Friday, November 16

salted caramel macarons and excuses

In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a while. I've been busy. Everyone's been busy. Where the heck has this year gone etc. I suppose it doesn't really matter, does it?

Isn't it a comforting feeling to have a favourite recipe? A recipe you've made so many times that you measure ingredients and move through the method automatically, without really even being conscious of the steps? One that you can feel confident will turn out just as it did the last time: perfectly. It's a fail-safe, a tried and true, an old friend.

I've had a long relationship with macarons that spans a couple of years now--almost as long as this blog. With each new recipe I've tried, I've been convinced that it's "the one". And I've tried a few. But somehow, I always come back to this recipe. Sure, it takes a little longer than some recipes that don't require a sugar syrup, and maybe the processing and sifting is unnecessary, but I know what I like. And this is it. This is my old faithful.

The caramel recipe is just as wonderful. I usually make it the day before, and have it sitting in the fridge ready to go. And yes, okay, alright, it usually has traces of spoon marks through it before it makes it onto the macarons. Don't judge me. Seriously, this stuff would make a great gift on its own.


For macaron shells (makes approx 30 sandwiched shells, depending on size):
300 gms ground almonds
300 gms icing sugar
220 gms egg whites, separated into 2 lots of 110 gms
300 gms white sugar
75 gms water
dash brown food colouring

For salted caramel (makes enough to fill 30 complete macarons, with delicious lefotvers):
250 mls pouring cream
350 gms caster sugar
350 gms butter, cubed
sea salt flakes, to taste

For the salted caramel, place the sugar in a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Despite every instinct commanding you to stir, allow the sugar to caramelise before you even touch the pan. As soon as you see little patches starting to melt and caramelise, turn the pan and give it a gentle shake if necessary, and maybe a gentle stir with a wooden spoon every now and again. This part, although intimidating, can be quite forgiving. 

Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan, but remove from heat as soon as it starts to boil. 

When the sugar has reached a dark golden colour, remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the hot cream whilst mixing. Place pan back on a very low heat, and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about ten minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, while whisking. Pour the caramel into a shallow container and chill until thick.

When you're ready to use the caramel, add as much salt as you'd like, and mix it vigorously with a spatula until smooth. 


For the macarons, mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together and in small batches, pulse a few times in food processor to ground the mixture finer. Don't go too crazy processing, as it releases the oils in the nuts and you'll end up with a paste. Sieve into a large bowl. Add colour and 110 gms of the egg whites to the sugar and almond mixture, and mix to combine. It will be quite a paste. 

Place remaining 110 gms of egg whites in bowl of mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Place white 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 medium-high until they are foamy and almost forming soft peaks. Once the sugar syrup reaches 118C remove from heat and slowly pour in a thin stream down the side of the mixer bowl continuing to whisk on high. 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 wonderful and shiny.

Add a dollop of the meringue mixture to almond mixture. This will loosen the mix up and make it easier to fold through the rest. You don't need to be gentle.  Your final mixture should be a shiny, oozy batter. I've heard it described as a similar consistency to lava before, and though never personally witnessing lava before, I would surely have to agree.

Add the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe small rounds onto baking trays lined with baking paper. If you need to draw circles on the reverse side of the baking paper to be consistent, then go right ahead. Tap the trays firmly on the bench a few times (for some unexplainable reason, I do it six times :/ ) to eliminate any air bubbles. Set aside for about 30 minutes or until the macarons have formed a skin that doesn't stick to your finger. This will largely vary due to temperature, especially varying levels of humidity!

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 the paper. 

Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain tip with the salted caramel. Pipe onto macaron shells and sandwich together. 

Favourite recipes are good at making you feel good. Even if you're busy, or stressed, or unwell, there's comfort in the familiarity of making something that you know will be awesome. It's an ego boost. And as lovely as macarons are, and as many flavours as I've tried to inject into them, I'm confident that this one is my favourite. This recipe is a huge ego boost ;)

Recommended baking soundtrack: Yann Tiersen - Les Retrouvailles.

Tuesday, June 12

tarte bourdaloue

I am often convinced that I should have been Donna Hay. As much as I love my family, my friends and my cat, surely I was destined to be born ten years earlier; to create her wonderful recipes and cookbooks and run her painfully tasteful general store. Baking, and shooting in remote, beautiful location. Eating macarons and surrounding myself with pretty things.

But if there's one other woman whose life I want to live, if only for a day, it would be Maeve O'Meara. Now there's a dream job-- not only traveling to the most beautiful parts of the world, but eating her way through them, meeting the finest chefs, and taking home their recipes.

I recently came across the cookbook companion to her French Food Safari. It's a wonderful collection of recipes--both savoury and sweet-- that are simple, delicious and contain basic, easily attainable ingredients.

I don't think I can go past anything pear related when I'm on the hunt for a Autumn or Winter desert recipe. And despite not really feeling like going to the effort of making pastry, this is such a simple recipe as it requires no blind baking, but still creates a beautifully golden, crumbly pastry.

Recipe from Pierrick Boyer as featured in 'French Food Safari'

For shortcrust pastry:
250 gms plain flour, sifted
200 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
pinch salt
3 egg yolks

For poached pears:
400 gms white sugar
500 mls water
5 cardamom pods
2 star anise
4 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

For frangipane:
40 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
40 gms caster sugar
40 gms almond meal
1 small egg
2 tbsps cream

For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on a low speed until incorporated. Add the egg yolks, increase the speed a little, and mix until a nice dough forms. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for one hour.

Next, poach the pears. Combine the sugar, water and spices in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce the heat, add pears, and gently simmer for about 15 minutes, until pears are just tender. Remove the pears from the syrup to cool. I then continued to simmer the liquid for a further ten minutes until slightly thick and syrupy.

Now that the pastry has rested, lightly butter a round, 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Roll the pastry out until about 3-4mm thick on a lightly floured surface, or between two sheets of baking paper. Gently lift the pastry into the prepared tin, and press into the base and sides, trimming off any excess.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

To make the frangipane, place the butter and sugar in a small bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in the almond meal, the egg, and then the cream.

Spoon the frangipane into the uncooked tart shell and arrange the pearsover the top. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until both pastry and fragipane are golden brown. Allow the tart to cool in the tin before trying to remove it, and then lightly brush the top of the tart with the spicy syrup to make the tart beautiful and glossy.

This tart will be fine to serve the following day, but after that, the moisture from the pears begins to soften both the frangipane and the pastry, so it really is best eaten as soon as possible.

I imagine this would be just as wonderful with apples, or apricots or peaches. Fragipane tarts are a classic dessert for good reason-- they're just so delicious, and simple. It's taken me a while to rediscover pears-- one of my favourite fruits-- this season, but I know this will spark my annual obsession. And who can ever have enough pear in their lives?

Recommending baking soundtrack: Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co. 

Tuesday, May 15

ginger, cardamom & pomegranate cake

I never really got ginger. Growing up, I solely thought of ginger in two forms: crystallised, which I lumped in the same category as cubed, candied citrus peel and other things that a young girl simply doesn’t want to find in her baked goods; and the kind covered in dark chocolate. My mum loved this stuff. I could buy that for her to accompany any gift, and know that she would enjoy it, but also that no one else in the house would sneakily reach into that box. It was strictly her thing. I mean, chocolate covered ginger. Really?! Why would I want something that’s strangely firm and stringy and spicy getting all up in my chocolate?

But soon, like olives and avocados (how did I live without these two things in my life?!), ginger and I became the best of friends. I adore gingerbread. I love freshly grated ginger in just about anything. But more than anything else, I love ginger in cake-form—a wintery ginger pudding, or a fluffy ginger cupcake smothered in cream cheese, or a dense and sticky ginger cake.

This cake gets its richness and spiciness from both cardamom and ginger, and a combination of pomegranate molasses (hello, love) and treacle, but the baking soda and buttermilk make it surprisingly light. It’s created in just one bowl, so quickly and easily. And it will fill your house with such a wonderful, warm aroma. I could go on, although I doubt I need to.

Recipe from Autumn issue of Donna Hay
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
100 gms butter, melted
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom
3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
3 pomegranates
¼ cup caster sugar

Heavy cream, to serve.

Preheat oven to 160C. Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper.

Place the buttermilk, eggs, sugar, molasses, treacle and butter in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the ginger, cardamom, flour and baking soda and again, whisk to combine. Pour the wonderfully dark mixture into the prepared tin, and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is cooking, prepare your pomegranates. I find the easiest way is to roll the pomegranates on a hard surface (your bench-top, conveniently!) before cutting them. This is supposed to slightly loosen the seeds from the membrane, making it easier to get them free—this makes a very satisfying crackling sound as the seeds get squashed out of their neat little pockets. Cut each pomegranate in half, hold one half over a bowl (placed in your kitchen sink, if possible), with the cut-side facing down, and bang the back of a pomegranate with a wooden spoon. If you don’t mind getting your hands a little messy and stained, pulling apart the membrane further helps trapped seeds find their way out. Trial and error, I suppose.

When you’re done, and suitably cleaned up, strain the seeds and reserve the juice. Add the caster sugar to this juice, and mix until dissolved.

When the cake is cooked, pour the pomegranate-sugar mixture over the warm cake while it’s still in the tin, then allowing it to cool completely. Remove it from the tin and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds. It’s even more heavenly served with a nice heavy cream.

You need to get on this cake, and quickly. The pomegranate season here is over in a flash. These days, you can but the aril separately, but where’s the fun in that? Because this cake is so quick and easy, banging on a pomegranate and getting a bit messy is no trouble at all.

Recommended baking soundtrack: The Glove – Mr Alphabet Says, on repeat.