Category Archives: memes

Daring Bakers in stereo: Caramel Cake with Caramelised Butter Icing

This month’s Daring Bakers challenge comes to you in stereo on Syrup&Tang. My Parisian correspondent, Harry, has taken up the Daring Bakers cause and baked his little heart out. Alas, he lacks a blog, so he’s posting here alongside me. What did we make? Caramel Cake with Caramelised Butter Icing.

The name of the cake has been slightly modified to reflect Australian norms (in solidarity with the philosophy of Cathy at Everything Goes With Cream). The cake itself? Well let’s just say that I had contemplated starting this post with “And how f**king sweet do you want it, sir?”. The body of the cake is pleasant, dense but a lovely texture in the mouth. The ‘frosting’ is very, very sweet and if I tell you that I halved the quantity and still had more than enough to create a modest, appropriately iced cake, then you can perhaps take pity on those who made the full amount and now lie in bed in a sugar-induced coma. (And I haven’t even dared mention the caramel sauce and caramels which were suggested accompaniments to the cake!)

Anyway, here you go. As a caramel cake it’s mild, pleasant, inoffensive. There are definitely cakes out there that better express caramel notes, but I might still make this one again. Different icing though.

And now for the account from Harry de Paris: (drumroll!)

Caramel Cake

A Different Way to Fry an Egg

Like a good English novel, I’ve given my Daring Bakers Challenge post an alternative title. Unfortunately I don’t have the flair of, say, Jane Austen, but the moral of the story, I hope, will rival a good George Eliot.

When I first read through the recipe for the caramel cake, it all seemed to me like a bit of a sugarfest. Two cups of sugar here, another cup there, add a stick of butter or two and some cream. Just thinking about that amount glucose was making me hyperactive!

Not being a particularly sweet tooth, the challenge for me was how to make something that wouldn’t make my head spin. I determined to add a slightly more savoury element to the recipe, to counter the sweetness of the sugar syrup. After much umming and ahring, I finally decided to incorporate a small quantity of coffee, into the batter in which I soaked a few cardamom seeds. It then occurred to me that I could take the idea further and try making a kind of marble cake, with a syrupy batter on the one hand, and a more savoury coffee one on the other.

Dutifully I turned on my oven to preheat it to the right temperature. Baking in my gas oven is always a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. The three markings which appear on the temperature dial are 150, 250 and 270°C, with the latter two spaced further apart than the first. Precision is not one of its stronger points.

Now to the batter. One lesson I learned the hard way was that, if you’re as bad at cracking eggs as I am, crack them into a cup before adding them to the mixture, because trying to get egg shells out of the batter is a right pain! My second and third eggs went into a cup while I…oh I forgot: the oven!

After faffing about with my batters and eggs and things, my trusty oven temperature gage told me I had well and truly overheated it to levels usually reached in a potter’s kiln. I opened the door for a couple of minutes to cool it down while I went back to my batter. Enter the eggs. I picked up the cup to mix the eggs into batter, and with one swift and somewhat inelegant move, the cup slipped from my grasp, the contents fell squarely upon the open, but still scorchingly hot oven door and fried instantly. It all happened in slow motion, like a dream sequence in a film. The smell of rapidly cooking egg brought me back to reality, however, and I hastened to clean it up – easier said than done on a burning hot surface.

After that minor disaster, and a few eggs later, the cake and icing more or less made itself. I’d left it the oven a touch too long so it came out a little singed. The marbling effect didn’t work visually, as the coffee wasn’t dark enough, but the taste of the coffee touched the spot. My guests that evening were happy as far as I could tell, and they asked for seconds, which is always a good sign. And the story of the eggs certainly made for an entertaining anecdote.

So… the moral of the story clearly is that one must always keep one’s cups of eggs well away from hot ovens when the door is open. But everybody knows that!

Thanks for reading! HARRY.

Recipe: Shuna Fish Lydon from Eggbeater published on Bay Area Bites.
Challenge: hosted by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. Co-hosts: Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

Favourite dishes you don’t serve to guests

I’m reading a recently published book called Eating Between the Lines by Rebecca Huntley (recently written about by Neil at At My Table). It’s an irritating book (about which more in another post sometime soon), but one section about single people’s views of the food they prepare for themselves as not being ‘proper’ cooking is interesting.

Although most of the food I cook is quite definitely suitable for guests, there are one or two dishes which fall into a sort of ‘private comfort’ zone. People I’ve lived with have eaten them, but that’s the burden of the house-share, where all sorts of dubious food is cooked communally — Reis mit Scheiß (rice with shit) as one German housemate described things.

After I’d stopped living with my sister, she admitted some time later that she missed my ‘veg spag sauce’, despite having moaned and teased about it while living together. For me, my ‘veg spag’ is delicious. It’ll go in a cookbook one day. But it needs a bit of marketing spin to make it sound publicly viable.

‘A deliciously simple vegetable sauce for spaghetti, featuring the honest flavours of tomato, carrot and zucchini. Great for a quick, homely meal.’

Put to one side that it doesn’t look very pretty, and that its ‘honest’ flavours can require a little adjustment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favouritest simple no-motivation-to-cook accompaniment to pasta:

Duncan’s veg spag sauce

1 clove garlic, chopped finely
pinch dried marjoram
olive oil
250ml tinned tomatoes (unenhanced with gloop or flavours)
some coarsely grated carrot
some coarsely grated zucchini (optional)
salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Sauté the garlic in olive oil, add the marjoram and then the tomatoes. Break down big pieces of tomato and then add remaining vegetables and a little water. Simmer for about 20 mins until it has reduced to a fairly thick sauce. During that time, cook some spaghetti. Serve with grated cheddar or parmesan.

The consistency is thick and not very wet, because of the grated veg. Not pretty. I think it suits spaghetti best, because of it’s texture and the ratio of pasta to sauce in each mouthful.

The sauce must be tasted during cooking because, let’s face it, tinned tomatoes vary radically in tastiness, and carrot can often taste very ‘green’. Don’t be shy about the salt (the acidity of the tomatoes might mislead you), and a very small pinch of sugar can also lift the dish. If the sauce tastes too ‘honest’, you can add cream to improve it. It also tastes great with good black olives (chopped) through it.

I think the ur-sauce is actually something my dad made when I lived at home, involving chopped veg and slices of kabana or salami, but my memory is uncertain. Certainly, a little bacon can perk up the sauce too:)

Okay, so I’ve spilt the beans on a ‘private’ dish that I don’t feel comfortable serving guests or friends. What about you? If you write about it on your own site, please link back here and leave a comment.

Daring Bakers: pizza with p- p- p-

So here we are. It’s pizza time in the Daring Bakers’ Challenge. I love pizza. Adore the stuff. When I make it myself. None of my friends make it. Too many think of it as a fundamentally unhealthy food to be banished from the kitchen. Codswallop.

Peter Reinhart’s recipe yields a lovely crust and is in many ways a good lesson in how easy baking can be, with such delicious results. As I make pizza regularly, to do something novel required a little creativity… so I decided a 1980s flashback was in order.

The challenge was initiated by Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums. For a metric version of the recipe, go and visit Y at Lemonpi. The baker’s percentages are:

  • Bread flour – 100%
  • Salt – 2.2%
  • Oil – 9.9%
  • Instant dry yeast – 0.54%
  • Water – 69.1%

I baked pizza with p-. I mean p- p-. No really, it was p- p- p-


There, I said it. I haven’t made an Hawaiian Pizza since about 1989. It’s such a popular thing in Australia. But around the world there are ‘civilised’ people, especially Europeans in my experience, who turn up their nose, snort or sneeeeeer at the thought. Pineapple on a pizza! It is true that, in my humble opinion, a shop-made Hawaiian is often a foul, foul thing. But made at home it can rise to excellence. Especially with a little pancetta and some mushroom:)

It was really yummy. And I have half a can of pineapple left… hmmm.

Paper Chef: beetroot and ginger kuih with apple purée

I’ve been following the monthly Paper Chef event for quite a while now. You are given four primary ingredients with which to create a dish. After the announcement of the ingredients, you have about a week to present your idea. It’s about the food, not the photography. Some very interesting dishes from entrants all over the world have won. Last month’s winner, Pia of Serendipity, Synchronicity and Saffron, is this month’s host.

This month the ingredients were

  • beetroot
  • ginger
  • rice
  • apple

I loved this selection! All flavours marry well, at least in some forms.

Beetroot is simultaneously lovely and tricky. It’s cell structure means that it doesn’t happily soften like many other vegetables or fruit and nor does it form a smooth paste when blitzed. This meant that texture could be an issue. It can also taste strongly earthy if served plain. Ginger plays well with the earthy notes, helping to bring out some sweetness and complexity. Apple is a friend of both, but combining them in a way which was more than, say, a salad was a welcome challenge. And there was the rice…

I pondered soups, but felt the rice was a problem. I contemplated making a type of mochi (Japanese riceflour balls) filled with the other ingredients. And I thought about stuffing whole roasted beetroots, but felt I was dwelling too much on form over flavour. Finally, I decided to try creating something vaguely similar to the layered Malaysian/Indonesian kuih (some kuih are layered ‘cakes’ of rice and a flavoured paste or agar jelly, but there are many other types as well).

Beetroot and ginger layered kuih with apple purée

Find a slice tray, bread or cake pan with walls at least 4cm high. The total volume required is approx 600ml. I used a loaf pan 17cm long x 10cm wide.

Coconut rice

  • Place 250ml of good coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Add 125ml of jasmine rice, stir, then simmer very gently for approx 10 mins.
  • When there is just a little liquid still left, cover the saucepan tightly and turn off the heat. Leave for 20 mins.
  • Line your slice tray or pan with foil. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit crinkly. The foil needs to reach about 5cm up the sides.
  • Make a well-packed even layer of rice in the tray, about 1-1.5cm high.
  • Note that the rice may taste somewhat savoury or just rather plain. The rest of the dish will compensate for that.

Beetroot and ginger jelly

  • Peel one smallish beetroot (about 180gm), then grate. I used a medium ribbon Microplane grater.
  • Trim and then slice approx 2cm of fresh ginger (about 8gm) into 2mm slices.
  • Place in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and 50gm of sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • Simmer until tender, approx 20min.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the beetroot and ginger to a small bowl. Discard the pieces of ginger.
  • Pour the liquid into a measuring jug. Keep 500ml and discard the rest.
  • Return the 500ml of liquid to the saucepan.
  • Keep the liquid hot, but not boiling, and briskly whisk in 10gm (17ml) of powdered gelatine*.
  • Keep stirring until the crystals have completely dissolved. Add the beetroot and allow the liquid to cool gradually.
  • When the beetroot and liquid starts to thicken, pour over the layer of rice and smooth the surface. The beetroot layer will be about 1cm deep. The liquid may seep into the rice, depending on how thick it is when you pour it on. Though the separation of layers is less pretty (see photos) it makes for interesting colours!
  • Refrigerate until set, approx 2 hours.
  • * The amount of gelatine you need will depend on the brand. I used a product where 10gm powder sets 500ml of water. Note that kuih jellies/set purées would usually use agar or other non-gelatine setting agents. Agar jellies are generally firmer and less elastic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any agar to hand while making this, and I can’t decide which option would be best texturally. Agar is the better choice if concerned about dietary/religious acceptability.

Apple purée

  • Peel and core two mildly sweet apples suitable for cooking, e.g. Royal Gala or Braeburn. You want an apple with a touch of tartness.
  • Chop into pieces and add to a saucepan with 125ml water and 20ml good coconut milk.
  • Cover and simmer gently until soft. Add extra water if necessary.
  • Take a 1cm lump of crystallised ginger (or preserved stem ginger). Trim off the sugar-coated surfaces. Grate or chop into fine pieces.
  • When the apple is of a mashable consistency, uncover and let any remaining liquid evaporate.
  • Add the chopped ginger and then mash the apple.


  • When the jelly has set, spread the apple purée evenly over the jelly. The layer will be about 0.5cm deep. Chill for an hour.
  • Lift the kuih (in its foil) out of the pan. Place the foil package on a chopping board. Gently pull the foil walls away from the kuih.
  • At this point you can either carefully transfer the kuih from the foil to a serving platter, or (more safely) cut the kuih into 3cm squares and then lift each piece off.


This sweet presents a very different flavour profile from a traditional kuih, so I hope readers won’t mind me using that label for this dish. For one thing, this is less sweet than traditional kuih (which can be quite a sugar-shock for a Northern European palate, at least!). My attempt to offset the sweetness of the rice and beetroot by using a slightly tart, ginger-warm apple purée is also within Western approaches to balancing sweetness with other elements.

Daring Bakers: lavash

At some point I’m going to have to stop saying oh-my-god another-month-has-passed! But it seems only days ago that I was munching on éclairs. Lo! today it’s time for lavash crackers, thanks to the Daring Bakers. No buttercream. No ganache. No calories (almost).

I can’t profess an enthusiasm for dry, crunchy bready things. I compulsively munch on those revolting bar-pretzel icky things. I gulp down fish shapes (odd nominally-fish-flavoured weird things in Australia) even though I’m pescaphobic. But I don’t make these crunchy things. Nup.

So, with some reluctance, I stood by my commitment to the Daring Bakers project and did the thang. Really simple. Let’s do it again! LOL. Seriously, they were a breeze (I think it’s the lack of buttercream, ganache, etc etc… maybe I should concentrate on savoury baking 😉 ).

Lavash crackers are made with a thinly rolled yeast dough. A touch of honey lends this lavash recipe a delightful fragrant sweetness. You can decorate them with seeds, spices or other pretty thingies.

The recipe used was from Peter Reinhart’s great book The Breadbaker’s Apprentice, but you’ll also find it over at Lemonpi or on the challenge initiator’s site Musings From The Fishbowl.

Lavash doesn’t have to be dry. In fact, although most Australians probably know it as crunchy stuff, the Wikipedia entry (see link in first para) would indicate it’s primarily used as a soft flatbread (which would suit me just fine 🙂 ).

The bakers were required to serve up the lavash with a vegan, gluten-free dip of some sort. As I’ve previously described my love of baba ghanoush, despite my antipathy to eggplant, I thought it was an ideal companion to my newly-loved crackers. My baba ghanoush is just the flesh of a large grilled eggplant, mashed with a clove of garlic, salt, juice of a lemon and 60ml of tahina.

A quick tip about crackers: if you don’t want them crunchy, these are actually delightful slightly underbrowned — but the residual moisture will make them a bit leathery within a day or two, so they are best eaten fresh.

Daring Bakers: éclairs

Another month has flown by and it’s time for the August Daring Bakers Challenge. Pierre Hermé’s chocolate éclairs were flavour of the month (from his Chocolate Desserts book with Dorie Greenspan). Recipe and initiator of this challenge can be found at What’s for lunch, Honey? and Tony Tahhan (their posts might appear a little later than mine, as they’re in different timezones).

Choux pastry (pâte à choux) isn’t something I do often. In fact, when my sister heard I’d made éclairs her first reaction was ‘that’s not very you’. And indeed, it’s probably 15 years since I last made choux pastry! It’s not so hard, though the process certainly seems daunting when you read recipes. The tricky bit is getting the puffed-up shapes to stay puffed up, rather than causing deflation traumas (see Thanh’s recent adventure).

Choux pastry is soft and pipeable. It’s made by adding flour to boiling liquid and butter, stirring vigorously, and then adding egg yolks (and/or whole eggs) gradually (ok, that’s just a summary). In the oven, the piped shapes swell and rise, but lose their shape easily except when very small. So profiteroles (1, 2) are usually fairly safe, but larger shapes deflate easily. You have to find a way to let the cooked dough firm up without all the steam inside causing it to go soggy and collapse. Typically you either leave the cooked shapes in the residual heat of an oven, or you puncture the shapes to let the steam out (of the side or bottom).

I was being a little impatient, so suffered about 50% deflation in the batch. (And we won’t talk about the effect of impatience on the chocolate glaze either!) But it was then that I discovered how well collapsed éclairs function as a churros substitute! Marginally healthier too;)

Choux pastry needs to be used promptly or frozen in its final shape. Cooked shapes can be frozen or refrigerated, but can be a little soft or leathery as the dough absorbs moisture from its environment. Often you would ‘refresh’ the stored shapes in the oven before use, just to bring back a touch of crispness.

I decided to make the éclairs for my parents, who had both been down with the flu all week. Mum event leant me her much-neglected éclair tin! Dad can’t eat richly chocolatey things, so I replaced the chocolate pastry cream with mandarin/vanilla whipped cream. A chocolate glaze was still used.

Hermé’s choux pastry contains more egg yolks than many typical recipes. It tasted strongly eggy and this was commented on in the Daring Bakers forums. I certainly wouldn’t use this recipe in the future, as such strong egginess needs a rich foil (such as his chocolate pastry cream) to balance it. Nonetheless, a tasty and interesting challenge!

Daring Bakers: Filbert gateau with praline buttercream

Although I bake a lot (and not just small almond meringue things), I was finding I wasn’t trying enough new things from my piles of cookbooks. So I joined the Daring Bakers. I’m sure many of you will have seen mention of them before, and a frequent commenter here (Y of lemonpi in Sydney) has often posted about her participation in the Daring Baker Challenges (and she has this time too!). Each month there’s a new challenge which remains secret until the end of the month. Then, around the world, crazy bakers post pictures, text, recipes.

Embracing the first challenge I could participate in, I set about making it on the first weekend after the Daring Bakers were told what to make. Oh hell. A full gateau. I’ve made all sorts of fiddly things, but never a layered bloody gateau! And so it was time to learn.

A ‘Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream’ was the order of the month. In this case filbert refers to hazelnuts (a common synonym for some USAmericans, I believe), although technically a filbert isn’t quite the same thing as the everyday hazelnut. And praline is nuts and hard caramel ground to a powder or paste.

The cake was not a simple affair, consisting of:

  • three layers of firm hazelnut genoise (a type of sponge)
  • each layer moistened with sugar syrup flavoured with rum
  • between each sponge layer was a layer of buttercream flavoured with praline and Cointreau and a layer of whipped cream
  • the external surfaces of the cake were coated with an apricot glaze
  • a chocolate ganache was then poured over the cake and smoothed to encase the entire cake
  • and finally, praline buttercream decoration with hazelnuts

And it took about nine hours to get it together. Thankfully, a lot of that was learning curve!

In each challenge there is a little latitude permitted for some elements. I halved the recipe, as I gain enough weight from my normal baking, and there are only so many people I can give cake to!

I’ve become a little sceptical about many of my American baking books in recent years, with many items coming out much too sweet for a non-American palate, so I decided to err on the side of caution in this case, omitting the buttercream from between the layers and instead just using it for the decoration. I mixed praline paste into the whipped cream, using this as the sole filling between the sponge layers. Funnily, the chocolate ganache was meant to be far from sweet, using chocolate with 70% cocoa solids. This looked like a disaster in richness to me, so I used a sweeter chocolate (about 60%). In fact, I think going sweeter would have worked even better.

The gateau came out pretty well for a first attempt at this sort of thing. My ganache wasn’t particularly neat, my piped buttercream looks horrendous, and choosing only to use flavoured whipped cream between the sponge layers meant the cake needed to rest about 48 hours before the best blending of flavours was achieved (because barely sweetened cream can be pretty flat). It was a great learning experience. I wouldn’t make this particular cake again, but wouldn’t hesitate to try other gateaux.