blackberry coconut slice

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There’s something beautifully satisfying about a crumbly slice, particularly one that’s dense with buttery oats and sweet summer berries. They take me back to the hazy days of my childhood, small feet pounding on linoleum as I ran to the kitchen for afternoon tea.

When I was tiny, my mother had a knack for incorporating fruits, vegetables and wholegrains into her baking repertoire. It wasn’t just for ‘concealment’ purposes; rather, she just preferred carrot, lemon or apple spice cake over dense chocolate cake and Victoria sponge. Wise woman.

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In my own kitchen, I’ve adopted the same principles, partly for health reasons and wholly to please my own taste buds. Crunchy oats, earthy spelt and nut flours, moist fruits and ancient grains… they sing a grand chorus when mixed together into a cake, granola bar, muffin or pie.

I also habitually throw fresh leafy herbs and ground spices into my cake recipes (click here and here for some examples) for added complexity and flavour. The savoury notes both compliment and accentuate the fragrant baked fruits in the most beautiful of ways. Needless to say, it’s a habit that I’m disinclined to break.

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This slice celebrates everything that’s beautiful, sweet and unctuous about summer fruit. Plump, ripe berries picked from the last of the season’s brambles, sandwiched between buttery oats and earthy spelt flour.

As the heat of early March slowly dulls under a blanket of fallen autumn leaves, it’s getting harder to find fresh Australian berries. Admittedly, half of the blackberry fruit in this post was cooked from frozen due to low supplies at my local market. However, when sinking my teeth into a jammy oat slice with crunchy wholegrains and coconut, it no longer mattered. I was grasping summer’s bounty with floured hands and a happy heart.

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These bars make a beautifully transportable morning tea when wrapped in foil or brown paper. The fruit, cooked down to a jammy consistency, is slightly sticky but largely protected by the resilient oat crust.

They’re also lovely as a dessert, served slightly warm with a scoop of yoghurt or vanilla ice cream. Blissful, wholesome goodness (of which my mother would definitely approve).

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Blackberry Coconut Slice
Adapted from this recipe by Good Food

Makes 24 squares

  • 240g wholegrain spelt flour
  • 50g wholegrain organic oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 275g organic panela or rapadura sugar (substitute light brown sugar)
  • 200g cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 75g shredded coconut
  • 2 medium free-range eggs, beaten
  • 350g fresh or frozen berries (I used blackberries and raspberries)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 31 x 17cm slice tin.

Place the spelt flour and baking powder into a flour sifter or fine sieve. Sift through twice to evenly distribute the raising agent. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl with the oats, butter and panela sugar.

butter

Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (alternately, you can chuck the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and pulse it until it reaches the right consistency).

Stir through the shredded coconut. Measure 1 teacupful of the mixture (about 170g) and set it aside for the crumbly topping. Add the eggs to the remaining bowl of mixture and mix thoroughly.

mix

Spread the mixture evenly over the base of your lined baking tin. Smooth out firmly with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Scatter over the berries, ensuring that they’re evenly distributed across the base. Scatter over the reserved crumble topping.

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Transfer the slice to your preheated oven and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool before slicing into 24 squares.

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vegan coconut caramel and dark chocolate slice

compolikeIf you’re an Australian child of the 90’s, you may remember the Cadbury Caramello Koala advert featuring a bastardized version of Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow‘ (you can watch the video here). I both loved and hated that song. It got stuck in my head for days, torturing me with a caramel-filled earworm that’s remained attached to my brain stem some sixteen years later.

But despite the lyrical annoyance, I still eat the darn things. Why? Well, they’re delicious little koala-shaped Dairy Milk chocolates filled with smooth, sticky golden caramel. They’re blissful enough to overcome the strongest of psychological aversions, particularly as chocolate-covered caramel is one of my all-time favourite vices.

cocktailmakingOver the past few years, I’ve probably eaten at least one Caramello Koala a week; definitely more at my last workplace, where Cadbury fundraising boxes were a permanent charitable fixture in the lunch room.

However, as of this week, I’ll no longer be reliant on Caramellos for my chocolate-covered caramel fix. I have a new favourite: Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice, the delicious brainchild of my gorgeous friend Krystel (aka Zendarenn) who visited last Sunday for a cooking catch-up, complete with elderflower Mojitos, board games and a tasting panel of hungry men.

cocktail2Caramel slice is a popular treat in my homeland of Australia. It’s known as ‘Millionaire’s shortbread’ in Great Britain, possibly due to its obscene richness when made with lashings of butter and refined sugar. In terms of deliciousness, it’s got the trifecta: crisp, buttery shortbread topped with smooth, rich caramel and a layer of thick, melted dark chocolate. It’s like a Twix bar on steroids, and in my sweet-toothed brain, that’s definitely a good thing.

We ate these caramel slices in the cool of the evening after feasting on a pulled lamb shoulder, young courgettes with preserved lemon, goats cheese and olives, herbed roasted Royal Blue potatoes and homemade lemon aioli. After the first bite, six self-proclaimed ‘gluten-free and vegan intolerant’ carnivores were reduced to quiet murmurs of chocolate-coated caramel bliss. They swiftly went back for seconds, and for some, thirds. Complete success.

caramel2potatoes2In terms of food intolerances, Krystel’s recipe is an absolute dream-come-true. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free, and whilst it does contain refined sugar, it’s in significantly lower amounts to many other caramel slice recipes in the blogosphere. As the caramel is made with coconut milk, there’s also an additional rich, fragrant hint of coconut goodness in every bite.

If you’re allergic to nuts, you can easily substitute the nut meal in this recipe for oat flour or rice flour. I’d probably increase the melted fat (Nuttelex or Earth Balance) by 25g to compensate for the additional dryness, or until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

This is the perfect recipe for a portable lunch box treat, coffee accompaniment or dessert. However, despite the ‘healthier’ ingredients, it’s still rather rich. I’d recommend you start with a small piece and come back for seconds.

omglsVegan Coconut Caramel and Dark Chocolate Slice

Begin this recipe one day ahead. Makes about 20 small pieces

Biscuit Base:

  • 125g Nuttelex, Earth Balance or other vegan spread, melted
  • 1/2 cup (65g) almond meal, hazelnut meal or a mixture of the two
  • 1/2 cup (65g) rice flour
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut

Coconut Caramel:

  • 2 x 400g cans full-fat coconut milk (do not substitute coconut cream*)
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 30g Nuttelex
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Chocolate Layer:

  • 170g vegan dark chocolate (dairy-free, 70% cocoa solids or greater)
  • 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil

For the coconut caramel: Combine coconut milk and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower the temperature to a slow simmer.

coconutmilkmontCook, stirring occasionally, for around two hours or until thickened and halved in volume. Carefully stir in the Nuttelex and golden syrup (be aware: the mixture may splatter at this point).

syruprunContinue to cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes golden brown, thick and glossy (about one hour). Set aside whilst you prepare your biscuit base.

For the biscuit base: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm slice pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the rice flour, nut meal, coconut and melted Nuttelex until just moistened (the mixture should resemble coarse breadcrumbs). Tip the mixture into your prepared pan, then press down firmly in an even layer.

basemontBake for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned. Pour over your caramel filling and spread it into a smooth layer.

caramelpour2Bake for around 10 minutes or until the caramel is darkened and bubbling (it may resemble a moonscape at this point but don’t be overly concerned; the surface will smooth a little as it cools). Allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before adding your chocolate layer.

For the chocolate: Using a double boiler or microwave, melt the dark chocolate and oil together.

chocomontMix well, ensuring that the oil is fully emulsified, then pour over the cold slice. Smooth gently with a knife to create an even surface.

caramelchocRefrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight before eating in small pieces with a hot cup of coffee. So, so good.

caramel3 caramelcuNotes:

  • The initial condensing of the coconut milk can be done the day before. Just store your thickened condensed milk in an airtight container or jar until ready to use.
  •  If you can resist temptation, make these bars one day ahead of serving to give the flavours some time to soften and meld together (all of us agreed that they were even better – with a crunchier base and tastier filling – the next day)
  • *Don’t be tempted to use coconut cream in place of the coconut milk. Though the cream thickens well during the condensing process, it tends to split into a layer of coconut solids and coconut oil (the latter of which rises to the top in an oily film during the baking process). If you do use cream, you may need to blot off a layer of coconut oil on the caramel after baking before adding the chocolate layer.
  • This slice gets ridiculously hard in the refrigerator so leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Krystel and I would also recommend using a hot knife (dip your knife into boiled water, dry it then cut whilst still hot) to prevent the chocolate from cracking and splintering.
  • This slice can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks

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