Ann Reardon from How to Cook That shares her secrets

Candy sugar balloon bowls. Picture: Supplied

Candy sugar balloon bowls. Picture: Supplied

The top shelf of Ann Reardon's pantry is just for chocolate. The one below has containers brimming with sweet confections, then there's a range of flours, sugars, cocoa powder and on the bottom shelf ... fondant, sprinkles, edible gold and a rainbow's worth of gel food colours.

It might surprise you that Reardon is a dietitian and food scientist who's worked in the food industry and in public health.

But she also has a sweet tooth.

"I always remember my university lecturer's advice: if you're going to have chocolate then make sure it's only a small amount and top quality," she says.

"That idea set me off on a quest to find the best-tasting desserts."

Ann Reardon from How to Eat That shares her secrets.

Ann Reardon from How to Eat That shares her secrets.

Her quest led her to starting the website How to Cook That in 2011. Her third son was quite unwell and fed three hourly throughout the night until he was seven months old. To stay awake she started blogging, typing one-handed at all hours of the night while feeding a baby.

A decade on, and she has almost five million subscribers, nearly a million views on 450 YouTube episodes, and now she has a book.

Fans had been requesting a book for years and the prolonged lockdown in Melbourne in 2020 gave her the quiet months she needed to focus on collecting the perfect range of recipes and the result is Crazy Sweet Creations.

"There is something special about a book, the permanency of print," she says.

"A website can be hacked, YouTube may be long gone in 200 years, but a book ... I'd love to think that it is a small slice of history to be enjoyed right now, shared with friends and eventually passed on to the next generation."

  • Crazy Sweet Creations, by Ann Reardon. Mango Media, $46.99.
Crazy Sweet Creations, by Ann Reardon. Mango Media, $46.99.

Crazy Sweet Creations, by Ann Reardon. Mango Media, $46.99.

Candy sugar balloon bowls

I love experimenting in the kitchen, developing fresh and new ideas. When I created this recipe a few years ago, there were no blog posts or online videos about balloon sugar bowls. They simply didn't exist yet. After experimenting with different materials to find one that wouldn't melt when coated with scalding candy, I finally discovered a technique that worked. The resulting sugar bowls turned out more beautiful and amazing than I'd imagined! I just had to share it with the world.

Ingredients

Sugar bowls:

  • 300g sugar
  • 200g glucose syrup or light corn syrup
  • 75ml water
  • clear flavoring (optional)
  • liquid food colors (red, blue, yellow)

Equipment:

  • candy thermometer
  • helium quality balloons

Method

1. Fill your helium quality balloons with water to make them the desired size. Remove any remaining air by holding it upright and letting a little of the water squirt out the top. Then tie the balloon and place it upside down on a small bowl resting on some baking paper. Dry the balloon with paper towel and then rub it with a little cooking oil.

2. Mix the sugar, water, and glucose syrup together in a saucepan. Place over high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Wash down the sides of the pan, using a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals from the sides. Add a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat the syrup without stirring until it reaches 150C. Remove from the heat, then stir in your desired flavor and add drops of color. If you are using multiple colors, do not stir, just allow them to mingle as you pour.

3. Wait until the bubbles have subsided, then slowly pour the mixture over your water-filled balloons, allowing the excess to drip down onto the baking paper. Be careful, this mixture is very hot.

4. Leave to cool completely (approximately 15 minutes). Holding a balloon over the sink, make a small cut in the balloon near the knot and let it empty while you hold the sugar bowl. Repeat with each balloon.

5. Store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use. Hard sugar candy absorbs moisture from the air, so if you leave it exposed, it will become sticky. Serve filled with ice cream and fruit or any dessert of your choosing.

Balloon science

To make sugar syrup set hard when it is cooled, it must first be heated to 150C. This is much hotter than boiling water. At this high temperature, it would normally melt a rubber balloon, causing it to pop. However, the water inside the balloon quickly absorbs the heat, moving it away from the balloon fast enough that the rubber does not melt.

Chocolate cheese board

Chocolate cheese board. Picture: Supplied

Chocolate cheese board. Picture: Supplied

Are you a cheese lover? Then you probably know the feeling of excitement when a host brings out a board covered in amazing cheeses and crackers for dessert. However, if you have a sweet tooth like mine, then even the loveliest cheeseboard just doesn't quite hit the spot. To solve this conundrum, I've created a chocolate board filled with candy, dried fruit, and nuts that can then be topped with an array of cheese and crackers.

Ingredients

Chocolate board:

  • 3.7kg milk chocolate
  • 70g dark chocolate
  • 70g white chocolate
  • 40g nuts, chopped
  • 40g dried fruit
  • 20g glace ginger, chopped
  • 100g jelly beans
  • 70g soft toffees
  • 2 Oreos
  • additional 70g dark chocolate

Assembly:

  • 2 different types of gourmet crackers
  • 260g Gouda cheese
  • 400g Jarlsberg cheese
  • 250g Edam cheese
  • 200g Camembert cheese
  • 250g Cheddar cheese
  • 150g Wensleydale cheese with cranberries
  • 225g grapes
  • 1 fig
  • 250g strawberries
  • 50g almonds

Method

Chocolate board:

1. Line the base of the baking pan or tin with nonstick baking paper. Ensure the baking paper is completely flat and doesn't cover the sides.

2. Temper the chocolate. Mix half of the white chocolate with one tablespoon of milk chocolate, resulting in a light brown color. Drizzle the lined pan lengthwise with this light brown chocolate, then with the white chocolate and the dark chocolate. Run the drizzles along the full length of the pan, even spilling over the edges. Use a clean paintbrush to brush lightly down the length of the pan to smudge the chocolate; you are creating a "wood grain" effect, so make sure all the lines go in one direction.

3. Pour two-thirds of the milk chocolate over the top and spread it out lengthwise. Do not swirl or spread it across the tin as this will ruin your wood grain. Sprinkle one half with glace ginger, dried fruit, and nuts and the other half with candies and crushed cookies. You can vary these fillings according to your taste. Pour over the remaining milk chocolate, then smooth out the top as best as you can. Drop the pan onto the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles. Place in the fridge for one hour to set.

4. Using a knife, scrape off any bumps on the chocolate so the board can sit flat. Flip the tin over and give it a gentle tap on the counter to tip out your chocolate board. Peel off the baking paper. Spread a very thin layer of melted dark chocolate over the top. Spread or brush it thin enough that you can see the various colors of the different chocolate underneath. Follow the edges of these different colors by running the tip of a sharp knife down the length of the board, making a slight indentation. Continue making lines down the board in a wood grain pattern. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

5. Using an offset spatula, gently scrape along the surface to smooth it out. Once you are happy with your wood grain look, fold a piece of paper towel, dip it into iced water, and quickly rub it back and forth along the surface. This will change the chocolate finish from a dull appearance to more like shiny, polished wood. You will need to replace the paper towel several times, continually dipping it into the iced water to keep it cold.

Assembly:

1. When choosing your cheeses, look for a variety of shapes. Having one cheese that is wedge shaped, another round, and a third that is rectangular will make your board look more aesthetically pleasing.

2. Wash and dry the fresh fruit. Arrange the cheeses, fruit, crackers, and almonds on top of the board, then add a cheese knife. It's a good idea to have additional fruit and crackers set aside to restock the board as needed.

Magic chocolate flower

Magic chocolate flower. Picture: Supplied

Magic chocolate flower. Picture: Supplied

Bring a theatrical touch to the dining table with this lovely dessert. As you pour the hot crème anglaise into the bowl, the chocolate petals fall open to reveal the delights hidden inside.

Ingredients

Chocolate Flower

Ingredients per chocolate flower:

  • 100g chocolate
  • 3 sheets of acetate
  • silicone hemisphere mold, each cavity 80ml
  • 1 edible flower
  • For each inside:
  • 1 small macaron
  • 3 raspberries
  • 1 blueberry
  • 1 chocolate truffle
  • Crème anglaise:

(Enough for four flowers)

  • 50g sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250ml heavy cream (35 percent fat)
  • 125ml milk

Method

Chocolate flower:

1. Using the chocolate flower template, cut a row of petal-shaped holes out of one sheet of acetate. Place it on top of a second sheet of acetate.

2. Temper the chocolate, then spread a thin layer over the top of the sheet of acetate with the holes. Remove the cut sheet of acetate so that you leave behind just the chocolate petals on the bottom sheet. Working quickly before the chocolate hardens, roll it so that the petals are curved in a half circle. Use cookie cutters or something cylindrical to hold the acetate in place while the chocolate sets. Repeat to make 12 petals for each flower.

3. Spread out more chocolate on another piece of acetate. When it starts to harden, cut out a 2.5cm circle for each dessert. Cut each circle in half.

Assembly:

1. Use a little melted chocolate to secure a macaron to the top of a chocolate truffle. Then, using more chocolate, arrange the fruit on top of the macaron.

2. Position half the chocolate petals around a silicone hemisphere mold. Use chocolate to add a half circle at the base to hold the petals together. Repeat for the other half of the flower and leave to set.

3. Take one half of the flower off the silicon hemisphere mold. Put it into a bowl, using some melted chocolate to "glue" it there. Add the assembled chocolate macaron into the centre. Carefully add the other half of the flower, using more melted chocolate to fasten it in place.

Crème anglaise:

1. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl. Scrape the vanilla bean, then add the seeds and the pod to a saucepan with the cream and milk. Heat until it starts to boil, then remove from the stove and pour about half a cup of hot cream into your egg yolks and whisk well. Pour this egg yolk mixture into the pan of hot cream, whisking as you do so. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. When you're ready to serve, reheat the crème anglaise on low heat to 85C. Immediately pour through a sieve into a jug. Take the dessert to the table and pour hot crème anglaise into the bowl. As the chocolate base melts, the flower petals fan open beautifully, creating a dessert experience to delight your senses.

Sugar snow globe dessert

Sugar snow globe dessert. Picture: Supplied

Sugar snow globe dessert. Picture: Supplied

There's a hint of Christmas in these eye-catching snow globe desserts with their green pistachio base and bright red raspberries. But really, they are suitable for any time of the year. Each delightful dessert is filled with orange curd, diplomat cream, and fresh fruit, topped with a thin sugar globe. Makes 12 mini tarts.

Ingredients

Pistachio base:

  • 125g butter
  • 250g plain flour
  • 35g pistachios
  • 30g hazelnuts
  • 125g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 drop green gel food coloring
  • 12 7.5cm loose-based baking pans or a muffin tin.

Orange curd:

  • 500ml fresh orange juice
  • 3/4 tbsp powdered gelatin
  • peel of one orange
  • 125g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g butter, cubed

Diplomat cream:

  • 8g corn flour
  • 40g sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 60ml heavy cream (35 percent fat)
  • 60ml milk
  • an additional 125ml heavy cream (35 percent fat)
  • piping bag
  • star-shaped piping tip

Sugar dome:

  • 300g sugar
  • 75ml water
  • 200g glucose syrup
  • silicone hemisphere mold, each cavity 80ml
  • pastry brush
  • candy thermometer
  • circle cookie cutter

Assembly:

  • 100g raspberries
  • 20g blueberries
  • 150g strawberries

Method

Pistachio base:

1. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Put the pistachios and hazelnuts into a Ziploc bag and crush them into fine pieces by hitting them with a rolling pin. Alternatively, you could use a food processor for this step. Add the nuts to the flour mixture along with the sugar and stir well. Beat together the egg and green food coloring. Add this into the flour mixture and stir well until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the base of your muffin tin cups or loose-based pans with a circle of baking paper in each one. Roll out the pastry on a piece of plastic wrap. Cut a 2cm strip of pastry using a pizza cutter, pushing down firmly enough to cut through the plastic wrap as well. Pick up the strip with the wrap and put the pastry side around the inside of your cups or tins so it is touching the base. Trim to size and remove the plastic. Cut circles of pastry and add to the centre of each tin or muffin cup, using your fingers to make sure each circle is joined to the edges.

3. Place onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Orange curd:

1. Add about three tablespoons of the orange juice to the gelatin; stir it through immediately, then leave it to absorb the liquid.

2. Place the orange peel, remaining orange juice, and sugar in a pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, continuing to simmer until it concentrates down to 250ml. Add in the gelatin and stir until melted.

3. Beat the eggs and pour into the juice and sugar mixture, whisking as you do. Stir continuously for a few minutes over high heat until it thickens. Remove from the stove, add the butter, and stir until it is melted. Strain the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the orange peel. Leave to cool.

Diplomat cream:

1. In a bowl, whisk together the corn flour, sugar and egg yolk. Add two tablespoons of the cream and whisk again to make a smooth paste.

2. Heat the milk and 60ml of cream in a saucepan until it just starts to boil, then slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you do. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over the heat until it thickens. Continue to stir over high heat for another 60 seconds. Pour it into a flat dish and cover with plastic wrap to stop it forming a skin. Place in the fridge for two hours to cool.

3. Once it is chilled, whip the additional cream to form soft peaks. Take three large spoons of whipped cream and whisk it into the custard to lighten it, then fold in the rest of the whipped cream. Place into a piping bag with a star-shaped tip.

Sugar dome:

1. Spray the silicone hemisphere mold with a little cooking oil and rub it over the surface so the sugar doesn't stick.

2. Place the sugar, water, and glucose syrup in a pan over high heat. Once it starts to boil, wash down the sides of the pan using a wet pastry brush.

3. Heat to 150C, then immediately remove from the stovetop and cool to 130C.

4. Place the silicone mold on a chopping board, propped up at an angle so any excess sugar syrup can run down. Add some baking paper underneath to protect the counter.

5. Pour the hot sugar syrup in a circular motion over each mold so they are completely covered.

6. As the sugar starts to cool, push firmly down around the base of each hemisphere with a greased circle cookie cutter.

7. Once it is completely cold, you can peel away the silicone mold. Press up in the centre of each hemisphere to remove it from the surrounding sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature until you are ready to use.

Assembly:

1. Wash and dry the berries. Cut the strawberries in half vertically. Remove the pistachio pastry shells from their tins. Place heaped tablespoons of orange curd into each tart shell. Pipe little stars of diplomat cream all over the top of the orange curd.

2. Add three blueberries, two raspberries, and half a strawberry to each dessert. Store in the fridge until you're ready to serve; then finally, add a sugar dome and present your creation to the table.

This story Your step-by-step guide to making mind-blowing desserts first appeared on The Canberra Times.