Halloween Caramel Apples

Caramel. Just about my favourite thing in the world. I’d even say that if it came down to a fight, chocolate would get battered by the butter/sugar/cream combo. For some reason I thought that these Caramel Apples from the first Matt Lewis and Rene Poliafito book would be glass-shatter crack style toffee – um, like those neon commercial ones.  Instead they were fudgy-sticky.


They were still good.  The caramel coats the fruit like a thin veneer and you get a mixture of buttery sweetness and the sharp apple taste in each mouthful. I used Cox apples but they could have been more crisp, by the time I got around to making them, a couple of days later than planned. It was also a bit late to add lollipop sticks to the long order of baking supplies that I put in last week so I found kebab skewers in the local pound shop (they’ve got to be food safe, right?) and used three in each apple which worked a treat.

I used a mixture of vanilla essence (not seeds infused into cream as they suggest) and a little maple in the caramel which gave a heady smell, and added cinnamon sugar.  Lots of flavours but they all blended beautifully. As you can see, there was plenty left over afterwards to scoop off the parchment too.

Ingredients

  • 10 medium apples, preferably a tart variety
  • 1 cup double cream
  • ½ tsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • ½ light brown cinnamon sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 ½ tbsp unsalted butter

Method

  1. Wash and dry the apples, and insert skewers, and prepare a large bowl of iced water
  2. Place all ingredients in a small heavy saucepan, stir and allow the sugar and butter to melt
  3. Monitoring it with a sugar thermometer, bring the temperature to 245F, without stirring the mixture, and keep it at that level for 1 minute
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and put in the ice water for 30 seconds to halt the cooking process
  5. Tilt the pan, and dip your skewered apples quickly, then place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment
  6. Put them in the fridge for at least 10 mins to set
  7. Wrap in parchment for transportation to scary film night.

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Boo Biscuits

Time might be short for Halloween this year, although I’m still determined to get my hands on some tinned pumpkin…

I made these ghostie cookies using a Martha recipe – chocolate ginger biscuits.  It needs some refinements – the fresh ginger needs to be exceptionally finely minced, I’d reduce the amount of baking powder, and roll them out more finely to get a crisper biscuit.

The other problem I had with them was that the dough was insanely soft and sticky. I ended up chilling it for two days (ok, I forgot about it) and then had to use lots of flour and roll using clingfilm and parchment!  The smiles came from a mini aspic cutter. Knew that they would prove to be a crucial purchase.  Eventually.

So far they’ve had good reports. I sent about 95% of them away out of the house (without taking photos). If the baking is going to start in earnest around here again, we might have to resurrect the Baked Goods Taster Panel.

Banana Butterscotch Muffins

I’m very proud to have a recipe in the new Green & Black’s book.  Micah asked me a couple of times for a contribution and I pretended not to hear him as I had absolutely no idea what to make. Eventually I caved and asked was there anything he was missing and after thinking for a couple of minutes, replied “Give me a muffin recipe”.

It was only afterward that I discovered that he’s not exactly a huge fan of the muffin, as describes in the intro to this recipe in the book – though he understands that others feel differently. I tried a number of variations which I presented to him, and the one below was my absolute favourite, they’re light and moist.

Banana Butterscotch Muffins

  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175 g caster sugar
  • 150g butterscotch chocolate or Mini Daim bars, chopped
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 90ml vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 medium, black-ripe banana
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. Mix the wet ingredients together (I classify banana as ‘wet’).
  4. Combine but don’t overmix. Line a twelve space muffin tin with paper cases, and divide the mixture between them.
  5. Cook for 20 minutes.
Muffins are great because they keep well, homemade ones are so infinitely superior to commercially produced ones, and if you add in some dried fruit and use wholemeal flour, you can almost kid yourself that they’re entirely healthy.
I then discovered that Micah loathes bananas with a passion. Needless to say, this isn’t the recipe which features in the book! Instead it’s a more sophisticated affair, dark chocolate and cardamom.  Ultimate is packed full of gorgeous concoctions, including Bittersweet Bakers‘ amazing Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls and lots of recipes which Micah himself perfected – up til the wee hours of the morning sometimes. It’s been a delight to be involved in the smallest way, and for the full scoop on the launch party, check out Catty’s account over on the Catty Life!
“Ultimate”, edited by Micah Carr-Hill is published by Kyle Cathie, RRP £16.99

Review: Hix Chop & Oyster House by Mark Hix

It’s always a good sign when you’ve had a recipe book for approximately three weeks and it already looks like it’s been handed down through the generations. My copy of Hix Oyster & Chop House by Mark Hix bears the grease stains from roast chicken, splatters of stock from chicken soup and there’s a blob of garlic sauce on page 133.

The first impression that I had after flicking through the book was “I really should take a walk down to the butcher’s.” The Meat chapter is a cut-by-cut guide, with pictures (in fact he even suggests, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, bringing the book to the shops so that you can point out what you want if it’s on display) with a description of how they cook it at the restaurant, weights, and a little history. I probably should have read what he said about hanger (or l’onglet) a little more carefully before heading off to the Ginger Pig – while the flavour is tremendous, it’s a slightly chewier cut than most and benefits from being sliced before serving.  I realised afterwards that’s always how I’ve had it in restaurants. Still tasted good.

The first recipe I made was for the seasonal chicken soup.  We probably roast a chicken once a week in our house and while I occasionally freeze the carcasses until I’m ready to make a huge batch of stock I might also make soup.  Often more of a broth than a soup to be honest. The difference with the Hix recipe, essentially, it that it uses a roux of flour and butter into which you gradually ladle the stock and simmer for another 30 minutes. Sauté some mushrooms, add some fresh herbs – and you have a dish fit for kings, frankly. Velvet texture and sublime flavour, it’s become an utter staple for us. The Hix recipe does suggest using whole chicken pieces but I find it works fine with the remainders of the roast bird, or with thighs or wings.

With plain old available-in-Waitrose-now rather than new season garlic, we also made the sublime Baked New Season Garlic Sauce. The leftover went in to the following night’s soup to make it even creamier and pungent because otherwise I was tempted to eat it with a spoon. Next up is going to Monkfish Cheek and Fennel Pie and I’m already looking forward to it.

The book is full of simple classics and an enthusiasm for seasonal, local produce that’s admirable. Not everything makes the cut around here, but Hix Chop & Oyster House has earned its place on the bookshelf.

Thank you to Quadrille for sending me a review copy. Hix Oyster & Chop House is available from Amazon, rrp £25.00

New York eats

We spent a week in New York last month and naturally went armed with a list of foodie must-do places.  Some of the places exceeded the hype and others were grave disappointments (suggesting we possibly place too much value on eating).  More to come later from the boy, but here are my top finds from this trip.

Part of the trip was spent exploring Brooklyn with our lovely friend Sarah, who’s been there all summer. We ordered a trio of meals to swap and share at Rosewater in Brooklyn – lamb burger, pancakes with peaches, pistachios and cardamom, and the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Lightly griddled bread, packed with layers of tender brisket, aioli-dressed salad and the ultimate punch came from slices of juicy marinated pepper. Even though the pancakes were great (and lord knows I’m a huge fan of the fluffy American breakfast treat) I was remarkably reticent about handing over the second half of the sandwich when the time came to trade. Rosewater does a great prix-fixe brunch – $14 including a drink. When is this magical institution of proper weekend leisurely lunching going to establish itself in London?

787 Union Street, (Sixth Avenue), Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215 USA
(718) 783-3800

After very disappointing cupcakes from- oh, just about everywhere we tried, I was starting to despair a little. And contemplating about ordering some Bittersweet Bakers or Ella’s Bakehouse goodies for our return (they’re my favourite London bakers by far) to make up.

Then we made the pedestrian pilgrimage to Baked. Deep in Red Hook, it’s the artisan bakery established by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. We shared three cupcakes: Peanut Butter, Red Hook Red Hot and their signature Sweet Salty, beloved by Martha. God, they were good. I’d have to say that the chocolate chip cookies and homemade marshmallows were even better. When I saw them serving the marshmallows in their hot chocolate, I even started to wonder if we could stay long enough til I could fit a cup in.  Amazon just delivered both their books too. Will be thoroughly road-testing them soon.

359 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, New York 11231
(718) 222-0345

We stumbled across the Mac Bar and despite a planned trip to Lombardi’s later, we couldn’t resist it. We also couldn’t resist the regular size, $9.50, because… oh yes. Yes, it does. It comes in an undoubtedly environmentally unsound bright yellow plastic container in the shape of a macaroni elbow. The “Cheeseburger” option comes with ground beef, American cheese, and cheddar.  The weather had shifted that day into squally showers and this was perfect comfort food.

54 Prince St, (between Mulberry St & Lafayette St), New York, NY 10012
(212) 226-8877

Yes. I am on a diet post-holiday. Thanks to lovely Sarah for schlepping us around, she’s an excellent tour guide.

Caramel Popcorn

A little air-popped popcorn never did anyone any harm, right? It strikes me that it’s a great snack, and given that it’s diet time around here, it’s a no-brainer. Though probably not this popcorn.  These little anti-diet morsels of crunchy toffee goodness are turning into something of an addiction, with tweaks to the different source recipes abounding.  Peanuts, no nuts, salted, flavoured caramel… I’m not convinced about bacon, but perhaps…

I use microwave popcorn.  Never said I wasn’t trashy. The quantities below (the molasses contribution comes from the new Baked book – it makes for a smokier flavour than other versions I’ve tried but I also tried Orangette‘s recipe and really liked it) are enough to cover two bags of popcorn but I think using even more popcorn would be better as it’s quite dense, sticky stuff when you pour it over. Half-coated pieces of this recipe would probably work just as well, or better.

Make sure you have the ingredients weighed out, the unpopped kernels discarded, and a sugar thermometer ready before you even think of showing the butter to the pan.  The baking powder causes the mixture to fizz magnificently so make sure it’s a big enough saucepan to accommodate.

Ingredients:

  • Microwave popcorn – 2-3 bags (depending on your hunger levels and how coated you want it to be) or similar yield from kernels
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 400g brown sugar
  • 150ml light corn syrup*
  • 2 tbsp unsulphured molasses
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 100g salted jumbo peanuts, chopped
  1. Pop the corn, preheat the oven to the lowest temp, 130C/250G/Gas Mark 1. Lay the popcorn out in a non stick roasting pan.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat, add the salt, sugar, corn syrup and molasses
  3. Bring up to ‘Soft Ball’ stage on the candy thermometer
  4. Remove from the heat and add the salt, baking powder and vanilla extract (and watch it go ‘whoompf’)
  5. Pour over the popcorn, stir around for coverage. Scatter the chopped nuts – and maybe some sea salt – and put in the oven.
  6. Bake for 35 mins, removing it halfway through to stir and redistribute the caramel.

I’d like to try this with more vanilla/omitting the nuts and using orange essence instead of vanilla/with caramel and cracked pepper.  I see a lot more of this in my future…and don’t be tempted to omit the oven stage. The slow melt allows you to get much better coverage – and should you have the restraint of a jockey making weight, it keeps well in an airtight tin. Apparently.

*you can get this online or in Selfridges Food Hall in London