Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Demerara Toffee Fudge Bars with White Chocolate and Sea salt

Should I even bother typing an intro to this? I mean, with a title like that, I know you’re already thinking ‘Get in mah belleh!!!’ and working out how you can get to the shops and back in the quickest amount of time. I’m thinking it too. ‘Cos I know how flipping amazing these are!

For those of you still reading, let me break it down for you: cocoa shortbread, slapped with a thick layer of fudge, slathered with white chocolate and sprinkled with salt flakes. Jip, that’s fat on top of sugar, on top of butter (somewhere a dietician just quit her job cos she discovered what I do for a living… awkward!). BUT the key here is that it’s not just any sugar - it’s scrummalicious sugar (there are just too few food adjectives out there okay - inventing my own starting now).

I’ve used the crunchy caramelly Natura Demerara sugars for the job (Demerara sugars is crystallized from the first press of sugarcane juice). The Light Demerara is perfect for shortbread - the texture is fine (like wiggling your toes in beach sand!) so it dissolves while baking but still adds flavour. The Dark Demerara has gorgeous amber crystals (so pretty I used them as decoration on top of the white chocolate) which are perfect 
for making a kick-ass caramel fudge. I’ve realised that sugar is so much more than 
just adding sweetness and using proper unrefined sugar will add heaps of 
flavour to your baking!

In my opinion, the best part, is the sexy off-cuts! I pretty much spent the entire morning munching on them while shooting - don’t think for a second they made it back into any sort of storage container (what is this ‘storage container’ you speak of? What is it used for?!). 
Well, now my camera is covered in fudge… Wait, my camera is covered in fudge!

Now, go bake yourself happy while I contemplate whether licking my camera is socially acceptable…

P.S. This is what was left of the batch:

Demerara Fudge Bars with White Chocolate and Sea salt
Makes 16-20

Shortbread base
150g cake flour
30g cocoa powder
130g butter, cut into blocks

Demerara Filling
130g milk powder (full-fat if possible)
150g Light Demerara Sugar
210g salted butter
160ml boiling water

200g white chocolate, melted
Sea salt flakes
Dark Demerara Sugar, for sprinkling

Grease and line a 20 x 20cm baking tray with baking paper. 
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 if you’re using a fan-forced oven).
Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until it forms a soft dough. Alternately, get your fingers dirty and rub all the ingredients together until well combined. 
Press the dough into the prepared baking tin and prick the base with a fork. 
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool completely. 
To make the Demerara fudge layer, place all the ingredients in a  blender and blend for 1-2 minutes or until smooth and combined. Pour into a saucepan and stir continuously over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. 
Bring to the boil and cook until the mixture turns golden brown and reaches soft ball stage (118C on a sugar thermometer). To test if it’s ready, drop a small amount into a small cup filled with tap water, it should form a soft, pliable ball. Remove from the heat and immediately pour over the shortbread. Allow to cool completely. 

Spread the melted white chocolate over the top of the toffee then sprinkle with a little sea salt and the Demerara sugar. Allow to set then cut into bars using a hot knife. 

Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by Natura Sugars who produce a range of really special sugars that are unrefined and made according to traditional Mauritian sugar-making techniques. The sugars are non-GM, non-irradiated and unbleached with no preservatives, colourants or syrups added which basically means they are pure, natural and packed with flavour! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Heritage Almond Cake

 I don't know much about my great grandmother, Beatrice Versfeld except that her and my great grandfather, Alexander lived and farmed on the now wine-growing estate of Groote Post in Darling. It's where my grandfather and my mother also grew up. Judging from my genes, I've always thought it safe to assume that she was an excellent baker. 'Cos, well all the woman (on my mom's side of the family) are! Well, that was an assumption until I found the Cape's very first cookbook written by Hildegonda Duckitt amongst my Great Aunt's things the other day. 

You'll notice that, for a cookbook, it is suspiciously spotless - mainly because it came from my dad's side of the family ;)
The author, Hildegonda Duckitt also grew up on Groote Post (with my great grandmother) and is credited as being the first collector of typically South African recipes - Dutch, English, German, East Indian and Malay - which she started collecting in her teen years from servants and then later from the high society groups in which she moved. Basically, this book contains the who's-who of excellent bakers and cooks from the 1850's. And guess who I found... On the very first page in the 'cakes' chapter too!

Turns out my great grandmother's almond cake was legendary in the Cape. Not just legendary, but Hildagonda penned a 'very good' next to it too. 
Now, these recipes are so old that most of them indicate cooking on an open fire and there are a few that use a 'plateful' of flour as a measurement! (The ex-pastry chef in me gasps in horror!)

Mrs Versfeld's Old Dutch Almond Cake calls for one pound of loaf sugar - don't worry, I also asked what the heck is loaf sugar?! Turns out in the 19th century, sugar was sold in cones called 'sugar loaves' to ensure it's quality and weight, as it was such an expensive ingredient. To use it, you'd need sugar nips (tongs) to break off lumps which were then ground down to a finer consistency. 

Can you imagine grinding sugar like this for any of my recipes?
You'd be in the kitchen for days!
Great Granny Beatrice would turn in her grave if she saw how much of this 'expensive' sugar I use each week but I don't think she'd mind that I added my own touches to her beloved recipe. A few inky raspberries, a touch of lemon zest and a sprinkling of flaked almonds was it. This cake is light but moist and gets even better after a few days. 
The method is seriously on the vague side - something I noticed to be a trend in this book. The assumption in those times was that everyone could bake, so most instructions are only 3-4 sentences long. This cake, for instance, doesn't even explain that you need to whip the egg whites... Because, I mean, duh! 

Do you have any treasured family recipes? Why not dig them up and bake something truly special (rather than braaing - bleh) this Heritage Day 24 September. 

Great Granny Beatrice's Almond Cake
Serves 8-10

50g flaked almonds
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g ground almonds
80ml (1/3 cup) crushed plain biscuits (about 6 biscuits) - I used Marie Biscuits
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup frozen raspberries (optional), dusted in flour
Natura icing sugar, for dusting

Line a 18-20cm springform cake tin with baking paper then sprinkle half the almonds on the bottom. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius (160 degrees for a fan-forced oven).
Whip the egg yolks with 200g of the sugar and the vanilla with an electric or stand mixer until very pale, thick and light. 
In a clean, seperate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peak stage, then gradually add the remaining 50g of sugar until thick and glossy. 
Combine the ground almonds, biscuits, and lemon zest and fold into the whipped egg yolks alternately with the whipped egg whites. 
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin then press the flour-dusted raspberries into the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining flaked almonds over the top and bake in the preheated oven for an hour and a half until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before unmoulding. 
Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a dusting of icing sugar.