Caramel Mousse with Walnut Shortbread

I scribbled this recipe down in my trusty notebook while sitting at the hairdressers the other day (hair is getting shorter and shorter, can't help myself...must stop now!) and made it today to take to the lovely Netty and Andy's for dessert. The thing is, I tried to be too tricky the first time I tested it - attempting to make my own caramel out of condensed milk and making some lovely toffee/fudge the trick is to be a bit cheaty and use the ready made sweetened condensed milk caramel, and then you can be a little more hands-on with the Caramel Sauce and Walnut Praline. The Walnut Shortbread is the unsung hero of the dessert - not particularly glamorous, but the perfect little bit of something sensible to offset the ridiculous frippery of the mousse. (Sorry had to use 'frippery' - Keri Trim if you are reading this I know you will understand. It is basically luxurious, a little bit fancy and ostentatious...just like the mousse.) Right then - on with the recipe!

Walnut Shortbread

200g butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cornflour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 160˚C (325˚F) and line two trays with baking paper. Beat the butter and sugars together until pale and fluffy. Gently beat in the flours and salt and stir through the walnuts to combine. Squish into a big lump in the bowl then turn out onto the bench. Roll out into a long sausage, about 30cm long. Roll up in plastic wrap and twist the ends to secure. If you then grip the plastic ends and roll the log away from you on the bench a few times, it should tighten up into a nice neat shape. Chill in the fridge for half an hour, then slice into 1/2 - 1 cm discs. Lay out on baking sheets and cook for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on racks and store in an airtight container. Makes about 30. These are great with the mousse, but equally good with a cup of tea.

Caramel Mousse

1x 395g tin caramel sweetened condensed milk, beaten until smooth (or dulce de leche)
1 tbsp maple syrup
500ml cream, whisked to firm peaks
2 egg whites, whisked to firm peaks
pinch of sea salt

Fold all of the ingredients together and plop into 10 small glasses or ramekins. Chill for at least six hours or over night. I topped mine with a spoonful of Caramel Sauce before chilling, then sprinkled with a little Walnut Praline to serve - you can of course serve it 'as is' and it will still be super-yummy!:)

Caramel Sauce:
1 cup caster sugar
4 tbsp water
300ml cream
(makes about 1 3/4 cups)

Heat caster sugar and water together in a pan over a medium heat until the mixture has crystallized, then turned a light golden color. Remove from the heat and microwave cream for about 1 minute or so until almost boiling - it must be very hot - not tepid. In amounts of about 1/4 cup at a time whisk hot cream into hot caramel sugar - it will froth up madly in a freaky way, but just whisk hard and keep adding in small amounts until it is all incorporated...worth the effort! Once cooled pour into a bottle and store in the fridge.

Walnut Praline:
1 cup walnuts
100g sugar 
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350˚F) and put walnuts on a baking tray. Put a square of baking paper on a dinner plate ready for praline. Bake walnuts for 5 minutes until just fragrant and lightly colored. Once the walnuts are in the oven, heat the sugar and water together in a medium size, heavy based saucepan. Cook over medium heat without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and caramelised, turning a rich golden colour. The amount of time varies but can be more than 5 minutes. Keep an eagle eye on the caramel so that you don't miss the magical point between golden and rich, and black and bitter. As soon as you have a golden amber liquid tip in the walnuts and coat in caramel. Quickly pour onto the baking paper and leave to set. Caution: do not put your fingers any where near the caramel, it is viciously hot! Once praline is cold you can smash it into chunks with the end of a rolling pin - up to you whether you like your praline chunky or fine!

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