Monday, 15 September 2014

Blackberry & Dark Chocolate Macarons

The last month and a half has been a lot of change, a lot of exciting change at that, and to celebrate such a great turn in events these rich and delicious macarons were a perfect and fun little treat to make and then devour! So the past month has consisted of leaving my job in the Midlands, moving in with Richard, having a month of just relaxing and next week I start a new job in a completely new sector - which is a complete turn of events from the grand university career plan from a year ago.

It's crazy really, the realities of the real world, I know a lot of my friends will say the same thing. Most of us left university either last year or the year before that and what we've all realised is that it's not a smooth road out there, like we were all so naive to think; things don't just happen in a robust and carefully crafted way like we all expected. I've learnt a lot over the past year, about myself, about the 'real world', a steep learning curve you might say, but really, it's been a great learning curve and I'm now in a place where I feel like I couldn't ask for anything more and that's simply because after quite a while I have somewhere to call my home.

So finishing up with the job up in the Midlands, I took a bit of time out and have had August to basically play and just 'recover' from a tough ride. Rich and I spent a week camping in Cornwall with what was the most incredible and refreshing view you could ask for, nice and high up overlooking the Bay in Falmouth, just perfect to wake up to every morning and go to bed with every night. The rest of the month has just consisted of Rich and I moving in together and buying an outrageous amount of Kilner jars to house all of our food, catching up with friends I haven't seen in so long, lots and lots of kitchen time, nice long cycles in Lea Valley, having my lunches on the lake near our home, simply just a relaxing time of doing very little which is exactly what was needed!

So let's talk about the macarons! These are pretty special if I say so myself; blackberries are one of my favourite berries, and living in the Lea Valley, I now have a free supply, which I've gone pretty overkill over the past couple of weeks with blackberry picking! As for chocolate, well we don't need to discuss that, we already know I'm obsessed and always find a way to incorporate chocolate into a bake somehow. As a pairing, blackberry and dark chocolate, brilliant, you're never going to go wrong with berries and chocolate though are you.

Macarons are one of those little treats with a pretty high status and surrounded by baking fear - I've wanted to make them for ages, but thought, "No, they're going to be way to hard and tedious" and they're really not all that bad at all, they just take a little time, attention to detail and patience, they're not to be rushed and I'd highly recommend you read these macaron tips and those below to alleviate those macaron fears. 

Blackberry & Dark Chocolate Macarons
The macarons are a Pierre Herme's recipe from the highly recommended book Macarons - this is only way I've ever tried and I'm a bit of a precision-fiend, but it really is simple and eliminates any issues of not knowing how much egg whites might consist in an egg, so I'd highly recommend going for the weighing everything meticulously. 

Macaron Shells


- With regards to ageing eggs, I'm not one for planning so far in advance and I'd say it's enough to ensure the egg whites are at room temperature - we've always made them like this and never aged them. When it comes to eggs and macarons, don't use egg whites straight out of the fridge, you need them at room temperature, I tend to keep some eggs at room temperature and I use those when baking. Basically the theory behind it all is that we want to reduce the moisture content of the egg whites as much as possible so that the they are more elastic when whipping - well that's what my mate Google says. So if you can age them, great, if not, you'll survive - I've never aged my egg whites and I'm still here!

- Sift, sift, sift! It's really important you sift the icing sugar and ground almonds to ensure a fine texture, it is bit of hassle, I won't lie to you, but it is completely worth it. Having made macarons the first time, I didn't do this and doing this the next time, the difference was pretty stark and the macarons looked smooth and not grainy like my first unsifted attempts.

- Food colouring - you'll see in the recipe you add the colouring to one of the batches of eggs whites, the batch not being used for the Italian meringue. It's really important that you do not use liquid food colouring as this alters the texture of the eggs. Also do pay attention to what type of colouring you used, make sure you're not using colouring specifically for icing as these don't have a heat-safe formula meaning the colour can diminish when baking - which explains so much now I've researched that! Honestly, I'm still trying to find a good brand at the moment but I haven't tried many, but I've found the colour disappears when baking when using gels, which makes me think it's time to invest in some professional grade pastes or powders.

- Macaron shells can be frozen - so if you make a huge batch and won't be using them all at once, just pop them away for later use - brilliant for a quick but special little gift actually, or for making them in advance and then do the ganache a day or so before they're needed.

- Templates will save your life. Seriously. It'll make everything far far easier if you use a template, you'll be able to maintain a standard size for your macarons so when it comes to pairing them up it's easy. Recommend finding something that is roughly 3.5cm as a stencil and tracing around that, leaving about 2cm between each row and staggering them. I did it onto white paper and then put some baking parchment over - much easier to see! Here's a printable template to help too - Get Creative Juice.

220g egg whites, split into 110g batches in two different bowls and be sure they are at room temperature if you're not ageing them
300g icing sugar, sifted
300g caster sugar, sifted
300g ground almonds, sifted
75ml water
 food colouring - if you want 

1. Have all the ingredients weighed and ready to go. I'd highly recommend whizzing up the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processor if you have one - we want to achieve as fine a texture as possible. Once you've done that, pass the ground almonds and icing sugar through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. If there is a large quantity of ground almond which did not pass through substitute that amount with finer ground almonds. Totally up to you how thorough you want to be but I can certainly vouch for taking the effort to do this, I noticed a remarkable difference.
2. To one portion of the egg whites stir in the food colouring and then pour them over the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds, but don't stir yet.
3. With the other portion of egg whites, place them into a mixer - you'll begin to start whipping these up alongside step four, where you'll be making a sugar syrup.
4. Take the water and caster sugar and place it into a saucepan (one with a spout is ideal) and bring to a boil. When the syrup reaches 115C start to whisk up those egg whites in the mixer to form soft peaks. When the syrup reaches a temperature of 118C pour it over the whisked egg whites, continue whisking for about 3 minutes and you'll see the mixture becomes glossy real quickly. Once they're done allow the meringue to cool down to 50C.
5. When the Italian Meringue has cooled down to 50C fold it into the almond-icing sugar-egg bowl. Gently fold for a couple of minutes making sure the volume goes down a bit, you don't to capture too much air. 
6. Prepare a piping bag with a large round tip nozzle - something about 2cm will be perfect - and then spoon the batter into the piping bag.  Hold the piping bag about an inch above the baking trays with the templates and squeeze the piping bag until the batter is almost at the line of template and then swirl up and onto the next. You want to leave a tiny bit of space as they'll spread out a little. Once they're all pipped, leave them to stand for about 30 minutes - they need to form a skin and this stage is essential. You'll know when they're good to go by touching them lightly, if no batter is on your fingers and they hold, they're ready to go into the oven.
7. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/ gas 4 and when the macarons have formed a skin then put them in for 12 minutes - it's important to watch this stage, all ovens are different so you may need to adjust the timings a little if you find they're browning too quickly. During that 12 minutes, you'll need to open the oven door twice quickly, once 8 minutes in and again 10 minutes in, this allows air into the oven
8. When baked allow them to cool on a rack ready to be filled or pop the shells in the freezer for use later.

*during the shell setting I dusted a little cocoa powder onto the shells to give them a speckled effect. You'll also notice I paid no attention to my templates which just made my life difficult when it came to pairing - lesson learned, use the template.

Blackberry Jammy Middle

250g blackberries
50g caster sugar
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cornflour - or more for thicker jammyness

1. Puree the blackberries in a bowl using a hand mixer
2. Add the berries, lemon juice and sugar into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. The mixture will start to reduce significantly and thicken up.
3. Mix the cornflour with a tsp of water to make a thick paste and then mix into the fruit mixture. Add more cornflour if you require I added as I went along in the heating process to make it look a little thicker like it'll set more - you may know by now but I'm a trial and error filling maker, everyone will probably aim for slightly different consistencies. You'll be chilling the mix to thicken it up a bit too and it'll be dropped in the middle and encased in dark chocolate ganache too.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

300 ml double cream
300 grams dark chocolate

1. In a low-medium temperature saucepan heat the double cream til boiling, at this point turn the heat off.
2. In a heatproof bowl put the dark chocolate in and start adding the double cream and using a whisk, mix the two until combined.
3. Chill the ganache until it thickens a bit and can be used for piping - leave it for about 45 minutes and check on it. If it does get to hard just pop it in the microwave in 5 second bursts stirring around until you have something suitable again.

When ready I used two piping bags, one for chocolate, one for jam, piped a little jam in the middle and wrapped it around in ganache


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Millionaire Shortbread with Salted Caramel

Millionaire shortbread, you just cannot go wrong with them can you!? They're delicious yet so simple, just three scrumptious things coming together to make a decadent little biscuit! Now I have a whole lot of time for anything made with caramel and chocolate, so throw those both on to a super buttery shortbread, and what a treat we've got! 

Caramel is simply delicious and going through the effort to make your own really does pay off, not only does it feel pretty rewarding when you get it right - and it really isn't the dark art we first fear it is - but it just tastes so so so much better than anything shop bought! So I highly recommend if you've been putting of having a crack at making some caramel, give it a go to give these little millionaire shortbreads the caramel they deserve

So I wanted to create something a little different here - having a little think about these little treats I realised I've only ever seen them in squares or rectangles, so that obviously meant I needed to revamp my millionaire shortbreads into a new shape! Lakeland do these awesome little sandwich tins, which are great for making mini-cakes and anything miniature is just super cute right? So if you have one or fancy getting one, they're brilliant for mini cakes, cheesecakes, biscuits, and well anything else you can think of that should be a mini circle.

These really are minimal effort, I promise, and what you have at the end is so tasty, especially with the salted caramel twist which just gives these an added depth of flavour! I can ensure you that give these to anyone and they'll be coming back for more. I brought these back to my mum in morning when travelling back home a couple months back and then popped into her house the next day enroute back to, what was then, home in the Midlands, and she had eaten 5 of these! 5 in 24 hours! Ridiculous, but I'd like to think that that is a testament to how yummy these are!

Salted Caramel Millionaire Shortbread's


250g plain flour
185g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
75g caster sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4/ 350F. This recipe will work fine for square shortbreads in a 9x9 inch rectangular cake tin, I used a mini-sandwich tin, and made 12 and had some shortbread left over to simply have as shortbreads too.
2. Place the cold, cubed butter and sugar into a bowl and cream together - you can using a wooden spoon or as I prefer, rub it together with your finger tips.
3. When you've got a nicely rubbed in bowl of butter and sugar, add in the flour and keeping going until you form a dough.
4. Press the dough into the cake tin, which ever you decide to use, and then prick all over with a fork. The chuck them into the oven for five minutes at the temperature stated above, and then whack down the heat to 150C/130C fan/gas mark 2/300F and continue to bake for 35 minutes. Once done, allow to cool in the tin.

500 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar
140 grams (10 tablespoons/ roughly 1 stick)  unsalted butter
250ml (1 cup) double cream
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes / fleur de sel
1. To begin, heat the sugar over and medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, at this point bring the sugar to a boil by increasing the heat and don't stir at this point! You want a deep amber colour or 180°C/350°F - keep a close eye on the caramel as its very easy to go too high and long and burn the caramel
2. When the deep amber colour has been reached, carefully add the butter and use a wooden spoon to help mix the butter until its melted.
3. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the heavy cream. Using a whisk mix the cream until it is fully incorporated and the caramel is silky smooth
4. Pour the caramel mixture over the shortbread and then chill in the fridge until the caramel has cooled and hardened slightly


200g milk chocolate - more or less depending on the thickness you desire
15g dark chocolate - optional and for decorative purposes
1. Melt the milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave in short bursts of about 15-20 seconds to ensure the chocolate doesn't burn. 
2. Once melted pour the chocolate over the caramel over the caramel.
3. If you're going for some dark or white chocolate swirls, melt that chocolate and using a either a little stick or fork swirl all over the milk chocolate making patterns
4. Once all the chocolate has been poured over the caramel, chill in the fridge until the chocolate has set, and then cut into squares

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Raspberry Cake with Caramel Icing

So this is my 'goodbye' celebration cake - a celebration of closing one chapter and beginning a new one! What am I talking about? Well I no longer work in the Midlands, no more going back and forth continuously, I have moved back down South and I'm super excited about everything!

For my final visit to the office I figured it's only right I keep up with my 'cake status' there and bring in one final cake. Raspberry and caramel - well, the aim for this cake was the BBC Good Food ombre cake, however, I dropped the bulk of the cake leaving me with one layer that I could work with! But do not worry, my housemate and I made sure we ate all the three layers that didn't manage to make it into the cake for the final journey to work!

Now because this was a leaving cake/birthday cake/celebration cake, it just had to have cake sparklers on, lots and lots of raspberries and sprinkles, after-all, this is a happy occasion!

So the cake - you can't beat a raspberry cake can you really? So divine; it's fruity, sweet, moist and it just like a hug, a warming-cake-hug. Coupled with the caramel for sweet and sticky touch, this cake is indulgent and oh so naughty, but when you're celebrating, what else should a cake be but indulgent and naughty right?

This recipe is adapted from BBC Good Food - and you'll notice mine is not nearly the height or colour, but as I mentioned, I split my cake into two separate cakes having dropped some of the layers! So mine is a one layer cake, so I've adapted my recipe so it'll give you 2 layers which you can sandwich upon one another nicely, and if you want a four layer cake like the beautiful large picture on the BBC Good Food website, then simply double up on the ingredients stated here.

Raspberry & Caramel Cake

Raspberry Cake

200g unsalted butter, at room temp
200g self-raising flour
200g soft brown sugar
100g raspberries
3 medium eggs *If you're doubling up you can use 5 large eggs (egg size conversion)
1tbsp milk
1tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/320F/gas mark 3/ and the grease and line two 7-inch cake tins -  or one if you prefer to save on washing up and simply split the cake into two layer layers
2. In a mixer on a medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
3. Once the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, begin to add the eggs, adding the next egg only when the previous has been fully beaten and incorporated into the mix
4. Once the eggs have been mixed, add the flour, the milk and the vanilla, and mix on a low speed until incorporated
5. Stop mixing and then gently fold in the raspberries, being careful to not be too heavy-handed so they raspberries hold their shape as much as possible
6. Then pour the batter into the cake tins and then bake for about 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Once they're done, remove from the oven, allow to cool in the tins for about 20 minutes before you turn them out onto a wire rack

Caramel Icing

300g cream cheese - ideally use Philadelphia cheese as it retains it's thickness the best over most alternatives
600g icing sugar - add more/less for the consistency you want
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsp caramel, or to taste - I had some of my own left over, but you can use some carnation canned caramel and then fill the cake layers with that like the BBC Good Food recipe does, however I prefer using just the cream cheese icing so it isn't overly sweet.

1. In a large bowl put all of the ingredients in and beat with an electric whisk until smooth - don't beat for too long as it may become runny. I always add more icing as I go to 'thicken' it all up to the consistency I want and need, so bear that mind if it's not looking the way you want it too, all trail and error!


Then simply assemble the cake! I always apply a crumb coat first to make sure all the nasty crumby bits aren't incorporated into the final icing - so take a look at the link if you're not familiar with the technique - it'll revolutionise you're cake icing from now on!

I attempted the "ombre", however, given the height of my cake, it's barely noticeable, but if you want to do that, split the icing into two bowls, and colour one with a little pink colouring and the other with a dash of orange. Then when icing, apply the orange to the top first, by putting some on the top and just smoothly working it around the top half of the cake and half way down the sides. Then take your pink icing and cover the bottom of the cake, once you've got that around the bottom nicely, take your pallette knife and swipe along the contact of the colours, making sure to nicely blend it all in together. For some visuals to help you out, check this video at Taste.