I’m not really what I would call a “television person” – if I have some time to kill, I’d rather flip through recipe books, surf the internet or read. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even usually think of watching TV, which I realise might sound a little strange. As a result, I’m not really familiar with all the TV chefs here in the UK. Sure, I’ve heard of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith, etc. But though I see their various cookbooks whenever I’m in a book shop (because I can’t go into a bookshop without perusing the cookbook section) I’ve never really watched their shows. However, one chef I hadn’t heard of until recently is Raymond Blanc. I first came across him a few weeks ago when Craig told me about his show, Kitchen Secrets, on the BBC, and how “incredibly French” he was. A little bit of Googling revealed that Raymond Blanc is from Franche-Comté, the same region in France as me! Very few people that I’ve met have ever even heard of my beloved Franche-Comté, never mind actually hailing from there, so I was immediately intrigued that a Franc-comtois chef had somehow ended up on British TV. I headed over to iPlayer (the BBC’s re-watching programmes online thing) and watched the Cakes & pastries episode. I have to say, I think he’s brilliant, and I may or may not secretly wish that I was related to him (we are from the same region, so it’s not that weird…) just so that he could teach me to cook. I love his attitude to food, it’s so very French (funnily enough) – would you ever see a British chef nearly reduced to tears over the beauty of a sublime macaron-based chocolate délice? I’m not so sure.
When we were later discussing the programme, Craig mentioned in passing that he wished Raymond Blanc would make that chocolate cake for him (the macaron-based chocolate délice mentioned above – the one that nearly reduced Raymond Blanc to tears). Knowing that his birthday was coming up, I duly agreed that it looked scrumptious though maybe too rich for me (which was completely true), made a mental note to myself and never mentioned the cake again (to Craig – Kat has had to put up with my ideas for it for the last, I don’t know, month?). I wanted to attempt the cake for his birthday, but we’d already planned a cake for his party (which I will tell you about in my next post, for Zoosday Tuesday), so I was faced with a bit of a problem. There was really only one solution: cooking a Birthday dinner. This happened last night – conveniently yesterday was also the Farmers’ Market in St Andrews, so I acquired some wonderful Scottish lamb for the main course (look out for a blog post about my slightly crazy ambitions for the lamb soon).
Now, because I’m a bit special, I wasn’t content with just following Raymond Blanc’s recipe. No, that would be way too straightforward and sensible. I have a precious jar of Griottines (cherries preserved in a kirsch liqueur – the exact recipe of which is secret – by a regional producer, brought over for me by mum the last time she went back to Franche-Comté), and it struck me that they might make a lovely addition to the chocolate délice. Plus, they’re cherries preserved in alcohol. It couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? (Famous last words.) I popped a few Griottines on top of the macaron base of the cakes (I didn’t have a giant chef’s ring, but I had smaller ones, so I made individual cakes rather than one big one) before pouring the chocolate délice mixture over the top. I think I can say that the addition of the Griottines was a rather wonderful idea… (In other words: thank goodness it worked.) The cakes were decorated with some drizzled dark and white chocolate, a sprinkling of icing sugar and a few mini macarons, including number-shaped macarons on Craig’s cake, just in case he’d forgotten his new age (which would be rude if I wasn’t older than him). Even if I do say so myself, they looked rather pretty – one could almost pretend they were from a pâtisserie. Ok, perhaps I’m pushing it a little, but Craig enjoyed them, and that’s pretty crucial for a birthday cake, so hurrah!
Chocolate macaron-based délice with Griottines
As I suspected, this is a very rich concoction, but so tasty! One 9cm cake was enough for 3 of us (after a filling meal). You could also make one larger cake of 16cm diameter with these quantities. Use your imagination for the decorations made from the leftover macaron shell mixture – teardrops, numbers, hearts, etc. One of the best things about this dessert is that it can easily be prepared in advance. Pour any leftover délice mixture into a ramekin and let it set in the fridge – it’s super yummy just on its own.
For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
7g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
For the délice:
24 Griottines, well drained (optional)
140ml whole milk
325ml double cream
340g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside. Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
2. Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (don’t skip this step!) Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl. Sift them again if necessary.
3. Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.
4. Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well. Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture. Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes. The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.
5. Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out 4 circles of 10-11cm diameter for the bases. Use the rest of the macaron mixture to pipe small shapes to decorate the cakes with later, such as teardrops, lines, hearts, small circles (or numbers!). Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.
6. Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet). Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C. When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.
7. Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 11-13mins for the larger rounds and 8-10mins for the smaller shapes (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer). Leave them to cool on the baking trays.
For the délice:
8. Once the big rounds have cooled fully, use 9cm diameter chef’s rings to cut a circle in each, using a knife to cut away the excess macaron. Place these on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper (it helps if the tray or plate has slightly upturned edges, just in case some of the délice decides to ooze out).
9. Roughly chop the dark chocolate and set aside. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and gently heat them together over a medium heat.
10. Whisk the eggs together in a large heat-proof bowl. When the milk and cream have just started to boil, pour them over the eggs and whisk constantly until smooth and slightly thickened. Add the chocolate and continue to whisk until the chocolate has completely melted and the whole délice mixture is wonderfully smooth.
11. Place 5 or 6 drained Griottines on each macaron base (optional) before carefully pouring délice over the top – fill the rings up as high as you wish (remember that the délice mixture is quite rich though). Chill in the fridge overnight.
12. Heat the rings with a hot cloth (or a blowtorch if you have one, which I do not) so that they are easier to remove. Decorate the délices as you wish – sprinkle with cocoa powder or icing sugar, drizzle with dark and white chocolate, place the smaller macaron shapes around the sides or on top.