Posts

malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.

 

Christmas Chestnut Caramel Shortbread

shortbread

When I was growing up, I associated certain tastes with times of the year. Chestnuts were the taste of celebrations at Christmas when my mum made a gorgeous frozen pudding similar to a Nesselrode pudding with sweetened chestnut puree and we occasionally had marron glacee at my granny’s house round the open fire. But caramel shortbread was the taste throughout the year. None of this ‘millionaire’s shortbread’ malarkey, caramel shortbread was the traybake of choice in our house.

Weirdly though, I’ve never made it myself. I tend to dip into my less well known Northern Irish repetoire of wee buns and bakes when I’m making anything like this back in London, but everyone has heard of this treat so I’ve neglected it for a while, but a recent conversation gave me a Christmassy craving for caramel and when Zoe and Tim from Brixton Blog gave me a tin of chestnut spread last week, I knew I had to combine the two tastes and this classic a new lease of life.

Read more

Candied Bacon Toffee: a new Christmas tradition

Christmas is within touching distance. You’ve battled the high street. You’ve wrapped everything. You’ve ordered the bird. You’ve breathed out a massive sigh of relief. And then remembered that you’ve forgotten to get Great Uncle Aloysius anything and there’s not even a 24 hour shop handy for an emergency can of anti-freeze and a family pack of Kit Kats. What do you do?

I suggest raiding the fridge for some simple essentials and making a batch of toffee that will both taste delicious and be a festive talking point. Whipped up using butter, sugar and cream and then spiked with crackling shattering shards of crisp candied bacon, this is simple enough to do in under a hour and it doesn’t break the bank…*

In fact this lovely ‘Highland’ style toffee is so easy to do, I made mine by accident. In trying to whip up some toffee sauce to go with the pumpkin ice cream recently and being easily distracted, I overcooked it and it went from runny sauce to firm chewy slabs of toffee and my mum had the inspired idea to add in the remaining candied bacon to perk it up.

I used this Rachel Allen recipe from Bake and didn’t even measure things as accurately as I might, going for dashes and glugs rather than getting out the measuring jug. So basically put all your ingredients in a slightly bigger than needed pan as the sugar will boil and bubble and might spit and cook for about ten minutes at a rolling boil or until it is very thick and gloopy and reduced by about a quarter, take off the heat, stir in the shards of bacon, then pour into a lined tin or tray and allow to set at room temperature. Come back to it when you’ve done the washing up and it’s had a few moments to settle and mark out squares in it with the back of a bread knife and then leave to harden overnight.

Next day, break the squares up into individual pieces and dust lightly with icing sugar to stop the pieces sticking together and then store in an airtight container or cellophane bag in the fridge and then enjoy in front of a roaring fire or an old movie in front of the TV over Christmas if you can’t bear to give it away. You’ll make about 50 pieces of toffee from this recipe so there’s plenty to share even if you love the salty-sweet and crispy crunch chewy texture as much as I did. I imagine this one might become a Christmas tradition every year!

*It may break teeth though. Check for dentures before gifting.

bacon ice

Candied Bacon ‘N’ Pumpkin Ice Cream

I think we’ve touched on me being a bit of an Americanophile before. I have a total weakness for the literature and food of the USA. And I’m prepared to struggle for my art. The Kraft Mac n’Cheese might have defeated me, but like my first time reading Moby Dick, I don’t give up easily. Pumpkin pie didn’t float my boat, but I was determined to find a Thanksgiving inspired dessert that did this year. Pumpkin ice cream sounded just the thing.

Shamelessly copying this David Lebovitz recipe, I dug out the spare can of Libby’s from last year and got going. A rich thick custard was created, laced with vanilla and a lot more rum than he suggested and anointed with some proper amounts of spice. Half a can of the pumpkin puree was added in and the whole thing was churned til a beautiful golden shade of orange. It was then served as the highpoint after a proper Amurrican meal of corndogs and macaroni cheese with a friend from Chicago. And it tasted like grass.

Oddly powdery in texture with a strong vegetable taste that took over the soft spices and vanilla, it was the strangest ice cream I’ve ever had. The extra water content in the pumpkin made it freeze as hard as a rock and taste of ice crystals rather than the usual velvety blanket of churned cream I make. The rum didn’t help and added no flavour. And unusually for an American recipe, it wasn’t sweet enough. It seemed sparse and utilitarian. Neither of us finished our bowls.

But I had around a litre of it in the freezer and was loath to throw it out. It needed something to lift it and make it sweeter, more dessert-like and less like a very peculiar starter. And it need to be properly American in style. Hershey syrup would have worked. Maybe some of those mini marshmallows you get in American cereals. Butterscotch chips embedded in would be great. I didn’t have any of those things to hand and I refuse to pay Selfridges’ Food Hall prices.

What I did have to hand was some lovely unsmoked bacon from the Porcus people. I realised the time had come to get on the candied bacon bandwagon. It’s been uber fashionable to bacon everything possible in the past few years from chocolate to Baconnaise. Apart from one disappointing dalliance with the chocolate, I’ve steered clear, haunted by memories of bacon bits in adolescence. But when bacon is this good, it cries out to be coated with sugar, baked til crisp and then crumbled over ice cream and swirled with toffee sauce…

It went into the oven on a lined tray, heaped with sugar and cooked at about 200℃ for about ten minutes, then turned over and dredged through the syrup and cooked a bit more, before being cooled to a crisp. Shred it up nice and small. And then turn your full attention to the toffee sauce. I used equal quantities (handily unmeasured) of golden caster sugar, golden syrup, double cream and butter and boiled it for about 5 minutes or until I got bored waiting.

The rock hard ice cream had loosened up nicely and it got a liberal swirl of sauce and a decent sprinkling of bacon. Some crushed pecans nuts and a rasher of best back cut lengthways would make an amazing (and very adult) sundae. But we kept it simple and got stuck in. And it really worked. The sauce sweetened the ice cream and toned down the powderiness while the sticky shards of bacon added much needed texture. We finished the bowls with gusto this time.

Next year I won’t be bothering with pumpkin desserts, keeping my slices from the deli for soups and stews, but I recommend you combine this ice cream and the accompanying candied bacon one to have something to experiment with this time next year. You’ll be be giving thanks for the bacon all year round!

Salt n’ sweet ice cream

Despite the legendary pronouncement as a child in a huff that I don’t like Italian gelato, I do like a decent ice cream once in a while and since Marine Ices is a right trek from my house and i haven’t made it to Gelupo yet, I have always fancied the notion of having an ice cream maker.

So when I discovered that John Lewis have a new model out for a mere £35 that comes well recommended by Which? I couldn’t resist. While waiting for it to arrive, I browsed several recipes for ice cream and compiled a list of ones to try. I also put out a batcall for other people’s favourites on Twitter and the hands down mentioned-a-million-times winner was this David Lebovitz recipe for salted caramel butter ice cream. Luckily my machine turned up sooner than expected and I had time to freeze the bowl for 24 hours prior to a friend coming for dinner during the week.

On the day, I rather tredipidiously making the recipe. Lizzie over at Hollow Legs found it tricky and since I’d spent the weekend burning sugar like it’s a superpower, I felt this might go off piste if I wasn’t careful. I decided to concentrate on the cooking carefully, so I don’t have any photos of the various stages, just the end product. The original recipe page has some though if you find that helpful.

I started off making the caramel brittle that would be used to add bite and intensity to the ice cream. This is basically sugar melted til golden brown and bubbling, infused with some Maldon sea salt and then spread out on a baking tray as thin as possible til hardened. It was surprisingly quick and easy, although since the sugar is hotter than the sun, you do need to pay attention while doing it.

Feeling positive that the first step had gone well, I started making the actual custard. More caramel was created in the same way as the brittle, but once bubbling, it come off the heat and has butter mixed in and then cream to make a gorgeous creamy toffee sauce. It was all going well, and I hoped that adding the egg yolks wouldn’t cause a problem. By following the advice to add some warm sauce to the yolks to heat them gently and then add that to the main body of the caramel sauce, preventing any tricky splitting or curdling. It then thickened very slightly and in no time I had the whole custard cooling in the fridge for three or so hours. Even if the ice cream was a disaster from here on in, I was pleased with my custard making powers!

Later on, once the custard was cooled and everything else for dinner was complete, I got the machine out and ready to go. It’s super simple to assemble and a few moments later, it was churning away with no real effort and only a low rumble of noise. I might not want to be in the same room as it while it does its thing, but if you had to you could without yelling or losing your mind. I gave it exactly 30 minutes to churn, adding the now shattered caramel brittle in five minutes before the end. Rich and icy, it looked gorgeous and would have have been lovely as it was with a sort of soft scoop finish. But as I wasn’t ready for it, I popped it in a covered bowl in the freezer for another two or so hours.

After all my nerves about the caramel, the custard and the machine, I was overjoyed to see that it had set beautifully. Just like real ice cream in fact! I left it to sit in the fridge for about five minutes to make it easier to scoop and reminded myself I must get a proper gadget for serving in the future. Because if all the ice cream I make is going to be as good as this, I’m going to be using the scoop a lot…

This was just heavenly. Very very creamy, decadently rich and utterly heavenly. The slight tang of salt stopped it being too sweet and the little nuggets of crunchy caramel both challenge and delight the tastebuds as you go. It went down well with my dinner guest and we both emptied our bowl quite quickly. It’s so rich though that much as we would have liked, we just couldn’t have managed another portion. It will keep well in the freezer and make a delightful treat after any meal (or before a meal or as evidenced at lunchtime today, instead of a meal.)

Don’t hesitate to try this very grown up ice cream, even if it means having to splash out on the ice cream maker first. You won’t regret it!