11 January 2012

For the love of Macarons...!

OK.. I have been meaning to post about macarons for a while now.  I am finally happy with a recipe and technique that seems to be less temperamental, and has worked pretty well for me… so am going to share it with you now... :)

When I first started on the journey of macarons, I followed the rules of Helene and Aran who’s blogs I absolutely love. The food and photography, both equally amazing… so effortlessly stylish, how do they do it…! Anyway, I digress... Even though I patiently planned ahead (something you KNOW I never do) and aged the whites, tried both the French and Italian meringue method… I was still getting mixed results each time,usually with a few cracked tops... or not the right texture, too crispy without chew... hollow tops... Arg!

It was only one day when I had one of my last minute decisions to make them for my cousin before he left the country the next day, that I stumbled across my now favourite recipe/technique!  NO aged whites ! Not one… and you know what, I am never that good at remember weights or measuring them precisely either…  but they still seem to work even with my less than refined attention to the detail. Much less wastage!

So here it is – my recipe and method using the French method (so much easier and less washing up!):
3 egg whites, room temperature (I have weighed them, and sometimes it’s around 90g, sometimes 100g depending on the size of your eggs, though it hasn’t affected the results)
200g icing sugar
110g ground almonds (buy them ground, and then whizz them up again in the food processor to make them even finer for a smoother finish!)
50g caster sugar
Gel food colouring if using

+ Measure out the almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz them up till they are thorough blended and you have a lovely fine almond dust. Not too long, just a few whizzes in the machine

+ Sift the mixture out in a clean bowl

+ In a separate bowl, start whisking the egg whites up, when they start to turn white and foamy, start adding the caster sugar, keep whisking till glossy, stiff, though not dry. If it looks like cloud, you have gone too far. It should look like shaving foam, glossy and smooth, though holding it’s shape too.  Add your colouring if you are using at this stage too.  Gel colouring works best, as you get good colour without too much trouble. Steer away from liquid colour, as this will alter the balance of liquid in the mixture.

+ Sieve the dry mixture into the egg whites… I think this double sieving gives a finer finish too, don’t be tempted to add the almond clumps that are left in your sieve to the mixture!

+ Now to mix the wet and dry... be firm for the first 4-5 strokes, use a strong folding action to blend the 2 mixtures and knock some of the air out of the egg whites. When the ingredients begin to meld together, slow down and be gentle at this point. You have come this far, you do NOT want to over mix your batter at this stage. 

+  Keep folding, till the mixture turns from a stiff batter to one that flows like a silky rice pudding, or oaty porridge! It's better to undermix at this stage than over mix. When you lift out your spatula, the peak of batter that is left behind should slowly fall back into the mix without trace...if it flows back too quickly, you have probably gone too far, if it holds it shape, then give it another fold or two...

+  Once you are happy with your mixture, pop it in a piping bag with a plain nozzle and pipe out your macarons onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. The size is completely up to you, I like smaller ones, about the size of a £2 coin, though the ones you buy are usually a bit bigger... whatever you fancy!

+  Preheat the oven to around 180 degrees

+  Now, here is the bit that I think makes all the difference. Rest your piped macarons. You have to leave them out until they develop a skin, you know it is done when, when you can gently touch it with the soft pad of your finger, and it doesn't stick! This can take anything from 10mins to half an hour+ .  Depending on where you leave them, if it's a dry sunny day, or a cold, wet wintery one... though be patient, by allowing the skin to develop, my theory is that this is the key to giving them their signature frilly feet and shine, and preventing them from cracking when in the oven.

+ When ready, pop them in the oven, (I use the bottom shelf), as soon as you have put them in, turn the heat right down to around 150 degrees. Too warm, and the macarons will colour before they are cooked through, my oven does not have even heat, it's hotter on the left, so I tend to bring the heat down to 130 degrees... You should start seeing feet after about 5 minutes... don't open the oven before this. At around 8 minutes, have another look, you should have good rise of the frilly feet at this point, and the shells will be firmed up, check that they aren't colouring, and depending on the size you piped them, give them another 4 minutes if they are small, or anything up to 20minutes total baking time if they are bigger. Sorry, can't be more specific on this, I usually bake for 14 minutes if they are £2 size, and around 18 minutes for standard shop size - though it does depend on your oven. 

When out of the oven, let them cool completely, and they should lift clean off the baking tray...

Pair them up and sandwich with your favourite filling. 

The ones here are white ganache, one flavoured with rose extract, the other with matcha.  Be adventurous, and try flavours that you like... Ganache bases work best, as it gives you a firmer set filling that doesn't squidge out when you bite into it, though you can also try buttercreams, marscapone based frosting, jams, spreads... experiment... have fun!

8 January 2012

New Year, New Resolutions... New ideas...?

So.. the new year is upon us? What resolutions are out there ? There is always the usual weightloss one that everyone has... 1 stone... 2 stone... ? Why oh why is it soooOooOOo easy to put on, though so difficult to work off ???  Despite this, am determined to do it properly this time, with noticeable difference... hahaha ... !  We'll see... 

Other things to consider for the new year... More cakes ? New style of cakes... !

Yes, It is balanced on a mixing bowl... :P
Here is the birthday cake that I made yesterday for a very special little girl... The brief was pretty simple, just simple flavours, colour scheme - maybe pinks... it is her First birthday cake afterall... something suitably girlie :)  So armed with pretty much free license... I set upon a spring themed Butterflies and Blossoms cake. The 4 layers of vanilla sponge, and originally, I was thinking strawberries and cream filling, though with 3 layers of filling required, why not go Neopolitan, so one layer of Strawberry Cream with Bananas (her favourite) one layer with vanilla cream with fresh strawberries, and a thin layer of chocolate cream to finish it off.... Should be quite pretty when cut open?   

I am not usually very keen on sugarcraft, as I think icing cakes are a bit clawingly sweet... though I surprised myself with just how much fun it was to make! I think I may just have to experiment further... :P  In my defence, I used a whipped white chocolate ganache instead of the usual rolled fondant icing to cover and act as a base, so that it would be less sugary sweet. It did make it a bit less stable, and does need refrigeration before serving... though I think it will make it tastier in the long run...