sea salt caramels 2

Easy Salted Caramels

sea salt caramels 2

As my blogging career goes on, I grow fonder and fonder of making things with sugar and better and better at it. I always know we’re at the crossover time from autumn to Christmas when I get the urge to boil sugar. There was rather good bacon toffee and hot buttered rum caramels and there was less successful fudge, but this year I wanted something equally sweet and impressive but much simpler to make as gifts.

I found it when I was making brigadeiros for the Brixton Blog. These are a Brazilian party favourite made from cooked condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter and then rolled into a ball and coated in hundreds and thousands. They are all chewy fudgeyness and crunch at once and I have no idea why they aren’t better known outside Brazil.

But that seemed too simple for me. I needed to give the recipes a little poke and twist to make it fit me and my love of condensed milk. I decided to omit the cocoa powder and add sea salt to the condensed milk instead for a lighter creamier, more grown up feel.

And then I remembered I had some popping candy I impulse purchased in Waitrose one day I was killing time in there. I would roll my creations in popping candy and make them pure big kid fun in one easy step. It also looks awesome with the colour of the caramelised condensed milk.

These are a great way to make homemade sweets in under an hour (most of which is cooling time) and for mere pennies if you’re looking for eyecatching gifts over the next few weeks. They’ll keep for about 3 days once rolled in the popping candy or up to 5 if you use that glimmer sugar for baking decoration instead.

Easy Salted Caramels (makes about 25)

  • 1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 25g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g popping candy

This is so easy and quick to make. Put the entire can of condensed milk into a heavy saucepan along with the butter and sea salt. Heat on a medium heat, stirring constantly. Do not take your eye off it or stop for a second or it will burn.

Enjoy the calming rhythm of stirring and cook the condensed milk this way for about 8 minutes or until it thickens up and looks stiff and leaves a void on the base of the pan when you drag a spatula through it.

Take off the heat immediately and add the vanilla extract, beating it through well. Pour the mixture out onto a lightly greased plate, smoothing it out so it isn’t too thick and leave it to cool for about 45 minutes.

Then using a teaspoon, scoop up a spoonful of the cooled caramel and roll it into a ball. Dredge it through the popping candy and place in a petit four case. Repeat until you have about 25 caramels.

Kids will love the rolling and dredging so feel free to use as much imagination for the coating as you fancy. This is the time to hit up the baking aisle and see what you can find.  You could also try varying the flavours in the caramels and using chopped nuts or desiccated coconut to roll them.

They are unashamedly simple and sweet and utterly delicious, like really good white chocolate. It took more willpower than I thought I had to give mine away…

sea salt caramel

conkies hero shot

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies

conkies hero shot

Years ago I used to go out with a guy whose dad was from Barbados and he used to regale me with tales of warm Caribbean beaches and amazing food while we were sitting in my freezing cold kitchen in London. He often talked about conkies and I thought he was winding me up. What kind of name was that? My only access to the internet then was sneaking into the uni computer room without being noticed on while on my year out so it was hard to check.

I forgot all about these strangely named items until I went to the fantastic In a Pikkle last year for one of their legendary bottomless rum punch brunches and Barbadian hospitality. They came up in conversation somewhere around the second slice of rum cake and this time I did go home and Google them to see if they were real.

And not only were they, but they sounded delicious to boot. Made with grated pumpkin, coconut, cornmeal and spices before being wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, they are traditionally eaten in Barbados to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As I’ve never celebrated Bonfire Night or been to Barbados in my life, I thought I’d give them a go in the slow cooker and see what all the fuss is about.

A little bit time consuming with the grating and steaming, they can be made a couple of days in advance and reheated or frozen til needed, they were so delicious the effort was well worth it. Ironically for a Caribbean treat, they’d be excellent served warm at a bonfire party in a cold British garden.

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies (makes 20)

  • 500g of a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 75g plain flour
  • 150g cornmeal or polenta
  • 150g sugar
  • 150g raisins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 120g melted butter
  • 900ml milk

These are easy to adapt so everyone can eat them. Just use pumpkin and carrot if fodmapping. You could sub in spelt or gluten free flour if required and use non dairy versions of the milk and butter. I find desserts the hardest thing to make for people with dietary requirements so these could be very handy if dealing with a multitude of needs.

Start by grating your peeled vegetables. If you have a food processor, then note the distinct gleam of green in my eyes. You need to make a fine batter for the conkies so you’re going to grate those veg on the finest gauge of dimples and that is hard work. I found singing tunelessly helped distract me from my aching arm.

Put the grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The pumpkin smells amazing at this point like a sweeter version of cucumber that was a nice farewell to summer as the clocks went back. Add the desiccated coconut. If you have a random Halloween coconut in the house, by all means crack it open and grate the flesh of it too. Clearly you have better arm muscles than me.

Add all the dry ingredients including the fruit and stir them through well. I prefer things less sweet, but you could use up 200g of sugar if you like. Melt the butter and stir that in along with the vanilla and almond essences. Start adding the milk a cup at a time. You want a consistency to your conkies that is just turning into a batter but not liquid, so you might need more or less milk depending how moist your vegetables are.

conkie batter

When the batter is mixed, set aside and cut 20 squares of greaseproof paper about 20cm by 20cm. Measure out 20 lengths of string about 15cm long. You could do this first, but I actually found the way the paper rolls up took up more space when I was trying to mix stuff. If you have banana leaves handy, then you’re in luck. Tell me where you got them because even in Brixton, they are hard to find outside Christmas time for pastelles.

I used a 6.5 litre slow cooker for these and put seven small ramekins in the base. Six went in upside down and the seventh on its side to make a base on which to rest the conkies so they steam without touching the water which should come as far up up the ramekins as possible to allow this.

Lay out a piece of string, setting a square of greaseproof paper on top and put two spoonfuls of batter in the centre, neatening it up a bit with the back of the spoon if needed. Fold the paper like a parcel so the batter is completely enclosed and the ends are tucked in. Tie the string in a parcel bow too and snip any really long ends.

Set your conkie on top of the ramekins in the slow cooker crock as you wrap and tie each one. I got 16 into mine in about three layers, but all 20 will fit. I just wanted to steam some traditionally to test them for people who don’t have a slow cooker so kept some aside. (They took 50 minutes in my electric steamer FYI.)

conkies in crock

Put the lid on the slow cooker and steam the conkies on high for 8-9 hours. The conkies should be firm to the touch when cooked. They are best served cooled for about 15 minutes before unwrapping if straight from the slow cooker. You can make in advance and give them about a minute or so in the microwave from frozen or 30-40 seconds from chilled.

They are excellent just as they are, eaten from the paper with your fingers or served with some ice cream as a dessert. They will be firm and glossy when cooked with a sweet, spiced buttery flavour that will convert anyone to pumpkin desserts even if they fear the traditional pie. They also made an excellent breakfast even if they did make me yearn for Bridgetown.

coconut tart

Coconut Spelt Tart


coconut tart

I have to say, I don’t really get the current coconut craze where it seems to be the new food Messiah du jour. I’m a fructose malabsorber so coconut milk doesn’t agree with me, mainly use coconut oil in the shower rather than cooking with it due to its strong coconut flavour and tend to only drink coconut water when hungover when I don’t mind the mustiness it has.

The one way I really like coconut is desiccated which I think is a throwback to my Northern Irish Proddy background where it crept into all kinds of traybakes and sweet treats promising ‘a taste of paradise‘ in a small grey skied country with small minded views. I love a bit of it on a Fifteen or a raspberry ruffle bar and occasionally inhale a dark chocolate Bounty with indecent speed.

I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth so it takes a lot for a dessert to knock my socks off but the treacle tart I had at the Rochelle Canteen a few months ago was so good I’m still thinking about it. The lightest pastry and butteriest filling, it was dessert perfection in my eyes and I’ve been itching to play around with it since.

I volunteered to bring dessert for book group the other week and needed something that was non wheat, low fodmap, low fructose and without chocolate or caffeine to fit all our dietary requirements and the idea of reworking that treacle tart into a coconut version popped into my head. I’ll leave to the utter brilliant Low Fodmap for Life to pick apart the coconut question for hardcore Fodmappers here and get on with baking.

This recipe is one of the few times you see me pick coconut oil over butter for cooking (even I draw the line at using butter as body moisturiser or hair conditioner though!) I wanted that extra heft of coconut flavour but if you don’t have any, just sub in butter. Please don’t ask me if you can use other liquid sweetners such as honey or agave syrup instead of golden syrup as they are incredibly problematic on the Fodmap diet and I never use them.

Coconut Spelt Tart (makes one 9 inch tart)

For the pastry: (adapted from Dan Lepard’s sweet shortcrust pastry)

  • 250g white spelt flour
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 125g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • scant tablespoon ice cold water
  • pinch salt

For the tart:

  • 200g desiccated coconut, toasted
  • 125g brown sugar
  • 50ml golden syrup
  • 120ml water
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

I am not a good pastry maker despite having deathly cold hands. It can sense my fear I think and shrinks away from me. I think I often add too much liquid to it but this Dan Lepard version for sweet shortcrust is the best version I’ve used. (I know it looks like it shrank in the photos, but I actually cut the block I rolled slightly too small.)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the icing sugar and salt. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the cold water and beat it into the mix. I use a fork to just combine it and then switch to my hands to bring the pastry together.

It’s quite a soft almost sticky pastry and it needs a serious chill to be able to roll it. I usually put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and then fridge for 30 minutes if I need it then and there, but find it works best chilled overnight. Cut the block of pastry in two and roll one out to fit a 9 inch tart tin and then freeze the lined tin for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180℃ and spread the desiccated coconut out on two lined baking trays and toast it for about 7 minutes. Hover awkwardly by the oven keeping an eye on it as it browns as it goes from slightly tanned to smouldering almost instantly. Take out and allow to cool.

Line your tart tin with foil or baking paper and fill with baking beans or rice and blind bake for 25 minutes. I don’t prick spelt pastry usually as it’s lower gluten and doesn’t seem to like it. I have no idea if there’s science behind this or me just being superstitious, but I’m sticking to it.

Put the brown sugar, coconut oil, golden syrup and water in a saucepan and heat to melt it all together. (If you do it in that order the golden syrup behaves itself nicely on an oiled spoon and cuts down sticky drips in the kitchen.) Add the toasted coconut and allow it to absorb some of the liquid for 2-3 minutes before turning the mix out into a big mixing bowl to cool.

Once it’s not hot to the touch, separate your eggs and add in the yolks along with the vanilla extract and salt and allow to sit for a few minutes. Take the baking beans out of the tart tin and bake it for another 5 minutes to crisp up slightly.

Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until they are peaked and pillowy and then fold them into the coconut mixture. Pour the coconut filling straight into the tart tin and bake for 15 minutes until set in the middle. You might have a tiny bit of coconut mix that doesn’t fit the tin but it can be baked pastry free in a ramekin if you can want to serve a gluten free version of the dessert.

Take the tart out before it looks dry and don’t worry if there is a hint of moisture to the very middle when you test it with a skewer. It’ll be grand when you come to eat it. Cool on a rack completely. I baked mine the night before and it kept fine wrapped in a tea towel.

Serve in slices with some thick cream or creme fraiche on the side. It’s surprisingly buttery despite using coconut oil and not too sweet compared to some desserts so I liked something slightly lactic on the side as contrast. I was really pleased with how this tart worked out and would definitely make it again. The only time the book group was silent was when they were eating this which I’ll take as a good sign!


Marshmallow coffee pie

Baileys Coffee Marshmallow Pie

Marshmallow coffee pie

I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a few weeks due to being generally busy on some other projects (a fancy way to say I cleared out all my cupboards and tidied the flat) and because Mister North was doing some tech stuff to the blog to give it a new lease of life. He may not have time to write here anymore because his design skills still work wonders. So thanks heavens National Pie Week came along to give me my mojo back.

As well as realising I’d been neglecting the blog, I also finally noticed this week that I’d never ever drunk Baileys and decided I should immediately rectify that before I was banned from ever entering Ireland again for lack of patriotism. Thanks to the kindness of Bord Bia and Ocado, I visited the Irish shop on the Ocado site and bought a bottle forthwith.

I had an idea about a Baileys pie of some kind but thought it might just have to be eating a pie while drinking Baileys until I saw someone make an Irish Coffee in a cafe this week. I wanted that combination of alcohol, creaminess and sugar and decided to see if I could play around with a pie that had a coffee filling and a whipped marshmallow centre. I could always hit the bottle if it didn’t work…but I doubted there was such a thing as bad pie. Read more

Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much. Read more