Saturday, 12 February 2011

Second attempt at Macarons

This time I used the piping bag and I achieved the smooth tops that were missing last time. However, as an experiment I used the whoopie pie tray as a way of getting even circles of mixture. The tops cooked perfectly, but the bases were still soft and spongy when I took them out of the tray. I turned them upside down on a baking tray and put them back in the oven for ten minutes.

When they were all cold I sandwiched them with strawberry jam. The results were edible and members of my committee praised them, but I know I can do better. Next time I will use the piping bag AND the baking tray. Note to self: shortcuts do not save time!

Mini Sponges

The whoopie pie tray is great for making these bite-sized victoria sponges which I sandwiched with butter icing and strawberry jam.

Friday, 4 February 2011

January baking experiments

Baking is a pleasure - an escape from the computer screen and the TV. Sponge cakes and pastry hold no fear for me, but routine baking gets a bit tedious. I think that when cooking becomes automatic it is the time to introduce an element of danger.

My partner will probably say that the danger is in the eating not in the cooking, nevertheless he is not going to put me off my constant search for new recipes and new fashions in cooking. Currently I am attempting some more difficult ethnic recipes that are rarely made in the home kitchen. I downsize all the recipes because my preference is for bite-size cakes that are indulgent but not big enough to add to my cholesterol and sugar levels. Downsizing requires a degree of experimentation to get the quantities and cooking times right, which sometimes has interesting results!

This is a blog of my attempts. Purists might like to look away if the photos get too distressing.

There are variations of this lightweight confection in many countries, but the current fashion is for the colourful French 'Macaron' which is basically meringue and ground almonds.
My last year's attempt at baking Macarons did not go well and I resolved not to make any more, but a Christmas present of a book called 'Macarons' by Bérengère Abraham inspired me to try again. Following her instructions to 'age' the egg white for 24 hours before making them I got a better result. She didn't give any instructions about how to get even-sized macarons so I drew around a 4cm pastry cutter onto the baking paper and then inverted it onto the baking sheet so that the pencilled circles could be seen through paper and used them as a guide. I spooned the mixture into these circles instead of the recipe's instructions to pipe them. The result, as you can see, is blobby tops to the macaroons. I won't make that mistake again. The filling is a fresh mango 'ganache' (I am sure ganache means chocolate so shouldn't be used in this context) from the same book. This is made with gelatine and set solid. I wished I had let it set in a tray so that I could cut out even sized circles of filling to make the macarons look more attractive.

How have I got to my age without knowing about these delights, and they are so easy to make.

They are supposed to have derived from the town of the same name in France. They are puff pastry bubbles with an almond filling (frangipane). They usually have a distinctive patterning in the pastry crust which prevents the pastry puffing up too much. For my mini version I just made a cross on the top. I used the recipe in 'Petit fours', a Murdoch book which doesn't seem to have an author, and I used ready-made puff pastry and a 5cm pastry cutter to make the top and bottoms. Although they tasted good I will make the filling moister next time. 

As an ebay addict I am always looking for new bakeware. Mini tins and moulds are still quite difficult to get, but I recently bought some silicone bakeware that promised new adventures in baking.

The first one was a mould for chocolate cups which I imagined would make lovely desserts. It was meant for chocolate, but I experimented with a sponge mixture, which turned out to be a good way to make cake crumbs. Then I tried a jelly, but again it was impossible to take out of the mould in one piece. So then I tried pure dark chocolate, and this was great. It stayed solid and looked good, but each individual mould took 100g of chocolate! I filled the chocolate cup with a rum and raisin chocolate mousse, but the whole concoction was too chocolaty - even for me! I have tried half-filling the moulds, which of course means the cups have no bottoms, but even that is a lot of chocolate to digest in one go. The mould has gone to the back of the cupboard, and will be discovered after my death when future generations find it and wonder about their Mum's strange perversions.

Whoopee Pie 

What a silly name to call something which is not a pie, but a biscuit. Brits would call it a custard cream, Americans would call it an Oreo. However in my quest to find new shapes for cakes, I bought a silicone whoopee pie baking tray which has 15x5cm shallow circles. It wasn't until after I baked my first batch that I thought how illogical it was to make a tray with an uneven number of circles for something that requires two layers per cake. Traditionally these pies are chocolate flavour so I made my first batch from a recipe on I sandwiched them with the rum and raisin mousse that I used for filling the chocolate cups and which I had cut to the same diameter as the 'pies'. Some people add elaborate toppings, but I think that is a fad left over from making cupcakes. I put a chocolate button on top, but I don't think it need it. The result was a rather tall slim whoopee pie, not like the 7cm flattish American versions. It was not easy to eat without dismantling the layers, but it was OK, although I still cannot see the attraction as to me it is just a fancy biscuit.

If you have got this far without falling asleep then in my next post I will wow you with my experiments with Canelés, Bouchons, Aebleskivers, friands, and financiers (the latter are cakes, not people in the City).