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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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Retro

There was a surprise waiting for me last week when I got home. A shiny February edition of Delicious magazine, which will be followed by another one every month for the next year…a Christmas present that was a little late in arriving.  This means one lazy Saturday morning every single month, paging through new recipes and articles – my idea of bliss. I have been suffering from a never ending winter bug lately so this was the perfect comfort for me this weekend. Curled up under a duvet with my magazine and a bowl of edamame beans to nibble on.

In a moment of inspiration I also decided to take a few pictures of some other foodie gifts I was given that you will no doubt see in future posts. Besides the deliciously retro mug you see above and beautiful new cake tins which I have already used to store my granola, my favourite gifts were already pre-owned and pre-loved which makes them all the more special. This little silver teapot and the glass sugar cannister were both given to me by Ross’s granddad and they are just beautiful. I have made a pact with myself to stop buying any brand new crockery for my kitchen and to shop only in second hand shops for pretty odds and ends which I can give a new home. These are perfect, especially because they belonged to family and will always remind me of someone when I use them.

And while I’m on the theme of old things with a new twist…as you can see from the pictures I did make french macarons in the end. Just before Christmas I shared some blogs that had given me inspiration, including a couple on macarons that I had been eyeing up cautiously because of their notoriously tricky reputation. Macarons always seem so old fashioned and elegant and they are one of those things you want to prove to yourself that you can make but they’ve also come back into fashion lately and have something of an air of retro about them, especially some of the less traditional flavours and colours. I had an idea brewing for a macaron version of red velvet cake but I was convinced that my first attempt at making these little blighters would be a flop so I had been putting it off. However, my pre-Christmas planning was so over efficient that I managed to land up with a few spare nights and a lot of spare eggs.

Having read through all the guides I had already found plus another encyclopaedia’s worth of recipes for both french and italian versions I felt suitably educated enough to proceed. I followed all the instructions for not over beating the batter , using a sturdy baking sheet (to avoid wonky shells as the sheet warps in the heat of the oven) and most importantly getting the piping right and although there were one or two cracked shells and some slightly special looking ones due to dodgy piping, overall I think I can say I baked a proper macaron. And it wasn’t nearly as much of a palaver as the experts would have you believe.  The piping is a bit fiddly and there is a fair amount of faffing around with baking parchment and a circle stencil but if I can pull off something on the first attempt then it cant be that complicated. And they are very very pretty.

Red Velvet Macarons

Adapted from Not So Humble Pie. I recommend Ms Humble’s basic recipe no matter what type or flavour you are making and in addition to previously mentioned useful guides her 101 on both French and Italian macarons is very thorough. I have shortened her recipe instructions and added my red velvet elements and other things that worked well but its worth reading her full version as a starting point and then using this shorter version to refer to as you bake.

  • 120g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 100g egg whites aged over night at room temperature
  • couple drops of lemon juice
  • 35g castor sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1-2 tsp red food coloring

Cream cheese filling

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 225g cream cheese
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Line 2-3 heavy baking sheets (or double them up if you dont have a sturdy one) with parchment and trace out 1 inch circles roughly 1 and a half inches apart which makes the piping much easier. Prep a piping bag with a round tip (Ms Humble’s trick of placing the bag in a glass so you can fill it easily is a good one I’ve used before).

Blend the ground almond and icing sugar in a food processor and sift to make sure there are no lumps. Sift in the cocoa powder and set aside.  Weigh out the egg whites into a large stainless steel bowl and add the lemon juice. Start beating the eggs on a low speed. Once the egg whites are very foamy, begin sprinkling in the sugar as you beat. Increase the speed to medium and beat the meringue to stiff glossy peaks. If like mine your electric beater is a bit over enthusiastic then stop as soon as the meringue looks thick and whisk the last bit with a hand whisk to avoid over beating it. Add the food colouring and gently mix in.

Add about 1/4 of the almond mixture and fold in until no streaks remain. Continue to add the almond mixture in quarters, folding until you reach the proper batter. It should cling to the spatula briefly before it drops into the bowl. Pour the batter into your prepared piping bag and pipe blobs onto the baking sheets. Tap the pan on the counter to bring up any air bubbles and quickly pop them with a toothpick. Allow them to rest on a level surface for 30-60 minutes until they are no longer tacky to a light touch.

While they rest, preheat the oven to 140°C and then bake the macarons for 16-20 minutes. If all has gone according to plan they should have smooth tops and nice ‘legs’ (the rough edge around the bottom of the shell). Lift off the sheet soon after removing from the oven and place upside down to cool completely. Be gentle or you will damage the delicate shells.

In the meantime beat all the cream cheese filling ingredients together and then pipe a little onto half of the shells. Top with the other half and you are done. They benefit from being left to mature overnight in an airtight container in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature which allows the filling merge slightly with the meringue shells.

Happy munching ♥

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Only 4 sleeps til Christmas day! I’ve been so busy planning and preparing my Christmas recipes that I havent left myself enough time to blog about them all. I’m also keeping the special ones as a surprise for family so I have to keep them a secret you see. By now its also too late to share useful recipes for the main event as you will have already made your own plans so I decided to write a quick post with some ideas that might still come in handy and share some of the delicious things I have seen on other blogs that I’m planning to get to over the rest of the holidays.

Firstly, more biscuit ideas! I know I’ve just made Christmas biscuits which were the subject of my last post but although they were perfect for making edible decorations, I thought they could be topped when it comes to a biscuit to accompany a desert or fill a goody bag in someone’s stocking. So I fiddled with the basic biscuit dough to inject a bit more spice and made these little stars to add to my Yuletide arsenal. They arent the most indulgent biscuit you’ve ever eaten but they are meant to complement a richer recipe rather than be the star of the show and they have a lovely warm, spicy cocoa flavour. It was snowing when I made these so it was  a bit dark in my kitchen for taking photos but hopefully you can see the cinnamon sugar dusting which adds a little extra sparkle.

Spicy Cocoa Biscuits

  • 50g castor sugar plus extra for dusting
  • 50g softened butter
  • 15g cocoa powder
  • 110g plain flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon plus extra for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon, then beat in the syrup. Sift in the flour, cocoa, spices and bicarbonate of soda together and mix into a sandy dough. Slowly add the egg (you wont need all of it) until the dough comes together. Roll out onto a well floured surface into a rectangular shape about 5mm thick. Cut out with a star shaped cutter and place onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Mix extra cinnamon and sugar together and dust over the biscuits. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Not content with sugar biscuits I’ve been scouring the net for something else with a little more flair and I keep coming back to french macarons. I’ve never made them before but if I can pull them off without any mishaps then I’m planning to use these blogs for inspiration and create my own version of red velvet macrons. If you fancy trying your hand then I reccommend you start here:

Photo from Mowielicious.

  • Mowielicious – he has some of the most delicious macaron recipes I’ve seen and if his photos don’t make you salivate (exhibit A to the right) then your brain is broken.
  • Daydreamer Deserts – has a great post on demystifying french macarons with a useful video for those of us that need visuals to work out whether we are on the right track…

… Now if you have managed to find your way back to this post after getting side tracked for an hour browsing all Mowie’s photos and recipes then let me get your attention back with these… Christmas cocktails!

I cant take credit for the photos as I wont be making these until Saturday (well friday night at least, I will probably need a drink by the time I’m finished all the last minute preparations) but having researched a thousand different holiday tipples these two are going to be my poison of choice so I thought I would share the links with you now in case you want to make a last minute adjustment to your shopping list.

The first one is an Apricot Queen which I have made before and can definitely recommend. I first made it because I somehow landed up with a bottle of apricot brandy that doesn’t really lend itself to the standard spirit + mixer combination. Never one to leave a perfectly good bottle of alcohol lying around I went hunting for cocktail ideas and came across this little gem which combines it with white rum, sugar and lemon. It does use raw egg white so do be careful who you serve it to (not that you should be pressing alcohol on your pregnant friends and small children but still). I’m not a fan of super sweet fish-bowl size things that leave you feeling nauseous after one or two so this is my ideal type of drink – short and fruity with a kick.

My second choice is this Cranberry cider margarita posted by the ladies at Haute Apple Pie. With the flavours of cranberry and orange its perfectly Christmassy and the cider will stop it being too sweet for my taste buds. I plan to make it with vodka instead of tequila but that’s up to you of course. As soon as I’ve tried it out I’ll put up some pictures of my own but I’m pretty sure its going to be good!

Photo from Haute Apple Pie.

Right so I better get back to writing up my final shopping list but I still have a week between Christmas and New Year to spend experimenting and its Christmas which means the calories dont count so if you have any recipes you think I should know about, you know where I am!

In case I dont manage to write again until after I’ve recovered from death by turkey and trimmings, have a lovely Christmas and good luck with your own cooking exploits! ♥

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