Monday, October 22, 2012

Millionaires’ Shortbread

Millionaires’ shortbread.  Those two words have been repeating and repeating in my mind over the last few days.  I blame these two here and here for doubly tempting me with chocolate treats that looked irresistible, if only I had them in front of me.  Try as I might (and I did try), I could not stop thinking of them.  The mantra would not leave me and so I indulged my hankering for things chocolate and made some of my own.  I feel good.

You may know these as chocolate caramel slices or something like that.  I’ve always known them in Scotland as Millionaires’ Shortbread and surely that perfectly describes shortbread, dressed up with layers of caramel and chocolate riches?

I make no excuses for my less than perfect serves.  I fail regularly on the "precision cutting, no smudges, marks or blemishes" type of perfection.  It is home baking after all.

Millionaires’ Shortbread
makes about 24 squares

175g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
250g plain flour
a pinch of salt

Caramel layer
100g butter
100g soft brown sugar (or muscovado sugar)
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 x 375g cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate layer
200g good dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa) (or use milk chocolate if you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Lightly grease and line the bottom of a Swiss roll tin approximately 33x23cm (13x9 inches).

Shortbread layer
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (scraping down the mixture two or three times during the mixing).

Sift the flour and salt into the mixture and bring together until a dough is formed.  Press the dough into the tin until evenly spread.  Prick the dough lightly with a fork.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the shortbread is firm to the touch and lightly browned (as you can see from the photo some of mine were more lightly browned than others!).

Leave to cool in the tin.

Caramel layer
Put the butter, sugar, golden syrup and condensed milk into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.  When it reaches boiling, reduce heat and simmer gently, still stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.  Pour over the cooled shortbread layer and leave to set.

Note: It is important to stir continuously and not let the caramel “catch” or burn in the saucepan.  If lumps appear, remove pan from heat for a few seconds then return to simmer gently.  Remove any lumps by pouring the caramel onto the shortbread layer through a sieve.  As long as the caramel does not taste burnt (let it cool slightly before you try it!), it will be fine.

Chocolate topping
Break the chocolate into squares or pieces.  Melt the chocolate in a bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) until it is smooth and there are no lumps.

Pour the melted chocolate over the cold caramel layer and leave to set.

When the chocolate is just set, cut into squares or bars.

Note:  If you like thicker layers, just add more caramel and/or chocolate the next time.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cranberry, vanilla and yogurt loaf

I was having a sloth-like morning.  Everything I touched turned to “no”.  Didn’t feel like going out, didn’t feel like baking.  Three times I started gathering ingredients for recipes and three times I put them away.  Most unproductive.  I loathe using the phrase “I can’t be bothered”, but that’s how I felt.

Later in the afternoon the apathy lifted and a sudden burst of energy resulted in this lovely loaf which wasn’t even in the running earlier.  It does have the air of a “cheer me now” cake so perhaps it was just what I needed.  Each slice has little bursts of cranberries and a taste and texture reminiscent of a madeira cake.  The icing could be optional but I urge you to spread it on.  It adds a crunch, a tang, a touch of sweetness and just makes it look way more special than an ordinary fruit loaf. 

This little happy cake is my entry to Sweet New Zealand hosted this month by the delightful Sue at Couscous & Consciousness.  

Cranberry, vanilla and yogurt loaf

100g butter
100g caster sugar
300g Greek-style (or natural) yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
250g standard flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g dried cranberries

for the icing
100g icing sugar, sifted
1-2 tbsp fresh orange juice, sieved
pink food colouring

Preheat oven to 160°C (180°F)

Grease and line a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. 

Cream the butter and sugar in a cake mixer until soft and fluffy (you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times in the process). 

Add the yogurt and vanilla and mix on lowest speed until just combined.

Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and fold gently into the mix in two batches.  Add the cranberries and fold in gently (check the cranberries do not stick together in bunches).  Do not overmix.

Spoon the mix into the loaf tin.  Level the top with a palette knife dipped in a little hot water. 

Bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool completely, then ice.

For the icing

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough orange juice to make a smooth consistency, not too runny or too thick.  (Add more icing sugar if too runny or more orange juice if too thick).  Add a drop of food colouring.  I use a skewer for this and dip it into the colouring, adding enough to reach the desired colour.  Mix thoroughly until smooth and colouring incorporated.  Spread or drizzle over the cake and leave to set.

Adapted from a recipe for sour cherry yogurt cake from Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell.

Monday, October 8, 2012

best ever cheese scones

So here goes, you taste scones at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school (see here) and they're the best cheese scones you have ever tasted.  Everyone around you agrees so you really have to try these at home, don’t you?  Problem was I had no recipe, only a few hints and clues hastily scribbled on my iPhone. (Can you scribble on an iPhone? Yes, I think you can ‘cos it has a font that looks like handwriting.)

In my first attempt, finding the right mix was like playing Cluedo.  Was it the plain flour with the cheese in the kitchen?  No?  Perhaps the self-raising flour with the salt in the parlour?  Good job I like Cluedo.  I may not have got all three answers in the bag but I was pretty pleased with the result. I have to admit it took me five scones to figure that out.  In my defence, they were small ones.

For the second trial, I used guinea pigs in the form of two strapping lads who came inside for a coffee break after digging up the garden beds (with my permission, I might add).  This time I’d tweaked the recipe by changing the plain flour to self-raising and adding more cheese.

I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that I only ate three scones this time.  The bad news is that they were bigger scones.  I know, it’s only bad news for me.  

The even better news is that they worked.  The boys were happy, I was happy and maybe you could be happy too if you just try them, who knows?  They may not be 100% as gorgeous and perfect looking as Le Cordon Bleu’s but I think they’re still a winner. 

The secret, I think, is to:
  •  use lots of cheese (I used Vintage* cheddar)
  •  have a wet dough
  •  handle the dough as little as possible
If you make them slightly smaller, like the first batch, you don’t even need butter.  They are simply yummy! 

Best ever cheese scones

2 cups self-raising flour
¼ teaspoon salt
50g cold butter
2/3 cup cheddar cheese (I used Mainland Vintage*)
1 cup milk
extra cheese to top the scones

Heat the oven to 230°C (450°F).

Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl.  Either grate the chilled butter into the mix or cut it into small dices.  With your fingertips, rub the flour and butter together until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese.

Mix the cup of milk in lightly and quickly using a knife or palette knife until it just forms a dough. Do not overmix.  The dough will be quite wet at this stage.

On a lightly floured board and with floured hands, gently roll the dough into a long cylindrical shape and shape into an even thickness.  If the dough feels too sticky, put a little more flour on the board and your hands – just enough to continue. Cut into rounds, big or small, and place them on a greased oven tray or a tray lined with greaseproof paper. 

Grate some extra cheese over the tops of the scones – I like to use a reasonable amount.

Place the tray near the top of the oven.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until the scones are golden brown.  Remove to a cake rack and cover with a dry tea towel to keep warm.  Serve as is, or with butter.

Best eaten warm on the day – believe me they don’t last long.

* Mainland Vintage is an aged cheddar with a crumbly texture and real bite.

For a sweet alternative, click here for cranberry & custard scones