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 … }

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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 … }

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.

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
 
Pears
 
* 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.
 
Assembly
 
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.