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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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!

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.

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! 

Raspberry Macarons

When I was last in France, I spent my evenings glued to the screen watching Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier. The incredible creations the contestants are expected to come up with….phew. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Lately, I’ve had an increasingly strong desire to hop onto the Eurostar and go for a weekend in Paris, just to soak up all the incredible patisserie. Whilst I think London has a strong food scene, Paris still leads in this field.

In the meantime, I needed a little fix, so I made some more macarons.

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I’m so glad I finally purchased Pierre Hermé’s book Macarons, where it can proudly join Larousse des desserts in fat-filled glory. After making his salted caramel macarons a total of six times, ’twas about time I tried a different flavour.

One of the most difficult aspects of macaron-making is getting the colouring spot on. I keep forgetting that natural colours don’t show up on the shell after baking. When I first made these macarons, I tossed some freeze-dried raspberry powder in for colour and flavour. Grumpy noises ensued when I discovered the biscuit-coloured result.

Round 2, and I slugged in the red and pink food colouring as liberally as I dared. I also made the call of not adding freeze-dried powder, as this definitely seemed to have a darkening effect! The batter came out a vibrant watermelon pink, and hoorah, this time they definitely worked. I’m definitely buying a collection of colouring pastes so I can be more daring with my colours without worrying about the texture.

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Tartes aux Fraises

Picture this – it’s a balmy summer day, early afternoon. There’s a faint breeze. It’s warm, fragrant. You’re relaxed against the tickly long grass, your feet bathing in the sunshine. And packed in your bag, a picnic lunch. Cold cuts, a crusty loaf of bread, crunchy salads. And to finish off, these little tartlets. Crisp pastry, cool creamy créme mousseline, and the juiciest of the season’s strawberries.

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I used my favourite rich buttery pastry recipe. Pierre Hermé, Christophe Felder, and Dorie Greenspan in Paris Sweets all have a recipe for this, in startlingly similar proportions, so there must be something to it.

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Aside from this, I used the créme mousseline recipe from Paris Sweets, and finished off with some beautifully sweet local strawberries from the market. Finally, I garnished the tarts with a sprinkling of chopped green pistachios, and a lick of raspberry glaze for extra shine.

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These tarts are best assembled just before eating. As there were only a few mouths this week, I only made 3 tarts. Despite Dorie advising us not to reduce the quantity of créme mousseline, I reduced it by one-third because I didn’t have enough milk anyways, and it turned out fine.

Strawberry tarts are an excellent recipe to assemble in parts. I made up the pastry on Sunday, and popped it into the fridge to chill. On Monday I made up the créme patissière, and lined my tart tins with pastry. On Tuesday, I baked up the tarts, added the extra butter into the créme patissière to turn it into a créme mousseline, and voila.

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The créme mousseline caused me a little angst because when I first beat in the butter, it looked curdled and yellow – not the light cream I had envisaged. However, turns out it’s just like crème au beurre, and just requires a lot of patience, and hard work from your electric whisk. Eventually, the curdled mixture metamorphosised into the lightest of pale silky creams.

I also didn’t have any redcurrant jelly handy for the glaze, so did this instead: mixed a spoonful of raspberry jam with a spoonful of liquid glucose. Heated it until liquid, added a squeeze of lemon juice, and then sieved through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumpy bits.

I’ve made many a strawberry tart before in my lifetime, but these were officially the best ever. It was unbelieveable how light the créme mousseline was, and it beautifully enhanced the crispness of the pastry, and sweetness of the strawberries. The pistachios, as well as adding a little sprinkle of greenery, also added extra flavour and textural contrast. A true taste of summer holidays in France, in the form of these very summery sweet tarts to enjoy!

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.

Salted Caramel Macarons

My favourite macaron flavour is definitely salted caramel. It’s so addictive. I’m not alone in thinking this.  I was once standing in a queue at the Pierre Hermé counter in Selfridges, and every single person in front of me got a salted caramel macaron as part of their purchases.

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After cracking the art of salted caramel, and my bounty still stashed in the fridge, I thought that this lent itself perfectly to salted caramel macarons being my next bake.

This time, instead of turning to my old faithful Ottolenghi recipe, I thought I would finally try making macarons using Pierre Hermé’s italian meringue method. I gleaned the recipe off the internet. Still dithering about buying his macaron cookbook. I possess Hermé’s Larousse des Desserts, and it’s pretty intimidating.

Anyway, I followed the basic macaron recipe for the shells here, so there isn’t any extra colouring or flavouring there. I think it would definitely benefit from the addition of coffee extract for colouring and flavouring.

The original recipe states the macarons should be cooked at 180˚C, but they turned out crispy and overbaked, so for chewy macaron perfection, definitely lower the temperature to 160˚C! The filling turned out to be very buttery too so I might re-try that with different proportions of sugar, butter and cream.

Recipe updated 29th April 2014: see my post here

Rough Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is the sort of recipe that requires a lot of time. It’s tremendously satisfying when it all goes right, but it does need a good two days where you’re quite happy to potter around the kitchen with a rolling pin.
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Right now I barely have time to cook dinner, let alone make anything as complex as pastry by hand – but I do have a recipe saved up for you for that rainy day weekend when nothing else but homemade puff pastry will do. It’s not the traditional method (which is the one that requires 2 whole days); this recipe will only take up a few hours of your time, but it is still a fab recipe. The layers don’t rise quite as beautifully as traditional puff, but you still get a very impressive rise, along with meltingly flaky texture. Not healthy in the slightest.
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When I made this pastry, I froze half of it away, and with the rest I made some sweet almond puff pastry straws. I’m still tinkering with the recipe (think almond croissant flavours) to get it perfect, but you’ll be sure to see it when I do.
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Rough Puff Pastry
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Roughly translated from Pierre Hermé’s Les Larousse des Desserts
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  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g very cold unsalted butter
  • 5g table salt
  • 150ml very cold water

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl, then to this, small pieces of butter. Rub it in roughly as though making a crumble but stop halfway when there are still lumps of butter in the mixture. Add the water little by little, and bind the pastry together into a rough-looking ball of dough. Wrap up in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Once the pastry has rested long enough, lightly flour a worksurface, and roll it out into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold it into three like a letter, which forms the first “fold”. Let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

After resting, turn it 90˚, roll it out into a rectangle the same size as before, and fold the second time. Continue, until the dough has had a total of 3 folds, with a 30 minute rest in the fridge between each fold. Keep the dough in the fridge until it is ready to use.