October 2009

Caramel month roundup

It seems as quickly as it started, it has finished.  Caramel month.  It has been a busy few weeks as I have navigated my way through caramel in many forms.  CrunchyCreamyClear

Sherry Yard has been my chief ‘instructor’, guiding me through the fundamentals of caramel via her book, The Secrets of Baking.  This is one of the most frequently referenced tomes in my collection (primarily due to its instructional nature), and has been invaluable in steering me through this syrupy affair.

Caramel quite simply starts with cooked sugar.  Most professionals use the ‘dry’ method to make caramel – an approach that requires a very good eye to gauge temperature.  A more foolproof approach is the ‘wet’ method that incorporates water with the sugar.  The addition of corn syrup or lemon in to this mix – which is common in many recipes – also assists in minimising the development of sugar crystallisation.  The ideal temperature to cook sugar is roughly between 160-180C (or 325-350F).  It quickly can burn, so is essential you watch it the entire time.  No multi-tasking!

The master caramel recipe of cooked sugar is used to produce crunchy caramel creations – praline, spun sugar, caramel decorations.  Add cream, and you have caramel sauce.  Add a liquid like wine, juice or water, and you have a caramel glaze.  Best of all, with this master caramel formula, you have an indispensable range of recipes at your disposal.

Mr Mélanger remarked I must be tiring of caramel.  Not at all.  Having only scratched the sugary surface of this caramel wonder, my fascination has only just been piqued.  But next month is a new theme.  And I am excited.  Any guesses?  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, here is a summary of the caramel recipes I tackled during caramel month.  I hope you enjoyed some caramel of your own this month, too!

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caramel cake:: Triple Caramel Cake ::
It is bold.  It is unashamedly rich.  And it superbly showcases caramel in many forms.  From the caramelised cake, to the soft caramel sauce infused buttercream, to the crisp hazelnut praline that crowns this four layer wonder.  { Recipe here … }


pear:: Belle Hélène ::
A simple, yet elegant dessert.  The refreshingly light chocolate ice cream combines faultlessly with the pears – the star of the dish – that has been deliciously infused with a simple lemon-vanilla syrup.  { Recipe here … }


creme caramel:: Lavender Honey Crème Caramel ::
The sweet floral of lavender is quite the perfect match for the spicy, sweet honey in this twist on the classic crème caramel.  Bake in individual dishes or as a family style flan for a more relaxed dessert.  { Recipe here … }


ice cream:: Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream ::
Deep, rich caramel infused ice cream.  The ice cream is creamy, yet with an edge.  Enjoy by the spoonful whether it is 30C, or 30F, outside.  { Recipe here … }


cupcakes:: Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes ::
The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes, light and almost pearlised, look misleadingly innocent.  { Recipe here … }


macarons:: Salted Caramel Macarons ::
A classic French macaron flavour.  The sweet and salty overtones of caramel perfectly cut the sweetness of the macaron shell.  A sprinkling of fleur de sel on top seals the salty fate.  { Recipe here … }


dulce:: Dulce de Leche ::
Caramel at its richest.  Slow cooked milk and sugar produces the stickiest, creamiest and more-ish caramel treat. Eat straight from the jar or on bread, sweet biscuits or any accompaniment. Highly likely to be consumed within 24 hours.   { Recipe here … }

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brioche:: Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits ::
This egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  Enjoy as a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  { Recipe here … }


dulce de leche KC

I brace myself as I present the caramel.  A jar of homemade Dulce de Leche to my dear friend, Ms Contreras.  I apprehensively push the jar across the table towards her.  She eyes it eagerly.  My nerves grow as I fear disappointment.  I do not want this to be the second worst day of her life!

She promptly opens the jar, and, with spoon clutched in hand, lingers momentarily.  I almost slap both hands over my face in anticipation.  I fretfully watch as she scoops up a dollop of the Dulce de Leche, and quickly tastes.

And then it happened.  Immediately.  With just one spoonful.

Ms Contreras was instantly transported back to Chile.

To the lush and green surroundings of her childhood town of Talca.  The tree lined streets. The rolling hills.  To the four-hour train journey between Talca and Santiago she regularly took to visit family.  To the joy of the train stopping during the trip in the town Curicó.  To watching hundreds of charming old ladies dressed in white, selling Tortas de Curicó (pastry and caramel treat), to passengers on the train.

To the hustle and bustle of Santiago.  To the memory of standing at one of her favourite spots, the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by trees, statues and fountains.  To the imposing and majestic Andes looming in the background.  To the sound of Salsa and Cumbia from performers nearby.  To the memory of onlookers slowly moving their hips to the beat of this seductive Latin rhythm.

To the cheerful and sunny seaside retreat of Valparaiso.  To the colourful scenery of pastel buildings clinging to the steep hills.  To the charming art and antique markets full to the brim with treasures.  To happy chatter of families holidaying echoing in the distance.

To her grandmother’s kitchen.  To the memories of her lovingly making Torta de manjar (sponge cake filled with caramel and liquor and covered in caramel and nuts) and Pastel mil ojas (thin layers of pastry with rich caramel filling) for the family.  To recollections of helping her grandmother in the kitchen, watching, learning – and licking her mixing bowls and spoons after she was finished!

To the memory of so many special moments.

To the realisation that caramel takes her back there….

Then Ms Contreras is back, with me.

Back at Piaf, South Bank in Brisbane.  Fashioning a smile on her face that you could not mistake.  Seeing that smile I am reminded of why I bake – and my priceless reward.  What a privilege for me to share these special memories.

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche is very similar to Confiture du Lait (milk jam).  I experimented making this caramel sauce based on these two variations.  P.S. There is no dangerous boiling of cans involved!

{ Dulce de Leche }

* Ingredients *
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk

* Directions *
Empty the condensed milk into an ovenproof bowl.  Generously cover with foil.  Put the bowl into a baking dish, and in a similar way to baking cheesecake, fill the tin up with hot water so it covers the condensed milk.  Bake for 1 ¼ hours at 200C or 400F.  Check the oven every 20-30 minutes to ensure the water levels do not drop.  The condensed milk should have turned a golden, brown colour when it is ready.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

{ Confiture du Lait }

* Ingredients *
600ml or 1 pint whole milk
250g or 1 1/3 cups sugar
Vanilla, optional

* Directions *
Add the milk and sugar to a heavy saucepan.  Add the vanilla, if using.  Bring to the boil stirring the mixture constantly.  Turn the heat down to a very low simmer, and cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours.  The caramel is ready when you have reached a golden, brown colour and thick consistency.  Remove from the stove and allow to cool.

Salted caramel macarons single

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S.  She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Imagine my joy when I read those words.

As many of you know, I adore French macarons.  I have experimented with countless flavours and tweaked my own recipe to the point of almost being foolproof.  As I am promoting caramel month, there was no question what flavour I would make.  The challenge for me, however, was trialing a new French macaron recipe.

I hesitated for a while.  Then quickly decided it was ‘acceptable’, as Gramercy Tavern was the location of the first dinner Mr Mélanger and I enjoyed during our visit to New York last year. 

I am sentimental like that.

Salted caramel macarons

{ French Macarons } from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern

* Ingredients *
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

* Directions *
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavourings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t over fold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly coloured.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

{ Caramel Fleur de sel }

* Ingredients *
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 vanilla pod
200g cream
Big pinch fleur de sel
125g or 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

* Directions *
Place the sugar in a saucepan with the water.  Without stirring, cook the sugar to 160C or 320F until it takes on a light, golden colour.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Add in the cream being careful as you poor into the hot sugar.  Add in the Fleur de sel.  Allow the mixture to cool to around 40C or 105F then add the butter.  Blend until you have a glossy paste.  Chill until required.

Brioche tart sinle

I could smell the sweet scent well before I saw them.  As I walked closer, the perfume became much stronger.  Then, they were upon me.  My eyes quickly darted from side to side to take them all in.  Row upon row of fuzzy little peaches.  With a smile I reflect to myself, summer is almost here.

I usually avoid buying stone fruit this early in the season.  Inevitably, I am disappointed from the very first bite.  Too tart.  Too tasteless.  Too dry.  But something was urging me to throw caution to the wind this day.  So I bought the peaches.

I am glad I did.  Back home, I quickly got to work preparing a caramel inspired dish to showcase this fragrant fruit.  When flipping through Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan, I hit gold.  A recipe by Nancy Silverton that incorporated all the right elements for caramel month. Brioche Tart with White Secret Sauce. 

The egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  During caramel month, I mostly have included examples of creamy and crunchy caramel, so I was keen to include the perhaps less obvious clear caramel into the mix.  The caramel poached fruit in this recipe was a simple way to feature this option.

My favourite part of this recipe – apart from the taste, of course – was the volcanic-like reaction during the sauce process when adding the wine to the caramel.  Try it, and you will see what I mean.  Oh, but be really careful.

We enjoyed this tart for a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  It would also be a delicious dessert.  The fruit cuts the creaminess of the sauce and tart well, and would certainly be the perfect finish to a meal.

Brioche tart set

{ Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits } recipe adapted by Nancy Silverton from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

I made one significant change to the original recipe.  I selected to use the Brioche dough from Dorie Greenspan’s, Baking: From my Home to Yours.  I was a little short on time so this was a speedier option.  I also elected to include some dried apricots for the fruit selection to complement the aromatic peaches.

* Ingredients *
Brioche dough, chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, just warm to the touch
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup creme fraiche homemade or store-bought or sour cream
1 large egg
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar, for sprinkling

1-1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian
1/3 cup water
2-1/4 cups dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Assorted ripe but firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and/or plums or assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and/or peaches
Chopped toasted blanched almonds
Confectioner’s sugar

* Directions *
Put the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one.  Working on low speed, mix for a minute or two, just to get the ingredients together.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 7 – 10 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl and the hook, until the dough is stretchy and fairly smooth.  The dough will seem fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough, and it may not be perfectly smooth – that is fine.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 30 – 40 minutes.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl.  Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours.  Then if you’ve got the time, leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight – it will be tastier for the wait.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter a 1-1/4-inch-high 10-inch flan ring or the ring of a 10-inch springform pan.

Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten it into a 5-inch disk, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that’s at least 1 to 1-1/2 inches larger than the flan ring. If your circle is ragged, trim it to an even round.

Centre the flan ring on the dough and press down on the ring gently so that, when lifted, it leaves a clear impression. This impression will be your crimping guide. Keeping the fingers of your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed) against the guideline, lift a little of the dough from the edge with your right hand and fold it over so that it falls about 1/4 inch past the guideline. In this position, you should be able to pinch the dough between the index fingers of both hands and crimp it. Twist your fingers slightly and the dough will have an attractive diagonal crimp. Work your way around the tart and don’t be concerned about getting it just so-as luxurious as this custard-filled brioche will be, it is still a simple, rustic tart.

Place the flan ring on the parchment-lined baking sheet and lift the dough up and into the ring. Work your fingers around the crimped edge, pressing your fingers into the dough so that you lift up the thick, crimped edge a bit and firmly press down the base of the dough.

Let the dough rise, uncovered, at room temperature until it doubles in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275F.

Whisk the creme fraiche and egg together in a small bowl and keep close at hand.

Press your fingertips into the dough, covering all of the tart, except for the crimped edge, with abundant and deep dimples-don’t be afraid to press your fingers down almost to the bottom of the pan. Spread the creme fraiche mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart, going right up to where the crimping begins. Sprinkle 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar over the custard.

You’ll know how much sugar to use because the custard will tell you-it will only absorb a certain amount. Stop when it appears that the custard won’t take any more.

Brush the crimped edge of the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle it with crystal sugar. Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is just about set. The custard should be a little loose; it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan gently. Remove to a cooling rack. A few minutes after the tart comes from the oven, slide a cardboard cake round under the tart and lift off the ring. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without the sauce and fruit garnish.

To make the caramel syrup for the sauce, put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed medium skillet with high sides or a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, and toss in the pods. Pour in the water-it should be just enough to cover the sugar-but don’t stir. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. Now you can either cover the pan for a couple of seconds to wash down any sugar that has crystallized on the sides of the pan or you can wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

As the caramel continues to cook, you’ll notice that the bubbles will get bigger and shortly after that you’ll see the first sign of colour-there is always a hot spot. As soon as the caramel starts to colour, begin to swirl the skillet gently over the heat. Keep cooking and swirling frequently until the caramel is a deep gold test-test the colour by putting a drop of the caramel on a white plate. It probably will take 7 to 10 minutes to get the right colour.

When you’ve got the colour you want, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine. Stand back as you pour in the wine because the caramel will bubble and sizzle -it will also seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to the boil again to melt the caramel. Pour 1-1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. Reserve the remaining syrup in the pan; you’ll use it to cook the fruit garnish.

Put the yolks into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (or use a heatproof bowl) and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot caramel. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water-the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl-and whisk without stop until the yolks are voluminous and almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture: This should take at least 5 minutes, but the yolks may need as long as 8 minutes of heat and constant stirring. (If the eggs start to cook, a bad sign, or are heating unevenly, lift the bowl out of the pan, whisk for a few seconds off the heat, and then return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk.)

Attach the bowl to the mixer, fit the mixer with the whisk attachment (or use a hand-held mixer), and beat the yolk mixture at medium-low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch, pale in colour, and about tripled in volume. The bottom of the bowl should feel cold and the mixture should have the look of whipped mayonnaise. Gently fold in the whipped cream. The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

If you are using fresh fruits, slice them. If you are using a selection of dried fruits, dice the fruits, soak them in hot water to plump them, and then drain them. Pat them dry before using.

Bring the caramel-wine syrup to a boil in the skillet in which it was made. Add the fruit and swirl the pan. Cook the fruit, swirling the pan and stirring the fruit as needed, until the fruit is softened.

To serve, place a slice of the tart on each plate (this would be nice on largish plates). Spoon on some of the sauce and the caramel poached fruit, lifting the fruit from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and decorate the plate with a shower of toasted nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Although the sauce can be made ahead, and the dough must be made in advance, the tart must be served the day it is made.

Serves 8 to 10

Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

How did Fleur de sel attain such widely held admiration?  One minute it was a speciality product celebrated only by those in the know, next minute it became practically mainstream.

Like many people, I grew up with plain, old table salt. Then, over the years, I have been exposed to sea salt, kosher salt, pink salt, black salt, and Fleur de sel.  I understood the necessity of incorporating salt into baking.  But not until tasting Fleur de sel did I fully appreciate the virtues of salt – and value how extraordinarily well it enhances taste.

From the very first punch of flavour, I was sold.  Hook, line and sinker.  Sprinkled on an indulgence such as caramel or chocolate, one bite and you are simply captivated.  As the taste of the sweet starts to dissolve in your mouth, you are exposed to the light, salty overtone of the salt.  The flavour is aromatic, smooth and distinctive.

These cupcakes are no exception.

During my caramel or chocolate vote, although caramel was crowned the clear victor, there were many requests for a chocolate and caramel combination.  Chocolate and caramel is like a marriage made in heaven, and so caramel month would certainly feel incomplete without it.

All frosted up, these cupcakes are deceptive.  The generous pool of caramel remains concealed until that first, unanticipated bite.  The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes, light and almost pearlised, look misleadingly innocent.  When you savour the taste, the irresistable flavour faintly lingers urging you to immediately go back for more.

With ample supply of Fleur de sel de Guérande in the pantry, I suspect there will be more baking experiments to come.

{ Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes } recipe by Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F. Line mini muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract, and the water; beat until smooth and combined.

Spoon the batter into liners about two-thirds full. Bake approximately 15 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Transfer tins to wire racks and allow to cool for 10 minutes; turn cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 1 month in air tight containers.

To finish, use a paring knife to cut a cone-shaped piece (about 1/2 inch deep) from the centre of each cupcake and throw away the pieces. Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons warm Salted Caramel Filling into each hollowed-out cupcake. You will notice the caramel will sink into the cupcake a little, just fill it up a bit more. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over filling.

Use a pastry bag with a medium open-star tip and pipe Dark Chocolate Frosting onto each cupcake, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Garnish each cupcake with a pinch of salt. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are filled and frosted. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Salted Caramel Filling

* Ingredients *
2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, preferably fleur de sel

* Directions *
Heat sugar with the water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over high, stirring occasionally, until syrup is clear; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan and stop stirring.

Cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. Boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is caramelised and just reaches 185C or 360F. Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in salt.

Use immediately; if caramel begins to harden reheat gently until pourable.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

* Ingredients *
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

* Directions *
Combine cocoa and boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved.

With electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

Frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month in an air tight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Lavender Honey Creme Caramel 

I almost could not endure the anticipation.  Clutching a roadmap, I eagerly keep track of our journey.  Reaching the last turn, I see the tourist sign and (glad I have successfully navigated the way), start to cheer silently in eagerness for the approaching lavender.  Rows upon rows of fragrant lavender at The Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm – one of the largest commercial lavender farms in the world.

Mr Mélanger and I were aware it was too early for the full blooms, but hoping at least for some dramatic visual of the great expanse of lavender on offer at the farm.  Slowly driving in, you could see the disappointment on my face immediately.  The lavender certainly was not in full bloom, and from a distance, you could not see any flowers at all. 

I look around, admiring the vastness of the lavender that had been planted in this glorious farm.  I pause and squint hoping to squeeze a little more colour into focus.  It was not to be.  Slightly disenchanted, I decide to soak up my sadness by marching straight into the gift store and seek some type of compensation by purchasing an array of lavender based products.  (You certainly cannot have enough.)

Back in Brisbane, I am inspired by our two-week honeymoon in Tasmania and look to combine the unique floral flavour of lavender into caramel month.  I have baked with lavender earlier in the year when I created my lavender macarons.

I wanted to pair the lavender this time with a complementary flavour.  After only a little thinking, I quickly decided that flavour to be honey.  But not any honey.  Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey.  This honey is exclusively native to the world heritage area of Tasmanian West coast wilderness.  It has a distinctive spicy flavour. 

So it was decided.  Lavender + Honey.  And the vessel for this combination?  Crème caramel.

I have been meaning to bake crème caramel beyond the standard (but still delicious) variety.  I could also picture me and Mr Mélanger tucking into one of these sweet and creamy desserts in a cosy little bistro overlooking some of the most spectacular landscapes that Tasmania offers.

Crème caramel is not a difficult dessert to make.  Caramel is cooked and poured into ramekins, and then a simple custard is added.  Chilled and then served, it guarantees a moment of anticipation as you invert the dessert onto a plate – hoping it easily releases from the mould – and then when it does, a smile as you watch the caramel eagerly run down the custard to the plate.

If you are comfortable with making caramel and custard the only area to really watch is the baking time.  You want the end product to jiggle a little.  Baked too long, and you risk scrambled eggs.  Delicious for breakfast, but not for dessert.

I experimented with both of these flavours carefully.  I did not want to overpower the delicate crème caramel.  I must say, the sweet floral of the lavender was a quite a match for the spicy, sweet honey.  I am now scheming in my head all the other flavour combinations I want to try!


{ Images } Busy Tasmanian Bee


{ Images } Rows of fragrant lavender at The Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm

{ Lavender Honey Crème Caramel }

* Ingredients *
1 cup (250ml) milk
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon lavender
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 tablespoon leatherwood honey
¼ cup sugar

½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon water

* Directions *
Grease 4 moulds / ramekins.  Place into a roasting tin, and keep close to hand.  For the caramel, put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.  Cook until the sugar has melted and reached a golden caramel colour.  Immediately pour or spoon the caramel into the prepared moulds.  You must do this quickly as the caramel soon starts to harden.  Set the moulds aside.  Preheat the oven to 160C or 320F.  For the custard, bring the milk and cream to a boil.  In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and eggs with the sugar and honey.  Pour the boiled milk and cream over the eggs slowly, stirring well.  Pass through a very fine sieve, or double sieve if you prefer (particularly to ensure you remove ingredients such as lavender buds).  Pour the custard into the moulds.  Fill the roasting tin about half way with hot water.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the centre jiggles slightly.  Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  To serve, run a knife around the edge of the custard, and carefully invert the mould on to a plate.

Serves 4

{ Notes } For a standard crème caramel :: replace the lavender with vanilla, and omit the honey increasing the sugar from ¼ cup to 1/3 cup.

Belle Helene

For my next caramel challenge, I attempt Pierre Hermé’s version of the classic Belle Hélène.

The traditional Belle Hélène includes poached pears served with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce.  Pierre Hermé’s version includes a few substitutes, bien sûr.  Most notably, the ice cream choice is chocolate and the sauce, caramel.  He also includes pear halves instead of whole pears.  Because of this, I originally started plating the dessert instead of serving it up ‘sundae’ style.  I was afraid the pears would be lost and wanted to display them more prominently.

So I carefully cut and fanned a pear on a plate.  Then drizzled with caramel sauce.  Setting that aside, I made a spun sugar ball as final decoration.  Next, the-clock-is-now-ticking part.  I made a perfect quenelle of ice-cream and delicately added to the plate.  I was shocked and then horrified to see it immediately starting to melt practically as soon as it made contact with the plate – and before I could even pick up the camera.

I am not sure if it was because the spoon I used to quenelle the ice cream needed to be warm so it already started the ‘melting process’, or if the plate should have been chilled, or if the eggless ice cream is more difficult to work with?  Any thoughts?

So Plan B it was.  The original sundae serving suggestion.

I quickly made some more sugar threads to top the sundae. I flattened them out slightly to achieve a little contrast with the shape of the pear.  (I should point out that this caramel decoration is not part of Pierre Hermé’s recipe, but when reading through it, I wanted to inject a little more caramel into the dessert.)  The rest of the sundae came together quickly.  And with just enough time to take a photograph, or two.

In terms of flavours, it was a delicious combination.  I already have plans to make additional caramel sauce to keep in the fridge – as back-up.  The chocolate ice cream was a refreshingly light version of the more popular creamy variety.  And the pears?  A simple lemon-vanilla syrup certainly infused its way throughout this fruit.  I am not typically a big fruit dessert fan, but the delicate flavour of these pears will certainly have me coming back for more.

My next caramel challenge will absolutely be something with a little more ‘shelf life’ – for my sanity, if nothing else!  And as soon as I receive the wedding photographs (pending!), I will do a little update on the wedding macarons favours and a few snaps from the big day.

{ Belle Hélène } recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan
* Ingredients *
29 oz (825g) can of pear halves in syrup
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pulp from half a vanilla bean
* Directions *
Drain the pears.  Bring water, sugar, lemon and vanilla to the boil.  Remove and pour over pears.  Cover with wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
Caramel Sauce
* Ingredients *
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter
* Directions *
Bring cream to a boil and then set aside.  In clean saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of sugar over the bottom of the pan.  A soon as the sugar starts to melt and colour, stir with a wooden spoon until it caramelises.  Sprinkle over half the remaining sugar, and repeat.  Add the remaining sugar and cook until the colour is deep brown colour.  Take the pan off the heat and add the butter carefully (may splatter) and then add the cream.  Continue to cook until the sauce just starts to boil again. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Chocolate Ice Cream
* Ingredients *
½ cup powdered milk
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
8 oz (230g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
* Directions *
Set up an ice water bath with a small and large bowl and set aside.  Place powdered milk in sauepan and gradually whisk in whole milk.  When powdered milk dissolved, whish in sugar.  Bring mixtgure to the boil, then stir in the chopped chocolate and bring to the boil again.  Pull pan from the heat and pour the hot choolate mixture into the reserved small bowl.  Set the bowl into the ice water bath until cool.  Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s dictions.  Pack the ice cream into a freezer container and store in freezer for at least 2 hours.
Spun Sugar (recipe by Sherry Yard)
* Ingredients *
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
* Directions *
Prepare an area for spinning the sugar.  Position two medium saucepans with metal handles at the edge of the kitchen counter/bench.  Let the handles extend out over the floor.  Place some newspaper on the floor to cach drips.  Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan.  Cook the sugar until the temperature reaches 300F or 150C.  Watch closely until the temperature edges up to 325F or 165C.  Take the caramel off the heat and let cool to about 275F or 130C.  Dip a fork into the caramel and carefully scoop out. Position the fork about 12 inches or 30cm above the handles and let the caramel flow off the fork, quickly wiggling the fork and draping the caramel back and forth over the handles.  After two or three forkfuls, stop and gather up the sugar threads and set aside and begin again.  Spun sugar needs to be used immediately.
Put two scoops of chocolate ice cream into the bottom of a long stemmed balloon shaped wineglass or other cocktail glass.  Top with a few pear halves and drizzle over some caramel sauce.  Top with spun sugar, if using.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

I remember the first time I saw snow.  I was in my twenties, but I felt (and acted!), like a five year old. I am almost certain I screeched with sheer excitement upon seeing inches of fluffy, white magic not only forming a soft blanket on the ground around me, but delicately falling from the sky flaunting its unique snowflake shape.

This snow spectacular was in Boston – my former residence for quite a number of years.  Winter in Boston certainly can be cold and long.  The snow can start before Thanksgiving and continue all the way through to Memorial Day.  During these months of chilly temperatures, apart from the typical memories of constant driveway shovelling, car windshield scraping, and leather boots waterproofing, there is one memory that has me shaking my head until this day.  Ice cream consumption.

It has been mentioned here, here, here and here, that New Englanders consume the greatest proportion of ice cream in the USA.  And after witnessing the hoards of lines outside fine purveyors such as JP Licks, Emack & Bolio’s, Herrell’s, and the former Steve’s (inventor of the mix-in!) throughout the city and surrounding towns, I do not question this fact at all.

I have recently been reminded of my years in Boston during my recent honeymoon.  Mr Mélanger and I took a relaxing and tranquil holiday to Tasmania.  For those unfamiliar with Tasmania, it is our most southerly state in Australia.  During our travels, we reached the magnificent World Heritage-listed wilderness of Cradle Mountain.  (Some photos from the trip below.)  As we were approaching the rugged alpine peaks of the mountain we could see they were still peppered in snow – which was a thrill to see given it is spring here in Australia.  Along the windy drive to the Lodge, it actually started to snow, too.

I had not seen snow since Boston.  I was that five year old kid again.  Moreover, after the thoughts of hoping there may be enough snow on the ground for a little snowball fight action, I thought of ice cream.  As you do.  With my ice cream food memory top of mind, I knew I would have to make some deliciously, rich ice cream as part of caramel month.

So back in sub-tropical Brisbane, I turn my attention to some refreshing ice cream.  For this task, I look to none other than the undisputed ice cream authority, David Lebovitz.  David showcases a mouth-watering double caramel ice creamon his blog.  The custard for the ice cream not only has been caramelised, but David incorporates crunchy caramel throughout the churning process at the end.  After the triple caramel feast, I elected to keep things simple, enjoying the single caramel overtones of the ice cream custard in its most pure form.

I followed the directions to the letter.  For this exercise, no point tweaking a recipe which had been expertly created.  Having made considerable quantities of homemade ice cream in the past (all due to the abundance of egg yolks I have on hand after all my macaron efforts!), I was not anxious at all by the directions.  The only area of watchfulness I noted was cooking the sugar.  If there is only one trick to making caramel, this is it.  The heating of the sugar to the right colour and temperature makes or breaks the caramel.  In this recipe, you want it to be a strong flavour, but certainly not bitter.

I have never enjoyed a caramel ice cream like this one.  Because of the caramel, it remains deliciously creamy even after freezing.  It would also be sensational with the addition of praline per David’s original recipe to add some further crunch.  I think this will be a firm favourite even after caramel month is over.

{ Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream } adapted from David Lebovitz

* Ingredients *
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300g) sugar
4 tablespoons (60g) salted butter
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

* Directions *
Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/litres) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.  Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Heat the sugar over low to medium heat until the edges begin to melt. Stir the liquefied sugar towards the centre until all the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it is just about to burn. Once caramelised, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.  Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).  Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.  Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes one litre

Cradle Mountain 1

 { Images } Distinctive alpine vegetation and temperate rainforest waterfalls of Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain 2

 { Images } Forest flora and local wildlife of Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain 3

 { Images } Abandoned Dove Lake boat shed at Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain 4

{ Images } Reflections and Cradle Mountain Lodge at Cradle Mountain

Caramel cake

There is no mere hint of caramel.  And no token caramel decoration.  You certainly will not find a subtle caramel flavour in this cake.  It is bold.  It is unashamedly rich.  And it superbly showcases caramel in many forms. 

From the caramelised cake, to the soft caramel sauce infused buttercream, to the crisp hazelnut praline that crowns this four layer wonder. 

Each component is a lesson in the versatility of caramel.  Each blends harmoniously to bring you the ultimate caramel cake.  This caramel extravaganza comes from the book, Caramel, by Trish Deseine. 

It never ceases to amaze me how the simple variation of an ingredient in baking can produce a drastically different result.  In this recipe, the simple use of brown sugar results in a sweeter, richer cake than its white sugar counterpart.  The sweetness of the cake is amplified with a caramel sauce laced buttercream frosting.  Lastly, the hazelnut praline provides the perfect crunch to this caramel cake, complementing the rich, creamy caramel cake and frosting.

This triple caramel feast certainly promises a very sweet start to caramel month.  Down to the last caramel bite.

Caramel cake (set)

{ Caramel Cake } by Trish Deseine 


* Ingredients *

3 ½ cup plain flour
1 ½ cup less 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white superfine sugar
8 eggs
2 cups salted butter
2 teaspoons baking powder

* Directions *

Preheat oven to 180C or 350 F. Spray and flour 2 x 22cm or 9” cake pans.  Put all cake ingredients into bowl of mixer, mix until you have a smooth, creamy batter. Divide mixture equally into two cake pans.  Smooth with spatula and bake 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Toothpick or tester should come out clean.


* Ingredients *

675g or 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
1 ½ cup unsalted butter
5 tablespoons caramel sauce
4 tablespoons marscapone

* Directions *

Beat powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Add caramel sauce and marscapone and beat together. Allow to set up for a few minutes in the fridge.  Save about 1/3 of butter cream for top layer of cake. Use remaining buttercream to frost the other 3 layers.

Hazelnut Praline

* Ingredients *

1 cup toasted hazelnuts
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water

Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 180C or 350F for 8 minutes until they start to turn golden.  Let cool.  Heat the sugar and water in a pan over medium heat.  Continue to stir until mixture turns an amber caramel color (10-15 minutes). Pour hot caramel over hazelnuts. Let cool, then break caramel into small pieces.

* Assembly *

Cut two cake layers in half horizontally to make 4 layers.
Spread buttercream on tops only, of first three cake layers, stacking them, and saving 1/3 of buttercream for top of fourth layer. Let frosted cake chill.
Top with hazelnut praline.  Optional – before serving, heat some caramel sauce and drizzle over the top, letting it run down the sides.

Caramel month

This month (with a 3-1 vote by Mélanger readers!), I will be tackling caramel and exploring what mouth-watering treats I can create with various proportions of sugar and water – plus butter and cream! 

Creamy or crunchy.  Hard or soft.  Caramel is a gem in the baking arsenal.  Often a well placed decoration in a desert or the all-round star of the show.  Either way, its versatility is undeniable.

Caramel is loved the world over.  But I think I personally know caramel’s #1 fan.  It comes in the always effervescent package known as Ms Contreras.

At 15, Ms Contreras moved from Chile with her family to Australia.  She spoke no English.  Quickly, she found herself caught up in the routine of her new life.  One such event was a trip to the local supermarket.

Ms Contreras thought all her Christmases had come at once when she spied an over-sized jar of caramel.  This jar spoke no Spanish, but she just knew it was talking to her.  Compelling her to buy it.  Needless to say, there was little resistance from Ms Contreras.

Once home, she quickly whipped the lid off the container, and with spoon ready, Ms Contreras dipped in without hesitation.  As soon as the spoon reached her mouth, alarm bells went off.  She may not have been able to read English at this stage, but her taste buds could immediately translate.

What she so longingly wanted to taste, was not her beloved caramel at all.  Her secret food desire.  But in fact, what she tasted was peanut butter.  Plain, old peanut butter.

With her little 15 year old shoulders slumped, and her spirit broken, she declared – and still does to this day – that to be the worst day of her life.

The treats I make during :: Caramel Month :: will never ever make up for that day, but hopefully one or two (that I, of course, will share!) will put a smile on her face.