Archive | October, 2009

Macaroons – Daring Bakers October Challenge

27 Oct

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macaroons. They are much-loved in my house. When I say they I mean Ladoree. For this reason this was my most difficult challenge to date. So much so that I kept putting off making them. I was very nervous about making them and making a mess of them and that’s exactly what I did. In my head I kept thinking they surely can’t be as hard as everyone says to make. They consist of four ingredients: egg whites, almonds, icing sugar and granulated sugar.

I decided on two flavours: Chocolate shells with mint chocolate ganache and berry shells with white chocolate ganache. My first batch were going well until I put them in the oven at too high a heat!!!! I read the farenheight for the celsius temperature. Major fuck up. Excuse my language but there’s no other way of putting it! I was incredibly disheartened and delayed making them yet again. In the mean time though I did do copious amounts of reading about macaroons. Tartlette makes truly wonderful macaroons and describes the process very well. The main thing to remember when making macaroons is the preparation that goes into them. You need to have at least day old room temperature egg whites, the almonds must be ground very finely and I sieved mine twice to make it finer. The batter must be not over whipped or under whipped. You need to know your oven. I fell mine should be cooked at a lower temp for longer. You should place a few sheets of baking of baking paper so they don’t stick and burn.

My second batch (chocolate shells), which I made last night came out better, except they weren’t thick enough. Although every one said pipe them in one inch circles they never said how high they should be, so these lacked in height and so did not form the famous ‘feet’ which is a little raised skirt or frill underneath the shell of each macaron.

So began the third batch (red berry shells). To add this flavour I used flavoured tea and ground them (himself got a job) in a pestal and mortar. I piped them higher and they almost formed feet. As I said previously I feel the oven temperature was too high but I was sticking to the challenge recipe, I would not recommend this recipe if you are trying these for the first time. I will be following a different recipe when i make them again.

Feet Fighting to Form

Feet Fighting to Form

Then comes the ganache…oh dear…the white chocolate was oh it was damn tasty but not thick enough for my liking. The dark mint chocolate ganache was looking great and then disaster!!! It split!!!! For those of you that don’t know, ganache is a combination of chocolate and cream. You simmer the cream gently and pour if over the chocolate to get the fat of the chocolate to mix with the water of the cream whilst stirring. My cream was clearly too hot and the fat from the chocolate rose to the top. I read that if you beat the mixture at a low speed for a few minutes it should blend them nicely back together. I did this but it still wasn’t great but I had no cream left.

Dodgy Macaroons

Dodgy Macaroons

Tough challenge this month and I would like to thank Audax for all his tips. I will be making these again once i get my head around everything that’s needed. Lists will be made and better photos will be taken. I had no interest in taking photos of macaroon shaped objects! Although, himself claims they were in his words ‘damn tasty, especially the berry ones’. He is my number one taster and I always trust his opinions. He is also a very patient man and full of encouragement and for that I thank him greatly. He also always helps cleaning up the huge mess i always make of the kichen, and for that I also thank him!


Strawberry Meringue Roulade

23 Oct

What a day! It’s the Friday of the bank holiday and I was hoping for a nice quick day at work, not the one I had! Issue after issue and some not resolved. I needed to start something and finish it and relax, I did not have that Friday feeling; and I had egg whites to use!

I have never made Pavlova before or meringue so this was a first and a delightfully successful first, yay! It both relaxed me and tasted great! I have that on a few accounts as some of mes filles came over for tea and were my happy tasters! I knew that meringue was egg whites and sugar so I couldn’t go that wrong. I used a very easy to follow recipe from the Avoca cookbook. I am a huge fan of their books and would recommend both of them.

Egg White and Sugar Batter

Using the whites of four large eggs (always better to use room temperature eggs), you add half the sugar and beat to soft peaks, which means when you lift the beaters from the eggs the ‘peaks’ should bend over. You then gradually beat in the remaining sugar and beat for around ten minutes until stiff peaks form (they should stand on their own and not fall over). This will give you a lovely glossy white mixture. Spread this evenly in a baking tray lined with grease proof paper and bake in an oven pre-heated to 150 degrees celsius and in an hour you’ll have a wonderful start to the roulade. And it looked perfect when I gently removed it from the kitchen, I would be lying if I didn’t say i danced round the kitchen with joy!

Just out of the oven

Once cool you flip onto another sheet of greaseproof so the smooth, flat surface is visible.  I also placed this on a t-towel to aid with the rolling process. You then whip your cream, spread as evenly as you can and add whatever kind of fruit you like, I used strawberries.

Strawberries and Cream

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

As carefully as you can, holding the paper and the t-towel, you slowly and gently begin to roll. It will crack. This is inevitable. It adds to the overall look of it though plus you can decorate over it!! I was giddy with glee at how it turned out!! My first meringue roulade!

Strawberry Meringue Roulade

…work…a distant memory…hello weekend!!!

Pound Cake

15 Oct

I fell in love with pound cake during the summer I spent in San Francisco. It’s the soft yet firm texture I love and the many flavours you can enjoy, plain, chocolate, orange, coffee, nuts and it also work wonderfully toasted. For some reason I have never got around to making it and now quite a few recipes have accumulated for it. On seeing a recipe for it on I decided now was the time! The fact that it also used Nutella was extremely encouraging!!

It’s also very easy to make. You beat the eggs separately in one dish, you beat the butter and sugar in another and mix the flour in the last. Then gradually add everything to the fluffy butter and sugar mixture. It then says to layer the batter and spread the nutella in your greased tin – batter, nutella, batter, nutella, batter. The ‘spreading’ of the nutella did not go so well, was more like, sploging!  Still worked fairly well and I didn’t use as much as was stated in the recipe. As you can see in the pictures I also did not put enough batter on the bottom layer, live and learn I say!

The only part I did not like was the removal of the cake from the tin and the 2 hour cooling time!!! Damn that tin!!! Having greased it well and floured it lightly I figured the cake would slide out nice and easy (silly me forgetting the disastrous banana bread fiasco last month). The pound cake refused to leave the tin, or the tin refused to let go, regardless of my  attempts to gently coax it away from the edges. After some work it came free, losing only a part of it’s bottom, which nobody will notice anyway!

The tin is sitting next to the bin…I am undecided whether to give it one last chance!

Letting it cool proved most difficult. Having baked it for an hour and 15 minutes the room had filled with a wonderfully sweet, chocolaty aroma. I was almost drooling at the smell of it! We lasted an hour and 40 minutes before tenderly cutting two slices.

The texture was perfect and the melty gooey nutella layers were heavenly. Himself claimed it to be like if a cookie was made into a cake! I took this as a compliment!

My Tiny Workspace!

Dinner & a Movie

13 Oct

I went for a bite to eat after work with two of the gals. The food, unfortunately, was nothing to rave about, to be honest, it lacked in flavour. Though the company was fabulous ;)…and the movie…it was truthfully the most delightful, charming and engaging movie I have seen in awhile. The three of us emerged from the cinema smothered in smiles! Whether you’re a foodie or not, I urge you to go see Julie & Julia. It will leave you with a lovely happy, content feeling. So go, go see it!

Daring Bakers Vol au Vents

13 Oct

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Posting. Finally. Well, almost. Still missing a few photos, they are sitting safely on my wonderful Aunts camera and hopefully will be with me shortly! So the below pictures are from my phone so please excuse the poor quality!

I am a huge fan of making my own puff pastry, it tastes so much better and I actually quite enjoy the dedication and time it requires, as well as the arm strength. To my great surprise, himself was eager to help me roll!! I think he enjoyed it to!

The video I watched was great and I would definitely recommend it for first timers. The six folds are also of huge importance. I completed this challenge at home in my parents house and oddly it was a very hot day day so there was a few trips to the fridge to keep it cool. I chose to make a savory and a sweet; chestnut mushrooms in a guinness sauce and a strawberry and homemade ice cream one. The savory one was rich and bold, a touch of sugar helping to calm the strong guinness flavour. The chestnut mushrooms were as my mother put it ‘real mushroomy and full of flavour, not like those button ones’! I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Puff pastry (aka pâte feuilletée) is something most of us usually buy at the grocery store, but in order to be really daring, we should make our own at least once in awhile, right? Kitchens should be getting cooler in the northern hemisphere, and are hopefully still cool-ish in the sourthern hempisphere, so I’m hoping you will all join me in making homemade puff pastry from Michel Richard’s recipe, as it appears in the book Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. With our homemade puff we’ll be forming vols-au-vent cases to fill with anything we chose.

Puff pastry is in the ‘laminated dough” family, along with Danish dough and croissant dough. (In fact, if you participated in the Danish Braid challenge back in June 2008, then you already know the general procedure for working with laminated dough.) A laminated dough consists of a large block of butter (called the “beurrage”) that is enclosed in dough (called the “détrempe”). This dough/butter packet is called a “paton,” and is rolled and folded repeatedly (a process known as “turning”) to create the crisp, flaky, parallel layers you see when baked. Unlike Danish or croissant however, puff pastry dough contains no yeast in the détrempe, and relies solely aeration to achieve its high rise. The turning process creates hundreds of layers of butter and dough, with air trapped between each one. In the hot oven, water in the dough and the melting butter creates steam, which expands in the trapped air pockets, forcing the pastry to rise.

Once we have our puff pastry dough made and chilled, we are going to roll and form a portion of it into vols-au-vent, which are little puff pastry cases designed to hold a filling. I chose vols-au-vent specifically because I think they do a beautiful job of showing off the hundreds of flaky layers in the homemade puff. They can be made large enough for a full meal, or made small for little one-bite canapés, the choice is yours. Vols-au-vent are typically served hot and filled with a creamy savory filling (often poultry or seafood-based), but cold fillings, such as chicken or tuna salad, work, too. Whipped cream or pastry cream with fresh or stewed fruit often goes into sweet versions. If you are stumped for ideas for your filling(s), a quick on-line search or a glance at a traditional French cookbook will give you plenty of things to consider. I have photos of the ones I made near the bottom of this post.

Mandatory parts of the challenge: You must make Michel Richard’s recipe for puff pastry (as seen below), and form at least part of it into vols-au-vent (instructions below).

Optional parts of the challenge: You may make your vols-au-vent large or small, and may fill them with whatever you choose (savory or sweet).

-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)
-sharp chef’s knife
-cooling rack

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d’oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to “glue”). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1” thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10” square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8” square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24” (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24”, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24” and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Wedding Cake

13 Oct

I wasn’t that nervous about making the wedding cake for my brother and his lovely bride to be. I had made one and they had both tasted and loved it and I then made improvements and a second one was made, tasted and luckily enjoyed. I figured third time around though tripple the quantity should be fine, and it was!! Three hours in the oven and a beautiful golden chocolate coffee cake emerged in the wee hours of Tuesday morning 6th of October. Plenty of time for it to cool and be iced before being brought over to the hotel. I had to work a half day on the Wednesday so my lovely mother kindly iced it to save some time, which was great as I didn’t make it to the homestead until 4.30pm.  I sat and chatted with my cousin, the best man when I arrived in; had some tea and relaxed before the big day. The dog mooched over and threw herself against me looking for belly rubs. Urged by my mother, I went into the dining room, where the iced cake was being kept to keep it cool.
I froze.
Something was not right and it took me a few moments to comprehend what had happened. The cake did not look right, something was indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. The dog had eaten the cake. THE DOG HAD EATEN THE CAKE!!!! This was something I had not planned for!!!! It hadn’t occurred to me that this may even happen!!!!! I brought it into the kitchen and was met with looks of shock and disbelief. The first words my brother uttered were “don’t tell the bride!”. I could either laugh or cry. I laughed, hysterically. Then promptly left for the supermarket to re-purchase the ingredients. The cake went into the oven at 7pm and came out of it at 10pm. It was iced at 7.30am the morning of the wedding and arrived into the hotel just before we did! Phew!!! I held my breath as they cut the cake, hoping it would be OK and heaved a huge sigh of relief after. All was good!!! We did not tell the bride until the next day, which she thanked us greatly for!

Plum Puds

13 Oct

Not in the Christmas sense of the dessert. These were delightful little puds I made when the sister, the Littlest Lanagan came to dinner a few weeks back. In typical fashion I neglected to take photos of the main course, which was my first (and most definitely not final) attempt at an Indian butter curry. It was cold and blustery outside and warm and cozy inside and so a tasty pudding was in order. The plums were halved and set in the bottom of the buttered ramekins and a batter of egg, butter, sugar, flour, cream, vanilla and cinnamon was poured over. The cinnamon smell that escaped from the oven was warm and loving. These pudding were like a warm hug on a cold night and came from a lovely book called Cool Sharing by Louise Pickford


The amount of plums (or apples or berries, i believe these would also work a treat) you use depends on the side of your ramekins. The amount of batter in the recipe says that it serves four but it only filled three of my dishes.

4 ripe plums, halved and stoned

65g butter, softened

65g soft brown sugar

2 eggs lightly beaten

125g self raising flour (or normal flour with a tsp of baking powder)

half tsp ground cinnamon

2tbsp soured cream (i used normal cream)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Butter four ramekins and place two plum halves skin side down in each dish. Beat the butter and the sugar together until light an fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs the fold in the flour, cinnamon and cream to form a dropping consistency. Spoon into the moulds, covering the plums and smooth the surface. Place the dishes in a roasting dish and pour enough boiling water to reach half way up the sides (to form a bain marie). Bake for 30 mins, remove from the oven and lift the puddings out of the water. Leave to cool in the dishes for 10 minutes, run a small knife around the edges and unmold onto a plate.

*anything in brackets are my own comments and adjustments.

%d bloggers like this: