Salted Caramel and Sour Cherry Zillionaire’s Shortbread

BIG, big apologies for my absence from the blogiverse. We are having some building work done here at Cutest Cakes HQ so a combination of project managing, tea making, working, dog walking and everything that goes with organising two children has forced blogging so far down the list of priorities it has largely disappeared out of sight.

However that does not mean the recipes have dried up! This is a fantastic, post Lenten, splurge and for someone who isn’t into sickly sweet stuff, just the ticket.

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Making Million or Zillionaire’s shortbread is quite a lengthy and messy business. I make no apology for this, there is no getting away from making an effort sometimes, but if you can get hold of ready-made salted caramel, or ideally make it on a separate occasion and store it in the fridge to keep it more solid, this will reduce the faff factor.

You will need:

A jar of Salted Caramel such as Hawkshead Relish Salted Caramel Sauce.

This is a 320g jar which should be more than enough, stored in the fridge before using to keep it as solid as possible.

Alternatively I give a recipe for making Salted Caramel, this time use:

250g Caster Sugar, 4 tbsp water, 160ml Double Cream, 50g Salted Butter, ½ tsp Coarse Sea Salt.

If you haven’t made caramel before it is a bit of a scary process but you’ll be fine.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently over a moderate to low heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not stir at all at any stage. Swirl the mixture around from time to time off the heat, but once dissolved allow the sugar syrup to come up to the boil and boil for around 5-8 minutes. During this time the syrup will become a dark ‘caramel’ colour and thicken. Swirl occasionally but that’s all. Once the desired colour has been reached, remove from the heat and very gently and slowly pour in the cream. At this point it will look like it has all gone wrong, don’t panic, add the butter and sea salt too, find a whisk appropriate for your saucepan, and whisk gently until a smooth sauce-like consistency is reached and all the butter has melted. A crusty shelf of sugar will have formed about 2cms above the bottom of the pan, just work round that, don’t try to dislodge it as you pour the sauce into a jug. Leave to cool. The odd stir as it cools might help to stop a crust forming.

After about 2-3 hours you will have a supercooled liquid (for the scientists amongst you), fridge until required, ideally overnight at least. You can transfer this sauce to a thoroughly clean, preferably sterile jam jar with a lid where it will keep for weeks!

So once you have resolved the caramel issue, you can move onto construction of this delicious confection.

You will need for the Shortbread: a 6″ square, ideally loose-bottomed, cake tin, greased on the bottom and very slightly up the sides, 125g Plain Flour, 40g Caster Sugar, 80g Butter, softened

and finally for the topping you will need: 50g Milk Chocolate, 80g Plain Chocolate and 50g Dried Sour Cherries.

So to make the shortbread, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C, then mix the flour and caster sugar in a large bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture until it forms a dough and then press into the base of the cake tin to give an even layer. Prick with a fork and then bake for 15-20 minutes until firm to the touch and very lightly browned.

Allow to cool completely, then spread with the chilled caramel sauce (as much or as little as you want) and return to the fridge whilst you melt the chocolate, separately in Pyrex bowls, either over a couple of pans of simmering water or in the microwave until you have two bowls of smooth molten chocolate. Remove the caramel biscuit base from the fridge and dollop spoonfuls of first the milk and then the plain chocolate over the caramel, you can smooth it all over or not as the case may be and then dot with the Sour Cherries. Return to the fridge to allow the chocolate to set, once cooled, which won’t take long.

Now, this particular recipe does not result in neat solid squares of chocolate caramel shortbreadIMG_0790, as you can see. This is a decadent, stuff it in, finger licking, lip smacking, Nigella style delight, and having eating way too much of this over Easter has resulted in a bit of diet action at this end.

So find a REALLY sharp large knife. Remove the tin from fridge, loosen the contents round the sides of the tin with a palette knife and then push the loose bottom of the tin upwards to release the shortbread the transfer, minus the bottom of the tin, to a large plate, the caramel will start to ooze as you can see. Ignoring this, cut into squares and the dish up as required. Return any uneaten squares to the fridge where it will keep for days, if you can stand to leave it alone.

Yummy.

Apricot and Rhubarb Oat Bars

Child 1 is cooking at school again and joy of joys the teacher has introduced the idea of developing their own recipes!

Initiative in baking, and cooking in general, I believe is an essential ingredient (!) in the art of being a confident cook.  Cooking instinct can be acquired with practice as well as be a raw talent but reliance on clear instructions, whilst helpful in the learning process, if always needed will leave cooking in the chore category and not elevate it to carefree hobby status or allow for ‘using up stuff’ a bit of a must for anyone on a budget, which frankly is most of us after all. My better half trained as a chemist and therefore following detailed and extensive recipes backed up with accurate weighing and measuring equipment presents him with no problems. Vague generalisations and scant instructions basically stresses him out particularly as he thinks I will have ‘something to say’ about his finished offering if not perfect. He confuses constructive advice with criticism.

So anyway, Child 1 sees the advantage in this as he can adapt recipes with ingredients he’s not keen on to include those he prefers…….

He brought home a version of the above with chocolate chips instead of apricots and strawberry jam instead of rhubarb. You couldn’t actually cut a slice as such, more heap a couple of spoonfuls into a bowl and eat it with a fork as apparently he was distracted at some crucial point and there was a step skipped with the topping…… Anyway like with a lot of these type of bars: it tasted great!

I was so intrigued with the basic recipe and had apricots and rhubarb lying around so I had a go at the weekend and this is the result; I have to say it is divine and Child 1 (despite the lack of chocolate) announced he liked mine more. I almost spat out my mouthful.

You will need (makes 12 bars):

For the base: 100g Plain Flour, 35g Self-Raising Flour, 100g Butter (at room temperature), 1 Egg Yolk, 110g Caster Sugar,

160g Jam: I made mine as I had rhubarb with 450g Rhubarb, 450g Sugar, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, juice of 1 Lemon, 50 ml Water

Topping: 60g Golden Syrup, 30g Maple Syrup or Honey, 50g Butter, 135g Rolled Oats, 40g Corn flakes or Special K, crunch up a little, 35g desiccated Coconut, 125g Apricots chopped, fresh or dried.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C and grease and line a 23cm (9″) square brownie tin or similar. Lining square tins can be a bit of a faff. Either scrunch up an appropriate sized piece of greaseproof paper into a ball and them smooth out and line the tin or cut a square which again is larger than the tin and then cut in toward the center on the diagonal from each corner for a few centimeters then line the tin overlapping the paper at the corners.

Jam: you can buy rhubarb obviously, or to make it, put a couple of saucers in the freezer for the testing process and make sure to have a couple of sterile jam jars handy for any excess (wash in dishwater at 60°C), then slice the rhubarb and add to a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Allow the sugar to melt over a medium heat and then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and test if done but adding a teaspoon to a very cold saucer. Give it a sec and then push the blob up the saucer with your finger. If the skin wrinkles, it’s done. If not boil for a few for minutes and test again. Pour into the sterile jar(s) and allow to cool a little.

To make the base: Cream together the sugar and butter in a mixer and once light and fluffy at the egg yolk and beat for a couple more minutes. Add the flour and fold into the creamed mixture. You will find you to need to finish this off with your hands to achieve a ball of dough.

Press into the base of the tin to give an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. The top should be browned. Remove from the oven.

To make the topping: Melt together the golden syrup, maple syrup/honey and the butter and stir to combine. Put all the other topping ingredients into a separate bowl and pour in the buttery mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat the dry with the wet.

Spread an even layer of jam over the base and then carefully spread over the topping. Pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. It should be lightly brown once done. Cut into bars whilst still warm and leave to cool in the tin.

If you have made jam don’t forget the wax covers and a tight-fitting lid. It’s delicious instead of marmalade.

Quacking Easter Beaver Biscuits

The Cutest Cakes spent some time down at the local Beaver Colony recently decorating Easter themed biscuits. The trick here was to find an activity which would engage all concerned and only take ½ hour or so. Simplicity was definitely the key. This particular activity would work well with children of all ages and different animals can obviously be tackled, pigs, bunnies, sheep for example. Aardman-esque designs might look good!

The Beavers seemed very excited at the prospect of a bit of modelling, perhaps it was the thought of all that sugar but enthusiasm was not in short supply. As with many of these types of workshop, we began with a demonstration:

and then the Beavers ‘hatched’ a few ducklings of their own.

You will need: Some rich tea biscuits, some boiled sieved apricot jam, a pastry brush, a pastry cutter (slightly smaller than the biscuits), some white, yellow, orange and black sugarpaste, a rolling-pin and a cup with a small amount of water in it.

To make the ducks:

  • roll around 25g of yellow sugarpaste into an egg/oval shape and then flatten to some degree on the work surface you are using.
  • take around 5g of orange paste, break off a pea sized piece and set aside and roll the rest into a jelly bean shape. Again flatten on the work surface and then fold in half lengthways. Shape into the beak and stick on the head.
  • 2 petit pois sized pieces of white paste, roll into balls and flatten onto the head as eyes. Flatten the balls as part of the attachment process to the head.
  • 2 even smaller pieces of black paste can be rolled into balls and again flatten onto the white eyes as pupils.
  • finally the remaining pea sized piece of orange paste can be attached on top of the head as a quiffy bit.

To finish the biscuit:

  • using the pastry brush paint the jam onto the centre of the biscuit.
  • roll out and cut out a circle of sugarpaste and stick onto the biscuit over the jam.
  • attach the duck head

The water can be used to provide ‘damp fingers ‘ which can help the sugarpaste elements stick to each other if required. You do not want ‘wet’ fingers as this will essentially make a right mess, a little moistening of the paste can however aid the sticking process.

Well done Beavers! How very egg-citing!

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