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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward


I always seem to get very introspective this time of year. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it has something to do with closing one chapter of my life and moving on to another - leaving behind the bad and bringing along the good. Maybe it's the possibility of reinventing myself yet again, hoping for a better outcome this time.

The coming of a new year is such a hopeful time - so full of promise. Heaven knows that 2008 was not good on so many levels. Global levels! In all my 40+ years I have never witnessed such despair, such desperation, such fear and insecurity, while at the same time, such resourcefulness, determination, courage and faith. Who knows where and how we'll be at this time next year. I'd like to think that whatever the future holds, I can embrace it with grace and a positive attitude. The glass is half-full, people. Let's drink from it!

There were lots of highs and lows for me in 2008. Many, I have shared with you; some I have not. One of the highlights for me has been getting to know so many wonderful, generous and caring people through this blog. When I started SGCC, I never dreamed that I'd become part of such a close knit and wildly creative community! Your friendship and support have lifted me up when I was down, and helped me soar through the highs. For this, I offer my sincerest thanks.

I have some interesting plans for SGCC this year, in both form and function. I'm working on a redesign of the site, which I am really excited about. I'm also working on implementing some new regular features, such as Dinner and a Movie and Cooking the Books, which I will tell you more about later.

Since you, dear readers, are such an integral part of the success (or failure) of this blog, I'd love to know what you'd like to see here on SGCC. Leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments section of this post by midnight on Monday, January 5th, and I will choose the one I like best. Whoever comes up with the winning idea will get a little something from me: a copy of The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. An alphabetical index of flavors and ingredients, this book allows readers to search complimentary combinations for a particular ingredient, emphasizing the classics. The book also features menu items from renowned chefs such as Grant Achatz of Alinea, Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill and Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert. Trust me, you'll love this one!


Now, what would a New Year's post be without a "Best of" list? Obviously, I love most of the food I post about, or else I wouldn't bother. That said, I do have my favorites. Here are my picks for the Best of 2008.


In January, I made this Soupe au Pistou. This hearty and satisfying Provencal vegetable soup, full of robust flavors is perfect for a chilly winter day. The recipe was borrowed from noted cookbook author, Patricia Wells. I came across it years ago while watching her on an episode of Martha Stewart's old cooking show.


In February, this fabulous Thank Heaven for Little Girl(Scout)s Samoa Cheese Tart was born. Inspired by my overabundance of Samoa Girl Scout cookies, this super rich, caramelly, coconutty, chocolatey, cream cheesy flan-like tart is quite possibly the stickiest, gooiest, creamiest and chewiest dessert I've ever made!


My Baking with Mom series back in March was a lot of fun. My mother and I spent a few days together, making our versions of Italian Easter pies. Of course, we each had very definite ideas about how our pies should be done - and we didn't always agree! My favorite of the bunch was my Pizza Rustica - traditional Italian Easter pie with a ricotta base, which is then filled with a variety of dried meats and cheeses. My Pizza Rustica is big, cheesy, creamy and gooey hunk of a pie stuffed to the gills with six different kinds of dried and fresh MEAT! And boy, is it good!


I couldn't not include one of my most popular recipes of all time on this list. So, my pick for April is none other than my Holycraptheseareamazing Cookies. These cookies are mind-numbingly delicious, crispy, creamy little balls of peanut butter perfection! Lots of you thought so too. I won 1st place in The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition Cookie Contest with them.


My favorite recipe in May was for the Spicy Crab Cakes with Key Lime Mustard Sauce that I made for Mr. SGCC's birthday. These crab cakes were sweet and spicy, crispy, tender and meaty. I served the crab cakes with a cool and creamy Key Lime Mustard Sauce and they were amazing!


Some of you may remember that incident I had at Whole Foods last summer regarding some $28.99/pound veal chops. Well, while the price tag on those veal chops left a bad taste in my mouth, the chops themselves were magnificent! My Pan Roasted Veal Chops with Chipotle-Lime Butter were a smash hit and are my pick for June. I only wish I could afford to make them a lot more often!


In July, my Drunken Cherry-Vanilla Ice Cream sure hit the spot! This ice cream is a perfect choice when fresh, sweet, juicy, ruby-hued Bing cherries abound. It starts with a Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, which contains no eggs yolks, instead, relying heavily on cream. The cherries are simmered a few minutes in a little Kirschwasser, or cherry brandy, and then mixed into the ice cream. Mmmm!


August brought forth one of my favorite seafood dishes of all time - Misoyaki Salmon. Borrowing from several different sources, I tried to recreate the famous Misoyaki Butterfish that I've enjoyed many times at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion. This dish was To. Die. For.! It was seriously the best salmon I've ever made. I have to say that my Misoyaki Salmon could definitely give Roy's butterfish a run for its money!


In September, I shared a recipe for one of my favorite foods from my childhood. My mom used to make this Oven Baked Corn Flake Crumb Chicken a lot when we were kids. This dish is one of my ultimate "feel good" foods. It represents love and family, comfort and security and the knowledge that home isn't just a place where you live, but how you live and who you live with.


Some disappointing sugar cookies and leftover pumpkin puree led me to create my October pick - Serendipity Pumpkin Cheese Pie with Toffee and Caramel Swirl. This rich, creamy and decadent confection is heaven on a plate! The filling has a cream cheese base, with gorgeous, thick caramel ribbons running through it. I also added some toffee bits for a little bit of crunch. The crust was made from those recycled sugar cookies. It was an accidental triumph to be sure!


November's pick is The Rachel, a grilled sandwich closely resembling a Ruben. The difference between the two is that The Rachel is made with pastrami and coleslaw and a Ruben is made with corned beef and sauerkraut. Now, this is a sandwich you can really sink your teeth into!


Last, but not least, December's pick is the dreaded Buche de Noel. Yes, it was a pain to make. But, the finished product was nothing short of magnifique!

Here's wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Cool Yule (Log) for the Daring Bakers


Have you ever decided to tackle a complicated and time-consuming project and announced it to family and friends, only to be met with stares of wide-eyed horror and echoed strains of "Are you crazy or something!"? Well, that's pretty much what happened when I shared my plans to make this month's Daring Baker Challenge, a Yule Log, or Buche de Noel. After seeing that 18 page treatise, er, I mean recipe, Mr. SGCC rolled his eyes back into his head and pronounced, "No freakin' way!". Mini SGCC just got one of those smug, know-it-all, teenaged looks on her face and said "Yeah.....right!".


I don't know about you, but when someone tries to tell me that I can't do something, it only makes me want to prove them wrong. So, while I secretly harbored much of the same doubts and fears about attempting this project, I was determined to at least give it my best shot! I did, and let me tell you, people. It almost killed me.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. Different from the more common Genoise and Buttercream type of Yule Log you are probably familiar with, this frozen version is reminiscent of an ice cream cake, except that it is made with a frozen mousse of some sort, layered around various layers of different fillings. In France, this type of confection is called an entremets, which is loosely translated in English as a "cream dessert".


Perfectionist OCD individuals like me should probably resist the urge to dive into projects like this. With six separate components to prepare and somehow manage to assemble into a single, seamless and attractive unit, I literally worked myself into a panicked frenzy requiring medication and quite possibly, intensive therapy! Reading and re-reading the recipe, my brain was swimming in dread, trying to take it all in. I was convinced that I needed a degree in structural engineering to master this thing.

Where do I begin?

My first dilemma was what kind of vessel to use as my mold. I had a couple of nice loaf pans, but they were rectangular and I wanted my buche to be round. I ordered a fancy (read expensive) Buche de Noel pan from Sur la Table and thought I was set. But, when the pan arrived, it was MUCH smaller than I had expected - barely two inches deep! I didn't see any possible way to get all of the required layers packed into that tiny package. CRAP!

buche mold

Several of my DB colleagues reported that they had made their own molds using various combinations of PVC pipes, paper towel rolls, foil pans and assorted other things. I decided to go the disposable foil pan route, because I happened to have a few left over from Christmas. I found the biggest wine bottle that I had and molded the foil around it. Then, I trimmed it to fit inside one of my loaf pans. (Using a wine bottle worked out perfectly for me, because by the time I got to this point in the recipe, I already needed a few drinks!) By the way, if you try this yourself, BE CAREFUL! Those %$&*@# cut edges are SHARP!


The first element I prepared was the creme brulee. I decided to keep it simple here and made the vanilla version as written in the recipe. I lined another loaf pan with foil and baked the brulee in that so it would be the proper size and shape to fit into my buche. There was some controversy on the DB boards regarding the correct oven temperature for this. I decided to up the temperature to 260 degrees F. and after one hour, my creme brulee looked set. As directed, I then set it in the freezer until I needed it. I also made a small second brulee to test. After being frozen overnight, it unmolded without incident and tasted really good. (I also plopped a chunk into my morning coffee and ooh la la! It was delicious!)

Next, I made the Praline Feuillete......twice. The praline paste was easy to put together and it came off without a hitch, but the rest? Well, let's just say something got lost in la traduction. It was lumpy, clumpy and Would. Not. Hold. Together. I think I used too many Rice Krispies. The recipe said 2.1 ounces, but that translated into about 4 cups of cereal. The second time, I used half as much and it turned out fine. The finished feuillete reminded me of a Nestle's Crunch Bar. I wonder if I could have saved myself the aggravation and just used a few of those? (I mean, who would know?)


After that, I made the mousse, using milk chocolate instead of dark. My family likes milk chocolate better and so do I. I also felt that the lighter color of the milk chocolate would make a prettier contrast with the other elements in the buche.

This particular mousse requires the making of something called a Pate a Bombe. Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes them more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items. Making a Pate a Bombe requires boiling sugar syrup to the soft ball stage, which in turn requires lots of Valium for me, for in spite of my dozens of attempts over the years to boil a sugar syrup to the desired "ball stage", I have never successfully done it. Not even once. Not even using a candy thermometer.

Without going into the gory details, suffice it to say that I made that @%$*& Pate a Bombe three times before it didn't bomb - and not before I burned the fingerprints off of my index finger. GRRRR!


Then, I had the bright idea of melting the chocolate for the mousse in my little Wilton chocolate melter. I love that thing! I use it all the time and it does a great job - except this time, my chocolate seized and became all grainy and gloppy. A half-pound of Guittard milk chocolate down the drain - literally! SHIT!

The next half-pound went into the double boiler and after forever and a day, it was suitably melted, smooth and glossy.

Thankfully, there were no issues with the preparation of the Dacquoise. I used hazelnuts instead of almonds and was very pleased with the way it turned out.

The ganache recipe used in the buche was quite different from any I've made before. This one had a caramel base. (Uh oh! Where's that burn ointment!) I must finally be getting the knack of caramelizing sugar, because I only had to make this one twice before being rewarded with a lovely, thick and glossy ganache.

Assembling the Buche de Noel was actually not as daunting as I expected it to be. Once all of the different elements were completed, trimmed and ready to go, putting it all together was kind of easy. When I unmolded my buche, I noticed that there were some holes where the mousse didn't fill in. I did tap down the mold several times while piping it in, but the mousse was pretty thick. I was afraid to tap too much because my loaf pan was made of glass. I could just see myself shattering the pan after all that work! I figured that real logs have plenty of bumps and nicks and that mine would just look more "realistic".

After reading about how many of the other DBers ran short on the chocolate finishing glaze, I doubled the recipe. It was a good call, because I needed it. I could have even used more. Of course, since I already had some gaps in my buche, a totally smooth and shiny finish was too much to hope for. Again, I opted for "realism" and drizzled some chocolate "grooves" over the top of the log. It covered up quite a few blemishes, which then looked like I had put them there on purpose.

buche4sml buche4-bsml

(I know it's just condensation, but doesn't the one on the left look like it has snow on top?)

With the leftover bits and pieces of the different elements, I also made a little baby buche. Isn't it cute? Technically, it isn't a log, but more like a mini tree trunk, since it stands upright. I just layered the ingredients in a small cake ring. I like the fact that it is a single serving which would be perfect for an elegant dinner party or a buffet. Much easier to serve.

I garnished my buche with white chocolate leaves that I made using real leaves from my Meyer lemon tree. They are quite easy to make. All you do is brush tempered chocolate on the back side of the leaves and chill or freeze until firm. Then, carefully peel the real leaves away and chill or freeze again. The holly berries were made from some leftover holiday sprinkles that I had. I hand painted the leaves with some green luster dust and voila! Christmas holly! Just make sure that you use leaves that are thin and pliable. I tried this with some Kaffir lime leaves and it was a mess. The leaves were too stiff and the chocolate shattered when I tried to peel it off.


Now, for the moment of truth. How do I feel about this challenge after spending two solid days making and re-making caramel, melting pounds of chocolate, stirring, folding, beating, baking, freezing (and cursing) the numerous elements of this Buche de Noel? Well, I guess I'm torn. Am I glad I did it? Yes.....and No. While I am very proud of myself for actually having completed the challenge, I have to say that I don't think I would ever do it again. Don't get me wrong - the buche was a showstopper and it tasted absolutely divine. But, all of that work and stress pretty much sapped every last drop of "Ho! Ho! Ho!" right out of me! For me, it was a monumental task in an already frenetic time. Just getting the recipe straight took HOURS! And the MESS (not to mention the injuries)!!! Not only was my entire kitchen covered in chocolate, but I was too. (Not a good look for me.) Frankly, I probably would have enjoyed the experience a lot more if it hadn't happened smack dab in the middle of the Holiday Season. Cooking and baking are things that I do to relax, because I enjoy them. When they become another source of anxiety in my life, it defeats the purpose. I'm just sayin'.

Next time, I think I'll just buy my Buche de Noel from Francois Payard. His are magnificent and it would probably be cheaper!

If you'd like to see some more cool Yules from this challenge, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll. You'll find hundreds of delectable and creative Buches de Noel there.

Appréciez et Joyeux Noël!


The following is the order in which I made the different elements of the Buche de Noel. It worked best for me because the first few elements needed much more time to prepare and set up before being ready to use. I was able to multi-task and begin making the latter elements while the former were baking, chilling, freezing, etc.

1) Creme Brulee
2) Praline Feuillete
3) Mousse
4) Dacquoise
5) Ganache
6) Icing

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the caster sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse
Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1+1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler (or one small saucepan in a larger one), heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the rest of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have a plunging mixer it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. If you do substitute cereal you should use half of the stated quantity, so 1 oz of cereal. I used crushed Rice Krispies. If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008 over at Mele Cotte.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil

1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, coffee, etc.

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
(Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.)

5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing
Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR saran wrap or cling film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.

3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.

4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.

8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise. Freeze until the next day.


2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.

3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.

7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

9B) Close with the Dacquoise. Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with TWO pieces of Dacquoise the order is:

1) Dacquoise
2) Mousse
3) Creme Brulee Insert
4) Mousse
5) Praline/Crisp Insert
6) Mousse
7) Ganache Insert
8) Dacquoise

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:

1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise


Unmold the log and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.

Cover the log with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.

You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...

Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing You all a Happy and Blessed Christmas

Regularly scheduled programming from SGCC will be back very soon. I promise! In the meantime, I'm wishing you all a very happy and blessed Christmas, filled with peace, love and joy. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Take care.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sad News.....


It is with great sadness that I tell you that Uncle Sal passed away on Tuesday night. While he valiantly held on as long as he could, his injuries were just too numerous and catastrophic. He was a beautiful and wonderful man, and we will miss him terribly.

I want to thank you all for your continued prayers and good wishes during this ordeal. You kindness has touched my family and me more than you can know.

When I started this blog over a year ago, I never imagined that I would come to know so many thoughtful, caring and giving people from all around the world. I am truly blessed to have found you.

I'd like to believe that Uncle Sal is up in paradise right now, hanging out with my Dad again. They're probably roaming around Heaven together, searching for the perfect place to plant a new garden and arguing over whose tomatoes are sweeter! I think that some things will never change.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sweety Pies Giveaway Winner


Here we are - time to announce the Sweety Pies Cookbook Giveaway winner. Have you all been waiting with bated breath? Have you been unable to concentrate and focus on anything else these past few days? Have you been dreaming about pies, pies and more pies? Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer.

With a record 130 comments to sift through, I decided to turn to the trusty Random Number Generator to help me out. So, without further ado, the giveaway winner is.......(Drumroll please!)

Lucy from Teen Baker!!!


Congratulations, Lucy! I hope you enjoy the book and make lots and lots of delicious pies! Please email me at stickygooeycreamychewy [AT] gmail [DOT] com as soon as you can with your mailing address so I can get your prize out to you ASAP.

Thanks to everyone who played along. I really enjoyed reading about your favorite Holiday songs. I even discovered some new ones I didn't know before. I also want to thank everyone for all of the prayers and good wishes you sent for my Uncle Sal. Miraculously, he is still hanging on. I wish I had 130 cookbooks to give away to each one of you!

For those of you who are looking for a Tuesdays with Dorie post, I apologize, but I just haven't had time to make that happen today. 'Tis the season, and all that. I will try to get it up soon. In the meantime, be sure to check out the TWD blogroll for lots of fabulous Buttery Jam Cookies.



Monday, December 15, 2008

Menu for Hope V: Win SGCC's Cupcake Lollapalooza!

If you've been a member of the food blogging community for any length of time then you're probably already familiar with Menu for Hope. In case you're not, Menu for Hope is the annual fundraising campaign founded and organized by fellow food blogger Pim of Chez Pim. Each December, food bloggers from all over the world join the campaign by offering a delectable assortment of food-related prizes which are raffled off in the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone can buy raffle tickets at $10 a piece to bid on these prizes. Each $10 donated earns you one shot to bid on a prize of your choice. The more tickets you buy, the more chances you have to win. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim.

Last year, Menu for Hope raised over $90,000 to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, working with the UN World Food Programme. The WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

This year, Menu for Hope has chosen to work with the WFP once again to continue to support the Lesotho program. If you'd like to learn more, Pim has a great FAQ post up on her site, which I would encourage you to visit.

I am very pleased to announce that SGCC will be sponsoring a prize this year for the Menu for Hope raffle. Let me tell you a little about it.


Allow me to present the SGCC Cupcake Lollapalooza!

This delicious package includes an autographed 8x10, print of Cupcake Girl by Florida artist Annie Laurie of Annie Laurie Designs. This lively and whimsical work of art comes matted and framed in a lovely, hand-painted custom wood frame with the words "You're one sprinkle away from the sweet life...Eat dessert first!" handwritten by the artist around the perimeter of the print. Isn't she adorable? Mr. SGCC says she kind of looks like me, except that I don't usually walk around with a cupcake on my head!


A special Hello Cupcake gift set is next, which includes a copy of the wildly popular and too cute for words cupcake handbook, Hello Cupcake, by Alan Richardson and Karen Tack. Unless you've been living under a rock and have totally missed the cupcake craze, you know that this book has become a much beloved cult classic in the food blog world. If you don't already have a copy - you NEED one. If you do have a copy - you still NEED this, because as well as the cookbook, this set also includes a set of pretty decorative paper cupcake liners and a cupcake decorating kit. It has all you need to recreate some of those fabulous Hello Cupcake confections!


Also included in this package are a set of 12 multicolored silicone cupcake baking cups and a set of 24 multicolored silicone mini-cupcake baking cups.


Last, but not least, this package comes with a container of Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcake mix, from the legendary bakery of the same name.

With Cupcake Girl as your inspiration, and the rest of these cool tools at your disposal, you'll soon be a cupcake pro!

The prize code for my Cupcake Lollapalooza is UE09. You will need this number if you decide to bid on this item.

Have I inspired you to donate yet? I hope so, but if you still need a little more prodding, please check out Pim's site for a complete list of all of the fabulous prizes available.

All of you East-Coasters should also stop by Steamy Kitchen to take a look at the rest of the prizes from our corner of the world. Jaden has graciously taken the reigns as the regional director for the U.S. East Coast effort.

When you are ready to buy your raffle tickets, here's what you need to do:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at
2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you if you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone. We promise!

Our coordinators have done everything they can to make this whole process easy and painless for you. So, what are you waiting for?

Go forth and SHOP!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Thank You, a Holiday Giveaway and a Pie


Before I get to the good stuff, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who sent my family so many prayers, kind words and good wishes this week. I am truly touched by the vast generosity of spirit possessed by all of you. I cannot express how much it meant to me. The food blog community, both bloggers and readers alike, are the most wonderful and caring group of people I've ever known. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


Uncle Sal is still hanging on, but things are not looking good. He has had surgery to set most of his broken bones and the doctors are keeping him in an induced coma so that he doesn't move around while they are mending. The good news is that he can move his arms and legs.

He also had one surgery for the burns on his hands because he was losing so much blood and fluid and his vital signs were getting too weak. It didn't go too well and they were supposed to do another surgery yesterday to do some skin grafts, but he was too unstable for them to proceed with that. He has apparently also developed an infection in his blood, which weakens him even further.

I don't know how this will end. I know that Uncle Sal is in good and very capable hands and that all the rest of us can do is continue to pray. I will keep you posted.


Now, on to some brighter news. My good friends from Pillsbury contacted me a few weeks ago to let me know how pleased they were with the posts I wrote in October about their new products. In fact, they very graciously sent me this lovely gift basket filled with some pie baking essentials. The package includes two 9-inch glass pie pans, a pie server, pie-top cut-outs and a CD-ROM with photos and recipes of Pillsbury pie favorites! And, the CD-ROM allows you to easily upload the photos and recipes to your blog.

Since it's been a while since there's been a good giveaway on this blog, I've decided to gift this goodie basket to one of you. To sweeten the deal a little, (and in case you need a few good pie recipes), I am also throwing in a copy of Patty Pinner's "Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection Of Womanish Observations, With Pie". More than just a cookbook, it is a collection of warm and cozy memoirs all wrapped up in between luscious recipes and scrumptious photos of - you guessed it - pies!


According to Pinner, "What a woman cooks is a window into her personality - what she thinks, how she behaves, how she feels about herself and the people she cooks for."

Each recipe in Sweety Pies tells the story of the woman behind it. It speaks to the importance of family, friends and community. Oh yeah, and you get some great pie too! It is a lovely book that would be a welcome addition to anyone's cookbook collection.

All you have to do to be eligible to win this great giveaway is leave a comment on this post between now and midnight EST on Monday, December 15. I know that's not a whole lot of time, but I want the lucky winner to have this gift in time to whip up some Holiday pies! I'm also adding a little twist. Most of you know that I am also a musician. So, to be eligible, in your comment you must state your favorite song of the season. It can be a Christmas carol, Hanukkah song, a song about peace.....whatever your fave is. At midnight, I'll have one of my trusty elves pick a name out of Santa's hat.


Now, in case all of this talk about pie has made you a little hungry, here is a pie from Sweety Pies for you that I whipped up. She calls it My Grandmother's Handmade Apple Pie. It is a traditional apple pie that is easy to put together and delicious to eat. I did add a cup of dried cranberries to my apple filling, because I like the bit of tartness they bring. Also, as a nod to Pillsbury, I used their Refrigerated Pie Crust. It is a real timesaver and always turns out nice and flaky. It's a great alternative when you don't want to make your own.

If you'd like to try making this pie and you don't have access to the book, you can find the recipe here.


Enjoy, and don't forget to leave your comments!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD Double Header: Linzer Sables and Sugar Cookies


Everybody loves a good bargain, don't they? My favorites are the "Buy One, Get One Free" deals. Sometimes, I'll buy something that I don't even need, just because I can't resist the "BOGO". Well, today, dear readers, you are getting two of Dorie's terrific cookies for the price of one!

Last week's TWD assignment were her Linzer Sables, selected by Noskos of Living the Life. I did actually bake the cookies last Tuesday, but with everything that has been happening here in SGCC Land lately, I never got around to posting about them.


Linzer Sables are deliciously spicy little sandwich cookies made with ground nuts and traditionally filled with jam. Though I have made these cookies before, I had never tried Dorie's recipe for them. As I mentioned, the recipe calls for some type of ground nuts. My preference was hazelnuts, but I didn't have any and couldn't seem to find them at the two markets near my house. I did, however, have lots of almonds, so I used those. For the filling, I stuck with the tried and true and used red raspberry jam.

While I can't say that they were the best Linzer cookies I've ever had, I will say that everyone who tried them liked them very much. They were nutty, buttery and crunchy. The sables, themselves, were not overly sweet, and the jam was the perfect counterpart to them. All in all, I would probably make them again.


This week's TWD assignment was much more versatile. Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies recipe , chosen by Ulrike from Küchenlatein, produces a basic sugar cookie dough that can serve as a backdrop for many different flavors and applications, and is suitable for any occasion. It can be rolled out and cut into shapes or made into a log for slice and bake cookies.

I made two batches of dough for this assignment. One was for the original vanilla sugar cookies and the other was flavored with some almond essence that I brought back from St. Lucia. I formed the almond cookie dough into a log for slice and bake cookies. Before baking, I also topped them with a mixture of granulated sugar and sliced almonds. They were soft and chewy with a lovely almond flavor. I ate five before I ever left the house!


The vanilla sugar cookie dough is still sitting in my fridge waiting to be cut into shapes and decorated for Christmas. I really, really wanted to get them finished for today too, but my 6 year-old nephews called me yesterday and invited me to go visit Santa with them. Well, what can I say? When a girl gets an invitation like that from her two favorite guys, she just has to accept! The rest of the cookies will just have to wait.

I thought that this was a very nice sugar cookie recipe. The dough was easy to throw together and it turned out a nice, tasty and tender cookie. I'd love to see how they would turn out using some lemon or orange zest in the dough. I'll bet they'd be great!


If you're interested in trying either of these cookie recipes, they can be found in Dorie's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, or at Noskos' site and Ulrike's site. As always, you can see more creative incarnations of both recipes by visiting the TWD blogroll.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas are Some Prayers.

Two Girls Praying, by Emile Munier (1840-1895)

Two Girls Praying by Emile Munier (1840-1895)

I know you've all been waiting for details from my cruise, or for Linzer Sables (which I did make). Or, perhaps you were expecting another crazy, madcap story about my adventures as an Accident Prawn. Maybe you've been looking for some telltale sign that the Holidays are upon us. I've tried, but I just don't have it in me right now.

You see, I did have a wonderful time on my cruise. It was relaxing and rejuvenating and wonderful. But, the series of events which transpired this past week has sapped me of my holiday enthusiasm and left me a little limp.

While still basking in the afterglow of a whole week the Caribbean, the first thing that Mr. SGCC did when we got home was turn on his cell phone. Big mistake! Waiting for him was a message that one of his clients had died. Not just any client, mind you, but a three year-old baby, who for the past two years lay in a nursing home, hopelessly brain damaged due to being violently shaken by his foster mother. This little boy had suffered so much! Some say that perhaps his passing was a blessing. I only feel overwhelming sadness at the tragic and senseless destruction of child's life.

A few days later, my in-laws called with more terrible news. Mr. SGCC's closest cousin P. had passed away. It was very sudden and completely unexpected. P. went in to get a routine flu shot, like millions of others do each year. Whatever was in the vaccine reacted negatively with another medication that P. was taking and twenty-four hours later, he was gone. Just like that. Gone. P. was only two years older than we are (and we aren't old). He was an only child and his father died last April. Now, his mother, Mr. SGCC's aunt, has lost her entire family within six months time.

My husband and his cousin grew up together. They spent every holiday, Spring Break and summer vacation together. Neither had siblings, so they were like each other's brother. P. lived in Pennsylvania and we live in Florida. Though "the boys" didn't get to visit very often in recent years, the bond was still there. As for me, I liked P. very much. He was warm and sweet and funny and genuine. He will be sorely missed.


Albrecht Durer's Praying Hands

Now, I'd like to tell you about my dear Uncle Sal. He's is a tough, old, wiry seventy-two year-old guy with the unfailing energy of a twenty-five year-old. He grew up in the same little Italian town as my father, and eventually married Dad's little sister. For over fifty years he's been a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Uncle Sal has survived cancer, open heart surgery and two serious car crashes. (Did I mention he was tough?) He's also the only Italian I've ever known with red hair and freckles!

On Saturday afternoon, Uncle Sal was up in his avocado tree picking avocados. At seventy-two, his tree climbing days should be long over, but nobody could ever tell HIM that. He lost his balance and somehow grabbed onto a live power line. Electricity jolted through his body as he plunged twenty-five feet to the ground. By some miracle he barely survived the fall, but his injuries are catastrophic. He is badly burned over much of his body and has broken his arm, leg, pelvis, sacrum, 8 ribs and several vertebra in his back. He was airlifted to a hospital in Tampa where he was in surgery all Saturday night. He is now in the burn unit in critical condition.

We have no idea at this point if, when or how he will recover from this. I do know that any recovery will surely be long and grueling. I am putting this out there because if there was ever a time my family needed some extra prayers, this is it. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and if you are too, please put in a good word for my uncle.

So, my dear readers, as you now know, this has been a helluva week here in SGCC Land. Cooking and baking have been pretty far down the list of my priorities. I hope to be back on track tomorrow with my weekly Tuesdays with Dorie post. I'm heating the oven up now.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Go Crazy for Caramel!


This is going to be a short and very sweet Daring Bakers post for this month. Most of you already know that I've been away on a family cruise since last Friday, November 21. I was a good DBer and completed my challenge before I left, but I just didn't have time to write my post. So, having just arrived home today at around 3:00 p.m., and being utterly exhausted, I am throwing this up to meet the November deadline.

This month's challenge is one that I was very happy to accept! It is for Shuna Fish Lydon's signature Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Shuna has been a professional pastry chef for over fifteen years and the voice behind the deliciously excellent blog Eggbeater. I am a total caramel junkie, so I knew that I was going to love this cake!


I wish I had time to get into more detail on my experience with making this cake. Surprisingly, the whole process went pretty smoothly. The first thing I did was make the caramel syrup. I was a nervous wreck because I had never made caramel before and I was a little scared of it. But, with a tips from some helpful DBers, I was able to make a lovely, sticky, amber syrup without burning my house down! The recipe provided makes enough caramel syrup to complete the cake with enough leftover to enjoy over ice cream and mixed into coffee. Mmmm! I really enjoyed that!


The Caramelized Butter Frosting was to die for! I added about a teaspoon of fleur de sel to it for a salted butter caramel flavor. It did not disappoint!

I decided to make a four-layer cake with some frosting nestled between each layer. I baked my cake in two 8-inch pans and then sliced each into two horizontal pieces. When, I assembled the cake, I also added toffee bits on top of each layer of frosting for some crunch. When the cake was completely frosted, I drizzled some caramel syrup on top for a little extra oomph!


This cake is not for the faint of heart, people. There is sugar and butter galore in it, and it is very rich and very sweet. But, I thought it was marvelous! Of course, it is not something you'd eat every day, but it would be a wonderful choice for a special occasion.

There was also an optional challenge recipe chosen for this month. It was Alice Medrich's Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from her wonderful book, Pure Dessert. I desperately wanted to make these little treats, but I just never got around to it. I looked in several stores for Lyle's Golden Syrup and couldn't find it, which was kind of unusual. I just didn't have time to go crazy searching for some right before my trip, so I had to pass on them. Never fear, though, I definitely plan to make these at least a few times during this Holiday season! They look and sound utterly amazing!


My thanks go out to Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity; Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray of Food, for serving as our hosts this month. They not only selected a wonderful recipe for us to enjoy, but also graciously provided much helpful advice.

If you'd like to see what the many hundreds of other talented and creative Baring Bakers did with this challenge, please take some time to visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll. I know you'll be inspired!



10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. (Use the foil trick)

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously, wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.)

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS (makes 80 1-inch caramels) from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert


1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened


A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.