Caramel slice, millionaire shortbread, caramel shortbread – whatever you call it, who does not love this indulgent treat? With its crumbly shortbread base, gooey caramel centre and a thick chocolate topping, what’s not to love? Ok so it’s not the easiest or quickest recipe to make and, of course, is not without calories. It is, however, a treat to be enjoyed over a cup of tea and a chat. You can always go for a brisk walk or a cycle afterwards to use up some of the calories.
In the tearoom I have been making caramel slice since we opened and the customers just adore it. Firstly there is the crumbly shortbread base. For this I use my Empire Biscuit recipe and it never fails me. Then we come to the caramel filling. It took a little while for me to produce one I was happy with and could replicate time and again. Like the base, this loyal caramel never lets me down. It splashes and burns me every time when I am making it but never lets me down. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we finish with the chocolate topping. For me there is no contest. It just has to be Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I know people will say that this is not really chocolate and there are lots of other superior makes but for me, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk hits the spot all the time. Even Mr M knows now that if he wants to make me feel special (which he does all the time of course!) he just needs to put Dairy Milk down in front of me. If this should be in the form of a large box of Milk Tray, then he has me hands down.
But why Nicola’s Caramel Slice I hear you cry? Nicola’s first visit to the tearoom was probably away back in 2017. We have a hairdresser next door to the tearoom and Nicola was in desperate need of a cuppa as she waited for her Aunty getting her hair done. It was late in the day and I was rushing away to take Beatrix for a walk. Mr M took pity on the harassed young lady and served tea and cake after hours. It was only after eating the cake that Nicola was told it was gluten and dairy free and she thought about her nephew Charlie needing dairy free goodies. I think the Craft, Chat and Cake signs may have also caught Nicola’s interest. It was not long before Nicola, her partner Craig (of Craig’s Coconut Cake) and nephew Charlie became regulars and joined the tearoom family. It also transpired that Nicola is a crafty young lady too and soon started to join us for the crafting sessions. You should see some of Nicola’s cross stitching. Everything she does is just perfection. Nicola is working on her own business, Nicola’s Cards and Crafts and I am sure she will be a household name before long. Anyway, Nicola has a bit of a sweet tooth and is especially partial to a piece of caramel slice. She absolutely loves our original version and if she can twist Mr M’s arm a little, even when he is rushed of his feet (which is of course all the time), she enjoys nothing better than a piece of caramel slice with hot custard and a steaming pot of tea.
Always wanting to cater for the gluten and dairy free people, I had many attempts at making a gluten and dairy free caramel slice but just could not produce one to compare with our original version. After finally managing to make my empire biscuits gluten and dairy free, I thought I would have one last attempt to use this shortbread to make a caramel slice. The first dairy free caramel burned. There were a few that separated when once set. One tasted wonderful but was really dairy free toffee and came with a free dentist appointment. Then it happened. I had produced a gluten and dairy free caramel slice. I was beside myself. When I posted a picture of this on our face book page, the response was amazing – we even had one person offering to be our quality assurance taste tester! However, my rejoicing was short-lived as I quickly discovered that the dairy free caramel, lovely as it was, did not have the same structure as the original version. In the heat of the tearoom, the dairy free caramel quickly became almost liquid again. Served as a pudding with custard, this was still lovely, but caramel slice it was not.
Back to the drawing board once more. I thought I had a brilliant idea and would make it as a caramel tart. I used the gluten and dairy free pastry I make for the Bakewell tarts, added the dairy free caramel and topped it with our lovely gluten and dairy free chocolate I have now sourced. Perfection I thought. Of course, what I had not taken into account was that once I had taken the first piece out of the tart, the caramel would again be able to escape.
The drawing board again then! Finally, I came up with the idea of the mini caramel pie. Individual gluten and dairy free pastry tarts filled with the gluten and dairy free caramel and topped with the gluten and dairy free chocolate. Oh my! These were divine.
I can tell you that if the customers thought these were good, they thought the individual caramel meringue pies were heaven.
Now there is a saying though, “You can’t please everyone all of the time”. How true this is. No matter how hard I try to produce scrummy cakes and bakes that are gluten and dairy free, there is always somebody who is not happy. Let me point out here that this is not a complaint, just an observation. The saying is very appropriate when it comes to our caramel slice. Some people preferred the new version whilst others preferred the original version. There is also the problem that the evaporated milk and butter used in the original version had to be replaced by something. My final choice was to replace this with soya as soya cream has a creaminess that almost mimics the evaporated milk. Do you know how many people are unable to tolerate soya in their diet. I have a fairly good idea now!
In the tearoom as you know, we have our range Delicious Without, which is all gluten and dairy free. It seems that being gluten intolerant often goes hand in hand with dairy intolerances so it made sense to make the range both gluten and dairy free. If I am honest, I think baking dairy free is more problematic than baking gluten free. Sometimes I despair that I can’t make the fabulous looking cakes and bakes I see in other cafes and tearooms where they have used different sweets and chocolates as decoration on theirs. Then I get somebody in who is so overwhelmed by our choice of dairy free products that it is all worthwhile again.
Sometimes though, just sometimes, we get customers who beg and beg and beg and beg some more for me to make something that sits somewhere between the gluten and dairy free Delicious Without and our Wi Nowt Tekken Owt range (you need to say this with a Yorkshire Accent of course). This week I have succumbed to pleas of one of our regular customers, Beverley. Now Bev is partial to a caramel slice but is not able to have our original one because of the gluten and couldn’t have the new version because of the soya. “Please can you make the caramel slice with a gluten free shortbread but the original caramel”, said Bev, who has obviously been taking tips from Trixie and Beatrix for the puppy dog eye trick. How could I refuse?
Now this is where I have to remind you all that you all let me down a couple of years ago when I published my manifesto for Mother Murphy for Prime Minister. If I could draw your minds back to this, especially to point number 3…
MOTHER MURPHY FOR PRIME MINISTER
1) Everyone will wear purple (one item a day will suffice).
2) Everyone will eat Cadbury's Dairy Milk every day. (Other Chocolate will be available if your taste buds are not as plain as mine).
3) To enable those special people who have coeliac disease adhere to rule number 2, Mr Cadbury will guarantee that all Cadbury's Dairy Milk is gluten free.
4) Cooked cabbage will be banned. Raw cabbage will still be permitted so that we can continue to make our home made coleslaw
5) Chocolate brownies (better known as under-cooked chocolate cake) will be banned in all forms.
6) Any debate causing tension will be discussed whilst undertaking some form of Iris Folding during one of our Craft, Chat and Cake Sessions.
7) The missing triangles in Toblerone will replaced immediately. Any delay in this will result in a further rule that Mondelez will be forced to replace the triangle and make the whole lot larger to fully represent the Alps.
8) As a further development on the Toblerone, the dark chocolate version will be made available all year round (along with Terry's Chocolate Oranges).
9) All train carriages will be quiet coaches. The only headphones or devices allowed in these will be those playing the sound of silence. At the same time, all radios, noise and music (except for organised concerts) will be banned from nature parks and from passing cars. This does, however, exclude anyone playing Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road as this must always be played at full volume.
10) Everyone will live as left-handed for one month to get an understanding of how we left-handers have to adapt every day to a right-handed world. I think a month is a fair time scale as I did live as a Coeliac for a month last year.
Going back to the adaptation of Nicola’s Caramel Slice then. So Beverley with the puppy dog eyes wanted a gluten free shortbread base but the same lovely caramel and chocolate topping. No problem I thought. I’ll just swap the shortbread to my now successful gluten and dairy free empire biscuit mix, use my original caramel recipe and top with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Except of course now that I am not Prime Minister and my manifesto was not passed, Mr Cadbury can still put “may contain gluten” on his large bars of Dairy Milk. Shame on you Mr Cadbury and shame on you all for not voting for Mother Murphy as Prime Minister. Anyway, I discussed with another long standing member of the Tearoom Family, Crafty Sal, the Coeliac, whether there were any gluten free chocolates to match Dairy Milk. No was the short answer. So a hunt around the chocolate isles looking at all the Cadbury’s delights came up with the answer – giant Cadbury’s Chocolate buttons do not contain gluten and do not carry the “may contain” warning. A bit of an expense, but for an exception, it would be worth it.
I have, of course, ensured that some quality assurance has been undertaken on this new batch of Nicola’s Caramel Slice. I am positive that Beverley will be a happy bunny but the real test will be whether Nicola likes the new version as much as the original version. I will keep you updated.
Now on the theme of adaptation, another problem with some customers is sugar. Yes, sugar. It would seem this is now the drug of the century and to be avoided at all costs. I am often asked if I can make sugar free cakes. I am a little reluctant to go down this route because if I remove the gluten, the dairy, the soya, the nuts and the sugar, I will just be serving an empty plate. However, sometimes I do try. This week as well as Bev with the Puppy Dog Eyes, I have had Caroline the Shy Victorian Swimmer (think Victorian Afternoon Tea in February) asking for sugar free cakes. Well, asking is not really the truth. It was more “oh I don’t suppose you will be able to make sugar free cakes will you”, and walking out of the tearoom with I am sure a tear in her eye. I do believe the customers have me wrapped around their little fingers (but I love it).
So, reducing sugar for Caroline. Could this be done? Could this be done during Easter week? Easter is all about chocolate isn’t it? Anyway, I decided I would make a low sugar chocolate cake for Easter in the tearoom. I even managed to get a recipe where I could make it gluten, wheat, dairy, egg free and with only golden syrup for sugar. Ok, so I have now filled and coated the three sponges with chocolate ganache. I am trying though Caroline.
I wanted the top of the cake to have mini Easter eggs on it but of course, gluten and dairy free versions are non-existent in the local supermarkets and I did not have time to order some. So Mr M and I set out on an Easter sweet hunt in Cumbernauld to find sweets for the top of the chocolate cake that looked to have an Easter theme. We looked high and low and in the end found something that resembles small eggs. You will of course be able to make your own judgment on the success of these in the tearoom this week.
Now I am still following a gluten free diet to keep the arthritic hips functioning, which does seem to be working. Once the sweets had been found it was time for a coffee and a cake. How ironic it was that I had spent the best part of two days trying to source bits and pieces for my bakes only to find that I had to make do with a bought Bakewell tart from Costa as the sole gluten free cake I could find in the whole of Cumbernauld. No, I lie, but if can refer you back to point number 5 of my manifesto, there was a café with a huge gluten free sign pointing to the saddest looking, dry, 3 week old looking chocolate brownie. Pre-packed Bakewell tart in Costa it was then whilst Mr M tucked into his lovely toasted current teacake oozing with lashings of butter. Sometimes I can see why people give in and eat some gluten when they are out and starving.
If only that lovely tearoom on the hill in Falkirk had been open!
And this week’s song? Well it just has to be, “How Much is That Doggy In the Window” by Bob Merrill.