Salted Caramels

I have been seeing these on Pinterest for aaaagggeess. Everyone loves them – or at least thinks the pictures are cute.

Pin, pin, pin, pin, pin!!

Pin, pin, pin, pin, pin!!

All the recipes I have found online are in the American measurement of ‘cups’ of stuff. I have a total mental block when it comes to looking at recipes in cups…it is just so imprecise! Gah! So here’s a link to a cup to gram/oz conversion page.

I am actually going to give these a go (rather than simply repinning them endlessly…) for Christmas gifts this year to supplement my favourite pistachio macaroons and possibly some chocolates/truffles using my super dooper marble board.

Simple Salted Caramels

300g sugar, 85g golden syrup, 240ml heavy cream (whipping/double cream with more than 36% butterfat), 5 tbsp butter, rock salt, vanilla essense/extract. You will also need a candy thermometre.

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides. In a deep saucepan, stir together 60ml water with the sugar and golden syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!

In the meantime, in another pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon of rock salt to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mix to the sugar mix. Be careful! It will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 120 C on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s extremely hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

Who am I kidding, none of these are making it til Christmas...

Who am I kidding, none of these are making it til Christmas…

When the caramels are cold, lift the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Sprinkle with rock salt, cut into strips and then into small rectangles. Wrap in twists of greaseproof paper.

 

Christmas Kitchen Gift Guide

Christmas is a week away. A WEEK!

I’m pretty useless at thinking up legitimate Christmas gifts. I have been warned against buying my little brother and sisters a real cat or dog for Christmas every year since they were born…(one day it will happen)

How could you resist?!

How could you resist?!

I am also pretty terrible at thinking up Christmas gifts for myself. Well, ones that people might actually buy me anyway. I would LOVE one of these (hint, hint). With living on a boat most of year I have limited space and so I am somewhat restricted with what I can ask for. The pony is definitely not happening this year. Damn. Most years kitchen or foodie items are an excellent fall back option, and despite not having my own kitchen to put them it at the moment, that hasn’t stopped me looking. So here’s my list to Santa if I were back in my kitchen in Plymouth. It might help inspire you to buy something a bit unusual for the foodie in your life.

Ninjabread men. . . I think I’ve just got over my allergy to Gingerbread!

Herby Olive Oils. . .I use olive oil in everything and these are extra special when homemade. And I am crap at drizzling, so one of these too.

Homemade liqueurs such as citrusy Limoncello and Arancello, or spicey Scandinavian Aquavit.

Baking moulds that look like teacups, CUTE!!

Making sweets, chocolates and jam is super easy, especially when you’ve got a thermometer which tells you what all the temperatures mean.

I have been trying, in vain, to make sushi for a few years now and without access to a course I have been thinking of getting a kit like this.

And finally, my attempts at bread have been terrible apart from the sourdough I made for Sourdough September. With a bread-maker though, even my kitchen incompetent friend can make a decent loaf in time for breakfast.

(None of these items have been sent to me to recommend or anything like that…if only!)

 

Sticky Ginger Loaf Cake

When I was at school I claimed to be allergic to gingerbread men…Just gingerbread men, not gluten or ginger or eggs or dairy but the baked good itself. Daft.

Later in life, I attempted to make gingerbread men for a fundraiser for children’s charities in Mongolia. I got relegated to dipping the truffles in chocolate after so many failed attempts I was threatening our budget. I forgot the sugar, I forgot the men (as in I left them on the front line and they all died in the fiery furnace that was ‘Nam, I mean, the oven…dun dun duuuhhhh!!), I added too much baking soda and they turned into gingerbread ‘Michelin’ men. I failed.

So when the OH suggested I make him some gingerbread I was a little nervous. Thank goodness, he actually meant a ginger loaf, like the McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake or the old fashioned English sticky ginger loaf. Phew!! Cake I can do. I will not get dumped for spending our whole week’s food budget on failed men…

Not a gingerbread man...

Not a gingerbread man…

I loaf making loaves…sorry. Here is a recent experiment that turned out to be an awesome loaf, and I regularly make banana bread as it is delicious, and wholesome, for breakfast (elevenses, afternoon tea, supper, midnight snacks…). This one would even make a good Christmas gift in a hamper as the longer you leave it the stickier it gets and it’ll last for ages if its sealed in a tin after opening. That or you could fill the house with the smell of spicey ginger goodness before everyone turns up on Christmas Eve for sherry and mince-pies, it would make a rather nice addition to the mince-pies I think.

Sticky Ginger Loaf Cake

225 g self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 4 tsp ground ginger, 55g butter, 55g soft brown sugar, 115 ml black treacle, 115 ml golden syrup, 2 eggs beaten and mixed with milk to make 1/2 pint, pinch salt
Sticky, gooey sweetness

Sticky, gooey sweetness

Preheat oven to 180 C and grease then line a 2lb loaf tin. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a smaller bowl, over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter with the sugar, treacle and golden syrup. Fold the melted mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring well to combine and then fold in the egg and milk mix. Pour into the tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when poked in the middle. Eat warm with spread with butter or drowned in custard.

Honey Sloe Down

As some of you may know I am the eldest of five kids, and the youngest three are still young enough that they are on Santa’s high priority stocking list. This calls for mince pies and sloe gin, with a carrot for Rudolf (who we all now know is a GIRL!!!). We have diverted from the norm of whiskey in my father’s household as he is of a mind that after several billion tots of whiskey, Santa is going to be a bit fed up of it would welcome a change.

My father is also one of the lucky few that normally gets a bottle of my Honey Sloe Down gin, before  Christmas. However, seeing as I have been out of the country for the last year it has been awhile since I made any. For those of you lucky enough to be living somewhere that Blackthorn Trees are, its the perfect time to go looking for sloes. I love a days foraging, especially when its a blue sky, freezy sort of day that ends in the pub by a lovely, toasty fire with a pint of ale. I really miss England right now!

Careful, sloe berries!

Careful, sloe berries!

Traditionally, sloes should be picked after the first frosts and fallen as it helps them get all mushy and flavour-some in the gin. I tend to start picking sloes in late October right the way through though and the ones that haven’t seen a frost go in the freezer until I’m ready to use them.

Honey Sloe Down (Sloe Gin)

75cl gin (the best you can afford but one without too many botanicals i.e. Gordons), 4 hand fulls of sloes, 50g light brown sugar, 3 tbsp honey, vanilla pod, 1L kilner jar.

Wash the sloes well and remove any stalks or bruised fruit. Some recipes say to prick the fruit with a needle/fork/skewer but I never have and get great results. Put them in the kilner jar and then pour over gin. Stir in the sugar and honey, add the vanilla pod and then make sure the lid is on tight. Give it a good shake everyday for a few weeks, then leave it for a few months to mature. Some people strain it then bottle it, I tend to pour it into pretty bottles and then add a few of the fruit for presentation. You could make some now and give it as gifts that need to be matured, or you could make it now, mature it yourself and give it as gifts NEXT Christmas (if that isn’t too forward thinking for you…)

Sloe-ly does it

Sloe-ly does it

Don’t discard the berries, there is a killer drink called Slider which you can make with them. Retain them in the kilner jar and top with some flat cider. Leave for a few weeks and enjoy in small quantities. I warn you now, its lethal!!

I like to drink my sloe gin neat from a hip flask or mixed with cloudy apple juice for a long party drink. How do you like yours?

Candied Peel

Last week I joined a gym. The owner is ex-military. He scares me a little. Before last week I had never been to a gym. Not once. He noticed me looking a little despairingly at the machines – which admittedly are ridiculously simple and I now feel fairly stupid – and helped me out with how to program them etc. If he thinks I’m going a bit easy on myself he does a casual wander over, peers at my screen and presses level buttons. It is only ever up. Its good for me, apparently.

What going to the gym has actually enabled me to do is eat cake guilt free and spend even more time thinking about food. As the calorie counter goes along I think, oo thats another biscuit gone from my elevenses, and the slice of the coffee cake I’m going to make when I get home. Oh and that delcious carrot cake the other half picked up yesterday. And so on.

This recipe was inspired by BBC Good Food and I am wholeheartedly supporting the come back of this slightly retro gift. By giving some to everyone.

Dip me in chocolate...

Dip me in chocolate…and roll me to the gym

Candied Peel

A selection of citrus fruits – two or three lemons or limes, grapefruit, oranges, or the Christmassy clementine, a one to one ratio sugar syrup made from 4 cups water and 4 cups of sugar, melted dark chocolate (optional)

Are you getting fruity with me?

Are you getting fruity with me?

 

Using a sharp knife, make 6 slits along curve from top to bottom of each citrus fruit, cutting through peel but not into fruit. Using your fingers, gently remove peel. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into thin strips. Trim excess pith from each strip. Place peel in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain. Do this twice.

Bring equal quanities of sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Add peel to the boiling syrup then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, without stirring, until strips are translucent. This will take about an hour. Remove from the heat and let the strips cool in the syrup. Keep the syrup as it could also be used for a nice gift if you pop it into a pretty jar or bottle. It would taste great in cocktails or drizzled on ice cream or cakes as it is essentially a thick cordial.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire wrack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Wipe off excess syrup with paper towels, then roll strips in more sugar. Arrange in a single layer on the wire rack, and let dry for at least 24 hours. At this stage you could dip a few of the orange ones in dark chocolate too. Candied peel can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

Eat them straight from the jar, add them to cocktails or pop them in a blender to make a citrusy sugar.