Tag Archives: Amaretto

Bleu-blanc-rouge pour le 14 juillet!

We had a potluck party last night to celebrate various happenings at the lab.  The original excuse was somebody being accepted into a PhD programme, but since one of my labmates recently handed in, we added that as a further excuse.  And then “oh, it’s French national day on Sunday?  Let’s celebrate that, too!”  So a Woohoo PhD/no more PhD/Bastille Day party.  Sacré bleu, what an excellent idea!

Macarons tricolores 1

As the lab’s bona fide French person, I wanted to do something relevant to Bastille Day, something French.  I was considering madeleines, a particular speciality of mine, and always a popular offering.  But then I realised that it’s been a while since I made macarons…  And then it hit me: I could make blue, white and red macarons like the French flag, aka macarons tricolores!  So one blue shell, a white filling and a red shell.  I think that qualifies as suitably French.

Macarons tricolores 2

I used a white chocolate ganache for the filling.  I was originally going to add Amaretto, but discovered that we didn’t have any, so I used Frangelico instead.  It was a delicious alternative.  I thought that making two batches of shells would be terribly time-consuming, but actually I was able to make the blue shells whilst the red shells were setting and they then set whilst the red shells were baking.  So actually it worked out rather well.  I didn’t work the blue batch for quite long enough which is why nearly all the blue shells ended up with nipples, which irritates my perfectionist side, but doesn’t affect the taste.

Macarons tricolores 3

The macarons were a hit and definitely a fun way to celebrate le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).  Everybody loved the whole French flag thing, as well as the taste (most important).  Now get your berets on* and have a marvellous 14 juillet.  Maybe even let off some fireworks (if that’s legal where you are).

Super keen French Mel

Yup, super keen French person, right here.  Cocorico!  (That wasn’t last night by the way, but a few weeks ago when France played the All Blacks at Eden Park.  France lost.  Quelle surprise.)

Macarons Tricolores

Makes about 80 small macarons (so about 160 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe by Sharky Oven Gloves

Obviously making two colours of shells is totally optional, but it does make these macarons fun, and is actually not as time-consuming as you’d expect.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
150g room temperature egg whites
270g icing sugar
180g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
Red & blue food colouring paste or gel (optional)

For the ganache filling:
40g whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
30g Frangelico or Amaretto

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare two piping bags with plain round piping tips of the same size (if you only have one, you can wash it in between the two batches of shells, but make sure to dry it thoroughly).

2.  Split the egg whites evenly between two large mixing bowls.  If you can’t get it exactly evenly, adjust the proportions of all the other ingredients according to the weight of the egg whites.

3.  Blend half of the icing sugar (135g) and half of the ground almonds (90g) together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

4.  Make the French meringue by whisking the one of the bowls of egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding half the caster sugar (50g).  Add a few drops of the red food colouring gel to the mixture just before the end and mix well to get the shade of red that you wish.

5.  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.

6.  Transfer the mixture to one of the previously prepared piping bags and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

7.  Leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (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.

8.  Whilst the red shells are setting, repeat steps 2-7 with the remaining shell ingredients, but this time add blue food colouring to make the batch of blue shells.

9.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair one red and one blue shell up by size.

To make the ganache filling & assemble:
10.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the chocolate (broken into pieces) and the Frangelico.  Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to thicken on the countertop (or in the fridge if absolutely necessary – if it’s taking too long or not setting).

11.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a dollop of ganache onto one shell of each pair. Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

12.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult! But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

*I’m allowed to stereotype because I’m French.

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Zoosday Tuesday: Killer whale birthday cake

I’ve had a bit of a blog hiatus, mostly because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I thought I’d better sort that out, and it would seem appropriate to end the hiatus with a Zoosday Tuesday post (which I haven’t done in a while) in the form of a slightly epic birthday cake.  It seems to have been the year of the animal birthday cakes – we had the seal pup cake in January, Craig’s meerkat cake, and the latest offering…  A killer whale cake!  Before anybody panics, let me just make it clear that by killer whale cake I mean a cake shaped like a killer whale, not a whale cake that is lethal.

You may well be wondering why I decided to spend seven hours of my life making a cake in the shape of a killer whale (before anybody feels the need to point out that it doesn’t have a tail, the whale is surfacing, so the tail is underwater).  Aside from the fact that cake is awesome and killer whales are pretty awesome, thus the two put together would automatically be totally awesome, Kat happens to love killer whales and has just started the Marine Mammals MRes in St Andrews (she’s clever like that).  She also happens to love amaretto (an almond-flavoured liqueur), so when it came to making her a surprise birthday cake, an amaretto cake in the shape of a killer whale was a bit of a no-brainer…

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really come across many amaretto cake recipes, so that was the first step.  I eventually found a cake recipe that involved apricots and amaretto which sounded promising.  In view of the epic amount of buttercream icing that was likely to cover the cake, I decided that attempting to be vaguely healthy with the apricots was a bit pointless so I substituted chocolate chips instead.  The next step was to work out how to make the chocolate and Amaretto cake into the shape of a killer whale.  I decided that baking the cake in a loaf tin was a good first step, and pretty much winged it from there.  So basically, I knew roughly what I wanted the finished cake to look like (a surfacing killer whale – to avoid faffing around and having to make a tail), but effectively made it up as I went along.  Thankfully it turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The final step was to get the cake from Edinburgh to St Andrews… on public transport.  Remarkably, we managed it to get it there in one piece.  All that remained to do was to stick a candle in its blowhole and all over Craig’s delicious chilli and lime chocolate brownies and celebrate Kat’s (slightly belated) birthday by spending two days eating cake…  In case you’re wondering, the cake not only looked pretty amazing (if I do say so myself…) but tasted rather good, too.  Phew!

Chocolate & amaretto cake

Serves 8-10 people
Adapted from Waitrose

Since I was making a whale cake, I made the cake in a loaf tin, but obviously a round cake tin works perfectly, too.  I’ve given the instructions here on how to make the cake into a whale, but if you’re not making a killer whale, but still want to ice the cake, use about ⅓ of the icing ingredients and sprinkle with flaked almonds and cocoa powder to decorate.  Just a warning, the killer whale cake did take me about 7 hours from start to finish, though most of that time was the cake’s cooking time and waiting for it to cool – the actual shaping and icing maybe took about 1 ½ hours since I faffed around quite a bit.  The cake keeps well for a few days in an air-tight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
25g self-raising flour
165g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g ground almonds
115g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
100ml amaretto (this is a bit of an approximation)
3 eggs
125ml sour cream
125g dark chocolate chips

For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
200g butter (softened to room temperature)
5-6 tbsp amaretto
Blue and black food colouring paste/gel
Edible blue sparkles (optional)

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Butter and flour a 21 x 11 cm loaf tin (or if you’re not making a killer whale, you can use a 23 cm round cake tin), and line the bottom with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Sift the two flours, the bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Add 75g of ground almonds and mix together.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the cubed butter and golden caster sugar together using an electric whisk.  Add the remaining ground almonds and about 4 tbsp of amaretto, and whisk together.  Beat in the eggs one at a time before adding the remaining 65 ml of amaretto and mixing well (don’t panic if the mixture appears to separate – I don’t know if that’s normal, but it happened to mine and the cake turned out perfectly fine.  Adding the dry ingredients in the next step will sort the mixture out again).

4.  Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the amaretto mixture, alternating each addition with folding in a spoonful of sour cream.  Make sure not to let the mixture get too dry.  Fold in the chocolate chips and spoon into the loaf tin.

5.  Bake for 1h25 (1h20 if using a round cake tin).  A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, but make sure not to overcook the cake (or it will come out really dry).  Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To turn the cake into a killer whale:
6.  Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the cake into a rounded shape (try to keep at least one of the corners in one piece to make the fin with), making one end slightly more pointy than the other (this will be the whale’s head).  If necessary, trim the top edges of the loaf at an angle to try and make the overall shape more rounded and whale-like (if none of that made sense, hopefully the photo below will explain better).

7.  Using one of the corners that have been cut off the cake, trim it into a fin shape (again, see the photo below if you’re not too sure).  Stick a toothpick or two through the fin and into the cake to secure it into place, and use a toothpick on either side to make sure it doesn’t fall over.

8.  To make the buttercream icing, cream together the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth (be prepared for an icing sugar explosion).  Place 1-2 tsp of icing in the centre of the underside of the cake and place the cake onto the cake board of plate that you’ll be presenting it on, pressing it down gently (this is to vaguely stick the cake to the cake board/plate so that it doesn’t slide around in transit).

9.  Transfer just under half of the remaining icing to a medium sized bowl, add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a dollop (very technical term) of black food colouring gel/paste.  Mix well until the icing is smooth.  Add a tiny bit more black food colouring if necessary and mix until the icing has turned very dark grey.  Using a small tapered spatula or knife, spread the dark grey icing over the whale, making sure to leave space for the white icing under the mouth (alternatively, cover the entire cake in dark grey icing and then pipe the white icing over the top as with the white bits over the eyes).  Use icing to cover the toothpicks on either side of the fin, and shape it a little if necessary.  Try and make the icing as smooth as possible.  Refer to the photos of the cake, or to photos of real killer whales as guides.

10.  Prepare a piping bag with a 5 mm round tip, and spoon 2-3 heaped tbsp of the white icing into it.  Pipe the white spots over the top of the killer whale’s eyes, and the the white parts of its belly under its mouth (see photos of the cake or real killer whales to use as guides).  If there is any icing left in the piping bag, return it to the rest of the original white icing in the large bowl.

11.  Dip the end of a toothpick into the black food colouring paste and draw a small eye between the white patch above the eye and the white belly under the mouth.  Use the other end of the toothpick to do the eye on the other side.  Use another toothpick to shape a blowhole in the centre of the top of the whale’s head (the blowhole I made was about 6 mm across).

12.  Prepare another piping bag with a tear-drop or rose-petal tip (or if you don’t have either of those, a 5 mm round tip would probably work, too).  Add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a tiny bit of blue food colouring paste to the remaining icing and mix well until the icing is smooth.  Spoon the icing into the prepared piping bag and pipe squiggles across the cake board or plate to make the waves of the sea.  Sprinkle some edible blue sparkles across the top of the “sea” to finish off the cake (optional).

Enjoy!  (And remember to warn people about the toothpicks in the fin…)

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