Friday, 22 November 2013

Everyone loves a macaron...

I normally make big things. A big, rustic loaf of bread. A big joint of beef. A big mess... you get the idea. I thought I'd go for refinement this week though and knock up a batch of macarons. 

I adore macarons - I've been fortunate enough to go to Laduree on the Champs Elysee to sample them and could literally wolf down a dozen of the chewy, crispy morsels in one go if it wouldn't cripple my wallet. I've never made them though but have seen dozens of people do them on TV so thought I'd have a go. 

175g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
3 large free range egg whites
75g caster sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan140°C/gas 3. Sift the icing sugar and almonds into a bowl.

2) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thick and glossy. I also added some food colouring and cherry flavouring - you can add almost any flavour, just remember to avoid oil based flavourings as this will destroy the integrity of the meringue.

3) Fold half the almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue and mix well. Add the remaining half, and fold the mixture until it is shiny and has a thick, ribbon-like consistency as it falls from the spatula. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle.

4) Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Pipe small rounds of the macaroon mixture, about 3cm across (I drew round a pot of bicarb to give me guide lines to pipe to), onto the baking sheets. Give the baking sheets a sharp tap on the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles. Leave to stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to form a slight skin. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

5) Fill the macarons and sandwich together - I use passionfruit and lemon curd but you could use buttercream, jam or ganache

For a first effort they turned out pretty well - crispy and chewy, although I wasn't too pleased with the colour. However, winging their way to me is a set of Wilton colour pastes so I can get a really intense colour next time. (That's a mini cake stand in the pic, I haven't made giant macarons!)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Get out of bed bread

How many times do TV chefs bang on about making your own bread and how easy it is? Of course they're right - it IS easy and I love doing it but often I just don't have the time. I used to have a sourdough starter. In fact, the first few posts on this blog are about it but I rarely got to make a loaf with it. It wasn't practical for me to make one during the week when I was at work as it would have over-proved and if I was out of the weekend it wouldn't get a look in then, either.

I have since discovered the absolute joy of soda bread. I don't have kids but I imagine it would be fab to do with them as not only is it ridiculously simple but it's so quick - this weekend it was ready within an hour of getting up out of bed. It's best eaten on the day but makes good toast the next day

You need:

450g strong white bread flour
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml buttermilk
tepid water - about 6 tbsp / 90ml

The buttermilk I buy comes in 284ml cartons but my digital scales tell me that if I scrape every last bit out, it generally comes to 300ml. Otherwise use a little plain, live yoghurt to make up the difference.

1) Preheat your oven to 200 / 180 degrees C (conventional / fan)

2) Lightly grease a baking tray

3) Sift the flour, salt and bicarb into a mixing bowl

4) Pour in the buttermilk and water and combine the ingredients with your hands or a wooden spoon to form a very soft dough

5) Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and shape into a round about 7 inches in diameter. Place on the baking tray and using a sharp knife, slash a cross shape into the top

6) Bake for 30 mins, then turn the loaf upside down and bake for a further 10-15 mins until it sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack