I didn’t want to jam up the title with a bunch of finger foods that I’ve already written about earlier this year. Really, the one thing I was most excited about was a new invention – grilled mini donuts dipped in warm caramel. (Please don’t tell me if someone has done this already, I’m certain someone, somewhere has already thought of it.) But first, let me lay the groundwork for you.
Tonight I ended up cooking for a fabulous party with tents full of wine and food and cheer spread out over rolling fields just east of Red Deer, at the home of a prolific author (him) and singer (her), who brought her band up from Nashville to perform on the patio, violins and all. It was glorious.
I made some familiar things: bison meatballs with blueberry sauce, gruyère gougères (a.k.a. cheese puffs) which barely made it outside and down the stairs; crostini with bruschetta and olive-fig-walnut tapenade, which didn’t go over as well (I heard reports of guests discreetly throwing it into the bushes), arancini (complete opposite reaction – I could not make enough of these), and ceviche (I think 2 or 3 out of about 100 loved it, or at least could identify it enough to brave tasting it).
For dessert: espresso brownies with espresso ganache, mini pavlova with berries, and the aforementioned -are you tired of my own horn-tooting? – grilled cinnamon-sugar mini donuts with caramel dip. Unique finger-food sweets for a party are sometimes tricky, but this one was a blast. I had wanted to make chocolate panini (sandwiches made out of thinly sliced baguette and squares of dark Lindt chocolate, grilled until crispy-melty), but already planned chocolate in the form of brownies, so was pondering what I might do with a panini grill and a caramel theme. Solution: press mini donuts until flattened, warm, crisp and grill-marked, and serve with caramel to dip. Mike and I tested leftovers from Globalfest, and then packaged powdered-sugar and cinnamon-sugar varieties from Safeway and 7-11, then TimBits: honey dips, cinnamon-sugar, cruller and sour cream glazed. A tasty experiment. The cinnamon-sugar mini donuts and TimBits (cinnamon-sugar and honey dip) worked best, although with the honey dips a lot of the honey melts off, so I tossed them in a shallow pan of cinnamon-sugar as soon as they came out of the machine. (If you don’t have a panini grill, you could do this on a grill pan with a skillet on top to weigh them down.)
In keeping with the donuts-dipped-in-coffee theme, it occurred to me after sending the first batch out that the caramel dip could be served in a coffee cup, set on a plate with the donuts around it for dipping. (This photo does not do justice – it was around 10 pm and so not much light to work with!)
McDonald’s tarnished the idea of caramel dip a bit with their apple-caramel dip attempt at health food; really this is just caramel sauce, served as a dip. It’s easy enough to make, but you could go the easy route and pour it out of a jar.
To make espresso caramel, dissolve 2-3 tsp. instant espresso in 2-3 tsp. water, and stir it into the cream before adding it to the sugar mixture.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
3/4 cup whipping cream
In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water and honey over medium heat; stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the mixture turns a deep amber colour. If you like, you could wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
(Some recipes call for butter at this point – if you like, stir in about 1/4 cup.) Turn the heat down to low and carefully stir in the cream (it will splatter) until smooth. Serve warm or refrigerate – rewarm in a saucepan over low heat, or in the microwave.