Archive for the ‘Sweets’ Category

Macaron Musings

October 6, 2013

What can I say, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making macarons, but for many many reasons I did not get around to it until this weekend. As I explained to my dad while he was intently watching me pipe out my macaron mixture, macarons have a reputation on the internet for being famously impossible, yet ridiculously photogenic. The number of flavour combinatons you can put into a macaron is endless, from normal-sounding sweet flavours like chocolate & caramel, to savoury flavours like olive & beetroot. And then there’s just the outright weird ones, like stout & pretzel, or mushroom macarons. Whatever flavour combination you choose, there is a myriad of tips & tricks online that will give you “foolproof” macarons. When I was researching yesterday to find a good recipe to use, the more recipes I read & the more “tips” I found, the more I thought macarons must have been invented by accident. Really, there’s no way someone would have done all this on purpose. First, you’re meant to use egg whites that have “aged a day”. I can just see some French apprentice chef finding a bowl of eggwhites leftover from some delicious Crème brûlée the day before, and thinking “Sacre bleu! Are these still in here?? I’d better use them in something!” Secondly, I’m assuming macarons were invented long before electric stand mixers, meaning this poor apprentice would have whisked those old eggwhites by hand. And then, realising he still needed to add the icing sugar and almond meal: “Merde!! I’ve just done all that whisking for nothing! Because folding in all the dry ingredients will compress all the air bubbles I just whisked into this meringue making it runny again!” Yeah I followed the instructions for this, but couldn’t really see the point in making meringue runny again. But, it worked, which is “the point” I suppose.

Whole blood oranges

Thirdly, leaving the macarons out on the bench from anywhere between ten minutes to two hours, I can only assume this step was discovered because the apprentice either got distracted doing something else in the kitchen (“Oh look! croque-en-bouche!”) or forgot to turn the oven on. You cannot tell me you have never done this. Its always the very first step in any recipe, but this is what we actually read: “Preheat oven to blah blah blah I just want to get to the exciting stuff like melting chocolate!”

Blood orange halves

Anyway. I made macarons. I don’t really have anything of value to add apart from they’re really not that hard, if you weigh everything out like an obsessive-compulsive, and follow the recipe to the letter. I used this recipe, though it doesn’t make as many macarons as I was expecting, so they turned out a little, er… fluorescent. Yes, Wilton’s colour pastes are quite concentrated. I will double the recipe (or half the colouring) next time around. Additionally I didn’t leave them out on the bench quite long enough (or, I remembered to turn the oven on at the start) so a few of them cracked. Understandably, I didn’t use those in the photos.

Macaron group

These macarons didn’t last long at all. Probably about half an hour after I finished making them. Orange, especially blood orange, is one of my very favourite flavours to use in things, so whenever they’re in season I can’t resist in buying a couple of kilos. I made blood orange curd Friday night (which tastes amazing but wasn’t a very good texture. I used a recipe that includes egg whites, which leaves bits of cooked egg whites in the curd. I could have strained it but…. who can be bothered doing that?) which I used for the buttercream. I have plenty of buttercream left so might have to make another batch of macaron shells to use it up! Something tells me my dad won’t mind one bit.

Macaron pile

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A Crème brûlée of Loveliness

September 22, 2013

I would find it very difficult to find anyone I know who hasn’t had Crème brûlée for dessert at a nice restaurant. It really is the perfect end to the perfect meal. Smooth creamy custard, crisp caramelised shell, the soft sweetness of the vanilla draws you in for more with every mouthful.

Creme brulee 3

I’ve only made this dessert a couple of times, but really once you’ve mastered it there’s no going back. I’m not going to post a recipe here, because there are SO many out there, but this is the one I use. What I will post here however are some tips to help your Crème brûlées be as be as perfect as the restaurants without having to go anywhere.

Creme brulee 2

1) Use normal cream. Normal, fresh, unthickened cream. Here in Australia I search high & low for Farmer’s Union Pure Cream, because its pretty much the only whipping cream supermarkets stock without thickener in it.

2) Custard is very sensitive to temperature, so you want to ensure the most even heating possible while its cooking. Fold up an old tea towel & place this underneath your ramekins before pouring the water in, it will protect the bottom of the custard from overcooking. Additionally, most recipes say to pour water til halfway up the ramekins, I tend to go a little higher, about three quarters.

3) When you pour the uncooked custard into the ramekins, there will be air bubbles from whisking it earlier. Grab your lit blowtorch and skim it very quickly over the surface of the custard, it will burst all the bubbles leaving a nice clean smooth surface.

Creme out of the oven

4) When you are ready to brûlée the top, use demerara sugar. It has large grains which melt and coat the custard beautifully. To get it on in an even layer for caramelising, spoon enough sugar into the ramekin to coat it thickly, pressing it down very gently with the back of the spoon. Then, tip the excess sugar out into a bowl leaving a perfect amount of sugar ready for the blowtorch.

Blow torch brulee

5) Don’t hold the blowtorch too close to the ramekin, or it will burn instead of melt.

6) Make in advance, host a dinner party and impress your friends with this simple dessert 🙂

Creme brulee mouthful

Christmas cookies – Again!

December 24, 2011

Every Christmas, at least for the past 5 years or so, I make a big batch of cookies, and package them up for my workmates. Last year I made Nicciolini, the year before that I made Lavendar & Lemon, and for a few years before that I made plain shortbread. This year I was confident enough to “invent” my own recipe, even though I’m positive its been done before. Enter Lemon Shortbread.

These were by far the most successful shortbreads I’ve ever made. Successful in that they kept their shape perfectly during baking, even the most intricate shapes. The cooking time I chose was spot-on, even though it was a number I literally picked at random. The dough was so easy to work with and didn’t deteriorate as it got warm. I will be coming back to this recipe again and again.

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients

3 & 3/4 cups of plain flour

1 & 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup caster sugar

1 large egg & one large egg yolk

grated rind of 3 large lemons*

 

*make sure, if you can, that they’re organic lemons, or get them from a home garden. I’d hate for anyone to ingest poisonous sprays with their cookies!

Method

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together for about a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the butter is mixed in. Add the egg & egg yolk and the lemon rind, and beat until combined and smooth. Add the flour one large spoonful at a time, until all flour is incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl one more time and beat until mixture is smooth. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap, and pour out the contents of the bowl onto the plastic. Press the dough into ball and wrap tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate for several hours, the easiest though is to make the dough the night before you need it, as this gives the lemon the most time to infuse its flavours into the butter. Also, the dough needs to be quite cold when you’re working with it, as this is one of the factors that help the cookies hold their shape.

Time to bake those cookies! Preheat fan-forced oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Find a smooth surface to roll out your dough onto, I did mine straight on my kitchen counter. Using a rolling pin, slowly roll the dough out until its about 3mm thick. (Two things – roll it out slowly to prevent the dough from tearing and forming odd shapes. Secondly: 3mm might seem thin when the cookies are cut out, but they do rise ever so slightly in the oven, and 3mm was the perfect thickness for my cookies. Do experiment with different thicknesses until you find one you like.) Start cutting out your shapes – I did stars, flowers, snowflakes and a bunch of mini shapes with the scraps. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper**, fairly close together (remember these cookies hold their shape really well) and bake for 8 minutes, or until the edges are just turning golden. The biscuits will feel soft when they are hot but will firm up once they cool.

**I recommend preparing at least 4 trays with baking paper. This way, you can bake 2 or 3 trays while cutting out your next lot of shapes.

Once cookies are completely cool, you can now decorate them! There are lots of ways to do this. I used royal icing, but you could just as easily use a lemon sugar glazing, or simply dust with icing sugar. I made so many, and I don’t wat to bore you with thousands of cookie photos, so I’ll just show you some of my favourites!

Stars & Stripes

Groovy Snowflake

Classic Snowflake

Spotty Stars

Let the icing set for at least an hour before bagging them up and giving them away 😀

Ready for gifting!

Merry Christmas to all my lovely readers, I’ll see you in 2012!!

My First Rhubarb

October 23, 2011

A few months ago, in the depths of Tassie Winter, a friend from Ravelry (whom I had never met) gave me 3 Rhubarb crowns. For nothing! I adore gardeners (and knitters!). I promptly planted them in my free garden bed (the busy-ness of my last semester at uni made planting a Winter crop impossible), mulched deeply with composting leaves, and waited.

 

Fast forward to October. Spring is well underway, the daffodils have come & gone, the lawn needs mowing endlessly, and my Rhubarb – it has leaves!!

And leaf stalks. Bright juicy red leaf stalks. I started looking up recipes, and decided on Rhubarb Crumble, but all the recipes I found wanted 6 cups of Rhubarb to serve 8 people! Since its only me that will probably end up eating it, I didn’t want to get fat on 8 servings of Rhubarb Crumble. So I looked at a few different recipes, and added a couple of rosy Corella pears:

 

And added the chopped Rhubarb:

 

 

And then I loosely followed Elise’s recipe for Rhubarb Crumble.
Unfortunately I forgot to take any in-progress photos…. And then the finished product wasn’t awesome to look at, so I didn’t take any photos of that either. But! Look at my gorgeous Rhubarb! It is so red on the outside, but I was surprised to find it bright green on the inside! Its just like Christmas, and very photogenic:

 

I do however have some tips for my fellow bakers who decide they want to make some Rhubarb Crumble of your own:

1. Use a fairly deep baking dish

Use a baking dish deep enough to provide a pretty substantial layer of fruit, but additionally you really want to put lots of crumble on the top too!

2. Don’t dilute the Rhubarb

As much as I like pears, I really wished I had kept the Rhubarb unadulterated for this dish. I really craved that tart yet sweet Rhubarb flavour, but this also means I will need to wait even longer before I can harvest enough of my Rhubarb for a whole dish of crumble.

3. Don’t leave the house…

Yes, I admit it, I left my oven unattended. I had a craving for ice cream with my crumble, and had to go to the shops to buy some. Pair that with getting distracted at a new Japanese restaurant for a takeaway Bento box, and my crumble was in the oven for probably 10 minutes too long. It wasn’t burnt, and still tasted delicious, but the hardened syrup around the edges made the dish very difficult to clean!

4. Take a sniff

Another unexpected feature of Rhubarb was the smell! As I cut the fresh Rhubarb stalks the smell got stronger & stronger, and I couldn’t get enough of it! It smells a bit like custard and caramel, but not quite, a bit hard to describe. You’ll just have to cut up some Rhubarb and see for yourselves!

 

And there you have it. Stay tuned for my next Rhubarb adventure!

(Mis)Adventures with Choc Chip Cookies

May 31, 2011

I had a craving this morning. And no, before you ask, I’m not pregnant.

I had a craving for good old-fashioned chewy choc chip cookies. So, naturally, I went onto the internet in search of a good recipe.

Here was the source of my mis-adventure.

I like Foodgawker. I have got many many many great recipes from there, and I use Foodgawker because the recipes cannot be posted to the site without an awesome photo in the original blog posting. Photos are essential for my recipe searches, as I am a very visual person, and will rarely try a recipe unless it has at least one photo of the end result. (Some recipes have automatic immunity however. Julia Child’s original Boeuf Bouguignon recipe is an exemplary dish which rose far above the modest tone of the printed recipe.)

So I searched on Foodgawker, and selected a bunch of delicious and chewy looking recipes to look at. I wanted something simple, just with chocolate chips, so I closed all the ones that had nuts or oats or peanut butter or salted caramel or cranberries or raisins. I closed all the ones which were egg/dairy/gluten/sugar/salt/cholesterol/whatever free, and closed the ones for which I didn’t have ingredients (I am not leaving the house today. That would require a certain level of kempt-ness that was beyond the scope of my effort levels today). As I was reading & closing recipes, one thing stood out to me like a hamantash in a row of kourabiedes.

On more than one of the recipes I was browsing today, this was listed in the Ingredients section:

1 package instant vanilla pudding mix

Begin rant.

It is a total cop-out for anyone professing to be a so-called “food blogger” to publish recipes touted as the best/chewiest/tastiest/moistest/amazing cookie recipe when a significant portion of the “ingredients” are a commercialised replacement of a once-traditional foodstuff, like “pudding” (which, as far as I can gather, for Australian audiences is most similar to our cartons of custard. So imagine that, but in power form.). It is an insult to real cookery masters everywhere to pass these kinds of short-cut recipes off as the bees knees of cookie recipes, and do you know what the really sad thing is? New cooks make these recipes and it shapes their understanding of home cooking from then on! These new cooks, these unwitting victims to short-cut cooking, have no concept of the skills, guts, and sheer brilliance of traditional do-everything-from-scratch cooking. And that really saddens me.

Yes, I take shortcuts. Yes, I make my chicken laksa from store-bought laksa paste. But, combined with my homemade chicken stock, homegrown herbs and vegetables, my laksa still possesses a lot of the traditional elements authentic laksa has, and furthermore, my desire to learn how to make my own flavour pastes is just waiting for when I have enough time to dedicate a day or two to learning how to do it. You have read before on this blog about my love of the long way round to gastronomical bliss, and when I eventually learn how to make my own flavour pastes I know this will open up a whole new world to me. But I digress.

So I made my feelings known to the whole of Twitter (with liberal use of the exclamation mark and the rage hashtag), and I was not prepared for the overwhelmingly positive outpouring of support of my statement. I made the pleasing discovery that I was amongst like-minded people, and was blown away by all the offers to share their tried & true choc chip cookie recipes. My #rage quickly subsided, and I went about choosing the recipe that I made this afternoon.

This recipe was generously given to me by my knitting friend Sheralynn and with her permission, I am going to share it will all of you lovely readers.

Regular Run-Of-The-Mill Traditional Choc Chip Cookies

Ingredients

125g butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
4/5 cup (that’s four fifths) self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
200g chocolate chips

Method

1. Cream butter and sugars, add egg and vanilla and combine.
2. Sift in flour & salt and mix, then stir in choc chips.
3. Roll into a long tube about 1-2 inches in diameter and wrap in saran/glad wrap. Chill the log of dough for at least 1 hour in the fridge.
4. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 180oC and slice hockey pucks from the log, place on baking tray and bake for 7-10 mins.
Cookies should be golden.
5. Leave to cool on sheet until hardened then move to rack to cool.
So I made these and they were delicious! Chocolatey, sweet, chewy, nom! The only little hiccup I had was when chopping the log into “hockey pucks” (I just love this term) they didn’t hold together very well, and I think this was because I was using chocolate chips that were a bit on the large side, and the knife couldn’t cut them easily. But it didn’t matter, I just pressed the mix back together for each cookie. Also, one of my Silpats made the cookies stick, but the other didn’t. I’m not entirely sure why!
So, what have we learned today? I have learned that blog sites are sometimes not all they are cracked up to be. I have learned that twitter friends are amongst the bestest friends one can have. And I have learned that there is at least one recipe that I want to try on a different day, for it requires some pre-bake planning.
I have also learned that while the cookies might be mangled from getting them off a sticky Silpat, they are still delicious!

Brandy Snaps!!

December 25, 2008

Sorry, I don’t have a recipe for these since I got them free from work on Christmas Eve (sometimes its great to work in a bakery). But I did have to share with you all my absolutely delicious Christmas raspberries harvested especially for this dish, moments before this photo was taken:

brandy-snaps

I don’t know if the Northern Hemispherians have an equivilent Christmas bounty (the Pomegranate, maybe?), but for me it’s definitely my raspberries. I was going to make some mini pavlovas to go with my raspberries & cream, but with my free bandy snaps, I didn’t have to!

It’s Christmas!!

December 25, 2008

What a wonderful Christmas morning! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the kitten from next door has come over to visit, and all around the neighbourhood you can hear children squealing with delight on opening their presents & finding something awesome. Myself, I opened my 2 whole presents this morning, and grinned instead of squealing for fear of waking my dad up prematurely (that would be a very bad idea).

I realise I haven’t blogged about the fantastic cookies I made for my workmates yet. So here’s a photo:

snowflake

Cute aren’t they?? Basically, I followed this recipe for the cookie dough, and then took about 3 days to decorate them all in stages. I made up a big batch or royal icing (4 egg whites, lots of icing sugar, mixed in my Kenwood Chef until it is white, creamy & very thick) and made a few colours (white, pale blue, green & pink) and put them in baggies (like last time) and then piped designs onto the cookies. Day 1 of decorating was just doing all the outlines around the egdes of the cookies. Day 2 was filling in the centres, I put a few drops of water into the icing to make it spread a little easier. Day 3 was piping the final designs on top of the rest, I let them dry overnight before packaging them up in the morning all pretty-like! I took them into work on Saturday & everyone loved them! I made some christmas tree ones too, with green icing, blue & pink tinsel & those silver cachous for baubles. I also tried a new tecnique of using smaller cookie cutters to make different shapes in the centres of the cookies (you can see one on the top left of the photo).  I bought 2 sets of cookie cutters before making these, one small & the other tiny. They both have things like hearts, teardrops, diamonds, stars, moons, triangles, squares…. heaps of them. And then, because they come in a round tin, it’s like putting together a puzzle before you can close the tin again! They are so cute. So I used them on about a third of the cookies, and they worked really well. The tiny set was good for making a circle of the same shape (eg teardrop) in the middle of the cookie. The large ones I used once in the centre of the cookie. I even made some star holes on the tops of the christmas trees, but I didn’t like those as much.

On the menu for today: Boneless turkey roast, rolled around some almond & cranberry stuffing; roast potatoes, onions & carrots; fresh salad from the garden; and for dessert, brandy snaps (from work) filled with whipped cream and fresh berries!! I can’t wait. Merry Christmas all!!

Christmas preparations

December 14, 2008

Here is the ‘christmas’ part of my cookie cutter collection… Pretty soon they will be used to make a big batch of Christmas cookies for all of my lovely workmates. Stay tuned!!

Pomegranate jewels

December 11, 2008

Unfortunately I didn’t grow this delicious large pomegranate, but it was on sale for $2.50!! I gingerly broke it open today (you never know if it’s going to be rotten or completely unripe inside) and I was delighted to find perfect ruby-like fruitlets filling the tough outer skin. I managed not to burst any at all (I consider myself rather an expert when it comes to pomegranates) and I was left with a bowl of perfect pomegranate. Maybe when my own little pomegranate tree starts to bear fruit, I will give a little cutting tutorial. But when I was little, we used to just let them split open while hanging on the tree, then there was no guessing whether or not they are ripe (pity they can’t sell them at the supermarket like that). I think I will enjoy this with some yoghurt & nuts for dessert 🙂

Scones on a Monday Afternoon

December 1, 2008

scones2

I had the day off today and felt kind of lazy after having a busy morning…so I looked through my trusty Perfect Cookbook and thought I would make some scones. This is another recipe that uses (mostly) basic ingredients, with the addition of freash cream & lemon juice.

You will need:

3 & 1/2 Cups Self-Raising Flour

1 Teaspoon Baking Powder

1 Tablespoon Caster Sugar (I think I used a bit more then that though!)

60 Grams Butter

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1 Cup Milk

2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

1 Egg

Extra milk for brushing

Method:


Preheat fan-forced oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line 2 oven trays with baking paper, and you’ll need to prepare a lightly floured surface to knead on after you’ve mixed the dough.

Sift flour & baking powder together, and mix in sugar & salt. Add butter & rub in until it’s all little balls (I used the electric mixer but the flour went everywhere, your fingertips would probably be better).

In another bowl, add the lemon juice to the milk. Add the egg & the flour/butter/sugar mixture, and mix gently (again, I used my electric mixer, but a wooden spoon would have been better). Tip dough out onto yout floured surface, and knead lightly until dough is smooth. Flatten out (I just used my hands, but use a rolling pin if you want to) to 2-3 cms, and cut out rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a few inches apart on the baking trays, brush with milk, and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown. My mixture made 12.5 scones.

Serve with fresh chantilly cream & raspberry jam, or butter & honey, or ginger marmalade, lazy afternoon sun & pretty pottery. Speaking of pretty pottery, here is a new purchase of mine, along with some Christmas decorations I have been making this week:

decorations

The small plate in the top photo also goes with the cup & saucer. Pretty huh?? It’s from an antique store! My first forray into antique-ing.

Well that’s all for today, hope everyone had a happy Monday!