Lemon Curd Macarons

When I first moved into the new flat, I was thankful to find out that it could bake a cake perfectly well. Then I got a hankering to bake macarons again; it had been a year since my last batch and wouldn’t it be a great test for the oven?

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They flopped, badly. I had used my hitherto almost foolproof recipe, so was aghast when I opened the oven to see some very sorry specimens, covered with cracks, and not a foot to be seen. I baked a second batch and found exactly the same problem had occurred. Third time lucky? No chance.

So I attacked the box of eggs, stocked up on ground almonds and icing sugar, and prepared to get to the bottom of what was causing my macarons to fail. After a lot of trial, error, cursing and using up approximately 15 eggs in 2 days, I think I’m getting there. Thanks A, for eating a 9 egg yolk omelette.

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Firstly, humidity levels are higher by the sea. I’ve needed to rest the macarons for much longer in order to get the shells to dry out.

Secondly, I’m getting used to using a gas oven for the first time. I’ve noticed the macaron shells brown on the bases far more quickly than they used to, and this makes sense given that the main heat source is coming from below. However, this extra burst of heat is also causing the shells to crack on top too.

So here’s what I did.

To counteract the humidity, I tried to dry out my icing sugar and ground almond mixture as much as possible by putting it in the airing cupboard overnight. Then whilst resting the trays of macarons, I left all the windows open to increase the air flow through the house to dry them out. It took around 40 minutes of resting compared to my usual 15 minutes.

Then I doubled up the baking trays in the oven to reduce the excessive amount of heat coming up below the baking macarons. I then adjusted the oven to sit between Gas Mark 2 to 4 to see which held the greatest level of success. Gas Mark 2.5 turned out to be the winner.

The remaining flaw with these macarons is they still have the dreaded hollow shells, which I am going to continue to work on in my next batch!

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I was so busy at trying to get perfectly risen macarons that I had barely even considered what they would be filled with. In the end, I stuck for a sweet and tangy homemade lemon curd. This was roughly based on the Pierre Herme recipe in my Macarons book. I’ve included a quick recipe for this below.

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Tangy Lemon Curd

Mix together two egg yolks and 1 whole egg, 125g caster sugar, and the zest and juice of two lemons. Whisk gently in a bowl sat over a pan of simmering water, until thickened. Then sieve the curd, and blitz in cubes of 100g lightly salted butter until smooth with a handheld blender.

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Marbled Chocolate and Vanilla Weekend Cake

Given my long working hours, it always amazes me how I manage to slip in so much baking. Often it’s a blessedly quiet weekend here, or a quick evening bake where I’ve prepped all the ingredients before heading out to work (great way for making sure butter softens to room temperature).

Even more so, it’s about swift, easy bakes. Something to cut into doorstep slices and savour with a steamingly hot drink. So after that languishingly long day at work, there’s something that brings a smile to my tired face, and fills in the gaps in my growling tum.

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A weekend cake (or cake weekend en français) fits this bill perfectly. From what I can gather, it seems to be a style of pound cake particular to France, which is so named, because the cake is made and enjoyed over the weekend. Cream replaces half the butter, and the remaining butter is melted and gently stirred in at the end, making a tightly-crumbed cake that is best baked into a loaf shape, and sturdy enough to be transported to picnics or sit magnificently over the kitchen counter, looking decorative.

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Creating two batters for this marble cake does require a little more effort in the kitchen – an extra bowl and spatula to wash up afterwards, and a dab hand with layering. The chocolate batter was much thicker after I had swirled in the chocolate, and I managed to dab it in a layer with the aid of a spoon. Puzzlingly, I noticed on cutting the cake that most of the vanilla sponge seems to have disappeared!

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It’s a pleasantly tasty cake, perhaps a little drier than I would like, but I suspect that’s because it sat in the oven for a lot longer than I expected. The original recipe states 45-50 minutes, but I baked it for 1 hour 15 minutes in total. I’m not sure if it’s an issue with my oven in particular. Next time, I would increase the temperature slightly, and I have altered the recipe below to adjust for this.

Marbled Chocolate and Vanilla Weekend Cake

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

For the cake:

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 120g butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 120ml whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 220g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 10g dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the syrup:

  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp water

Melt the dark chocolate and set to one side to cool slightly. Melt the butter separately.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C and prepare a 2lb/1kg loaf tin.

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar and whipping cream. Whisk in the vanilla paste. Then using a spatular, fold in the flour and baking powder, followed by the cooled melted butter.

Remove about half the batter (around 440g) into another bowl, and fold in the melted chocolate.

In the loaf tin, spoon in one third of the vanilla cake batter, followed by half the chocolate cake batter. Sprinkle over half the chopped chocolate. Then spoon over another third of vanilla cake batter, then the remaining chocolate batter. Sprinkle over the rest of the chopped chocolate, and finally spoon over the last third of the vanilla cake batter.

Pop the cake into the oven and bake for around 50 minutes until risen and a sharp knife comes out clean. Brush the syrup over the cake until all used up and leave to cool.

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Fall into this Chocolate Cake

Three-thirty in the afternoon.

Hungrily snapping up the last of the mellow January sunlight.

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Trying to capture the sheen of the crackly surface, of this almost flourless chocolate cake. The sides standing proudly tall, the centre deeply cratered. Tenatively hiding behind its uneven planes, lies the darkest, richest melt-in-your-mouth-texture.

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A rich cake, perfect for sharing. In teeny slices, a flake of salt to whet the tastebuds, and a spoonful of smooth, cold, sharp cream.

Another treat for my self-dubbed “Chocolate January.” The recipe can be found in my old post here.

This almost flourless chocolate cake doesn’t contain any raising agent, so the rise relies entirely on whisking prowess. If you don’t want it to puff up so dramatically, simply whisk the mixture for a shorter period of time.

I think it would be perfectly amenable to adaptation with the addition of some ground nuts, or a drop of citrus oil. Play around with the flavours, it’s a perfect blank canvas!

Pierre Hermé Lemon Tart

This was going to be the year I finally tried baking pumpkin pie. Only when I got into Waitrose, they were point blank sold out of tinned pumpkin purée and I felt too lazy to roast and sieve out my own.

I always get this urge to bake all sorts of American-esque treats, graveyeard cakes and ghoulish fake fingers at Halloween but I usually never bother. Then Bonfire Night rolls around in quick succession, and before you know it, time for Christmas festivities and all that jazz.

But this year the weather has been playing funny. Although its November, the blue skies and warm temperatures are confusing me. What season is it supposed to be? My bake this weekend was more redolent of Summer, though I didn’t quite finish it time before the skies darkened, so there was a reminder that it is indeed the more wintry part of the year.

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When I tried the Dorie Greenspan Whole Lemon Tart recipe I published a few weeks ago, I felt it had a nice lemony flavour, but I was looking for a smoother, more creamy filling. This Pierre Hermé recipe looked just the ticket. I found the recipe on The Boy Who Bakes.

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For such a simple-looking tart, it turned out to be quite difficult. I can’t remember ever having had so many problems with my pâte sucrée before. I remade my tart case four times because it either splintered apart, or the sides slid down and deformed. On the penultimate attempt, I lined the tart with foil, only for it to stick fast, and then had an accident where it fell onto the floor and went splat.

Before you start thinking it’s all doom and gloom, let me get onto the best part of this tart, which is the curd filling. It is tangy, beautifully lemon, yet not too sweet, and tastes like a dream. Unlike the pastry, I didn’t have any problems at all. Although the recipe stated to heat it to 82˚C, it only ever reached 70˚C, but this didn’t affect the thickening process in the slightest.

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What looks like an innocent lemon curd contains an alarming quantity of butter. 300g to be precise. It makes me a little uncomfortable thinking about it! Next time, I will most definitely experiment with reducing this, as it seems a little excessive having more than one pat of butter in a single dessert. In fact, if you include the pastry, there’s probably more than two! Ergh!*

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I feel that the blogging baking craze has really quieted down from three years ago. Is this just me, or have others noticed this too? I know interest levels wax and wane, but it’s really sad to see a lot of my favourite bloggers stop posting! I miss all the weird and wacky ideas that used to constantly engage and excite me. I notice that when more successful bloggers write and publish a cookbook, that’s when the blog starts to fall by the wayside. I imagine the cookbook writing process is so intensive that you’re desperate to do something different after it’s finished, and then by that means, drift away from the blogging world. It’s such a shame, though I imagine it’s also hard always coming up with new material.

*I’ve halved the butter content since, and  although it’s not quite as thick, it does taste more or less the same. Hoorah! Still rich and lemony, but less likely to give you heart disease!

Whole Lemon Tart

What will I do now Great British Bake Off 2014 is over? No longer can I plonk myself in front of a screen every Wednesday evening, mesmerised by an alterate reality dusted with flour and icing sugar. Of course, I carry on baking.

I really was gunning for Nancy in the final, so I’m so pleased that she won. Of course Richard wowed consistently throughout the series, and Luis’ creations were stunning, but it’s so lovely to actually have an grandmother baking tasty treats for her children and grandkids winning the show. I also enjoyed the fact that the technical challenge reintroduced the basics again. I would love it if all the contestants were pitted against one another on the simplest of recipes, to really challenge them against one another. There’s nowhere to hide with them, after all!

Now in the Great British Bake Off final, the contestants were tasked with making a so-called simple tart au citron. I had a lot of pastry ends to use up, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never made a tart au citron before, so it was a bit of a new adventure!

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Well, this tarte au citron was kinda different from Mary Berry’s version. I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. This recipe involves blitzing an entire lemon into a purée, and enfolding it into a mixture of sugar, eggs, butter and a little cornflour.

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It looks very different from the versions I’ve been used to seeing! The pastry case encloses a bubbly sticky lemon filling that’s like chewy toffees in texture. You only need a thin sliver – it’s rich stuff. The pastry looks very dark in the photos but I promise it isn’t burnt.

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I looked online afterwards to see that a lot of people had problems with this lemon tart recipe. Issues included the filling not setting, being too sweet, too sour, cooking too fast, spilling over and separating out so the butter ended up floating on top. Hmmm, unappealling.

My lemon had a thick layer of white pith, so I followed the advice online and cut some of this away, making up the weight with a small piece of a second lemon. This seemed to work pretty well. Would I make this tart again? I’m not completely sure. I think Dorie Greenspan’s recipe needs a few alterations to make it workable in my kitchen. Here’s my version below.

Whole Lemon Tart

Adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

  • shortcrust pastry
  • 130g lemon
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 1 heaped tbsp cornflour
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a 24cm tart case with shortcrust pastry and pop into the fridge to chill. Prick the base with a fork, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 160˚C.

Cut the lemon(s) into thin slices, removing the seeds. If there is a lot of white pith, remove half of this. Blitz the lemon in a blender with the sugar until puréed. Then pour into a bowl and whisk lightly with the eggs and cornflour. Slowly pour in the melted cooled butter and whisk into combine.

Pour the lemon filling into the tart case, making sure you leave a lip of pastry around the edge to allow for the filling bubbling up when it is cooking. Pop the tart into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned. Leave to cool to room temperature before slicing and eating.

A Little Opéra

The Great British Bake Off has been compelling me to bake bake bake! Perhaps not in the direction I was expecting though. After watching last week’s episode, you’d think that I’d have fougasse on the brain, or perhaps a chicken tikka stromboli (british-indian-italian fusion anyone?) but instead I baked this:

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Oh Gâteau L’Opéra, I thought I was done with you last time.

I totally blame Paul and Mary.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went this time. I had planned to break the making down into manageable chunks spread over several days. Thursday – concoting the coffee syrup and the coffee extract. Friday – buttercream and ganache. Saturday – assembling everything and finishing off the glaze.

Then I got impatient, and decided I couldn’t wait any longer. So come Friday evening, I’d used up every single mixing bowl in the kitchen, and there was an absolutely enormous scrumptious coffee-flavoured confection chilling merrily in the fridge. Excellent!

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First time round, I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. On this occasion, I replaced the joconde sponge recipe with the one in Christophe Felder’s PatisserieI also doubled the quantity of coffee syrup by accident, but somehow managed to use all of it up anyway!

Despite the gigantic 30cm x 30cm cake this produces, and the many eggs you consume along the way, Dorie Greenspan recommends you do not halve the cake ingredients, and now I can see her point. When you put so much time and energy into making a complex cake like this one, why not bake a big one, and freeze half of it for another time?

I cut a large rectangle from the cake, and squeezed this into my tiny freezer. The remaining pieces I cut into slices and photographed. The sun kept popping out and retreating, so it was a bit of a challenge shooting this with manual settings as I had to keep changing the shutter speed and aperture settings.

Visually, I’m really pleased with how the cake turned out. The sponges and layers of filling stayed nicely level, and I had just the right quantity of ingredients for every step. More importantly, it tasted just as lovely as I had remembered. Buzzing on a caffeine high now!

Hazelnut Praline Dacquoise

There comes an untameable desire to bake things weird, wonderful and off the wall whenever I have leftover half-used ingredients in the fridge. As you can imagine, some of the results are horrifically bad. Luckily, this minature hazelnut praline dacquoise was not!

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I had half a bowl of leftover hazelnut praline buttercream from Pierre Hermé’s Pietra Macarons. I’d also lately acquired Christophe Felder’s neon pink tome Patisserie. Combining his hazelnut dacquoise recipe with the remaining buttercream seemed only natural.

P1030993As I had a relatively small quantity of buttercream leftover, I divided the dacquoise recipe by three. The method was incredibly similar to the french meringue method of making macarons, but given that macarons are essentially a form of ground nuts suspended within a meringue this is not all that surprising. When I think about it, this dacquoise was actually lot more straightfoward than making macarons – no sifting, no delicate piping, sheet slamming or resting required!

The divided quantity made just enough mixture to cover one baking sheet. After all the cutting and trimming, I was left with a very small rectangle of cake! Mary Berry makes a similar cake where circles of dacquoise are piped instead of a rectangle. I imagine this would result in fewer offcuts, but perhaps a less elegantly structured cake too, unless you are lucky enough to be in possession of a pastry ring!

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It’s not the prettiest of desserts, but cut into small squares, with a dusting of icing sugar, it makes a very elegant petit-four. The dacquoise tastes deliciously nutty, and not too sweet. I’ve spotted the dacquoise formed into bite-size fingers on Tartlette’s blog, which is an inspirational idea to keep in mind for the future. I’m certainly sure I will try my hand at making more recipes from Felder’s book. There’s plenty inside to tantalise, and feed my obsession with French sweets.

Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

The first time I baked this chocolate cake, it was a resounding success. But for such a simple recipe, the next two occasions were complete flops. It had me scratching my head, wondering what went wrong.

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I mulled over it for a while.

The cake fails were an odd texture before baking. On adding the eggs, the mixture would go grainy. On baking, the cakes came out without their characteristic crackly surface, a layer of melted butter completely separated from the chocolate cake ,which in itself was unrisen, and a strange, very loose texture, that looked more akin to a cow pat than a delicious chocolate cake.

I looked a lot of factors. The eggs, the oven, the chocolate and the whole method of incorporating the ingredients. Well, after a lot of faffing about and scratching my head in puzzlement, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Not only does the melted chocolate and butter mixture have to be fairly cool before adding the eggs, everything has to be lightly mixed together with a whisk. Not just with a spatula, or a wooden spoon – specifically, a whisk. It keeps the mixture aerated, makes sure everything stays nicely emulsified, and the whisking stops it curdling once the eggs are added.

The more air you add, the more the cake will dramatically rise and fall, so it’s up to you how much of a cratered appearance you’re going for. It’s never going to be the most photogenic of chocolate cakes, but it’s stunningly delicious. I stuck with 70% cocoa, followed the recipe to a tee, with a perfectly crackly salty surface, with richly chocolatey goodness hiding beneath.

If you want a full shot of the cake, here’s one from the first time I baked it below.

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Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

  • 100g 70% dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp plain flour
  • sprinkling of flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease and line a 15cm springform cake tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or a bain-marie. Stir in the sugar and leave to cool down.

When cold, whisk in the eggs, and the plain flour. Pour into the cake tin. Level the surface and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Pop into the oven and bake for 21 minutes until the top is set. Set onto a cooling rack to cool down, and unmould. Cut into small slices with a sharp knife. Yummy warm, and cold!

Pierre Hermé Pietra Macarons

After a short break from macaron-making, you know it was time for them to make a reappearance on my blog again!

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Macarons take time to master, but after a number of attempts, you do get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t. Yet the real game-changer with macarons is how good the filling is. That’s what elevates a macaron to true deliciousness.

I had baked an array of hazelnut macaron shells which were happily awaiting some filling in the freezer. They had been in hibernation a couple of weeks before I fancied pairing them up with some praline buttercream. This is not strictly speaking an exact reincarnation of Pierre Hermé’s Pietra Macarons as I didn’t have enough ground hazelnuts for either the shells or the praline. Everything else pretty much is.

As always with a French patisserie recipe, there was much scope for error.

The issues came, as always, when it came to combining all the ingredients together. The recipe stated to delicately stir the meringue together with the beaten butter. Maybe I hadn’t whipped everything enough, or I mixed the ingredients together too firmly. Either way, the buttercream curdled. It became evident I hadn’t ground the praline finely enough either.

I had a think back to when I made Pierre Hermé’s salted caramel macarons. Again, the buttercream had split. It hadn’t incorporated a meringue, but certainly the buttercream had been fixed by vigorous chilling and whipping. What harm could it do if I tried it here?

I scraped out the buttercream from the macaron shells, dumped it all into the mixing bowl, and chilled it for about 10 minutes. Then I got out the beaters, and whipped the crap out of the buttercream. Yay, it seemed to have done the trick! The texture also changed, becoming less moussy, and more sturdy.

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The buttercream doesn’t look completely cohesive, but it compares favourably to the pictures in the book, which also feature a fairly lumpy bumpy filling.

I think the hazelnut flavour in these macarons is rather delicate. I wonder if this is partly because I used a reduced quantity of hazelnuts. Next time I make these, I’ll try and use the full amount. I’ll also grind the praline to a finer consistency, and perhaps I’ll have better luck with folding the meringue in!

On another note, I’m very pleased with how the photos are coming along with the new camera. I’ve been taking pics quite late in the evening, so there’s been a bit of a rush to catch the daylight before it goes. Bloglovin’ is also confounding me at the moment – none of the blog images are appearing on the Bloglovin’ feed. If anybody has any inkling why this might be, advice would be much appreciated! 

Apricot and Pistachio Tartlets

I’ve not been keeping up so well with the running this week. It’s a combination of finishing late at work, being stuck in many long traffic jams, and simply finding the motivation after the long hours away from home. I just want to curl up into a comfy corner, and have a little bit of domesticated me-time.

I couldn’t help but find something to bake (and also to use up the leftover pastry from Bakewell Tart making), so here is the delighful-sounding combination that is apricot and pistachio. In tartlet form.

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They were pretty, and the colours were lovely, but I was disappointed with the way they tasted. I’m not really sure why. I’ve baked with pistachios before, and loved the results. This time the pistachio filling tasted – well, rather soapy. The apricots weren’t the best specimens either – being a little crunchy and rather flavourless raw. It’s hard to get the really succulent varieties I ate in France last year over here.

So despite appearances, these tarts were sadly not ones to bake again.

I cooked the remaining apricots down with two peaches into a really rather delicious compote, so I might try out another riff on this tartlet theme and see what I come up with instead!