Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I can't believe it has come to this, but seriously - how much chocolate mousse, crème brûlée and pots de crème can one eat? At one stage, I found egg whites to be the nuisance and eventually began making Pavlova to even out my yolk to albumen ratio. Now, with macarons on my mind, I'm always on the hunt for recipes that use egg yolks (and don't include the three, rich French desserts I mentioned). I could just throw the yolks away but that makes me feel wasteful.
Anyway, I tried out the All-in-One Cookie Dough recipe by Martha Stewart. Here's what you can do with some of those egg yolks you have after making macarons and Pavlova:
Monday, October 25, 2010
Let’s talk about the confectionery reminiscent of Marie “Let them eat macarons” Antoinette. No, it isn’t macaroon – there’s only one “o”. Say it with me, maca-RON. Like Weasley. A French macaron is a gluten-free ‘cookie’ made with icing sugar, ground almonds and meringue, sandwiched together with either ganache, buttercream, jam or other yummy fillings.
For years, I’ve seen them while perusing food blogs. I’ve heard about them from people who’ve been to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. And even though I’ve successfully made a few batches this year, I have no idea what the hallowed macarons of Paris taste like. I kind of hope, arrogantly, that mine taste the same. Someday, I hope to discover the truth – even if it isn’t at all kind to my vanity.
I mentioned to Luts (brainchild of our blog yet still hasn't posted:), that I really want to try this out. I’ve read how tricky it is, and I felt like a challenge. She insisted that our humidity is a killer to these temperamental French sweets, and even chefs have trouble with them in humid climes. With a slight brazen but mostly doomed-to-fail attitude, I ploughed through and voilà! I thanked David Lebovitz and his pretty perfect recipe – that I tweaked only a little (castor sugar instead of granulated sugar, baked at 160 degrees instead of 180 for the full 18 minutes)
The following two times I made macarons, I alternated using ‘aged’ egg whites (24 hours, separated egg whites at room temperature) and egg whites brought to room temperature by leaving them in a bowl on the counter for an hour. Both times – the macarons were the same – feet, shell, texture. Hence, I came to the conclusion that ageing your egg whites makes no difference. However, I don’t use ‘fresh’ just-purchased-from-the-store eggs; they had been in the refrigerator for at least a week (in their shells I mean).
David Lebovitz doesn’t let his macarons rest before baking – but I find that when I let them rest longer (30-45 minutes), they looked a lot better. Even from the numerous posts I read – people either don’t age their eggs or they use egg whites that have been aged three days, some attribute the elusive ‘pied’ (foot at the base of the macaron shell) to rapping their hands underneath the baking tray before baking, others to letting them rest till a dry shell forms before baking – whatever floats your boat. I’ve come to perform some of these acts as ‘rituals’ just because itworked at that time. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work the first time, mine looked gooey and oblong the first time. That’s why I love the circle template that I downloaded. I found it while reading Marv Woodhouse's blog. I'm so grateful to have a piping guide - most of my macarons actually match now.
Yields 48 shells – 24 macaron ‘sandwiches’
3 large egg whites
75 g castor sugar
150g icing sugar
50g powdered almonds
50g powdered pistachio
Powdered food colouring – green
Step 1: Egg Prep
Separate your egg whites either the day before, or an hour before to reach room temperature.
Step 2: Nuts and icing sugar
In a mixing bowl – sift in the icing sugar, powdered almonds and powdered pistachio.
Sifting the nuts helps to separate the bigger grainier bits from the powdery mixture. If there’s quite a bit – I like to put the grainier pieces in a coffee grinder to process it more finely. It’s an important step, even if it takes a while – since you shouldn’t grind for long (because it heats up). Using a spoon, scrape the mixture through the sifter. Stir the mixture so that the icing sugar and powdered nuts are combined.
Step 3: French meringue
In another (spotless clean) bowl, make a French meringue by whisking egg whites until foamy with an electric stand or hand mixer. Then gradually add castor sugar while beating continuously. Keep beating until the mixture forms peaks. The way it looks always reminds me of soft-serve ice cream. How to know if your sugar is completely dissolved – take a bit of the meringue between your index finger and thumb and rub it, if it feels grainy – continue beating until you can’t feel the sugar crystals. That’s why I like using castor sugar, I feel it dissolves better than granulated white sugar. Also, someone told me that your meringue is done if you can hold the bowl over your head and nothing falls out. Using a spoon over the bowl is probably safer – scoop out some meringue and turn the spoon upside down, if it doesn’t slide off, your meringue is ready.
Add your powdered food colouring to the meringue; beat in until combined and you see the desired colour tone.
Step 5: Le macaronnage. Fold, fold, fold.
The part we've been waiting for: this technique is formally known as ‘macaronnage’. Apparently this step determines whether your macarons will have a perfect shell and form the ‘pied’ (foot). In three additions, add your icing sugar/powdered nuts mixture from step one to your coloured meringue – and fold in with a good rubber spatula. Folding in the mixture takes a good few minutes so don’t rush or just mash the mixtures together. The first time I made macarons, I watched how to fold the mixtures in this helpful video. 5 minutes into the video, you'll see the perfect macaronnage texture. Be careful not to overdo your folding either! That has some ugly consequences, I’ve read. If you haven’t folded the mixture enough, they will form little peaks that don’t smooth out when you pipe them – you can test by piping out a small amount first.
Step 6: Pipe, rest and bake (le good life)
Line your baking trays with baking paper. Not wax paper, because it will stick! I love baking paper. It doesn't need ANY additional greasing - which isn't good for meringue based desserts anyway - like Pavlova. Trust me, and: Get. Baking. Paper.
Put a round icing nozzle (Ateco 807) in a pastry bag, and fill the bag with macaron batter.
Using a circle template under your baking paper – or you can just wing it and make your own circles, pipe out the macarons and leave to “rest” for 30-60 minutes – the point of this is you want the top of the macarons to form a dry ‘shell’. When you (lightly) touch the tops, no batter will separate from the shell and stick to your finger.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 Fahrenheit. This is important; you want the oven to be nice and preheated. Rap the underside of the baking tray against the counter or with your hands before putting it into the oven. Lower temperature to 150 degrees Celsius and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for a further 8-10 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes on the tray, then transfer the paper with the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely before removing. It should come away easily.
I recommend making the ganache before your macarons, especially if you’re pressed for time – because it needs a few hours in the refrigerator to firm up before filling the macarons. I also recommend you use the best white chocolate you can find – maybe that’s because I’m not a huge fan of the taste of most white chocolates. But Lindt has always been good to me.
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup white Lindt chocolate
Place chocolate in blender or mixing bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan till it just begins to bubble, pour over pieces of chocolate and stir well until melted. Then add butter and blitz all till smooth. When cool – refrigerate for a few hours to thicken mixture. Pipe onto macaron shells, sandwich with other half. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate - remove 30 minutes before serving.
This was quite sweet, but by far the best macaron I’ve tasted. Next time I'm doubling the recipe; the woes of sharing with my family. I don't mind sharing with women of course, but the kids and guys ate all my macarons up. I feel like a little French baby bear.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
It's been a cold couple of days in Durban. I like the unpredictability of le printemps - Sunday was the perfect beach day, intense heat on Monday, then rain and cold: all in three days. Yesterday, the cold made me think of these chocolate chip cookies I used to make (for some reason, I can't find the link, but I initially found it from the bbc website years ago). It was the perfect weather to curl up with a good book, so I hadn't intended on doing anything in the kitchen - but that's why I love this recipe. It's incredibly simple; my nieces have made these with minimal supervision. In addition to it's entry-level-cook status, you don't have to bring out your electric mixer for these babies.
100g good dark chocolate or choc-chips
125g unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
75g (5 Tbsp) soft brown sugar
1 free-range egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cup plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1. Heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Chop the chocolate into little chunks and set aside.
2. Heat the butter in a small saucepan very gently until it has just melted. Meanwhile, put the two types of sugar into a mixing bowl. Pour the melted butter on top of the sugars and beat with a wooden spoon.
3. Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until well blended.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the mixing bowl and stir them in, then add the chopped chocolate.
5. Dot heaped pudding spoonfuls of the mixture over the lined baking sheets, leaving plenty of space in between them--they really spread out while baking.
6. Wearing oven gloves, put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 9-12 minutes, until the cookies are just turning golden brown. (If you have a glass door on your oven, watch the extraordinary transformation as these cookies bake--one moment you've got lumpy brown dough, the next, you have pale golden cookies, their shiny surface a network of cracks.)
7. Leave the cookies on the baking sheets to harden for a couple of minutes, then carefully lift up the baking parchment and transfer them to a wire cooling rack.
8. You can eat these cookies warm, but they are also good cold, and they store well in an airtight tin.
If I get bored of the recipe I like to add nuts - pecan nuts and hazelnuts are great additions to this cookie.
I love these chocolate chips from Pick 'n Pay. Sometimes you see them. Sometimes you don't. Baking stores sell choc-chips in bigger packages, I'm sure those are great too.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Icing makes a cake. Period. It's the icing that gives you the sugar rush and delirious high you experience when eating cake. A cake is complete when it is iced. Compris?
The recipe I used is a popular one that was on Martha Stewart's website as well as 52 Cupcakes - it's called Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes. I added more baking powder (their recipe called for 1 tablespoon), and only used cake flour (though the recipe on the website uses all purpose and cake flour). The method doesn't involve initial creaming of the butter and sugar like most cake recipes. But I've been using this recipe for a long time now, and having said that, it makes no big difference if you use this method or the popular cream-butter-and-sugar first method (and then adding alternately dry/wet ingredients with slow mixing speeds to just combine.) You just really shouldn't overbeat the ingredients.
Makes about 30 cupcakes
3 cups cake flour
2 cups castor sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
250g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.
Billy's Vanilla Buttercream
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
6 to 8 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 6 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.
If you're curious about piping grass, the nozzle looks like this. It also looks like spaghetti to me. It's easy to use and cute to eat.
Finally, a little tip from myself, a novice/intermediate baker: you can make your cupcakes look awesome by buying those little edible flowers or pearls at baking stores. Yay!
Monday, October 4, 2010
The problem (as I should've expected): limited supermarket aisles. There were two choices: chocolate, and Golden syrup. Gloria Jean's had a few different syrups, but none come close to Starbucks in taste. I gave up the hunt for good syrup. Even the maple syrup was inauthentic - thick and gooey. Real maple syrup has a thin and runny consistency.
A few days ago, I was strolling in Woolworths, staring at their jars of syrups because I had nothing pressing to attend to. And there it was, a beautiful bottle of maple syrup - produced in Quebec, Canada. I must have walked past this section a hundred times without giving it a glance. Have I been missing out!
My mum used to make a savoury French toast, so I had only ever eaten 'sweet' French toast at restaurants, sweetened with the inferior Golden syrup.
I used three large slices of Woolworth's sandwich brown bread, as it was the only bread I had on hand. But Moby (Mr Max aka the husband) gave this his seal of approval - this is what he had to say. "I can't believe this is brown bread. It tastes so good." And that is the proof of Woolworths Maple Syrup, it makes ordinary brown bread taste like waffles.
Basic French Toast (for about 5 slices)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/2 a teaspoon cinnamon powder
a good pump of vanilla paste or 1/2 a teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
Whisk the above together in a mixing bowl. Pour the mixture into a shallow dish - to dip each slice of bread, ensuring both sides are we coated. In a non-stick frying pan, heat some butter and fry the slices of bread on each side on medium-high heat until nicely browned. I like mine a little crispy on the edges. Transfer to a serving plate and dust with icing sugar, (and the moment we've been waiting for:) and drizzle generously with maple syrup. The minute we smelled that authentic maple syrup, I couldn't put down my fork to take another picture. Today is a grey, wet day in Durban, I think I'll go whip up some French toast to go with Woolworths organic coffee. Yes, I'm a whore to Woolies.