Thursday, 29 March 2012

Salted Caramel Popcorn

I made this for someone very special to me.

Yet sometimes... I wonder if baking something as a gift is actually a good thing. I mean.. if you give someone a "real present" (say, a candle set), at least they'll keep it somewhere and will always be reminded of you whenever they use/look at it. But the same can't be said for an edible gift. You give the gift, the receiver thanks you for the gift, the receiver eats the gift, the gift is forever lost in the receiver's gastrointestinal track. I know it is the thought that counts and the thought definitely counts when it come to an edible gift. But still... Unless you mean a lot to that person, the receiver will probably forget about it sooner or later.

When it comes to giving someone a gift, I'm someone who believes in making instead of buying something. It just feels more special. It shows you care. Plus I get to exercise my creativity, thinking of ways to make the gift stand out. And usually the gift with the smallest budget is the most creative/awesome/unique/out of this world present.

And now, back to the popcorn. I don't know if that special someone really liked it but I loved it. At first bite, it's sweet and then the saltiness hits you after that. This stuff is addictive. Just a little tip, cook slightly more popcorn than required. You'll probably be munching on them unwittingly while you wait for the caramel to cook. Well.. that happened to me.

If you go to the cinema and order yourself a bag of popcorn, half salted and half sweet (just like I do), then you'll definitely love this.  Oh, and here's a lesson I learn.. never try cooking un-popped kernels in butter. It doesn't work. 

Salted Caramel Popcorn from

115g (1 stick) salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 cups popped popcorn

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray.

Melt butter in a 1 gallon pot over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer undisturbed for 4 minutes. Stir, then continue to cook for an additional 4 to 6 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until the mixture is a deep golden color.

Turn off the heat and whisk in salt, baking soda and vanilla. Set the whisk aside and stir in the popcorn. Scoop up the syrup from the bottom and over the top. Keep stirring and scooping the syrup over the popcorn until it is evenly covered and there is no syrup left on the bottom of the pan.

Spread the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the caramel corn has turned a deep amber color. Remove the caramel corn from the oven and spoon it onto a waxed paper-lined surface to cool. When completely cooled, store caramel corn in a covered container- it should stay fresh for up to a week.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Pate Sucree


I love making tarts. They are so much easier than cakes and heaps more delicious. Who doesn't love the crust on any pie/tart? Unless of course it was burnt, soggy or just plain tasteless. In case you were wondering, a pate sucree is a sweet tart pastry while the savoury cousin of it is called a pate brisee. 

Now... making a tart shell is as easy as pie. All you need is a delicate touch and some patience. And of course, you can't make a tart without a tart/pie pan. There are so many types available these days. Round/rectangular, straight/fluted edges, stainless steel/ceramic. What I feel that is most important when choosing a tart pan is that it comes with a removable base. It makes it so much easier to remove the tart from the pan. And do you know what's even easier than a removable base? A tart ring. 

I've noticed that most professional pastry kitchens use them. If you don't have one or can't find them, not to fret. I use an "egg ring" which doesn't have a handle on it. It works perfectly and I got mine at the local supermarket for cheaps. 

This crust recipe should be part of your pastry closet essential because frankly, it's the only one you'll ever need. Use it for a lemon meringue tart or a blueberry tart or a salted caramel chocolate tart. Anything goes really. What makes this recipe different from other pie shell is the addition of almond meal and vanilla bean which adds a decadent touch to it. And of course, this recipe comes from the god of pastry himself, Pierre Herme. Now... this can't get any better, can it?

But wait! After reading Heston Blumenthal's latest cookbook, I've picked up a few trick from him which will make this tart even more awesome. One of Heston's tip is to use coins instead of beans to act as weights. I must say it is rather ingenious. Especially if you're someone like me who doesn't like wasting beans just to hold the dough down. Usually I don't use weights when baking tartlets. Which explains the shrinking in the first picture. The coins prevents the tart from shrinking and because it conducts heat well, the tart shell will bake more evenly.

Another tip he gave was to not cut off the excess dough after shaping it into the ring (Not like what I've done below). Let it hang and only cut it right after baking the tart. This will prevent any shrinking thus you'll have a tart with a uniform height. Neat trick I must say... And best of all, you get to munch on the excess! 

Pierre Herme’s Sweet Tart Dough from Desserts by Pierre Herme
Makes 4 9-inch tart

285g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar, sifted
100g ground almonds
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla bean pulp
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
490g all-purpose flour (You could chill this in the freezer if you're making it in the summer)

Cream the butter using a food processor or a kitchenaid with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and mix well.  Next, add the almond powder, salt, vanilla and mix until the mixture is smooth, again scraping when necessary. Add the eggs and mix just until blended. Add the flour steadily. There is no need to wait for the flour to be incorporated thoroughly after each addition. Mix just until the ingredients come together to form a soft, moist dough that doesn’t clean the sides of the bowl completely but does hold together. Don’t overdo it.

Shape the dough into a ball and divide it into 3 or 4 pieces:  3 pieces for 10-inch tarts, 4 for 9-inch tarts.  Or, you can shape it into one large ball and cut off as much as you need.  Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic.  Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days before rolling and baking.  The dough can also be wrapped and frozen for up to a month.

To bake:
Butter a tart ring and preheat the oven to 180ºC.  Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface (I roll mine between sheets of cling wrap so that it won't stick) to a thickness between 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch.  Fit the dough onto the bottom and sides of the ring and leave some of the excess.  Prick the dough all over with a fork and chill for at least 3o minutes in the refrigerator

When you are ready to bake the crust, fit a circle of parchment paper or foil into the crust and fill with dried beans or rice or coins.  Bake the crust for 18-20 minutes , until it is just lightly colored.  If it needs more time in the oven, remove the rice/beans/coins and the parchment paper and bake for another five minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and trim off the excess dough using a sharp knife. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Salted caramel chocolate tart

The adult version of the Twix. Ah... Twix. I can never get enough of it. Heck with the Snickers and Mars bars. Nothing beats a Twix. It always comes in a pair which mean double the delight for the same price. That chocolate/caramel/biscuit combo can never go wrong. I am a sucker for chocolate coated biscuits. Chocolate fingers? Love it. Chocolate Digestives? MMmmm... 

 These days, whenever I rip apart the wrapper and take that first bite, I get flashbacks of my early army days... Every Sunday night, I'll be at the bus interchange along with my platoon mates waiting to board the bus that would take us to the ferry terminal. It is the last moment of being in a civilian world. A world where the commanders can never do anything to us recruits. Knowing that I'll be suffering for the next 6 days, I take comfort in my bar of Twix which I would munch on just before we board the bus. And this happened every Sunday for 3 months. Ah.. good times indeed. 

For this tart, I chose to use Pierre Herme's sweet tart dough recipe instead. It is by far my favourite tart base recipe and I'll be blogging about it next. I've also used the sea salt which I made from the seas of South Australia. Here's the link to my adventure of making sea salt. If I had to make this tart again, I would definitely use milk chocolate instead of dark. I felt that the dark chocolate ganache overpowered the caramel. So try using a chocolate that has less than 70% cocoa solid. 

Chocolate Caramel Tart with Sea Salt by Anita
Makes one 9-in tart or six 3 1/2-in tartlets


Pâte Sablée (Sweet tart dough)
140g unsalted butter, room temperature
100g sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
240g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

115g heavy cream
200g sugar
pinch of sea salt

Chocolate Ganache
340g bittersweet (60%-66%) chocolate, coarsely chopped
460g heavy cream


For the pâte sablée: 
Cream butter and sugar together in a stand mixer. Add eggs and mix just until incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix on low just until incorporated. Scrape out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap fully and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Flour work surface and roll out dough to 1/4″ thick. Lay into a 9″ tart pan or tart rings of your choosing and trim excess dough with a knife. Refrigerate for an hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes (check earlier if you are baking individual tarts), turning halfway through. Remove foil and weight and bake for 10 more minutes (individual tarts may not need additional baking time). Tart shells should be lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool fully on wire rack before filling.

For the caramel: 
Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Set aside while you cook the sugar. Combine sugar with 5 tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to boil and cook without stirring for about 4 minutes until it turns dark amber. Swirl to ensure it cooks evenly.

Take mixture off stove and pour cream slowly into the sugar (it will boil up so don’t pour in all at once.) Stir until incorporated and smooth. Add in salt. If caramel has cooled too much and become thick, place over heat and warm until it is liquid enough to pour.

Pour the caramel into the tart shell, covering the bottom evenly. Let cool until it firms and is no longer shiny. You can place the tart shell in the refrigerator to speed up the process.

For the ganache: 
Place chocolate and salt in a heatproof bowl. Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat on the stove. Pour cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Then whisk slowly and gently to combine. Do not stir too vigorously as this incorporates air into the ganache and gives it a less smooth and velvety texture.

Pour the ganache into the tart shell over the caramel. Let set at room temperature for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. (If you place the tart with warm ganache into the refrigerator, the ganache can cool too fast and end up cracking – unsightly but still edible, of course).

Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.