Tag Archives: Coffee

Irish Coffee & walnut brownies

I really had high hopes of getting back to a regular blogging schedule.  Evidently that hasn’t happened, and even Sunday Smiles has completely flown out of the window.  With two months until I’m supposed to be handing in a 40,000 word thesis, I’ve accepted that a regular blogging schedule is unlikely to magically throw itself together any time soon.  So I’ll stop peppering the blog with excuses and apologies for not posting, and just hope that you, my lovely regular readers, will hang in there and put up with some seriously sporadic posting.  Will a pretty picture make up for it a bit?  Let’s give it a try:

Have I mentioned how idyllic my surroundings are? I'm actually jealous of myself.

That’ll be the view from a recent evening walk I took with one of my housemates.  Which is obviously not what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.  Perhaps not so surprising that I absolutely love it here, eh?  Moving swiftly on before you all hate me…  I’m sure you’re aware that it was St Patrick’s Day the weekend before last.  (Oh that’s why the internet was suddenly almost entirely decked out in green…)  A couple of my housemates and I went to visit one of our other housemates who is doing research up north (my current housing situation is currently somewhat convoluted and there’s a fair bit of subletting involved) for St Patrick’s weekend.  I, of course, brought baked goods.  And gin, obviously.  But lets focus on the baked goods.

Chocolate and walnuts – a promising start for any baked goods (unless you dislike chocolate or walnuts…)

I wanted something vaguely Irish-themed since it was St Patrick’s and all, and had an urge to bake brownies (which are also easy to transport – win!).  I looked up my favourite brownie recipe (coffee & walnut brownies, since you ask) to see how I could Irishify (totally a word) it.  And it hit me: Irish Coffee & walnut brownies.  Oh yes.

Hang on a second, where did all the brownies go?

AlphaBakesConfession time: I didn’t actually use an Irish whisky – there wasn’t any in the cupboard so I used Glenfiddich, my usual baking whisky.  Luckily the brownies turned out so scrumptious that nobody picked me up on it.  The whisky flavour does come through subtly and goes wonderfully with the other flavours in the brownies.  Success!  I’m submitting these brownies to this month’s AlphaBakes challenge, which is being hosted by Caroline Makes.  The special letter this month is “I,” so that’ll be I for Irish Coffee…  That totally counts as an ingredient, right?  I’m also attempting to sneak my entry in because I totally thought the deadline was today…  It was yesterday.  Thankfully, I’m way more on the ball with my thesis due date…

Oh that's where all the brownies went…  Into the biscuit tin.

Irish Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

I used Glenfiddich as that’s my usual baking whisky, but just use whatever you favour – an Irish whisky would obviously be ideal…  You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home.  These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long!  These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee – an Irish Coffee, obviously.

Ingredients

70g walnut pieces of halves
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
3-4 tbsp whisky
1 tbsp cream
60g all-purpose flour
150g caster sugar
2 eggs

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.

2.  Roughly chop the walnuts, then dry toast them in a small frying pan until fragrant, taking care not to let them burn.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water.  Add to the chocolate and butter mixture along with the whisky and cream and melt together, stirring occasionally.  When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Sift the flour into a small bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the cooled toasted walnuts.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy.  Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 18-22 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.

5.  Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!

Yummy goodness in progress.

10 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

4 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

How to accidentally feed a small child caffeine…

Coffee breaks are a big thing in my lab.  Before I elaborate, I should probably explain my work situation (work as in uni work).  As a postgrad, I have a desk.  A whole desk all to myself, which is kind of exciting.  I mean I effectively had my own space in the computer lab in the last few weeks that I was writing my dissertation (of doom) in St Andrews, but that was more because I claimed it by spending about 18h a day there and leaving my papers and files scattered around it for the 6h that I wasn’t because I was sleeping or eating, but now I have a desk that’s actually mine and doesn’t require scattered highlighters and papers to mark my territory.  I’m clearly going up in the world.

Now this desk is located in the fairly large marine lab, half of which consists of postgrad desks and the other half is the actual lab bit with lab benches and microscopes and chemicals, none of which I actually use.  Other than an invisible line there’s no separation between the desk-filled half and the proper lab half of the room, so the whole thing is classed as a lab.  Food and drink aren’t allowed in labs.  Thus, no food and drink at our desks.  Which means… no coffee.  Which is an issue.  And explains the importance of the coffee break.  The lab is also quite cold, which makes it all the more frustrating that we can’t have hot drinks at our desks.  Coffee breaks mean that we get to venture upstairs where it’s a bit warmer.  Coffee breaks are also ideal for bringing in baked goods that you don’t want to eat an entire batch of by yourself.  And baked goods are a great way of making friends with your labmates.

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Lucy of The Kitchen Maid and she has chosen “coffee” as the special ingredient, which is an excellent choice because I love the combination of coffee and chocolate.  In fact, they almost pair a little too well, and I actually found it rather difficult to choose what to make because there are just so many possibilities.  I think that coffee and chocolate complement each other best in something fairly rich, so after much indecision I finally settled on coffee and walnut brownies.  The walnuts were the result of some last-minute inspiration, but they go so well with both coffee and chocolate, that they just seemed like they’d make the perfect addition.  And they really did work wonderfully, adding a little bit of crunch and balance to the soft, rich chocolateyness of the brownies.  The coffee blends perfectly with the chocolate – you can definitely taste that it’s there, even if it’s not a distinct flavour and you can’t quite put your finger on it.  I think this might be my favourite brownie recipe ever.

I brought the brownies in for yesterday’s afternoon coffee break and they went down a storm.  One of the guys who works in an offshoot of the marine lab further down the corridor had his kids in with him so they joined us for our coffee break.  I think they’re about 5 and 8 years old.  Whilst their dad was making his coffee and whatever drinks they were having they were eyeing up the brownies sitting on the table, but clearly too scared of all the adults they didn’t really know to ask for some.  I didn’t want to offer them some without first checking that nuts were ok though – I hear that inducing somebody’s child into anaphylactic shock is considered rather bad form.  The fact that there’s caffeine in the brownies totally didn’t cross my mind until after they’d each had half a brownie and their dad said “these are so good, but they taste a bit different to standard chocolate brownies, what’s that extra flavour?”  “That’s probably the coffee.  Oh my gosh, coffee.  I just gave caffeine to your kids.  I am so sorry!!”  Awkward.  I don’t have any younger siblings or young cousins, so I’ve had minimal experience with small children…  Can you tell?  We concluded that there was probably less caffeine in a brownie than in several sips of coke, so they probably wouldn’t go totally crazy.  He even let them have another half each when they asked for more.  Since I’m spending this morning at the aquarium, I won’t have seen him by the time this post publishes, so I’m not sure how that worked out…

Coffee & walnut brownies

Makes 20 brownies
Adapted from Le Larousse des desserts

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee or you want a slightly more subtle flavour, you can decrease the amount of coffee down to 1tbsp dissolved in 2 tbsp of boiling water.  You can also use freshly-brewed espresso rather than instant coffee if that’s what you have at home.  These will keep for a several days in an airtight container, though they’re so moreish that I doubt they’ll last that long!  These are probably best enjoyed with a coffee.

Ingredients

140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp espresso-style instant coffee
4 tbsp boiling water
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
70g walnut pieces or halves
60g all-purpose flour

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 170°C.

2.  Break half the chocolate into pieces and add to a medium heat-proof bowl with the cubed butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  In a little ramekin or glass, dissolve the instant coffee in the boiling water.  Add to the chocolate and butter mixture and melt together, stirring occasionally.  When all melted together and smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Sift the flour into a small bowl.  Roughly chop the remaining chocolate into small chunks and stir into the flour, along with the roughly chopped walnuts.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until well mixed and a little foamy.  Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula then pour into the prepared baking tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture if necessary and bake for 15-20 mins until a knife point comes out with a little mixture still stuck to it.

5.  Cool for about 20-30 mins in the tin until just warm, then remove and allow to cool fully on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Enjoy!  And uhm, perhaps avoid feeding them to small children…

17 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

Cocktail in a macaron: White Russian

Although I’m still not really sure where my life is currently going and whether I’ll get a post-grad somewhere and where that will happen to be, almost everybody else seems to have wonderful plans, courses and jobs lined up for after the summer.  One of the many people who know what they’re doing after the summer is a friend of mine (of cute-baby-seal-birthday-cake fame) who has been accepted to do a Masters at Oxford.  Getting into Oxford is something he’s wanted for quite a while now, so for a number of reasons, this is a really big thing for him.  He actually received the news way back in March, but at the time he only told a few people and asked us to keep it quiet because he wanted to wait for the right time to drop the “Oxford-bomb” so that the announcement would have maximum impact (I suspect that he had a few specific individuals in mind).  Apparently the “O-bomb” was finally dropped a few days ago, which means that I can finally share the congratulatory macarons I made for him with you (I’ve only been waiting five months).

I’d decided on macarons because A) I knew that Kat was making him a cake, and B) I was looking for an excuse to make macarons.  Not exactly much of a decision.  The difficult part was choosing which flavour to attempt.  At first I wanted to do something Oxford-themed.  The University of Oxford colours perhaps?  Hmmmm…  I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired.  Anyway, the shades probably wouldn’t have come out exactly correct anyway, and I didn’t feel like getting lectured about the exact specifications of Oxford Blue (to save yourself the Google search, you can find them here.  And yes, I actually looked them up…) complete with several historical anecdotes (I’m sure it would be very interesting, but not in response to a gift).  So I quickly scrapped the Oxford-themed idea, and decided to make macarons based on his favourite cocktail: the White Russian.

White Russian macarons?  Brilliant plan!  The only minor flaw is that, despite being a big cocktail fan, I’ve never actually had a White Russian.  Pick yourself up off the floor, and I’ll explain: it’s the cream.  It just totally puts me off.  Don’t get me wrong, I love cream.  Love cream (seriously – you’ll find at least three different kinds in my fridge at any given time).  But not in a cocktail – I just think it would make me feel very sick, very quickly.  I know what goes into it (vodka, coffee liqueur and cream), but I had to do a bit of guesswork with regards to exactly how the cocktail actually tastes.  Personally, I think the macarons were good, but I can’t vouch for how akin to an actual White Russian they turned out.  He seemed to have enjoyed them though, and that’s the main thing!  I’m also submitting these macarons to this month’s Mac Attack challenge, since the theme rather conveniently happens to be “kick it up with alcohol” (I know, it’s like the challenge was made for me!).

White Russian macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure Gourmandise

The colouring of the shells is totally optional – I decided to colour them at the last minute but didn’t have any brown colouring.  My genius solution: use a mixture of all the other food colourings that I do have (because everything mixed together makes brown, see?) – luckily it worked.  If you’re feeling particularly motivated, you could make only the bottom shells brown and leave the top shells white, which is more reminiscent of an unstirred White Russian.  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 can be 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:
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
4 tsp coffee granules
½ tsp coffee extract
Coffee-brown food colouring paste (optional)

For the ganache:
40g single cream
150g white chocolate
4cl (40g) vodka
2 tsp coffee granules

Directions

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.  Finely grind the coffee granules.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and ground coffee 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.  Add the coffee extract and a dollop of brown food colouring paste (if you’re using it) just before the end and mix well.

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 the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm 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.

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 8-10mins (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, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the white chocolate and vodka ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces) and the vodka, and 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?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

9.  Finely grind the coffee granules into a powder (or put them in a zip-lock bag and roll over them with a rolling pin).

10.  Once the ganache has cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of  ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Sprinkle a pinch of finely ground coffee over the top of the ganache, and then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to squash the shell down onto the filling.

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

Enjoy!

9 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

Making macarons: Third time lucky?

My last post was about my first two attempts at making macarons.  Attempt #2 turned out quite well, though the shells weren’t smooth.  I think this was because I didn’t blend the icing sugar and ground almonds so the mixture itself wasn’t very smooth and was a little bit on the gloopy side (very scientific description) rather than making a smooth ribbon as it is apparently supposed to.  They still tasted really good though (even if I do say so myself…) so my main issue with them was just that they weren’t as presentable as they should have been.

So the challenge to successfully attempt macarons was still on.  I happened across a suggestion for coffee and cognac macarons and decided that I obviously just had to try them, so I got out my mini-blender and made a start on…

Attempt #3

I’m actually really happy with how these turned out.  The shells, though still not exactly perfect, were (mostly) smooth, didn’t crack and had beautiful feet.

What do you think?  Success?  I’m going with yes.

Since I only have a mini blender, I had to mix the icing sugar and almonds together first and then blend it in batches – a bit tedious, but definitely worth the tiny bit of added effort.

The coffee and cognac ganache combination worked really well, so not only did the macarons look presentable, they also tasted yummy!  All-round win!

Coffee & cognac macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so 120 shells of about 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Shell recipe from Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure gourmandise

Since the ganache has to be cooled right down, it gets very hard and is therefore ridiculously difficult to pipe.  I ended up getting a bit frustrated and just depositing dollops of ganache onto the macaron shells with a teaspoon and my finger – hey, it got the job done!   Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shell a little bit.  They can be 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 shells:
100g aged egg whites
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
7g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

For the ganache:
40g single cream
4 tsp coffee granules
150g white chocolate
2cl (20g) cognac

Directions

To make the shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle, the size of which depends on the size of macarons that you are making.

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.

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 the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm).  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.

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 8-12mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer.  The mini macarons took about 8-9mins).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the coffee and cognac ganache filling.  Heat the cream with the coffee granules.  As soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces) and the cognac and 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?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge.

9.  Once cool, transfer to a piping bag and pipe (or use a teaspoon to deposit) a good 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.

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

Enjoy!

4 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods

Making macarons: Attempts #1 & #2

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to successfully attempt macarons.  I absolutely love macarons, but I’ve just never quite got around to trying my hand at them.  So I set aside almost a whole day in which to embark on this adventure.  Apparently though, I somehow decided that just attempting them wasn’t enough, no, I was going to be successful and make a batch as a friend’s belated Christmas present.  This is despite knowing that they have a reputation for being horrendously difficult and super finnicky with loads of things that can go wrong.  No pressure.

There are loads of online resources with advice on making macarons and about 56 million different recipes to choose from.  The advice made the challenge seem slightly less daunting, the sheer number of recipes made it rather more so – how do you pick which recipe to use?  I decided to use the recipe from Jill Colonna’s Mad About Macarons! that I recently acquired, mostly because it has pictures for each step of the basic method and also because it uses the French meringue method, which to me sounded a lot more straightforward for a beginner and less of a logistic nightmare than the Italian method considering my kitchen equipment.  And I’m French, so co-co-rico and all that.

After reading quite a lot of tips and tricks and so on, I suddenly realised that there seemed to be a few common ones that I should probably pay attention to (and then more or less subsequently ignored):
Don’t make macarons if it is raining due to the humidity levels – I live in Scotland, enough said.  Though when I tried these, it wasn’t actually raining…  It was snowing.
Weigh everything PRECISELY – I definitely did this.  Partly because I’m a scientist and so if I’m told that measurements must be precise I start imagining that there might be explosions if there is 1g of cocoa powder too much, and partly because I love my electronic kitchen scales (I am so easily amused).
Blend the icing sugar with the ground almonds – Jill Colonna said nothing about blending them so I decided that it wouldn’t be necessary.  I only have a mini blender and would have had to do it in batches and I guess I was feeling a bit lazy.  In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.
Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds – Since I didn’t bother blending them, I made sure that I did this step.
Use egg whites that have been aged – Sounds simple enough, except every single resource I looked at suggested ageing them for a different length of time, some in the fridge, some not, some covered, some uncovered.  Not helpful.  I followed Jill Colonna’s advice and stored the egg whites for four days in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Use a silicon baking mat on top of the baking tray – Apparently this means that the shells bake better, that the bottoms are smoother and that they come off better.  I only had one silicon mat, so for the first batch, I did half on the silicone mat and half on normal baking paper.  Intriguingly, I found that the baking paper ones actually came out better.
Make sure you know your oven’s temperatures – I haven’t a clue how accurate our oven is, and some of the markings around the temperature dial have been rubbed off.  I don’t own an oven thermometer anyway, so whatever.

So, having read (and disregarded most of) the general expert advice, it was time to embark on a macaron-making adventure…

Attempt #1:

This is how they came out:

They were kind of grainy (probably because I didn’t blend them) and the mixture wasn’t quite liquid enough so the shells weren’t smooth (I think this was at least partly due to the lack of blending).  BUT they had feet!  And they didn’t crack.

Far from perfect, but not too bad for a first attempt.  Since they weren’t particularly presentable, I didn’t bother making a filling for these – they tasted good, so just got eaten as snacks on their own.

Attempt #2:

I still didn’t blend the icing sugar and ground almonds so the texture was still a little bit grainy, but it was a bit more liquid than my first attempt so the shells were slightly smoother.  Not quite sure why though, so I will just pretend that it was the power of my mind.  This was the end result:

Still not perfect, but rather better.  They all had feet and none of them cracked which is rather excellent.  My motivation was flagging slightly by this point, so I decided to make the coffee cream filling and turn the shells into macarons.  24h later, I was able to taste them and they were rather good, even if I do say so myself.  I decided that I would give this batch as a gift, though I later found out that my friend has actually tasted Ladurée’s macarons before, so I reminded him that I’m not a real pastry chef and this was only my second try so please don’t compare them too harshly.  He seems to have enjoyed them though (or is too polite to say otherwise).

Coffee macarons

Makes about 30 small macarons (so 60 shells of about 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Recipe from Mad About Macarons!

These didn’t turn out perfect, but I think it was more a question of technique than the recipe itself – I guess practice makes perfect!  I will warn you in advance, there is a lot of waiting around when making macarons, and consequently they are quite time-consuming to make.  After you’ve garnished the shells to make the macarons, make sure you leave them 24h before eating them to allow the filling to soak into the shells.  Store them in the fridge, but make sure you take them out at least 30mins before eating them.  Unfortunately, the recipe makes way too much coffee buttercream filling for the number of shells, but it’s difficult to split an egg.

Ingredients

For the shells:
50g aged egg whites
33g caster sugar
60g ground almonds
90g icing sugar
3g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

For the filling:
100g unsalted butter
160ml full-fat milk
2 tbsp coffee granules
1 egg
20g caster sugar
20g custard powder
Few drops coffee extract

Directions

To make the shells:
1.  Line two or three flat baking sheets with greaseproof baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle to make it easier later on.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (Don’t skip this step like I did – I really think this is why they look a little grainy).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.

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 (mine was a bit of a gloopy ribbon – I think this is why the pastry didn’t spread properly to make smooth shells).

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm).  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.

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 8-12mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer.  The mini macarons took about 8-9mins).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the coffee cream filling.  Cream the softened butter and set aside.  In a saucepan, boil the milk with the coffee granules.  Remove from the heat.

9.  In a bowl, whisk the egg with the sugar and custard powder.  Add this to the milk and coffee, and return to the heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Place some cling-film directly onto the cream to avoid a skin forming.

10.  Once cool, mix in the creamed butter and the coffee extract.  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe some of the filling 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.

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

Enjoy!

2 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods