Sunday, 8 August 2010

Aunty Lan's spectacular Toffee Almond Bars

I love anything with toffee or caramel in it. Recently, while surfing for 'toffee/caramel' recipes, I came across this super-easy recipe which uses a cake mix of all things!

Since I am the kind of girl - similar to Mary of Alpineberry - who always makes everything from scratch, I was sceptical about these Toffee Almond Bars. The problem is the picture on Mary's website looked so good that I couldn't stop myself from going to buy a cake mix just to try the recipe out.

How did it go?

Honestly, it took me three times to get this recipe right. I had to modify it here and there because the recipe on Mary's website just refused to work for me. The first couple of attempts came out mushy and soft like pudding. I had to throw both batches out as there was no way anyone could have eaten them.

I poured out my frustration to my dearest Aunty Lan and she told me 'Nevermind. Try again. You'll make spectacular Toffee Almonds Bars the next time.' I don't know if the third time was a charm or if Aunty Lan prayed very hard,  because I did get it right the third time.

I gobbled a few pieces at home and took the rest in to work for fear of overloading on the sugar. Oh my... they were good, and my boss JT agrees too!

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Biccies for a cuppa

Thanks to RH, I've started a terrible habit of tea and biscuits every day after work. Thanks to me, I'm so spoilt by  my own baking that I have trouble buying biscuits off the supermarket shelf. I can't seem to find anything ready-to-eat that fits what I think should be the perfect tea biscuit.

Thanks to all of the above, I embarked on a new project - the Search of the Perfect Tea Biscuit.

By 'tea' biscuits, I do not refer to Tea Biscuits. Rather, I mean biscuits in general that accompany the activity of drinking tea. As I'm not a 'dunker' I had very specific needs of this biscuit. I wanted a delicate snap with every bite and a firm, buttery crumb with full-on flavour.

What immediately came to mind, was a biscuit my uncle used to buy for me as a child many years ago. It was from the famed Australia Bakery in Seapark - the one that sells the rainbow-coloured, multi-layered jelly. The biscuit was a Viennese Finger, or rather two big, fat fingers sandwiched together with a thin layer of strawberry jam and one end dipped in melted chocolate. Mmmmmm... I remember taking huge, satisfying mouthfuls with my cuppa, always leaving the chocolate end for last. This to me was the perfect tea biscuit.

As Australia Bakery doesn't sell these lovely treats anymore, I tried out several Viennese Finger recipes, to see which one most reminded me of those long-gone biscuits. So began my project.

During the course of my experimentation, I made these. All resulted in different flavours and texture.

The chocolate ones were the first I tried. I wasn't entirely sure about these biscuits at first. They were barely sweet, had the perfect texture and a bitter-chocolate flavour. Yet, there was just something about about them that I couldn't resist. Then I got greedy and wanted a vanilla version. Well, I couldn't dip the chocolate version into more chocolate now could I? That would have been too much.

I tried two other recipes before going back to this and adapting it to make a vanilla version. They're sweeter than the chocolate version - no cocoa powder dominance here - and has the taste of milk. Texture-wise it delivers what I want on all counts. I didn't bother to sandwich them or even dip them into melted chocolate, as they were perfect on their own.

  • If you find these a little on the sweet side, you can safely take away up to 20g of the icing sugar. Anything more and the texture might suffer.
  • To make the chocolate version, omit the vanilla extract and seeds from a vanilla pod. Use 260g plain flour and 30g unsweetened dutched cocoa powder. Follow the directions as given below for mixing and baking.
  • I have a 'hot' oven, so 160C is the usual temperature I bake at. Please check your oven before following the temperature given here. Adjust it 10C to 20C up or down accordingly to your oven.

Vanilla Viennese Sables
adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, written by Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 30 largish biscuits

250g salted butter,  very soft
290g plain flour
100g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
3 tbsp lightly beaten egg whites (lightly beat 2 large egg whites,  then measure out 3 tbsp)

  • Preheat the oven to 160C and line two baking sheets with parchment papers.
  • Fit a pastry bag with a medium-sized open star tip and keep it close at hand. (The tip should be crenellated, but its piping hole should be open and somewhat straight, rather than curved and tightly rounded. I used a Wilton 1M tip.)
  1. Sieve flour and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy.
  3. Add vanilla, vaniilla seeds and egg whites. Beat until creamy.
  4. Fold in flour gently until it is just mixed through the other ingredients. Do not overmix the dough.
  5. Spoon half of the dough into the pastry bag. Pipe the dough into 'W' or 'S'-shaped biscuits, 1-inch apart onto the baking sheets.
  6. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes until they are just set and very slightly browned at the edges.
  7. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature.
  8. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  9. The cookies will keep in a tightly covered tin at room temperature for a week.
After all this, can you guess which biscuit (out of the four I made above) is my favourite?