Cakes and Calligraphy

Happy Easter everyone!

I’ve been enjoying the last couple of days off from work,  and it has been a blissful time filled with leisurely lie-ins, lazy lunches, and plenty of retail therapy. It was so nice not to worry about all the usual holiday palaver of flights, accommodation, and struggling with directions in a strange destination, but I certainly managed to consume plenty of cake and empty my wallet shopping!

P1070718

I sadly didn’t photograph all the cakes but we ate delicious sticky toffee tweener from Selfridges, sugary doughnuts from Bread Ahead, and gorgeous french patisserie from Le Patisserie des Reves.

P1080172

P1080184

I oohed and ahhed over beautiful cake displays, and pink flowers galore. The floral displays outside Liberty never fail to impress.

P1070721

I dragged poor A along for a calligraphy class which was so interesting – now I see what I’ve been doing wrong all along, and now I’ve got all the equipment handy will be keen to continue practising!

IMG_2159

Work hasn’t been great recently, and it’s been a real struggle getting myself to keep going every day. I’ve been thinking about ways to try and make my free time go further, and I think this break was a great way of utilising time without spending ridiculous amounts or going to a huge effort.

More and More Salted Caramel Macarons

Is it even possible to be drowned in macarons of your own making?

Possibly.

Especially in my household, where I have gone wild with macaron making, and churned out a factory load. Salted caramel anyone?

DSC_0579

Of course, having not made them for a while, I had a few slip ups along the way. I based this on the Pierre Hermé recipe, which is wonderful, but I had to make a few adjustments based on what I had available. Instead of coffee extract I added a few drops of caramel flavouring to the macaron batter, and added some brown food colouring to prevent the macarons looking too garishly yellow.

DSC_0648 (1)

Don’t get too ambitious about the caramel. I thought I would try and get it as dark as I could, but just ended up burning it. The second batch, made more cautiously, turned out much better.

DSC_0604

I really wanted a few flowers to decorate these photos, one of the sad times when I wish I still had a garden. Instead I slipped out in the rain to the nearest park, and picked a few wild blooms to scatter. I think it makes quite a pretty, albeit short-lived effect.

DSC_0675

I think I have to resign myself to the fact that my flat has a pretty crap oven. The heat just doesn’t distribute evenly enough. My macarons look pretty, and taste lovely, but are exceptionally delicate, and certainly can’t be transported anywhere. With a bit more temperature/time adjustment, oven tray manipulation, door acrobatics and perhaps simply a new oven I’ll figure a way around it. In the meantime, there are these to be eaten, and plenty too!

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?

DSC_0494 (1)

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.

DSC_0495 (1)

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!

DSC_0500 (1)

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.

DSC_0529 (1)

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.

The Best of 2014

I have epic Quality Street withdrawal symptoms. This consists of my eyes honing in on anything purple and plastic, and poking around hopefully around all the cupboards in case I hid some chocolates in one of them. My pockets rustle with empty foil wrappers.

Last year, I wrote a recap post. There’s been so much baking in 2014 I knew I’d do it again. I’ve really stretched myself in so many ways, trying difficult techniques, and a heck a lot of French patisserie. So here we go!

The year started off with setting myself the challenge of conquering River Café’s infamous chocolate nemesis. What a way to start January.

DSC07018

Buoyed from my first challenge, I finally braved the italian meringue method of macaron-making. With Pierre Hermé’s book, there was no stopping me! I baked and baked and baked, and my family pleaded with me that they were all mightily sick of macarons.

DSC07592

On a similarly Parisian theme, I had to bake fresh fruit tartlets, and these strawberry beauties had me sold.

DSC07804

Then even more French patisserie with the Gateau L’Opera

P1040014

Perhaps a change from French indulgence. This summery red, white and blue cheesecake was absolutely delicious, and required no baking at all. Less of a French theme going on, unless you just count the colours.

DSC_7156-1

Many birthdays followed, requiring the obligatory inclusion of chocolate cake. Never put birthday candles on this cake in 30˚C heat – it melteth….

P1030856

Then time for something savoury with these chorizo sausage rolls which were the BEE’S KNEES and sure to get another outing in the future!
P1040491

And then, come Christmas, bringing in the festivity with these gorgeous mince pies. I couldn’t stop making these over and over again.

P1040762

For 2015, there’s a few things I’d like to get to grips with.

Red velvet cake has always been a tricky one with me, so I’d love to find a recipe I was 100% happy with. Then in the savoury department, perhaps I’ll finally get round to making a pie that doesn’t contain apple! Pork pie anyone? Then perhaps more experimentation with yeast – brioche, and maybe a homemade Panettone next Christmas!

Let’s see what happens :).

Happy New Year! 

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.

P1040419

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.

P1040439

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.

P1040435

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!*

P1040441

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!

Raspberry Bakewell Tartlets

Reading back on my earlier blog posts conjures up funny feelings. I wrote in a different, more burbly style, in a voice that undoubtably sounds more teenagery than my current one (although I was sadly, not). The first time I posted this Bakewell Tart feels like an age away. I was still a student, stressed about exams and training for a marathon I never actually ended up running. I was living in the tiniest room in central London, where all my furniture had to be carefully rearranged if I was to attempt to do so much as a push-up. I could hear every word of the intimate midnight conversations of the flat below me. And my neighbours had a propensity for neon pink boxer shorts.

Well now it’s increasingly like Autumn, although I baked these tarts when it was still Summer. I live in a house again, instead of a flat, and I’m sure I would have to shout quite loudly for my neighbours to hear what I was saying indoors. So when I baked this Bakewell Tart again, it was with rather different feelings in mind.

P1030923

It’s funny that Bakewell Tart should be so very English in nature, when essentially, it’s a frangipane tart (which we think of as being French) with a layer of jam inside. Its so much better with the extra jam though! I had a lack of flaked almonds, which I usually use as a topping. Instead I plopped a handful of raspberries onto each tart, and it worked really well.

P1030917

I really like the way the raspberries on top have added a wonderfully complementary burst of juicy fruity flavour. They also kept their shape marvellously. Previously I used blueberries for a similar tart, and they disappeared during baking, leaving rather odd looking black pock-marks on the surface of the tart. I thought the flavours might be too rich for the little ones around, but they wolfed the tarts down and begged for more! Awww, brings a warm glow when my baking gets that kind of response!
blaknk 
To save reposting the recipe, you can find it in my previous post on Bakewell Tart.

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:

P1040014

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!

P1040012

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!

P1030995

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!

P1030990

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.

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!

P1030928

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.

P1030925

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.

P1030032

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!