Monday, August 15

maple & pear macarons

It's sad to realise that for the better part of my life, I wasn't as close to maple syrup as I would have liked, and this is despite pancakes being one of the first things I learnt how to cook. I think it's fair in assuming that up until recent years, most Australian households were consuming... maple flavoured syrup. It's runnier, sweeter and sicklier. It has a funny after-taste and is just inferior. I forget the exact moment that I tasted real, thick, pure maple syrup for the first time, most likely because I was on such a sugary high that it simply didn't matter. But, I can never go back to maple flavoured syrup, even if it is about a quarter of the price. Sometimes, and often with food, quality matters. Paying extra is worth it.

Maple syrup goes so well with most fruits, but in Autumn and Winter, I try to consume as many pears as possible. So it's only natural that eventually I realised these two flavours could only be improved upon in one way: in macaron form. I would have loved to have slices of dried pear atop these macarons, but this was just one too many steps in between me and a mapley macaron. So there's a nice improvement to this recipe, if you have the patience.

For macarons:
150 gms ground almonds
150 gms icing sugar
110 gms egg whites, separated into 2 lots of 55 gms
150 gms white sugar
37 gms water
dash brown food colouring

For maple buttercream:
300 gms butter, at room temperature
400 gms icing sugar, sifted (approximately)
2 tbsps pure maple syrup (not maple flavoured syrup!)

For poached pears:
2 beurre bosc pairs, peeled
4 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

For the macarons shells, follow instructions as shown here.

While macarons are resting and baking, you can poach your pears. Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan, and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla bean and seeds and your pears, covering with a cartouche to assist pears to cook evenly and to assist in reducing the liquid slightly. Simmer for about 20 minutes until just soft, and allow to cool in the sugary liquid. 

Once macarons have been baked and cooled, completely, make your maple buttercream. Mix the butter in the bowl on an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, starting on a medium speed and increasing to high, until butter is smooth. Gradually add the icing sugar and maple syrup, whipping until at your desired consistency. 

Pipe buttercream onto half of your macaron shells, and top with a small piece of diced poached pear. Sandwich with remaining macaron shells.

Another way to subtly change your flavours would be to add extra flavours and spices to your poaching liquid: star anise, citrus peel, cinnamon. The options and endless, really. You could also then add some of your poaching liquid into the maple buttercream... I wish I'd thought of that earlier.

Recommended baking soundtrack: Horse Feathers - Thistled Spring. 

Sunday, August 7

elderflower cupcakes

I adore subtle floral flavours in baking: rosewater, orange blossom, lavender. So, why has my elderflower consumption up until this point been solely limited to a mixer that compliments gin (which is a pretty amazing combination, gin-lovers)?! Thankfully, I was surprised to discover not only whoopie pies, but a beautiful selection of cupcake recipes in 'Let's Make Whoopies', a fantastic and wonderfully presented book by Sophie Grey. My favourite, of course, was this attached recipe.

Elderflower is incredibly light and refreshing, and works perfectly with citrus. It's flavour is pretty subtle, so when adding it to the cream cheese, you may find you need more than what I've specified below. Sophie's original recipe suggested using elderflowers in addition to elderflower cordial in the cake mixture, so if you're lucky enough to be in a warmer climate than I currently am, give this a shot.

Ingredients (makes 12)
Recipe slightly adapted from Sophie Grey's 'Let's Make Whoopies' 

For cake:
175 gms self raising flour
2 tsps elderflower cordial
125 gms butter, at room temperature
175 gms caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
40 mls milk

For frosting:
50 gms butter, at room temperature
250 gms cream cheese, at room temperature
500 gms icing sugar, approximately
3 tsps elderflower cordial (or more, to taste)
green food colouring (I use Wilton Kelly Green)

Preheat your oven to 180C. Line a 12 cup capacity cupcake tray with liners.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (about five minutes), scraping down the sides of the bowl regularly. Slow the speed of your mixture down, and gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, again, whilst scraping down the sides of your bowl. Gently fold in the flour and milk, being careful not to over-mix. Stir through the elderflower cordial.

Divide the mixture evenly among your 12 cases (just over 2 tbsps per case), and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until golden and lightly springy to the touch. Remove from tray immediately and cool on a wire rack.

When the cupcakes have cooled, mix the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add icing sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. You may find you need more or less icing sugar than recommended - this is really up to personal taste. To pipe your mixture, it should be able to hold it's shape. Add a very small amount of food colouring before filling a piping bag with a star tip, and generously piping frosting onto cupcakes.

It seems amongst all the recent madness in my life, I have been consumed with macarons, five layer tiered cakes, and other time consuming treats that I've forgotten how satisfying making a quick and easy batch of cupcakes can be, not to mention how much easier they are to travel with! Im sorry I left you, cupcakes. Let's make up. 

Recommended baking soundtrack: Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.