pear and ginger layer cake with salted caramel frosting

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This is a cake for people who don’t think they’re into cake.

I’m sure you all have one of those friends (or colleagues … or bosses). Well. This cake will turn them. To me, this is what cake is all about. There’s no fuss or fondant, and every element celebrates the others in a beautifully simple way. I made it up on a lazy Sunday afternoon in which the salted caramel set a precedent for me to be unusually productive.

Maybe it’s because I know my winter will be broken up by one month of glorious, European summer, but I am so enjoying the crisp autumn days lately, the wearing of sleeves and the changes in produce that the seasons bring. Now that I’m comfortable enough to essentially throw together a recipe of my own accord, it is so much easier to base what I make around what looks best at the farmer’s market. I’m reading that sentence now and realising I sound like an utter food wanker. But basically, the pears were cheap and fresh and this cake is delicious. You need to make it and experience it for yourself.

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chocolate sea salt caramels

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I made a double batch these to fill a jar for Valentine’s day – leaving enough for a belated birthday present, an assortment for Mum to taste test … and a serving size appropriate for my sweet tooth. The smoothness of these caramels has redeemed the purchasing of the sugar thermometer already. I’m not sure why it feels like such an effort to attempt recipes that call for them – perhaps because I have always seen such a thing as a superfluous piece of cooking equipment (despite the fact I still have absolutely no idea about the different “ball” stages of sugar) – but in fact, my new gadget costed less than $20 and made the recipe as simple as cooking by numbers, literally.

These are utterly divine. I’m going to make more this week and send them out as treats to deserving loved ones. As frustrating as it is to realise that making your own treats is often nowhere near as economical as just purchasing a box of chocolates on an as needed basis – I really don’t think you can ask for much better than fresh, buttery caramel covered in high quality chocolate. Despite the fact I spend arguably too much time in the kitchen, I am all for efficiency, and these are 100% worth the effort.

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salted caramel crunch brownies

DSC05019I’ve been a little absent and not fulfilling two of my January goals/New Year’s resolutions (post fortnightly on food blog, bake something for workmates once a week), so I suppose an epic slice of three layered proportions is the only appropriate attempt at compensation for such neglect. Finding my groove for 2015 proving to be a greater challenge than expected – the combination of shift work and summer do not make for consistent habits – but in any case, this was my most recent baking effort.

I don’t even know how I stumbled upon this recipe – I wanted to make some kind of outrageous brownie. Usually for such purposes I would reach for the Betty Crocker cookie mix and packet of Oreos and whip up a brownie of the slutty variety, however this slice seemed like a level up. I doubled the recipe in order that I could take some to work and be left with plenty for a birthday present (which I am about to send off today). I did not make it gluten free, however this could be easily adapted as such and would certainly taste just as good.

Makes ~ 25 small pieces (and trust me, a little goes a long way)

Recipe from Bake Play Smile (adapted slightly – using less rice bubbles, different ganache method)

Ingredients:

  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (175g) brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup (100g) plain flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

For the caramel crunch:

  • 2 cups (440g) caster sugar
  • ½ cup (125ml) water
  • ½ cup (125ml) single (pouring) cream
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (55g) puffed rice cereal
  • 1 teaspoon crushed rock salt

For the chocolate ganache/topping:

  • 300g dark chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup (125ml) single (pouring) cream
  • 50g Crunchie bar (chocolate honeycomb), bashed with a wine bottle
  • Silver cachous

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (160 if fan forced).
  2. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper.
  3. Pop the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir until smooth and completely melted.
  4. Place the sugar, eggs, flour and cocoa into a bowl.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture and mix until well combined and no lumps remain.
  6. Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and cook for 30–35 minutes or until set.
  7. Leave in the tin to cool completely.
  8. For the caramel crunch layer, place the sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat and stir regularly.
  9. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to high and bring to the boil.
  10. Cook for 8–10 minutes without stirring until the mixture is golden (if you have a sugar thermometer check that it has reached 160 degrees). For those cautious with caramel and without sugar thermometer, I advise to drop the heat once the syrup starts to turn golden to avoid burning.
  11. Add the cream, butter and salt. It will bubble up dramatically; this is to be expected.
  12. Stir until well combined and the butter has completely melted.
  13. Add the rice bubbles and pour the caramel mixture over the brownie layer.
  14. Use a spoon to smooth the top of the caramel crunch layer.
  15. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes or until almost set. I put mine in the fridge.
  16. To make the chocolate ganache, bring the cream to boil over a low heat in a medium saucepan. When simmering, take off the heat and add the chocolate.
  17. Stir until melted and completely smooth.
  18. Pour over the caramel crunch layer, then sprinkle with crushed Crunchie and silver cachous and place into the fridge to set overnight.
  19. Cut into pieces.

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salty caramel chocolate christmas crackers

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These are undeniably visually gorgeous creations, however I can only attest to the deliciousness of these based on the fact that they have never lasted in the company of emergency department staff for more than half an hour, and that after “only having a small bit” people tend to wind up having an altogether “bigger bit” as a result of seconds (“I can’t tell if this is sweet or savoury – I think I need to have more to figure it out”), thirds and “don’t let the crumbs go to waste”. I like topping them with crushed meringues and freeze dried raspberries (made by a New Zealand company – available at gourmet food shops for ~$12 a pack – a little goes a long way, and I certainly don’t even use a quarter for an entire double batch) for a candy-cane effect, along with a nut of some description to break up the colour a bit.

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Tips and tricks: I’ve now made two double batches of this, the first of which, I used Whittaker’s dark chocolate and roughly chopped it myself, the second, I opted for Nestle melts and found the process entirely less fussy. I always toast nuts myself in a nonstick frypan, simply because I find it easier to eyeball them and stir occasionally while I get on with tasks – not to mention that hand-roasted nuts taste better than store-bought any day. I’m slowly getting more comfortable with the whole sugar on the stove turns to caramel thing, and I would say that provided you’re using a low enough heat, you have plenty of time to make sure the butter and sugar are dissolved before pouring (I’ll often try and pre-empt burning and realise that the melted butter atop crackers isn’t going to be particularly appealing and have to go back). Make sure the caramel gets a good bubble on it before removing it from the oven, and a tan. One of my batches didn’t set particularly well which made it a little too messy for transport.

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Recipe taken from my auntie, who found it in Dish magazine

Ingredients (I have never made a single batch, and prefer to double it to provide treats for many):

  • 100g plain salted crackers (I used Salada)
  • 225g butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 250g dark chocolate melts (I used a whole mix of dark, white and milk for my second batch)
  • TOPPINGS: I went for freeze-dried raspberries and store-bought meringue on all my batches, omitting nuts for sugar pearls for a nut-free version, and sprinkling toasted pistachios and hazelnuts on my other variations. I think it could be great to do a deconstructed rocky-road version with chopped marshmallows, glace cherries and salted peanuts, however 100% go wild with any fruit/nut combination you fancy

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/370F bake setting.
  2. Line a shallow 22x33cm (so the recipe specifies, I really just use what I have on hand and fit the crackers accordingly) baking tray (but not a cookie sheet or you will have ++caramel mess) with baking paper, greasing it a little beforehand to secure the paper.
  3. Arrange the crackers along the bottom of the tray so it is evenly covered with no double ups. Break the crackers so they fit to do this.
  4. Melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently until it starts to dissolve entirely and bubble up a bit.
  5. Pour the caramel over the crackers as evenly as possible – use a spatula to spread it out if needed. Place the tray in the oven for 10 minutes, until the caramel starts to bubble and get a nice darkened tan on it (watch frequently at the end so as to ensure it doesn’t burn!).
  6. Remove from the oven, and scatter the chocolate melts (or chopped chocolate) atop the cooked caramel and return to bake for 1 minute or so. This melts the chocolate so it can easily be spread with the spatula for a smooth surface.
  7. Sprinkle your toppings and admire your impending festive artistic deliciousness. Leave to cool (the fridge unsurprisingly speeds up this process) before roughly cutting into uneven triangles.

These keep for up to a week in the fridge in an airtight container.

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