Sunday, October 3, 2010

Caramel combo

I begin this entry with a slight sense of déjà vu: a few weeks ago, I wrote about taking pecan pie to a pizza night at Lauren and Tom's. Last night I was once again invited to partake of Tom's fabulous pizzas, and again offered to supply an Edmonds dessert.

This time, I selected honey cake (p49), along with its recommended accompaniment, caramel sauce (p189). This recipe can be used either as a cake or a dessert, but I liked the dessert idea, so I'd set this one aside until I had an excuse to make it.

The recipe begins with heating honey, water, butter and chopped dates together in a saucepan. When the butter is melted, you take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool. After a few minutes you can add vanilla and mix in the dry ingredients. That's all there is to it: pour it into a cake tin and bung it into the oven.

The cake takes 45 minutes to bake - I set the timer for 40 and sat down to finish my book. When the timer went off, I brought out the cake to do the skewer test. It was already looking worryingly dark on top, but my skewers were still coming out a bit gooey-looking. I stuck it back in for the final 5 minutes, placing a piece of baking paper on top in the hope that it would protect the cake from further browning.

Meanwhile, I made a start on the sauce, heating sugar and butter together in a saucepan. For a moment I was harking back to my near-disastrous attempt at nut toffee: stirring and hoping the sugar would dissolve before the mixture started boiling. It did - perhaps brown sugar dissolves faster than white. Once it had, I let the mixture boil for 3 minutes then took it off the heat.

In a jug, I dissolved cornflour and golden syrup in a cup of warm water. This mixture went into the saucepan, (where the butter/sugar mixture was fast setting into a solid sugary mass) which then went back onto the heat to boil. Initially the two mixtures refused to combine - I had chunks of the sugary stuff floating in the milky-looking cornflour water - but by the time I had reached boiling point, I had a smooth-looking brown sauce.

After 2 minutes on the boil, I took the pan off the heat and added cream, turning a sweet and sickly sauce into something creamy and moreish. I had, in the meantime, removed the cake from the oven and left it to cool slightly in the tin. But as soon as the sauce was ready, I poured it into a jug, packed up the cake and headed off to Lauren and Tom's.

Most of the people Lauren had intended to invite were unable to come, so in the end there were only 4 of us. That didn't matter: we had a few laughs chatting around the dining table, listening to Tom's eclectic assortment of old records while he cooked up his pizzas.

With that dinner party favourite, Songs that Built Australia, playing in the background, we polished off the pizzas. There's nothing like a little Waltzing Matilda to enhance your enjoyment of a meal. With the pizza dishes cleared away, we cut into the cake.

It was necessary at this point to introduce Tom's Scottish mate Keith to the wonders of New Zealand's favourite cookbook - if only to convince him that I wasn't insane, and actually had a reason for taking photos of my food..

It was quite a good cake, really. I always enjoy anything that has dates in it, and the caramel sauce went really well with the honey/date flavour of the cake. It was very sweet, though, and I found it difficult to get through my whole piece. If you have a sweet tooth, this one's for you.

The cake was also a little dry - definitely overcooked, and reheating (even briefly) won't have helped. It's probably best taken out at the 40-minute mark or earlier, then served warm from the oven. Luckily, we had the caramel sauce to give it a bit of moisture. I wouldn't have liked to eat this cake without the sauce or something similar.

So if you've got a hankering for something sweet, have a go at this. It's pretty easy, just be careful not to overcook the cake - I think it'd be better to undercook it than dry it out like I did. After all, no one minds a little stodginess in a warm pudding. The caramel sauce is a bit more involved, but it's not really difficult - after all, I managed to do it!


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