ground almonds

Macarons (or is it Macaroons?)

macaroons1

Dainty, pretty and staggeringly expensive macarons seemed to be everywhere in Belgium. We only had them once (as a treat) but this prompted the children to ask when I was going to make macarons again. I vowed that on our return home I would dig out my Mary Berry recipe, defrost the egg whites in the freezer, and rustle some up.

This week I finally kept my promise.

It was then that I remembered why I don’t make macarons very often.

The recipe (which is described as easy) seemed straight forward and all went swimmingly until the part which says very neatly (in soft and calm Mary Berry voice).

“Spoon the macaron mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Pipe 5cm circles onto the baking tray”.

Now what this doesn’t say is that it is almost impossible to hold the piping bag steady with one hand and fill it with the other because the extremely sticky mixture won’t come off the spoon and you’ve run out of hands. And whilst you’ve been faffing about trying to fill the bag from the top the runny mix is dripping straight out the bottom of the nozzle. You just about manage to pipe messy circles but then, when you have to refill the piping bag, you can’t prise it open because it’s stuck together with syrup. And your hands stick to everything they touch because they’re covered in bright green macaron mix…as is the work surface…the sink…and the floor.

Perhaps I needed one of these piping bag stands that they sell in Lakeland.

 

piping-bag-holder

But I don’t like Lakeland – who sell pointless gadgets to the desperate (in this case me) and gullible.

You can also buy this.

pipping-set

 

Now this does look like it would work but I’m not sure I’m that devoted to the art of macaron making to invest in specialist equipment.

Anyway, I battled on and once the rough looking macarons were baked and sandwiched together they didn’t look too bad. I picked out the best ones for the photograph above and placed them on a beautiful James Hake dish which helped.

The thing is I don’t even like macarons. But I do like making people happy and the smile of anticipation on my children’s faces when I showed them the results of my labours was well worth all the fuss and washing up.

I pretended not to hear when they asked “Mummy, when are you going to make macarons again?”

PS. I still don’t know whether it’s macaron or macaroon.

Mary Berry’s macaroon/macaron recipe

Makes 9-12

For the macarons

  • 125g ground almonds
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • Food colouring (whatever colour takes your fancy)

For the butter cream filling (my recipe)

  • 100g of dark chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 200g of icing sugar

For the macarons, first mix together the icing sugar and ground almonds and try to get rid of any large lumps by crushing with the back of a spoon (you’re meant to blitz in a blender but this makes too much washing up for my liking).

Using an electric whisk beat the egg whites in a scrupulously clean large bowl until stiff peaks form. Then slowly whisk in the cream of tartar and caster sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

With a large metal spoon, gently fold in the food colouring, icing sugar and ground almonds.

Take a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round nozzle. Fill the bag with the mixture (as best you can) and pipe 5 cm circles of mixture onto flat baking sheets lined with baking parchment. I draw around a 5 cm round biscuit cutter onto the baking parchment to make a guide but it is worth noting that the mixture does spread so if you want your macarons to be 5 cm then don’t pipe all the way to the edge. It’s a good idea to leave plenty of space between each macaron in case they spread more than you hope.

If a peak forms on top then flatten it down with a damp finger. Tap the trays sharply onto the work surface to expel any air bubbles and then let the macaroons settle for about an hour, or until the surface is no longer sticky.

Heat the oven to 160oC and bake for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the baking parchment with a flat knife and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make up the butter cream filling by melting the dark chocolate and mixing with softened butter and icing sugar until smooth. You could also fill the macarons with standard butter cream, or lemon curd or whipped cream.

Use the filling to sandwich the macarons together. Then chill in the fridge until the butter cream has set before storing in an air tight container at room temperature.

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Rich chocolate cake

cake

About two years ago my husband made his very first cake. It was this ‘rich chocolate cake’ and it got such a great reception that he hasn’t bothered to try any others since. Whenever he makes a cake (which is not often) it is always this one. It blew Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness cake completely out of the water and my children now hail it as the ‘best cake in the world ever’. This is slightly annoying (since I bake lots of different cakes, all the time) but I have to admit that it is very delicious (hence the reason for this post) and I’m not usually a fan of chocolate cake.

This recipe doesn’t contain flour, so providing you use gluten free chocolate you can make it for your gluten free/coeliac friends. And if you don’t like almonds (like me) don’t worry – the rich chocolate completely disguises any almond flavour.

It’s not the easiest cake to make as there are quite a few processes involved (note how many times I use the words ‘carefully’ and ‘gently’ below). However, if (like my husband) you only bake cakes two or three times a year, you might as well go to a bit of effort.

It’s also not a showstopper lookswise. Don’t bake this if you want to make a grand cake entrance and wow your friends. It does however have a depth and richness on tasting that will quietly impress – rather like my husband really!

Rich Chocolate Cake – from the amazing Peyton and Byrne book – ‘British Baking’*

*I saw this in a charity shop recently and couldn’t believe that anyone would give such a brilliant book away.

  • 160g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 160g of cold butter, cut into small cubes (about 1cm squared)
  • A pinch of sea salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 120g of caster sugar
  • 160g of ground almonds

Set your oven to 180oC.

Butter and line a 23 cm diameter cake tin with baking parchment.

NOTE: I recently used a 20 cm square cake tin instead. This produced a slightly thicker cake which I liked much better. It needed 5 minutes longer in the oven however (30 minutes total). ZS 25/09/16

Put the chocolate (and salt if using) in a bowl and melt over a pan of barely simmering water. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the pan and tip in the cubes of butter. Let the mixture sit until the butter starts to melt, then give it a quick stir and leave it for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, in another scrupulously clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks with a whisk. Then add the caster sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. An electric whisk makes this much easier.

Stir the chocolate mixture until all the butter has melted and whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time. Then fold in the egg white mixture as carefully and gently as you can.

Now lightly fold in the ground almonds being careful not to knock the air out of the mixture. It will have the texture of shaving foam at this point.

Pour into the tin and level off carefully with the back of a spoon or a palette knife. It will not spread and rise very much so it is worthwhile taking your time to do this carefully.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and serving.

This is best eaten as fresh as possible and is amazing served slightly warm with a small scoop of mascarpone. If you can’t eat it on the day then cut the cake into slices and blast in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.

Desks 2 - edited

Afternoon coffee (mid-century style) in the Marvellous Furniture shop