Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons

(Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons)

The best things I ate this week? Juicy, dribbly, sweet and sour West Indian cucumber pickles, straight from the jar. Plump steamed dumplings stuffed with barbecued eel and spring onions. Misshapen blue corn tortillas piled high with ceviche, pickled jalepenos, avocado, chilli and lime. And this lamington. Turns out the best things in life aren’t necessarily always the prettiest.

My favourite things act as antidotes to the melancholic nature of a season. August feels less friendly when you’ve misplaced a favourite woolen blanket or feel too keenly the cold creep of kitchen tiles on bare feet. Sometimes, it’s also just about wanting a little bit of cake, nothing too heavy, preferably chocolate flavoured, maybe with a sprinkle of coconut and some brown sugar as well, thanks…

Double chocolate brown sugar lamingtons :

For the sponge :
6 eggs
140g brown sugar
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

chocolate sauce for dipping (recipe below)
250g dessicated coconut

Whisk the eggs in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and salt and continue whisking for a few minutes. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the egg mixture and fold in gently but thoroughly. Transfer this mixture to a greaseproof paper-lined 8″ x 12″ baking tray. Bake in a preheated 175’C oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once the cake is cooled, peel away the baking paper. With a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cake (or leave it if you don’t mind slightly rough edges on your end product) and split the sponge in half lengthways. Spread filling of your choice on one half of the sponge. Here I’ve used a salted caramel sauce but you can also use cherry jam, chocolate custard or whipped vanilla cream. You can also skip this step if you want unfilled lamingtons. Sandwich the sponge back together and cut into as many squares as you like (12-16 squares, depending on how big you want each portion to be). Dip each square in chocolate sauce and dredge in dessicated coconut.

For the chocolate sauce :
(You can use a more traditional recipe for chocolate frosting, but I prefer this one because it has more depth of flavour and is less sugary. It doesn’t set the way the frosting recipes do, but the sauce soaks in a little and sticks well to each sponge square.)

200g brown sugar
120g cocoa powder
400g water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium pan, place the brown sugar and cocoa. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Bring to boil, stirring. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened. Strain and leave to cool before using.

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Chocolate ricotta fudge cake with beer caramel

(Chocolate ricotta fudge cake with beer caramel)

After spending two weeks in Hobart, I return feeling somewhat re-energised. It’s all about a change of pace, experiencing great generosity, taking the M and E out of Team, and just eating well. Really well. Followed up with a run in 2’C weather with the wind whipping at your ears and legs. Turns out, it doesn’t take a lot to make things a little bit better.

So now I’m ready to get back into a commercial kitchen. Trouble is, I don’t know which kitchen.

I started baking with ricotta when I got back, having been inspired by the great ricotta and prune pastries at Pigeon Hole. This chocolate ricotta cake is one of several happy experiments. Remind me to also tell you soon about ricotta buttercream and ice-cream!

The chocolate ricotta cake is based on Tartine’s devils food cake recipe. The fudge frosting is like this but omit some of the caster sugar and increase the cocoa powder plus a pinch of salt. The beer caramel is adapted from here. Assembled cake then goes into mouth. No other instructions necessary.

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Brownie for a sweet and salty year

(Baked’s Sweet & Salty Brownie)

Another year is finally coming to a close, and I say that with a huge amount of relief. It’s been a year of extreme highs and lows. Yes, I have discovered that I’m not as strong as I would like to be. And I hate that.

But it’s not so much a complaint as merely an observation about things I’m slowly learning to accept. Like many good things, life is so much about having a certain measure of both : the salty, to balance the sweet, and vice versa.

(Pretzel and bacon caramels)

For Christmas this year, I made a few less-than-traditional gifts for friends, such as cowboy cookies and these caramels which are based on Dan Lepard’s treacle pecan caramel recipe, using pretzel pieces and crispy bacon bits instead of pecans. The treacle and molasses in Dan’s recipe add great depth of flavour to the caramel and elevate it from being merely sugary sweet to something rather special. I plan to make these again next year, maybe with a selection of different flavours.

In the meantime, there’s always these brownies, which are my idea of the perfectly balanced treat any day of the year.

Sweet and Salty Brownie :
(from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

For the filling :
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

For the brownie :
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder (like Valrhona)
11 ounces (311g) quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the filling : In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermomter reads 350F (175’C), or until the mixture is dark amber in colour, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the cream (careful, it will bubble up) and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the sour cream. Set aside to cool.

For the brownie : Preheat the oven to 350F (175’C).

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light coloured metal 9 x 13 inch pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper, and butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl of the double boiler set over a pan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage, or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is a just a trace amount of the flour mixture visible.

To assemble the brownie : Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, taking care to make sure the caramel does not come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Use your offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.

Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with an extra 1 1/2 teaspoons fleur de sel and 1 teaspoon coarse sugar.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

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