Pierre Hermé Salted Caramel Macarons

Mmmm, more macarons!

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I finally succumbed, and bought the much-coveted Macarons, baking bible for Pierre Hermé addicts. Of course, as soon as I started flipping through the pages, the urge to bake caught up with me. I just had to try his salted caramel macarons.

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My last attempt at making salted caramel macarons had been a mixed bag. The macarons had been slightly over-baked and my salted caramel cream had been too buttery, so this time I was looking forward to using Pierre Hermé’s own recipe to get the rich salty, buttery perfection I was longing after.

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This was also my second try with Pierre Hermé’s italian meringue method. Previously, I had always used Ottolenghi’s recipe, which is based on the french meringue method. These two methods are often compared, and technically the italian meringue creates a more stable structure, and is more foolproof, but my Ottolenghi recipe always worked brilliantly, so I guess you can take your pick and go with the flow!

The Pierre Hermé recipe, as expected, requires quite a lot of concentration, and is more technically challenging than the Ottolenghi one. However, it is utterly divine.

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The salted caramel filling contains a surprisingly large quantity of butter. I noted that there are two recipes for this floating around on the internet. For example, the one posted by Edd Kimber here has noticeably different proportions to the recipe contained in my copy of Macarons. I’d say they turned out, flavour and texture-wise, very similar. Perhaps the Macarons recipe holds a stronger salted caramel flavour, but I may have also been braver in letting my caramel go that little bit darker.

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It’s nice to know that you can make the salted caramel filling a day or two in advance before making the macarons themselves. Just rebeat it into piping consistency when it’s needed. Oddly, it looks a little darker, but no less delicious.

One big note of caution – be careful not to add too much extra liquid or the macarons won’t rise properly. I have most definitely made this mistake many a time before! You can avoid this issue by using paste/powder food colourings instead, but I’ve not acquired any as yet.

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Also, if you are just starting out with macaron making, and need a bit of extra guidance, I’ve discovered a rather brilliant macaron troubleshooting guide on Adriano Zumbo’s website which is extremely useful.

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Millionaire’s Shortbread

I should have long been in bed, but I was in the kitchen rubbing flour between my fingers. Why I sometimes get the urge to bake at an ungodly hour is still a mystery to me. I knew it would be worth it though, I had Millionaire’s Shortbread to look forward to at the end.

It’s the perfect treat to perk you up the next tedious day at work. Not only is the name luxuriously decadent, but Millionaire’s Shortbread is the combination of three very good things indeed. Crumbly-buttery biscuit, sweet-chewy caramel, smooth milky chocolate, summed up into three layers of calorific bliss. 

It might seem a bit of a faff, but it’s really straightforward. The only issue is once you’ve made it at home, the supermarket stuff seems pallidly disappointing in comparison!

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The only problem here is resisting eating the whole batch! 😉

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes.co.uk

For the shortbread:

  • 170g plain flour
  • 60g caster sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g butter, cubed

For the caramel:

  • 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 120g butter, cubed

For the chocolate topping:

  • 150g milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Line a square cake tin with baking paper.

Mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles crumbs, then press into a firm dough. Squidge it to bring it together, but don’t knead or the shortbread will become tough. Press it into the base of the lined tin, prick all over with a fork, and bake in the oven for around 25-30 minutes until golden-brown.

Make the caramel while the shortbread is baking. Tip all the ingredients into a big saucepan, and stir constantly over a low heat until thickened, and darkened to a caramel colour. It will take a long time but persevere! You want it to reach the stage where it is thick enough you can drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan and leave a clear trail.

Tip the caramel over the shortbread, and smooth over evenly. Then melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, and pour this over the caramel. Pop into the fridge for 30 minutes to set, then cut into squares.

 

Double Chocolate Loaf Cake

After any run, my iPod congratulates me on running another 500km. It’s enormously ego-boosting, but somewhat mistaken. I may no longer be in slothful hibernation, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of regaining the half-marathon fitness of yesteryear.

I had a really productive Saturday in terms of getting up early, and getting lots done before lunchtime. As well as slotting in the early morning run, I also had this baked, and really to be scoffed before half the house had even woken up. Oh how I love baking in an empty kitchen…

There was week-old pot of whipping cream in the fridge, two-thirds full. It still seemed okay, and I wanted to use it up. In the end I turned towards Ottolenghi.

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Ottolenghi: The Cookbook has a recipe for chocolate cupcakes. I wasn’t in a cupcakes mood, but I reckoned it might work as a loaf cake too. I made quite a lot of modifications. As well as sour cream being substituted with week-old-whipping cream, I also didn’t have any black treacle, or even vegetable oil handy. Luckily, the cake recipe was quite happy to accommodate my numerous changes!

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Remember to cover the top of the cake with foil 30 minutes into baking, or the top tends to get slightly scorched, oops! I hate it when that happens.

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The cake’s texture is surprisingly light, a crisp crust of an exterior hiding the temptingly dark, soft crumb inside. The extra chunks of milk chocolate add a burst of milky sweetness. I can see why this works well in cupcakes, because the cake is plain enough to be a great pairing with a really rich chocolate ganache. It’s also substantial enough that a slice of this really helps to fill out those midmorning munchies! 🙂

Next time I might try replacing the cream with yoghurt, and see how that turns out, and I would be curious to note how using treacle instead of golden syrup would alter the flavour.

Also I realise that it’s Easter weekend, and I suck at managing to bake anything seasonally themed at the right time of year. Some of my easter egg chocolate contributed towards the chocolate quota within this cake …. no, doesn’t count?

Double Chocolate Loaf Cake

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

  • 2 eggs
  • 115ml whipping cream
  • 100g butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 60g light brown sugar
  • 30g golden syrup
  • 120g plain flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 150g milk chocolate, chopped up into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 2 lb loaf tin.

Melt the butter in a pan, and set to one side to cool slightly. Beat together the eggs, cream, sugar and golden syrup, followed by the cooled melted butter.

Separately, mix together all the dry powdery ingredients, and then tip into the  bowl of liquid ingredients. Fold together to combine, then mix in the chocolate pieces.

Transfer the cake mixture into the loaf tin, smooth the top, then pop into the oven to bake for around 45 minutes until springy and cooked through. Cover the top with tinfoil at 30 minutes to stop the top from burning.

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Banana Bread

This time last year I was in Australia.

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Whether it was the experience of travelling, or the break from daily stresses, I came back feeling refreshed, and enlived with a new zest for living.

Yesterday, sat with fellow disillusioned companions, we discussed the pros and cons of emigrating Down Under in search of a better life. It’s not a straightforward process, and I don’t think I would find the move easy. Yet at times, the idea of escape is unbelieveably tempting.

There are beauties in the UK that I would certainly miss. Spring is a joyful season in England. It’s vivid, and amazingly cathartic. Everywhere, bluebells, clustered thickly under the dappled light-shade of English woodland. Bright green life springing up.

While I’m here, how about an edible reminder of my Australian adventures? I realise Banana Bread is not Australian per say, but they seem to be big fans of loaf cakes Down Under. In cafes everywhere, slabs of thickly iced banana and carrot loaves behind the counter.

So here’s mine.

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I’m generally not a fan of icing, so this cake remains resolutely uniced. Damp and thickly cut, deeply flavoured and wholesomely delicious.

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Banana Bread

Adapted from Sophie Dahl’s recipe 

  • 75g salted butter, softened
  • 160g light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 4 bananas, mashed into a pulp
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 170g wholemeal plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a loaf tin.

Beat the butter and sugar together til soft, then beat in the egg, vanilla extract, followed by the mashed banana.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder together. Add to the rest of the ingredients, and fold in with a spatula. Spoon into the loaf tin, and smooth the surface. Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden and springy. You might need to cover the top with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent the top from burning. As with all banana breads, this is either best eaten straight out of the oven, or wrapped up for 1-2 days to let the flavour develop. Yummy 🙂

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Vanilla Layer Cake

Sundays are bittersweet.

There’s the luxuriant lie-in, no shrill alarm to wake you up at an ungodly hour. Then the slow pottering around, or brisk morning run in the bright daylight to buoy the spirits. But as the sun starts to drop, and the evening draws close, there’s the creeping heaviness that comes with the realisation that tomorrow is the first day of the working week. It grows as you prepare, switch your alarm clock back on for 6am, get ready for bed.

Once Monday arrives, bar the painful first awakening, it’s the same as any other day. But as it draws to a close, you look forward now, to the next weekend, only four days away. You’re already one step closer.

Sometimes, life has to be bittersweet. You appreciate the best bits all the more. A weekend wouldn’t be the same without a working week, would it?

The same applies for a successful spell of baking. Lately, everything has been slightly off. No flabbergasting disasters, but a fair few that haven’t worked right.

Of course, trying new recipes is doomed to result in a few fails, but I also had issues with my old faithfuls. A careless hand with the baking powder or the salt…and hey presto, you have a cake that just isn’t as nice as it ought to be.

It’s disappointing. But it means that when a bake works out, I’m even more delighted.

This cake came out of the oven soft, light, moist and full of flavour.

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Experimenting aside, I always return to the classic victoria sponge ratios. The main problem with these cakes is they tend to dry out quickly, and so are at their best at the point of baking. The solution to this is to brush the warm cakes with a thin sugar syrup, which ensures they stay fresh for longer. I had never really tried this technique out properly before, so I thought I would finally give this a try.

The baking process was a little laborious as I only had one tiny cake tin. After the batter had been made, it was a fraught process watching each tiny cake bake, washing out the pan quickly and repeating it over again.

It was totally worth it.

The finished cake was a glory of fluffy sponge, sticky jam, and dreamy vanilla mascarpone cream. I much prefer mascarpone to buttercream as it is not only less sickly, but stays creamy at room temperature. I’m also very impressed by the keeping properties of using sugar syrup, and will definitely be using this in future cakes that can’t be gobbled up straight out of the oven.

I had loads of white chocolate cigarillos leftover from the making of this cake, so I thought I’d adorn this little mini version with a few too.

Vanilla Layer Cake

Makes a 3 layer 10cm cake

For the sponge:

  • 110g Stork margarine or very soft butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 110g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

For the sugar syrup:

  • 5 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste

For the icing:

  • 200g mascarpone
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • good-quality raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Make the sponge by whisking butter and sugar together until fluffy, then adding in the eggs, vanilla and salt, and whisking thoroughly. Then gently fold in the flour and baking powder, and add enough milk to loosen the batter to dropping consistency. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until springy.

While the cakes are baking, make the sugar syrup by bringing all the ingredients to the boil, then taking off the heat and leaving to cool.

Prick the cakes all over with a skewer, and brush with the syrup while the sponge is still warm. Leave to cool completely.

Make the mascarpone cream by beating the mascarpone together with icing sugar and vanilla until creamy. Then spread a layer of mascarpone cream onto each cake layer, followed by a layer of jam, and sandwich them together. Finally cover the exterior of the cake with remaining mascarpone cream.

Keep the cake somewhere cool until ready to be served.