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August 28, 2012

When the olympics came to baking club: the olympic macaron rings

Quick! Hide this entry's title with your hand. Can you guess what these are, without looking at the title of the blog entry?

olympic macaron ringsolympic macarons

¡Mira! They're meant to be macarons imitating the Olympic Rings. However, even I as their co-creator, have to admit that in reality, they bear a greater resemblance to Homer Simpson's donuts.

homer simpson dunut

See what I mean?

The story behind the photos goes something like this:

In Sarah's sitting room. Sarah, Emma and I are tasting the results of our 'experimenting with different sugars' cupcakes and plotting what to bake next time.

Me: I've really enjoyed the olympics. Wouldn't it be fun to do some baking that is olympic-inspired?

Sarah:We could do different flavoured cupcakes. Wouldn't it be fun to do...

(a lengthy, rather detailed conversation ensues on the various flavours and colours that would figure in olympic inspired cupcakes, such as blueberries, raspberries, lemon, chocolate... we keep getting stuck on what would make the courgette and lime cupcakes a greener colour.)

Me:How about macarons instead? It would probably be easier to get the colours right on macarons than with cupcakes

Sarah and Emma: Oh that might be fun. I've never baked macarons before.

Me: They're a bit tricky but we can give it a go. I've got Emma's gel colours that we could use.

Emma: Olympic ring shaped macarons! We should be able to get the proper shape too!

Sarah: (enthusiastically) Yes! Let's do it soon.

Me: (eyes popping out of head, trying to think through how to pipe ring shaped macarons! Actually don't think that I've ever seen a non-conventional shaped macaron before in my life!) Uh... Um...

Emma: They're like meringues aren't they, so we can pipe them into circle shapes.

Me: Um... okay (really not convinced how this will work)... so I'll get egg whites and ground almonds... if you're alright with it, then shall we have it at mine, since I've got most of the equipment for baking them already? Save me lugging the stuff over here.

Sarah and Emma: Okay. That's a plan.

Sarah: So, next Wednesday?

We finish clearing up and depart.

----- O -----

Unfortunately, Emma, who had the idea of olympic rings, was poorly on the night. I was kind of counting on Emma to bring the inspiration for the ring shapes. So, picture doubtful moi on baking club evening when an enthusiastic Sarah bounds in. Sarah is very decided that we should push on and experiment with colours and shapes. Hence, riding on the wave of Sarah's determination, there happened a marathon macaron making evening of three different flavours and five bright colours over the course of the next 3 hours.

blue and yellow macaronspink and chocolatepink and chocolate macarons

I wasn't at all convinced that we could pipe macaron circles. However, I knew that if we were going to have any luck with it, we would have to be really very careful in the macaronage stage and not overmix the batter. If you remember, the first time I attempted to bake macarons, I had a disastrous 'my batter spilleth out of the piping nozzle and over everything' moment.

pink and chocolate piped ringsblue and yellow piped rings

Thankfully, not this time round. :)

Do you know, I have yet to see one macaron recipe that is the same in it's ingredients or methodology. Seriously! Each recipe book (Fiona's, Nigella's and the Pink Whisk) that Sarah and I looked at had varying cooking times, oven temperatures, the number of egg whites etc... I'm not sure that the perfect, foolproofmacaron recipe exists, you know. Besides, there are so many varying factors to consider, like the temperament of the oven you use and the humidity of the air for the drying out period. When it comes to baking macarons, I think that the key is to keep trying and practising and trying and practising.

So, back to our macaron marathon. We weren't sure how to mix the three primary colours we had to produce black, so I thought that chocolate would be a good substitute. The chocolate macarons went down a treat with the kids when I took them to a congee party later that week! I think that we did a good job with the other remaining colours - apart from maybe the pink rings. We should have added more red colouring perhaps but Sarah and I were concerned about runniness with that mixture. Hence, we stopped at pink and I'm glad that we did because it proved a bit difficult to control the piping of that particular batter. We saved the hardest to last - green, pistachio macarons. Sarah mixed the colours and macaronaged, whilst I was peeling macaron shells and rings off baking sheets. We had a veritable production line going on!

Personally, as flavours go, I think that the chocolate and the pistachio ones were the yummiest. Both of those flavours married well with the orange flower white chocolate ganache filling, that you can see sandwiched between the rings. The other colours were filled with rosewater white chocolate ganache.

pistachio green macaronsolympic macaron rings

We did make conventionally shaped macaron shells, rather a lot of them in fact! But I never got a chance to photograph them to show you, because a) by the time I'd cleaned everything up, I was too exhausted on that Wednesday night and b) I took them into work the following day and they all got demolished by my intrigued colleagues!

So, one day in the future, I will bake some more pistachio macarons and take photos this time so that I can post you a blog recipe for the pistachio macarons.


June 29, 2012

When Han–Na baked Chocolate Macarons (with a SPLASH of Baileys)

Item no. 25 on my 30 for 30 list is: bake macarons.

(That's not a typo, by the way. Remember the song: "You say eether, and I say eyether." Well, "You say macaroons, and I say macarons..." I've taken to saying macarons to describe these delightful creations because whenever I called them macaroons, people automatically assumed that I meant coconut macaroons.)

cimg8219.jpg
not many photos (yet!) of these chocolate macarons. I was too busy focussing on getting them right.

Anyway, back to the subject of macaron baking. These chocolate baileys macarons were the first batch of successful macarons that I baked and I was so pleased with myself. You see, I decided to bake macarons as a birthday cake of sorts for Sarah (of the White Chocolate, Rosewater and Cardamon cake episode) because she likes things that are a bit different. However, I had a disastrous first attempt making white chocolate and raspberry macarons from the Pink Whisk because I over-folded the mixture. Thus, when I added the bright pink mixture into the piping bag, it all ran out of the piping nozzle... and there was no stopping it. What. A. Fail. The sides of my mouth dropped a few centimetres as I scrapped the pink batter into the bin, and my bottom lip came out a bit. No joke.

Well, on the plus side, at least I know what over-folded mixture feels like. However, that's not much of a consolation prize when the clock is ticking.

The following day (which was the day I needed to present them), I decided to try another macaron recipe. I was still feeling somewhat deflated by the previous evening's disastrous attempt so decided to skip the grinding together of the almonds and sugar. That's why the macaron shells look rather rough and grainy, rather than smooth, on the photos. (I have done this for all subsequent macaron baking.) I was understandably slightly cautious when folding in the almonds and icing sugar into the eggwhites. I halted all folding action the second the batter slid slowly off my spoon in a somewhat ribbony fashion. No river of sugary, chocolatey, almond goo fell out of the piping nozzle this time. Success!

They (I don't know who precisely 'they' are) say that chocolate macarons are harder to make than normal ones because the cocoa powder drys them out. So maybe I lucked out with this. But I'll always remember them as the first batch of macarons that I baked successfully.

Ingredients for the chocolate macaron shells from Green and Blacks: Chocolate Recipes

  • 125g/4½oz ground almonds
  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder
  • 250g/9oz icing sugar (225g in with the almonds + 25g with the egg whites)
  • 100g egg whites, which is between 3-4 large egg whites
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 and line 3 baking sheets with non stick baking liners, such as Bake-O-Glide. Fit a large piping bag with a 1cm plain circle nozzle. Twist the piping bag and push the twist into the nozzle so that the mixture doesn't spill out of the nozzle. Stand it in a large receptacle, such as a pint glass.

2. Measure out the icing sugar and ground almonds. Put them into a food processor to grind down to an even finer mixture. I use my Bamix Dry Grinder and have to do it in 3 batches. When you're finished add in the cocoa powder then sift the almond, sugar, cocoa powder mixture and leave out the residue of ground almonds that weren't ground fine enough. (I always find that there can be up to a tablespoon of ground almonds leftover.) Then leave the sifted powders to one side.

3. Measure out the eggwhites and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are thick and glossy. (I sound like I'm describing hair for a shampoo advert!)

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in the almond, icing sugar and cocoa into the egg whites in a figure of eight. It will feel really dry at first and you'll wonder whether it'll ever come together, but don't worry. It will. It's important not to over-mix (see above) so stop when you feel like the mixture is dropping off the spatula in a thick ribbon. This is the tricky part to get right and it even has a name - macaronage.

5. Pour or use the spatula to spoon the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Once it's full, gently untwist the piping bag and begin piping the mixture onto the baking sheets. With the nozzle perpendicular to the baking sheet, squeeze out the mixture until it forms the circular size you're after. Firmly flick up your nozzle and move onto the next one. Leave 2cm of space between each circle, in case the macaron mixture spreads a bit.

6. Next, here's the noisy part. In order to remove spare air in the macarons, bang the baking trays firmly on a flat surface. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour for a film to form on the macarons. They're ready when you can lightly press your finger on the wet macaron circles and your finger comes away clean. This is also a good time to press down any remaining peaks on your macarons. Something that I clearly forgot to do with the one in the top photo.

7. Put the baking trays in the oven to cook at 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 for 1 minute, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake the shells for another 10-12 minutes. The shells should still be soft to touch but not gooey.

8. Let them rest for a minute on the baking trays and then remove them gently from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for the chocolate baileys ganache filling

  • 100g double cream
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp baileys or an irish cream liquor substitute (or more splashes of baileys if you prefer)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a heat proof bowl.

2. In a small pan, bring to boil the double cream and then pour the double cream on top of the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes so that the chocolate starts melting of it's own accord.

3. Gently stir the cream into melting chocolate to encourage the remainder of the chocolate to melt away. Add in the baileys for flavour.

4. Let it cool completely and put it into the fridge to harden for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.

To assemble the macarons:

1. Lay out the macarons so that the flat side is looking at you, and pair up similar sizes - you can tell that I'm a novice macaron baker.

2. When the ganache is ready, you can spoon the ganache onto the shells using a teaspoon, or better still, transfer the ganache into a piping bag, fitted with a 1cm nozzle, and pipe the chocolate ganache onto half of the shells. Sandwich them together with the other half of the shells.

3. Ta DA!

cimg8226.jpg

How does the story end with Sarah's birthday treat? Is it happily ever after? Oh no - my list of things that went wrong in baking macarons didn't stop there. Once I'd arranged the macarons and the candles on the plate, I decided to hide them in the bottom oven. And then I used the top oven to warm the bread. You already know how this story ends, right? Yup, you've guessed it - when I took the plate out to surprise Sarah, virtually all the candles had bent over like the tops of walking sticks. Only three of them had survived the oven. We were all amused!

Oh and the verdict on the macarons? Tasty, of course. Sarah was really pleased with the alternative birthday 'cake'. Now, if you were patient enough to eat one 3 days later - heavenly! The flavours had matured and melded together. Elegantly scrum!


February 25, 2012

Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!

To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn't for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart's cupcake's book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and... p,p,p... what other word am I looking for that starts with 'p'?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?

martha stewart cupcakesmartha stewart strawberry cupcake

Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:

  • a new/complicated technique
  • not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don't have
  • and getting over my dislike of frosting

Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don't get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I'm joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!

There were four noteworthy moments that I'd like to share:

I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed "Kenny", and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated "Kenny is a dream!" Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don't have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.

You'll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.

Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.

I still don't quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha's recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn't be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn't use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn't have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha - I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.

So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?

strawberry cupcake mix 2strawberry cupcake mixstrawberry cupcake mix 3

Looking at these photos now, I'm thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm.... I wonder whether... Next time I bake this, I'm going to try it with pomegranates. I'll let you know how I get on.

Anyway, back to Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.

Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes

  • 340g self-raising flour
  • 35g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 225g butter, softened and cubed
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries - about 20 strawberries.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That's the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don't have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you're using a mixer then use the beater attachment.

I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour...

4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.

5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.

6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

uniced cakesiced cakes

So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart's recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn't quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn't suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens' Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there's also an element of me believing Ruth's blog to be more honest over Martha's book.

Besides, Ruth sold it to me, "This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!"

Okay, Ruth. Let's give it a go and see whether it's worth the effort.

It is. I don't normally like buttercream frosting because it's too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front - it holds it's shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.

So, here's my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth's posts, I'd seen that she'd used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.

Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That's one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.

Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 500g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid's were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend's Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!

1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don't hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don't lost their shape when you take the whisk out).

2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.

Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn't seem to affect it too much this time.

3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.

4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it's time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer - keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn't weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it's going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don't worry, that's normal.

5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.

meringue buttercreambuttercream piping bag remnants

6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.

7. Fill those piping bags and away we go :)

strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting 2strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting

IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING

UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it's case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.

when the iphone fell into the buttercream

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.

picking iphone up

:-) The salvaged cupcakes!

rescued cakes


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