Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Easy Caramel And Caramel Sauce

Deep, dark, gooey, sticky and sometimes tricky, caramel lends itself to versatile use in baking and desserts in general. That gorgeous deep hue and the assertive caramel flavor is what it takes to make caramel based desserts look and taste good. Neither an undercooked caramel which is barely there like in my Caramel Custard or an overcooked burnt one (thankfully, I don't have an example of that on my blog!) will do. We need to cook it just right!

Using basic caramel, you can make caramel shards and spun sugar as attractive garnishes for your desserts. If toffee is your flavor, you will love caramel sauce drizzled over your brownies, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, cakes and most sweet things you can think of.  Except of course kheer or your favorite halwa.
Having had trouble earlier getting my caramel right, I thought I must share the recipe and method which has consistently worked best for me.

Caramel can be a wet caramel or a dry one. Dry caramel is just heating sugar it until it caramelizes. It is quicker to make, but there is the risk of your sugar burning easily. A wet caramel takes some time, but you are less likely to burn it as the water offers some protection. A splash of lime juice helps prevent crystallization.
If you watch this video on Fine Cooking you don't even need to read the recipe below. You will get your caramel right - just make sure you follow the instructions to the T. Most important, DO NOT stir the sugar mixture at any point of time, just swirl the saucepan. Wash down any sugar crystals on the sides to avoid grainy caramel. Do decide the flavor you need beforehand - light or assertive so that you cook it to the right stage.

Getting ready : You will need
  • A fairly large (2 quart / 2 liters capacity) light colored heavy bottomed saucepan with a handle
  • A pastry brush sitting in half a cup of water
  • A white plate on the counter
  • A spoon
  • Spatula
  • A dish half filled with cold water. You will be plunging the saucepan into this to arrest the cooking process. 
  • Ramekins or cake tin, dried and ready on the counter if the caramel is for Creme Caramel. 
  • A fine meshed metal strainer suspended on a heat proof bowl, in case you need to strain it.
Ingredients :

Sugar -  200 grams / 1 cup
Water - 60 ml / 1/4 cup
Lime juice - 1/4 teaspoon

Procedure :
  • Take the sugar, water and lime juice in the saucepan. On medium heat, bring it to a boil. (If in doubt, err on the side of lower heat levels). Keep washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the saucepan with the wet pastry brush. Remember, do not stir. Swirl if needed. 
  • Keep boiling for about 5-8 minutes and you will start seeing a change in the color at the edges. Keep washing the crystals down. Swirl periodically. This will help even out the color and also avoid burning at the hot spots. 
  • To test as you see the color change, take a tiny bit of the caramel and drop it on the plate. You will see different shades as the caramel cooks.
  • It will go from light amber to medium amber to dark amber, the flavor stronger as the color deepens. This transition happens really fast, so stay there! Light amber colored caramel has a lighter flavor, dark amber will have a slight bitter edge which is desirable.
  • When the caramel turns a dark amber, take the saucepan off the heat and immediately plunge it into the cold water. Be careful not to splash water into the caramel. The caramel stays liquid - but only for a few minutes, so you have to use it up really fast! 

To make caramel sauce : Smooth, creamy and sweet, this is a sauce you will love for its toffee flavor! All you need to do here is first make the caramel and then add some cream and butter. As simple as that. Be sure the butter and cream are at room temperature or you will be 'shocking' the caramel, and the texture will suffer. Don't worry, the taste will still be good!

Ingredients :

(For caramel - Sugar -  200 grams / 1 cup
Water - 60 ml / 1/4 cup
Lime juice - 1/4 teaspoon)

Unsalted butter, very soft - 56 grams / 4 tablespoons
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon(or to taste) optional
Cream, at room temperature ( I have used Amul) - 180 ml / 3/4 cup (please read note)

  • First, keep the butter out of the refrigerator, make sure its really soft. If the cream is cold, warm it slightly so that it comes to room temperature. 
  • Make the caramel. When the caramel turns medium amber or dark amber (as you prefer), let the caramel remain in the saucepan over low heat. Add in all the butter (and salt if using) at once. Stir with the spatula to melt it completely. It may bubble up, so be careful. 
  • Once all the butter is melted, take the sauce pan off the heat (leave the gas on), add in all the cream at one go. The caramel will bubble up high, and it may seize. Keep mixing and return the saucepan to the heat. Mix any seized up caramel back into the sauce, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan as you go. The sauce may appear to be still bubbling at this point, but will be smooth once you take it off the heat.
  • Take off the heat, check the smoothness, add the vanilla. 
  • If your sauce is not smooth enough, you can try pushing it through a fine meshed strainer. Cool completely and store airtight in the refrigerator. It will continue to thicken as it cools. 
  • In the video, the butter is added to the sauce after the cream is added. I found that adding the butter to the caramel directly first gives a smoother sauce. (This is what most other recipes recommend)
  • The sauce supposedly keeps for a few days (not sure exactly how many, a week at a conservative guess. Reheat in the microwave on high power for 20-30 seconds. Serve drizzled over anything you please!

The sauce has an assertive toffee flavor, is sweet and quite thick. I may add 1 cup of cream next time to thin it down a bit. If adding salt ( a good idea as it will help cut down the sweetness), you are supposed to add it along with the butter. In that case, mix the two together before you begin.

Think about all you can do with caramel as the base. And do bottle up some sauce for summer, you are sure to find some uses for it!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Woman's Day Special Event And Age-Wise Health Check Up Packages @ Apollo Cradle

March 8th is celebrated as International Woman's Day every year. This year, it was indeed a special day with a celebration at Apollo Cradle, Koramangala. On this occasion, Apollo Cradle, the well known boutique birthing center, unveiled its Woman's Health -Wise check up, customized health check ups for women of all age groups.

A round of introductions at the busy reception area - Sharmi Komal, Priya Sachan and Agratha Dinakaran along with Sagarika of Madison PR made up the small group . Soon after, we made a beeline to Jiggs Kalra's Punjab Grill. We had lunch with  Mr. Uday, General Manager Apollo, Dr. Suresh.G, Medical Director, Apollo Cradle and Dr.Priya, who heads the Value Added Services Team. Food, motherhood, pregnancy, parenting and blogging ensured enough conversation thorough out the meal.

Loved the Bhuttenyan De Kabab, Daal Punjab Grills and the very flavorful Tarkari Kesari Biryani. Chewy Naan and Amritsari Kulcha, Paneer Tikka Lababdar, Malerkotle Da Achaari Aloo did not leave quite leave their mark. Delectably creamy Rose Phirni and Gulab Jamun made for a lovey end to the meal. We later thoroughly enjoyed a fun make-over session by Lakme and some very relaxing foot reflexology - wish every day was like this!

Back at the hospital, Mr.Uday Davda, Cradle took us on a tour of the hospital, bringing back memories, some pleasant and some not-so, to the mothers amongst us. They claim state of the art facilities, including 4D ultrasound imaging system and ultra modern NICU.

It was heart-wrenching to see tiny premature babies in their incubators, constantly tended to by the specially trained nurses. The recovery rooms and the consultation rooms have been designed keeping in mind the special needs of a new mother, baby and the family attending on her. The bedside buzzer you ring in the room brings help running in within 30 seconds as Mr.Uday demostrated to us! Extremely reassuring for the recovering guest, specially when no family is around. The hospital also offers services to pick up patients from home in an emergency.

 Proactive health screenings though on the rise in the recent years, can do with more awareness, specifically with regard to women.

''A regular health check-up is of paramount importance in every woman's life. In her everyday attempts to excel, a healthy mind and body is a woman's best ally. AHLL's Age- Specific health check packages are specially crafted keeping in mind the changing facets of health with age. The packages are customized to cater to the specific health requirements of women in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

These health packages address the need for regular screening tests, since there are a host of health related issues'  say Apollo Cradle.

Cervical Cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases today, studies showing that one woman dies every 7 minutes of cervical cancer. This cancer is caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The infection caused by HPV most of the times disappears without treatment sometimes stays in the cells of some women, eventually causing cervical cancer. Along with regular screening,  HPV vaccine is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer.

All women who are sexually active are potentially at risk of contracting the virus. Hence the best time for a woman to get herself vaccinated is before she becomes sexually active, the best age to get vaccinated is 11-12 years. Vaccine at later years may not be very effective.

Dr. Suresh briefed us about the health check-ups stressing on the importance of regular screening. Below are the various packages offered at Apollo Cradle.

Health Teens : A healthy adolescent is a healthy adult. Emotional and physical health during this difficult phase, personal hygiene, weight issues, timely immunization and other tests are part of this package.

Health Twenties Package : Pre-marital screening helps address any health issues early, gearing up the young woman for a healthy motherhood. This package includes early diagnosis of any medical disorders, safe sex and contraceptive advise to help aid safe pregnancy and other related tests.

Health Thirties : Stress contributes to conception issues. And then there are other health issues like bone loss, skin tone and weight gain. This package aims at addressing these issues, helping pave the way for physical and mental wellness  during the years to come.

Health Forties : A phase when hormonal changes in a woman's body bring about physical and emotional challenges to deal with. Mood swings, perimenopausal issues, timely screening and early detection of medical disorders and cancer, graceful ageing and help with weight challenges, along with other tests are part of this package.

Health fifties: Age and menopause bring more challenges, physical and emotional. Bone health, prolapsed uterus, stress incontinence, handling empty nest syndrome, weight management, early detection of cancer and other tests are part of this package.

These health packages are available at Apollo Cradle & Apollo Clinics*. As an introductory offer all consumers can avail a 25% discount on the package till March 31st, 2014.

Apollo Clinics location- Basvangudi||Bellandur|| Fraser Town ||HSR Layout || Indiranagar || Kormangala || Sadasivnagar || Sarjapur Road

Apollo Cradle locations- Koramangala – 080 49397979|| Jayanagar – 080 42659998/99.

Thanks Apollo Cradle and Madison PR for making our day truly special!

Please note : The above information has been compiled from the pamphlets provided by Apollo Cradle. This post is an attempt to help spread awareness about health screenings.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Breadsticks

''I need air-conditioning in the kitchen'', I told hubby as he sipped his morning cuppa. The 'small' needs of the obsessed home baker - a separate baking kitchen, a DSLR, a mile long wish-list of props and bake-ware and now an AC just for the kitchen!  I was kidding of course, but he is now quite accustomed to listening to such weird things from the baker-blogger wife.  But wouldn't it be a dream to be able to produce good puff pastry even in summer?

I have so been itching to make some puff pastry since some time. The greasy pie crust I baked and discarded warned me to stay away from puff pastry since this heat can melt even chilled butter pretty fast. Visions of flaky puff pastry had to take a back-seat to be replaced  with some cinnamon-y, sugar kissed, crisp bread sticks. Very do-able indeed!

Surprisingly, I was not much of a cinnamon person earlier. When you start baking, cinnamon bread is one of the things that invariably lands up in the baking bucket list. Not to forget the acquired affinity for cinnamon in graham crackers, biscottiapple pie and more. I realize I have grown to like cinnamon, as long as I keep it to smallish quantities agreeable to my olfactory senses and palate.
Cinnamon Sugar Bread Sticks : Light sugar and cinnamon bread sticks for times you want cinnamon sweetness with a crunch!

The recipe makes a small batch of about 18-20 bread sticks.

 For the dough :

All purpose flour - 98 grams
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
Sugar - 1/2 tablespoon
Instant Yeast - 1/2 teaspoon
Ground cinnamon - 1/4 teaspoon
Oil - 1 tablespoon
Water - 60 ml / 1/4 cup
Vanilla - 1/4 teaspoon

For the filling

Unsalted butter, soft - 15 grams / 1 tablespoon
Ground cinnamon - 1/4 teaspoon
Granulated sugar - 1 - 1.5 tablespoon to taste

For the egg wash : One egg whisked with a tablespoon of water (you will need very little of this, but it helps the sugar stick to the bread sticks)

Sugar - 4 tablespoons / 1/4 cup
Ground cinnamon - 1 teaspoon

Soft butter to brush on top - a tablespoon or so.

  • To make the dough - Mix all the dough ingredients and knead for about 8-10 minutes to make a soft, smooth, elastic dough . (Note: If you using active dried yeast, you will need to proof it first using lukewarm water, the rise may be faster). Place the dough in a lightly greased dough rising bucket, cover and let rise at room temperature till double. This will take about 30-35 minutes as its quite hot now. Note down how long it takes to double.
  • While the dough is rising, line your cookie sheet(s) with baking parchment. I used two 9'' square tins.
  • Mix the butter and cinnamon. Keep your silicon brush and dough scraper on hand. Lightly flour your work surface.
  • Once the dough doubles, dump it on the floured counter and roll into a 3 - 4mm thick square, approximately 10'' / 10''. Keep the thickness uniform as much as possible.
  • Using the brush, spread the butter and cinnamon mixture evenly on the rolled dough.
  • Fold the dough in half with the filling inside.
  • Using the dough cutter or pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 cm strips.
  • Lift them up carefully and place on the lined sheet, spaced 2 cm apart.
  • Cover and let rise at room temperature till puffy, for around the same duration as the first rise.
  • Towards the end of the rise period, pre-heat oven to 190 C / 375 F.
  • Brush the tops of the strips with the egg wash and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture on it liberally.
  • Bake for about 15-17 minutes or till crisp.
  • Brush with additional butter and serve warm.
  • These are best eaten fresh and warm, though you could re-fresh them in the oven by baking them for 5 minutes at 180 C. Store air-tight.


Try cardamom in place of the cinnamon, add a drop of coconut extract to the dough. Nutella or any other kind of spread can be used as a filling too, but it does tend to dry out in the oven. Try a savory version too!