Archive | December, 2011

Han Solo Trapped In Caramel Shortcake, or Girls Already Like Legos

20 Dec

Fraser and I worked together to make another of his granny’s specialties for a small gathering of friends: caramel shortcake. This is also known as Millionaire’s Shortbread, and commercially as the Twix bar. While I made the shortbread base, Fraser made homemade caramel and poured melted chocolate into the Han Solo and Lego ice trays. Normally, you would just spread the caramel over the shortbread, then pour melted chocolate over that and hope you remember to cut it before it’s totally set, otherwise the chocolate will crack like crazy. By using the rectangular molded chocolates, that made it very easy to cut into uniform, perfectly-portioned pieces.

Ignore the little crumbs. I forgot to photograph until the end of the party.

The recipe we used is adapted from the Joy of Cooking. When I made it before, I thought the caramel was too stingy, so we doubled the amount for ours. For the chocolate, we used Scharffenberger’s 72% dark chocolate for the Han Solos and Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate for the Legos. Both were delicious.

It’s also worth noting that this shortbread base is great on its own. I’ve used it in a variety of forms – molded, frozen and sliced, rolled out and cut into rounds for plain shortbread cookies, empire biscuits, and with mini chocolate chips mixed in. It’s just an awesome basic shortbread recipe.

Ingredients:

For the shortbread base:

  • 3/4 cup (aka 1.5 sticks or 170g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups (210g) all purpose flour
  • dash of salt

For the rest:

  • 2 14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk (this is after I doubled it to make a nice, thick caramel layer. If you don’t LOVE caramel, one can will make enough to just barely give the whole pan a thin layer.)
  • 6 oz good-quality dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I’ve used Trader Joe’s, Scharffenberger, and Ghirardelli all with good results)
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter ONLY if you’re NOT molding the chocolate. If you are molding the chocolate, omit this butter.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (170 C) and spray a 9″x9″ pan with either Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the vanilla and beat until it’s fully combined. The stand mixer is your friend. Toss in the salt, then add the flour and mix it in JUST until its all combined. It won’t form a perfect ball of dough and will be somewhat crumbly.
  3. Press the dough into the prepared pan, making it as even as possible.
  4. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn golden.
  5. While the shortbread is baking, make the caramel. Pour the condensed milk into a large, microwave-safe bowl and microwave on half-power for 4 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 4 minutes. Stir again and reduce the power to low. Continue to microwave in 2 minute bursts, stirring between bursts until the milk has thickened and turned a golden caramel color. It will be sticky around the edges. Using a pot holder to protect your hands, beat the caramel with a wooden spoon, until it’s completely smooth. (That said, don’t worry too much if there are tiny flecks of solid caramel anywhere in there. They’re sort of nice.)
  6. Spread the caramel over the shortbread and leave on a wire rack to cool COMPLETELY.
  7. While it’s cooling either mold your chocolate (melt it in a double boiler and pour into molds only about 1/8″ deep. Much thicker than that and it won’t so much be a topping as a slab of chocolate that’ll make it impossible to bite through the cookie. Put the molds in the freezer to speed up the process, but store the molded chocolate in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.) or go read a book for an hour.
  8. If you aren’t molding your chocolate, melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler, then pour over the caramel. Use a spatula to spread it out and smooth it. Leave it to set, but check it after 15 minutes or so. Once it’s no longer liquid but not totally set, cut it into 16 squares (or more or less depending on how big you want them, really). You really don’t want to wait until it’s all the way hardened, unless you honestly don’t care if the chocolate cracks and looks all messy. It’ll still taste good.
  9. If you did mold your chocolate, lay the chocolates on top of the FULLY cooled caramel (otherwise, they’ll start to melt and negate all the work you did molding them) and use them as a guide to cut the shortcake into individual cookies.

 

 

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Me vs. Tablet

19 Dec

I WON!

It only took 4 batches, but I finally got a perfect tray of sugary goodness. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Lots of people who have put up with my griping about tablet have asked me what it is. As far as lots of people are concerned, a tablet is something you write on, not something you eat, so let me enlighten you! Tablet is a traditional Scottish confection that, when done right, looks something like fudge, but is more firm and melts in your mouth with a buttery caramel flavor. When done wrong, well… it might be a grainy slab of sugar that makes you gag, it might not set and just sit there in the pan, all sludgy like the Swamp of Sadness, or it might set while you’re still pouring it into the pan and be tasty, but really lopsided and ugly.

I think I kind of got cocky after I made a perfect batch of tablet for my wedding. Seriously, it was months ago and people are still leaving random Facebook comments and sending me emails about how good it was. My over-confidence was my undoing this week as I tried to make another batch for Christmas presents. The first batch was delicious, but of the lopsided and ugly persuasion. Batch 2? Swamp of Sadness. Batch 3? Undercooked. Batch 4, though? Lovely.

I’m mostly including all of this preamble before the recipe to hit home the concept that this is not the kind of thing you should expect to master immediately. Even if it makes you scream and cry and feel like you’re obviously the worst cook ever to dump 4 and a half cups of sugar into a big ol’ pot, try, try again. It will be worth it, I promise.

Now, with now further ado, here’s the best recipe you’ll ever find. Fraser’s granny clipped it from a newspaper (probably the Citizen, a now-defunct Glasgow paper) 50 or so years ago, and while the paper has yellowed and creased, the recipe is as good as ever. Note: I have converted the measurements to be American-friendly and the instructions, which are very bare-bones in the original are expanded to share things I’ve learned along the way.

Ingredients:

  • 4.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 small can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Lyle’s Golden Syrup*
  • A few drops vanilla extract
  • Mug of very cold water

Method:

  1. Liberally butter a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet (as long as it has sides). If you don’t have either of those, you could probably use 2 lasagna pans. Set it/them on a level surface, with a towel under the pan to protect the surface from the heat.
  2. Put the sugar, butter, and milk in a large pot. Stir it over medium heat on the stove until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Stir it the whole time.
  3. Add the condensed milk and bring to the boil, stirring all the while.
  4. Once it’s boiling, add the syrup and boil for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
  5. At this point, you check to see if it’s done. Do this by carefully taking a spoonful of the BOILING SUGAR (in other words, please be careful and don’t burn yourself, okay?) and plunging it into the cold water mug. If it doesn’t disintegrate and stays stuck together when you roll it around on the spoon, it’s done. The stuff in the pot should also be a golden caramel color and no longer a creamy off-white. If it’s not quite done (mine is never quite done at this point), keep stirring and check it again with a clean spoon every 2 minutes or so.
  6. Once it’s done, take it off the heat and drizzle in a very little vanilla extract. Stand back once you’ve poured it, because it will sizzle and spit. Stir the pot vigorously for 2-4 minutes, and here’s where it becomes hard to explain without just letting you take a turn stirring so you can feel what happens. Basically, you want to stir and stir until it thickens and you notice that you need to work harder to scrape the bottom of the pot because it’s JUST BARELY beginning to solidify. The instant you feel that thickening, pour it into the buttered pan. It helps to have a second person to scrape out the pot while you hold it so you don’t have to juggle the hot pot and spoon at the same time.

It should begin to set up very quickly, and you might see snowflake-looking patterns appearing on top – that’s normal and a good sign. Once it’s cool to the touch, the best way I’ve found to cut it is to score it with a sharp knife into 2 inch squares, then carefully lift up one side and break it along the scored lines. I’ve tried just cutting it with a knife. I’ve tried a pizza cutter. Breaking it by hand really does produce the cleanest lines.

*Now, about the Golden Syrup. It is worth it to go out of your way to find it, and it can be found in import aisles of better-stocked grocery stores, British import stores, and online. It has an amazing toffee flavor and turns French toast into something really sinful. If you can’t or won’t find it, you can substitute light corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup, but the flavor will be substantially altered and I’m not really sure you’ll get away with calling it tablet if you present it to any Scots.

 

 

Mince & Tassies

11 Dec

I felt like baking something that wouldn’t require a whole lot of effort tonight. I figured that since there was some vegetarian mincemeat left, but not enough left to make a whole pie, I should probably use that up. In my pondering, I remembered having pecan tassies, which were basically little pecan pies, made in mini-muffin tins. Sure enough, there are about a bajillion recipes for those, along with lots of variations that led me to believe that the mince pie filling would work in that crust.

Despite seeing the same ingredients listed over and over, I was skeptical because all it called for was 1 stick of butter, 3 oz of cream cheese, and 1 cup of flour. The result is rather crumbly and a bit on the bland side, but since it’s just a vehicle for the filling, I’m okay with it, especially since it was wonderfully low-effort. I also like that this is a good example of British-American fusion, as the tassies seem to be an especially Southern cookie, and there’s the staple British holiday dessert of mincemeat pies! So here we have this, somewhere between a cookie and a pie:

Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetarian Mincemeat (see previous post)

Method:

  1. Mix first 3 ingredients together until a dough forms.
  2. Refrigerate dough 1 hour or until firm enough to work with
  3. Preheat oven to 325
  4. Pinch off balls of dough and plop into the cups of an ungreased mini-muffin tin (it just filled my 18-cup tin).
  5. Push the dough down so that it lines the inside of each cup.
  6. Fill (but don’t overfill) each cup with the mincemeat.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crusts are golden.
  8. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift each one out with the tip of a knife (they will be crumbly!).