Tag Archives: New Year’s resolutions

Resolution #1: Success!

I have some exciting news: FoodGawker have finally accepted one of my photos!!  I submitted one of the chocolate and hazelnut mousse ones, and it was published yesterday.  This makes me incredibly happy and it’s quite possibly the highlight of my week!  I think a celebratory batch of brownies are definitely on the cards for tomorrow.  Perhaps followed by a long swim to counteract the brownies, ha ha…

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that one of the resolutions or challenges that I set myself for 2011 was to have a photo accepted by each of the main “food porn” sites (FoodGawker, TasteSpotting, Photograzing, DessertStalking and DishFolio, which I discovered last month and they’ve already accepted some of my photos).  DessertStalking and Photograzing have accepted quite a lot of my photos, and TasteSpotting finally accepted a photo back in March (though they’ve rejected every single one since then, ha ha), so FoodGawker was the last site to elude me.  But I’ve finally cracked it, so now I’ve successfully completed the challenge.  Hurrah!

So go on, let’s have a look at the “winning” photo:

Interestingly, TasteSpotting rejected the very same photo for “lighting/colour.”  But, aside from the fact that I personally think it’s a rather good photo (not biased at all, obviously) I’m not too annoyed about that – I’m fully aware how subjective the whole process is.  I suppose the challenge now is to get the same photo accepted by all the sites.  But there’s no rush.  I’m currently happy with having had at least one photo accepted on each site, and trying to improve my photos so that more get approved.

Right, time to dig out that brownie recipe I’ve been wanting to try…  Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your day!

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Resolution #1: Some progress!

I’ve always loved looking at photos of food.  I have a distinct preference for recipe books that have photos in them – not only will a mouth-watering photo make me want to cook the recipe that much more, but it helps to gauge if whatever I’m cooking looks vaguely like it’s supposed to.  I came across the world of “food porn” back in December, and promptly decided that I would start submitting my food photos to the several sites (FoodGawker, TasteSpotting, Photograzing and DessertStalking).  I also decided to make it one of my resolutions (or challenges) for 2011 to have a photo accepted on each of those four sites (not necessarily the same photo – let’s not get ahead of ourselves here).

So far, most of the photos I’ve submitted have only been accepted by Photograzing and DessertStalking.  FoodGawker seems to have issues with the lighting in my photos and is very adamant that my photos are “unsharp” and TasteSpotting appears to have serious issues with the composition of my photos (I think about 90% have been rejected for “composition”).  It’s so subjective that it’s a bit frustrating after a while, particularly when I think I’ve got a brilliant photo, but nobody else appears to agree.  Take the following crêpe photo – I personally thought it was great and I really thought that it would be the one to crack the two elusive sites.  It wasn’t.  FoodGawker thought it had “low lighting and/or was underexposed,” and TasteSpotting deemed it “not sharp” (not bitter about it, nope, not at all).

However much I may disagree, there’s not much to be done except to try and take a better photo for the next post, submit that, and wait and see whether it gets accepted or rejected (whilst expecting rejection)…  I posted yesterday about blood orange curd, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really think the following photo of the curd was all that great.  In fact, I wasn’t even going to submit it, but I thought well, the worst that can happen is another rejection, so I might as well.  (I also may have been looking for some procrastination, but shhh!)

Well thank goodness I did!  Because TasteSpotting accepted it!  (Incidentally, guess what?  The very same photo was rejected by FoodGawker for “Photo/food composition.”  Go figure!)  I nearly died of shock (ok, not really).  I nearly died of shock a second time (again, not really, but close) when I saw that 107 people clicked through from TasteSpotting yesterday after seeing the photo, and so far today, 141 people have clicked through.  My blog usually gets about 30 views a day, so, uhm, WOW – this is kind of extraordinary!  And hello to all you lovely new people!

So I just felt the need to share this small personal victory with you…  I now just have FoodGawker left to crack in order to fulfill my resolution.  And I will.  Eventually.  But I will!  Anyhow, time to head to the pub to watch the last 6 Nations match of the year, France v Wales (Allez les Bleus!), so I just have one last photo to share with you:

Bring it on, FoodGawker.

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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!

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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!

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Resolution #2: To (successfully) attempt macarons

Macarons – mmmm…  I adore them – they’re so pretty, so dainty and the combinations of colours and tastes are endless.  I’m actually quite glad that I don’t live anywhere near a macaron-selling pâtisserie, because otherwise I would probably A) bankrupt myself and B) double in size.  So ya, probably a good thing!

How tempting do these Ladurée macarons look?  Don’t try to tell me that you don’t want to eat one (*cough* all) of them…  Here’s another picture (click through for the original source) just to prove my point:

Ok, I think we’ve established that I love macarons, and that I don’t really have access to them in St Andrews.  The obvious solution is to make them myself.  I was actually going to try doing so over the summer, but then never really quite got around to it.  Consequently, I’ve decided that successfully attempting macarons will be one of my resolutions (perhaps challenges might be a better word) for 2011…  Wish me luck – I’ll keep you updated!

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Resolution #1: I want to be a porn star

Fun fact: I love looking at photos of food – I’m one of those people who gets slightly upset when a cookbook doesn’t have any pictures in it.  Mouth-watering photos will make me want to try a recipe (and also help to gauge if it’s going horribly wrong) more than a snazzy title ever will.

Over the weekend, I discovered the world of food photography…  It’s amazing.  Sites dedicated to scrumptious photos of food, most of which you can then click through to get the recipe.  And I discovered that this is known as “food porn” which amuses me no end (I’m really mature like that).

Ah, the title of this post all makes sense now – I want to be a food porn star (I mean really, what were you thinking?!) My food photos so far are nothing special: the white balance is a little off and I haven’t spent 5 hours trying to make the composition perfect (patience is not one of my virtues).  But I thought I’d give it a go anyway – I have nothing to lose…

So I submitted one of the photos from my mince pie post… Taste Spotting rejected it, Food Gawker also rejected it, as did Photograzing (I think – I’m a bit confused by their notification system).  But Dessert Stalking accepted it!  They published it yesterday, and it actually made my day (thank you!)  So I’m not too bothered about getting rejected by the other sites – it’s now turned into a challenge, so by the end of 2011  I’d like to have at least one photo accepted by each of them.  And that would make me a food porn star.  (Or so I like to think!)

Bring. It. On.

[Edit on 24-12: Actually, Photograzing published my mince pie photo yesterday!  I guess they just have a huge submission queue.  Exciting stuff!  You can see it here if you like.]

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