Sweet Essentials

Sweet Essentials

Darren Purchese
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Patricia Niven


Jellies are fun and simple to make and add an extra texture to desserts and cakes. There are several ways to make jellies and there are so many ingredients you can use to ‘set’ them. Here I will show you two of those ingredients – gelatine and agar agar, which are the most common. They can be used alone or combined. Once you realise how easy they are to use you’ll be making jellies all the time.


This is the most common ingredient used to set jellies and it comes in leaf or powdered form. Powdered gelatine is something I don’t use as I feel the texture is not as good as leaves, and I believe there is a stronger flavour present, which I’m not keen on. The leaves (also called sheets) come in different strengths, known as ‘bloom’.

I use gold-strength gelatine in everything and I recommend you do too for the best results with the recipes in this book. It’s easy to use and widely available online. You can also find it in specialist delicatessens and cooking shops and it is also starting to appear in the baking section of supermarkets.

Gelatine-based jellies can be set, melted and reset, which makes them quite versatile as well as easy to use. They melt between 27°C and 40°C, which is great because it means they will melt in the mouth, giving a real burst of flavour.

Gelatine is produced from animals and is therefore not suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Instead, you could use agar agar, which is derived from seaweed.

How to use gelatine leaves

Gelatine leaves need to be softened before use and this is easy to do. Simply weigh the correct quantity of gelatine for your recipe. Pull the leaves apart and soak them in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to soften. Remove the softened leaves from the water and gently squeeze out the excess water and discard it. Dissolve or melt the leaves in a warm liquid. Don’t whisk the jelly as you don’t want bubbles, but stir the jelly gently to dissolve the gelatine and then strain the mixture through a sieve.

Liquids to use for jelly

As well as water, you can use fruit purées, juice, tea or coffee and flavoured waters to make a jelly. Pretty much most liquids will set including milk-based ones (such as for panna cotta). You may have trouble setting anything too sweet and syrupy, so add water to get a nice balanced mix and then set your jelly.

Jelly recipe using gelatine

Makes 500 ml

500 ml liquid 4 gold-strength gelatine leaves, soaked and drained

Place 300 ml of the liquid in a saucepan over medium–low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the gelatine. Stir gently to dissolve it then add the remaining cold liquid to the mixture and stir. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into serving dishes or glasses. Leave the mixture to set in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.

Agar agar

This is a little less popular as a gelling agent, and has a more textural/brittle mouthfeel to it than gelatine. It can be found fairly easily in Asian supermarkets or online. Agar agar is derived from seaweed so it is perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets. It activates when heated and sets quickly. It is stronger than gelatine, which means it cuts really cleanly with a sharp knife and melts at a much higher temperature, so you can handle it for longer. I tend to use agar agar and gelatine together in some of my jellies as I like the wobbly, clear and pleasant mouthfeel qualities of gelatine with the strength and ease-of-use benefits of agar agar.

How to use agar agar

Agar agar comes in powdered form and dissolves in a cold or warm liquid. Just weigh the required quantity and whisk it into the liquid. Heat the liquid to the boil, while stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, to activate the jelly. Then pour the mixture into a container and leave it to set. You can then cut the jelly with a sharp knife or even pastry cutters.

Jelly recipe using agar agar

Makes 500 ml

5 g agar agar 500 ml liquid

Whisk the agar agar into the liquid and place the mixture in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until it boils. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a lightly greased plastic container or shallow tray to set.

Gelatine and agar agar together make a great jelly

This is my most used recipe for jelly. It is supereasy to make and is very versatile. Make the jelly and pour the mixture into small silicone moulds and leave to set in the freezer. The moulded jelly will pop out easily and can be used to garnish cakes and desserts. Alternatively, pour the mixture onto a flat or patterned, shallow tray lightly greased with canola spray. The jelly will set quickly. Harden it in the refrigerator for 1 hour then cut it into shapes using a knife or pastry cutters.

Jelly recipe using gelatine and agar agar

Makes 500 ml

2.5 g agar agar 500 ml liquid 6 gold-strength gelatine leaves, soaked and drained

Whisk the agar agar into the liquid in a saucepan then place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until it boils. Remove from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine. Pour the mixture into moulds, containers or trays.

Spooning out jelly

A lovely way of serving small pieces of jelly on or in a dessert is by setting your jelly in a plastic container and scooping it out with a spoon. Boil water in a kettle and pour some water into a mug. Place a spoon in the mug for a few seconds and then dry it off with a tea towel. Use a hot spoon to ‘scoop’ some of the jelly from the container and place it on your dessert. The heat of the spoon will leave a ‘shine’ on the gelatine.


Glazing is a great skill for you to acquire and will make your cakes and desserts look really professional. It’s super-easy to do and I always make batches of glaze and store them in the refrigerator in plastic containers until needed. I then reheat the glaze gently in a microwave and glaze my cakes from frozen. The cold temperature of the cake will help to set the gelatine-based glaze and the fluidity of the glaze will ensure a flat and even finish.

Glaze recipes

There are two glaze recipes in this book, one being a chocolate (cocoa powder) based glaze and the other a milk-based white glaze with vanilla. The white one can be coloured if you wish by adding a water-soluble colour to the glaze when you mix in the chocolate. However, make sure you strain the glaze after any addition of colouring agent.

Both these glaze recipes can be used for other cakes and desserts. I find both of them are extremely useful additions to the sweet kitchen.

Reheating glazes before use

When reheating glazes, I like to do so in short and high bursts in the microwave. I heat for 30 seconds on High and stir the glaze with a spoon, then heat again. I like to bring the glaze to a fairly high temperature of around 60–70°C, which will make the glaze become nice and shiny. I then leave the glaze at room temperature, stirring intermittently, until the temperature drops to 35–40°C before glazing the cake. I use a digital thermometer to check the temperature accurately. If you use a glaze that is too hot it can melt the cake and run off quickly, leaving a very thin finish.

Glazing a cake

Remove your cake from the freezer once your glaze is at the correct temperature. Set the cake on a wire rack placed over a shallow tray. Pour the glaze onto the centre of the cake in one motion and try to ensure the glaze runs evenly over the top of the cake and runs to cover the entire surface of the cake and down the side. Then leave the glaze to stop dripping and set before trimming the bottom of the cake with a small palette knife. Lift the cake using two palette knives and place it on a serving plate or cake stand. Finish the cake as you wish and leave at room temperature for 30–40 minutes to defrost thoroughly before serving. The glaze can be reused by simply scraping any excess back into the container and placing it in the refrigerator.

Glazing an éclair

When glazing éclairs, such as the Chocolate and tonka bean éclairs, prepare the glaze following the instructions on the opposite page, to a temperature of 35–40°C. Pour the glaze into a shallow container.

Take the cut tops of the éclairs and run them through the glaze, using your hand to pull them through and then lift them up vertically to allow any excess glaze to drip off.

Place the éclair tops, glaze side up, on a tray or work surface for a few minutes to set before placing the glazed tops onto the bottom halves of the éclairs.

Greasing and lining tins and working with pastry

Here are just a few tips to ensure your gorgeous baked goods can be successfully released from their tins or trays. Following these steps will also result in evenly cooked pastry that won’t leak. Remember, every little detail in your cooking can make all the difference so be sure to use the correct tin, tray or ring and ensure they are greased adequately and lined neatly with baking paper, if using. If you take time and care in the rolling, lining and blind baking of your pastry you will have a greater chance of a successful final product.

Lining a round cake tin

Lightly spray a clean and dry tin with canola oil, ensuring all the edges and corners are lubricated. Then place the tin on a sheet of baking paper and draw around it with a pencil to mark the diameter of the tin. Cut out the paper disc to fit the inside of the tin. Place the paper disc into the base of the tin and smooth it flat with a scraper to get rid of any wrinkles. Then cut a strip of paper the length of the circumference and the height of the tin (with a couple of centimetres overhang). Gently place the strip around the inside of the tin and smooth out any wrinkles.

Lining a straight-sided tin with baking paper

Lightly spray a clean and dry rectangular or square baking tin with canola oil, ensuring the entire surface and all the corners are lubricated. Cut a sheet of baking paper to the exact size of the base of the tin and lay it flat in the tin. Smooth out any wrinkles in the paper using a scraper or spatula. Finally, use a sharp knife to cut any excess paper from the edges so the paper fits the tin perfectly.

Rolling pastry

Once you have made your pastry and it has rested in the refrigerator, place it on a lightly floured work surface.

Work the dough with your hands to soften it to an even, manageable temperature and softness. Again lightly flour the work surface and use a rolling pin to tap the pastry to flatten it slightly as a starting point to roll the pastry.

Work quickly to roll the pastry, using flour to ensure it does not stick to the work surface or get too warm to work with.

Roll the pastry out evenly. Regularly lift the pastry from the work surface and turn it clockwise before rolling again, to ensure it stays in a round or rectangular shape. Roll the pastry out to the desired thickness.

Lining a tart tin with pastry

To line a 35 x 12 cm tart tin, you will need around 400 g sweet tart case dough, a rolling pin, canola spray and extra flour for dusting. A flat work surface in a cool kitchen will give you the best results.

Spray the tart tin lightly with canola oil and roll the pastry to the desired thickness. Roll the pastry over the rolling pin then unroll it over the tart tin. Gently press the pastry into the edges, patching up any holes as you go. Remove any excess pastry but don’t trim the tart neat – leave some pastry overhanging. Make sure the tin is lined evenly with the pastry in all corners and edges then chill the tart tin in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm it up. Remove from the freezer and prepare your tart for blind baking.

Lining individual tartlet tins with pastry

To line individual tartlet tins you will need around 400 g sweet tart case dough, a rolling pin, canola spray, a flat baking tray and extra flour for dusting. A flat surface in a cool kitchen will give you the best results.

Spray the tartlet tins lightly with canola oil and roll the pastry to the desired thickness. Roll the pastry onto the rolling pin and roll it back onto the baking tray then place this in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill and rest. Place the tartlet tins on a baking tray.

Use a pastry cutter or similar and cut discs larger than the tartlet tins then push the pastry discs into the lightly sprayed tins, ensuring they are pushed well into the corners and evenly lined. Don’t trim the excess; instead place the tartlets in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Blind baking

Blind baking our tarts ensures we have evenly cooked and hole-free tart shells ready to safely contain custard, curd or any other cream mix. Chilling and resting your pastry in between rolling always helps as does having your oven preheated. Remove the tart shell from the freezer and line the shells with heavy-duty plastic wrap or aluminium foil into the edges and then pour in uncooked baking beans, rice or pastry weights. Your tarts are now ready to bake in the preheated oven. You can buy baking beans and pastry weights from cooking supply stores.

Once the tarts are ready to bake, place them in the preheated oven and bake until they are just cooked. Remove the tarts from the oven and remove the baking beans or rice by lifting the plastic wrap or foil and pulling the baking beans out. Use any left-over uncooked excess pastry to plug any holes or cracks that may have appeared in the pastry and brush the inside of the tarts with egg wash. Return the tarts to the oven for 3 minutes to set the egg wash and ensure that all the holes are plugged. The tart is now ready for filling.


Chocolate! It’s one of my all-time favourite ingredients and it shows because chocolate features heavily in my creations. It is handy to know a few tricks and tips, though, to help you get the most out of this luxurious ingredient and make the best possible cakes and desserts. I use couverture chocolate, which is a chocolate that contains more cocoa butter than regular chocolate. It produces a better finish on any of my sweet recipes that contain chocolate as it creates great snap and shine. Couverture chocolate is widely available in specialist food ingredient shops or online and can be found in some supermarkets these days, too.

There are three main types of couverture – dark, milk and white couverture – and these all have varying levels of sweetness, cocoa solids, cocoa butter and milk inclusions. I love all three chocolates equally and mostly use dark chocolate on its own. I use milk chocolate for real crowd-pleasing desserts and I tend to use white in conjunction with other flavours or infusions. White chocolate is sweeter so it works well with stronger or more tangy fruits or flavours.

Different types and quality of chocolate

The better quality chocolate that you use is obviously going to have a positive effect on your work. Some of the lesser and cheaper brands of chocolate can contain lots of sugar and even vegetable oil, so try to buy the best you can afford. Of course, because of the price of this ingredient, it is advisable that you concentrate when cooking with chocolate. Mistakes are costly.

I use a variety of chocolates depending on what is available to me, but the most common brands I use are Callebaut and Cacao Barry. I use a good-quality white and milk chocolate and I like to use dark chocolate with cocoa solids ranging from 50 to 65 per cent. I always try to use buttons for ease of melting.

Working with chocolate

When you are doing anything chocolate-related, always make sure you are working in a cool environment, I prefer an air-conditioned room set to 18°C for most of my chocolate work. Also ensure your work surfaces and equipment, such as bowls, palette knives and spatulas are meticulously clean. Invest in a digital thermometer so you can check temperatures accurately and store unused chocolate in sealed plastic containers in the pantry.

Melting chocolate

This book calls for quite a bit of chocolate melting and, although it may seem a simple task, it is worth doing it the right way to make sure you get the best results.

The most commonly taught method of melting chocolate is to place the chocolate in a bowl and heat it over a double boiler (a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water). This works well enough, but it is not my preferred method due to a couple of factors. One is that it is easy to overheat the chocolate because the heat underneath the bowl can be quite harsh. Another drawback is the fact that steam escapes from the side of the bowl and this can end up in your chocolate, which could seize the mixture – plus you can burn yourself from the steam when you lift the bowl of chocolate from the pan.

I prefer to use the microwave to melt all of my chocolate under 2 kg in quantity as I find it easier to control and there is no need for any unwanted water. To do this correctly, you need to follow these simple steps. First choose an adequately sized, microwave-safe bowl. Make sure the bowl is clean. Add the chocolate, either in button form or chopped into small pieces if using a block. Heat the chocolate on High speed for short bursts at a time. Remember the microwave can burn your chocolate if you are not careful. I like to heat the chocolate in bursts of up to 30 seconds at a time. I stir my chocolate in between each burst and I generally heat the chocolate to 40–45°C. This is the best temperature for chocolate to be melted to, and it is from here that it can be successfully tempered or added to mixes.

Always stir after each burst of heat to ensure an even temperature throughout. Also, use a digital thermometer to accurately check temperatures. For every recipe in this book that calls for melted chocolate, I recommend using the microwave method.

Tempering chocolate

This is where things get a little tricky – but not too much so don’t worry. Once the chocolate has been melted, it is now perfect for adding to mixes or brushing onto items. However, if you want to make some simple decorations or dip biscuits in chocolate, you will have to adjust the temperature of the chocolate to allow it to crystallise, which will result in it getting a good shine and prevent it from melting too quickly on the product.

You need to bring the temperature of the melted chocolate down from 45°C to 28°C. You can do this by adding unmelted chocolate buttons a few at a time to the hot, melted chocolate and stirring them in. The temperature of the chocolate will automatically drop – you must keep stirring and scraping the side of the bowl with a silicone spatula. Now you have to bring the temperature back up to 31°C, your working temperature. The two best ways of bringing the temperature back up are to heat the bowl of chocolate in the microwave on High in very short bursts or to add warm melted chocolate to your bowl and stir until the temperature rises. The chocolate is now ready for you to use for decorations and dipping.

Dipping in chocolate

Biscuits, fudge and wagon wheels can all be dipped in tempered milk, white and dark chocolate. All you need to do is prepare the chocolate then pour it into a deep and narrow bowl and line a tray with baking paper. Dip the biscuits or wagon wheels entirely in the chocolate and lift them out with a spatula or fork. Shake off any excess chocolate and gently place the biscuits or wagon wheels onto the prepared baking tray. You can add any garnishing sprinkles now while the chocolate is still tacky. Place the dipped biscuits or wheels into the refrigerator for 5 minutes to set the chocolate.

Chocolate curls

These are an easy and cute little garnish, which are very handy to have on hand for jazzing up desserts, cakes and tarts, such as my Chocolate and salted caramel tarts with caramelised hazelnuts.

Prepare the chocolate for tempering and pour a small amount onto a flat work surface. Spread the chocolate out neatly, using a palette knife. Leave to set slightly but it should still be a little tacky. Take a small sharp paring knife and cut vertical strips in the chocolate, about 2–3 cm in width. Take a flexible metal scraper and start to push the edge into the now-set chocolate to form rolls or curls in the chocolate. Repeat until you have enough curls. Allow them to set on the work surface for 10 minutes before picking them up with the end of the scraper. Store the chocolate curls in a sealed plastic container until needed. These can be made well in advance of when you need them.

Chocolate flakes

These are similar to curls but there is no prior cutting with the knife. This means you get longer shavings that can be used as ‘flake’ pieces. Pour some chocolate on a flat work surface. Spread it out with a palette knife. Take a flexible metal scraper and start to push the edge into the set chocolate to form the flakes. Repeat until you have enough pieces. Allow them to set on the work surface for 10 minutes before picking them up with the end of the scraper and storing them in a sealed plastic container. These can be made well in advance of when you actually need them. You can also shave finer pieces of chocolate to use for shavings, which are another great garnish.


Meringue is an extremely common part of making cakes, sweets and desserts. They do have a reputation for being tricky and volatile but if you follow a few simple rules you shouldn’t have any problem. Sometimes varying conditions can produce different results, such as the age and temperature of the eggs, the humidity in your kitchen and there is certainly a difference when you cook meringue in ovens you are not used to. Stick with it though – master the meringue and a world of soufflés, pavlovas and lemon meringue pies will be opened to you.

There are three main types of meringue used in the kitchen – the French, Swiss and Italian methods. They are all similar but they do have distinct characteristics, which means they are best used for different things. This book uses the French and the Italian methods, but I have also explained the Swiss method.

French meringue

This is a method of meringue used to aerate mixes such as sponges and soufflés. It is a raw meringue and as such is usually used in recipes before they are baked. The raw part comes from whisking sugar into raw egg whites, which remain uncooked. The method is an easy one. Just start to whisk your egg whites and once they start to foam add a tablespoon of sugar at a time until it is all incorporated and you have a thick meringue. If the meringue collapses before the end it is probably because the sugar was added too quickly, so be sure to add it gradually.

Once ready, this can be folded into sponge batters or folded into pastry cream for soufflé. This is the meringue used for my Passionfruit pavlova clouds and this recipe will also make an excellent large pavlova.

Swiss meringue

This type is used for piped meringue and can also be used for pavlova and dried-out meringues as well as buttercreams.

This method involves the cooking of the egg whites prior to full whisking of the meringue and is achieved by heating egg white and sugar together over a water bath. Mix the sugar and egg whites together in a freestanding electric mixer then place the mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Heat and mix by hand until the meringue base reaches a temperature of 65°C. Then remove the bowl from the pan and place it back on the mixer. Whisk the meringue on high speed until it becomes thick and glossy and has cooled to room temperature.

Italian meringue

This is probably the most recognisable meringue as it has many uses in the sweet kitchen – and certainly in this book! For this type of meringue, a hot syrup cooks the egg whites as it aerates them, making it a stronger meringue than the other two varieties.

Uses for Italian meringue include making marshmallows (with the addition of gelatine), nougat (with the addition of honey and nuts), and glazes for cakes and frozen desserts and for piping onto desserts, such as the Lemon meringue pie éclairs.

The trick with Italian meringue is to ensure the egg whites have not been over-whipped before the hot syrup is poured on, as this will result in a grainy end product.

In order to get the best results, I have my egg whites slowly whisking in a freestanding electric mixer just before I start to boil my syrup. Once the syrup reaches 112°C, I then turn the mixer with the egg whites to medium–high speed. This ensures my egg whites are the correct texture when the syrup has reached 121°C and needs to be slowly trickled into the mixer. Make sure you don’t touch the whisk when adding the hot sugar syrup.

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