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Archive for December, 2011

My December technical skills challenge was french macarons. I did sucessfully make macarons a year ago but having tried to make them again and met with major disaster I didnt think I could honestly say I had mastered the technique. It turns out I needed another three messy attempts to get the hang of the macaronage, piping and my oven and I have a lot of tasty but hideous empty macaron shells in my freezer to use in a crumble or something else in which they can hide their unattractive faces.

One batch were such a chewy castastrophe they didnt even make it into the freezer but finally I landed up with a socially acceptable batch of orange macarons, which I filled with a balsamic meringue filling. This was another attempt at creating some new extraordinary flavours and although I had an idea of the end result and could picture the two working well, the balsamic  meringue turned out even better than I thought. It has a sweet burnt caramel flavour that isn’t vinegary at all and I’m dying to try it with strawberries and cream.

Orange and Balsamic Macarons

I dont see any point in writing another guide to getting your macaron technique correct as there are already so many good ones out there but I will say that although they arent as scary as some will have you believe it does take a few attempts to get them just right and it is worth reading a few of the guides before you start. My recipe is adapted from the basic french macaron recipe in Les Petit Macarons by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride.

Shells

  • 165g almond flour
  • 165g icing sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 150g castor sugar
  • 115g egg whites (from about 4 eggs – I dont bother to age them and it doesnt seem to make any difference)
  • 3g cream of tartar or a few drops of lemon juice
  • few drops orange (or a mix of yellow and red) food colouring
  • 1/4 tsp orange essence

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (200 fan) and line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Blend the almond flour and icing sugar in a blender, sift and repeat a few times until they are as finely ground as possible. Whisk the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar/lemon juice together and then continue to whisk with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (about 11 min).

Fold the almond mixture into the meringue with a spatula until almost incorporated. Add the food colouring and orange essence and finish folding until the mixture is homogeneous and drops off the spatula in a lava like consistency. You dont want the batter to be too stiff or too runny so you have to be careful.

Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch tip and pipe round discs onto the baking sheets (using a circle temple under the baking paper makes this a lot easier). Slam the baking sheet on the worktop to remove air bubbles and leave to sit for 20-30 min which allows the shell to dry out. Place in the oven for 3 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160 (140 fan) and bake another 6 minutes. I found the initial increased heat along with the right batter consistency helped feet to form and stopped the shells being uneven or bursting.

Filling

  • 3 egg whites
  • 400g golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1g salt
  • 200g butter cubed (optional – it makes the filling nice and creamy but if i was using the meringue for something else or wanted to cook it I might leave it out)

Put the vinegar in a saucepan and simmer until reduced by about half and syrupy. Add the golden syrup and bring to the boil. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 115 degrees C.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Once the syrup is ready, slowly pour it into the eggs whites whilst whisking continuously. Keep whisking until stiff peaks form and the meringue has cooled (about 8 min). Add the salt and butter and whisk until smooth and fluffy.

Place in a piping bag, pipe a small amount onto half the macaron shells and top with the other half. Store in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to three weeks.

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As you may have realised by this point if you have read any of my other posts I’m a little christmas-mad. I wasnt always this way and I’m not entirely sure what happened but I think it was something to do with moving from the warm southern hemisphere (where christmas day consists of cold meat, salad and a dunk in the pool to maintain a temperature suitable for the continuation of life), to the cold climate of Scotland. I remember the first time I walked past a holly bush in Edinburgh that actually had holly berries on it and did a little jump-squeak-dance on the spot of excitement which must have really scared my fellow pedestrians. You don’t want to see me when it snows.

My favourite kind of post to read at this time of year is other blogger’s last minute ideas for christmas dishes, drinks and foodie presents just in case I’ve missed out on something I wont be able to continue life without eating/drinking/owning. And I’m equally as eager to share my own santa list and some recipes so that I am returning the favour to those with a similar compulsion.

Food

Here’s a selection  recipes from other blogs and my own with a Christmassy theme which I would recommend or have me interested.

      

Creamy Pea Soup – coconut milk makes this deliciously creamy and sweet and its the perfect cheerful green….   Spaghetti with Marmite (from Nigella) – when you’ve had enough of turkey….    Chocolate & Thyme Mousse – if you’re sick of Christmas pud….    Poached Pears (from Kosher Camembert) – festive and just stunning….   Chilli Glazed Gammon – warm and spicy….   Chestnut Chocolate Pots (from Nigella) – winter in a cup….   Parmesan, Rosemary and Pancetta Grissini – perfect for parties and gifts….   Gingerbread Latte Cupcakes – if Christmas had a smell….

Presents

Stomach sorted, presents next. Some ideas from my own Christmas list and other brilliant foodie gift ideas I’ve seen this year.

Le Creuset Stoneware Mixing Jug, AlmondThe basics – Stoneware Mixing Jug. 

Everyone needs a sturdy mixing bowl . I have a big metal one which is great because its light and good for whipping meringue but sometimes you need a heavy one that wont slide around the counter top while you are mixing. This one has the benefit of a pouring lip and Le Creuset good looks.

McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and CultureCook Books – McGee on Food & Cooking.

I love cookbooks that either have a narrative with the recipes or teach you about why you have to do things and the science behind culinary techniques so this book is on my wish list this year.

Its not Christmas to me without a good book to read on Christmas day after I’ve eaten so much I’ve lost the power of movement and speech and have to lie down (I know, aren’t I rock and roll).

Landing_page_beansSubscriptions – Kopi Gourmet Coffee.

My Delicious Magazine subscription is still one of my favourite presents but this is a subscription with a twist. If you know anyone who loves good coffee and drinks enough of it to receive a new bag every month then I think this is very clever.

Crafty – Jam making stuff.

I want to start making my own preserves and although I’ve started by making my own fruit mince without the aid of any special equipment its harder to make proper jams and other preserves without decent jars and strainers etc.

I have my eye on these jars  at Lakeland as well as a pile of other preserving related paraphenalia and books on amazon.co.uk

Andrew James Professional Fully Automatic Ice Cream Maker With Built-in Compressor + Free 128 Page Ice Cream Maker Cook BookGadgets – Ice Cream Maker

Every cook loves gadgets. My cupboards are already crammed full but I am dying to make my own ice cream. My head is brimming with recipe ideas but I’ve tried making it without an ice cream machine and it just doesnt come out the same.

I dont have space in my freezer or patience for the kind with a bowl you have to freeze so this one is a well priced version of the proper electric kind.

Christmas Cooking Challenge

And last but not least, don’t forget to join in my Mince Pie Challenge if you are making your own this year. The idea is to reinvent the standard formula with a twist of any kind but if you just want to share your traditional home-made pies you can still send me a link or photo and at the end of the month I’ll post the entries, pick a winner and send the best one a little surprise foodie christmas gift.  Just leave me a comment to let me know you are entering by the end of the Month.

I’ve started by making Nigella’s Rhubarb and Vanilla Mince which turned out to be delicious and I’m using that to try out different mince pie themed pastries and biscuits. Here’s the recipe if you want an alternative to the ordinary suet and citrus peel kind. The vanilla makes it really rich and velvety.

Rhubarb and Vanilla Fruit Mince

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast.

  • 1kg rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5mm slices
  • 300g soft brown sugar
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 200g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 2 tbsp cherry brand

Put the sliced rhubarb with the sugar into a large pan. Cut the vanilla pod in halves length ways and scrape out the seeds, then cut each half into pieces, adding seeds and pod slices to the pan. Add the mixed spice and cook for about 5 mins.

Add the dried fruits and simmer for about 30 mins. Stir in the brandy and take off the heat. When it’s cool enough to handle, bottle in jars.

Makes 1.25 litres.

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I got an early Christmas present a couple of weeks ago when a drenched postman turned up at our door with two huge boxes full of individually wrapped goodies from Tuscany.

The exact source of the treasure chest is Fattoria La Vialla – an Italian family farm which, thankfully for us, delivers their beautiful produce by postal catalogue to your doorstep. Because they turned out to be so delicious, I’m taking a short break from mince pie making to spread the word. No sponsorship. No freebies. Just good enough to write home about.

I ordered some of their home-made biscuits, wine, cheese, preserves and the best panetone I have ever laid hands on. I’ve already eaten half of it on my own (as well as nearly two packets of biscuits if I’m being truthful). I should add that the salamis also arrived much larger than the little bits that were left by the time I got around to photographing them.

Each wine is comprehensively explained in the beautiful catalogue with details of the grapes and tasting notes. As promised, the Chianti was perfect with the strong pecorino cheese and sweet pepper jam but my favourite of the wines is the Spumante Le Chiassiae (named after the Italian word for sound – “chiasso” – after the sound of a hoe on the vineyard stones) which seems to go with just about anything, including the sweet biscuits and panetone, and is refreshingly light and fizzy (and low in sulphites so its easy on the head!).

So if you haven’t finished stocking your Christmas cupboards and you want to treat yourself with something special and still relatively inexpensive based on the quality, you can order a catalogue from their website. The catalogue is in itself a work of art and a drool inducing read so I recommend you have a look. They are extremely helpful and were more than happy to oblige my request for a bespoke order of bits and pieces instead of the standard packages and hampers.

Happy shopping!

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