Wednesday, June 29, 2011

3 surprising tips for perfect Dulce de leche {Recipe}

Dulce de leche is the ‘new black’ for pastry chefs –filling gourmet macarons, biscuits and cakes.

The luscious milk caramel, much loved by Latin Americans, is taking the world by storm and I am unashamedly smitten.  Why?  Because I don’t have to make toffee first!

It’s simple to make from scratch.  All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes, a generous sized pan and patience.

Wear comfortable shoes
Take it from me, comfortable shoes are a must! I made my first batch of dulce de leche after traipsing around a shopping centre for a couple of hours in cowboy boots that offer no cushioning support.  Pink cowboy boots are lovely to look at but they’re not really designed for all day wearing and certainly not for kitchen duties.  Half way through the caramel and I was regretting my decision not to change footwear. (Since I was working with hot liquids I felt I couldn't just kick them off – safety always comes first in the kitchen!)

Use a large pan
I learned the hard way that you need a generous sized pan to make the caramel in.  My 2 litre saucepan quickly overflowed with foaming milk when I added the bicarb and kept foaming even off the heat.  I quickly transferred the milk mess to my big red Chasseur pot and kept going – crisis averted!  The less said about the state of my cooktop afterwards, the better (but I think you can imagine how it looked.)  Start big and you’ll have no problems.

Be patient (and give it your undivided attention)
As soon as your milk begins to boil and you toss in the bicarb, you’ve got to stir the caramel constantly for around 45 minutes (until it gets to a lovely caramel colour).  You don’t need so much forearm strength as you need to be free from distractions.  That means no
  •  toilet stops
  •  helping your daughter with a drawing
  • answering the phone across the room, or 
  • checking your emails.
The recipe also instructs to stir the caramel for an additional 15 minutes while it sits in the ice bath to cool it down completely – I missed this instruction (I was more concerned about my aching feet by that stage). The caramel ended up quite thick but otherwise tasted great – I don’t know if this is a crucial step or not so if you've still got the energy, keep stirring.

This caramel is so di-licious that you’ll be struggling to not eat it by the spoonful, straight out of the jar (try it sprinkled with sea salt). 

Recipe: Dulce de leche 
{print out recipe}
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Traveller  Makes approx 250ml.

750ml milk
225g caster sugar
Seeds from I vanilla bean
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Have ice ready to create a water bath to cool

  • Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes.
  • Place milk, sugar and vanilla bean seeds into a LARGE saucepan (an enamelled pot is perfect).
  • Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Increase heat and just as it comes to the boil, add the bicarbonate of soda (it will foam), then REDUCE heat to medium.
  • Now the fun part – stand there and stir the mixture CONSTANTLY for 40-45minutes.  Don’t walk away. Don’t answer the phone.  The caramel needs your full attention (just like a good risotto).
  • The caramel is cooked when it reaches a rich caramel colour and when you scrape your wooden spoon through the mixture and the bottom of the pan stays visible.
  • Put your plug in the sink and add ice.  Plunge your pot into the ice to stop cooking and keep stirring caramel for another 10-15minutes until caramel is completely cool.
  • Spoon into a sterile container and store in the fridge for up to a month (if it lasts that long).
  • Bring to room temperature before using.
  • If caramel is too thick, thin it down by heating cream and mixing it bit by bit into warmed caramel.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Earl of Chocolate Cake

Making one cake for the man you love is hard. Try making three to celebrate his 40th birthday!

Unlike a normal cake order where the client specifies the flavour, shape, filling and decoration, Mr Di-licious simply said “Surprise me”. Humph....I think that’s worse.

One cake down and the next needed in only a few days, inspiration finally struck one morning in the shower – make him an Earl Grey tea flavoured cake. Brilliant!

My first scan of the web found lots of tea cakes but they were more church picnic than milestone birthday.

It’s a celebration cake and in my world that means a creamy filling and chocolate.

Chocolate and Earl Grey?  Suspend belief and take it from me: it works mate... it does!

Time was short so instead of experimenting, I let my eyes do the walking through Google Images to find a recipe I could use.

I was instantly smitten by a cake by Cultivate Online: The Queen’s Earl Grey Fudge Cake - a chocolate and earl grey tea cake, filled with earl grey flavoured cream cheese frosting, covered in earl grey infused dark chocolate ganache and blinged up with earl grey praline. 

The recipe seemed straight forward and would allow me to make all the elements ahead of time to assemble at my brother in law's house.

I did do a few things a little differently though.
  • I used loose leaf Earl Grey tea for the cake, ganache and cream cheese filling (1 teaspoon per teabag cited in the recipe).
  • I split each cake in two to create a four layer cake.
  • I made a strong tea-flavoured sugar syrup to moisten the cake layers before spreading on the filling.
  • I made a double batch of the ganache – always better to have extra ganache to make covering the cake easier (and give you something to drizzle over ice-cream of dip cupcakes into).

Some comments on the cake:

  • The earl grey flavour is subtle. Not immediately noticeable when you first eat it but then all of a sudden, the taste sneaks into your mouth and it’s quite nice. (I’m personally not a huge Earl Grey fan but loved the extra dimension to the cake, especially the ganache.)
  • Don't add an extra flavour profile. I decided at the last minute to add some fresh orange zest to one of the cakes as a bit of a citrus burst. This dominated the cake a bit (not in a bad way though). If I made it again, I wouldn’t include it.
  • I found the cake a little crumbly. This was exacerbated by splitting the cakes in two. This is also a cake that is best cooked without baking strips - you need a firm edge to the cake to make covering with ganache easier.
  • Make sure to redust your cake with praline just before serving.  The praline will 'melt'and leave little droplets over the top of the cake if left to its own devices for an hour or two. This doesn't affect the taste of the cake.
  • Making dry caramel is easy if you know what you're doing.  Thank you David Lebovitz for your invaluable, entertaining guide!
This cake really does taste as good as it looks.  Olive helped blow out the candles (again!) and as predicted, a lot of good wine was consumed over the course of the weekend.

And now it's time for me to start on cake number three!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oh yes, I’m the cake procrastinator

Tomorrow afternoon we’re loading up the car to head to Ballarat for the weekend.

Before then I have to:
  • Make a cake (first time recipe)
  • Make cake filling
  • Make ganache
  • Make praline
  • Make sticky date puddings
  • Make butterscotch sauce
  • Pick up drycleaning
  • Grab last minute baking groceries
  • Pack a cake decorating tool kit
  • Pack for me and Olive
  • Pack for the dog
  • Pick up birthday gift for sister in law
  • Do kinder drop off and pick up
  • Go to playgroup
  • Use up the mince in the fridge
  • Enter the competition to win a personalised apron for Olive

So what did I do last night? Procastinated with a capital P:

  • Vacuumed the house
  • Cleaned the oven
  • Cleaned the scuff marks off the half wall in the kitchen
  • Cleaned the back door windows
  • Reduced my email inbox from 11 pages to 2 pages (I must learn to delete as I go!)
  • Drafted and redrafted this post
  • Finally decided on what cake recipe to make
  • Wrote out the recipe in shorthand and last minute shopping list
  • Went to bed after midnight!
And here I am again this morning pffaffing on the computer after early morning kinder drop off and the quick dash to the shops and drycleaners only to discover that my trusty digital kitchen scales have a flat battery - so back to the shops I must go!
(But I did successfully enter the personalised apron giveawy from Nestle.  If you're in Australia and shop at Coles, buy and three Nestle baking products and go to to enter!)
Is it just me or do you procrastinate as well? Does it make you work smarter? Or stress you out?


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A very special birthday

Yesterday was Mr Di-licious' birthday.  But not any ordinary birthday, the big 4-0.

Sadly for him he is in the middle of exams and unable to celebrate in the way he would like.  So last night it was a simple acknowledgement - Beef Bourguinon, a special bottle of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (2004 Ladbroke Grove Killian) and cake.

Mr Di-licious has some eclectic tastes: country music, two earl grey tea bags per cup and last but not least, chocolate cake and lemon icing.

So inspired by Sweetapolita, I produced a chocolate layer cake, filled and covered in lemon buttercream and drizzled over with a puddle of chocolate ganache.

Since it was only the three of us I made a tiny six inch cake.  And you know what?  Six inches was plenty!  The cake is very sweet so a small slice is all you really need.

I used my favourite chocolate cake recipe (I promise to share it with you one day!) and made a simple buttercream flavoured with lemon juice and zest.

After torting and covering the cake I let the buttercream set properly in the fridge before heating up the ganche to pouring consistency.  This stops the warm ganache melting the buttercream when you pour it over.

It's certainly not as pretty as Sweetapolita's version and one day I will attempt Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but in Olive's words, "this is one yummy cake Mummy!"

And before you feel a little sorry for him, there are two birthday celebrations planned for the next two weekends, which means two more cakes.  So I guess he'll get to have his cake and eat it over, and over, and over again.

Happy birthday darling - you are the butter to my bread, the breath to my life  xxx

(with apologies to Paul Child)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Salty Sweet Peanut Cookies

When I was a teenager I loved dipping french-fries into the chocolate sauce of a McDonalds sundae. My friends were horrified.

Unbeknownst to me I'd had my first gastronomic epiphany: pairing salty and sweet.

I’ll admit I’m perplexed by the American obsession with a PBJ (sorry, I just am) but a Snickers bar – I’m all for that.

And one of my most loved cupcake creations is a rich chocolate cupcake, dressed in whipped chocolate ganache and sprinkled with sea salt flakes.

So it should come as no surprise that a salty sweet peanut cookie would ring my bell.

How to be a Domestic Goddess is one of my favourite cookbooks to read – I just love the way Nigella writes. Unsurprisingly, she's nominated these cookies as one of her favourites (and most addictive).

They are everything they promise to be – salty and sweet with ta luscious greasiness that only vegetable shortening can give a biscuit.

I do question Nigella’s suggestion of pressing down the cookie batter with a greased glass dipped in brown sugar – I found it messy and inefficient . On the last tray in the oven I used my fingers to flatten them out – the added benefit of working out which cookies had missed out on peanuts so I could sneak them in – so I’ve omitted Nigella’s step in my version of the recipe below (forgive me Nigella!)

As a final flourish and nod to my teenage gourmet epiphany, I’ve drizzled melted chocolate over the top of these cookies. I’ve also heeded Nigella’s advice regarding the addictive nature of these biscuits and have packed them off with Mr Di-licious to share around the office.

Recipe: Salty Sweet Peanut Cookies
Recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson (2001)
Makes about 30

1/3 cup light brown sugar
Scant 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
Scant1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2tblsp self-raising flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tblsp (4 ½ oz) salted peanuts
100 -200g Dark chocolate
Small ziplock bag

  • Preheat oven to 190°C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, butter, shortening, egg and vanilla extract until well combined.
  • Stir through the flour til mixed through and then stir in the peanuts.
  • Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto the tray, leaving room for them to spread. Using your fingers, flatten them out (and make sure each cookie has at least a few peanuts in it).
  • Bake cookies for 8-10minutes – they should be golden brown.
  • Leave on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Break up chocolate into small pieces and place into a tea cup. Gently melt chocolate in microwave using short bursts til chocolate is almost completely melted. Spoon chocolate into the ziplock bag, seal and then snip a small corner off the bag with scissors. Drizzle chocolate over the cookies and allow to set (if you can resist them that long!)


Monday, June 6, 2011

Pawesome chocolate cupcakes

Who doesn’t love a teddy bear?

I still have my first teddy. My late grandfather gave it to me when I was born and I in turn passed it onto Olive when she was born. It’s certainly seen better days but it fills my heart with joy to see her cuddle a memento from my own childhood.

When invited to bring some cupcakes to a teddy bear picnic birthday party, I just had to do something cute.

And nothing could be cuter than bear paw prints. The fondant ‘badges’ look impressive and are easy to rustle up ahead of time.

They’re as simple as one, two, three:

1. Colour your fondant
2. Roll out and cut big circles, medium circles and small circles.
3. Using water and a paint brush, stick the paw print onto the large circle.

If you want to get fancy, you could squeeze the medium and small circles to create ovoid shapes for a more organic paw print design.

Maybe you could make these ‘pawesome’ cupcakes for someone ‘beary’ special to you?

Chocolate Teddy Bear Paw Cupcakes
Cake recipe by Jennifer Graham, The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook
Original decoration by Di-licious Cupcakes

The recipe promises to make at least 24 cupcakes.  I managed to make 52 cakes despite enthusiastic batter taste testing by Olive. Cakes keep well for two days in an air tight container. Un-iced cakes can be frozen for up to two months.

3 cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tblsp instant coffee granules
1 cup hot water
1 cup cocoa
1 cup cold water
200g unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups castor sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 170°C. Line two 12 hole muffin trays with brown cupcake papers.
  • Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee, hot water and cocoa until you have a smooth paste. Add the cold water and mix until evenly combined.
  • In another bowl, cream the butter for a few minutes. Add the castor sugar one third at a time, beating for two minutes after each addition (make sure you scrape down the sides regularly too). After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and creamy and the sugar has almost dissolved.
  • Add the eggs one at a time and beat for one minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
  • Add a quarter of the flour to the creamed mixture and mix through gently until clear. Add a third of the cocoa mixture and mix through gently until clear. Repeat Alternate flour and cocoa finishing with the flour. Be careful not to over mix the batter otherwise the batter will toughen.
  • Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling about three quarters full. Allow mixture to sit in the papers for 20minutes before baking to help prevent cracking during cooking.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove cupcakes from tray immediately and allow to cool on wire racks for at least 30minutes before decorating.

Fondant paw print badges

Make these a few days ahead for stress free decorating.

  • Colour fondant according to your theme. I used Dark Brown and Caramel/Tan.
  • For badge background, roll out fondant to 2mm thick.
  • Using a 4cm round cutter, cut out rounds and allow to dry on tray lined with baking paper.
  • For paw prints, use piping tips to cut out two different sized circles. I used the tip and base of a Wilton #12 round tip.
  • Squeeze the rounds into oval-ish shapes between your forefinger and thumb and then flattened them down on a baking paper lined sheet. Allow to dry for a couple of hours.
  • To assemble the badges, fill a small glass with water and arm yourself with a small paintbrush. Dip the paint brush into water and brush a medium sized shape and attach to fondant badge background round. Apply three smaller shapes above the medium shape to resemble a paw print. Repeat .

I always make at least five extra badges than I think I’ll need in case some break. It also lets me make a practice cake design before decorating the whole batch of cakes.
Chocolate ganache icing

200ml cream
400g dark chocolate, broken up into small pieces

  • Place chocolate in a large mixing bowl.
  • Heat cream in a small saucepan and bring it just to the boil. Take off the heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk thoroughly until all the chocolate has melted.
  • Dip cakes while ganache icing is still warm or store in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat gently in the microwave til ganache is runny and then dip away!

Decorating your paw print cakes

  • Working one at a time, dip the top of the cupcake into the warm, liquid ganache.
  • Gently swirl the cake to make sure the top is completely covered (a little bit of icing on the paper doesn’t matter). Keep swirling the cake as you take it out of the ganache and place it right side up on bench.
  • Position paw print badge in centre of cake before dipping your next cake.
  • Allow cakes to set at room temperature and store in an airtight container.