According to Larousse, caramel is simply melted sugar that has been browned by heating. Technically, it is that simple.

 However, to explain the wondrous complexities of caramel, food scientist Harold McGee is more forthcoming. “Start with pure table sugar, a single kind of molecule, colourless, odourless, and simply sweet. Add heat, and you create caramel: many hundreds of new molecules, brown colour, rich aroma, sweet, tart and bitter.”

There are two basic methods for making caramel: the dry method, which involves heating sugar until it reaches melting point, when it starts to brown, or the wet method, which is to dissolve the sugar in water, then bring it to the boil until it starts to brown. Dissolving the sugar first is an easier and practical method for less-experienced cooks, but either way, caramel has to be constantly watched as once it starts to brown, it can easily burn. Have a bowl of cold water ready to cool the pan down, as this will stop it cooking further. I prefer the dry method, as it’s quick and I can keep stirring it all the time. With the wet method, once the sugar has dissolved and started to boil, you’re not allowed to stir it, as this can encourage the formation of crystals. You also need to use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to prevent any crystals forming at the side of the pot.

Whichever method you choose, there are plenty of wonderful recipes to make. I have included three of my favourites here.



Caramel bananas with banana and dulce de leche icecream


My childhood treat of caramel bananas is given a makeover, with the addition of a super easy ice cream and the bitter crunch of praline. Can you ever have too much caramel?



4 over ripe bananas

1 cup dulce de leche*



¾ cup caster sugar

½ cup almonds



60g butter

½ cup brown sugar

4 ripe bananas, peeled and cut in thick slices on an angle


To make ice cream, blend bananas in a food processor until smooth. Add dulche leche and blend. Pour into a plastic container and place in freezer for 4 hours until firm.

To make praline, line a baking tray with baking paper.

Heat a heavy based frypan over high heat. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar, allowing it to melt before adding more. As it melts, stir with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn’t burn. Keep adding the sugar and stirring until it is a dark golden brown colour.

Quickly add the almonds and pour the mixture onto the tray.

Allow to cool, then break into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until roughly crushed.

For the bananas, melt butter in a pan over medium heat, add brown sugar and stir. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring, until caramel forms. Add sliced banana and continue to cook until banana is soft and golden.

Remove from heat and drizzle over any extra caramel from the pan.

Serve with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle with praline.

Serves 4.


*To Make Dulce de leche:


Place a tin of condensed milk in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours, topping up with extra water to keep the tin covered. Remove and allow to cool.


Salted Butter Caramel


These caramels can be made with any type of sugar and butter, but the flavour is better with great quality ingredients.


375g Raw Castor Sugar

250g good quality salted butter, diced and chilled (plus extra for greasing the tin)

5 Tbsp crème fraiche

sea salt flakes to garnish


Grease and line a 20cm square slice tin with baking paper.

In a heavy based saucepan place the sugar over a medium heat. Cook to quite a dark caramel. Turn the heat down low and carefully add the butter, a few cubes at a time, making sure that it is all incorporated before adding more. Stir in crème fraiche and continue to cook until thickened (118C on a digital or sugar thermometer).

Pour into tray and sprinkle over extra salt flakes. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until set.

Cut into squares to serve.


Caramelised pork belly


Inspired by Alvin’s recipe on Masterchef series 2, the caramel sauce for the pork belly is flavoured by the chinese master stock. The stock can be frozen and reused.


Chinese master stock:

6lt water

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 knob ginger, sliced

1 handful green onion ends

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise

375 ml light soy sauce

375 ml shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)

75 g chinese rock sugar


For the pork:

1 kg pork belly

300g brown sugar

1 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp lime juice

handful fresh coriander leaves

2 french shallots (eschalots), finely sliced and soaked in 1 tbsp asian vinegar

1 long red chilli, deseeded and sliced

1 tbsp black sesame seeds


To make the master stock, place all ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to the boil. Taste the stock for balance of flavours and adjust as required.

Add pork belly to master stock and gently simmer for 1 hour.

Remove and set aside to cool.

Heat brown sugar in deep sided frypan, stir and cook over medium heat until caramelised. Add 1 cup of master stock, fish sauce and lime juice. Cook over high heat until reduced and thickened. Cut pork belly into slices and add to sauce.

Mix together the coriander leaves, sliced shallots and chilli.

Place slices of caramelised pork on a plate, garnish with salad and sprinkle over sesame seeds.

Serves 4.


To store master stock:

Allow stock to cool. Strain through a fine sieve and refrigerate until needed.

Master stock, once cooled, strained and refrigerated can be used again and again.

Replenish the stock with fresh garlic, ginger, green onions and aromatics each time you use it and the flavour will continue to intensify.

This stock can also be frozen.



Hot to go

Cast your eyes over café menus right now and you’re sure to find some delicious hot sandwich options, in many disguises. On display in glass-fronted cabinets, fancy breads such as pides and piadinas vy for shelf position alongside thickly sliced sourdough and artisan-made rolls in all shapes and sizes.

The displays are as mouth watering as the fillings. Vegetables roasted to reveal their natural sweetness, every type of cheese you can think of and all the usual cured meat suspects (think prosciutto, salami, etc). Smoked salmon, succulent chicken, slow roasted pork, lamb and beef add more flavour to sandwiches already bursting at the seams. Pickles and chutneys, aioli and mayonnaise add the finishing touches. Combinations range from classic to clever and sometimes unexpected.

Trawl the local café scene and I think it is entirely possible to eat a sandwich every day for a year and not have the same thing twice.

Below are three of my favourite recipes at the moment. The mushroom burger is inspired by Melbourne’s Market Lane café at Prahran market, where on Saturday mornings you’ll find portabello mushrooms barbecued to perfection with lashing of herb butter and spicy chipotle mayonnaise.

The chicken souvlaki is a classic combination of juicy chicken with garlicky yoghurt sauce whipped with feta on soft homemade pita. Or try my indulgent steak sandwich with thinly sliced steak and caramelised onions on toasty sourdough.

Oh, and for good measure, a side serve of crunchy onion rings. Tuck in.

mushroom burger and onion rings photo Marina Oliphant

Fried onion rings

Crunchy onion rings are the perfect accompaniment to a hot sandwich. Watch out, as these are spicy!


1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp onion powder

1 cup buttermilk

1 tbsp Tabasco sauce

2 large brown onions, peeled and cut into 1cm thick rings

1 cup plain flour

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a bowl, mix paprika, cayenne and onion powder. Set aside half of this spice mix to add to the flour. Combine the buttermilk with tabasco sauce and half the spices. Add the onion rings and press to coat. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Heat a deep fryer to 180C.

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with remaining spice mix. Dredge the onions in the seasoned flour, coating each ring evenly. Shake off any excess flour and dip back into the buttermilk mixture. Finally, recoat with spiced flour. Carefully place the rings in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, turning to cook evenly and prevent sticking, about 3 minutes per batch. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Serve hot.

Mushroom burgers with haloumi

Portabello mushrooms are barbecued to perfection with lashings of herb butter, finished with hot and salty haloumi and a healthy dollop of chipotle mayo.

125g unsalted butter, softened

2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, oregano)

1 anchovy fillet (optional)

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 tsp curry powder

1 lemon, for juicing

4 large portabello mushrooms

sea salt and black pepper to season

1 cup good quality mayonnaise

1 tbsp chipotle in adobo*

4 slices haloumi

plain flour for dusting

fennel pickles to serve**

4 large crunchy burger buns, toasted on the cut sides

Mix butter with herbs, anchovy, garlic, curry powder and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a spreadable consistency.

Heat a grill pan or bbq until hot, brush mushrooms with herb butter, season and grill for 5 minutes on each side, or until well cooked. Brush liberally with herb butter whilst cooking.

Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise with chipotle sauce and set aside.

Dust haloumi with flour and place on grill to cook on both sides until golden. Remove from heat and place on top of mushroom. Squeeze over some lemon juice and dollop with spicy mayonnaise. Add some pickles and serve on toasted buns. Immediately!!

(Any leftover herb butter can be kept refrigerated or frozen until next time).

Serves 4.

*chipotle in adobo are spicy Mexican style chillies available to buy in tins from selected supermarkets and specialty stores.

** fennel pickles are available at selected food stores. Substitute any pickles if you can’t find these.

chicken souvlaki photo Marina Oliphant

Chicken Souvlaki:

Warm juicy chicken with a garlicky yoghurt sauce in soft home made pita bread. Fast food never tasted this good. Skip making the pitas when you’re short on time, but trust me, once you’ve made them, you won’t buy pita again.

Pita bread:

1¼ cups lukewarm water

1½ tsp dry yeast

1½ tsp caster sugar

450g plain flour

½ tsp sea salt

½ cup olive oil, plus extra for brushing

chicken marinade:

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 ½  tsp chopped fresh oregano

2 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

4 garlic cloves, minced

500g boneless chicken thighs

Tzatziki Feta Sauce:

½  cup plain Greek style yoghurt

125g Greek style feta cheese

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded, coarsely grated and drained

To make the pita, mix together water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and leave in a warm spot for 20 minutes until mixture foams.

In a bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook, mix flour and salt. Add olive oil and the yeast mix and combine. Continue to mix until the dough becomes smooth. Turn out on to a lightly floured bench and knead a few times then shape into a ball.

Put it back into the bowl and cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for around 15 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, marinate the chicken. Combine lemon, oregano, oil, garlic and chicken in a shallow bowl. Cover with clingfilm and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

To prepare tzatziki feta sauce, combine yoghurt and feta in a bowl and blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Add lemon juice, garlic and blitz again to incorporate. Add cucumber and stir through. Season with salt and pepper if required and set aside.

Preheat the barbeque or grill plate to a medium heat.

Divide the dough into 12 and roll out into flat thin even disks approximately 16cm in diameter.

Brush the flat bread with some olive oil and place it on the grill. Gently brush a little oil on top as well.

Cook for 20 seconds or until the bread puffs up, then turn over and cook for 20 seconds more. Do not cook for too long or they will dry out too much and become crisp.

When they are cooked stack them on top of each other and wrap tightly in a clean tea towel to keep warm.

Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done, turning once. Remove and rest on clean plate, then shred roughly into bite size pieces.

Place chicken in each pita bread, top with tzatziki and serve with fresh salad.

Serves 4-6.

steak sandwich photo Marina Oliphant

Quick steak sandwich

Thinly sliced fillet steak, or, if you prefer, use rump. Pan-fried onions, wilted spinach and good tomato chutney on grilled sourdough with all the meat juices soaking into the bread. Yum. Some people like to add mushrooms, even a fried egg. Whatever you choose, make it your own, but make it now.


600g eye fillet steak

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing

2 red onions, thinly sliced

8 thick slices sourdough bread

150g baby spinach leaves

salt and pepper to season

good quality chutney or relish


Thinly slice the steak into 8 pieces. Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan and cook onion until softened. Lower heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes until onion starts to colour and get deliciously crunchy around the edges.

Brush sourdough with a little oil and cook on a hot grill plate for a few minutes either side. Or, if you prefer, simply toast the bread.

Wilt the spinach for a few minutes in a small non stick pan (no need to add any oil).

Cook steak in a very hot pan with a little oil for about 30 seconds either side. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

Pile the wilted spinach onto a slab of toast, top with two slices of steak and lashings of onions. Dollop with some good quality chutney, sandwich with the other slice of toast and tuck in!

Serves 4.