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Showing posts with label fall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fall. Show all posts

Friday, October 1, 2021

Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake


Fall is here and my body is ready. Going apple picking is one of my absolute favorite things in the world to do, and I'm so fortunate to live in the Midwest where apple picking orchards are a-plenty! Apples are relatively easy to grow, but the trick is that they are not self-pollinating trees so you really need at least two trees to get apples. I don't often recommend doing that if you have a smaller lot, or if you can't commit yourself to getting every apple off the ground before it ferments and gets all of your squirrels and hornets drunk...but if you do have those things covered, then by all means go for it!

The apple, which is not native to the Americas, is one of my favorite ingredients. I write about it a fair bit! That being said, you don't have to get apples fresh from a farm to enjoy them, even though it is recommended. Yes, you could get a bag of apples for $5 at the store instead of driving out to an orchard, paying $36 to pick your own in 88 degree heat wearing fall clothing with your kids screaming at you about being itchy and having to go potty all the time...but if you can get to a farmer's market where they're selling apples you can split the difference and get great quality produce!


These apples are from the farm. They're small but much sweeter than many I could get in the store! I don't mind the bruises at all, and neither should you, especially if you're going to eat them straight away in a pie or cake. There's a ton of perfectly good food wasted every year because it's not exactly "up to standard." You can watch this awesome documentary about it if you're so inclined! Of course, the issues are much more nuanced than just one documentary can present, but it's still interesting to think about.  The bottom line is that when you buy organic produce it will not look exactly perfect like how you see in the grocery store. Food will be in its natural state, with bites and bruises, and it won't matter a lick how it looks if you put it into a cake. 

Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake
yields 1 9" square or round cake

Caramel

  • 200 g white sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

Apples

  • 4 small apples, sliced thinly on the mandolin + 1 small apple, cut decoratively
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
Cake
  • 150 g vegan butter 
  • 220 g brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp dried ginger
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 250 g all-purpose flour
  • 240 g (1 cup) almond milk
This is a cake that takes many steps, but it is worth it. Trust me.

Prepare the pan of your choice by buttering it generously with either non-dairy butter or coconut oil spray. Get all of the sides, of course, but especially get the bottom! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 




Prepare the apples by slicing them thinly on a mandolin or with a sharp knife and tossing them with the sugar, zest, and spices. You may add a tsp of good dark rum if you like, but it is not necessary. Set it aside and prepare the caramel bottom. Slice your decorating apple and arrange it in a pattern on the bottom of your pan. This will be the top!

Add the sugar, honey, vinegar, to a small saucepot along with just enough water to cover the sugar mixture. Pop a lid on top and bring it to a boil. You're going to boil it for about five minutes, or until lovely golden-brown caramel forms, and immediately pour over the apples as evenly as possible. Pop this into the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, just to set it and to ensure that the caramel is evenly distributed among the apple slices. When ready, remove from the oven and set aside.

Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whip attachment until quite light-colored and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and whip it all together until completely incorporated and the sugar looks to be mostly dissolved. Add the eggs, one at a time, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl between each addition. Make sure the eggs are entirely incorporated before going to the next step!

Add in your baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla, and whip together until combined. Add in the flour, a third at a time, while alternating with the milk to make sure no big lumps occur. Scrape down the bowl and give one final stir. Remove the whip attachment and stir in the macerated apple mixture by hand with a spatula. Allow the batter to rest for about 15 minutes on the counter to let the flour soak in. 

When ready, scrape the batter into your prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cake slightly pulls away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter for about 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate. If everything goes well, your caramel will still be warm enough to bring the cake away from the pan! Let cool for another 15 or 20 minutes before slicing into it, as molten lava has nothing on hot caramel.

This cake is incredibly soft and moist and will fill your heart with warming love. I can't think of anything more perfectly delectable than this cake for the first taste of fall. It keeps on the counter, covered, for up to four days, but it really doesn't last that long. It's quite excellent with a morning cup of coffee or warmed, after dinner, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I hope you'll give it a try with some apples you pick up from your own local farmer's market!



Thank you so much for spending some of your day or night with me. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Upside-Down Caramel Pear cake




When August turns to September, it is the time for pears. Small, dense, mild Asian pears grow very well in the Midwestern USA. I'm so fortunate to be a part of a small farming community in the middle of a bustling city because I always have access to the best produce when it's fresh. I don't have enough land to justify a pear tree, and I'm currently in constant battle with the woodland critters that vie for my peaches, but that doesn't mean I don't love pears when they are in season. 

Asian Pears, also known as Japanese Pears, Nashi Pears, or Apple Pears are deciduous fruit trees that grow well in well-drained soil and benefit from slightly acidic conditions. They are not self-pollinating, so they need a pal to be next to in order to produce fruit. Although they can grow large, they will usually be quite small if you buy them from a local grower, which is absolutely okay. The flavor is extremely mild and therefore can lend themselves to both sweet and savory dishes. I love these pears because the dense texture and low moisture content make them ideal for baking. Fruit that keeps its shape during the cooking process is a rare treat; don't waste that opportunity!

Upside-Down Caramel Pear Cake
adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, Fall Recipes edition
  • 8 oz/1 cup/2 sticks of vegan butter, divided 
    • Of course, use dairy butter if that's what you have on hand. I like Miyoko's for this recipe!
  • 2/3 c + 3 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 5 small Asian Pears, peeled, halved, and cored
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 c maple syrup
  • 3/4 c warm water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 c/10 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Take half of your butter and chop it into cubes. Add the other half to the bowl of a standing mixer and set it on your stovetop to warm while you work. Add your chopped cold butter into either one 13" bread loaf pan or two 9" loaf pans. (You can also use a cast-iron skillet or a 9" round cake tin, but I did mine in a loaf.) Place in a cold oven and turn it on to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, whisk all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.

It's not the prettiest now, but bear with me!

Check your butter in 10 minutes. When it's melted, add 1/3 + 3 Tbsp brown sugar to the pan and mix with a spatula to make sure that it's fully incorporated and in all of the corners. Arrange your pears, cut-side down, in the bottom of the pan, and do your best to ensure even spacing. Add it back into the oven and let roast for 20 minutes. Let's work on the batter next!

The butter in your mixing bowl should be sufficiently warm by now, so let's use a paddle attachment to whip that butter into shape. You're going to want to whip it until it's light and fluffy, and then add the remainder of your brown sugar. Let mix on low for 30 seconds, turn the speed to medium, and beat until the color has lightened and the sugar has dissolved. Add the eggs one at a time, letting mix for a full minute between each one. Add the maple syrup and mix until homogenous. It should smell divine!

With the mixer on low, add in half the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add in the water and vanilla extract and mix. Add the remainder of the flour and stir until combined, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure that absolutely everything has mixed well. Set the bowl aside in a cool spot in the kitchen until your 20 minutes are up. This will allow the mixture to hydrate and rest!

When the timer for the oven goes off, remove the pan from the oven and let it sit on the counter for 2 minutes. Give your batter a quick stir and gently pour over the hot pears and caramel as evenly as possible, making sure to scrape every last bit of batter from the bowl. Gently push the batter over the corners and do your best to cover the pears. The caramel will rise up so try not to harm yourself! Slow and steady wins this race. 

When you've got yourself sorted in the batter, return the pan to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake is fully set and cooked. You can test this with a skewer! Take this time to clean up, as it's probably smart to clean as you go. At the sound of the timer, remove the cake from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes on the counter before flipping onto a serving vessel. You can use a long platter, a fancy plate, or even a rustic wooden cutting board, like yours truly. You can let the cake cool completely before cutting a slice for yourself, but truthfully, I couldn't wait that long and just gave it a five-minute rest before cutting into it. 



This cake is so incredibly tender, light, and is full of fall-adjacent flavors of caramel and spice. Pears are a wonderful fruit to eat and turmeric is an excellent spice to add to your cakes. I don't want to get too preachy about the benefits of turmeric, so I'll just say that it adds pretty color and a beautiful aroma that balances out the pears and caramel. This is excellent as a dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or as a sweet treat for breakfast with your morning coffee. Make sure you keep it covered and wrapped on the counter, and it will stay good for a week. I doubt that it will last that long, though...

Thanks so much for spending some of your day or night with me. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Persimmon Cinnamon Rolls


 

These are fabulous. You want these. You want them in your mouth, right now. These persimmon cinnamon rolls - or per-cinnamon rolls, if you will - are an excellent application of this beautiful fall fruit. I don't think it gets enough credit, but I'll talk about why I think that a little later... For now? Let's get to the recipe!

Per-cinnamon rolls

Dough

  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 5 g dry active yeast
  • 125 g sourdough starter
  • 150 g sugar
  • 30 g coconut milk powder
  • 200 g warm water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 2 eggs
Filling
  • 1 cup persimmon puree
  • 2 tsp dried spiceberry bush berries, crushed
  • A few grinds of white pepper
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon 
Icing
  • 2 oz vegan butter substitute
    • I really love Earth Balance, or Miyoko's brand!
  • 6 oz vegan cream cheese
  • 1/3 c persimmon puree
  • Powdered sugar, as needed
    • Mine took about a cup and a half to get the right consistency
The night before...
Start by combining all of your dough ingredients, except for the eggs and salt, into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Stir to combine and only to combine, which shouldn't take more than ten or eleven turns. Set a timer for 10 minutes and let everything sit together until the time has passed. When the timer goes, off, add your eggs and salt, and turn on your mixer to a low stir. Let this stir for about 5 minutes! Next, turn the speed up to medium and let stir for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the dough is incomparably silky and smooth. 

Oil up a large plastic Tupperware container or a good-sized clean bowl that you can seal well with clingfilm. Turn your dough into this container, seal shut tight, and then let sit out for about 30 minutes, or until you can clearly see or smell that the yeast is working in your dough, though it should be noted that you shouldn't keep it out for longer than 45 minutes. While you're waiting, let's get you to prepare our cinnamon roll filling by simply combining everything with a whisk and storing in a large piping bag overnight with your dough. A ziploc plastic bag is fine, too!

Pop this gorgeous dough into the fridge and let sit overnight! It's important to note that if you want to have cinnamon rolls for breakfast, you must wake up early to do so, at least a couple of hours before everyone else eats breakfast to be safe. If you just want them as a morning snack, then wake up at your normal time and do this at your leisure. Shall we take this break to talk about persimmons?




First of all, I should tell you that I personally believe that they do not get hardly enough credit as a fall fruit. They possess a wonderfully sweet and complex flavor with a most-pleasant tang to finish. They're hard as rocks when they're unripe, but when they are ready they get almost squishy. I suppose you could describe their taste to be somewhere between a banana and a date, with an almost citrus-like tang to finish. They almost taste, to me, like good pie filling that's already been sugared and spiced. 

Second, I think it's only fair to warn you that they can be a little hard to find, but with local farmers and the local CSAs being so amazing, you're likely to find at least one or two folk growing them. Wild persimmons are the kind that I got, and although they were incredibly, especially delicious, they were quite small and rather labor intensive. If you can, don't get the wild kind, unless your plan is to dry them and have them in a tea blend. If you've already gotten your hands on wild persimmons, here's how to clean and process them:

Simply take them all in a bowl and let them come up to room temperature. Then, pour boiling water over them and let them sit until the water is cool enough to stick your hand in, remove and crack open the peel, one by one, before pressing the entire fruit into a fine mesh strainer. I like a good tamis, but if you have a food mill on hand then that'll do just fine! I put all of my puree, along with some of my skin, into my blender before pressing it through my tamis strainer once more. I think it's only fair to tell you that it did take me the better part of my afternoon.

Is it the next morning, yet? Are you ready to roll some stuff out? Let's do it! Just so you know, if you want to have this for breakfast, you should wake up a couple of hours before you are ready to bake and turn on the oven. If you work from home, and time doesn't matter anymore, just get up and go! Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and let's get ready.

Flour a surface generously, and that includes your hands! Turn your now-risen dough out onto your chosen surface, be it your counter or a marble slab, and roll out to an even rectangle that's about a quarter-inch thick. Take your filling and simply pipe it in lines all across your dough, and spread evenly with a spatula. The piping bag isn't absolutely required, but it does make it a little easier on you when it comes to even distribution. 

Roll up your dough, nice and tight, and pinch the sealing ends hard when it comes around to the end. Roll over on the seal side to let the weight help you out when cutting. I personally like to slice mine so that they stand up to be about 2 inches tall, and with this recipe, that method yields 15 rolls. Ultimately, if you're a bit of a novice, all you should really do is evenly slice them with a serrated knife and leave to proof on a sheet pan lined with either parchment or a silpat mat. An easy thing to do is to simply cut your whole roll in half, then in half again, then in half again...and voila! You have a whole tray of cinnamon rolls!





Next, arrange all of these on your chosen tray so that there's a decent amount of space between each one. This yielded 15 rolls for me, so I arranged it ina 3 x 5 on my half-sheet pan, sprinkled generously with flour, and then gently laid plastic wrap over the top while I preheated my oven to 325 degrees F. I usually set my rolls next to the stove and rotate them every 15 minutes or so, until they've doubled in size. You might as well make your icing while you're waiting!

Bake at 325 for about 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and delicious. Let them cool for about 5 minutes in the rack, and while your rolls are still warm, dollop over your gorgeous persimmon cream cheese frosting. 

And there you have it! You've just made incredible cinnamon rolls with a gorgeous autumnal twist. Not only are they delicious, but they have a beautifully gentle orange color that's perfect for fall. They're tasty with a hint of the date-like flavor of the persimmons, that is at once comforting and bright...and it all spells magic. 

Thanks so much for reading, today! Happy cooking and happy eating!






Monday, September 19, 2016

Butternut Squash Muffins

Want more pictures? Follow me on Instagram @WannaBGourmande!
Fall is here and my inner Basic Bitch is going bananas. (Follow my favorite tag #basicbitchesunite on instagram) Pumpkin Spice is King during these fabulous months, and his lovely Queen Apple Cider reigns benevolently at his side. That being said, there are more than enough fruits and vegetables to go around during this time of year that you can consume to maintain your seasonal lifestyle.

Things that are in season, in America, this Fall:

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts
  • Cranberries
  • Pears
  • Persimmons
    • Here in Kansas City, you can find the wild ones!
  • Pomegranates 
    • Persephone Returns to her Husband, Hades!
  • Squash of all varieties
  • Pawpaws
    • True American Fruit!
  • Chinese long beans
    • These are AMAZING on the grill!
  • Okra
  • Green beans
  • Quince
    • Important: Cook these for jams and jellies...they are inedible while raw!
  • Sweet potatoes
I personally have found everything except for the pomegranates at my local farmers market. Since I work at a farmer's market, too, I often get the pick of the litter in exchange for cookies or a loaf of bread. Bartering between market stall owners is honestly the main way I get groceries nowadays. I, of course, shop at wholesale stores for my bakery, Pistachio Bakehouse, but I barely go to the grocery store every other week for myself, mostly for toiletries and dog food. Otherwise, I barter with my farmers for produce and I go to The Local Pig(famously local butcher in Kansas City) for my meats and eggs. 

Cooking and eating seasonally is a challenge, and I'd be a jerk to say otherwise. I'm fortunate enough to live in the Midwest, where everything grows. I won't be so lucky in the winter, so I'll have to find alternative methods of finding food, but until then I'm sure I can find a way.

There's been a plethora of butternut squash around me as of late, and I just adore it. Squash is a fabulous food full of potassium and high amounts of fiber, making it a great choice for your heart and bones. You can roast it in chunks, but I find that it's much more versatile in the puree form, especially because this is how you use it for pies, cakes, muffins, etc. Here's how to roast it for puree:

We got these from a local farmer, since mine didn't turn out so great this year...
 Cut your squash in half using a big fukken knife and score in hatch marks using a smaller knife. Scoop out the seeds and, if you're a gardener, too, set aside to wash them free from the pulp and let dry for planting next season. (This does take some work, but it's an investment of time now to pay off later in spades.) I had about ten squash to work with, but simply use this formula:

Per 1 Medium Squash:

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 oz(4 Tbsp) butter, really really soft
  • Two or three nice sage leaves from the garden
Rub the sage leaves a few times between your palms to release the oils. Rub the butter all over the fleshy side of the squash, then rub in the sage and salt. Roast first at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 325 and then continue roasting for another 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and then cover with aluminum foil. Let set for about 15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle with your hands. 
dat color tho

Scoop out the squash from its skin and pop it in a blender/food processor, and puree until smooth. You can pop this mixture into mason jars and can it for later use, or you can use some now for muffins! This is makes and exceptionally delicious spice cake and it's just lovely with a hot tea or a cold morning. 


Butternut Squash Spice Muffins
Adapted from Quick Breads by Liz Franklin

Cake:

  • 320 g Cake flour
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 200 g brown sugar
  • 100 ml Maple syrup
  • 50 g coconut oil
  • 50 g olive oil
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp Rum extract(optional, but yummy!)
  • 150 g butternut squash puree
  • Strusel topping, if desired
Strusel Topping
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, soft
Make your strusel first by combining all ingredients in the bowl of your standing mixer and blending with the dough hook until it all comes together when you take a handful and squeeze it in your fist. You can set this aside in a separate container, in the refrigerator, for up to a month. Make sure you write the date using a piece of tape and a sharpie! Organization will set you free...

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. 

Combine your dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking soda, salt, brown sugar) in the bowl of the standing mixer and mix to combine with the paddle attachment. Add in your fat and stir for about a minute, until the mixture is sort of crumbly-looking. Add in your liquid ingredients(maple syrup, extract, eggs, and squash) all at once and stir until everything comes together, but do not over-mix. It's 10000000% okay if the mixture is lumpy, just be sure to scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl once more before popping it in your mold.

This recipe makes a very nice loaf cake for your eating pleasure, but I much prefer to have them in individual muffins, lined with paper. The reason I don't just spray the bejeezus out of a muffin tin and pop in my batter? Well, there are a few...

This recipe is what is known as a quickbread, and therefore "rises quickly." In order for it to get a nice top, the batter has to be able to climb the sides and stick to them so it expands as it bakes. If I were to spray the pan, my batter would release easily from the sides after baked, sure, but they'd be sadly short and muffin-top-less. If I have a loaf pan, I'll simply spray and then flour, so that it'll both be easy to release but the batter will have something to cling on to as it rises, resulting in lovely, even bubbles and a light, fluffy muffin. 

Here's a little naughty Chef's trick: After I've panned my batter(put it in the pans), I let it sit for about 5 minutes while the oven gets up to temperature. Quickbreads are meant to be quick, yes, but baking soda is activated by both moisture and acid. Since this is a fairly low-acid recipe, you have a little leeway to let those flour granules soak up some of that lovely moisture from the eggs and squash. Sugar is also highly hygroscopic, so the high amount in this recipe helps you keep this muffin moist anyway....but why go halfway when you could go all the way by letting it rest?

Once my batter is panned and rested, and my oven heated, then go ahead and sprinkle on that yummy strusel topping, if you're using it, and bake. Set your timer for 25 minutes and then check them with a toothpick. If you're super-precise like me, you should temp your cakes/breads/quickbreads at about 200 degrees F with a thermometer. Mine took about 27 minutes in my oven at home, but your oven will likely behave differently.

Allow the quickbread to cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the pan, and then cool completely before cutting into it. Enjoy it with some warm apple cider and an infinity scarf while you drag your boyfriend Jeremy to the apple orchard.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Beer Gelato



October is in full swing, and I could not feel happier about it! I am ready for the new year.

What's that? Oh, right, let me explain...

To Pagans/Wiccans/Witches, October is the last month of the Wheel of the Year, which is our calendar. The end of October is called Samhain(pronounced SOW-wehn), the night of the year in which the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest, and you can pass through and cross over. This is a time for honoring your ancestors, the last harvest, and the end of the year.

What's that got to do with beer?

Oktoberfest is upon us, too, and nothing says October like beer, cider, apples, pumpkins, and lots of sausages as you snuggle up in scarves and rake the leaves. I love ice cream, gelato, sorbets...any sort of churned frozen dessert, really! Here's how to make my Beer Gelato, made infamous by FoodieChats and  Rogue Ales & Spirits.



Beer Gelato
  • A scant 3 cups Oktoberfest(your favorite brand) beer
  • 5 dried apricots(you can usually find this in the bulk section of most grocery stores)
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine 1/4 cup of the sugar, the beer, apricots, and allspice in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it cook down. 

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining sugar and salt with the egg yolks. Whisk slowly, at first, just to combine it all, and then start whipping, by hand. You basically just want a smooth-looking custard. It'll look dark and you won't be able to tell if the eggs are lemon-colored after whipping, but just look for a nice, smooth, uniform custard. You're not looking to get air into it, just make it smooth.

After about 10 minutes of reducing, you should have about 2 cups of liquid left. Fish out the allspice berries and pop your apricots in the pitcher of your blender with about a cup of your beer reduction. Blend on low to make a smooth sort of apricot cream and slowly add in your warm beer in a trickle. When that's entirely incorporated, scrape all ingredients into your saucepot and whisk over a low, gentle flame until it thickens, just ever-so-slightly. If you have a thermometer, you'll want it to get to 175 degrees F/79 degrees C.

When ready, strain into a container and pop into the freezer to cool. You can also set up an ice bath for your container for even faster cooling...but your custard must cool entirely before churning. When you do churn, let your ice cream machine make it to about 5 minutes before you're done, and then turn off the chilling part of the unit and just let it turn for awhile. This will make cleanup for you much easier and yield a nicer mouthfeel.

You can enjoy this now, or set it in the freezer for a little while longer to set up enough to scoop. I personally like it a little more chilled, so I can scoop it and sandwich it between cookies, or perhaps just on a cone. If you like it a little softer, like my parents do, go ahead and have some now.

You can also blend this stuff with some milk to make a beer milkshake...or maybe make a beer float with some more Oktoberfest and some of this? Have fun with it. It's yours, now.
A photo posted by Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on
Thanks so much to Rogue Ales and Spirits for the blog request, and to FoodieChats, of course!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 20 - Salted Caramel


Caramel, once mastered, is a skill you will not
regret acquiring!
It's Friday morning. I'm sitting in my office, in the back of my bungalow, up on the hill which overlooks Armourdale, the river, and a sprawl of trees, warehouses, and towering hotels in the distance, directly to the Northeast. I've got some leftover pasta from last night, and it is just perfect for these blustery mornings. I must say, the idea of being a Midwestern girl is becoming more and more romantic by the day. Kansas City certainly is growing on me. I sit out and look at the changing golds, greens, browns...and all I can think of(aside from this pasta, of course) is caramel sauce. Warm, buttery, fantastic, caramel sauce. All of it, just drizzled over something. Maybe apples.

I love caramel. I love those delightfully chewy and sticky caramel confections that Brach's makes. I also love those hard toffee candies that you can just let sit and melt in your mouth. Caramel is complex, interesting, almost indescribable to a person who's never experienced it before. It's what happens when heat is applied to sugar, and there's just something about it that's so autumnal to me.

Perhaps it reminds me of the autumn because of its deep golden-brown color. Perhaps it's because it's complex, and it's what happens when sugar "changes", or "evolves", if you will, and the leaves on the trees change, too. The difference is that it happens to leaves when it gets cold. It happens to sugar when it gets hot. Also, there's nothing so autumnal to me than warm poached pears drizzled in a hot, salty caramel sauce. Or sticky toffee puddings. Or even caramel apples.

Going with the theme of preparing for your ultimate Thanksgiving feast, I hope that this is argument enough to include caramel sauce in your meal somehow. Maybe with an apple crumble or apple cobbler, you could use the caramel powder I've recently discovered how to make? Just substitute it with half of the sugar you would normally use. I'll post a recipe for that one later(possibly tomorrow), but today let's just focus on caramel sauce and the fundamentals of that. I cannot stress how delectable a warm, homemade caramel sauce is, especially when poured over ice cream. The best part about caramel sauce is that you can make it at home, in large quantities, and just stock it in the fridge until you need it. If you have sufficient canning skills, you can also process jars of it by the batch and keep them in your cabinet, or give them to your neighbors as gifts. It is the season of harvest, of giving, and nothing says "I care" quite like a homemade gift. This is a basic caramel sauce that I use at work. You can take this sauce/base and use it to create whatever you wish. I'll put some variations in, too, if you'd like to get creative.

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 oz butter, unsalted
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt to taste
Find a heavy-bottomed pan and have a whisk ready. Have your cream and butter at the ready, too, since this is the kind of thing that goes fast. Measure your corn syrup directly into a heavy-bottomed pan instead of using a cup measure. Honestly, if it looks like half a cup in the bottom of the pan, it's probably fine. You don't have to be 100% exact with this particular one. Then add the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar, in that order. Cover your pot and put it on medium-high heat for 2 minutes, at least. After 2 minutes, check it. 

The sugar boils and dissolves into the water, and the lid helps to create steam, which washes the sides of the pan down for you, so you don't have crystallization to worry about. The vinegar also helps to prevent crystallization, but you don't want to really agitate the pan at this point. Just check on it every minute or so, leaving it alone. You can increase your heat as you boil, but don't go too far away. I would check on it every 2 minutes or so. My caramel at work takes about 10 minutes to get to the color I want, but your stove might be different. I also have a really sensitive sense of smell, so I seldom worry about burning it, as I can smell it. 

After some time of you diligently checking your caramel sauce, you should see it start to turn color around the outsides. It's generally safe, now, to give your sugar a tiny swirl, since the sugar crystals are now at a point where crystallization isn't really in the cards much anymore. You can lower your heat to medium, now, and keep an eye on it. The trick to caramel is having the confidence to let it become that nice, dark, gorgeous color. I personally like it to be a deep amber color, as I think it's a more complex flavor, but if you like the lighter stuff, by all means do it. This is your recipe, now, and you may use it as you wish. 

When the caramel reaches the color you desire, turn off the heat and add the butter. Stand back for a second and let it sputter, but keep your whisk at the ready. Its basically stopping the cooking process for you as well as cooling the hot sugar syrup. You must be very cautious, though, because this is a substance that's probably somewhere between 300 - 350 degrees F depending on how dark you had it. The worst part is that it sticks to you when you get it on your skin, which takes off layers. So don't be careless, please. 

When the butter has stopped sputtering, carefully stir with your whisk, nice and slowly. Add in your cream a little bit at a time. You can use cold, room temperature, or warm, but I prefer on the lighter side of cold. It helps cool your caramel faster, and though it will rise up and steam, it's better to have that, I think, than to have it expand too far and boil over with the heat. So, it's my advice to use cool-to-room-temperature cream for this particular juncture. Add in a big fat pinch of salt now, too, as you stir. When it's cool enough to taste, add more salt if you like. I like it when you can actually taste the salt in the caramel. It's a component, you see, in this stage, and not a stand-alone thing. 

Making a fancy brownie sundae is an option, too.
If you'd like to make it a stand-alone kind of thing, simply line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat and omit the heavy cream for a fat tablespoon of creme fraiche(or just sour cream, the fattiest you have). Pour your caramel mixture onto your prepared pans and allow to cool before cutting. These can be individually wrapped in wax paper and left in a candy dish on the coffee table. If you leave the warm buttered caramel mixture in the pan, however, you can dip apples into it and make your own caramel apples. You can also pop the mixture between shortbread cookies while it's still warm (use a cookie cutter to stamp out the shapes, and some latex disposable gloves to help protect your hands) to really dress up some store-bought cookies.

Another way to dress up store-bought chocolate chip or sugar cookies using this recipe, omitting the heavy cream all together and reducing the butter amount to four ounces. The trick is to keep the caramel on a super-low heat so it keeps your sauce suspended in a liquid form. Carefully--and I do mean carefully--dip the bottom of the cookies in the sauce and place them on a parchment sheet to set. This creates a candy-like caramel coating on the bottom and gives it that little extra something special. 

Or, like I said, you can make this large batch of sauce and can it, and then give it to your neighbors and friends as holiday gifts. This stuff can say safe for weeks in the fridge, since it's so high in sugar and fat. I hope that this, at very least, gives you a stand-by recipe for your repertoire. 

Happy Cooking and Happy eating. And check out my syndicated blog at LookyLocal.com/KC!