weekend into a chocolate sponge cake with peppermint meringue icing. I can now say that I will never be making Italian meringue ever again.

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The cake itself turned out rather well, aside from forgetting to add any baking powder to the batter. I actually think I prefer it without too much spring, the batter still comes out light and fluffy; pillowy like a sponge cake but not as aerated – it still feels substantial as you sink your teeth into it. Unlike the last attempt at sponge cake, the sea of pots and pans that is my kitchen cupboards parted to reveal the electric mixer, which makes beating together eggs, flour, sugar and butter easy and breezy. I definitely recommend it.

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The failures began with the cake icing. For starters, I didn’t have any icing sugar so I wasn’t able to make a standard icing. Instead, I opted for an Italian meringue icing because I could use regular sugar to make syrup and I like how it spreads like a thick layer of cloud.

Whisk one egg white to firm peaks, soft peaks won’t cut it and you will end up whisking for what seems like days. I added a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of peppermint syrup.

Heat 200grams of sugar with a ¼ cup of water to make a boiling simple syrup. Once it is as clear as glacier water and looks like molten glass, it’s ready. One of the (only) draw cards of Italian meringue is that there is no need to cook it, so you need the syrup to be terrifyingly hot to cook the egg whites. The heat also gives the egg fluff that little shock it needs to puff up nicely.

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I thought that was the final step; ready to lather over my perfect chocolate circle. Not the case. The meringue needs to be whipped until room temperature; by getting as much air into it as possible we get the fluffiest, smoothest result. This result is not achievable in less than 15 minutes, by which stage my arm was numb and my kitchen was covered in pale flecks of meringue from each time I lost control of the beater.

What an ordeal. And after all of my struggle, I realised that I had far too much meringue – out of fear of having too little, I doubled the recipe. Isn’t it always the way?

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Luckily for me, it freezes well and coincidently makes a great base for sorbet… watch this space!

today i made a cake

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I get this burning desire to bake a cake. And that is what happened today.

I enjoy eating cake as much as the next person, probably more. Even though I am completely adequate at making them myself, my experimentations don’t always work out. I don’t think they even equate to failure, more often I would describe it as a lack of success. Delicious as it was, my latest cake lacked the finesse and technical completion that I was ideally after.

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Oftentimes my cake’s shortcomings occur because of my lack of discipline with my measuring cups, but this time it was a prime example of my ideas not being totally thought through from the get-go. I was trying to get creative with the simple concept of a Victoria sponge cake. Fluffy clouds of sunshine yellow batter cut in half by a thick layer of sweet cream and crimson strawberry jam, elegantly topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. What could be better?! I thought my idea was going to be better; I wanted to replace the layer of cream with a layer of meringue.

I hate cutting a cake in half to add the centre; I brilliantly decided to bake the meringue in between two layers of cake batter and safe myself some time.

Here’s how it played out.

The whole event was a bit of a trial – to begin with I couldn’t find my electric beater. Even though sponge is so light and fluffy when its cooked, the batter is unusually dense and I had a very difficult time incorporating the butter into the sugar and flour with an old-fashioned beater – a task similar to mixing cement with a wooden spoon. I fought back tears and curse words, and gave up at least twice before I was ‘happy’ with the batter. And then I moved on to the meringue with as much positivity as I could muster.

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I love making meringue, even when I have to use a hand-held beater; I love watching the egg whites fluff up and adding the sugar teaspoon by teaspoon makes it seem like there isn’t that much sugar going into it. As I added the final dash of sugar and a whisper of vanilla, a new sense of optimism had been whipped into me. That feeling didn’t last long.

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After smearing the bottom of my cake tin with half of the sponge batter, I topped it with the meringue and dotted it with flecks of blood-red jam. It was at this precise moment, as I stood there admiring the how smooth and plump my meringue layer was, that I put two and two together – I was about to cover my meringue, silky and light, with this thick and heavy cake mix.

Gravity is a thing that we have known about for centuries; what goes up must come down and all that jazz. Like a multi-coloured cocktail, a heavier substance will sink to the bottom of a lighter one. I almost lost it as I watched the top layer of cake getting swallowed up into a pure white sea of sugar. I baked it anyway.

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It was edible, it was delicious, it was not at all what I had wanted to create. The base was light and spongey, bright yellow from all of the egg yolks that I had used and the top was sweet and crunchy. It was kind of like a spongey, jammy version of my meringue cake, funny that!

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Even though the main event was a bit of a fail, each component worked relatively well, here are the recipes I used:
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 cup of diced, slightly warmer than room-temperature butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 egg whites and 1/2 of a cup of sugar made more than enough meringue. Because of the meringue, the cooking time was longer than a usual sponge – 40 minutes at 170°C as opposed to 20 minutes normally.

fifty shades of yellow

I have posted a recipe like this before, but this version is a little bit more decadent. I am going through a bit of a phase inspired by macarons (stay tuned!), not only the crunchy chewiness of them but also the sweet and savoury dichotomy that the ground almonds adds. And as we come into summer I begin craving all things Italian; pasta, tomatoes covered in olive oil, and polenta.

Vernazza - Liguria, Italy
Vernazza – Liguria, Italy

Polenta is one of those ingredients which a lot of people aren’t too fussed over. Rightly so, often it is not prepared in the most interesting of ways; needing to be cooked in milk or served with a lot of cheese to gain any memorability. This method of cooking is very heavy – the opposite of what you want in summer. In this recipe that I have borrowed from Nigella Lawson, polenta (along with ground almonds) is used as a substitute for flour, which makes for a lighter, less stodgy batter. The polenta balances the sweetness of the almonds and the lemoncello adds a bit of tartness, which never goes amiss.

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Nigella’s recipe calls just for lemon drizzle over top, while I served mine with cinnamon whipped cream for presentation. I know what you’re thinking; whipped cream, lemoncello and sweet almond meal batter – how decadent is this going to be?! That’s a fair enough thought, the lemoncello can be substituted for lemon juice, the whipped cream can be omitted and this cake is meant to be 16 servings, so small slices is key. Everything in moderation!

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Beat 200grams of butter with 200grams of sugar. If you don’t have a pair of kitchen scales (I seem to have misplaced mine), 200grams is just less than 1cup. Mix 200grams of ground almonds and 100grams of polenta, 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder is optional here. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter. Mix, add an egg, mix and repeat. All up that equals three eggs, but one egg can be swapped for half a banana although eggs will make a fluffier batter. I used one egg and one banana. Mix through the zest of one lemon, transfer to a cake tin and bake at 180°C for 40 minutes.

a lot of beige
a lot of beige

While your cake is baking, gently heat 125grams of sugar with 4tablespoons of lemoncello (or lemon juice) and a dash of vanilla (which can also be omitted if I am being too decadent for your tastebuds). Bring to the boil and simmer until your cake is done. Softly poke the top of your cake with a fork or toothpick and pour over the syrup. The syrup will infuse through the cake, making it moist with a lovely lemon zing.

I topped mine with whipped cream and some dried orange and lemon zest. Other options include candied fruit of freshly picked spring flowers.

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