Saturday, August 21

pistacho & rose macarons

It seems I'm rarely ever baking simply because I want to eat something. I'm not just baking because I'm craving choux pastry and custard, or because I've got a spare hour in a day to make chocolate chip cookies. I've always got a new product I want to try out. A new cookie cutter, piping tip or bundt tin. Today, it was a recently purchased Jane Lamerton tea set and a simple little pot of 'Kelly Green' Wilton food gel that gave me the craving to cook.

There's nothing wrong with this. I adore baking, whatever it is or whatever it's for. It's just a shame that I tend to neglect some poor recipes once I have conquered them. I should be more loyal to ones that have treated me kind.

But, today I made macarons. Of course. Rose and pistachio: a fairly safe and tasty combination. But more importantly, I just simply cannot get over how perfectly the beautiful greens of my tea set and this food gel match! I adore this colour. Forgive me if all of my creations are from this point forward 'Kelly Green'.

I figured I would also try yet another macaron recipe for this morning's project, and adapted one used by Linda @ Bubble and Sweet, based on a recipe by Pierre Hermé.

Ingredients (makes 46! depending on size)

For macaron shells:
300 gms ground almonds
300 gms pure icing sugar
220 gms egg whites, aged at least 3 days, separated into 2 lots of 110 gms
dash green food colouring (gel or powder is preferable as less is required)
300 gms granulated sugar
75 gms water
50 gms pistachios, finely chopped

For rose buttercream:
460 gms icing sugar, sifted
225 gms unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoons cream
1 tsp rosewater, or more to taste
dash pink food coloring

Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together and pulse a few times in food processor to make almond meal finer. Do not over process as the meal can become oily. Sieve into a large bowl. Add food colour ing and 110 gms of the egg whites to the sugar/almond mixture but don’t mix in. Set aside.

Place remaining 110 gms of egg whites in bowl of mixer fitted with the whisk.
Place granulated sugar and water into saucepan, stir to combine and cook without stirring to 118C. Once the mixture reaches 115C start mixing the egg whites on high. Once the sugar syrup reaches 118C remove from heat and immediately pour in a thin stream down the side of the mixer bowl continuing to whisk on high. The eggs whites should be at firm peaks by the time your syrup reaches this stage. Continue to whisk the meringue on high until the side of the bowl is only a little warm to touch. The meringue mixture should be beautifully glossy.

Add meringue mixture to almond mixture and using a large spatula fold the mixture together until it starts to shine and forms a ribbon that stays visible for about 30 seconds.

Add the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe in lines onto baking trays lined with baking paper. Tap trays on the bench a few times to eliminate any air bubbles. Sprinkle with pistachios.
Set aside for about 30 minutes or until the macarons have formed a skin that doesn't stick to your finger.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 140C . Bake the macaroons for around 13 to 15 minutes depending on size, they should not be browned. Remove the baking trays and immediately slide off the macarons and the baking paper onto the work surface and let cool completely before removing the shells.

For rose buttercream, beat butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sifted sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the cream and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the rosewater, adding a little more or a little less depending on your own taste.Add a little more cream or confectioners sugar to reach the desired consistency.

Once shells have cooled, match disks into like sizes and sandwich together using the rose butter cream. I piped the buttercream on, but it could easily be spread on if you a little less sweetness. And these are pretty sweet!

I love the result of this recipe and I really hope I remember to come back to it next time I'm messing around with flavour combinations. My shells were a bit puffy, but I think I could have mixed the mixture a little more; it's always so hard to tell. But the surface and feet of each beautiful. Now what to do with close to 50 macarons... 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Au Revoir Simone - The Bird of Music.

Tuesday, August 17

cupcake day for rspca

RSPCA Cupcake Day is a wonderful event where two of my favourite things comes together: cats & cakes. Alright, cats and dogs & cakes. Admittedly, in previous years I have been too busy to make a decent effort for this wonderful cause and although this year was no different, I thought I'd give it a go.

For those of you not in the know, RSPCA's cupcake day is the largest bake-off in the Southern hemisphere, supporting RSPCA to do what they do best - running shelters for abused, injured and abandoned animals, and investigating cases of animal cruelty. A number of lovely people sponsored me online, and I was also supported by my co-workers who purchased cakes both out of a desire to assist, and maybe a little bit of pity.

The cake is a simple vanilla bean sponge with a strawberry custard filling.

Three dozen cakes all boxed up and ready to go!

If you're interested in this fantastic cause, it's not too late. You can still sponsor me, or donate to RSPCA any time of year.

Monday, August 16

mini apple pies

Confession: I'm a perfectionist. Aren't we all, at something? When it comes to cooking, baking, making, I like to be neat. Organised. I like things to look fancy and fine, if possible. For this reason, I tend to steer clear of sweet treats with "character", ones that are clumsy looking, even in an endearing way. Imperfection is not an option.

Don't get me wrong, I love beautifully homemade-looking things. There's nothing nicer than a receiving a charming and imperfect cookie, an oozy piece of slice, or slightly crooked cake. I just… don't tend to make any of them very much, to the disappointment of many around me who just prefer the simple things. So, I recently made a heart-warming apple pie. Well, miniature, adorable apple pies. That still counts, right?

Ingredients (makes 6)
Recipe courtesy of August issue of Delicious

For pastry:
1 2/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup caster sugar
150 gms unsalted butter, chopped
1 egg yolk

For filling:
1 kg green apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm cubes
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp milk

For pastry, place the flour, sugar, butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor and whiz until fine crumbs form. Add yolk and mix until mixture comes together to form a ball. Enclose pastry in plastic wrap and chill for 30 mins. 

For apple filling, place apple, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds in a saucepan with 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook and a low heat for 5 - 8 mins or until apple is tender. Discard the vanilla pod. Mix the cornflour with 1 tbsp water until smooth, then stir into the apple mixture for a minute until juices have thickened. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. 

Preheat oven to 190C. Grease 6 holes of a 12 capacity loose-bottom cheesecake pan (or a texas muffin pan). Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until 2 - 3mm thick. Using a 12cm cutter, cut six rounds to line each hole. Divide the apple mixture among the holes. 

Re-roll out the remaining pastry again to 2 - 3mm thick. Cut six 8cm rounds for form lids. Brush the edges of each tart with water before placing lids on and pressing around edges to seal. Brush with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. 

Bake pies for 30 mins or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before removing from pan.

Although I resigned to the fact these little pies would not be perfect, I was still slightly disappointed with one or two of them, who simply refused to come out of the trays without becoming squished. What better reason than to eat them warm, straight from the oven, so I have no evidence to later remind that I'm a mere human, afterall.

Best served with cream and a dusting of cinnamon, and taste fine reheated a few days after making.  I had a small quantity of apple mixture remaining after I had used all the pastry, so cut down on a few apples to a few shy of a kilo if you wish. 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Horse Feathers - House With No Home

Monday, August 9

annette's birthday bash

Clockwise, from bottom: Raspberry & coconut cake, chocolate & cherry cake, white russian cake, chocolate & orange cake, ginger & honeycomb cake. Centre: Lemon & coconut meringue cake. 

I had the pleasure of attending - and baking for - one of my dear co-worker's 60th birthday on Saturday evening. 60 guests, 70 gluten-free cupcakes. Two days of baking.

Annette is the perfect customer. She had all six cake varieties chosen weeks before the event, and had bought me almost all of the ingredients the week before! To make sure the cakes were as fresh as possible, I decided to do the baking on Friday, the decorating on Saturday. This meant a relaxed pace without stress, and even some room for failure. I didn't, however, anticipate running out of ingredients I simply never run out of - cream, ground ginger, caster sugar. So instead of finishing at around lunch on Saturday, I was boxing them all up five minutes before walking out the door. Despite the severe feeling of anxiety, there's something so wonderful about baking-adrenalin. What's even more wonderful is seeing a whole room full of people consuming your baked treats.

Happy birthday, Annette.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Andrew Bird back catalogue. 

Sunday, August 1

tiramisu cupcakes

I will always, always choose tea or tea flavoured items over coffee. Because of this, I just never got tiramisu. Now, I know tiramisu is more than just coffee flavoured sponge, but it is so often done wrong you can hardly blame me. That was all until a lovely friend took me to Cafe Sopra in Waterloo. It was then and there that my opinion and affections for tiramisu changed for the better. 

This little cake comes nowhere near my Sopra experience. I've seen many incarnations of tiramisu in cupcake form, but a lot are underwhelming. At the very least, this cake is just a good tiramisu should be: simple. Martha Stewart's sponge recipe originally called for cake flour, but I've substituted with gluten-free plain flour, and due to it's cornflour-ish texture, I think it works perfectly. 

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)

For cakes:
1 1/4 cups gluten-free plain flour sifted
3/4 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
55 gms unsalted butter, chopped and softened
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup caster sugar

For syrup:
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly brewed very strong coffee (or espresso)
30 mls marsala
1/4 cup caster sugar

For frosting:
1 cup double cream
225 gms mascarpone, room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted

Coca powder (or chocolate shavings), to dust.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Heat milk and vanilla-bean pod and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles appear around the edge. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter until melted, and let stand 15 minutes. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, and discard vanilla-bean pod.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, and sugar. Set mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk by hand until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm, about 6 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. With an electric mixer on high speed, whisk until mixture is fluffy, pale yellow.

Gently but thoroughly fold flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches. Stir about 1/2 cup batter into the strained milk mixture to thicken. This will make it easier to incorporate in into the mixture. Fold milk mixture into the remaining batter until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until centers are completely set and edges are light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely.

One cakes have cooled, brush tops of each evenly with coffee-marsala syrup; repeat until all syrup has been used. This will take a while as you'll need to wait for each addition of syrup to be absorbed before adding the next addition. Be patient-- you really do need the full amount of syrup on each cake for it to have the right amount of flavour. After the final brush of syrup, allow cakes to sit for further 30 minutes.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overbeat, or cream will be grainy). In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone and icing sugar until smooth. Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated. Dollop or pipe frosting onto cupcakes. Dust generously with cocoa powder.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele - The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele.