BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Planting the Seed to Sweet Success

Milk candy, milk jam, dulce de leche, or just plain caramel: Comparisons are easily made, but thick and creamy cajeta is truly a step above all the other simple burnt sugar toppings out there.

Inspired by Brian Huston, my take on this classic milk confection is a modern departure from the typical goat milk base. He is a BlueStar All-Star chef, so I knew this basic formula would be the best place to start my recipe experiment. (In case you don’t know about BlueStar, they are makers of restaurant-quality kitchen appliances for the home chef. They are based in the U.S. and can offer lots of great customization options! Click here for more information.)

Rather than just swap out the milk for a standard non-dairy alternative, I wanted to start from scratch with whole sunflower seeds. Why sunflower, of all things? I’ve found them to be fairly neutral in flavor when raw, and by using the whole seed, the resulting blend would be plenty rich from those natural fats- No need to add any oils to compensate for a leaner dairy-free drink.

Cajeta takes a bit of patience to perfect, but very little actual work. It’s kitchen alchemy at its best, seeing that pale, unexciting liquid transform into a thick, decadent, caramelized topping. In fact, mine became substantial enough to even use as a spread once fully cooled. Although it was highly tempting to use this golden milk jam as an indulgent new peanut butter sandwich filling, I took Mr. Huston’s suggestion in making a sweet cajeta sundae instead.

Of course, I substituted additional sunflower seeds for the recommended peanuts, since it only seemed right to match. It may be tough to see the pool of cajeta at the bottom of the glass here, but the beauty of this caramel accompaniment is that a little bit really does go a long way! No matter how you drizzle or slather it on, it’s hard to go wrong with such a versatile dessert topping.

Girasol Cajeta (Sunflower Caramel Sauce)

4 Cups Warm Water
1 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Combine the water and sunflower seeds well in advance, and allow the seeds to soak for about 4 hours. This will soften them and allow them to blend much more easily than if they were simply raw. Transfer the mixture to your blender, and thoroughly puree until perfectly smooth. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, pass the resulting sunflower milk through a sieve to catch any remaining grit, discarding the solids.

Pour the fresh sunflower seed milk into a large stock pot and introduce the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate before setting the pot over medium heat on the stove. Slowly bring the mixture up to a boil, whisking periodically. Keep a close eye on the mixture at this point, because it can go from inactive to an overflowing bubbly mess in two seconds flat!

Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking at a gentle simmer, whisking frequently, as the milk cooks down and gradually darkens in color. After about 30 minutes, it will be especially important to keep stirring so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent anything from sticking. Add in the vanilla extract at this point.

After another 30 – 40 minutes, the mixture should be a deep amber brown and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or let cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. Stashed in the fridge, the cajeta will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Makes About 1 Cup

Printable Recipe

This post was sponsored by BlueStar. All opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.


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Crème de la Crème Caramel

Quick! Drop what you’re doing and whip up decadent, restaurant-quality dessert in a matter of minutes, without even turning on the oven. Don’t think it’s possible? With a properly stocked pantry and some shrewd thinking, you’re much closer to sweet indulgence than you may realize.

Spur of the moment, inspired by the full jar of speculoos spread sitting idly by in the cupboard, it suddenly became clear that this simple ingredient had a much greater destination than the average toast topper. Lending richness, body, and flavor all in one fell swoop, the cinnamon-scented cookie butter shines in this creamy custard. The slightly bitter edge of a dark caramel sauce envelopes each trembling round, adding greater depth than speculoos itself could hope to achieve. This is some swoon-worthy stuff, make no mistake. It may be a snap to throw together, but it sure doesn’t taste like it.

This is also my entry in the latest contest sponsored by So Delicious and hosted by Go Dairy Free.

Speculoos Crème Caramel

Caramel:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Speculoos Custard:

3 Cups So Delicious Vanilla Almond Milk
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1 Tablespoon Agar Agar Powder
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins and set aside, but keep them nearby so they’re easily accessible.

Beginning with the caramel layer, combine the sugar, water, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Stir to moisten all of the sugar, but keep your spatula out of the pan from here on in, to prevent crystallization. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture starts to darken around the edges; 8 – 10 minutes.

Rather than stirring, gently swirl the pan to mix the sugar syrup and evenly color the whole mixture at once. This will also ensure that it doesn’t burn in the corners or on the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the sugar turns dark amber. It should be just on the edge of burning and smoking, but not so close that it smells acrid. Once it starts to darken, it will continue to take on color very quickly, so keep a very close eye on it.

Turn off the heat and immediately pour the liquid caramel into your prepared ramekins, equally distributing it between the six. Let the custard cups sit, undisturbed at room temperature for the caramel to harden.

Meanwhile, turn your attention to the custard portion of the dessert.

In a medium saucepan, vigorously whisk together the non-dairy milk, sugar, salt, speculoos, agar, and arrowroot. It can be difficult to break up the mass of speculoos spread at first, so you may find it easier just to toss everything into your blender and give it a quick blitz instead. Either way, make sure that there are no lumps remaining before placing the saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Whisk frequently but gently, taking care to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as as it heats. Cook until bubbles begin to break regularly on the surface and the liquid has significantly thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, stirring until fully incorporated. Carefully pour equal portions of the custard into the waiting ramekins. Tap the bottoms of the cups lightly on the counter to knock out air bubbles. Smooth out the tops with a spatula if necessary.

Let cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Let rest until chilled; at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

To serve, simply tip each custard out of its ramekin and onto its own dessert plate. If it doesn’t release right away, run a thin knife around the edges and try again.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Coconut Oil Craze

No longer seen as the evil cholesterol killer it was once billed as, coconut oil has been practically reborn within the span of a year, now sitting proudly in health food stores right along with the other miracle cures and potions. Though I don’t quite buy into the whole craze, it always struck me as being every bit as worthy of the limelight as any other plant-based cooking fat, so congratulations to the coconut for its sudden redemption. The real difference for me comes not in the perception, but in the choices. Once upon a time, few sources for a high quality, food grade option existed, and now the marketplace has been flooded by a veritable downpour of tropical cooking fats, each one touting at least one or two of the latest buzz words: “Unrefined,” “Organic,” and “Fresh-Pressed” are popular slogans, each bottle chanting nearly the same health mantra at exactly the same volume. So, what’s a curious cook to do? Start tasting, of course.

Kelapo is a new brand to me, but when they offered me a sample, I was very much intrigued to see how it would compare to my standby, Tropical Traditions, which can conveniently be ordered in bulk, at very reasonable prices. Unassuming at first glace and looking very much like all of the other solid, white bricks available these days, I wasn’t expecting any revolutionary discoveries within the rotund twist-top jar. And yet, that first spoonful surprised me- Instead of scraping off shards of completely hardened oil, that flimsy wooden spoon slipped right in, yielding a dollop of creamy oil as soft as (non-dairy) butter. Already, I could see the new possibilities.

Slathered on toast and unadorned, this could be the new breakfast staple everyone will be talking about. No kidding, that subtle but sweet nuttiness adds richness beyond just fat, and amazingly, it actually spreads at room temperature with no muss or fuss. Though the flavor is admittedly comparable to most other coconut oils, it’s the consistency that really sets it apart.

Craving a classic movie-theater style tub of popcorn, it’s practically a matter of luck that most theaters have been popping their kernels in the tropical stuff for decades, and that same flavor is so readily available at home now. With a light sprinkle of fine sea salt, a handful of coconut oil-popped corn is quite a treat, movie night or not.

Not content to leave such a versatile ingredient alone, it struck me as the perfect start to a rich caramel sauce, ideal for topping everything from ice cream to cake to waffles. The experimentation certainly won’t end right here, but for now, I think I have a naked stack of pancakes and a big jar of this golden elixir to attend to…

Coconut Caramel Sauce

1 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Water
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

In a medium sauce pan with high sides, combine the sugar, agave and water, and set over moderate heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve completely and continue cooking gently without stirring. Swirl the pan gently to keep the contents moving, as necessary.

Meanwhile, heat the coconut milk, oil, ginger, and salt together in a separate pot, just until the mixture comes to the brink of boiling. Set aside.

Now is the time to pay full attention to the pot of sugar. You should see caramelization starting to occur slowly, and at that point, you should keep swirling the contents of the pot fairly steadily to get even browning and prevent burning. Continue cooking until the liquid sugar is a deep amber brown just barely beginning to smoke, and very quickly pour all of the hot coconut milk in to stop the caramelization. Stand back slightly when you do this and make sure your face is not right over the pot, as this can sputter and spit quite severely- Be careful!

Once the bubbling subsides, stir gently and cook for a minute or so longer, as the sugar on the bottom may briefly solidify. Stir just until the mixture is fully combined and liquified, and turn off the heat. Incorporate the vanilla, and let cool briefly before serving, or transferring to glass jars for storage.

Make About 2 Cups

Printable Recipe

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