Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Birthday slice.

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?


Hannah said...

Teehee! This was exactly what I was talking about in my reply to your comment on my blog - delicious failures are the best because you get to eat the whole lot in a naughty-ish "wrong" way yourself. I'm in awe of you trying to make dulce de leche - I love the stuff but the time commitment scares me ;)

And amen to real vanilla, although I usually have to fall back on vanilla extract. As long as it's not vanilla essence, I can survive!

Susan said...

Happy birthday. :)
That looks insane. I have a tin of vegan condensed milk in my cupboard that is waiting for something like this.
'Fails' are awesome because it means you can just keep it and at it all yourself!

Vegan ninja said...

Happy Birthday! I have to say this, you are very young to have a Ph.D, well at least for Mexico. I will have to try "el dulce de leche", maybe if next time you add a little agar agar? It might help it to thicken up a bit. An ice cream made with this would be heavenly, like the haagen dazs' macadamia nut brittle! I will try it and report back. A friend just brought from Papatla (a place where vanilla has been grown since pre colonial times) Veracruz some vanilla beans, so I just have to try it!

Shear Sensations said...

Happy Birthday my friend.

Amy said...

I somehow missed your birthday on facebook :( So a very belated happy birthday! Caramel slice sounds the perfect way to celebrate, yum!!!

dreaminitvegan said...

Happy Birthday!

Yes it's always great when something tastes great even though it may not have turned out like we wanted it to.

Sally Kitten said...

that looks stunning! i must admit, i have really missed caramel. its one of my favorite things:)

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

Happy Birthday! I've always wondered what it would be like to cook/bake with an actual vanilla bean. I'm super impressed that you just threw together a chocolate cake at the last minute! Your caramel slice sounds like the best kind of baking mistake-sweet, messy, and you get to keep it all to yourself.

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Vaala ◪ said...

Hahaha! I've done that before too...eating failed experiments straight out of tins. And I have to say, sometimes those have been the most delicious things I've ever made!! Your caramel "sauce" sounds awesome.

Azzahar said...

As for caramel, you should do exactly the same thing ad with dairy one and no substitutes for sweetened condensed milk will do. I found sweetened condensed coconut milk and I use it for that; I also've read that in Brasil they sell sweetened condensed soymilk which I really envy them.

Anyway, you need to place an entire can, unopened, in a pot and add hot water to at least half of the length of your can. Now cover the pot and boil the water (with a can of course), lower the heat and let it cook boiling for an hour and half, checking if water didn't evaporate. Then let it cool down completely and open the can: you should have it full of toffee.

Also, as you know, coconut milk likes to separate the cream part from the liquid, so shake it well before boiling.

It really works!

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