p2: French Sea Salt Caramels

The Sweet

4293852900_16753e7c6f_oSo my recent job, if I haven’t already mentioned, has kept my schedule notably busier and with less time to devote towards planning and developing the many recipes on my list. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to do them all, of course, it just may take much longer than I thought… though luckily it should clear up a bit more in a few months. Every now and then I get a chance to go after something small, or something cool that fits a little request… more often than not, it’s been the desserts lately. What can I say, guess I like baking and such. For this past weekend, I took about an hour to make a little bite that Buzzfeed paired with Cheese Souffle: Salted Caramel pieces.

Did you know there’s an actual REASON that Salted Caramel hasn’t been used and popular until our recent 20th century? And no it’s not just because ‘modern chefs are more creative.’ In 1343, a large salt tax was put in place by King Philip VI, making it a luxury that only rich could afford. Thus even simple salted butter couldn’t be used by the masses until Brittany unified with the Kingdom of France. Even then, the ‘staple’ salt, Guerende Sea Salt, was a rather difficult ingredient to obtain [and I’ll admit, I myself just used a simple sea salt that’s in our pantry. We’ve got so many salts as it is, no reason to buy another one]. Thus the overall USE and distinction of it historically as far as pastries are concerned, a craft which focuses a lot on transforming very INexpensive ingredients, would logically take a much longer time to be realized.

In fact, that time came in the later 20th century, with Henri Le Roux, son of one of France’s most legendary pastry chefs. With his continued Swiss educated, he became France’s best chocolatier and caramel maker, ‘inventing’ the little confection midway through the 1900’s. Though it snuck in rather low on our radar, in 1980 salted butter caramel was voted the best candy in France. And now… well, now it’s the over-used dessert addition/focus that some people still use and rave over as if it was 5-8 years ago when the fad seemed to kick in.

That’s not to say it isn’t still delicious; there IS a reason it’s been so popular.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It is often read with this particular recipe, or really ANY French recipe with such simple components as such, should really be made with the BEST of each ingredient in order for it to come out in that perfect form of buttery-salty-caramel chew. Of course, my idea on making this was rather last minute and I didn’t exactly grab everything that fit that bill. Which I actually don’t mind, since it was my first time attempting the caramel recipe and I don’t want to ruin any awesome ingredients with a minor screwup that masks everything.

20160116_225956That said, I DID have a little bit of leftover Organic Can Sugar that I mixed with my regular sugar, we’ve had plenty fantastic Scottish Butter sitting in our freezer for months now, so I used some of each to help level it up decently.

There’s a rather decent technique I’ve found about for this, one which makes a lot of sense. Let me start off by saying that caramel really IS quite simple; you cook the sugar until it turns color, not too much, and then add in your cream and butter. That said, one usually has to be careful adding in the cream, since he shock in temperature can make the hot liquid sugar seize up and turn solid too fast. It’s fixable, just got to slowly bring it back to temperature, but not condusive and a pain. So, as other recipes have done, one just heats up the cream on the side to a simmer, leave it warm, and add it in like so. This is also a great way to dissolve most of the salt to the mix into the caramel.

Of a quick final note, it’s very important to prepare your pan to pour the caramel in afterwards. Parchment paper works perfectly, though I’ve seen a recipe with aluminum foil too; the main key to it, however, is getting a thin layer of Vegetable Oil brushed along the bottom and sides to ENSURE that no sticking happens. Which is a pain, since with the paper already there it tends to pool. And don’t try to play with different oils unless they’re even MORE neutral in flavor; otherwise you’re getting an olive oil-flavored caramel [which actually doesn’t sound too bad if done right, but not the goal here]. I bring it up mainly since coating the knife or other cutting/handling tools for the finished candy is a great way to keep it clean and easy handling. May just want to pat with some paper towels afterwards to soak up any excess.

Salted Butter Caramels
1¾ cup Sugar
Vegetable Oil
1/3 cup Cream
¾ + tsp Sea Salt
5½ tsp Butter, cubed
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Directions

  1. Place Sugar in sauce pan, moving over medium heat, stirring very often and NOT leaving the kitchen20160116_230959
  2. While this is initially heating up, quick mix the Cream and ½ tsp of Sea Salt in another pan over low heat, bringing to a simmer before removing. Keep warm20160116_230106
  3. Also, line a square baking pan with parchment paper, lightly brushing the bottom and sides with Vegetable Oil20160116_230528
  4. Stir more often as the sugar melts, making sure not to let it sit too long and burn while others are still crystallized20160116_231132
  5. When most of it’s melted, stick in a candy thermometer, continuing to stir and cook until the sugar reaches 180C [supposedly 356F]20160116_231334
  6. Briefly remove from heat and slowly, carefully add the warm cream mixture, stirring in until fully incorporated20160116_231626
  7. Return to heat until sugar has come back up to 140C [284-ish F]20160116_231944
  8. Remove from heat again, adding in Butter and Vanilla, mixing quickly until it’s thoroughly incorporated and smooth20160116_232220
  9. Pour the caramel into the parchment-lined baking pan, sprinkle the remaining sea salt over the top20160116_232530
  10. Leave to cool for about an hour or more
  11. Upturn onto the cutting board, taking a knife to cut into the desired piece sizes. If still rather sticky, coat the knife blade with some of the vegetable oil every now and then20160116_235716
  12. Transfer to bags, wrap in wax paper if needed/desired, and enjoy20160117_000330

My Thoughts

Of course it didn’t come out as I wanted. I could see even before it was fully cooled that this caramel would be much firmer than what should have been achieved; instead of that soft, stretchy, tender little chew, I got a hard and crunchy-chewy toffee-like creation. Not that I mind in general, it’s still quite delicious to suck on; creamy-buttery richness with that almost-burnt sugar mixed in. Perhaps not in a perfect blend, again not ALL the ingredients were of anything more than average/cheap quality, but it succeeded where needed. Well, it needed more salt, could only taste it IF sucking vs chewing, and then only in the fir half minute. I’m debating if it’s just the result of not using a classic big-grained French sea salt, which may have more compact flavor too, or if the recipe needed more… I blame the recipe.

As for why the sweets didn’t turn out as desired in consistency, I have two main theories. Either I may have cooked the sugar a bit hotter than called for at one or two periods, very possible though I’m pretty sure it didn’t get THAT much higher than the recipe called for, or the recipe really needs to have notably more butter and cream added into it. My money is on a combination of the two.

Possible Pairings

cremant-de-bourgogne-4278-1-2Not the kind of recipe that usually comes with a whole glass of alcohol to ‘pair’ with, but assuming one DOES want to imbibe while chewing on a [properly] soft and salty-creamy piece of cooked sugar heaven, I could think of a few tasty options.

The first thing that comes to mind is Bubbly; just a simple glass of that delightful drink that never really needs to be fully figured out as to why it tastes good with anything. Since there’s no real confining aspect to the candy that requires distinct characteristics in its partnered drink to balance out, besides the sweetness itself [the saltiness is already being handled by its own sugar content], we can revel in the option of that most celebratory of wines. A Champagne or nice Cremant de Loire/Bourgogne/Alsace wouldn’t be out of the question. The beautiful complexities of a good bottle can be easily featured under the simple candy, any toasty/buttery notes compliment the buttery/creamy aspect of the caramel, they’re even paired often with local seafood dishes so it works with the salt aspect on a secondary level. The one thing I WOULD make sure to try and do, if possible, is to get a Demi-Sec [the sweeter styles of French bubbly], just to make sure the balance is right.

B9315771956Z.1_20150107133802_000_GIS9K0B6R.1-0Many a sweet, fortified, and aged wine will shine here, much like the delectable muscat-based creations from the south of France. Though in this category I can’t think of anything better than a properly thick, brown, caramelly ‘Sticky’ from Australia. Or, as they’re technically known as, Tawnies, influenced by aged ports and one of the best things to ever come out of the country in my opinion.

Of final note, any Aged Spirit would also be on my list, a-la Whiskey. The vanilla and caramel flavors picked up from the toasted oak will compliment these flavors greatly, and high-alcohol actually helps pair with various difficult food concerns. Very ‘heavy’ meals, fatty, acidic, but especially SWEET things can be cut or balanced next to a good spirit. If I had to pick one thing, though, I’d definitely have to go for a GOOD quality, special Rum. Aged well and from a proper estate, they’re flavors are amazing and encapsulate the epitome of ‘sugar’ complexities. They even make some in the French Martinique. Just saying.

p3: Banana Caramel Rolls

#15, Caramel Rolls – Anise-spiced Banana version

54e4174ffe09414b2050c1f2b6cf90d7One of the first recipes I remember actually making on my own, and having a very undeserved sense of pride in doing so, was after I learned how to make Cinnamon Rolls in… I wanna say middle school, could have been sooner. I had yet to ever revisit making them, except in college when we made Caramel Rolls or Sticky Buns (however you wanna call it). The recipe stuck out in the book this week, probably since I’m home alone and feeling very much the urge to make sweet and naughty things, so I’ll indulge myself with this yeast-raised sweet bread; Caramel version of course, I don’t understand anyone who thinks it isn’t superior to just plain with frosting.

20150816_154314I’m putting a couple twists on things, however. First, instead of just the Cinnamon-Sugar dusting on the inside, think I’ll use up yet another super-ripe banana in my freezer and make a banana-cinnamon paste, flavored with a bit of star anise for a fun kick; also added some to the caramel. Speaking of which, I’m not using the caramel recipe in the book either; I want to, but I don’t have any corn syrup. Which is fine because, as I’ve found out, our options in the caramel roll world are quite numerous. There are a variety of techniques one can choose; my baking teacher made this sort of brown sugar-butter paste thing that was spread on the bottom. Aside from that, there’s the simplest mixing of brown sugar and melted butter, mixes utilizing corn syrup, or, and I’m thankful for finding this recipe since it was exactly the kind I was looking for, honey and spices mixed with the sugar and butter. It leads for a fun drive to experiment and find your favorite style in the future.

This particular dough recipe is actually a lighter ‘enriched’ style, using only a small amount of eggs and fat for tenderness, as opposed to the ‘rich’ category that brioche usually occupies; basically, super enriched. One can make this with the higher fat contents, in fact that’s what I plan to do next time since I looooooves the idea of a cinnamon or sticky bun with that buttery crisp edge. But for now, to the proper basics and all-around. Oh, and I’m doing the kind with nuts on it too.

Notes before continuing: I’m doing the milk substitute version, since mine decided to curdle and I had plenty of milk powder; if you’d like to use milk, or buttermilk, swap water and powdered for 9-10oz of the liquid.

Banana Caramel Rolls
6½ Tb/3.25oz Sugar
1 tsp/0.25oz Salt
5 ½ Tb/2.75oz Butter or Margarine, room temp
3 Tb/1oz Milk Powder
1 large/1.65oz Egg
1 tsp/0.1oz Vanilla Extract
2tsp/0.22oz Yeast
1 cup/8oz Water, slightly warmed
3½ cups/16oz Bread Flour

F20150816_152202or Filling
1 large Super-ripe Banana
5-6 Tb Sugar
¾ Tb Ground Star Anise
¾ Tb Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Nutmeg if desired

For Caramel
6 Tb Butter, melted
5/8 cups Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1/6 cup Honey
¼ tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Ground Star Anise
¼ tsp Black Pepper
½ – 1 cup Roasted Nut of your choice, whole or roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Cream together Salt, Sugar, Butter, and Milk Powder with mixer paddle attachment until ‘fluffy’20150816_124826
  2. Add in Egg and Vanilla, scraping down sides, and beat until mixed and smooth20150816_125106
  3. Mix Yeast and Water, leaving for 5 minutes to bloom20150816_122711~2
  4. Transfer to mixing bowl, with Flour, and mix on low-medium speed until everything comes together in a mass20150816_125624
  5. Switch out paddle with dough hook and start mixing on medium speed for 10 minutes, until dough is smooth, tacky, and barely sticky, adding flour as needed. It will still likely stick to the bottom of the bowl, look for it to pass the Windowpane Test20150816_131355
  6. Transfer to lightly oiled bowl, let bulk ferment 2 hours, until doubled in size20150816_152219
  7. While this is happening, make your Filling and Caramel. Combine the ripe Banana and all other ingredients in a bowl, mashing and mixing thoroughly into a consistent paste20150816_152653
  8. Separately, whisk the warm Butter, Brown Sugar, Honey, and Spices until smooth and saucy20150816_154140
  9. Spray counter with light mist of oil, transfer proofed dough to surface20150816_153326
  10. Lightly dust top and rolling pin with flour and roll out to 14”x12” (for larger buns) or 18”x9” (for smaller), the dough should end up 2/3” thick20150816_153720
  11. Spread your banana-spice paste evenly over the surface, stretching to the edges20150816_153938
  12. Roll up into a log, from the short end but really it’s up to you depending on thickness desired20150816_154734
  13. Cut log into 8-12 pieces at 1¾” lengths (for larger size) or 12-16 and 1¼”20150816_154615
  14. Spread Caramel along bottom of your baking pan/s, sprinkle with Toasted Nuts of your choice20150816_154856
  15. Lay rolls spiral-down in pan, leaving space between each, spray top with oil, and cover loosely with plastic to proof, 75-90 minutes, until dough has grown into each other20150816_173035
  16. Preheat oven 350F
  17. Move proofed dough to oven, sans plastic wrap of course, and leave to bake 30-40 minutes until developed an even, deeper golden color on top20150816_180708
  18. Remove and let rest on counter 5-10 minutes
  19. Place a larger pan upside-down on top of rolls, carefully grip edges, and quickly and smoothly flip both pans upside-down so that the still-hot rolls drop out caramel-size up. Spoon any dripping sauce back on top20150816_181512
  20. Pull some of the big suckers apart and enjoy while still warm! So good

What Have I Learned This Time?

Less Cinnamon, more ‘other spices’ required when trying to adjust flavors in something like this noticeably. Note, I’ve already made some adjustments in the recipe that SHOULD work if you wanna try it; otherwise just use all Cinnamon and the sugar.

At times, when not consuming caramel at the same time, I actually WAS able to get the banana, but I think I’d need even MORE just to make it really be a distinctive element.

Caramel Rolls are addicting… I seriously tried eating just HALF of one of these really big-ass buns on two occasions… during the same day… -cough- and both times ended up just consuming the whole thing. I’m pretty sure it’s due to that pull-apart aspect that just leads you going round and round and already eating ¾ before you know it so why not finish with the best part, the center?

Using a wider chef’s knife or something similar actually made for easy, clean cutting of the soft and stretchy dough, as opposed to trying more delicate, long slices.

Apparently caramel rolls are cooked longer than Cinnamon Rolls; I believe it’s because, in reality, the dough itself doesn’t need as much time, but one gives extra to ensure the caramel gets cooked to a certain point. Which I think is a bit bull, because I would rather have a caramel that’s still soft and gooey and running sauce-like over the thing, as opposed to it setting up into that firm almost ‘candied’ structure, though I do understand that’s a personal thing, and it still was quite addictive and good like that! But then again, I did also use a different caramel recipe; perhaps the one with corn syrup really needed some extra time to actually caramelize.

You ever see those absolutely gigantic cinnamon/caramel rolls that some diners serve, perhaps featured on TV? I now realize they’re probably not even that hard to make; just probably need to roll it out a little thicker, with less width and more length so as to roll it out into bigger, gigantic rounds. Now I really want to make one… a good reason to return for a Cinnamon Roll article huh?

Any Thoughts?

20150816_181904Well I was going to use the last part about the ‘giant’ rolls in here, but it fit better for a quick personal learning factor. I will say that having smaller rolls would be also quite beneficial… this batch gave me 8 individual pieces, and after the first day I had… 3 left. One of which I had for breakfast the next morning. So it was probably a good thing I gave the other two away to friends. And now I’m off to making a coconut milk custard to fill my sweet tooth’s incessant demands.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

We’re certainly sweeties (yuck yuck yuck), for once it’s the other things that I feel the need to adjust and play with. I almost struggled at one point, pretty sure the dough was too hydrated while it was kneading, but I think I adjusted it with enough flour rather well.

p3: Portuguese Sweet Bread

#5, Portuguese Sweet Bread

picH3zEcEIt’s the second week away from my trusty stand mixer, so I’m attacking another hand-kneading adventure for my bread making. For this one, I thought I’d try something on another level, one of the Enriched bread recipes. With the added butter and sugar, gluten usually takes longer time and effort to develop, not to mention the dough usually starts off much more sticky (not gonna be smooth hand working).

My page-flipping easily brought me to a bread that had been standing out to me for a while, Portuguese Sweet Bread. It was a rather perfect fit too, being one of the few ones in the book calling for powdered milk (being able to put my recent purchase to use), not to mention it involved an option to let the dough sit and retard in the fridge for a day before proofing and baking. Something I’ve been wanting to try, and with a recipe that called for me to divide in half, my situation actually allowed me to bake off one day-of for immediate consumption and let another retard for the next day to see if there was any difference (point in fact, not really that I’ve seen… guess it fits more with baguettes and rye and such for effects).

20150510_165240As for the bread itself, the name sounds unique but you might already be familiar with it, also being known as “Hawaiin Bread.” It’s also quite similar to some of the sweet breads seen in a good Mexican panadeira (like the Conchas). An interesting aspect to it, besides just adding butter, eggs, and sugar, is that the recipe also uses Extracts for flavoring. Now, the recipe calls for a combination of Orange, Lemon, and Vanilla, but I sadly did not have access to the citrus-based alcohols. So instead I thought I’d have some fun and just use the same amount of extract (3tsp or 1 Tb) of Almond and Vanilla, give me that nice amaretto-ish aroma.

Now all that’s left is to make a bread which I’m sure will make some awesome French Toast… if it lasts that long.

Recipe
3½ cups/15.75 oz Bread Flour
1½ Tb/0.75 oz Sugar
2¼ tsp/.25 oz Dry Yeast
½ cup + 6 Tb/7 oz Water, Room Temp
1 tsp/0.25 oz Salt
¼ cup/1.25 oz Powdered Milk
2 Tb/1 oz Unsalted Butter, Room Temp
1 Tb/1 oz Shortening
2 large/3.3 oz Eggs
1 Tb/0.5 oz Extract of Your Choice (Vanilla, Citrus, Almond, etc)
1 Egg+1tsp Water for Egg Wash

Directions

  1. Stir together ½ cup(2.25oz) Flour, 1 Tb(0.5oz) Sugar, Yeast, and ½ cup(4oz) Water in small bowl until it forms a smooth batter.20150510_153649
  2. Cover plastic, ferment 60-90 Minutes, until sponge is quite foamy and seemingly on verge of collapsing.20150510_165339
  3. Combine remaining sugar, Salt, Powdered Milk, Butter, and Shortening in bowl and cream together with electric mixer or hands (spoon only works with non-smooth bowls that the fat can easily cling to the sides on) until smooth.20150510_165311
  4. Mix in Eggs and Extract with spoon to make even batter.20150510_165654
  5. Add your sponge and remaining flour, kneading it in by hand, dribbling in enough of the remaining 6 Tb of water until make a soft (and sticky) dough.20150510_170329
  6. Turn onto flour-dusted counter, kneading until the dough is easy to knead, supple, and no longer wet and sticky, at least 15 minutes when done by hand (10-12 via machine).20150510_173500
  7. Lightly oil large bowl, transfer dough, rolling to coat and covering with plastic. Bulk ferment 2 hours, until doubled in size.20150510_193943
  8. Remove, dividing into equal parts, shaping into a boule as described in Casatiello.20150510_194109
  9. Lightly oil two 9” (or smaller it seems) pie pans, place one boule in each, mist with spray oil, and loosely cover in plastic wrap.20150510_194412
  10. Proof for 2-3 hours or, conversely, move into the refrigerator overnight and let warm up to room temp for 5-6 hours next day, until it doubles in size and ideally fills the pan fully.
  11. Preheat oven to 350F
  12. Whisk the egg and water for the Wash together until frothy, very gently and thoroughly brushing the loaves with it.20150510_214346
  13. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a richly deep mahogany and the center registers 190F with a thermometer.20150510_221510
  14. Remove, let cool on rack to end up with a soft, sticky loaf for ideal sandwich making; or slice and enjoy immediately with butter for an amazing chunk of bread for dessert.20150511_171046

What Have I Learned This Time?

I should have made more… or hid it much better from myself, because this guy is sooooo hard to keep myself from eating.

Either  I need to measure pie pans differently to consider what ‘9 inches’ is, I need an actual metal pan instead of these glass ones (which so many bakers hate), or something was off with my dough in not fermenting large enough… but I highly doubt that, I mean look at that giant ball!

If you mix everything for Portuguese Sweet Brea together besides the sponge, then lick it off your fingers, it tastes like cookie dough! A shame I had to add yeast and turn it into bread!

20150510_171516

20150510_171254Not only do I have to read recipes carefully, I can’t trust the water section; put simply, I made a boo-boo and mixed the flour and water into the creamed mixture first instead of flour and sponge. So I added ALL the water in, only to find out while looking back that I’m not necessarily supposed to need all 6 of those tablespoons, just enough to get a certain texture… which makes me think, especially with HOW sticky it was when I started kneading, that I probably had too much and thus had to work in extra bread flour to compensate a bit.

That said, I figured out a couple good techniques for dealing with difficult and sticky doughs for kneading! First, got the hang of using a bench scraper in my right hand to keep prying it from the counter and folding back in on itself before pushing forward with my left palm. Secondly, as it got a little firmer and more handle-able, I tried out a one-handed trick I saw on Cooking with Julia and Friends. Grabbing, pulling and lifting one end with the hand, I slam the heavy end HARD on the counter, fold and push together before grabbing the side and doing it again. It felt like the heavy handling helped to break and develop that gluten down at a good, quick rate (though it could just be because I was getting close to the end anyways).

20150510_173009

God dammit I didn’t bake it long enough! This is the second recipe where, now as I’m rereading it while typing this up, that I pulled it out of the oven very soon… it calls for 50-60 minutes, but I only cooked it 30 (I did a similar thing with the Wheat Loaves, though luckily their small size and the increased oven temperature saved me I think). That said, it actually came out quite perfect… so I’ve also learned that some of these cook times might be longer than what I myself like for bread. If I continued It’d probably be a little drier, blech.

Any Thoughts?

Not really. Though I will look forward to having a dough hook again for these wet and sticky breads! Oh, and I just love that thick, sweetly brown crust here.

20150510_170704

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

Despite grudgingly working together with me in the end, it apparently thinks I’ve been getting too full of myself and slapped me a reality check.