Boozy billionaire’s shortbread

While there are certain recipes which I love, are always popular and are fun to bake, it’s very rare that I’ll make the same thing twice as there are just so many other recipes waiting to be tried.

Millionaire’s shortbread is a classic example – almost everyone I know loves it, and I like making it as there are several elements involved which makes it a bit more fun than a simple biscuit or cake – but I’ve done it before, more than once.

Still, when I wanted to bake something for the office a couple of weekends ago, millionaire’s shortbread was the one thing on my mind, and so I decided to turn to the universal solution to almost any problem – add alcohol.

There are quite a few variations on ‘billionaire’s shortbread’ if you search for it – salted caramel, white chocolate and peanut butter all feature – but I think I have come up with a real winning combination that seriously takes the traditional treat to a whole new level.

It starts with a shortbread base, but chocolate rather than plain. Then instead of a regular old caramel, I boozed it up with a salted rum caramel. Oh my – it was good! Then it’s finished off with a milk chocolate topping, with just a little added salt to counter the sweetness.

These are 100% better than the original, and went down very well with my taste testers. The flavour of the rum is most definitely there, but it isn’t overpowering, and ditto with the salt.

I loved these so much that I may even have to break my rule and bake them again, exactly the same…

Boozy billionaire’s shortbread (adapted from here)

For the base:

  • 130g butter
  • 150g flour
  • 15g cocoa powder
  • 55g caster sugar

For the caramel and topping:

  • 400g condensed milk
  • 115g butter
  • 40g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-3 tbsp rum (I used Havana Club Anejo Especial, but any golden or spiced would be good)
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • Salt to taste

For the base, rub the butter into the flour until it reached a breadcrumb-like consistency, then stir in the cocoa powder and sugar. This could also be done in the food processor if you want to speed things up! Press into the base of a greased and lined 8×8″ square tin and bake at 180 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until just starting to crisp up.

While the base cools, make the caramel. Heat the condensed milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring until it starts to bubble and thicken and turn a lovely golden brown. Once it’s pretty much ready, add the salt and the rum, one 1/2 tbsp at a time until it tastes right to you – I like a fair amount of salt and rum, you might want to go more subtle. Pour the caramel over the base and leave to set.

Finally, melt the chocolate and add a little more salt to taste. Spread this in an even layer over the set caramel, then leave again. Once the chocolate has firmed up, remove from the tin and cut into squares.

Salted caramel aubergine chocolate torte (GF)

Sorry for the slightly long title, but I really needed to include all the key elements of this cake so you know what we’re talking about.

First up, I lied – it’s not a cake. It it deliciously dense and squidgy, it sinks in the middle – it’s definitely a torte.

It’s chocolate. Super chocolate. But it also has probably the weirdest vegetable I’ve baked with replacing any butter or oil – aubergine.

And then there’s the salted caramel. What dessert isn’t improved by salted caramel?!

This is really a hybrid of two recipes from Green and Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes – Harry Eastwood’s Heartache Cake, which I’ve made before, and a Velvet Salted Caramel Torte.

To make sure the caramel layer would stay in place and not mix in with the cake batter, I tweaked Harry’s recipe to whisk the egg whites separately and fold them into the mix last, so it would hold the weight of the caramel.

It worked – you can’t see too clearly in the photos, but there was a definite layer of caramel, and it took a great chocolate torte to another level – so, so good!

Seriously, don’t be put off by the aubergine, or the hassle of making caramel, it really is worth it – if only I could have another slice now…

Salted caramel aubergine chocolate torte (adapted from the Heartache Cake and Velvet Salted Caramel Torte in Green and Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes)

For the caramel:

  • 90g caster sugar
  • 45ml water
  • 60g butter
  • 60ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (or more if you’re a salt fiend like me)

For the cake:

  • 1 medium aubergine (around 220g)
  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 medium eggs, separated
  • 100g clear honey
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp baking powder

For the caramel, heat the sugar and water in a saucepan stirring until the sugar dissolves, then leave to simmer until the syrup thickens and turns a rich amber colour. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter, cream and salt. Pour into a bowl or jug and set aside to cool.

Pierce the aubergine with a skewer or sharp knife all over, microwave for about 8 minutes on high, then leave until cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin, then puree the flesh in a food processor until no lumps remain. Stir in the chopped chocolate until melted – you might need to give it another quick blast in the microwave.

Beat the egg yolks, honey, cocoa powder, almonds and baking powder for about a minute, then add the aubergine chocolate mixture and beat again until well combined. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks in a separate bowl, then fold these into the cake batter a third at a time.

Spread two thirds of the mixture into a greased and lined 6″ round tin. Pour the caramel on top and spread to within 1cm of the edge of the tin. Top with the remaining cake mix and try to spread it as evenly as you can to cover the caramel.

Bake on a low shelf at 180 degrees (160 fan) for about half an hour, until the cake has risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely – it will sink in the middle, but that’s what you want. Remove from the tin, then slice and serve.

Elvis Sandwich Cake

Sun, sea, cake and coffee – I’m not sure there’s much else you need to make a mid-week day off work basically the best thing ever…

This week I treated myself to said day off, in the name of Clandestine Cake Club. Taking place at the Blue Tomato Cafe in Rock, Cornwall, the theme of course had to be ‘Rock n Roll’.

It took me quite a while to decide what to bake, mainly because I was debating the different between generic rock music, and the much more specific rock n roll. Luckily, I knew exactly who to turn to for advice – the fabulous Miss Charlotte White, of Restoration Cake.

Charlotte (who’s first book, Burlesque Baking, is out now, just in time for my birthday, hint, hint, HINT) suggested going down the Elvis route with a peanut butter, banana and salted caramel cake, in honour of the King’s favourite sandwich, and decorating it to look like a record.

I’m not sure my cake entirely lives up to Charlotte’s vision, but I was pretty happy with it nonetheless. Had it spent any longer than half a day out of the fridge the layers may well have been sliding all over the place, but it held up for long enough to look fairly respectful on the table of delicious cakey delights.

It was a pun-tastic cake club, with a Chuck Berry Bundt, Rock n Roulade, Rocky Road, Mint Aerosmith and my personal favourite, ‘Gums n Roses’ cake, adorned with wine gums and Cadbury’s Roses – brilliant!

We were also treated to some barista training from the lovely Mat, who showed us how to make the perfect coffee, create hearts on top of lattes, and even demonstrated the infamous ’12 inches of Italian pleasure’ – a thick and rich hot chocolate topped with marshmallows, whipped cream, a chocolate flake, giant meringue, more whipped cream and a malteser. Amazing!

I’m not going to write out the whole recipe for this cake – the sponge is exactly the same as this one, only increasing all of the ingredients by 50% to fill three 7″ cake tins instead of baking it in the smaller 6″ tins.

I used the caramel recipe from my Millionaire’s Shortbread, and made a peanut butter cream cheese icing by beating 200g cream cheese, 200g smooth peanut butter and 400g icing sugar together until well combined.

I spread a layer of peanut butter icing on the bottom and middle layers, topped with thin slices of banana, and then spread caramel on top. I stacked the cakes, spread more peanut butter icing all over, and then made the record by rolling out black sugar paste and using the cake tin to cut a circle. The lid of the peanut butter was used to cut a circle from the middle, and to cut another circle out of cream coloured icing, which I decorated with a gold icing pen. Done!

Big thank you to the wonderful Sean for all the good photos on this post – you can see all the other cakes on the round up over on the Clandestine Cake Club website. Can’t wait for the next one!

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël

When I signed up for the Plymouth Chamber Christmas Bake Off, all I really wanted was to do well enough to get to the final week, as the theme was cake and I much prefer baking cakes to biscuits, bread or pastry.

However, by the time I got there, down to the final three contestants, I’d be lying if I said a bit of competitiveness hadn’t started to creep in.

I had to create a festive-themed showstopper cake, and knew straight away that I wanted to do a bûche de Noël – the question was, how would I make it stand out against the other two entries?

Decoration was one of the judging criteria, so I knew I had to go over the top. Giant cake board, covered in green sugarpaste, meringue mushrooms, holly leaves and berries, a fondant robin, gold almond pine cone and even a little ladybird, added at the last minute to fill a gap in the forest floor.

I struggled more deciding on what flavours to go with, but fate intervened when I had to go and meet with a chef for work – the fantastic Tom Milby from the Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek, on the south coast of Cornwall.

I told Tom one of the options I was considering was salted caramel, and he suggested pairing it with something nutty – and then gave me a tub of the most beautiful Callebaut hazelnut praline paste, which is what turned a good cake into an amazing one.

I folded the praline into whipped cream for the filling, and made a salted caramel chocolate ganache to cover the cake. The two flavours complimented each other perfectly, and I was very happy with the outcome.

The judging of the final round of the bake off was led by Chris Tanner, one half of the Tanner Brothers who own two excellent restaurants in Plymouth and are cookery tv show regulars.

So, how did I do? Well, I won!! Amazing! Apparently my cake was ‘the clear winner’, and Chris said he loved all my detailing and decoration as well as the taste.

My prizes are a bread baking masterclass at the Devonport Column Bakehouse, and tickets to see Paul Hollywood when he brings his tour to Plymouth next year. Aside from the prizes though, I’m just thrilled to have won, and for an actual proper chef to say he likes my baking! Such an awesome Christmas present 🙂

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël (loosely adapted from a Mary Berry yule log recipe and a Hummingbird Bakery chocolate ganache)

  • 4 medium eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder

For the filling:

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100g hazelnut praline paste

For the ganache icing:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 180ml double cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped

For the sponge, whisk together the eggs and sugar until really light and fluffy and tripled in volume – at least 4-5 minutes of whisking. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, and fold in gently, taking care not to knock the air out of the mixture. Spread into a 14×10″ baking tin, lined with baking paper, and bake at 200 degrees (180 fan) for 8-10 minutes,  or until springy and pulling away from the edges of the tin.

Lay out another piece of baking paper and dust liberally with icing sugar. Turn out the sponge onto the paper, and peel off the backing paper from the underneath of the sponge. Score a line along one of the long edges of the sponge, about 1″ from the edge, then starting from that side tightly roll up the sponge and leave to cool.

To make the cream filling, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold a third of it into the hazelnut praline to loosen the mixture, then fold in the rest.

For the ganache, heat the caster sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan with 60ml of water. Heat the cream and salt in a separate pan and set aside. Keep the caramel pan on the heat and simmer until it turns a lovely deep golden colour, then quickly whisk in the heated cream mixture, stirring until it stops bubbling.

Pour the caramel over the chopped chocolate, and stir until all the chocolate melts. Leave to cool to room temperature, when it should be a spreadable consistency. If it seems too thick, you can reheat and add a little more cream, then leave it to cool again.

To assemble, unroll the sponge and spread the hazelnut cream all over. Re-roll as tightly as you can, then trim the two ends to neaten it. Cut the log a third of the way down at a 45 degree angle, to create a piece to use as the branch. Place the two pieces on whatever cake board or serving plate you’re using, then cover with the chocolate ganache. To get the bark-like effect, I just used a butter knife to roughly spread the icing lengthways down the log, then swirled it on the ends of the branches.

Dust with icing sugar and serve!

If you want to make meringue mushrooms, there’s a great tutorial over on Sprinkle Bakes – they’re easier than they look, but they are very fragile – at least a third of mine broke before getting anywhere near the cake!

Salted dulce de leche brownies

Salted dulce de leche brownies

So, something a little less fancy than my previous post!

Sometimes simple and easy produces the best results, and this recipe delivers on that both in the making of the brownies themselves, and in the making of the homemade dulce de leche.

A little while ago a friend mentioned that they loved dulce de leche, so when I knew I would be seeing them I decided it was the perfect time to bake something with it.

Sure, you can just buy it by the jar and that would be the ultimate easy option, but it’s kind of expensive for what it is so I decided to have a go at making my own from condensed milk.

I think most people have heard of the boiling the can method of turning condensed milk into caramel, but I’ve never been willing to take the risk of it exploding all over my kitchen.

David Lebovitz suggests baking the milk instead, which sounds far less risky but rather time consuming. I figured that if thee basic principle was ‘condensed milk + heat = caramel’ the same effects could be achieved in the microwave in a much quicker time.

Kind of surprisingly I was right and it worked! Short bursts of heat and frequent stirring produces a golden caramel in under 10 minutes – win! Warning – you need to use a bigger bowl than you think, because it will bubble up a lot, but as long as you do it’s so quick and easy you’ll be wondering why you haven’t used this method forever.

I added salt to the dulce de leche because salted caramel always beats regular, then referred back to David Lebovitz for the actual brownie recipe.

Super simple brownie mix, swirl in the dulce de leche, bake, et voila – deep, fudgy brownies bursting with pockets of salted dulce de leche. Simple but delicious.

Salted dulce de leche brownies (recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)

  • 1 400g tin condensed milk
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt
  • 170g dark chocolate
  • 115g butter
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 140g plain flour (I reckon this could be reduced to 120g for fudgier brownies though)

To make the dulce de leche, pour the condensed milk into a large bowl, then microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring in between each time, until it thickens and turns a golden caramel colour. Add in the salt a little at a time to your personal taste, then set aside while you make the brownie mixture.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a suacepan, over a low heat. Once the chocolate has melted, take off the heat and beat in the cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, sugar and then flour, scraping down the sides of the pan between each addition.

Pour half the mixture into a greased and lined 8×8″ square tin, then dollop half of the dulce de leche in on top. Spread the rest of the brownie mixture over evenly, then dollop on the rest of the dulce de leche. Swirl it through the mixture with a skewer or knife, being careful not to mix it in too much.

Bake at 170 degrees for 25-30 minutes – the original recipe says 35-40 but mine were done way quicker. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin, slicing into bars and serving.

tea time treats

I’m entering these into the September Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked. This month’s theme, chosen by Karen, is flapjacks, oats, and traybakes – I did have an oaty recipe bookmarked but just haven’t had time to make it, so hopefully brownies will count as a traybake instead!

Salted carmelitas

Carmelitas

I first came across carmelitas absolutely ages ago, and although I can’t for the life of me remember where I remember thinking that they looked amazing but I was put off from baking them by the fact the recipe called for wrapped caramels – I didn’t know whether this meant soft or hard, or what type to buy, and I didn’t like being confused so I didn’t save the recipe or attempt to make them.

Thanks to Pinterest, carmelitas were recently brought to my attention again, specifically through a recipe posted on Cooking Classy. This version had added salt, and the combination of salted caramel, chocolate, oats and brown sugar was just too much for me to resist.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, carmelitas are a sort of oaty cookie bar, with a layer of chocolate and caramel in the middle that is deliciously gooey when warm and stays just a little soft and squidgy when cool.

I still don’t know what type of caramels you’re supposed to use, but I decided to improvise and use half a can of leftover Carnation caramel that I had sitting in the fridge, which I figured would have a similar consistency to the melted caramels and cream used in the recipe.

The other change I made was to use milk chocolate with chopped hazelnuts instead of regular milk chocolate, which was mainly because the bar was on offer but also added an extra element of flavour and texture which I thought worked well.

Carmelitas are super sweet and a calorific nightmare, but they are also very addictive, so I highly recommend having a hungry pony on hand if you decide to make them…

Salted Carmelitas (recipe adapted from Cooking Classy)

  • 120g plain flour
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g ready made caramel
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 75g milk chocolate (with or without nuts), chopped
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped

Stir together the flour, oats, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Melt the butter in the microwave, and add to the dry mixture with the vanilla, stirring until all the dry ingredients are completely coated. Press between half and two thirds of the mixture into a greased and lined 8×8″ square baking tin, and bake at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until just starting to firm up.

Heat the caramel in the microwave to make it easier to spread, and stir in the second tsp of vanilla and the sea salt – use more or less depending on how salty you like it. Spread the caramel over the oat base, then sprinkle both chopped chocolates in an even layer on top.

Crumble the remaining oat mixture between your fingers and lightly press down on top of the chocolate and caramel layer, then return to the oven to bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the caramel is just starting to bubble around the edges. Leave to cool completely before slicing into bars.

L’Artisan du Chocolat – review

Earlier in the month, I was contacted by a website I’d never heard of before, the Handpicked Foodstore, to ask if I would like to try any of their products for a review.

When the first words I saw on the site were ‘smoked salmon’ my heart sank a little – a shop full of fish is kind of my worst nightmare – but I was relieved to see that there were also pages for artisan cheeses, condiments and spices, and best of all luxury chocolates.

I left it in the hands of their marketing team to decide which products to send me, as I was really spoiled for choice with chocolate from Rococo, Montezuma’s and L’Artiscan du Chocolat, all handpicked as the website name suggests by a panel of foodie experts looking for the finest British produce.

I was delighted when a box arrived containing a little round tub of L’Artisan du Chocolat No.1 Sea Salted Caramels and a selection of their ‘fusion’ range of chocolate bars, and immediately set about formally taste testing with the pony and our next door neighbour Jo.

Whether or not the caramels really are the original salted caramel I don’t know, but I do know that they are pretty special – the chocolate is dark and crisp and the dusting of cocoa slightly bitter; the caramel a complete texture and taste contrast with both the caramel and salt coming through strongly.

All three of us enjoyed them, but I’d say they’re probably not for your average Dairy Milk chocolate eater – the pony thought the salt was bordering on too strong and Jo thought the caramel tasted almost burnt – but as an after dinner treat with a cup of coffee I thought they were perfect.

The four chocolate bars I received were sugar free milk, caffe latte, gianduja and gingerbread cookie. By far my favourite was the gingerbread cookie ,a creamy white chocolate with gingerbread cookie crumbs that not only combines two of my favourite flavours but is also a combination I haven’t come across before.

The caffe latte at first was a bit of a shock, I think as I’ve only ever tried coffee flavoured dark chocolate so in a milk chocolate it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way. The gianduja was like taking everything that’s good about Nutella but somehow transforming into something classy and refined, and the sugar free milk was really good too (I ate some after eating regular milk chocolate and much preferred the sugar free).

The bars all have tasting notes on the wrappers which is a nice touch, and I was especially pleased to have been sent them in addition to the caramels as it meant I could do some baking as well as just scoffing chocolate. I made a cake last night involving the caffe latte bar, and it is seriously good – stay tuned for the recipe!

Big thanks to the Handpicked Foodstore for sending me the chocolate to try – obviously they were sent to me for free, but my opinions aren’t swayed by that in the slightest!