Whew, it’s been a long month.  I am in full time boards studying mode, and while I’m still doing a lot of baking, I have no free time left for sharing it.  I am temporarily back for daring bakers though!

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I have to confess, this doesn’t rank very highly on my list of favorite desserts to make.  It was certainly pretty when it was all unmolded, and each of the components were tasty, (especially the marmalade!).  It was just WAY too much work for a desert that is very similar to the kind of strawberry shortcake that can be thrown together in a few minutes with some prepackaged cakes, a can of whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

All that being said, what a great challenge!  I learned so much.  Here are a few of the firsts for me:

I made marmalade from fresh fruit. (SO delicious, and surprisingly little work!)

In said marmalade, I used pectin.

I whipped “cream” from scratch.

In said whipped cream I used gelatin to stabalize.

And most significantly of all…I made caramel!  We won’t dwell on the fact that it took me five tries…that fifth try was amazing and it came with the satisfaction of a mission accomplished.

You can find the original recipe here, so I won’t go into details about each step, but here are some of my thoughts/comments/additions.

You’ll probably notice right of the bat, theirs is orange, mine is red. Citrus is a little too acidic for my tastes, so I decided to use strawberries instead.  I used about 5 strawberries to make the marmalade, I wished I would have used a whole carton!  The marmalade was eat-it-by-the-spoonful good.  I think I’ll make it again soon for gourmet PB&J.

MMMmmm bubbly and delicious.

Pate Sable – no changes, pretty straightforward.

Whipped Cream – Look what I found at the store!

Whippable non-dairy cream in a carton.  It tastes like a richer version of cool whip.  I have a few other ideas for non-dairy whipped cream I’m waiting to try, but I was so excited about randomly finding this in the store I had to try it.  I had to double the gelatin to get it to retain its shape, but after that it held up perfectly.

Strawberry segments – slice and dice! No changes here.

Caramel – oh boy, the caramel.  The first iteration resulted in burned caramel.  Except I didn’t know it was burned, so all night I wondered why my caramel was bitter until I looked up online how to make caramel and realized dark and smoky sugar = bad.  Also chunks = bad.  See that picture above?  That is the result of stirring the sugar, don’t do that!

Second and third iteration were much the same, except I knew right away I’d screwed up.  Fourth try…success!  Success…yummy but lumpy success.  Fifth try…ahhh perfection.  Creamy and tasty.

Disclaimer:  the following are my observations of what works for making caramel, no guarantees they are the best, or even correct way to do it!

So what did I learn ?

Well first off, don’t use your fancy large grained whole foods sugar…yea, bad idea, that doesn’t melt as well as the fine granules.

Second…fight your instincts, don’t stir! Fight it, fight it. Instead, lightly run a spatula over the top of the sugar as it starts to melt to spread it, but fairly infrequently.  If it’s melting unevenly turn the heat down right away.  As soon as the last drop is melted remove it from the heat and add your juice/milk/butter, whatever you’re adding, slowly and stir as you do.  If you don’t it will continue to cook and burn.  After you add the liquid the caramel will turn hard right away so heat that sucker right back up and NOW you can stir furiously until all those lumps are gone.

Third…wear protection!  I actually managed to not splash on myself but boiling sugar is hotter than boiling water, and it can seriously injure you.

My caution would in no way be related to the fact that I splashed hot oil on myself not too long ago…err, whoops? In any case, whether your name is Gracie or Klutzie, burns suck and just aren’t worth the risk.

There they are…waiting patiently to be unmolded…and consumed.

I managed to find plastic cups that did not taper that were cut up and used in place of cookie cutters.  Worked great and saved me 1.99/cookie cutter.

Big thanks again to Jennifer at Chocolate Shavings for a fantastic (and educational) challenge!