10 Aug 2010

Caramel Cream Coffee Cups

Serves 5
Preparation: 20 mins
Cooking: 20 mins
Refrigeration: 3 hrs

It was never meant to be a pale assortment of creams and biscuits... I started off randomly picking the Caramel & Butter Mousse recipe from my mum's hundreds of magazine cuttings, for a number of simple reasons. First here was a mousse that was original: no chocolate involved! Then the coordination between caramel and butter sounded like an instant hit to me. Other brownie points: I had all the ingredients handy, and the prospect of a quick, easy and foolproof dessert (no rehearsal required!) was a must for that lazy Sunday lunch. Minimum fuss, minimum washing-up, maximum benefits, so why would I pass the chance? I'm sure you have gathered by now that I am no kitchen kamikaze!

Yet little did I know on that fateful day that I would end up rewriting the recipe completely after it started going wrong. Then the Mad Hatter's tea party theme from Alice in Wonderland developed from there. And that's how the originally planned Caramel & Butter Mousse metamorphosed into a rich fluffy cream with a hint of caramel... While I was at it, I also improvised some macaroons, which I fragranced with a splosh of Amaretto liqueur. Why? Because I could, and this was no kids party anyway!

For this dessert, I used agar-agar powder, a natural vegetable agent found in health shops, reputed for having 6 times the setting properties of traditional beef gelatine.
  • 1g agar-agar powder (vegetable gelling agent) or 6g sheet gelatine
  • 200g caster sugar (or, better still, its equivalent weight in sugar cubes)
  • 6 tablespoons cold water
  • 75cl double cream
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • Pinch of salt (optional if using salted butter)
  • 5 teaspoons of pralin (crushed caramelised nuts otherwise known as pralines in France) + for sprinkling; or crushed amaretti biscuits
Place a plastic/ metal mixing bowl and the whisks of your electric whisk inside the freezer. If using gelatine, place it in a bowl of cold water.

Meanwhile put the sugar in a small saucepan and add 3 tablespoons of water. Heat up carefully until you eventually obtain a golden caramel, adding 3 more tablespoons of water as you go along (i.e. as the sugar starts sticking to the sides of the pan). Away from the heat, gradually add a third of the double cream, the butter and salt, and blend quickly together, ensuring proper dissolution of the caramel. Be sure to place the remainder of the double cream back in the fridge as you need it to be extra cold for later.

Still away from the heat, add the beaten egg yolks to the caramel sauce while whisking together. Be careful not to add the yolks with the pan heating up on the stove, as you could risk scrambling the yolks (if this did happen though, rescue the sauce by filtering it altogether, using a fine sieve, and then add another beaten yolk at the end of the process to compensate for any wastage).

Put the pan back on the heat to make the caramel sauce thicken for a couple of minutes. During this process, add the agar-agar (or gelatine - after pressing it carefully to remove excess water) while whisking constantly to ensure it doesn't reach boiling point. 

Then while you are leaving the caramel sauce to cool down, take the mixing bowl and whisks out of the freezer. Ensuring the remaining double cream is really cold, whip it up with the electric whisk until it becomes firm. Incorporate the whipped cream carefully and gradually to the sauce, swirling the two together. Scoop into fancy coffee cups, at the bottom of which you will have placed a teaspoon of pralin (or crushed amaretti biscuits). Refrigerate for a good 3 hours.

When ready to serve, sprinkle more pralin over the set creams (or finely dust with cocoa), and serve with my Soft Amaretto Macaroons, using the egg whites from this recipe. Or use the whites into meringues, flavoured with coffee extract, which you will crumble on top of the creams.

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