Speculaas winter toffee

wintertoffee1It’s Guy Fawkes Night as I start writing this recipe up – November the fifth. The night when fireworks light up the sky (and scare the wildlife and people’s pets) and bonfires blaze across the UK.

By  this date in the UK the weather has turned for the worst, the clocks have recently gone back plunging us into darkness an hour earlier in the evening and the big chill has set in. No matter that the winter solstice is still six-seven weeks away, it’s already wintry. Everyone has certain foods that are synonymous with the start of deep winter and evoke that combined smell of autumn leaves, burning fires and even sulphorous fireworks. These foods for me include old family favourites I was brought up with such as bangers and mash, seasonal thick soups, jacket potatoes and treacle toffee.

Over the winter I’ll make several batches of my winter toffee to share out, give as presents and, of course, a treat for ourselves. Just a few days ago I was lucky enough to be sent a batch of special speculaas mix from vanDotsch spices to try. I didn’t want to go straight down the route of making speculaas cookies (that’s too obvious for me – although I expect I’ll end up making a batch or two)  I thought I’d combine spice and confectionary. Turns out that the warming, spicy, Christmassy speculaas goes famously well with the creamy treacly flavour of my toffee recipe.

So what is speculaas?

If you’re thinking you’ve never heard of speculaas before there’s a high probability you’ve tried it without even realising it. Ever had a little rectangular ginger-y biscuit with your coffee? Those commercially made, bite-sized biscuits so beloved of coffee shops and baristas are speculaas biscuits. Speculaas is a warming, festive spice mix mainly associated with the Netherlands, although versions are also found throughout Belgium, Luxembourg parts of north eastern France and Germany under slightly different, localised names such as spéculoos (France) and Spekulatius (Germany).

It’s synonymous with those pretty, pressed Christmas biscuits. I read that traditionally families would have their own variations of the spice recipe and their own heritage biscuit moulds. Although the mix clearly differs from one household to another, all versions have a similar base which might include warming cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and white pepper. This mix from vanDotsch Spices comes from the company owner’s family recipe and has a ‘secret mix of six spices’ together with high grade cinnamon, cloves and ginger. I’ve been to the Netherlands a few times and have consumed quite a few speculaas koekjes (of course…) and, although I can’t compare side-by-side with a typical mix, this particular speculaas does taste pretty good to me.

Notes

Be careful!! All toffee is hot Hot HOT while you’re making it. Please don’t get burnt – wear long sleeves and use gloves when pouring the toffee out.

vondotsch.pngPurchase the vanDotsch speculaas spice mix online (you can even buy carved biscuit moulds too)  from the Speculaas Spice Company, which is run by Steven Dotsch, an Amsterdammer (or Mokummer) now living in London. This particular speculaas spice mix is based on his Grandmother’s unique blend.

Equipment

  • Large heavy bottomed pan
  • Small baking tray (20cm x 20cm would be ideal but you can ‘cheat’ with a larger tray as I do – more later)
  • Kitchen foil
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sharp heavy knife
  • Something to break the toffee up with – a rolling pin, back of a heavy knife or a toffee hammer if you have one
  • A jug or glass filled with cold water
  • A sugar thermometer (though you can do without this)

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter – 115g
  • Granulated sugar – 115g oz
  • Demerera sugar – 115g oz
  • Single cream – 100ml
  • Bicarbonate of soda – 1 teaspoon (5g)
  • Black treacle – 1 tablespoon (15g)
  • Golden syrup – 1 tablespoon (15g)
  • Cider or white wine vinegar – 2 tablespoons (30g)
  • Speculaas spice mix – 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5g)
  • Extra unsalted butter for greasing, about 15 g

Method

  1. Prep your baking tray first:

If you have a small tray that’s roughly 20cm x 20cm (or more-or-less the same volume) then you can just line it with the foil, grease it with the extra unsalted butter and leave to one side

foiledtin
Sorry this is a terrible photo – juggling hot toffee and a camera wasn’t ideal. Hopefully it’s enough to show you how I’ve shortened my tray with foil

If you have a baking tray that is larger than this, you can ‘fake’ the right size by using foil. Rip off a sheet of foil that will cover the tray. Cover the tray with the foil and press it down into the sides and ‘corners’. Now, make a pleat in the foil to shorten the tray size and use the overhang of the foil to secure it in place on the tray edges

Grease this foil tray with the butter and set to one side for later

  1. Weigh the butter and sugars and place in the saucepan (if you have an electronic scale you should be able to weigh them directly in the saucepan) and put over a gentle heat to melt the butter
  2. Add the golden syrup, black treacle and vinegar and turn up the heat to medium, stirring gently at first to help the ingredients combine
  3. When the ingredients are melted turn up the heat to almost full and bring to the boil – bring up to about 110C, or a rolling boil for about 2 minutes
  4. Now add the cream, speculaas and bicarbonate of soda and stir briefly and gently
  5. Bring to boil – you need to get to just about the ‘soft crack’ stage which is 132C – you can test this by dropping a little of the toffee in a jug of cold water without having a sugar thermometer (I actually do both – have a thermometer and use the water test). If it can be formed into a ball that’s just a little bit squishy, then it is ready. (If it is still too soft and maybe even starts dissolving in the cold water then it needs boiling for longer – keep testing every 30 seconds to get to the right stage)
  6. When it is ready turn off the heat and wait for the boiling to subside a little (this reduces the chance of it spitting and you getting burnt)
  7. Once calmed down enough, pour the toffee into the greased tray – be careful not to handle it or get it on your skin
  8. Leave to cool for five minutes
  9. Once it’s cooled enough to touch (it’ll still be warm though) it can be marked with a knife into squares. Warm a knife in hot water and dry, then drag the blade across the top of the toffee, pressing down a little to create a score line. You don’t need to do this step – you can just smash it into irregular pieces. All this is doing is giving break lines in the toffee so when you smash it when it is fully cold it should break into squares (you’ll get some irregularities – it’s not an infallible method and depends on your smashing technique too!). I wouldn’t try to chop the toffee into squares at this stage as its edges deform under the pressure of the knife and the toffee often sticks to the knife blade (I speak from experience). Even irregular shards look better than toffee that’s been cut into shape when still soft, as the shards have lovely crisp edges
  10. Leave to cool completely in the tin
  11. Once cold, peel off the foil and smash into chunks
  12. Store in airtight containers (don’t expose to moisture as this will start to dissolve and degrade the sugar content) – and it will keep for a week or so under these conditions

Candied citrus zest

orangePistachioCakesClaireClark

Candied zest or peel can be made well in advance and is a great way to make the most of the zest from oranges used for eating or cooking that would otherwise be wasted.

It stores brilliantly too, as this is a traditional method of preservation.

Any citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, pomelo, satsumas, limes etc) can be used but lemon and orange are the two most common. Oranges and lemons, plus limes seem to keep their unique flavour when candied better as well. Use for garnishes and a sweet-sharp hit within bakes such as giving extra bite to a lemon drizzle cake.

The recipe can easily be multiplied if you want to make a large batch (for instance if you’ve juiced a lot of fruit).

Notes

I made this batch to garnish these little orange and pistachio cakes; a recipe from Claire Clark’s fabulous Indulge dessert book. I don’t think it’s right to write up a chef/cook’s recipe, possibly unless it’s one that they have made freely available online (and therefore I could reference the original and link to it to show its origination), so as this recipe is only in Claire’s book I can’t repeat it here.

I have seen a number of other bloggers that seem comfortable to write up a chef’s recipe verbatim and just name the chef (I have seen one quite popular blog which has posted nearly all the recipes out of a particular recipe book – effectively making buying the book almost pointless), but I don’t feel that should be done. I’m not sure how they get away with it either, especially when they’re a ‘repeat offender’.

If you want the recipe for these little gluten free cakes – and they are amazing – you’ll need to buy or borrow Indulge [a quick look online shows a second hand copy of the book can be bought for around £7 and new for about £13]. I’ve even seen it in my local library.

Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Very sharp chef’s knife (don’t use a short blade)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Optional – tiny petit four cutters
  • Sieve
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Storage jar (needs to be spotlessly clean but doesn’t have to be sterilised)

Ingredients

  • Two oranges – use the best you can get hold of. Blood oranges or navels seem to have the nicest zest for my tastes. Alternatively use about 5 lemons or limes or one large grapefruit or pomelo.
  • Caster sugar – 250g plus extra for rolling the peel in

Method

  1. Wash and dry the fruit
  2. Carefully remove the zest in long strips using the vegetable peeler – try not to get any of the white pith along with the zest. If you do, lay the zest flat on a worktop and carefully pare the pith off with a knife
  3. Once all the zest is off, use a very sharp knife to cut fine strips (about 1-2mm or 1/16″ in width)
  4. You can also cut out shapes such as hearts, stars and flowers if you have any tiny petit four cutters
  5. Discard the rough edge pieces only keeping the fine strips and shapes (if you’ve done shapes)
  6. Pop the zest pieces into the saucepan and add cold water to about 1 cm / 1/2″ in depth. Do not try to cut corners and use hot water – this will not prepare the zest properly
  7. Bring the water to the boil
  8. Discard the water over a sieve to catch the zest
  9. Return the zest to the saucepan and put in more cold water to the same height as before.
  10. You need to do this heating, boiling and discarding three times
  11. Now put 300ml of cold water in the saucepan and 250g of caster sugar. Stir (off heat) until the sugar is dissolved
  12. Pop the saucepan on the heat and add the zest
  13. Bring to a rolling boil – then let it boil gently for a couple of minutes
  14. Do not stir!! This will crystalise the sugar and you do not want this
  15. Reduce the heat to a tiny simmer and let it cook for about 30 – 45 minutes until the zest starts to look see-through
  16. If it is boiling away the liquid too quickly you can add some hot water (about 20ml at a time) VERY CAREFULLY to the saucepan. Again, don’t stir. (Don’t use cold water or it will spit profusely at you – and this is boiling sugar water so will burn you)
  17. When the zest is translucent, drain it from the sugar syrup (you can catch this in a bowl – it will cool and go toffee-like, and can be added as an additional flavouring dropped into other dishes)
  18. Lay out the zest on the baking parchment so that the pieces are separate and not clumped together
  19. Sprinkle over some caster sugar and roll the pieces in it to cover them
  20. Leave to cool and harden before use or storing

 

Artisan cherry colada marshmallows – gluten and egg free

CherryColadaMarshmallows_Named.jpgIt’s been a few weeks since I made any confectionery, which is a bit odd for me – I usually make sweets more often but I’d just sort of forgotten about it. What brought me back was that I can’t use my oven at the moment until it sees a repair man, as one of the heating elements actually caught on fire the other day. So currently I cannot bake and am only cooking on the hob until it’s fixed.

Gives me a good excuse to make marshmallows and a few other desserts and confections as a change from pastry and sponge for a while!

Broadly speaking there are two types of marshmallow recipes: one with egg whites and one without. Of course, ingredients and volumes/mass of ingredients vary within those two basic rules. This is a recipe without egg white and I have used dried coconut milk powder instead of cornflour in the confectioner’s sugar mix so it is entirely gluten and albumen free.

If you want a recipe for marshmallows that uses egg white please see my Christmas spiced marshmallow recipe. (There’s very little difference, other than I think the ones with egg white are a little bit ‘lighter’ and less dense to bite into).

By the way, homemade marshmallows are nothing like those you buy in packets. These are soft and pillow-y and utterly gorgeous. Not that I don’t like shop-bought marshmallows but those that are made by hand are far superior and just ‘different’.

Notes

If you do not have dried coconut milk powder (find this in the world ingredients aisle in your supermarket or on a Caribbean food stall) you can use cornflour instead, but this will mean the recipe is now not suitable for coeliacs. Also your marshmallow will just be cherry, not cherry colada!

Equipment

  • Sugar thermometer
  • Medium to large heavy bottomed saucepan (avoid non-stick)
  • Baking paper
  • Rolling pin
  • Bowls
  • Electric hand mixer or stand mixer (it’s just too much for hand whisking)
  • Pastry brush

Ingredients

  • Cherry juice – 90ml
  • White rum – a ‘splash’ – about 10 – 20ml
  • Gelatine – 8 sheets of leaf gelatine or 13 g of powdered gelatine
  • Caster sugar – 265g
  • Golden syrup – 95g
  • Red food colouring – optional. I recommend gel or powdered otherwise it adds more liquid to the mix

For the coconut version of confectioners’ sugar

  • Dried coconut milk powder – about 4 tablespoons
  • Icing sugar – about 4 tablespoons

Method

  1. Place the gelatine in the cherry juice and rum in a bowl – leave to dissolve
  2. If you are using a bulb thermometer put it in the saucepan now
  3. Put the golden syrup and caster sugar into your saucepan
  4. Add just enough water to cover the syrup/sugar (but no more)
  5. Heat fairly gently until the sugar has dissolved into the water then crank the heat up to high (maybe not the highest setting but just under) to make the sugars boil
  6. Use a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar from the sides of the pan (this stops crystalisation which will affect the structure of the marshmallows and make them unpleasant to eat)
  7. Break off two large pieces of baking paper (about the size of a newspaper) and put one on a flat surface and have the other and the rolling pin nearby
  8. Monitor the temperature of the sugars now – it needs to reach 130°C as a minimum but do not reach higher than 139°C
  9. Move the saucepan off the heat to cool a little for about 1 minute
  10. Get your hand mixer or stand mixer ready
  11. Mix the dried milk powder and icing sugar together to make the dusting powder and leave a clean spoon in it so it’s all to hand when you need it
  12. Dust the baking paper sheet with a layer of the dusting powder (you don’t want to see gaps)
  13. Start to whisk the cherry juice and gelatine together
  14. Stop whisking and pour the hot sugars into the bowl, down one edge only
  15. Now you need to whisk – gently to start off with or the liquids will slop about and might burn you. When it’s begun to be combined turn it up to max
  16. Add the food colouring if using now
  17. This will take some while to mix thoroughly. You are looking for long strands to appear as the whisk drags the surface of the marshmallow. Have you ever chewed bubblegum and pulled the gum from your teeth with your fingers? Remember how that looks? The strand stage for marshmallows is just like that!
  18. When you’ve reached that stage stop whisking and pour the marshmallows into the middle of the baking paper allow it to spread a little – you want marshmallows between 1 to 2 cm in height
  19. Generously dust the top of the marshmallow and lay the second baking paper sheet over the top
  20. Use the rolling pin to smooth the top surface and make it level
  21. Leave the marshmallows now for several hours – and ideally overnight. If you try to cut them too early they will really stick to the knife and be too ‘gluey’ yet
  22. When it’s ready to cut peel off the top layer of baking paper
  23. Warm a sharp knife and make the first cut – if it is too gooey leave for an hour more
  24. You can lightly coat the knife blade with a little vegetable oil to make cutting easier
  25. Cut into squares and lightly toss each piece in the remaining dusting powder
  26. Store in an airtight container

Montelimar nougat

Nougat2.jpg

Now, I can’t deny it, nougat is one tricky thing to make. Strictly speaking it’s not actually difficult, but there is a lot of boiling hot sticky liquid and much concurrent multitasking.

I have made nougat a few times before and you can throw any nuts and glacé fruit in, add flavours and colourings, however Montelimar nougat should be almonds and pistachios only and no extra colouring.

As it is homemade and doesn’t include preservatives or other nasties, don’t expect it to last long as it will start to dissolve over time. To counteract this, keep it covered in the fridge. Another tip is that I always place rice paper in my tin and a layer of rice paper on top of the nougat: it seems to help.

Equipment
  • Two medium-large saucepans
  • Electric hand whisk or stand mixer (this will be nigh-on impossible by hand unless you’re Popeye)
  • Sugar thermometer (crucial)
  • Spatula
  • Bowl
  • Cake tin, roughly 20cm x 20cm (smaller and your nougat will be tall, bigger than this and you’ll have only a tiny thickness of nougat)
Ingredients
  • Honey (any) – 200ml
  • Granulated sugar – 250g
  • Liquid glucose – 25g
  • Water – enough to just cover the sugar and glucose
  • Blanched (peeled) whole almonds – 100g
  • Pistachios (unsalted) – 50g
  • Egg white – 1
  • Caster sugar – 1 tablespoon
  • Rice paper (optional, but does help)
Method
  1. Line the cake tin with rice paper, as you would if you were using baking paper. A good tip is to dot butter or margarine on the tin to stick the paper to it. Alternatively you can line with thick cling film (don’t use the cheap stuff or it will melt) – check the box if it can be used for blind baking it can be used here
  2. Cut an extra piece of rice paper, if using, the same shape as the tin base and leave to one side. You will use this to put on the top of the nougat
  3. Whisk the egg white with the tablespoon of caster sugar until stiff peaks, leave accessible to one side
  4. Warm the pistachios and almonds either in a saucepan, the oven or the microwave. They should NOT be toasted, just warmed through (heating them stops the nougat from seizing/hardening too quickly when you add them later)
  5. Heat the honey in one saucepan to 125C
  6. Heat the sugar, glucose and water (without stirring) to 140C
  7. Whisk the heated honey into the egg whites
  8. Now whisk the sugar and glucose mix into the honey too and continue whisking until it is starting to cool and begins to get very thick. This will be about 4-5 minutes (and is why it’s best not to try whisking by hand!)
  9. Now add the nuts and swirl through
  10. Pour the nougat into the tin. It will self-level
  11. Once level, top with the extra piece of rice paper
  12. Leave to cool thoroughly – a minimum of a couple of hours
Extra notes
  • When cutting, it is useful to run a sharp knife under a hot tap and to only lightly dry it – you’ll find cutting the nougat is easier this way
  • If it proves very sticky and goes runny quickly you probably didn’t get the sugar up to the correct temperature. Rolling in a little icing sugar may help
  • Keep the nougat covered and in the fridge. You’ll need to eat it within a couple of days. Usually not a problem, but it does mean that if you are giving as a gift you can’t make it too long in advance

Orange berlingot sweets

  orange berlingot sweets Sweets look scary to make, but they are relatively easy – they’re just a bit tricky to handle because of the high heat and the speed at which you have to work.

Notes:
  • Be careful!! You are dealing with VERY hot sugar which loves to stick to skin. Use the silicon mats to maipulate the sugar and wear rubber gloves. You can still get a heat blister through gloves if you handle it too quickly or don’t treat it with ‘respect’.
  • Common sense should prevail: have everything to hand and give yourself some room so there is no chance of knocking anything over. Do not have small children anywhere near.
  • A couple of silicon mats are essential, as is a pair of (very clean/new) rubber gloves.
  • You can’t do this without a sugar thermometer and a medium-size heavy bottom pan.
  • You can re-warm any cooled off sugar in the microwave – but it only takes about 4 to 5 seconds in total (and do this in 2 second increments). Don’t leave it for longer or you’ll have a pool of molten, skin-searing lava in the bottom of your microwave.
  • Pans and utensils will clean easily if you leave them to soak – it’s only sugar after all and will dissolve given a bit of time.
Equipment
  • Medium heavy bottomed saucepan
  • Sugar thermometer (I actually use two – a traditional one and a digital probe)
  • Two silicon mats
  • Thick rubber gloves – clean ones (I suggest using them straight out of the packet and then just keeping them for confectionary and NOT cleaning)
  • Weighing scales, spatula
  • Scissors
Ingredients
  • Natural orange flavour – 1 tablespoon (I recommend Neilson-Massey)
  • Glucose – 50 ml
  • Sugar – 250g (granulated is fine)
  • Water – 100ml
  • Orange gel food colouring
Method
  1. Fix your sugar thermometer to your pan and have all your ingredients and equipment to hand – once you start working on this, it is very quick
  2. Fill your washing up bowl with cold water – you will need it to plunge the base of the saucepan into later
  3. Put the glucose, sugar and water in the pan and bring to the boil – do not stir
  4. When the sugar reaches 120C add in the natural essence – careful as it might spit a little
  5. Let the syrup continue to boil until it reaches 160 – 162C
  6. Take the saucepan off the heat and plunge the base into the sink full of water. NOTE: do not let the water get into the pan
  7. Pour 3/4 of the syrup onto one silicon mat and the rest onto the other (don’t panic if your mat buckles under the heat: it will be OK)
  8. Drip a few drops of your food colouring onto the larger amount of sugar
  9. Put your gloves on
  10. Leave for about 20 – 30 seconds and then using the silicon mat itself start to push the sugar together. The silicon mat is an excellent way to manipulate the hot sugar until you can pick it up with your gloved hands
  11. Once you can start to handle it, stretch and pull the uncoloured sugar until it starts to go opaque and mould into a fat sausage shape. ‘Wrap’ it as best as possible in the silicon mat to keep it warm
    orange berlingot sweets
  12. Mix the orange coloured sugar together until it is even and also shape into a fat sausage
    orange berlingot sweets
  13. Pull the uncoloured sugar into a long strand and fix one end to the end of the orange sugar by pressing it on. Drag and pull the uncoloured sugar along the length of the orange, up and down making long lines all around it (ie don’t just put it down one side)orange berlingot sweets
  14. If the sugar starts getting cold and brittle pop it in a microwave for 2 seconds at a time. Do NOT go over this or you are at risk of being burnt!! If 2 seconds isn’t enough, try another two – don’t be tempted to put it in and leave it for longer. It should only need a max of 4 – 5 seconds to warm through again
  15. Once the sugar ‘strands’ are done, pull the whole lump of sugar into a long sausage, about 1cm in diameter
  16. Roll it on the table to get it into a cylinder (as pulling may have flattened it a bit)
  17. Snip off 1 – 2cm pieces of sugar (You may want to warm the scissors under a hot tap, but dry them throughly, to stop the sweets cracking as you cut)
  18. Leave the sweets to cool completely then store in a glass jar

orange berlingot sweets

Caramel eclairs with peanut butter fudge and amaretto Chantilly cream

Caramel and peanut butter fudge eclairs

Not sure why I thought of making these – just wanted to make some that weren’t chocolate for a change but which would appeal to our two teenagers as well as us.

The recipe for the fudge I’ve written up separately – you can find it in my peanut butter fudge post

Notes
  • This makes just a few eclairs – about 10. Enough for 4 to 5 people as a dessert of two-ish  each. That’s because I’d rather create a dessert enough for one dinner, and I can make something else the next day! Obviously you can double up quantities if you like for larger numbers.
  • The peanut butter fudge and the caramel sauce can both be made up to a few days ahead
  • Alternatively, you can buy fudge if you aren’t confident with confectionary
  • Leave out the amaretto if you’re serving them to children (can replace with a dash of almond essence)
Equipment
  • Baking trays, lined with parchment
  • 1 cm round nozzle and large piping bag
  • Smaller nozzle (for piping cream) and piping bag
  • Saucepans
  • Wooden spoon
  • Knife
  • Bowls, jugs
Ingredients – eclairs
  • Strong white bread flour – 65g
  • Eggs, medium – 2
  • Caster sugar – 5g
  • Salt, fine – 5g
  • Unsalted butter – 50g
  • Water – 125ml
Ingredients – caramel
(This is slightly too much for this recipe but it’s easier to cook this amount. It can be kept in the fridge – great for ice cream)
  • Granulated sugar – 50g (you can use all granulated sugar but I think 50/50 give a nuttier flavour)
  • Demerera sugar – 50g
  • Butter – 50g (unsalted or salted: your choice on this one)
  • Double cream – 60ml
Ingredients – Chantilly cream
  • Double cream – 400ml
  • Amaretto liqueur – 1 tablespoon
  • Icing sugar – 2 tablespoons

Method – eclairs

  1. Put the salt and sugar into the flour in a jug or a small diameter bowl (this makes it easier to chuck it all in at once later on)
  2. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly until they are just broken up (don’t make them frothy)
  3. Bring the butter, water to a rolling boil
  4. When boiling, remove the pan off the heat (keep the burner/hob on though) and tip all the flour/salt/sugar in all at once
  5. Whip vigorously with a wooden spoon until it is all incorporated smoothly and then move the pan back on to the heat
  6. Continue to ship until the dough dries out a little and comes away from the side of the pan and stops sticking to it
  7. Turn off the burner/hob
  8. Tip in half of the egg – you may not need all of it so it’s best to do it this way
  9. Mix it all in until the mixture is smooth
  10. You will now need to add more egg, little by little. You need to aim for a smooth, loose but not runny consistency. The usual explanation is that if you lift a spoon or spatula out of the dough mix it should form a nice ‘V’ shape hanging off the bottom of the spoon
  11. While it is still warm – be careful! – put the dough into the piping bag, fitted with the round nozzle
  12. Put your oven on to 200C fan / 220C conventional
  13. Pipe long lines of choux on the sheet, leaving space for them to puff up. They need to be about 10cm long each
  14. Wet the back of a teaspoon and gently tap down any loose ends of the choux dough
  15. Tip a cupful of water into a baking sheet or ramekin at the bottom of your oven to create some steam
  16. When the oven is at temperature, pop the tray into the oven for 18 -20 mins until they
    are a mid brown. Do NOT open the door! This will flatten your lovely eclairs
  17. Turn the oven off and leave the eclairs in there, undisturbed for another 10 mins
  18. They should be puffed up and firm
  19. Leave them to cool on the tray (one thing I’ve found useful is to roll them all over as this stops the moisture on the bottom of the choux from making the pastry soggy)
  20. These will be ready to fill and decorate when cool

Method – caramel

  1. Tip all the ingredients bar the cream into a heavy bottomed, medium pan (the sugar will bubble)
  2. On a low to medium heat, stir gently until all the ingredients are melted together
  3. Turn up the heat (note: NOT to max temp – just over halfway or you risk burning the sugar and ruining a pan).
  4. Add in the cream and stir to combine as the caramel starts to heat up
  5. Don’t do any rigorous stirring now, but you can ‘swirl’ the wooden spoon through it occasionally to stop hot spots occurring in the caramel, which in turn reduces the risk of burning
  6. Let the caramel bubble away for a minute or two until it goes that nice warm brown colour and has thickened
  7. Pour into a jug, cup or bowl and leave to cool

Method – Chantilly cream

  1. Beat the cream until thickened and then add the icing sugar and amaretto
  2. Whisk in until combined and taste – you may like to add a little more of the liqueur
  3. Spoon into a piping back with a 5mm (or so) round or star nozzle (your preferred choice) ready for use
  4. Method – construction
  5. Take the fudge you made with the recipe on this page (or you can have bought some)
  6. Cut several chunks up into finely diced pieces – enough to sprinkle over all of the eclairs
  7. Take an eclair and make a tiny incision in the top of the eclair (there may be a natural gap there anyway) and pipe the Chantilly cream into this gap. Fill the eclair with the cream
  8. Alternatively, you can slice the eclair lengthways and fill it as if it were a sandwich (this is much less fiddly and creates a taller finished eclair)
  9. Repeat for all eclairs
  10. Take a knife and spread the cooled caramel sauce on the top of each eclair, this will cover the hole you piped through (if you did that method)
  11. Sprinkle the diced fudge on top

Rich peanut butter fudge

rich peanut butter fudge by inksugarspiceI had an idea for a caramel and fudge eclair, and resorted to my trusty recipe for fudge as the first starting point. I’ve adapted my own recipe somewhat, as I’ve incorporated sweetened condensed milk and a large dollop of peanut butter to enrich it.

If you have a peanut allergy or are wanting to make this but are worried about others eating it, you can omit the peanut butter and instead use a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.

Notes

Fudge is the easiest of all confectionary to make but there are a few key points:

  • It must boil to soft ball stage, which is 116C
  • After reaching soft ball stage, you should let it cool to about 110C before adding any extra ingredients (like the peanut butter here, or vanilla)
  • Between the 110C and about 65C you need to vigorously stir the fudge while cooling as this ensures the sugar doesn’t crystalise into long strands (this gives an unwanted crunchy texture and can also leave the fudge more prone to dissolving in air)
Equipment
  • Large heavy based pan
  • Sugar thermometer
  • Wooden spoon
  • Smallish (about 20cm x 20cm) tin, lined with baking paper (or you can make a tray using tin foil
Ingredients
  • Demerera sugar – 250g
  • Caster sugar – 200g
  • Double cream – 250ml
  • Sweetened condensed milk – 250ml
  • Glucose syrup – 1 tablespoons
  • Peanut butter, smooth – 3 tablespoons (or replace with a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste)
Method
  1. Put all the ingredients except the peanut butter in the sauce pan
  2. Stir over a medium heat until all the ingredients are melted together
  3. Turn up the heat, put in the sugar thermometer and boil until it reaches 116C/soft ball stage
  4. Take off the heat and stir gently until the temperature falls to about 110C
  5. Add in the peanut butter and stir vigorously until combined and then until the fudge drops to about 65C
  6. Pour into your tin and leave to cool
  7. Once cool cut into squares and keep in an airtight container (especially away from moisture)

Giant chocolate meringues

Giant chocolate meringues

Inspired by an almost daily visit to the St Ives bakery on holiday, the first bake I’ve made after returning home is giant meringues. I’ve added a little photo of their glorious bakery window below so you can see why I was so inspired!

This is a standard French meringue, but it takes much longer at a lower heat to bake (or rather ‘dry out’) in the oven because of the size.

The exterior is a crispy shell and inside it’s almost chocolate toffee 🙂

Notes
  • Makes four massive meringues (about 15cm across).
  • You can make lots of little meringues, but turn the heat up to 110C fan/120 conventional and just cook for 50 mins.
  • Alternatively, can be made into one giant Pavlova (I’ve found the cooking time and temperature can be kept the same).
  • Because of how long it takes to cook, it might be worth doing this the night before you want it
Equipment
  • Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Flexible spatula
  • Lined baking sheets
Ingredients
  • Egg whites – 6 from medium to large eggs
  • Caster sugar – 320g
  • Cocoa powder – 30g
  • Vanilla bean paste – 1/2 teaspoon (or half a bean pod’s worth of seeds)
  • Chocolate shavings – about 60g
Method
  1. Turn the oven on to 90C fan / 100C conventional
  2. Whip up the egg whites to stiff-ish peaks
  3. Tip about a fifth or so of the caster sugar in while continuing to whisk until combined, then continue adding the rest in small batches until all combined
  4. Add the vanilla bean paste and whisk through
  5. Turn off your whisk and add the cocoa powder and the chocolate shavings – turn this through the meringue with the flexible spatula, as it’s nice to get uneven thicknesses of the cocoa and chocolate
  6. Spoon a quarter of the meringue onto the baking tray – it will make four large mounds, so repeat this three more times
  7. Bake in the oven for 1 hour 20 mins, then turn the oven off and leave for another 1 – 2 hours or overnight in the oven
St Ives Bakery
The inspiration for the giant meringues – St Ives Bakery on Fore Street

Florentines

FlorentinesNamedThis is a recipe I’ve been working from for quite a number of years. Some years ago, when in my twenties, I made some Florentines and took them to my Italian night school course. The lady who was teaching us commented on how her mother baked them. The weird thing is a few years later I remember reading a book about Tuscan cooking and the author (sorry, I can’t remember the book) said that Florentines aren’t from Florence, wider Tuscany or even from Italy. They suggested that they are a French invention, made in honour of Catherine di Medici, who was Queen of France but had been born in Florence – and that’s where the connection was from.

I don’t even know why I remembered this – I have a memory for trivia and not much else (although as an aside I’m a good quiz team member!) I did a quick Google search earlier and found comments to support both theories – so I’m none the wiser: they’re just nice anyway!

Anyway, the pointers my Italian teacher gave me were to use sour cherries and don’t cover in chocolate. I’m ignoring that last bit as I think the addition of chocolate is lovely. It’s often difficult to get hold of sour cherries (plus they usually come in syrup so need to be washed and dried before use). She did say her mother baked them in the bottom of a muffin/small cake pan, rather flat on a sheet, which I have been doing ever since as they come out nicer than just dropping them onto a baking sheet. So, sorry to all the Mary Berry recipe followers who like them to spread out and adhere to Mary’s penchant for ‘lacy edges’.

Please do use either non-stick or line them – or you’ll never get them out – if using metal pans. About a year ago I bought a silicon mini tart case which is just genius for these – they come out every time. I’ve added a picture of my case below; I got mine from Amazon but I have seen similar in Lakeland and occasionally in TK Maxx recently. Any flat silicon mini cake case will do (even oval friands) as it doesn’t have to be the tiny ones I use, although they are cute.

Notes

Makes about 28 tiny Florentines (in the silicone tray I have which gives about 30cm rounds) or about 20 ‘normal sized’ (typical muffin/fairy cake pan). There are just four steps: heat the sugar mix, mix all the ingredients, bake in the oven then coat with chocolate.

Turn these into Florentine shortbreads!

FlorentineShortbreadsBake one batch of my vanilla shortbread recipe and select a biscuit cutter the same size as the bottom of the tin/mould you are using to bake the Florentine mix in. Make the shortbread to the recipe using this round cutter and allow to cool. When both shortbreads and Florentines are done and cooled, take about 40g of additional chocolate and melt it. Use this chocolate to ‘glue’ the base of a Florentine onto the top of a shortbread round. Leave until the chocolate has set and joined the Florentine to the biscuit.

Equipment

  • Sugar thermometer (easy with one but you can do it without)
  • Saucepan
  • Muffin tray / silicon tray
  • Teaspoon
  • Bowl for the chocolate
  • Baking parchment
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • Demerara or golden caster sugar – 70g
  • Honey – 35g
  • Double cream – 35g
  • Sour cherries – 35g (if you can’t get these, ‘decent’ glace cherries will do or your choice of candied fruit)
  • Flaked almonds – 75g
  • ‘Other’ nuts, chopped roughly – 50g (I used a mix of pistachios and hazelnuts here but I have used whatever I’ve got to hand and pretty much any nuts, excluding peanuts, work)
  • Chocolate – 100g (use whichever you prefer – it’s nice with milk, dark or white)

Method

  1. Put the oven on to 165C fan, 175C conventional
  2. Prepare your muffin pan with little circles of baking paper or simply use a silicone tray if you have one
  3. Heat the sugar, honey and cream over a medium heat to 118-120C. If you haven’t got a thermometer heat until the mix bubbles all over and is just about to start turning a caramel colour (you’ll have to watch it closely!)
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat
  5. Tip all the other ingredients into the saucepan (apart from the chocolate!) and mix thoroughly
  6. Spoon a scant teaspoon of the mix into the bottom of the mini pan – or about 1 1/2 teaspoons if you are using a normal size muffin pan
  7. Don’t worry about the mix forming a lump in the middle of the pan – as it heats it will spread out
  8. Stick the tray in the oven and bake until the mix is golden brown and bubbling – this is about 8 – 10 mins
  9. Leave to cool in the pan and then tip them out, flat side up (you’re going to cover the flat side with chocolate)
  10. Melt your chocolate – temper it if you wish (please see my reminder post on chocolate temperatures here)
  11. Paint or drizzle the chocolate over the flat sides of the Florentines and leave to cool chocolate sides up
  12. They should be ready to eat when totally cooled
  13. They will store in an airtight container for a few days – if they last that long!