Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When life gives you lemons make macarons

There are situations in life when you feel completely and utterly let down by life, when the efforts you have made feel fruitless and you can be tempted to throw stones and blame everyone and yourself. It has happened to everyone at some point and I think everyone can relate to the desire to get one's own back or alternatively sink into self destructive despair about the future. You may well hear people say to cheer up and move on, when life gives you lemons and all that. To be honest I sometimes feel like saying 'I have enough lemonade, thank you very much!' So you've been churning away making lemonade and you've had enough. Well I have a sweet suggestion - lemon macarons!
When I was thinking about this recipe I thought about the inspiration and the desire to throw stones. I frequently think that macarons look like little pebbles and so I also decided to design my macarons like little stones with symbols on them, more on this later. So here's the silver lining to an annoying situation -

Lemon Macarons

The rind of 1 lemon
3 egg whites (preferly one day old and cold)
pinch of salt
75g Caster sugar
125g ground almonds
175g icing sugar
optional drops of lemon essence and yellow food colouring
Red food colouring for decoration

Beat your egg whites with the pinch of salt until fluffy. Add the caster sugar and continue to beat until you achieve firm peaks.Take the rind of one lemon and sieve it with the ground almonds and icing sugar. (This process is not easy, the ground almonds will not want to go through the sieve and I recommend weighing after you sieve as the 125g of ground almonds is important.)
Mix the almond mixture into the meringue mixture. At this stage if you wish you can add the extra lemon flavour or yellow food colouring. Be VERY careful with how much extra liquid you add as macarons are very delicate and too much liquid will ruin them completely. I choose not to add food colouring as I wanted them to look like little stones. Once the mixture has reached the stage that small bit spooned onto a plate retains no peak then put the mixture into a piping bag.
Pipe little circles of the mixture onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. To add the design I drew on the macarons with red food colouring on a tooth pick, but it is important to note that this must be done immediately before the shell hardens. Here is an example of one that worked and one that I left too late

A nicely decorated macaron (note the smooth shell)
One that I left too late (note the bumpy shell)

 Once the macarons have been decorated they should be left to dry for at least an hour before baking at medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Watch the oven carefully as much like cookies there is a very small window in which they are perfectly baked. Then you can choose the filling. I don't like filling my macarons with buttercream. Firstly because macarons as sweet enough but more importantly because I have eaten proffessional macarons that just tasted dry and disgusting because the buttercream has dried up and simultaneously dried up the whole thing. I choose to put raspberry jam and marmalade inside and they worked out very well. I would even suggest something less sweet. Then enjoy them in three little bites of delight -




Monday, February 13, 2012

A sweet idea for Valentines morning

As Valentine's day approaches I relish the opportunity to be unashamedly cliche and 'rosemantic' as my bf calls it. During my last year in America I spent literally hours lost in the aisles of heart shaped, red, pink and white Valentine's themed candy, chocolate and cakes etc. There is something so wonderfully ridiculous in the escapism that occurs around holidays. This is no ordinary day; this is a day of love, of expectations, of grandiose gestures and last minute offerings for forgiveness and yet, in fact, it is just another day.

For a great many years I disliked the day, I thought that it was invented and intended as a money grabbing event for peddlers of meaningless bunches of over-priced flowers and boxed chocolates, perhaps it is. But these days I think it is an opportunity to remind the one you love in little wonderful and perhaps cliche ways that you think they are amazing and that they are so loved. I personally believe that these little gestures should be frequent and random but I understand that it is all to easy to fall into a routine where you take each other for granted. Therefore I welcome any day that reminds and encourages people to show there love.

This year I intend to show my special someone my appreciation of them in a series of little gestures stretched out over multiple days. This started today with a Valentine's themed breakfast of homemade raspberry heart-tarts with pink lemonade icing.

Raspberry Heart-tarts with Pink Lemonade Icing

Short-crust pastry

225g plain flour
50g Icing Sugar
100g cold butter
Approx 3-4 tbsp of cold water until the dough has reached a smooth texture

Sieve the flour and icing sugar together, cut in the cold butter. Work this with a food processor or with you hands to achieve breadcrumbs (if you use your hands cool them using cold water before working). Slowly add the water mixing vigorously to achieve the smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

Pink Lemonade Icing

200g Icing sugar
2 drops red food colouring
2-3 drops lemon flavouring
1-2 tsp water until texture is smooth but firm

Sieve the icing sugar and add the drops together and the water slowly mixing constantly. Put icing into an icing bag to pipe.

Preheat your oven to 200/400/gas mark 6. Roll the dough into a 1/4 inch think and cut heart shapes using a large heart cookie cutter. Put a large spoonful of jam in the centre and cover with a second heart. Dab the edges with water and close along the edge using a fork to achieve a stitch pattern. Egg wash if you like, for these tarts I decided not to egg wash as I wanted the rough appearance, I think it looks a little more like material somehow. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes on a lined baking tray. Let them cool on a wire wrack.

Using your icing bag pipe whatever message you like...

Then brew your coffee and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cold weather and Orange and Apricot Hot Cross Buns

This winter everyone was expecting another big freeze. I was completely prepared; new hiking boots with not one but two pairs of shoe spikes, all weather tires, waterproof trousers, ski jacket and all the accessories of anti-freeze, scrappers, gloves and scarves. And what happens? It's a hot December, 20 degrees warmer than the year before. So warm in fact that it really didn't feel like Christmas when the 25th finally arrived. However now that it's spring the cold weather has come and what better weekend for snow than when I have flown over to England with nothing but a pair of converse all stars and only enough outfits for a few days. On the up side the snowy weather makes Cambridge look even better than normal.


Cold weather like this always inspires me to bake and this week in the spirit of the forthcoming lent and Easter season I decided to make Hot Crossed Buns, with a little twist of course.

Nothing beats the cold better than a hot cup of coffee and a bun!   
Orange and Apricot Hot Crossed Buns (makes 14)

1 x 7g packet of dried yeast
200ml warm milk
1 tsp Honey
500g Strong flour/Cream flour
1 tsp salt
50g Brown Sugar
2 eggs
50g melted butter
50g Candied orange peel
75g dried apricot

Warm the milk until it is luke warm and then put it in a bowl with the dried yeast and the honey. Mix thoroughly and then leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Sieve together the flour, salt and brown sugar. Melt the butter and beat the eggs into the butter. Once the yeast and milk mixture has formed a frothy top slowly mix in half of the flour. Add the rest of the flour in small sections alternated between small amounts of the egg and butter mixture. Do not add all the flour if the mixture appears to be too dry. Finally flour the fruit and add it to your dough.

Knead your dough, adding small amounts of flour when necessary, until it becomes elastic to the touch and does not stick to the surface or your hands. Place your kneaded dough into a lightly greased bowl and turn it once to get grease on all sides of the dough ball. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dish-cloth or with cling-film and allow it to proof for 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled in size remove it from the bowl and knead it again until it has lost some of it's volume. Form 14/15 even balls of dough and place them on the baking tray. Cover with the cloth/cling-film again and allow to proof for a further 45minutes/1 hour. Preheat your oven to 210 degrees celcius/400 degrees farenheit/Gas mark 6, your oven needs to be well preheated for bread baking. To make the cross form a dough from flour and water ( I also add a spoon of sugar) and roll it into thin strips to be placed on the buns just before they go into the oven. Brush the buns with an egg glaze.

Bake the buns for 15-20mins or until they are browned all over and sound hollow when tapped underneath.

While the buns are cooling brush them with a marmalade or apricot jam glaze. the glaze can be made by heating 2 tbs of the jam or marmalade with a tsp of water in the microwave. Then let the buns cool and finally enjoy them.
Someone asked me yesterday why I would bake when it was cheaper and faster to just buy things from the store. It is actually a fair question in this case considering HCBs are everywhere and but honestly the answer is simple; the pleasure of making something from scratch that turns into a delicious and beautiful treat is far more rewarding than any cheap sugar high I could ever buy.

So.........that went well......but I'm back with a bang!

At the start of the year I said that I would try to post more regularly and......yeah....that didn't happen =/ Finishing this doctorat...