The five essential recipes everyone should know how to bake

Shortbread caramel slice (with optional caramel popcorn).
Shortbread caramel slice (with optional caramel popcorn). Photo: Luisa Brimble

I am a no-fuss baker and good, delicious, mouth-watering recipes really do not have to be complicated. Here are five sweet recipes I think every baker needs to have in their arsenal.

Shortbread caramel slice

For the longest time, Hetty McKinnon's salted caramel slice was the only caramel slice I would bake. Hers is made with a crunchy biscuit base, similar to an Anzac biscuit, and remains to this day my ultimate indulgence. This is my own recipe, but with a twist.

Using a shortbread biscuit base, the slice is then topped with thick salted caramel and rich dark chocolate (and some caramel popcorn, but you can skip this bit if you like). I am a salt fiend so if you would prefer yours less salty, simply use unsalted butter.

INGREDIENTS

225g plain flour, sifted

115g rice flour, sifted

Just desserts by Charlotte Ree.
Just desserts by Charlotte Ree. Photo: Plum Books

120g castor sugar

pinch of sea salt

200g salted butter, at room temperature

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Topping

150g salted butter

150g castor sugar

80ml golden syrup

1 x 400g tin sweetened condensed milk

½ tsp sea salt, or more if you are a salt fiend like me

200g dark cooking chocolate (70 per cent cocoa), roughly chopped

caramel popcorn, to decorate (optional)

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 150C. Grease and line a 30cm x 20cm x 3.5cm baking tray with baking paper.

2. Combine the flours, sugar and salt in a bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingers until a crumble begins to form. Place in the tray and flatten out evenly with the back of a wooden spoon. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and prick the shortbread with a fork. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

3. To make the topping, place the butter, sugar, golden syrup, condensed milk and salt in a wide, heavy based saucepan and heat gently, stirring to melt the butter. Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly to stop the mixture sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. When the caramel is thick and fudgy, pour it over the shortbread and smooth out with a palette knife. Leave to set for 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (ensuring the bowl doesn't touch the water). When melted, spread it evenly over the set caramel. Leave for two hours to set, then turn out and cut into 18 pieces. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Serves 18

Charlotte Ree's brown butter salted caramel cookies.

Photo: Luisa Brimble

Brown butter and salted caramel cookies

My friend, Amelia, first introduced me to the joys of brown butter, and once I had tried it there was no going back. Brown butter adds a rich, nutty taste to these cookies and creates the most wonderful aroma in your kitchen.

INGREDIENTS

250g salted butter, at room temperature

160g brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

115g demerara sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

400g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted

Caramel

250g castor sugar

2 tsp sea salt

METHOD

1. Brown 125 grams of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until amber in colour, stirring occasionally. Ensure that you keep an eye on the pan as it only takes a few seconds to burn the butter. Once browned, pour the butter into a bowl and leave to cool.

2. While the butter cools, make the caramel. Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or baking paper. Place the castor sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat the sugar until it melts, whisking constantly to avoid burning. Cook until amber in colour and smoking – if you don't see smoke then the caramel won't have any flavour. Pour onto the prepared tray and set aside to cool.

3. For the dough, cream the remaining butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, browned butter, demerara sugar and egg, and mix until combined.

4. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda to the mixture and mix until combined. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Place a clean tea towel over the cooled caramel and hit gently with a rolling pin to break it into bite-sized pieces (note that the caramel shards will be sharp but they'll soften in the oven), then carefully fold it into the dough.

5. Wrap the cookie dough in plastic wrap and roll into a log. Leave in the fridge for an hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 170C. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place on the prepared trays, leaving a 5cm gap between each cookie to allow for spreading. If you want to be precise, I roll my dough into 25g balls.

7. Flatten the cookies slightly using your hand. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes 24

Chocolate brownies

Brownies were one of the first things I made as a home baker and I love them in their purest form – chocolate on chocolate! The edge pieces from the brownie tin are always my favourites because of that added crunch. You can make these brownies in a regular 12-hole muffin tin so they're crunchy all around and gooey and moist in the middle.

INGREDIENTS

350g castor sugar

80g Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted, plus extra for dusting (optional)

150g plain flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder, sifted

3 large eggs, at room temperature

200g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 tsp vanilla extract

125g dark cooking chocolate (70 per cent cocoa), roughly chopped

ice-cream, to serve (optional)

icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Butter or spray and line a 20cm square 5cm deep baking tin with baking paper.

2. Mix the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the eggs, butter and vanilla and whisk by hand until combined, then stir in the chocolate.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes.

4. Leave to cool slightly in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack. Cut into nine pieces. You could serve these warm in the tin with a generous dollop of ice-cream or simply dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.

Makes 9

Charlotte Ree's peach, raspberry tray cake. Image rotated for online.

Photo: Luisa Brimble

Peach and raspberry tray cake

This is such an easy recipe and one that is my go-to if I have unexpected afternoon tea guests. It's fast, delicious, wonderfully vibrant and a recipe that you can bake all year round. Simply use 500 grams of canned sliced peaches and frozen raspberries if the fresh equivalents are out of season. You can, of course, swap out the peaches and raspberries for pears, blueberries or strawberries to create a delicious and warming afternoon treat.

INGREDIENTS

185g self-raising flour

170g castor sugar

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs, at room temperature

80ml full-cream milk

1½ tsp vanilla extract

4 yellow peaches, sliced into 2cm wedges with skins on

125g fresh raspberries

double cream, to serve

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 33cm x 23cm x 6cm rectangular tray tin with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Place the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed until combined (this takes about 30 seconds).

3. Increase the speed to high and beat for two to three minutes, or until thick and pale. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. The batter won't look like much at this stage, but don't worry as it rises beautifully in the oven. Arrange the peaches and raspberries on top of the batter, pressing down gently.

4.Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

5. I love to serve this warm, straight from the oven, with a generous dollop of double cream. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for two to three days.

Serves 15

Vanilla chiffon cake

This recipe combines two of my great loves – pavlova and cake – to create a dessert that is ridiculously light and fluffy. For this recipe, you will need an angel food cake tin (ideally with a removable base and feed) to give the cake its incredible shape.

The main point of difference with this recipe compared to others in my book is that you must leave your baking tin ungreased. As this cake rises its batter is able to cling to the tin, giving it an incredibly fluffy texture and height.

Because of the height of this cake, you may find the top browns too quickly. If this is the case, simply cover the cake tin with foil to prevent the top from burning.

INGREDIENTS

12 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 tsp cream of tartar

275g castor sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

150g plain flour

1.2L thickened cream

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

500g strawberries, halved and tops removed

sifted icing sugar, for dusting

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Do not grease your tin!

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and the cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually (and patiently) add the sugar, one spoonful at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form, just like a pavlova base. Whisk in the vanilla.

3. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Sift one-third of the flour over the egg white mixture, then fold the ingredients together with a metal spoon and repeat until fully incorporated.

4. Scrape half of the batter into the ungreased angel food tin. Using a metal spoon or spatula, smooth the batter evenly throughout the tin. Scrape the remaining batter into the tin, spreading evenly and gently smoothing the top with the back of the metal spoon.

5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is puffed, lightly golden and springs back when touched.

6. Turn the cake upside-down immediately after pulling it out of the oven, and leave it to cool on a wire rack (or, if your tin has feet, simply rest upside-down on those). Once completely cool, gently shake the tin and run a knife around the edge to release the cake. Cut the cake in half horizontally and place the bottom half on your desired serving plate.

7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form, though be careful not to over-whip. If you do happen to over-whip your cream, gently whisk in a few additional teaspoons of thickened cream and the mixture will balance out again. Cover the bottom half of the cake with a layer of whipped cream and strawberry halves. Place the second layer of cake on top and ice with the remaining whipped cream. To serve, top the cake with the remaining strawberries and dust with icing sugar. Store leftovers covered in the fridge for up to two days.

Serves 12

This is an edited extract from Just Desserts, by Charlotte Ree, published by Plum, RRP $29.99. Photography by Luisa Brimble; styling by Lee Blaylock. Available in book shops and online from October 29, you can pre-order your copy now at charlotteree.com.

Ree will be in conversation at Kinokuniya, Sydney on October 29; at Cinema Nova with Readings Carlton, Melbourne on October 31; and at Riverbend Books, Brisbane on 5 November.