Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sea Salt Caramels With Bittersweet Chocolate

Whereas usually I bake cookies for christmas last christmas I decided to surprise my loved ones with homemade chocolates instead. I always thought the combination of caramel and salt is ingenious. Caramel simply tastes better with a dash of salt. 
So I decided to make chocolates with a salted-caramel filling and searched the internet for a good recipe.
This one here on sounded quite promising, and I decided to give it a try.

Ok, I need to confess something here. I kind of messed the recipe up. But making caramel and chocolates can be quite tricky, and so it happened that I misread a few things and didn't pay proper attention. Mine turned out way too heavy and too salty. Otherwise they would have been delicious, I swear. But I will point out exactly where I did wrong so this won't be happening to you, as well. Yes, I will at some point make them again. And for all the family members who were wondering why I had decided to kill them with a butter and salt overdose: was so much work that I simply could not toss all these little "goodies". I really hope they weren't that bad....

Anyway, here we go!

You'll need:

320 ml / 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
400g / 2 cups granulated sugar
120ml / 1/2 cup light corn syrup (or rice syrup, which you can get in organic stores/Bio-supermarkets)
80ml / 1/3 cup honey
6 Tbsp (85g or 3oz!!!) cold butter, cut into small pieces 
- Mistake No.1: I used about 200g (2.5oz) butter...
1tsp vanilla extract
3tsp sea salt (fleur de sel) 
- Mistake No2: Only 2tsp go into the caramel, the 3rd one is for garnish
450g / 1lb bittersweet chocolate, chopped


Prepare an 8-inch baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Place the cream in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup and honey and stir until it begins to boil. Periodically wipe down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals from forming.

the caramel already turned a little browner but needs to get way darker

Cook the caramel, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 257 degrees on a candy thermometer.                 

I didn't have a candy thermometer, and it still worked out fine. You just really have to pay attention. Never leave the pot alone or get distracted. It takes a while until the caramel turns brown. It takes another while until the caramel gets darker brown. But then everything goes really quick and before you know it you may end up with burnt caramel. A thermometer may be a help but it's all about how quickly you can pull the caramel off the heat.
I also read on David Lebovitz's blog that you should avoid stirring the caramel if you can. Only carefully scrape the bottom of the pot every once in a while to prevent the caramel from burning.

You can see here, how dark my caramel got. The yellow part is the massive amount of butter, I stirred in...

Remove the pan from the heat immediately and stir in the butter, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons of salt.
Pour into prepared pan and let set at room temperature until firm enough to cut.

I couldn't cut my caramel at all. It was way too soft.
Cut the caramel into small squares or strips with a chef’s knife.

That's why I pulled out little bits and formed them to chocolates.
Btw, you see those tiny brown spots? That just indicates that my caramel almost burned.
I guess I was lucky.
See, due to the fact that I used far too much butter my caramel was way to soft to be cut. I had to put the whole pan intothe freezer, then pull out some caramel balls with my hands, form them and again put them back into the freezer. otherwise they would have just melted away once the melted chocolate would have hit it...

Temper the chocolate and dip the caramels in the chocolate one at a time. Place them on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper or foil to set. While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on the remaining salt and allow to set completely.

PS: Even though I messed up a bit here, I can only highly encourage everyone to try making these chocolates. They will be absolutely delicious, when done right and make a wonderful gift!

Friday, January 6, 2012

How to make the perfect bird (works guaranteed)!

Happy New Year everyone,

I'm back from my Christmas&New Years holiday break with a full sack of plenty of things I finally wanna post about. What held me back was not only the usual christmas madness, but also the fact that quite a few of my potential posts are about christmas presents I made and food I actually ate over christmas. So that's why I couldn't post it before.
After Christmas Wil and I also went away for a couple of days to a German island called RĂ¼gen to recover from those busy days (and to get rid off our extra holiday-pounds). We walked probably 10-15 km (that's 6-10 miles) per day, at least, went swimming (in a pool/waterpark) and ate lots of fish and good, good food paired with fabulous wines and drinks...

But back to Christmas. We spent it at my Mum's house this year and she made tons of good food. For Dec.26th my Mum and I prepared a goose. As you know from my previous post, I'm not that experienced with whole birds and my first attempt still turned out a bit dry. That's why I watched every step of my Mum and read the recipe thoroughly.

The secret is, surprise, surprise, SLOW-COOKING! We already knew this, right? So, I will need to get a proper oven at some point, that will allow me to reduce heat to lower than 150°C/302°F, or try the brining-method, next time.

But yeah, this here definitely works. My Mum found the recipe on some website, where over 150 people had commented how great this recipe is and how well it turned out (none of the comments were negative).
I'm sure you can cook any bird with this method perfectly. Depending on the size some just won't need as long as our goose.

We served it with German potato dumplings, red cabbage and green cale (the one that I made earlier)

The perfect bird (in this case goose) cooks as follows:

The night before
  • Make sure it is completely defrosted (if you bought afrozen one) and all organs are removed. They usually come in a palstic bag inside the bird.
  • maybe remove some quill and left-over feathers.
  • rub the bird with salt from the outside and inside. You may wanna use more salt inside, so that the meat won't taste as bland in the end.
  • Stuff the bird with whatever you like. I heard some fill the carcass with dried rice so that the bird blows up while cooking and looks all nice and round...well, I think I prefer good flavour. We stuffed our goose with quarters of onions and apples, prunes, and the roughly chopped organs, as well as some dried lovage (herb). With a goose you cannot really eat the stuffing afterwards, cause it is soaked in goose fat and really not that pleasant anymore. But it adds a nice flavour. With any other bird, except for maybe duck: Go for it! I always love the stuffing.
  • Put the bird on a (deep) baking tray and bake at 180°C/356°F for about an hour.
  • Turn down the heat to 80°C/176°F and cook the bird overnight for at least 7 hours. The first person that gets up in the morning gets to turn out the oven. I think we had it in for 9 hours in the end (the goose weighed 5.4kg).
The Bird
Day of goose dinner
  • The goose can now stay in the cold oven until lunch/dinner, whatever. You only need to heat it up for about another 60minutes (not longer!) at 180°C/356°F before you want to eat.
  • In order to make the skin nice and crsipy, resolve salt in some water and brush the the breast and legs with this mixture. You can also brush the bird with maple syrup, jam or honey for some sweetness. If you have a broiler, turn it on maximum heat and broil the bird for about 5minutes or until the skin has browned.
  • Carve and serve with whatever side-dishes you like!
It was bigger than it looks here! It's a very big knife and fork....
Oh yeah, I forgot about the sauce!
Pour the drippings from the tray into a bowl. Wait a few seconds. The fat (and that's a lot with a goose) will separate and be on top (light-golden and almost clear) so that you can easily recognize it and with a spoon skim it off the rest (dark brown) that will be our sauce.
You may wanna mix in some plum jam (or maple syrup, honey etc) and red wine, as well as a tiny little bit of the stuffing. That way the sauce gets a bit thicker, as well. Just blend everything together with a hand blender until smooth and heat it up again. Season to taste if necessary.

Always happy carving
This really should work with any bird. A chicken or duck might not take that long. But really, there is not much that can go wrong with 80°C/176°F. It won't get hotter than that. The best indicator that it is fully cooked is when the meat comes off the leg bones...

Last but not least

Even though I thought the goose turned out pretty good and was delicious, my Mum still thought the breast was a little dryer than necessary.
So in the first hour at 180°C/356°F try to cook your bird upside down, the back up the breast is lying on the tray. For the slow-cook marathon you can turn it around again.

Ready for the feast. Oh I could eat this again, right now!

Don't forget the Schnaps afterwards. You will definitely need one after such a heavy meal. Espresso will work as well, of course...