Thursday, October 15, 2009

The gift of food

Slices are wonderful. They are usually easy to prepare, quick to cook and are generally good for feeding large groups. Because slices are generally baked in large slabs, you can stretch them out to accommodate numbers and I find that a small piece of slice is a lot more satisfying than a small biscuit.

Slices can be simple concoctions of a few pantry staple ingredients or elaborate mixtures with a base, filling and icing. When I was growing up, afternoon teas at the local primary school or tennis club always featured several slices, including hedgehog, jelly slice and lemon slice. A good housewife always had several decent slice recipes in her repertoire, and at least one slice in a cake tin in the pantry.

This week at work, we held a morning tea to farewell a colleague off on a six-week European and US holiday. With no sure idea of exact numbers, a slice seemed the safest bet, offering a slice of sweetness to break up the morning workload, without going over the top. One of my favourite cookbooks is Belinda Jeffrey's Mix & Bake, which has a whole chapter devoted to simple slices. Her walnut and caramel bars were the perfect morning tea solution, supplemented by some rich chocolate brownies. Although the brownies disappeared in a flash, the walnut and caramel slice receive rapturous admiration and requests for the recipe. It is extremely simple and incredibly moreish - Belinda writes in her introduction to the recipe that she is "forever trekking to and fro [from the fridge] for just another fine sliver!" Enjoy!

Walnut and caramel bars

160g plain flour
70g caster sugar
120g cool, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

2 eggs
70g caster sugar
70g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Butter a 23cm square cake tin and set aside.
For the base, put the flour and sugar into a food processor and whiz together for a few seconds. Add the butter and whiz again until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. It will seem a bit dry but that's OK. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, shake to level, and then press down firmly on the mixture to form an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and sit it on a wire rack while you make the topping.

For the topping, put the eggs, caster sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract into a large bowl and whisk them together until well combined. In another, smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, then sift them into the egg mixture. Stir until it is well combined, then mix in the nuts.

Scrape the mixture evenly over the warm base. Return to oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until the topping is brown and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

When the slice is cool, cut into fingers or squares in the tin. Dust with icing sugar to serve. Leftover slice can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

Recipe from Belinda Jeffrey's Mix & Bake.

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