Macarons

Macarons can be the stuff of nightmares. A single streak of unmixed meringue in the batter can cause the entire batch to crack, unsieved ingredients can make the macarons go lumpy and bad luck can ruin an entire tray for even the most competent baker. That being said, if you can master the art of making macarons, you can succeed at almost anything in the kitchen.

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These orange macarons were some of the best I have made (although the feet are a little more frilly than I would normally want.)

One of the most distinctive elements of a macaron is its foot. Observing the foot of a macaron can give you a good indication of how it was made. Both oven temperature and mixing techniques affect its formation. The foot should be even all the way around, either completely vertical or with a light outwards bulge, and have lots of small pockets of similar sizes. If the foot goes over the top of the shell (giving a cracked appearance), your batter is not mixed evenly; if the feet bulge massively outwards and appear as more of a skirt, you have over mixed your batter. If your macarons are consistently not developing feet, allow them to dry longer before baking as the formation of a skin over the top of the shells will encourage rising from the base of the macaron, helping with the formation of the feet. The lack of feet can also indicate that your oven temperature is too low and a skirt can indicate the temperature is too high so I would encourage investing in an oven thermometer if you wish to make macarons semi-regularly.

Everyone’s oven is different and macarons are a very good way to discover where the hot spots in yours are. If a single batch of macarons has very different results across the tray, this indicates that there isn’t great circulation in your oven. If you don’t have a fan oven, there isn’t much you can do about this but you can adapt in the future by removing macarons in hotspots early and then baking the rest for another few minutes.

The classic image of a macaron is a brightly coloured shell with a smooth filling. The colour of the shells is often indicative of the flavour. When it comes to choosing flavours, the list of things you can choose is almost limitless. I have eaten savoury macarons, I have eaten sweet macarons and there are a particularly interesting set of flavours in the middle where the macarons are sweet but use traditionally savoury flavourings. One that I tried whilst baking for this post was a rosemary and olive oil flavoured macaron and it was delicious!

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Salted caramel and dark chocolate macarons.

Once you have mastered the basic macaron, you can begin to experiment with different fillings and flavours. Why not use them as decoration on cakes or a dessert? They don’t just have to be a delicacy on their own.

I hope you enjoy baking them and that your macarons come our perfectly every time.

 

Macarons:

2 egg whites

140g icing sugar

65g ground almonds (or almond flour)

35g granulated or caster sugar

Pinch of salt

Gel food colouring

Flavourings (these could be extracts like vanilla or orange, rose water, cocoa, green tea etc.)

 

Ganache filling:

Dark chocolate:

150ml double cream

150g dark chocolate

1 tsp sugar

 

White chocolate:

100ml double cream

200g white chocolate

Flavourings

 

 

 

Place the icing sugar and almonds into the bowl of a food processor and blend for a minute.

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Push the mixture through a fine mesh sieve – this step takes time but is important if you want your macarons to have a smooth, glossy top. Once there is only a tablespoon of bigger chunks of almonds left in the sieve, you can discard these and stop. If you would like to make chocolate shells, replace one tablespoon of the mixture with one tablespoon of sifted cocoa. Use the same technique for green tea shells but with two teaspoons of matcha green tea powder instead.

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The sieved ingredients should have no large lumps.
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These large lumps will be ground down as you force them through the sieve. It just takes a little time and elbow grease to do so!

Add the egg whites to the granulated sugar and salt in a separate bowl and whisk with an electric hand beater until a stiff meringue is formed. You should not feel any grains of sugar if you rub a little between your fingers and you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out.

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If you wish to colour and flavour your macarons, use the tip of a knife to add a small amount of gel colour to the meringue. Do not use liquid food dye as it will make your meringues collapse and will also fade in the oven. If you are using a flavoured extract, add a quarter of a teaspoon to the egg whites and beat it in.

Add half the dry ingredients and fold them in.

Once the first batch of dry ingredients starts to mix in, add the rest and continue to fold. Ensure that you use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl as any unmixed in bits of meringue will cause the macarons to crack.

Macarons are surprising forgiving at this stage. You want to keep as much air in during the folding as you have to knock it out again later to get the mix to the correct consistency and this is easier when you have a lighter mix to start with – it will make sure you don’t over mix the batter.

Once the almonds and icing sugar have been incorporated into the meringue, continue to mix until you reach the right consistency. This is when you can lift some batter on your spoon and as you drop it back into the bowl, you can draw a figure of eight with it without the stream of batter breaking. The batter should be thick but still flow a little, any blobs you make on the surface should slowly ink in over about twenty seconds.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Pour the batter into a piping bag and pipe circles of batter about an inch and a half (about 4cm) wide leaving at least an inch (2.5) between them.

Lift up the baking tray and bang the base of it onto the surface ten times. Rotate the tray round so the other side can be banged too and repeat the ten bangs. This will remove air bubbles from the macarons which you will see popping on the surface. You can sprinkle the centre of your macaron shells with sprinkles or something related to the flavour to give a more exciting finish.

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From the top left going clockwise, these shell are for: Plain vanilla, black sesame and white chocolate, orange and chocolate, chilli chocolate, rosemary and olive oil, salted caramel, rose and finally, green tea. The shells are mostly unflavoured.

Place the macarons in a warmish dry place for half an hour to an hour until a skin has formed over the top of them (you can touch the surface of them without it sticking to you).  Some people say this step is optional and I have made macarons before without letting them dry and they did work but the best way to work out if it works for you is practice. Make a couple of batches, leave some to dry and place other straight into the oven and see how they come out!

Preheat the oven to 150°C (gas mark 2).

Place the macarons one tray at a time on the top shelf of your oven for twenty minutes or until you can lift one off the tray without it sticking. If they stick a little, just give them another two minutes and try again.

Once the shells are cooked, let them cool on the tray until you can touch them without burning yourself. Peel them off the baking sheet and place the shells onto a wire rack to cool.

 

To make a ganache filling, heat the cream until almost boiling and pour it over finely chopped chocolate.

Leave for two minutes for the heat of the cream to melt the chocolate and then stir the two together. You can add flavourings of your choice or sugar to the ganache at this point.

Let the ganache cool until it has thickened up to a thick piping consistency and is no longer warm to the touch.

Match up macaron shells of similar sizes in pairs. On one of each pair, pipe a small dollop of ganache and sandwich the two shells together.

Leave the macarons overnight in the fridge so the ganache can set fully and the flavours can meld between the filling and the shells.

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As you can see, the feet did not appear on either the rose, orange or salted caramel macarons. I am still working out why as I need to get used to my home oven again after university.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For other sweet treats, check out my list of baked goods – last time was a sophisticated chocolate and hazelnut tart – or if you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, why not make yourself a classic bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for another delicious soup – it’s super easy and an absolute classic.

H

Peach Galette

Sometimes you don’t have a dish in which to cook a pie. In situations like this, the galette is a perfect solution. As a freeform pie, it isn’t cooked in a dish or a tart tin giving it a unique and rustic shape. There is no designated pastry for galette but the ones most often used are puff pastry or a pastry made with a mix of plain and whole wheat flour (as given below). Galette can also be used when referring to a large, savoury buckwheat pancake. These originated from the French region of Brittany where they became popular after the discovery that buckwheat would grow well in the poor soil conditions there. These are also known as Breton galette to distinguish them from their pastry counterpart.

One of the problems with an open galette is finding a filling which is sturdy enough to hold up under a long cooking time in a hot oven. This is more of an issue with sweet galettes than savoury. Most berries, as well as apples and other fruits, start to turn to mush when in the oven for too long but peaches are strong enough to hold their shape during the cooking. An open top allows liquids to evaporate but even then, a galette with too much filling can overflow in the oven and the juices can burn. Tomatoes are a popular filling for savoury galettes as they hold their shape during cooking and also come in several colours so you can give your pie a beautiful appearance.

When you come to make a galette, you are presented with two choices with regards to the edges. You can fold and crimp or you can pinch. I am a big fan of folding as I feel that it is less likely to open up in the oven and spill the filling everywhere. Folding requires you to go around the edge folding the excess pastry up towards the centre until the filling is pushing at the outer edges of the tart. You have to be careful not to make the pastry too tight as it can split and you must ensure that the folds overlap to create a barrier to hold in the juices during cooking. The pinching technique involves creating a vertical barrier around the outside of the tart. The pinching itself reduces the length of the pastry to that it is pulled upwards. The finished barrier is created by selecting an area of pastry around the edge and taking a section around two centimetres long and pinching it together. You then proceed to move around the outside of the galette pinching as you go until the barrier is formed.

The recipe below will give you a galette about a foot in diameter or if you would like to make a smaller one, just half the recipe and that will make a galette about eight inches across. This is a particularly good recipe if you like circular patterns – I find them very satisfying to create and I hope that, after this, you will too.

 

 

Peach and Blueberry galette

Prep time: 1 hour

Rest time: 1 hour

Cook time: 1 hour

 

 

185g plain flour

90g whole wheat flour

225g cold unsalted butter

2 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs for the pastry and 1 egg for an egg wash (optional)

1 tbsp milk

 

 

Filling:

8 peaches

40g plain flour

400g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

150g blueberries

 

To make the pastry:

Cube the butter and add it to the flour.

Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture starts to resemble breadcrumbs and starts to stick together.

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Stir through the salt and the sugar.

In a jug, beat the eggs with the milk until the mix is homogeneous.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mix, pour in the eggs and stir with a blunt knife until combined. The knife will prevent you overworking the dough.

Once the dough starts to come together, pour it out onto a work surface and squeeze it together to form it into a ball. You want to avoid handling the dough more than necessary.

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Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

 

ALTERNATIVE METHOD – FOOD PROCESSOR

Place the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse to combine.

Cube the butter and add it in.

Pulse the mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

Add the milk and eggs and pulse again until everything starts to come together.

Pour out onto a work surface and quickly knead the mix together until it has combined. The moment it has come together fully, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge.

 

To make the filling:

Quarter the peaches and remove the stones.

Cut each quarter into three wedges and place the cut peaches in a large bowl.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon.

Sprinkle half of this over the peaches and gently stir them around.

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Toss the peaches in the remaining flour and sugar mix until everything is coated evenly.

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (190°C).

Take the pastry out of the fridge.

Roll it out to a 15 inch circle. I find that it is best to place the pastry onto the baking parchment it will be cooked on before rolling it out as that way you don’t have to try and move a very large, fragile dessert.

Starting an inch and a half from the edge, lay the slices of peach in a circle around the pie overlapping them very slightly.

Once the first circle is complete, continue to lay out more slices of peaches inside the first circle and repeat this until the galette is filled. If there is juice left at the bottom of the bowl, do not pour this over the tart as it can cause it to overflow.

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Fold up one edge of the pastry over the outside peaches.

Continue to fold up the outside pastry until all the edges are folded in and the galette is ready.

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Sprinkle half of the blueberries over the top of the galette.

Slide the baking parchment from your work surface and onto a baking tray.

Brush the outer edges of the galette with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.

Bake the galette for one hour turning halfway through.

While the galette is baking, make the blueberry coulis.

Place the remaining blueberries into a small pan with a tablespoon of water and cook with the lid on for 5 minutes.

Liquidise the blueberries and pass the resulting mix through a fine sieve to strain out the skins.

 

Allow the galette to cool for 10 minutes before sliding it onto the serving plate to cool completely.

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Serve with whipped cream and the blueberry coulis.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for a more savoury pastry, check out how to make this hot water crust chicken pie or if you fancy something a little less fruity, why not treat yourself to some chequerboard biscuits.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious fish curry. It’s not too spicy but it’s absolutely packed with flavour.

H

Carrot Cake

Although carrot cake came to popularity in England during the second world war, its origins stretch back several hundred years to the carrot puddings eaten in the middle ages. Carrot cake is a bit of a marmite food with people either loving or hating it; I have never met anyone who was ambivalent about it.

The emergence of carrot cake in the second world war came about because of sugar rationing. This led to people looking for an easy alternative and carrots were perfect as people could grow them in their back gardens. Luckily, you can’t taste the carrot in carrot cake but it gives a lovely colour and along with the use of oil instead of butter, helps the cake remain moist for a long time. I actually made the mistake of leaving the cakes on top of an Aga for about two hours as I took them out of the oven in a hurry and when I got back the cakes had not dried out at all!

Of course, you can’t have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Here in England the only readily available cream cheese is the spreadable version in tubs not the block cream cheese that you really need to make a good frosting. Spreadable cream cheese has a far higher water content and this water can cause the icing to turn into a runny soup. The best way to avoid this is to use butter as a base for the icing. This gives a rich flavour and also causes the icing to firm up in the fridge leaving it nice and smooth. The frankly obscene amount of icing sugar also helps prevent the collapse of the frosting.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.

For the cake:

450ml vegetable oil

550g sugar

5 eggs

450g plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

530g grated carrot

150g chopped walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting:

150g unsalted butter

240g cream cheese

840g sifted icing sugar

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C).

Oil and line four eight inch baking tins and place a circle of parchment on the base of each one.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time and whisk together after each addition.

Mix in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon in three batches.

Gently whisk in the carrot – you don’t want it to get shredded in the mixer so use the lowest speed setting.

Divide the cake mix between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

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Leave to cool for ten minutes and then remove the cakes from the tins and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy.

Add the cream cheese and beat again.

Mix in the icing sugar in three batches and start your mixer on slow each time to avoid the icing sugar going everywhere!

The moment the icing has come together, stop mixing it.

Place the base of the cake onto a serving plate and spread a layer of cream cheese frosting over this.

Add another layer of cake and frosting and continue until all the layers have been used up.

Spread a thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake. You can decorate this with little sugar carrots (normally available in the supermarket baking aisle) or sprinkles. Just bear in mind that cream cheese frosting is very soft and won’t hold its shape well.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe and your cream cheese frosting doesn’t turn to liquid. If you fancy a Mexican treat, check out how to make some spicy Enchiladas or if you are looking a different dessert, why not treat yourself to the best apple crumble you will eat.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious risotto recipe.

H

Lemon Drizzle Cake

When talking about classic cakes you must not forget to mention the lemon drizzle cake. Classy, sophisticated and packed full of tangy lemon flavour, this cake is sure to make frequent (although possibly short lived) appearances in your house. It freezes magnificently and can be defrosted whilst retaining all of its flavour.

The recipe I present below is far more like a Madeira cake than a Victoria sponge; it has the classic crack along the top and a denser texture which I have found holds up better under the deluge of syrup poured on top. Whilst you want the cake moist, you do not want it soggy and although you could use a standard Victoria sponge recipe for the cake mix (check out how to do that here, just replace the vanilla with some lemon zest), the cake can get a little mushy if there isn’t enough of it to evenly soak up the drizzle. An added benefit of the syrup is that if the edges of the cake dry out a little in the oven, they will absorb more liquid and end up just as soft as the rest of it.

Drizzle cakes are quite “in” at the moment. An appearance on the Great British Bake Off in the signature challenge a several years ago created a significant spike in their popularity as it showed that many variations are possible. I have seen bright purple blueberry drizzle cakes, vivid pink raspberry drizzles and even made a gin and tonic flavoured one. Citrus fruits are the safest way to go as the sharpness of the juice contrasts with the sweetness of the syrup giving a balanced flavour but as long as you make sure your drizzle is suitably tart, you should be fine.

Everyone says that their recipe is the best; theirs gives the most interesting and moistest results however yet again, the recipe I use is very similar to the one my mum uses when she bakes lemon drizzle cake and I have never found one that can compare. There is no sugar crust on the top and the syrup gets all the way through the entire cake thanks to the holes poked in before the drizzling commences – which must be done while the cake is hot! This results in a very even spread of syrup with a little more around the edges (but who is going to complain about cake with extra flavour?) Although they are traditionally baked in loaf tins, I like to make mine in a Bundt tin as it gives a beautiful shape to the cake and makes it particularly easy to portion out. It also allows me to turn the cake out onto a plate and give it a thick lemon glaze which does not sink in and gives the cake an appealing finish.

I like to eat my cake with a nice cup of tea during a work break or after a good meal. Let me know when you like to eat your cake be that as a treat or just whenever you possibly can – which is totally understandable and relatable.

Enjoy the recipe.

 

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Prep time:  20 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

8 oz. (225g) butter

8 oz. (225g) sugar

12 oz. (337g) self-raising flour (or plain flour with 3 tsp baking powder)

4 eggs

60 ml milk

Zest of 3 lemons

 

For the drizzle:

Juice of 3 lemons

4 oz. (112g) icing sugar

2 tbsp. Water

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease the Bundt tin and line with flour – or use two loaf tins.

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Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the lemon zest and beat again to incorporate.

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Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour after each to prevent the mix from curdling.

Add the rest of flour and beat until combined.

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Pour the mix into the tin(s) and spread out to an even layer. Give the tin a few bashes on the base by lightly dropping it onto a countertop to remove any air bubbles.

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Bake for 45 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, cover it with foil to prevent it from burning.

 

Remove the cake(s) from the oven and leave in the tins to start to cool.

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Once the cakes have been removed from the oven, heat the drizzle ingredients until a clear liquid is formed.

Use a skewer to make lots of small holes all over the cake(s) ensuring that the holes go all the way to the base.

Slowly spoon the hot syrup over the top of the cake and let it be absorbed. If you are using a silicone mould, you can pull it away from the edges of the cake to let the syrup get all the way to the base.

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Leave the cake(s) in the tins to cool.

Remove the cake(s) from the tin(s) and serve.

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If you fancy, you can always garnish the cake with candied peel or a thick lemon glace icing (made from sifted icing sugar and a small amount of lemon juice).

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This cake goes amazingly well with all sorts of tea and is super moreish. The moist crumb is quite dense but doesn’t go soggy resulting a cake that is both flavourful and a wonderful texture.

For another treat that goes fantastically well with a cup of tea, check out how to make my fluffy buttermilk scones or if you are looking for something a little more savoury, why not make yourself a hearty chicken pie?

 

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with another recipe for a delicious soup – though this one is a little bit more summery!

H

 

Apple Tart

Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Bramley, Gala – the list of different types of apples has thousands of varieties (which you will be glad to know I have neither time, patience nor space to write out here). Apples are one of the most widely eaten fruits and have been cultivated and eaten for millennia. They appear as symbols in many religions in both good and bad settings but are nonetheless still there. Also, apples just taste plain amazing – my favourite type is Pink Lady apples, what’s yours?

In religion we find apples appearing over and over again. In Judaism, we eat apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanna (the Jewish new year) but interestingly there is no actual command for this; in fact people used to eat whatever was the most readily available sweet fruit, which at times has included both figs and dates, dipped in honey. The apple appears in the Song of Songs and is also referenced in the Zohar (a mystical Jewish text from the 13th century). Within Christianity, the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden is often depicted as an apple although the bible never actually states this. This confusion dates back to Roman times when versions of the bible in Latin made a typo – an incredibly minute but critical mistake. The mistake came in Genesis 2:17 when referencing ‘the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ when the word mălum (evil) was confused with mālum (apple). This is also where the term “Adam’s apple” comes from for the lump in men’s throats was believed to represent Adam’s inability to swallow the fruit.

In ancient Greek mythology, one of Heracles’ tasks was to collect the golden apples of immortality from the garden of the Hesperides. This tree was a wedding gift from Gaia to Hera when she accepted Zeus’ hand in marriage and was protected by a hundred headed dragon which never slept. The apple returns again in one of the most famous stories of ancient Greece: the Trojan War. The legend state that Eris – the goddess of strife and discord – tossed a golden apple into a wedding feast which the gods were attending with the inscription “for the fairest one”. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite all claimed it and eventually Zeus proclaimed the decision would fall to Paris. Paris chose Aphrodite as she had promised him the most beautiful woman in the word – Helen of Troy (at that time, Helen of Sparta) – resulting the one of the largest battles in Greek mythology and leading to the creation of Rome!

As you may have guessed, I am a fan of Greek mythology but these stories show how apples have permeated history.

Apple crumble is one of my favourite dishes at home as it’s one of those comfort foods that is just never as good when someone other than your mum makes it. I have never managed to make it as well as her but what I can have a pretty good go at is an apple tart. This recipe is more of a flan/tart than a pie as there is no pastry lid but you are welcome to add one if you like – just be warned, you may have to play around with the cooking time to make sure all the pastry is cooked through (but at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the filling burning). These apple tarts look stunning and are sure to wow any guests you serve them too! No only that but they are vegan (just use the non-egg/non-dairy alternatives given – you can’t even tell the difference).

Enjoy the recipe and happy baking!

 

 

Apple Tart

 

For the pastry:

250g plain flour

125g cold margarine or butter. The margarine should be the block version, not the spreadable one from a tub.

2 tbsp sugar

1 pinch salt

Two tablespoons of water (or one egg)

 

For the apple compote:

4 apples – I like to use Granny Smiths as they are very tart and help offset the sweetness of the rest of the recipe

20g brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp water

1 tbsp lemon juice

 

To finish:

3 large apples – I like Pink Ladys as they have a wonderful taste but are also crisp and easy to cut

10-20g margarine or butter

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp apricot jam or 2 tbsp syrup made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water

 

To make the pastry cube the fat and rub into the flour until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

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Stir in the sugar and the salt.

Make a well in the centre, add the water or egg and mix with the flat of a blunt knife until the mix starts coming together (I use just a normal table knife).

Pour out onto a surface and knead until the pastry forms a single ball. If it seems too dry, add a little bit of water as its better to knead the pastry a little more than necessary than have it fall apart when cooking.

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Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to cool.

 

For the compote, peel, core and chop the apples.

Place them in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes until the apple is soft.

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Don’t forget to peel one of the apples like I did here!

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Using either a potato masher or a blender/stick blender, puree the compote (it’s ok if it is a little bit lumpy).

Set this aside to cool.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6.

Once the compote has cooled, roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a £1 coin and line a nine inch tart case or alternatively, the base of nine inch cake tin and about one inch up the side.

Spread the compote over the base of the pastry being careful not to damage the pastry as it is still uncooked.

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Peel two of the remaining apples.

Use an apple corer to remove the cores and cut the apples in half from top to bottom.

Place the apples on the side and use a sharp knife to cut them 1mm slices.

Arrange the slices in concentric circles overlapping each inner circle with the one it lies within. In the central portion of each layer, add a couple of end piece of apple to fill in the height difference.

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Fill the central area with more apple to fill in the dip!

The final tart should rise slightly in the centre.

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Cut up the margarine or butter and place little pieces of it all over the tart.

Sprinkle over the sugar.

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Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the apple starts browning round the edges.

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Attempt number one. The apples weren’t thin enough so there are noticeable gaps.

 

Melt the apricot jam or if using syrup, add a quarter cup of sugar and two tablespoons water to a pan and bring to a boil as the sugar dissolves. Boil for two minutes and then remove from the heat.

Remove the tart from the oven and while it is still hot, use a pastry brush to gently brush the hot syrup or jam over the apples to give them a beautiful shiny finish.

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Attempt number two.

Serve the tart warm or cold with ice cream/cream/custard – whichever you prefer!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Check out last week’s recipe for beef stir fry or if you want another sweet treat, have a look at my recipe for choux buns.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for Tomato and Pepper soup!

H

Choux Pastry

A common misconception in baking is that it is difficult to make profiteroles or éclairs. This stems from the use of choux pastry as the base of these delicious goodies. Choux is famously finickity and problematic to bake but this is just not true. As long as you follow the recipe, it should work every time!

Unlike most other baked goods, no specific raising agent is used in choux pastry, rather the high moisture content results in a lot of steam being created in the oven which inflates the pastry as it cooks. The reason the flour is added to boiling water when creating the paste is that it starts to cook and the bursting of the starch granules traps even more water which helps the paste to rise in the oven. This leads to a very light shell which is hollow inside and ready to be filled with all the yummy things that we love to eat – cream, chocolate, caramel.

Once cooked, choux buns are surprisingly sturdy and can be stacked up leading to desserts like the stunning croquembouche. These are giant towers of choux filled with crème anglaise or Chantilly cream and held together by melted sugar. They are adorned with webs of spun sugar, glazed almonds and edible flowers and are really something to behold. Much as they are fun to make, I would recommend becoming more familiar with baking choux before you attempt one!

Although associated with French cuisine, the man who allegedly invented choux pastry came from Florence. He worked for Catherine de Medici and left Florence with her when she travelled to France to marry the Duke of Orleans (who later became King Henry II of France). Originally called pâte à Panterelli after its creator, the pastry had several incarnations before arriving at the pâte à Choux we know today. It is called this because of the resemblance of the cooked buns to cabbages (and choux is the French word for cabbage).

I am a massive fan of choux pastry. I first made it a seven or eight years ago and in 2011 (when I was fifteen) made my first croquembouche. Looking back, it was quite an achievement that I came out of that with only a minor burn from the melted sugar so if you do try this yourself, please be very, very careful. Having said that, I made one three years ago in a house where the power failed and I was assembling it by torch light as the sun set because I’m stubborn and don’t learn from my mistakes. Luckily I survived that one unscathed but hopefully when you try making choux pastry, it will be a little less eventful!

 

 

Choux Pastry

 

Ingredients:

100g strong white flour

75g butter

3 eggs

1 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

 

Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

Sift the flour onto a piece of baking parchment.

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Heat 150ml water in a pan with the butter, sugar and salt until the butter is melted and the mixture is boiling.

Once the mix comes to the boil, pour in the flour and beat the mixture over the heat until it starts to form a ball and come away from the sides of the pan – it will look very lumpy and curdled at the start but I promise it will come together.

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Once the paste starts to come away from the sides of the pan, continue to cook it – still beating it – for another minute.

Pour the mix into the flour bowl from earlier (so fewer things are made dirty) and leave the ball to cool for five or ten minutes. You can speed this up by spreading it up the sides of the bowl.

Although you can do the next stage by hand, its far faster to use an electric beater. Add the eggs one at a time – it is fine if the flour mix is still a little warm at this point.

After you have added the eggs, you should have a smooth, glossy, sticky paste.

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Choux paste before the addition of eggs (top left) and after each of the eggs has been added

 

For profiteroles, pipe into circles an inch and a half across (or just dollop it onto the tray if you can’t be bothered with all the posh stuff. If any of the profiteroles have a tip on top from the piping bag, use a damp finger to flatten it out to prevent the tips from burning.

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For éclairs, pipe lines of paste four inches long onto the paper. Remember that they will expand a lot in the oven so space them out by an inch or so!

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For gougères, add some grated cheese to the mix and then treat as you would for profiteroles.

 

Sprinkle the tray with water (not the pastry) and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Try not to open the oven until this time as it will result in the choux deflating before it is finished cooking.

Check that the choux has puffed up, is golden and hard when you take them out of the oven. If not all the puffs are cooked, rotate the tray and give them another few minutes.

Once you remove the pastry from the oven, use a sharp knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each one and place them upside down to let the steam escape.

You can also place them hole side up in the oven for another minute to help dry them out (this is particularly useful when making a croquembouche as the choux buns have to be sturdy.)

 

Gougères are served plain or can be filled with mushroom duxelle (see my beef wellington recipe), or meats like beef, ham or pate.

 

For éclairs and profiteroles,

Filling:

400ml double cream

4 tbsp icing sugar

Vanilla (½ tsp vanilla paste or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)

 

For the ganache:

200ml double cream

250g dark chocolate (chopped)

 

For the filling, whip up the double cream with the sugar and vanilla to just lest than stiff peaks.

Pipe a generous amount through the hole in the bottom of each profiterole/éclair until they feel heavier and start to bulge.

 

For the ganache, heat the rest of the cream until just before boiling and pour it over the chocolate.

Leave for two minutes and then stir until the chocolate has melted and combines to make a glossy ganache.

Dip the top of each profiterole or éclair into the ganache and place onto a tray to set.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy a nice comforting main, check out my recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne or for another chocolatey dessert, why not make yourself some melt in the middle chocolate fondants?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious stir fry recipe.

H

Chocolate and Caramel Layer Cake

I recently realised that in all of my recipes which used chocolate as a main ingredient, I have never actually talked about its origins which is something I am about to change.

There is evidence of the use of chocolate in drinks from almost 4000 years ago. The ancient Maya and the Aztecs were known to use it in drinks however the chocolate they consumed was nothing like what we have today. Cocoa beans are incredibly bitter and need to be fermented before they begin to taste nice. Even then, we still dry them, roast them and add sugar before they get close to our mouths.

The name chocolate derives from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word ‘chocolātl’. The Mayans used chocolate in celebrations and religious events. As cocoa beans grew so easily in Mesoamerica, chocolate was widely available and as a result everyone had access to it regardless of social status. Chocolate was so well thought of that there are paintings of the Mayan gods drinking it.

Cocoa Pod
A fresh cocoa pod

Like the Mayans, the Aztecs valued chocolate highly and also thought it had religious significance. They believed the removal of seeds from the pods they grew in was analogous to the removal of the human heart in ritual sacrifice. They would season chocolate with pepper and honey before they consumed it – almost like the world’s first chilli hot chocolate (except they drank it cold). Unlike the Maya, the Aztecs could not grow chocolate themselves as conditions were unsuitable so it was imported. As a result, cocoa beans were extremely valuable and were sometimes used a currency. When they conquered the Mayans, the Aztecs forced them to pay taxes (or ‘tributes’) in cocoa beans.

Since then, chocolate has become a world-wide phenomenon. It is consumed everywhere in, frankly, ridiculous quantities. Back in 2014, Switzerland held the crown for highest chocolate consumption per head with the average person eating 9kg of chocolate a year!

To produce chocolate, the beans must be roasted, cleaned, have their shells removed and ground up to create cocoa mass. This is then heated so that the cocoa butter melts creating a smooth, liquid called cocoa liquor. This is then either processed or left to cool in large blocks of raw chocolate which is then sold to different chocolatiers.

The raw chocolate can be re-melted and the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa mass. These are then recombined in different ratios along with sugar, milk and oils to create the chocolate we know and love. The cocoa mass must be ground up to very fine particles which is what gives the chocolate its smooth mouth feel and is why you can’t just add cocoa butter to cocoa powder and sugar to create chocolate – the cocoa powder has particles with almost four times the radius of those in professional chocolates.

The cocoa butter is also important to making good chocolate. When you make decorations, many recipes will call for tempered chocolate. This is where you melt the chocolate and when it is cooled, prevent the cocoa butter from setting, but stirring, until it gets to the right temperature. This is because cocoa butter has six different crystal forms only one of which is completely solid at room temperature and you don’t want your carefully crafted decorations to collapse before everyone sees them! One way around this is to buy compound chocolate where the cocoa butter is replaced with vegetable oils – this means that you don’t have to temper it!

Luckily, the recipe this week doesn’t call for anything super fiddly like tempering chocolate. It does make one of the biggest cakes I have created though. With four layers sandwiched with cream and caramel, this cake is incredibly indulgent, exceedingly decedent and definitely worth it. It’s perfect to feed a crowd and if you only want a small one, you can easily half the quantities and only make a two-layer cake!

Chocolate, caramel layer cake

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes (or 1 hour)

Cooling time: At least one hour

Decorating time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour cooling)

Total time: 3 ½ – 4 hours

Serves 25

For the Cake:

100g cocoa (you want to use regular shop bought dutchy processed cocoa, not raw cocoa!)

200g dark brown sugar

500ml boiling water

250g unsalted butter

300g caster sugar

450g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tbsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Pinch of salt

For the Icing:
½ batch of caramel (see Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe which gives instructions for the full batch)

200g butter (at room temperature)

450g icing sugar – sifted

¼ cup milk

For the filling:

300ml double cream

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180oC) and line four eight-inch baking tins (you may have to make the cakes in two batches if you have fewer tins and this will also help ensure the cakes all bake evenly). I like to butter the tins, put a circle of parchment on the bottom and then give it all a coating of cocoa.

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Place the cocoa and the dark brown sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Whisk this together.

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Cream the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes in an electric stand mixer.

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Stir the salt, bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder into the flour.

Add an egg and a tablespoon of the flour mix and beat it together.

Repeat this until all the eggs are added.

Add in half the remaining flour and mix it together.

Add the rest of the remaining flour along with a couple of tablespoons of the chocolate mix to prevent the mix turning into a hard dough.

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The moment it starts looking lumpy, add a little of the chocolate mixture

Add about a quarter of the remaining chocolate mix and make sure it is beaten through well so there are no lumps of while left.

Gently add the remaining chocolate mixture and slowly stir that through until all the mix is combined.

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Divide this into your tins and bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool before filling them.

To make the icing, beat the butter for at least seven or eight minutes until it is light and fluffy. This step is imperative to making a smooth, spreadable icing.

Add half of the icing sugar and slowly beat it in to prevent covering the room in a layer of icing sugar.

Once it has been incorporated, beat the icing again on a medium to high speed for another five minutes.

Add the remaining icing sugar and repeat, beating for another five minutes. If the icing seems to be getting dry and clumping, add a tablespoon of the milk.

Add half of the caramel and beat it into the icing – the rest will be used later. The icing should now be smooth and delicious.

Once the cakes are cool, it is time to assemble them.

If the cakes are very domed in the middle, it’s best to level them a bit at this point. Us a sharp knife or a cake leveller to remove the top of each dome so the cake will be a more even shape.

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Whip the cream to soft peaks – it should be able to hold its shape but not have started to split!

Place the bottom layer on the cake board and pipe a circle of the butter cream around the edge.

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Spread the inside of the circle with one third of the cream and one third of the remaining caramel.

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Add the next layer of cake and repeat this until you only have one layer of cake left to add.

When you add the final layer, add it upside down so the top of the cake is a smooth, flat surface. You may have to build the icing wall up a little higher on the third later to support this if your cakes aren’t completely level.

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Cover the entire cake in a thin coat of icing and chill for an hour.

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Chill the cake after adding the crumb coat so the final product has a clean finish on the outside

Once the cake has chilled, cover it in the remaining icing keeping about 4 tablespoons back for decoration.

Use the reserved icing to pipe designs onto the cake. You can make them more visible by adding a little cocoa to the icing so it stands out.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe and that you love the cake when you try it! If you fancy a little bit more baking, why not have a go at making some Brandy Snaps or for a quick and easy meal, make yourself some One Pot Pasta!

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a delicious curry recipe – it’s even going to be vegan!

H

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