Sunday, July 25, 2010

Macarons - Finally, success!

I made macarons. Yes, you heard right - I FINALLY made macarons. Did I ever share about my previous two failed attempts at making this lovely french cookie? Perhaps not, cos it's supposed to be stored away in the deepest end of my memory. not to be dug out. Those experiences are too painful to be worth recalling.

Half a year on since my last attempt at making macarons using the French method, I decided to muster my courage and attempt the Italian meringue or sucre cuit method. Pastry chefs swear by it, even the famed Pierre Herme uses it, what excuse do I have to not try it? None. None at all.

Looking at the recipe, it does look a tad more tricky than the French method. But after breaking down the steps, the only additional one was the cooking of the sugar syrup to 118 degrees, which is supposed to yield a more stable meringue structure. There were a couple of differences in the ingredient composition as well, but after peering closely, this doesn't seem much more difficult than the French method.

After doing some more  research and scrutinising various recipes, I decided to use Pierre Herme's. Since he's the pastry king, it should be fine right? If it isn't, it would be my fault, not his, narrowing down the error sources ...haha.

This time round, I put my heart and soul into making these delicate cookies. Sifting ground almonds can be such a pain, but I did it patiently for almost 30 minutes straight. Even mum was really encouraging, telling me to take my time in the kitchen. I didn't do everything according to plan - my instant read thermometer didn't quite reach 118 degrees, possibly because of the shallow level of liquid. Once it passed the 100 mark, saucepan brimming with bubbles, I decided to pour it in. The meringue turned out thick and glossy - just like how the recipe described, and the macaron batter looked really promising.

Once the pan was in the oven, I couldn't bear to look. I lay my head on the kitchen table and prayed that it will be a success. 3 minutes on, I peeped - no feet. Sigh. 6 minutes on, I couldn't resist and peeped again - ahhhhh I see feet! Finally! I was so happy I swear I could have danced right out of the kitchen...haha.

Finally! the elusive macaron is no longer elusive to me...
Finally! I no longer shudder with fear at the mention of its name...
Finally! no more disappointments...
Finally! I can make these lovely cookies in the comfort of my very own kitchen :)

These may not be the prettiest macarons, but it definitely gave me hope. Hope to try again, to refine and perfect the recipe according to the way I like it. And hope does not disappoint :).

Since I wasn't expecting to succeed, I didn't colour the macarons. My previous attempts turned out to be one gloppy mess. Thank God this didn't happen to me this time. I sandwiched the macaron shells with a simple chocolate ganache made with Valrhona Manjari. The deep chocolate flavour with a slight hint of bitterness offsets the sweetness of the shells perfectly. However, mum felt it's still on the sweet side. Guess I'll have to try to reduce the sugar content in these cookies next time.

But for now, I'm happy and relieved to be spared of failure once again. Chocolate and macarons (especially from my own kitchen) makes me a very happy girl! :)

Macarons with Chocolate Ganache
adapted from Pierre Herme
150g ground almonds
150g confectioner’s sugar
120 g egg whites (divided equally into two portions)

150g castor sugar
40g water
100g Valrhona Manjari (coarsely chopped)
100g heavy cream

1. Sift together the ground almonds and confectioner's sugar. Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook till the sugar syrup reaches 118 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, beat 60g of the egg whites in the electric mixer on medium speed till soft peak form. When the sugar syrup is ready (both should come together at about the same time), pour the syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites with the mixer running on low. Increase the speed to high and beat till you get a thick, glossy meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch (around 10 minutes).
3. Mix the other 60g of the egg whites with the almond/sugar mixture. Add a third of the meringue into the mixture and fold gently. Add another third and fold before adding the final third. Fold gently till it flows like lava, with a thick, steady stream flowing from the spatula. Be careful not to overwork the batter as a couple more turns will result in over-runny batter.
4. Transfer the batter into piping bags fitted with big round tips. Pipe onto pre-drawn circles on parchment paper. Leave it out to set for around 25-30 minutes before baking it at 150 degrees Celsius for 13-15 minutes.
5. Once done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. Let cool for a few minutes before removing the shells from the parchment.
6. Heat the cream in a saucepan till its boiling point. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and let steep for a few minutes. Stir till smooth and let cool till it firms up and is ready to be used.
7. Sandwich macaron shells with chocolate ganache.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mango Tart - A Cheery Good Way to Start the Week

You know what, I need to go on a baking supplies ban. Last week, Chelle and I finally made a trip down to Chinatown to explore Sia Huat. Though they didn't stock as much baking supplies as I would have liked, the trip was fruitful. I bought the ramekins I've been eyeing for ages real cheap, and got myself some tart rings in the process! Boy, this place is evil. The damage wasn't too much, as the prices were really reasonable. Some of the things I bought from Phoon Huat were also a tad cheaper there. I think I may make a trip there again someday, perhaps when I've got my ban lifted...haha.

Armed with my tart rings and feeling inspired, I went searching for a tart recipe to put my spanking new tart rings into good use! I was torn between the simple yet classic Tart Noire from a recent TWD, and the perennial household favourite - the Mango Tart. With time on my hands, I opted for the slightly more fussy one, the Mango Tart.

I made these using the basic recipes - Pâte Sablée and Vanilla Pastry Cream - from Baking from my home to yours, and put them together fairly quickly. Mum happened to buy two huge and sweet mangoes from the market, and these came at just the right time as the icing on the cake for these cheery babies.

The tart rings were a breeze to use. I love how the round shape yielded sturdier tart shells compared to my fluted tart pans. I've had tart bases breaking on me a number of times, but these rings were good, causing my tarts to remain intact despite my not-so-gentle handling. The removal process was also a breeze.

These fresh mango tarts were a great way to start off the week. I love how the sweetness of the mangoes complements the silky pastry cream and the crunchy base. Perhaps next time I'd make these with mango pastry cream to further heighten the mango flavour!

Mango Tart
recipes adapted from Baking from my home to yours

For Pâte Sablée
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

1. Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.
2. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in--you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.
3. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses--about 10 seconds each--until the dough, whisk will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.
4. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change--heads up.
5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and , very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
6. Butter the tart rings. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the ring, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Freeze the dough for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer.
7. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tarts on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.
8. Remove the aluminium foil. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

For Pastry Cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp  cornstarch
45g salted butter

1. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Working in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together until thick and pale. Whisking continuously, drizzle 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the yolks very slowly. Continue whisking as you pour the rest of the liquid in a steady stream over the tempered yolks.
3. Put the saucepan over medium heat and, whisk continuously and without stopping, while the mixture comes to the boil. Turn down the flame and keep the mixture at the boil, whisking energetically, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and scrape the pastry cream into a bowl. Allow the pastry cream to cool on the counter for about 3 minutes.
4. Stir in the vanilla extract and let steep for 5 mins, then stir in the butter into the hot pastry cream, continuing to stir until the butter is melted and fully incorporated. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the cream to seal the surface and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

When ready to assemble, spoon the pastry cream into the cooled tart shells and decorate the tarts with fresh mango slices. Top with instant jelly glaze.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chocolate Almond Rounds

I'm eating alot these days, finishing my meals and snacking consistently on top of this, ever since I got back from Taiwan. This is so not good....oh well. And what do I do to feed the incessant snack cravings? I bake more cookies.

I feel guilty when I was writing that down, knowing that I'm indulging in one of my favourite pasttimes to fuel the snack cravings, makes me feel terrible, like a cookie monster. Yet somehow, beyond all this uneasiness, I feel a distinct pleasure in snacking on the cookies that came out from my own kitchen, a sense of satisfaction. I wish that there will come a day when most of the food items found at home will be made by me - bread, granola, jams, sauces etc. That will be really, really nice...

Well, dream on for now. We'll see whether it happens in the future. In the meantime, more cookies from my kitchen for the cookie jar. I made these Chocolate Almond Rounds with the recipe from Okashi. I love slice and bake cookies. They keep and bake so beautifully, perfect for days when you crave a fresh tray of cookies. I especially love the look of the granulated sugar round the edges of each cookie, its sweetness complementing the sandy, buttery cookie perfectly.

I tried having one without the granulated sugar on the sides and the taste just doesn't cut it. Be sure to follow through with that extra step if you decide to make this alright? It'll be worth the effort, trust me.

Have these with a good cuppa coffee on a lazy weekend afternoon while enjoying a good book. Sometimes life can be so simple, yet very enjoyable...

Chocolate Almond Rounds
adapted from Okashi

40g blanched almond silvers
150 pastry flour
20g cocoa powder
120g unsalted butter, softened
70g confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
granulated sugar (for rolling)

1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, then bake the almond silvers for 10 mins. Sift the flour and cocoa powder.
2. Beat butter, sugar and salt until softened. Add the egg yolk and mix well.
3. Fold flour and cocoa powder into the butter mixture using a spatula. Add the toasted almond silvers. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
4. Shape the dough into a log of about 4cm in diameter, wrap it with parchment and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Dough can keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.
5. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
6. Slice the log into 7mm thick pieces, roll the edges in granulated sugar and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment 1 inch apart. Bake for about 20 minutes.
7. Let cookies cool before storing in an airtight contaiiner. Keeps up to 10 days.

Yields 30 cookies.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rose Cranberry Cookies

Can I tell you how much I love these cookies? These are so good I can't believe they have cemented their place as my current favourite cookie.

I first tasted this when my colleague baked some and encouraged us to try. Since then, I was completely sold and was even thick-skinned enough to ask for a second serving (this so did not happen before :P). However, I was not bold enough to ask for the recipe. Soon after, I stumbled upon the same recipe she used on Evan's blog and jumped at the opportunity to make them.

These cookies may look and taste good but the peeling of the rose petals is such a painful process! It's a good thing I was watching TV while peeling them so it didn't feel like it's such a chore. Five hours later, I ended up with two full cups of rose petals staring right back at me. I guess the only way to do justice to the efforts was to use them up completely :).

I followed the recipe exactly in my first batch and the cookies turned out absolutely beautiful. The only difference was that it took me just 20 minutes for my cookies to brown, 30 minutes yielded me burnt cookies...perhaps due to my very odd oven temperature. The cookies were so good I ate a third of the batch the first round! In order to ensure I have more cookies to share with my family and friends, I made a second batch with an reduced amount of rose essence (1/2 tsp). This proportion works best for me without the rose essence being too overpowering and the cookies turned out very very delicious.

Since I love these cookies so much, I've stored the extras away as my secret cookie stash - for times when I suddenly crave a good cookie or as guilty pleasures any time of the day. This is one cookie that I'll strongly encourage you to try out. If you're not too big a fan of of the rose/bandung flavour, go light on the rose essence or simply do away with it. The rose petals lend a very slight hint of rose to the cookie, which is not strong enough to put off anyone but brings out the beauty of this cookie with an added girly touch. 

This might just signify the beginning of my love journey with roses...


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