Thursday, August 29, 2013

Crème caramel

There is something so beautifully old-fashioned about creme caramel. What's not to love? A velvety smooth, creamy custard and sweet hit of slightly bitter caramel that floods your plate? Heaven. It once enjoyed it's upside down life as an extremely popular pudding in the late 20th century where it apparently graced the top of almost every dessert menu. But since then, except for the sachets of instant creme caramel mix you can buy on the shelf (which taste nothing like the real thing), it's been abandoned and rarely pops up in cookbooks and magazines. Is it because people are scared of it? Set custard can be daunting and then you add caramel to that mix and the whole unmoulding bit is pretty terrifying I guess... I decided to resurrect the glorious classic, but to take away the terror, I've added gelatine to mine - just to be safe! And if vintage shoes and handbags can enjoy a revival, why can't a retro dessert? I'd certainly choose a pudding over prada anyday anyway!

Crème caramel
Makes 4-6

150g demerara sugar
80ml water
1 tsp powdered gelatine
180ml milk
180ml cream
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
75g castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the demerara sugar and water until dissolved, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until golden in colour.
Pour into the bottom of 4 small ramekins and set aside to cool. Sprinkle the gelatine over 2 tbsp water and allow to bloom. Set aside. Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatine. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla together and slowly whisk in the hot milk. Pour into the caramel-filled ramekins, place in a roasting dish and fill half-way up the sides of the ramekins with hot water. Bake in a preheated oven set to 150C for 35 minutes or until just set. When the caramels wobble like jelly, they are ready. Remove from the roasting tray and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Turn out the crème caramels by running a knife around the rim and place a plate on top. Flip the plate over to release the caramels.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baked vanilla cheesecake with poached guavas

Photography by Gunther Schubert of Vorsprung Studio

I love how Mother Nature seems to give us exactly what we need when we need it, and I'm not talking about the cheesecake here (heaven help our waistlines if cheesecake started growing on trees! A girl can dream though...) 

We're right in the middle of guava season here in South Africa and they're at their plumpest, pinkest and most fragrant but also packed with vitamin C - perfect for fighting off nasty bugs. A quick google search tells you that the fruit actually has five times the vitamin C content of the good ol' orange. So yes, feel free to take that as an excuse to make the cheesecake - to go along with the guavas, of course!

Whipping up my favourite cheesecake on Expresso Morning Show on SABC3
Photography by Gunther Schubert of Vorsprung Studio

Baked vanilla cheesecake with poached guavas
Serves 10-12

400g digestive biscuits
100g butter, melted
800g cream cheese, room temperature
300g crème fraîche, room temperature
180g castor sugar
40g cake flour
4 eggs
200g white chocolate, melted
1 vanilla pod, scraped (keep the pod for the syrup) or vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons

Poached guavas
2 cups water
150g castor sugar
4-6 guavas, peeled and halved

Preheat the oven to 100°C .
Line the bottom of a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper then grease the sides. Wrap the outside of the tin in foil to make it waterproof.
Combine the biscuits and butter in a food processor and process until fine crumbs then press into the bottom of the lined tin.
Mix the rest of the ingredients together until smooth then pour over the crust in your cake tin.
Place the cake tin on a folded tea towel (to stop it slipping) in a large roasting dish and fill with enough hot water until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the cake tin.
Bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes or until the cheesecake is just set with a slight wobble in the middle.
Allow to cool at room temperature then refrigerate until set.
For the guavas, bring the water and sugar to the boil with the vanilla pod in a saucepan.
Add the fruit and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove the poached fruit and reduce the syrup further to allow it to thicken.
Serve the cheesecake, sliced, with the poached guavas on the side.

Photography by Gunther Schubert of Vorsprung Studio
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Here's the video if you want to see how to make the recipe step-by-step:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Best Koeksister recipe & my adventures in the Klein Karoo

It was only about 3 hours into the drive along Route 62 when I realised what I was actually doing; I was travelling 400km into the middle of the Klein Karoo (aka nowhere) in search of 'The Perfect Koeksister'. Those that know me, expect nothing less, but still, it was quite crazy. Even for me.

The beautiful Klein Karoo

To catch you up to speed, a koeksister is a plaited, deep-fried doughnut drenched in a seriously sticky syrup. It's a treat as South African as milk tart, biltong and beer. 

South African koeksisters

Like American's and their doughnuts? Koeksisters are a big deal here - we take them as seriously as our rugby! We even have a monument dedicated to the treat!

Koeksister monument in Orania, Northern Cape

My search for sweetness led me all the way to the little town of Ladismith where rumour has it, I'd find the best. Although tuisnywerheid's have all but died out in the big cities, in a small town like Ladismith it is still the place to go for the best cakes, rusks and jams (and  also the latest skinner/gossip!) 

Ladismith Tuisnywerheid
Lallie Botha, Ladismith Tuisnywerheid Founder
Only the finest bakers get their goodies displayed on the shelves here. It was while scanning the fully-laden racks that I met Lallie Botha who tells me she was Ladismith's first koeksister queen back in 1972 when she founded the tuisnywerheid. Back then, she would go through an 85L drum of oil each month! I was convinced I was in the right place - the people of Ladismith definitely love their koeksisters! After giving me some tips on what to look out for in the perfect koeksister, Lallie dished the dirt on who makes the best and sent me on my way (with 5 bottles of homemade jam).

While walking through the town of Ladismith, I couldn't resist stopping a few locals to ask about their favourite koeksisters. But it seemed the town was completely divided on who makes the best and I sensed a little competition between two particular bakers. It was definitely time for me to meet the koeksister contenders!

Me and Euradia Muller, Ladismith Koeksister Queen

My first visit was to the home of Euradia Muller, who greeted me, voorskoot (apron) and all, before hurrying back into the kitchen while fretting that her koeksisters were now sitting in the syrup too long! Over a cup of milky rooibos tea brewed in a green teapot on the stove, Euradia caught her breath long enough to tell me that there are no secrets when it comes to making koeksisters! I could barely hide my disappointment. Had I come all this way for nothing? 

Euradia's koeksisters

Euradia wakes up at the crack of dawn to make the dough before the heat of the Klein Karoo sets in. She uses an heirloom ruler to measure her koeksisters - a lady after my own OCD heart! Her 'sisters are cut into rectangles which are then halved and twisted before being deep-fried and plunged into ice cold syrup. She tells me that it is very important that the syrup is very cold. Finally! I had something to go on! My excitement was short-lived though as she then explained that the recipe was passed down to her by her mother who refused to give it to anyone. The recipe used to be kept under lock and key but is now engraved in her mind and she cooks it off by heart. My koeksister trek (mission) seemed more and more doomed. On leaving I was handed a neatly wrapped tray laden with freshly baked koeksisters and the instructions to store them in the fridge as soon as possible. But, as far as a recipe was concerned, I left empty-handed!

My disappointment was immediately forgotten though when I felt the warm Karoo hospitality the minute I was welcomed through the backdoor of Cynthia du Plessis' farm kitchen. After I was shown photos of her 4 grandchildren, and told the long story of how her and her husband Willem moved from Pretoria to stay in Ladismith, I finally managed to sway the conversation back to her koeksisters. On hearing whose kitchen I'd just come from, Cynthia tells me she used to be a fan of Euradia's but now bakes her own (I didn't press the clearly sensitive matter!) But the big question was, would she share her secret recipe with an English girl from the big city?

Me and Cynthia du Plessis, Ladismith Koeksister Queen

I was in luck! Cynthia welcomed my enthusiasm with open arms and proceeded to run me through all her baking secrets like I was her granddaughter! I learnt to knead dough with my fists like a real Afrikaans tannie and mastered the trick to twisting the koeksisters just the right way so they don't unravel while frying. And when it came to the syrup, I thought I was terribly clever when I eagerly offered my new-found knowledge from Euradia to use ice cold syrup, only to be told that it was actually the wrong way to make koeksisters! Ai. It seemed the only thing the two ladies did agree on, was that koeksisters need to be stored in the fridge to stay crisp. At least there was that!

Cynthia deep-frying her famous koeksisters. She makes about 8 dozen each week!

As we finished deep-frying the twists, I stole a taste of Cynthia's koeksisters. As to who's were the best? I was undecided as they were equally delicious! But thankfully, this time, I left the kitchen (via the backdoor) with my mind filled with years of wisdom, a scribbled recipe in one hand, a packet full of fresh koeksisters in the other and two newly-adopted ouma's who insist I come back to visit soon. 

Cynthia’s Koeksisters
Recipe by Cynthia du Plessis
Note: While 165ml baking powder is a lot, Cynthia assured me it's to keep the koeksisters crunchy in the syrup. Who am I to question the koeksister queen?! 
This recipe makes a large amount of koeksisters, so it's safest to halve this recipe.
Makes 4 dozen

1250g cake flour
½ tbsp salt
165ml baking powder
1 ¼ cups milk
1 ½ cups water
5 large eggs
62g butter or margarine, softened
oil, for deep-frying

12 cups sugar
6 cups water
2/3 cups lemon juice
1 ½ tbsp cream of tartar
1 tsp caramel essence (optional)

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.
Whisk the milk, water and eggs together and add to the dry ingredients.
Mix to form a soft dough then knead thoroughly for 10 minutes, adding a little butter or margarine in every now and then.

As for the kneading (aka punching) Cynthia says when her and her husband have an argument, she makes koeksisters to release her stress!

Cover the dough with clingwrap and place in the fridge overnight.
Make the syrup by combining the sugar, water, juice, cream of tartar and caramel essence in a large pot and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Boil the syrup for 10 minutes then allow to cool to room temperature.
Break off a fist-sized chunk of the dough and roll out into a long sausage on a lightly oil-greased surface, then using a rolling pin, roll out to about 10cm wide. Cut into 1cm strips.

This looks so much easier than it is! 

Up until now I had always thought koeksisters were plaited! They are actually twisted.
Take each strip then roll into a sausage, twist the ends around each other to form a koeksister shape and pinch the ends closed.

Heat the oil to 180C then deep-fry the koeksisters, a few at a time, turning often to brown on all sides, until golden and cooked through.

Cynthia's husband, Willem made her a nifty contraption (above right) to help keep the treats in the syrup! So cute!

Drain from the oil and immediately plunge into the room-temperature syrup, making sure to keep the koeksisters submerged so they soak up the syrup. 
Drain the koeksisters from the syrup and allow to cool.
To keep your koeksisters crispy, store them in the freezer. Remove them from the freezer 15 minutes before you want to serve them. 

Enjoy with a lekker koppie rooibos tee!

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tiramisu chocolate éclairs

Photography and styling by Katelyn Williams

Baking captured my heart from a very young age and I can remember sitting on the floor in front of the oven watching the cupcakes steadily rise. It fascinated me and you'll still sometimes find me sitting and peering through my oven door! There is something just so enchanting about combining a few ingredients and then watching the sticky batter magically rise into a perfectly fluffy cake. 

Choux pastry is the most miraculous of all; with no baking powder or yeast, a gooey, tacky dough miraculously inflates to form a pastry so light and airy that it threatens to float right off your fork. It's hard to believe that choux pastry uses nothing but steam to rise to the occasion! 

I've given my good ol' chocolate éclair recipe a modern touch here and filled the little puffs with a tiramisu filling; lashings of whipped cream, rich mascarpone, a shot of espresso and a hint of vanilla. Tiramisu seems like such an appropriate match to these chocolate éclairs - and not just because the word means 'pick-me-up'!

Oh and if you would like a little more detail on the exact steps involved, see my previous post on choux pastry.

Photography and styling by Katelyn Williams
Tiramisu chocolate éclairs
Makes 24

1 cup cake flour
pinch salt
80g Stork Bake margarine, cut into small blocks
1 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten

For chocolate éclairs
200g dark chocolate, melted
½ cup cream, whipped
½ cup mascarpone cheese, softened
1 shot espresso coffee
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp castor sugar

Cocoa powder, for dusting

Sift the flour and salt together. Heat the butter and water until just melted then bring to a rolling boil.
Immediately remove from the heat and add all the flour at once. Mix until a smooth dough forms, place back on the heat and cook for about 1 minute or until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pot. Allow to cool completely.
Beat the eggs into the pastry a little at a time until smooth, shiny and of a piping consistency. 
Place the pastry in a piping bag fitted with a large fluted nozzle. It is now ready to be used as desired.For éclairs, pipe long tubes of dough about 10 cm long. Bake at 200˚C for about 15 - 20 minutes or until puffed up and golden. Turn off oven, remove the puffs, pierce each with a skewer to allow steam to escape and immediately return to the oven to dry out for 15 minutes. 
To assemble chocolate éclairs, dip the tops in melted chocolate and allow to set. Whip the cream until stiff before folding in the mascarpone, espresso, vanilla and sugar. Place in a piping bag and fill the éclairs. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

*  it is very important to beat the egg in a little at a time into the completely cooled dough
*  sprinkle a little extra water on the tray before baking – the extra steam helps the pastry rise even more, making it lighter.
*  don’t be tempted to open the oven and take a peak or your pastries may run out of puff!

*  unfilled choux pastries can be stored in an airtight container for no more than 2 days – just pop them into the oven for a few minutes to crisp them up again.

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