Posts tagged caramel

chocolate macaron with two fillings

When I first began learning how to seriously cook, the place I started that set me off on the road to culinary exploration, was what you might call standard, traditional American cooking, perhaps with a Southern bent.  Macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, casseroles, biscuits, mashed potatoes, baconated green beans, etc.  I soon branched out into both nouvelle-American and vintage-style-nouvelle-American cuisine, thanks both to the cookbooks I had begun to accumulate (I have a particular interest in vintage ones) and to the Food Network, which I had begun to watch with some enthusiasm.

Around that same time, I started working at a place that offered Italian cooking classes, presided over by genuine Italian chefs, and I developed more than a passing interest in international cuisine.  Shortly thereafter, I started to explore the development of cuisine in other countries: Ancient Egypt, the American South.  Interested by the stereotype of British cuisine being dull, and yet finding that it was largely responsible for inspiring the traditional foods of America, I found myself sort of charmed by British traditions.  Being partially of Scots-Irish descent encouraged me to think of it as sort of discovering my roots.

This phase lasted for a few years, even after I had picked up my first Julia Child cookbook and had become enthralled by the simplicity of French traditional cooking.  In recent months, perusing blogs by those living in France and acquiring Julia Child’s first volume of French cookery, I have found myself developing into a full-blown Francophile.  I suppose I’m coming late to the scene of French obsession, and a very late comer to the world of the macaron, which has taken the culinary landscape quite by storm this last year or so.

I’d never actually had a Parisian macaron before attempting these myself, so I didn’t know what they were supposed to be like, but I quite enjoyed them.  I looked at a multitude of recipes before coming to the version I ultimately created.  Because it’s a fairly fussy recipe, I opted to give out weights rather than measures for most of the ingredients.  Also note, because I folded in the cocoa powder after the batter was complete, and I believe I over-folded, next time I would probably choose to sift the cocoa powder in with the powdered sugar.

chocolate macaron with two fillings (makes 40-80 depending on size)

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 400 g powdered sugar
  • 220 g ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Place the egg whites in a microwavable bowl, and microwave 30 seconds on medium power.  This will dry them out slightly, so there is no danger of excess moisture in the macaron recipe.  Or, you could leave your egg whites out around 48 hours to age them sufficiently.
  2. Pulse powdered sugar, ground almonds, and cocoa powder in a good processor to combine.
  3. In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy.  Then, gradually add granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, about 3-4 minutes on medium-high speed.
  4. Add powdered sugar mix to meringue and fold relatively quickly until dry ingredients are combined.  Batter is done when it ribbons down from your spatula and combines smoothly with the batter in the bowl.
  5. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a pastry bag with a 1/4-inch tip, pipe small circles of batter, about 1 inch in diameter, onto the parchment.  Space about 1 inch apart.
  6. Preheat the oven to 300.  Let the macaron sit out at room temperature anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the top of the macaron slides just slightly on its base when you press them gently with your finger.  Let cool completely.  Fill as desired.

 

orange chocolate filling

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. bittersweet fudge sauce
  • several drops orange extract or 1/2 tsp. orange zest

Directions:

  1. Microwave fudge sauce briefly until pourable (the kind we bought is basically solid at fridge temp).
  2. Stir in the orange extract, and let cool until it thickens somewhat.

 

salted caramel filling

This makes WAY more than you need for filling macarons.  Luckily it can be used on lots of other tasty things: apple pie, ice cream, spoons…

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature (lower-moisture European style is best)
  • large pinch of fleur de sel (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1 1/4 c. heavy cream, room tempature

Directions:

  1. Place sugar in a medium-large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir as it melts, and let cook to a dark golden brown color.  It should be fragrant, but not beginning to burn.
  2. Add butter (and salt, if using), and stir in until incorporated.  I threw in butter straight from the fridge, and it is possible that the temperature shock caused mine to seize at this point.  This is why I recommend warmer butter.  If yours seizes, though, do not panic.  Turn the heat down to low, and continue whisking until the butter has been re-incorporated.  This took me perhaps 5-10 minutes before I had a smooth mixture again.  Another possible solution is adding a few tablespoons of hot water, allowing it to bubble a little, and whisk it until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the heavy cream, and whisk until smooth.  It is too thin to use as filling right away, so let cool to room temperature before you use it for filling macarons.
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carrot cake caramel trifle

I haven’t been very diligent in posting this week, so I wanted to lead the next string of posts off with something yummy.  August tends to be kind of a busy month for me, considering that both my parents, one of my best friends, and my sister-in-law all have their birthday.  I love family birthdays because it gives me an excuse to make bigger things, like roasts and layer cakes, that I tend not to make for just us two.  Having already done the layer cake thing this month, I was dying to break out the mini-trifle dishes I picked up at the Crate and Barrel outlet.  They are adorable and just the right size for dessert.  I also have a big trifle dish, but let’s be honest, that thing probably serves 16 people.

I was originally planning a blueberry peach trifle with the blueberry sauce I’ve got frozen away in my freezer from – ahem – probably two years ago.  But Mom mentioned she’d been dying for some carrot cake, so I changed my plan.  I still really wanted to make little layered desserts, so I picked out apples as a complementary fruit.  Layering it with salted caramel whipped cream made all the other flavors stand out – and, the whipped cream wasn’t nearly as complicated as I thought it would be.

Carrot Cake Caramel Trifle (serves 6)

If you plan to make this in a big trifle dish, I would probably at least double the amounts you see below.  There’s only one layer of apples, so obviously if you’d like two layers, double just the apples.

Ingredients:

For the trifle:

  • 1/2 recipe carrot cake (the rest is excellent for snacking on plain)
  • 1 recipe sauteed apples
  • 1 recipe salted caramel whipped cream

For the carrot cake:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/3 c. shredded carrots
  • 2/3 c. flaked coconut
  • 2/3 c. crushed pineapple with juice
  • 2/3 c. raisins or currants
  • 2/3 c. chopped walnuts, optional

For the sauteed apples:

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3 medium apples
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar (not packed)
  • pinch salt

For the salted caramel whipped cream:

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. + 3/4 c. cream, divided

Directions:

For the carrot cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 9″x13″ pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.  Add flour and stir until almost combined, but some flour is visible on the surface and sides of the bowl.  Add remaining ingredients all at once and gently fold until well mixed.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and smooth top if necessary.  Bake until done, approximately 20 minutes.  Cool several minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a wire rack.  Cool to room temperature.

For the sauteed apples:

  1. Peel apples if you like (I usually don’t) and chop into approximately 3/4″ dice.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat in a frying pan.  Add apples and saute for a minute, then add brown sugar and a pinch of salt.  Saute about ten minutes or until apples are cooked through and juices are syrupy.
  3. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

For the salted caramel whipped cream:

  1. Place sugar, water, and salt in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until sugar and salt have dissolved.  Stir constantly until the mixture has turned a uniform amber color and you can smell the caramelizing sugar.  Don’t let this mixture burn – it’s better for it to be a little underdone that to be burnt.
  2. Whisk this mixture constantly while drizzling in 1/2 c. of the cream.  Whisk until thoroughly mixed and smooth.  It will be thin.  Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature, or chill.
  3. Be sure the remaining 3/4 c. of the cream is thoroughly chilled.  When you are ready to assemble the trifle, place chilled cream in a chilled bowl and whip until soft peaks.  At this point, continue whisking and slowly drizzle caramel into the cream until completely incorporated.

For the trifle:

  1. Dice or crumble about half of the cake.  Divide half of that into six mini trifle dishes.  Follow with half of the whipped cream, the apples, then the remaining cake.  Finish with the second half of the cream.  Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on the top.

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salted caramel ice cream

I love caramel.  Let’s just get that out of the way there.  I have said before I’ve found browned butter to be overrated (in taste anyway, the smell is heavenly), but caramelize up some sugar, and I am all about it.  I’ve found that caramel and butterscotch sauces are incredibly easy to make, and more delicious fresh at home out of the pan than you could ever buy in a store.  So… what’s the difference between caramel and butterscotch, many people wonder.  Well, the answer is sort of complicated.

Typically, I have heard that caramel is made with white sugar, and butterscotch with brown sugar.  Thus, the difference is primarily that the brown color in caramel is achieved from the caramelization of the sugar molecules, where the brown color in butterscotch comes from the molasses content of the brown sugar.  Caramel is used to describe both the brown syrup from plain white sugar caramelized, as well as this syrup mixed with butter and cream to form a softer confection.  Butterscotch can refer to either a syrupy mixture of brown sugar, butter, and cream, or also a hard candy that resembles toffee.  Toffee, incidentally, is really just an alternative spelling of taffy, which are two very different sweets in America.  Confused yet?

Toffee is generally defined as a confection made of boiling caramelized sugar with butter (and sometimes brown sugar).  Though in America we usually only consider toffee as being brittle, in the UK toffees can be hard or soft, the latter being what we would call caramels.  However, there is also a form of confectionary in the UK called cinder toffee, sometimes referred to as honeycomb here in the US, which is an aerated very crispy toffee made by combining caramelized sugar and butter with baking soda (and sometimes vinegar), which creates bubbles that are then preserved in the cooling mixture.  It’s found here in imported candy bars Violet Crumble or Crunchie, and is also referred to as hokey-pokey sometimes.

I guess the essential lesson to come away with here is that language is variable, but you will not find one type of caramelized or sugar-butter-cream thing that I will not eat and enjoy.  I tried salted caramel ice cream once before at a fancy ice cream shop, but found that it had a bitter, almost burnt taste to it.  Thinking to eliminate this by making it myself, I will say that despite being very careful not to burn it, it does have a slightly bitter edge to it that was not unpleasant.

Now, I consider myself a huge ice cream fiend.  More than once I have demolished a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, though I am also very fond of a Texan gelato I recently discovered at the market – the Caramel Cookie Crunch was divine, and the Double Dark Chocolate tasted like frozen creamy truffle, and at $6 a pint, both were more than worth it.  That said, I found one scoop of this ice cream to be perfectly satisfying, and any more than that was honestly overkill.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream (makes about 1 qt.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 c. room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
  • 2 scant tsp. large-grained gray sea salt
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

  1. Place sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook about 5 minutes without stirring, allowing the sugar granules on the bottom of the saucepan to begin melting.  Stir occasionally until all of the sugar has melted.
  2. Turn the heat down to low and add the butter and salt, stirring until the butter has melted.  Mine seized at this point and hardened into huge chunks, possibly because I added the butter in one big, cold lump.  This is why I suggest the butter be cut into chunks and used more or less at room temperature.
  3. Add cream and stir until any hardened caramel has melted.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Very slowly, pour a few tablespoons of the caramel mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper them.  Then, add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan along with half of the milk.  Rinse the bowl.
  5. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.  Pour through a mesh strainer into the bowl.  Add the remaining milk and vanilla extract.  If you’d like to cool the mixture off quicker, place the bowl into an ice bath and whisk constantly.  Otherwise, place plastic wrap over the bowl, pressing onto the surface of the mixture and refrigerate several hours until chilled.  Process in ice cream machine, and freeze until hard.

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