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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

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake

halwa cake

 

Slow Cooked finally hit the shelves this week and what could be a better way to celebrate than a cake? (Clue: it has a cork you can pop, but I digress.) And what could be better than a cake you weren’t expecting? Surprise cake is, of course, always the best.

After months of feeling like I couldn’t really talk slow cooker stuff on the blog or Twitter so you didn’t feel that all the best stuff in Slow Cooked had been given away before you got your copy, publication has released my inner slow cooker mojo again. I’ve felt hugely inspired to cook again in the slow cooker and I’ve been keen to try new techniques again.

I happened to see Imran from Elephant in Brixton Village during the week as we promote the Brixton Blog crowdfunder and since it was the first really cold day in there of the autumn/winter, he had made some fantastic warming semolina in the tradition of very sweet comfort dishes from Pakistan and India and it got me thinking how much I love those milky desserts from the subcontinent.

I have a particular love for gajar ka halwa or carrot pudding which is made from slow cooking carrots and milk into a soft sticky super charged version of condensed milk sprinkled with pistachios to serve. I’ve had a notion to make it in the slow cooker for ages and wouldn’t you know it, I had a whole bag of carrots needing used up.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of my usual storecupboard standby of evaporated milk and had to use whole milk instead which has a tendency to become a little bit grainy and burnt tasting in the slow cooker. I then compounded this by stupidly setting it to high rather than low and leaving it in about three hours longer than needed, ending up with curdled looking milk and halwa that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing enough to eat on its own this time. It worked perfectly next time though with the right milks. Evap and condensed milks are slow cooker saviours.

Rather than throw it in the bin, it occured to me that it could be recycled into a amazing spiced carrot cake which is how I came to be celebrating my second book this year with a whole cake to myself. To be fitting, I baked it in the slow cooker itself which is basically a slightly more grown up version of those Easy-Bake ovens you get when you’re a kid. Thanks to The Crafty Larder, Farmersgirl Kitchen and BakingQueen74, I’ve discovered you can use cake tin liners in the slow cooker instead of the sheets of reusable baking liner I’ve been using and you can create easy slab style cakes without greasing tins and turning the oven on.

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

For the halwa:

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 x 400ml can evaporated milk
  • 1 x 297ml can condensed milk
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • pinch sea salt
  • 50g sliced pistachios to serve
  • 50g sliced almonds to serve

For the cake:

  • 200ml sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 350g halwa (or grated carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger cordial (optional)
  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Start by making your halwa. It’s incredibly simple if you don’t oversleep like I did and overcook it. Peel and grate your carrots, either with a box grater or food processor. Place into a slow cooker crock you have greased slightly with oil or butter. Press the carrots down so they are half way between loose and tightly packed.

Pour the evaporated and condensed milks over them. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and cardamom and then put the lid on. Traditionally a pinch of saffron would be used too, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. The carrots will soften and break down into the slow cooked milk which creates a toffeeish dish. Stir the nuts through it. You could serve it as it is, but it was fantastic in the cake.

The cake is adapted from page 153 of Recipes from Brixton Village and uses the technique of whipping oil and sugar together to a syrup to make the moistest cake possible. This carrot cake is so good it has stopped me pining for my lost recipe for Nigella’s Venetian carrot cake from Vogue.

Line your slow cooker with a sheet of reusable baking liner or set a 9 inch cake tin liner into the crock. I find it’s easiest to line it first then set the liner in as you only have to lift one sheet that way instead of fumble with oven gloves.

Pour the oil into a large bowl and using an electric hand whisk, beat the sugar into it for about 3-4 minutes until it is a glossy syrup. Add the egg yolks one at a time. The mixture will get glossier with each one.

Beat in the flour, spices, halwa and ginger cordial if using, stopping when combined. Wash the beaters of your electric whisk well and in a clean grease free bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold them into the mix to create a light pillowy looking batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared slow cooker. Cover the top of the crock with double folded kitchen towel or a clean tea towel. This stops the condensation in the slow cooker from dripping down into your cake and making it damp. I prefer the kitchen roll as I find the tea towel can lower the temperature of the slow cooker too much and add cooking time. Bake the cake for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check the centre with a toothpick. It should come out clean. Give it another 20 minutes even time if it doesn’t.

Lift the cake out and cool on a rack. If using the liner, don’t peel it away until the cake is completely cooled or the little edge bits will pull off and the cake will look picked at. Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice and zest together.

Use a bread knife to carefully cut across the cake from side to side to create two sandwich layers. Fill with the zesty cream cheese frosting and serve in slices. It will keep for 48 hours with the frosting and 5 days without. I have to say, it didn’t last that long in my house…

 

Raspberry Ruffle Macaroons

coconut macaroons

You will have probably realised from the photographs that these are macaroons, not macaron. Big hulking coconut numbers rather than their Gallic cousins with their egg white shells. These are the thing to eat with a big cup of tea poring over the Sunday papers and putting your feet up. Sticky, chewy and very easy to make, I’m Team Macaroon all the way.

I think it’s because I grew up eating Raspberry Ruffles. Seemingly a Scottish and Northern Irish treat, these small nuggets of vivid pink coconut and dark chocolate were very grown up to me and I loved them. I hadn’t seen them for years but when I reasserted my love of the macaroon recently, I had a massive blast of nostalgia for them. And since raspberries are in season right now, it seemed a shame not to try making my own version, especially since they are incredibly easy…

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Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream

 

Last month I finally got the chance to try an iced coffee for the first time since an ill advised carton of Nestle Frappe back at primary school which scarred me for life (I think it’s where they got the idea for that 3 in 1 monstrosity they were pushing at Tube stations recently). This time I showed more sense and went to the Vietnamese cafe Banh Mi Bay and sampled this summer drink made by the people who do it the best.

Strong, but not bitter and slightly sweet from condensed milk, it was so refreshing I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to re-live its cooling caffeine hit and when Kavey mentioned that July’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge was a condensed milk custard, I knew what I had to do…

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream (makes about a litre)

  • 410g can of condensed milk or two small cans (Polish shops usually sell the bigger ones & are great value)
  • 3 tablespoons freeze dried coffee dissolved in 60ml of water, cooled slightly
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 250ml double cream
  • 250ml whole milk
  • pinch salt
  • freeze dried raspberries (optional)

First make your coffee. You’re probably having kittens at the thought of using instant coffee, but I always keep some in the house for baking and cooking as you want a good strong coffee flavour without too much liquid and proper ground beans don’t do this. If you really object to the instant stuff, this is a good time to try cold brewing coffee and using the concentrate that method creates instead. I wasn’t organised enough so instead I used 3 tablespoons of freeze dried espresso powder in 60ml or 1/4 cup of boiling water and left to cool a bit while I made the custard. I find when you freeze ice cream it lessens the flavour and I like a proper coffee kick from my custard so heaped the coffee in.

I warmed the cream and whole milk, adding in the condensed milk so it all melted and looked like thick creamy custard. I separated the eggs and beat the yolks, adding in a bit of the condensed milk custard to temper it before adding it all back into the saucepan to thicken. Add in the coffee and the salt and str until blipping gently and thickening nicely. It’s like a regular ice cream custard base but much easier to do without splitting or it not coming together. Chill well. It will look as set in the bowl at this point as pannacotta and will be a little bit difficult to get into the machine without ladling.

From reading the expertise of the people organised enough to get their posts up on Kavey’s blog in time, it looks like you could freeze other condensed milk based custards without a machine because of the texture of the custard is airier than usual and wouldn’t just make a big icy block (see her comment below). I used my machine as normal as this is egg based and while it was churning, turned my attention to the garnish.

I adore coffee and raspberries together. The tang of the berries works especially well with coffee desserts and I decided I wanted to cut through the richness of this ice cream with a sprinkle of freeze-dried raspberry. Unfortunately I wasn’t organised enough to mail order these and instead spent an afternoon trekking round London trying to find them in Whole Foods and Waitrose and Fortnums and not getting very far. Instead I bought a bar of 36% cocoa milk chocolate with raspberry from Marks and Spencer and took my frustration from my failed shopping trip out on it with a rolling pin.

I sprinkled some crushed chocolate chunks into each section of my silicone tray and poured the ice cream in, topping with more crushed chocolate and freezing as ice cream bars. I served these between wafers and the crunch of these and the chocolate chunks made the ice cream seem even creamier than it was. Not to toot my own horn, but this was the best coffee ice cream I’ve ever had and coffee ice cream is my favourite…