Celebrating yummy, syrupy, sticky caramel.

It’s April 5th, which means it’s Caramel Day – the perfect opportunity to go all gooey about sweet, syrupy caramel.

Caramel in a chocolate shell - now that's what an easter egg should look like!(© All Rights Reserved)
Caramel in a chocolate shell – now that’s what an easter egg should look like!
(© All Rights Reserved)

There are basically two ‘categories’ (for lack of a better word) of caramel. First, there’s caramelised sugar – when sugar is heated to around 170 °C, the molecules in the sugar breaks down and re-arranges itself as a smooth, shiny tan/brown syrup. When caramelised sugar cools down, it sets and becomes hard and shiny – most kids know and love this type of candy as used in caramel toffee apples, for instance, where an apple on a stick is dipped in caramelised sugar syrup and allowed to cool and set.

Then there’s the runny, creamy caramel that we find in toffees, inside caramel chocolates etc. This is something very different, and is made by cooking a mixture of butter, sugar, milk/cream and vanilla. As the mixture heats up, the sugar reacts with the amino acids in the milk, resulting in the caramel’s brown colour. This reaction between sugar and amino acids in the presence of heat is known as the ‘Maillard reaction’ – a form of non enzymatic browning. The same reaction is responsible for the browning of roasted meat and fried onions, roasted coffee and the browned crust of baked bread, among others.

The level of ‘runny-ness’ of this second category of caramel depends on the relative amounts of the ingredients, ranging from fairly solid, sticky caramel toffees through to smooth, soft and creamy caramel sauce.

From rock-hard caramelised sugar to smooth, creamy caramel sauce – the world of sweets and desserts would surely be a much poorer place without caramel!

Celebrating deliciously decadent desserts on International Waffle Day

The 25th of March is International Waffle Day. The day originated in Sweden, where it is known as Vaffeldagen.

Delicious, sweet and chewy Dutch waffles, also known as 'stroopwafels' or 'stroopies'. ('Stroop' is Dutch for 'syrup'.)(© All Rights Reserved)
Delicious, sweet and chewy Dutch waffles, also known as ‘stroopwafels’ or ‘stroopies’. (‘Stroop’ is Dutch for ‘syrup’.)
(© All Rights Reserved)

The day is dedicated to the waffle, a delicious dough-based dessert delicacy with a long history – the waffle, as we know it, developed from the ‘oublie’, a grain-flour communion wafer prepared from the 10th century. The modern-day waffle exists in many versions, from thin, stiff, syrup-filled Dutch waffle-cakes (‘stroopwafels’) to large, light and fluffy Belgian waffles, with numerous other varieties (American waffles, Hong Kong style waffles, Scandinavian style waffles, etc) in between.

Waffles are often served with cream or ice-cream and syrup, and often sprinkled with icing sugar. In addition, fruit such as bananas and berries can add an extra dimension, while chocolate is another option to add to the waffle’s decadence.

International Waffle Day is the perfect time to ‘go international’ and explore some new waffle varieties, or to at the very least try your favourite style with a new topping.

Yum! My mouth is watering as I write!

Whipped cream and awesome inventions #idoa

Today in 1955, Aaron S Lapin received a US patent for his invention of a “Dispensing Valve for Gas Pressure Containers”. What makes this patent stand out from other patents awarded on this day, is the application of the valve – Lapin designed it in 1948 as the dispensing mechanism for his ‘Reddi-Wip’ whipped cream dessert topping, an instantly ready and foamy whipped cream in a spray can.

Chocolate pannacotta from my recipe book, cape gooseberries from my garden and whipped cream from Aaron Lapin's awesome tilt-opening dispensing valve.(© All Rights Reserved)
Chocolate pannacotta from my recipe book, cape gooseberries from my garden and whipped cream from Aaron Lapin’s awesome tilt-opening dispensing valve.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In essence, a soluble gas (typically carbon dioxide), is mixed into whipped cream in a can equipped with Lapin’s special valve. When the tilt-opening valve is tilted, the gas expands in reaction to the lesser atmospheric pressure outside the can, and pushes the cream through the valve. When the tilt-valve is let go, the elasticity of the valve seal causes it to return to the closed position, thus retaining the rest of the pressurised content inside the can.

So, a clever mechanical invention allowing us to enjoy fluffy, whipped cream without any effort – now there’s an awesome invention!

Oh, and speaking of awesome, today also happens to be ‘International Day of Awesomeness’ (hashtag #idoa). As the website states, “People are awesome every day, frequently don’t realize it, and their feats of awesomeness are rarely recognized. We aim to fix that, with a special day to both perform and celebrate feats of awesomeness!”

Here’s to awesomeness, here’s to whipped cream, and here’s great inventions. Have a great day, all!