Thursday, 5 November 2015

old-school caramel shortbread, going far, & not giving up

I remember when I was about eight years old and wrote my first poem in primary school. Being a quiet child I shied away from attention but overheard my teacher saying to another teacher that ‘She’ll go far.’ I didn’t quite understand what my teacher meant, but I like to think of it as not giving up. She told me that she loved my poem and that I should continue writing. I remember feeling so very proud. And that very same feeling resonated earlier this week as I finally completed my bachelor’s degree and graduated. As I stood in the queue and received my graduation gown and cap I felt a moment of emotion and held back tears as someone from the gown hire company dressed me. The highs and lows of continuing my studies over the years, despite major challenges came flooding back.
The cap felt odd yet right as I stood proud in my black and gold ensemble – the colours themselves symbolising the darkness we sometimes endure and the light we eventually embrace. 

My little sisters put up with my gradzilla behaviour all day, without complaint as I switched from heels to flats, fixed my hair and makeup, and posed for photographs. Afterwards they took me out to lunch and we enjoyed a lovely Italian meal where I ate everything I wanted with no one telling me that I couldn't because it’s not good for me. It was my day. Not shared with someone who didn't take equal pleasure in it, but mine alone. I realise that people who tell others that they can't achieve something are lacking in the conviction that they too can achieve something. I choose not to engage with or entertain negative behaviour or comments. I have learned the hard way, that life is too short. No one will, or can live your life for you. No one will experience the hardships you only know you have been through. Tea and sympathy is fine, but encouragement and support also goes a long way. 

Not having been able to complete my studies when I first attended university had always been a lingering regret. But as we all know life happens, and circumstances sometimes prevent us from fulfilling the plans we make. It’s easy to become caught up in the rat race and not take a breather and it’s even easier to lose sight of what’s important, but I’ve always held on to the belief that no one can stand in the way of achieving something. Graduating in my thirties has certainly not detracted from the joy of reaching this milestone. In fact I relish the second chance that many do not receive. Some years are difficult and some years are fruitful - and this is one of them. So this post is for my family and friends and even strangers who have shown me kindness as I have learned to overcome fears and follow my heart and dreams. Thank you. And in remembrance of my schooldays I made caramel shortbread, a firm favourite for teatime, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands!

Ingredients (makes about 30 small pieces)
For the pastry
100g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
3-4 tbs chilled water

For the caramel
100g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
A can of sweetened condensed milk (397g)

Combine butter and flour and salt together with your fingertips until you have a coarse crumbly mixture resembling breadcrumbs. Add the chilled water a tbs at a time and pull together with a knife. If the mixture looks too dry add another 1-2 tbs water. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and gently form into a round making sure not to handle too much and cover in Clingfilm. Chill for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes make the pastry by gently kneading a few times and rolling out on a lightly floured surface. Form into a square shape to fit into the base of a 20cm x 20cm square baking tin. Line the baking tin with greaseproof paper and press in pastry. Chill again for about 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190c/170c (fan)/Gas mark 5. Take pastry out of the fridge and prick all across the surface with a fork, to prevent puffing up. Bake pastry for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden and leave to cool.

Meanwhile make caramel by melting butter, salt and sugar in a pan on medium heat and after about 2-3 minutes while the mixture is bubbling carefully pour in the condensed milk. Whisk continuously for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of a thick custard but is still pourable.

Pour caramel evenly onto the cooled pastry and sprinkle with hundreds and thousands. Leave to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes then put in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

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