My birthday is in mid-November, conveniently arriving right at the end of the semester. I suggested a joint celebration - the end of classes, marking assignments, and a campus full of undergrads, as well as my 26th year on earth. In the style of little kids bringing cupcakes to school to share with their class, I said I would bring cake.
But then, I read Hannah's post about a pre-packaged treat she found which was reminiscent of caramel slice. And I wanted caramel slice.
But, how to veganise something which is based almost entirely on sweetened condensed milk, considering that the only way I can find a vegan version is to mail order, and I didn't have time to do that (also, where's the challenge in that!!).
So I turned to the internet, googling around for alternatives to sweetened condensed milk. I had hoped coconut cream would do the trick, but then realised it didn't have the sugar required to caramelise and set properly. Eventually, I found reference to a recipe for Dulce de Leche by Alton Brown, and I thought it would be the perfect caramel layer, atop a coconutty-biscuit base, and under a chocolatey-ganache.
Here's my veganised version of Alton Brown's Dulce de Leche:
2 x 400mL tins of coconut cream
1 1/2 c. raw sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half with seeds scraped
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Combine the coconut cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and cook another hour, until it is quite thick.
Now, at this stage I got tired of cooking, even though Alton suggests going a bit longer and letting it get quite dark. So I stirred in some corn flour, let it bubble for a few more minutes, and poured it over my biscuit base, wishing and hoping it would set up in the fridge.
As I cooked the caramel, I couldn't stop licking the spoon. It was so sweet, but so delicious. I think it's worth getting a proper vanilla bean here, because it really made a big difference. Andy and I just got 100 grams of vanilla beans in PNG for less than AU$25, which is a pretty sweet deal, so I used one of those.
Despite the deliciousness of the caramel, when I checked it the next morning, it hadn't set! The caramel was too runny to, well, slice the slice into slices. So I quickly threw a chocolate cake together and baked it while we ate breakfast. I scooped some of the thick but not hard caramel off the slice and put it in a tupperware, bringing it along as a caramel sauce to go alongside the cake.
At the celebratory morning tea, everyone loved the cake and the caramel. And the best part was getting to eat the failed caramel slice with a spoon straight from the pan. Andy and I finished the whole thing within three days!
So, although my attempts at caramel slice were unfruitful, I did find a delicious (if time-consuming) recipe for caramel sauce which is absolutely to die for. Every cloud has a silver lining, no?