Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Viva la Macaron

Yesterday when I got home from work I had a strong desire to be in the kitchen baking up something good and since I didn't have to cook any supper I had all the time I needed. I opened the cupboard and the first two things I saw was a packet of chopped almonds and a bag of icing sugar. A light went off in my head and suddently I had a vision of macarons.

I have yet to try these sweet treats mostly because I've always been afraid that it would be too complicated for a humble home baker like myself. Reading all the comments people had about making macarons at home didn't help much either. I've always hated been a failure and so whenever possible I try to avoid things which I think have a failure possibility.

I thought what the heck I'll just do it for fun (I can be a perfectionist sometimes and take what I do very seriously). I had 20 minutes before the final episode of Ugly Betty season 2 starts. I though I'd get it into the oven before that.

I had printed a few recipes over the past couple of weeks but I knew exactly which one I was going to try. I sprung off the couch to retrieve David Lebovitz recipe for chocolate macarons from my recipe collection. I chose his because it didn't seem too complicated and also because he tried and tested his recipe so many times. To my dismay I couldn't find my book and then I remembered that I had left it at my sister-in-law's place 2 weekends ago (I baked up a storm that weekend). Then it struck me I'll just get it over the internet. I hate reading from screens when I'm baking and prefer to have a hard copy but I really wanted to make these so I went ahead. I looked at the time...and oh my was now 5 minutes before Ugly Betty started.

No time to get the spice grinder which was stored too far out of reach (see I don't have a food processor and I needed it to grind the almonds) so I reached for the hand blender. I knew that it wasn't going to do a very good job of grinding the almonds but I thought what the heck I'm doing this for fun. You will notice the little almond specks on the surface of my macarons.

So I ground the almonds, measured the icing sugar and cocoa, seperated the eggs and then I noticed the tv auto tuning to Ugly Betty - I wasn't about to miss the final episode of a show I so love. I left everything as is and then went into the lounge to watch the final (sob sob) episode (sob sob) of Ugly Betty. This show always gets me in stitches which is sought of therapeutic for me especially on stressful days. My boyfriend doesn't get it and just shakes his head everytime I crack up laughing.

During the first ad break I sifted the ground almonds, cocoa and icing sugar together in a bowl.

During the second ad break I started to whip the eggs but I had just enough time to add the sugar before whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks.

During the third ad break I continued to whip the egg whites and then I thought to hell with that I'm going to watch Ugly Betty in peace so I left everything standing until the credits went up.

I went back into the kitchen - with a heavy heart - to finish my macarons. I whipped the egg whites again cause I wasn't really satisfied with them. Folding in the dry ingredients got me nervous cause I read on David's blog that one wrong fold or one fold too many and then it's all over.

I folded in the dry ingredients carefully, quickly piped little mounds on my baking tray (as you can see by looking at my macarons) which I covered with greaseproof paper and popped them into the oven. I didn't leave them to stand because it was getting late.

I went back to the oven 13 minutes later to take a peek, and what do you know, I saw "feet". I would have sung "I believe I can fly" right there and then but it was late and people were about to sleep so I just gave a quiet shrill, closed the oven door and did a little happy dance. The "feet" on my macarons weren't as well developed as the one's I've seen on the macarons from the great pastry chefs (can Pierre Herme please stand up), but for a first time I would say that I got off on the right foot (no pun intended).

Pierre Hermé's Macaron Chocolat

Some of my dear friends might be wondering what "feet" are and why I was so excited to see them. The "feet" are the "lacy" edges you see around the base of macarons. The reason I was so excited was that I've read so many times of how people couldn't get it right the first time.

When the macarons were done I removed them from the oven and left them to cool to room temperature. I had a "should I shouldn't I" moment when it came to removing the macarons from the parchment paper. See I've read how people have had some trouble removing their macarons from the paper. I couldn't decide whether I should remove them with a spatula while they were still warm or if I should just leave them to cool and remove them later. I left them to cool for about 20 minutes and then what do you's time for happy dance number 2. I managed to peel off the macarons (carefully and slowly) without any trouble.

I wasn't going to do the prune filling the recipe called for and I didn't have any chocolate for the ganache so I decided to make chocolate buttercream. I threw (by now I'm tired with no energy for measuring) some butter, milk, cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl and whisked to a nice creamy buttercream. Surprisingly the buttercream turned out great and I regreted not paying attention to the amounts of ingredients I added. It wasn't too sweet, was the right consistency and had just the right level of richness and chocolate goodness. I thougjht I was going to be disappointed with using buttercream instead of the ganache but I found it quite satisfying.

I can't wait to try these again using the proper techniques called for in the recipe. I know I'm going to be making these again and again so don't frown when you see too many posts on macarons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dessert Express

Last night I was really wishing for a good treat but being so tired from all the late nights I decided that I need a quick and easy treat that I could enjoy. I thought about what I was wishing for.....something with nuts and chocolate. I thought about making the pecan slices that my sister-in-law goes gaga over but then that would require too much effort for my tired self. I then thought about a nice chocolate souffle but then that would require too much mixing and whipping.

Then out of the blues I thought I'd make my chocolate "rocks" or as many might call it nut clusters. I love nuts and I love chocolate so this would be the perfect treat requiring almost no time or effort (and just one bowl to wash....yay).

The next part was deciding which nuts and which chocolate. I love pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts....and so on and so on...but I was looking for just the right taste that would satisfy my deep desire for something sweet. How could I forget....macadamia nuts. I love macadamia nuts because of their smooth, sweet and rich flavour. And did you know that they are healthy for you too.

Originally from Australia these exotic nuts are considered delicacies around the world and whats more they go well with just about anything...chocolate, ice-cream, cookies, nougat (I love Sally Williams)....I can go on and on.

I didn't need a recipe for this simple treat just some chocolate and nuts. I settled for milk chocolate. I normally would buy the best chocolate I can get my hands on for a treat like this but I wasn't really fussy so I grabbed the first things my eyes settled on. I used 100g each of chocolate and nuts.

I just melted the chocolate, threw in the nuts and dropped spoonfuls onto greaseproof paper to set into the beautiful nut clusters that I love. You could add glace ginger or chopped glace cherries if you'd like to add a little more pizazz.

While I sat down to enjoy my treat I started thinking about other quick and easy treats that I've enjoyed over the years. Treats that I hadn't thought about until that very moment. I will share with you a few of my favourites. All of these don't really require a recipe just some eye-balling.

Chocolate covered marshmallow sandwiches

Oh boy I remember making these growing up. The perfect treat that is oh so kid friendly. I don't know if you can get Marie biscuits around the world but if you can't get your hands on any you can use any plain biscuits or digestive biscuits.

What you need:

Marie biscuits
Chocolate (melted - the amount you need would depend on how many sandwiches you making)

What you need to do:

Place a marshmallow between 2 biscuits. Place in the microwave for just a few seconds. Dip in the marshmallow sandwich into the melted chocolate. You can dip the entire sandwich or just the top half. Refrigerate until chocolate sets.

See quick, easy and delicious

Quick and Easy chocolate mousse

What you need:

1 package chocolate instant pudding
1 can condensed milk
1 cup cold water
1 cup fresh cream or whipping cream

What you need to do:

Whip the cream until stiff and fluffy and set aside. If you using fresh cream you need to take care cause too much whipping and the cream will curdle.

In a separate bowl mix together the pudding, condensed milk and water.

Fold in whipped cream.

Spoon into serving dishes and leave in fridge to set.

No bake cake

What you need:

1 package Tennis biscuits 0r digestive biscuits
1 vanilla instant pudding


200g chocolate (chopped)
100g fresh cream

Prepare the topping first:

Microwave chocolate in and cream together in a microwave for a few minutes until chocolate has melted. After 30 seconds remove the bowl and stir. You would need to do this until the chocolate has melted. Remove from microwave and stir to incorporate the milk and chocolate. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Prepare the pudding according to the package directions.

Place a single layer of biscuits at the bottom of a deep tray or Pyrex dish. Spread half of the prepared pudding over the biscuits. Top the pudding with another single layer of biscuits

Pour the chocolate topping over the biscuits.

Leave in fridge to set.

I have lots more but I'll leave you with these for now. All of these desserts take less than 30 minutes to prepare so they are excellent for when you are short on time (and energy). I haven't made these recently so I don't have any pictures but will post some soon. Watch this space for more quick and easy delicious desserts.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Extra, Extra this just in....

I am thrilled to share with you that my niece Azariah was born at 3.78kgs today just a few short hours ago. I can't wait to meet her.

Congratulations to Timothy and Kristy. Enjoy your new bundle of joy.

Lot's of love to you Azariah and may you have a beautiful life.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

I dream of Paris

Eiffel Tower
Image source: flickr

I have had my mind on Paris a lot lately. It is my dream to go there and I know one day I will. You might be wondering why I love Paris so much especially since I haven't even been there.'s gastronomic heaven. What do I like about Paris the most.......uh let me see......their fine food and especially their pastries and desserts. Though I haven't actually had any authentic French food, I have made many French inspired meals and desserts.
One of the great attractions for food lovers and those who dwell in the world of gastronomy is the Rungis market just outside of Paris. It is the largest food market in the world and supplies only the freshest produce from meat to vegetables and even flowers.

Rungis: the worlds largest food market

Seafood Pavilion at Rungis
Image source: flickr

Fruit and Vegetable Pavilion (Heaven) at Rungis
Image source: flickr

And even more fruit from Rungis
Image Source: flickr

I have recently discovered Pierre Herme who is one of the most celebrated pastry chefs in Paris - known to most as the Picasso of Pastry - when I grow up I want be be just like him. He is well know for is innovation when it comes to combining flavours and even has the rare skill of combining sweet and savoury. I would love to eat out of his patisserie one day when I go to Paris and would especially love to meet him.

The master himself

It's not surprising that Pierre Herme has many followers since from what I've seen and read (and not tasted....oh no) he has the ability to create the most original and exquisite desserts that many great pastry chefs use as a road map for their own creations

Here is his famous Ispahan....

...and his decadent looking 2000 feuilles (a praline filled Mille Feuille).

Image source: flickr

Know to most as a Napoleon and to some South Africans, a custard slice. Well I bet you havent seen a custard slice like this around.

Some more of his creations. at first site .

Image source: flickr

And last but not least, his modern luxury pastry shop in Japan.

Image source: flickr

It's like buying precious jewels don't you think.

See what I mean. Who can ever resist these. I sometimes wonder how the French people manage their weight so nicely since their food is so rich and decadent.

I would really love to try the macaron - the ever famous French cookie - from the famous shops like Pierre Herme , Fauchon, Ladurée, Gérard Mulot, and Lenôtre. I've heard only good things about them.

Here it is the great French macaron.

More macarons from another great French patisserie - Ladurée

Image source: flickr

Doesn't it make wish you were in Paris right now.

To see how its made you can follow this link to an interesting post I found at Paris Breakfasts. You could also go here.

Another popular dessert I love is the Opera cake with its many layers of rich decadence. I've made this cake before but without the traditional almond jaconde that is supposed to be used. I love chocolate so I've made it with a chocolate sponge.

See it's beautiful layers.....

Mmmm writing this makes me want to make one. I think I'll be making one soon but with the traditional almond jaconde since I've never tried it.

Ah and how can I forget the simple yet elegant....

...or maybe not so simple Eclair.

Image source: flickr

Did you notice that the one right at the bottom is covered in gold. Well what can I say. The French are so rooted in fashion that they've even translated it into their food.

Many people know Paris for their great fashion and perfume but some don't know that some of the greatest cuisine (and desserts) come from France and especially Paris. Why do you think so many people from all over the world go to France to learn about food.

I can't wait till I have the opportunity of roaming the streets of Paris but until them I guess I just have to keep dreaming.

Au revoir!

Danish Braid

I remember eating Danish pastries growing up. I used to always the enjoy them - the light flaky pastry and the delicious custard fillings. I'ts been years since I've had a good Danish pastry so when I found myself looking at all the Danish braids on the blogs that I read from time to time I decided it was time to make my very one Danish braid. The thought of working with dough - especially laminated dough - has always scared me. I always thought that it was not something easy enough for the ordinary home baker to attempt. It wasn't until I found a post on Fanny's blog that I was inspired to make one. She says that her recipe for dough is easy and very forgiving so with that I printed the recipe and I was off to make my very first homemade Danish braid.

With all the pastry cream I had from the day before I decided to double the recipe and make two braids. One with chocolate (finding good chocolate chips here is like trying to get water from a rock and the only ones you can get in the shops are the "plastic" type) and one with strawberry jam. I have some good quality chocolate at home so I used half a slab and broke it into chunks.

If you want a good tasting dessert always use good quality chocolate like Lindt or Callebaut. I didn't use any of the two for this recipe because I had other good chocolate at home.

Can you guess what chocolate this is?

It's Beacon Superfine chocolate (50% I think). I wouldn't say it's as good as Lindt or Callebaut but it is pretty good. If you find this chocolate too expensive any other chocolate will do. Just make sure you use a dark or semi-sweet chocolate.

First I mixed together all the dry ingredients in a bowl. I made a well in the flour mixture then poured in the wet ingredients (I mixed all the wet ingredients together just enough to break the egg yolks) into the well.

I didn't have to add anymore flour because my dough was just right. Then into the fridge the dough went to rest for 30 minutes (are you counting).

After the dough had rested it was time for my first turn.

First I rolled the dough into a rectangle. I need to improve my rolling skills since it wasn't so easy getting the dough into a nice rectangular shape. Then I spread the butterblock - which I made while the dough was resting with a mixture of flour and butter - over the centre and right thirds of the rectangle.

Then I folded the left end of the dough over the centre so that it covers half the butter and then I completed the turn by folding the right side of the dough over the left side of the dough which I had just folded. I placed the dough back into the fridge to rest for another 30 minutes (still counting).

After the dough had rested I rolled it out into a rectangle and did the tour double (don't ask I just followed the recipe instructions) that the recipe asked for. I visually divided the dough in half and then folded the left side of the dough to meet the (visual) centre line. Next I folded the right side of the dough over to meet the centre line. I then folded the left side of the dough over to the right to create the "closed book".

Whew I was glad I effortlessly figured out how to do this. Thanks to Fanny for her wonderful instructions. The diagram she posted really simplified things.

Then back into the fridge the dough went to rest for yet another 30 minutes. After the dough had rested I rolled it out and did my final turn. This time I had to leave the dough in the fridge for about 1 to 2 hours.

Then it was time to make the braid. I enjoyed this part a lot since it was the part I was looking forward to the most. I must say that I wasn't as successful as I was hoping to be. I used too much filling so it made braiding the dough difficult since the filling was just oozing out. I also ended up with big although this didn't cause much of a problem during baking. The filling still stayed inside. Note to self: next time I will use less pastry cream/filling.

I forgot to take pictures of the chocolate and vanilla pastry cream braid. Overall I was happy with the end results. The only problem I had was braiding the dough and that's because I put in too much filling. The braid was utterly delicious. I was surprised at how good my dough turned out - light and flaky.

You can go the to the Foodbeam blog for the recipe

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Not Quite Nigella

So when I was asked to make some pastries for today I thought no problem. With a full-time job there's not much time for baking during the week but with careful planning I thought that I could pull it off in no time. After all I've seen Nigella whip up some wonderful dishes in no time. So I planned and prepared but what do you know I still ended up sleeping at midnight and that was just preperations. I woke up early in the morning to finish off. Despite this I don't feel tired at all. I think it's because I enjoy doing this.

So here are the fruits of my labour. Top left: pecan slices. Top right: Chocolate tart. Bottom left: vanilla bean Napoleon or as the French would call it Mille Feuille.

The chocolate tarts are made with pâte sucrée, filled with creamy chocolate ganache and topped with chocolate whipped cream. Mmmm......I love chocolate and if I could I'd make everything with chocolate.

Now seen as how I have the day off tomorrow I will be in the kitchen again baking a special surprise.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Caramel Popcorn Part II

It's been a hectic week for me and even though I did make the popcorn 2 nights ago I wasn't completely satisfied cause I went home to discover that I only had microwave popcorn. Don't get me wrong I love microwave popcorn but I don't like to use it when making caramel popcorn. I find the caramel to heavy for the light popcorn. I decided to make it anyway but because I was so tired and rushed I almost burnt the caramel. I didn't enjoy the popcorn much so I decided I will try again the next day.
Yesterday I also got home a bit late from work but I still had to time to rush out to the shops to buy some popcorn after some procrastination because I was feeling a bit lazy. I even had time to take pictures. Normally I'm too busy enjoying what I've made to remember to take pictures.
I enjoy making popcorn from scratch. I enjoy the smell of fresh popcorn that fills the kitchen as well as the therapeutic sound of the popcorn popping.

First I added the popcorn and oil into a large pot. Some prefer to heat the oil first but it doesn't really make a difference to me. I still get good popcorn everytime regardless of which method I use.

You would need to cover the pot with a lid but leave the lid slightly open for the steam to escape. Not too wide though unless you want a mess all over your kitchen. Remember to cook the popcorn on medium heat otherwise it will burn. When the popping has slowed down I normally switch off the heat and leave the pot on the plate until the popping has stopped.

Mmmmmm fresh popcorn!!!

Once the popcorn has popped I remove the lid so that the steam from the pot doesn't wet the popcorn.

When making caramel popcorn I always transfer the popcorn into a large bowl and remove any unpopped kernels. This is important cause once you add the caramel it will be hard to do this. If you bite into any kernels while eating the popcorn you could lose a tooth or something....just don't do it. Also you might want to lightly salt the popcorn for flavour. At this point I normally start eating the popcorn before I even add the caramel.

I then proceeded to make the caramel. When I'm in a rush I normally start the caramel while the popcorn is popping but I don't recommend this because you could easily forget about a pot and burn something....and everybody knows that once your popcorn or caramel is even slightly burnt you just can't use it cause then it just tastes bad.

I added the sugar, butter and syrup into a heavy based pot. I've found that you don't need a very big pot like when making fudge because the caramel is heavy and doesn't rise up too much in the pot as it's boiling. I used golden syrup because we don't get light corn syrup in our shops here in South Africa. I also like to use glucose syrup when have it but unlike golden syrup it's not readily available and more expensive.

I stirred the caramel continuously until it started to boil. Once it started boiling I left it to boil for about 5 minutes without stirring.

Before the mixture boils...

About 2 minutes into boiling....

After 5 minutes I removed the pot from the stove (be careful the caramel is very hot and can cause serious burns) and added the vanilla and bicarb.

Stirred the mixture to incorporate the vanilla and bicarb. Notice how the bicarb causes the caramel to foam. For some reason I enjoy watching this.

Immediately poured the caramel over the popcorn and mixed it like crazy before it started to cool and set.

In the next part of the recipe you have to put the the popcorn into the oven. To see what the big fuss really is I put half into the oven and left the other half to set in a bowl. Quite frankly I preferred the popcorn that didn't go into the oven . I preferred the taste and more so the texture of the caramel before it went into the oven. Maybe it's something I did wrong but I found that the caramel sought of became "fudgy" once it came out of the oven. Anyway if you going to put it into the oven then you would need to leave it there for about 45 minutes to an hour making sure that you stir it every 15 minutes so that it doesn't burn.

Now that you can see how much I enjoyed making and eating this popcorn go on and print the recipe and make it yourself.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Caramel Popcorn Part I

So winters come full blown and all you want to do is cuddle up on the couch with a plate of your favourite comfort food. I love popcorn anytime of the year but during winter I like to indulge in caramel popcorn. I've been wanting to make this for a long time but never got around to doing it so when I found these videos on I thought I will give these a try tonight. The nice thingk about popcorn is that it's so versatile. You can add sweet or savoury flavourings and lately popcorn has found its way to the dinner table. With the caramel popcorn you can add nuts or drizzle it with melted chocolate to make it even more decadent. A word of warning though...make sure you fish out any unpopped kernels before adding the caramel otherwise get ready to make a trip to the dentist. Bon Apetit!

Warning: Be very careful when working with caramel as it gets very hot and can cause bad burns.

How to make stove top popcorn (okay so you already know how to do this but I thought I'd include the video)

How to make caramel popcorn part 1

How to make caramel popcorn part 2

Finishing off your popcorn

You can use slightly more or less popcorn depending on how heavy you want you popcorn coated with caramel popcorn.

A tip for popping your popcorn: Pop the popcorn on medium heat. When popping has slowed down (a few seconds delay between popping) turn off the heat and leave to continue popping. When popping has stopped remove from stove and pour popcorn into a bowl. I find that the steam from the pot wets the popcorn that's why I like to transfer the popcorn to a bowl as soon as it's done popping.

After reading the recipe you might find yourself wondering what light corn syrup is. It took me a while to figure it out but even once you've figured it out you will soon come to realise that we just don't have it in South Africa. My suggestion to you is that you use golden syrup in it's place. You could also use glucose syrup but it's so much more expensive and harder to find.

Another thing that might have you scratching your head is the packed brown sugar. I shopped for days looking for packed brown sugar in the shops and was about to pull out my hair (okay so if you know what it is you probably laughing at this point) when - thank the heavens - I came across a post on the internet clearing the point on packed brown sugar (thank God for the internet). Packed brown sugar is not a type of sugar. The "packed" refers to how you measure the sugar. If a recipe calls for packed brown sugar then it means that you have to pack the sugar tightly in the cup when measuring it.

When I first read this recipe I thought why do I need to put this in the oven. It's just extra work and extra washing up. Depending on the humidity the caramel will remain soft even after it has set. Putting the popcorn in the oven ensures that the caramel is crunchy once it has set. I like sticky popcorn sometimes but I find that it sticks to my teeth too much so I generally prefer it crunchy.

1 cup unpopped popcorn
1/4 cup oil
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt (you could use less if you using salted butter or margarine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 250 degree F (120 degrees Celcius). Pour oil into the bottom of a large pot and add popcorn. Heat over medium-high heat. Place a tight fitting lid onto the pot but leave a space on one side for steam to escape. Pop the corn. When the popping slows down (few seconds delay between popping) turn off the heat. When it’s all popped, pour into a large bowl and season with salt.

Step 2
Put popcorn (already popped) in a large bowl. Set aside.

Step 3
In a heavy saucepan, combine margarine, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt and melt on medium heat. Bring to boil stirring while stirring constantly. Leave to boil without stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.

Step 4
Pour mixture over popcorn. Stir to coat. Spread popcorn on a large greased jelly (swiss) roll pan or large oven tray.

Step 5
Bake in a 250 degree (120 degrees Celcius) oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Watch the popcorn closesly. If gets to dark or begins to burn then remove from the oven immediately. Remove from oven and spread (in a thin layer) on wax paper to cool (you can stir now and then to prevent the popcorn from sticking). Break apart and enjoy. Store in an airtight container.