Macarons with White Chocolate and Raspberry Ganache

Surprisingly, macarons get most of their flavour from the fillings sandwiched between them. I’ve tried buttercream and jams, but was on the hunt for a more authetic fruity flavour.

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Enter this exciting ganache. It is the perfect balance of creamy, with just a hint of tang, and you don’t even need any artificial colours to get a striking shade of pink in there too.

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I’ve kept the shells in their natural colour, but you could easily add in a little powdered food colouring to add a burst of colour. Synthetic food colourings are needed for really bold shades  – more natural sources tend to fade on baking.

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With practice, macarons are surprisingly speedy to make – it’s possible to whip up a batch in an hour. I think that’s the time it’d take me to bake a batch of brownies! But macarons have the kudos of being far, far more sophisticated.

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I really don’t think I’m ever going to be sick of macarons….how can anybody possibly resist such cuteness?

Shortbread

Shortbread is not the same thing as shortcake, and it most certainly isn’t a form of bread. It is however, one of the most delicious buttery foodstuffs known to mankind, and quite possibly one of the contributing factors to Scotland’s cardiovascular mortality rate. I had been fully intending to go systematically through my “To Bake” List, only this somehow ended up jumping the queue.

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It is a simple recipe, containing only four/five ingredients, yet it can also be surprisingly tricky! If you get it right, you’ll know the minute you take your first bite. The crumbly yet meltingly rich shortbread will do its work – it is positively addictive stuff.

A few fallacies to beware:

  1. Not using butter, but margarine or even oil (blergh) instead
  2. Not kneading for long enough (too powdery) or kneading for too long (tough)
  3. Glutinous rice flour is NOT the same thing as rice flour
  4. Rice flour is not a substitute for plain flour
  5. Baking at too high a temperature (crunchy outside, doughy inside)

I think I’ve navigated the worst of the pitfalls though, so I can give you a pretty foolproof recipe.

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This is an ideal recipe to bake if you’re short on time, which I certainly have been. Lately, my commute to work has seemed tediously long – three hours of the day spent drumming your fingers against the dashboard, t’ain’t fun.

Shortbread

  • 40g caster sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 110g plain flour
  • 10g cornflour
  • extra caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Line a 17cm cake tin. Whisk the flours and salt together briefly until well combined. Then separately, beat the caster sugar and butter together until smooth. Then mix in the flours until it begins to clump together, and press together to form a dough. Pat this firmly into the tin. Scatter over some caster sugar.

Bake the shortbread for approximately 30-40 minutes until tinged pale gold – don’t let it get too brown. Take out of the tin carefully and slice into wedges whilst still hot. It will get harder when it cools down. Scatter caster sugar over the shortbread to make it look prettier.  You’re done.

Chocolate Nemesis Cake

I’d like this year to be the year I restarted running. After marathon plans fell through, my efforts tailed off last year due to a combination of lack of motivation, extensive travelling, and a lack of time.  Anyway, one of the best feelings after a long run is the knowledge that you can stretch out your aching muscles, and curl up to a thin sliver of chocolate luxury.

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The River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis Cake is well-named. It is notorious for its difficulty, yet despite this, remains incredibly popular thanks to its reputation for being one of the Most Delicious Chocolate Cakes Ever. I thought it was about time I tried out a new challenge, and so this cake came into being.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. I found this cake rather complicated in its method.  It needs to be baked in a water-bath, and I have yet to acquire the skill of wrapping my cake tins so they don’t leak. There was a little water leakage onto the edges of the cake, not enough to affect the texture, but enough to make me think twice about baking this again. If anyone knows a foolproof way of wrapping cake tins so they are watertight, I would be delighted to know a good trick or two!

On first taste the Chocolate Nemesis was actually slightly disappointing – lightly moussey, which wasn’t what I was looking for. However, I went back to it a few hours later and was sold. It had settled into a very dense, almost fudge-like texture of chocolatey intensity.

I turned it out onto the cake stand upside down, but this is what it looks like once baked:

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The image is pleasingly similar to the picture in the cookbook, but I am keen to know how it looks at the actual River Cafe restaurant.

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Chocolate Nemesis Cake

Slightly adapted from River Cafe Cookbook Easy

  • 272g dark chocolate
  • 180g unsalted butter
  • 112g +56g caster sugar
  • 80ml water
  • 4 eggs

Grease and line a 23cm cake tin. Wrap around the tin securely with tin-foil. Preheat the oven to 120˚C.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain-marie and set to one side. In a small saucepan, heat 56g caster sugar with the water so the sugar dissolves into a light syrup. Bring it just to the boil, and take off the heat. Pour the syrup into the chocolate, leave for 1 minute, and stir together. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool.

Whisk the eggs with 112g sugar until quadrupled in volume. Pour the cooled chocolate mixture, and beat on a very slow speed until it starts to come together. Finish mixing with a spatula.

Boil a large pan of water for the water bath. This probably works out better than having to boil the kettle three times in a row.

In a large roasting tin, fold a tea-towel and place it on the bottom. Place the cake tin on top of the tea towel. Then pour in the water until it comes three-quarters up the sides of the cake tin, and bake for around 50 minutes (it took 49 in my oven) until set. Leave the cake to cool in the water before turning it out of its tin. Leave it aside for a few hours to settle before serving.  Cut into thin slices with a hot sharp knife.

Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

New Year, new resolutions. I didn’t intend to make any, but it turns out I’ve done some without realising. First up was throwing out an enormous pile of accumulated journals, and second was the stultifying task of sorting through my finances. What a grotty process – especially unearthing sneaky direct debits that have been leaching money out of your bank accounts for goodness knows how long. 😦

Anyway, post-Christmas I’m sure a lot of people are suffering a bit of the post-holiday blues. Sadly January isn’t the most giving of months. You get bogged down with the waiting – for lengthening days, warmer times, and sunnier skies. Meanwhile you have to put up with dark mornings, ice, and roads so windy your car gets blown from side to side. Nice.

But…and here is the good bit…. what a great time to say goodbye to stodgy Christmas cake, mincemeat and dried fruit puddings. It’s time to move onto lighter, zingier horizons…and I’m not talking about diet food here!

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To most people outside of the UK, cheesecake is probably most familiar in its baked American-style incarnation. But there’s all that stress with wobbly centres, soggy bottoms, cracked tops, and water baths. Why bother with that when you can make an unbaked version? It’s lighter in texture, almost moussey, and very, very moreish. Not only that, it’s so easy that it only takes minutes to assemble. I’ve kept it as simple as possible here but you can easily dress this cheesecake up on top with fresh fruit, lemon zest curls, curd and whatever else takes your fancy. I’ve also made this with limes, and it was just as lovely.

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Luscious Lemon Cheesecake

Makes a 15cm cheesecake

  • 100g gingernuts, crushed into crumbs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 250g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest

Mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter, and pat firmly into the base of a 15cm springform cake tin. Chill for 30 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese and condensed milk together, then add the lemon zest and juice and beat until thickened. Pour this on top of the chilled biscuit base, and tap the cake tin firmly to get rid of any bubbles. Leave the cheesecake to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Then unmould from the cake tin, and cut into slices with a hot, sharp knife.

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