When the hipsters are right
In a town full of hipsters, I am decidedly not. I don’t have a cool fedora or any tatoos. The last time we went out in Hollywood, TD and I were home by 10:30 (uhm, P.M.). I think cocount water tastes like spit. Despite the fact that I love Jud Apatow and think Lena Dunham is talented, every time I watch Girls all I can think is, ‘good gravy, just wash your hair…all of you’. Well, maybe that last one just means I’m old. I don’t Tweet because I am so not interesting enough. So yeah, if hipsters are cool, I’m pretty much the opposite.
We do share one thing in common, the cool kids and me: food. One of my favorite hipstery places is Huckleberry in Santa Monica. Despite its hipsteriness (or maybe because of it), I dig the whole vibe. So of course, I want to emulate it. And now I have and you can too because a couple of years ago Zoe Nathan (she of Huckleberry creation) published her recipe for salted caramel squares in Food & Wine.
It starts with a shortbread base (see…I was trying to be all hipster and instagrahmy with the artsy fartsy picture).
So that the shortbread does not puff, the recipe instructs it be weighed-down with pie weights. I use beans to the same end.
Be sure to line the unbaked cookie with parchment before adding the weights. I’ve done it the other way. More than once. Not good.
While the shortbread browns, it’s time to get down to the business of making caramel. Two pots: one with cream and vanilla bean, the other with sugar and just enough water to make you doubt whether the whole thing will work.
But it will.
This is a two-step process. After the sugar reaches a certain temp, the cream is added and then brought up to a final soft-ball stage. The last step: salt (they call for kosher, I used fleur de sel).
The finished caramel is poured over the golden shortbread. And then, into the fridge. For what seems like an interminable about of time.
This is what was going on in the other room while I was making the caramel. Despite our lack of, ney, anti-hipster household, we have made the jump to the new iPads. In my App downloading glee, I somehow procured a game for cats. Yeah, I know. In the game a life-like mouse skitters across the screen and if you “catch-it” it squeeks. I showed it to the Kitchen Gods one time. That’s all it took. Now, no matter where they are in the house, if I turn on the game (it has little mouse squeeks in the background), they come running. In fact, they only have to see the iPad to come running. Suddenly, everything thing from Flipboard to Words with Friends is a cat game. Nice.
Oh yeah, we were making something weren’t we? Okay, once the caramel has set, the entire slab gets pulled-out by the overhanging edges of parchment. Then cut.
I have to admit, if standing in line ease-dropping on all of the hipster conversations wasn’t so much fun, I’d proclaim that I no longer needed Huckleberry. Because these? Are legit.
Elliott Smith. Kind of introspective for making molten-hot caramel sauce, but what do you do?
Salted Caramel Squares
Zoe Nathan as published in Food & Wine July 2010.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg white, beaten
- 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides.
- In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt. Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.
- Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.
- In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.
- In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares.
- TMH note: these will keep well for a few days in the fridge. While solid, the caramel will soften and attempt to slip over the sides of the squares if left at room temp.