Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hazelnut Praline Macarons and a Girly Bake-Off

Friends are amazing. They are there when you're happy, down or simply need a listening ear. I'm really blessed to have friends accompanying me through the different seasons of life - some friendships lasted long, some short, some rather unpredictable at times. Just last Sunday, I had two of my favourite girlfriends at my place for a macaron baking session. One was a primary school friend whom I have known for (gosh) over 16 years while the other was a junior college friend whom I've been great friends with till now. Really appreciate them for sticking with me through thick and thin, through my emotional, unreasonable times and putting up with my mood swings and occasional tantrums. I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with, which makes them even more precious to me knowing what they "suffered" haha. Bottomline is, I love my friends! All of them :).

Well, after seeing my multiple posts and photos of my "mini" macaron successes, these two girls were really excited and wanted to try baking them. So last Sunday, we set out to do just that. After evaluating the pros and cons of using French vs Italian meringue methods, I settled on Italian as it is more foolproof and yields more consistent results. Somehow I feel my French meringue macarons don't keep as well? Or perhaps it's just me...hmmmm....

Anyway, we decided on making Hazelnut Praline Macarons after seeing this post. I've not tried using hazelnuts in my shells before hence it was especially attractive for me as opposed to making a tried and tested flavour which I already did before.

Preparation alone took me a couple of days - I had to shop for ingredients, weigh them, portion them out, ground the nuts and sieve them beforehand. I also made hazelnut praline for the first time and grounded them into fine bits for filling the shells. As a newbie in making caramel, I figured (only afterward) that I took the pot off the heat too quickly before the sugar had a chance to brown fully. Hence instead of achieving a dark amber caramel, I got a nice golden-hued caramel instead. Oh well, I think they still look pretty decent though I would have loved a stronger burnt sugar taste.

The most funny part of the baking process is watching them pipe the macaron shells. One of the girls actually piped them like ladyfinger rounds, swirling from the outside to the centre to make little swirl mountains (like frozen yogurt or soft serve ice cream)....it was epic! Haha. The good thing is, all of them baked well and came out looking nice and round - even the bottoms were perfectly smooth and dry, not sticky at all!

All in all, it was a truly enjoyable session with the girls and I also made my most successful batch of macarons to date. The texture of the shells was good - crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside - with smooth tops and good bottoms. I especially loved the flavour combination - hazelnut shells filled with Jivara chocolate nutella ganache and hazelnut praline bits - absolutely scrumptious! Perhaps it was the dream combination of awesome company, jovial mood and adequate number of hands in the kitchen that put together this delicious batch of macarons :). Baking in a good mood does help make more delicious desserts (I'm saying this from experience :P).

This time round, we made these into smaller-sized macarons perfect for a light midday snack. I passed some to my mum to try and she really liked the hazelnut flavour with the crunchy praline bits. I guess that means these have passed the taste test and may make them way back to the dessert table in time to come. My dear girlfriends are also hooked on making macarons (like me) after the first successful attempt and are aiming to replicate the results in their own kitchens. Cool, good luck girls! :).

As for me, I'll be taking a break from macaron-making for now. Too many whites used, too many yolks left. Any ideas on what I can do with the leftover yolks? If you have, let me know :).

Hazelnut Praline Macarons

[Hazelnut Praline]
150g hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
175g sugar
60 ml water

[Hazelnut Shells]
90g ground almonds
60g ground hazelnuts
150g confectioner’s sugar
120 g egg whites (divided equally into two portions)
150g granulated sugar
40g water

[Jivara Nutella Ganache]
200g Valrhona Jivara (40%), roughly chopped
100g heavy cream
1 tablespoon Nutella
2 tablespoons hazelnut praline bits

[Hazelnut Praline]
1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees Celsius.
2. Spread hazelnuts evenly on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, moving them around with a spatula halfway through . Let cool.
3. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and turns a dark amber color. Watch this carefully because the sugar mixture can go from caramelised to burnt in the blink of an eye. If using a candy thermometer, cooked until it reaches around 175 degrees. However, you can easily tell when it's done by the color of the sugar.
4. Pour the cooked sugar over the hazelnuts and let cool. Once cool, break the sugar and hazelnuts into pieces and process in a food processor until finely ground.

[Hazelnut Shells]
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 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.

[Jivara Nutella Ganache]

1. Heat the cream in a saucepan till its boiling point. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and nutella and let steep for a few minutes. Stir till smooth before adding in hazelnut praline bits. Let cool till it firms up and is ready to be used.
2. Pipe ganache mixture onto macaron shells and top with hazelnut praline bits before sandwiching with another shell.

Yields 50 mini macarons.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Matcha Sablés

As I'm writing this, I'm feeling very very tired. Work's been pretty crazy plus I'm helping to plan for a children's camp that's coming in a month's time. Weekends are all packed and hardly leaves me time for my family, friends and my blog. Waking up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings are not on my list of favourite things to do, but I often had to do so. Hmmmm I look forward to the day when I can sleep to my heart's content on both weekend mornings! That'll be soooo cool :).

In the midst of all these, I'm also preparing for a soon-to-come baking session with my gal pals....so exciting! Normally, I love to bake alone as it gives me time and space to work and get a little messy. However, I'm looking forward to the bonding time with them as I'm sure it'll be much more fun and awesome with good company in the kitchen :).

Most of the spare time in the past week have been spent preparing for the session - buying ingredients, weighing and portioning them, cleaning up the kitchen and getting things in place. Hardly had time to explore and start on the various desserts that have been on my mind for some time! At the same time, I'm longing for some homemade treats that I can store away for that quiet snacking session when the craving strikes.

Recently, these cute matcha sables have been showing up all over the blogosphere - a sign that they are really really good! I first tried them when Chelle offered them to me sometime back. They were so delicious I made up my mind to make them one day. However, it took me many months before I really got down to it...haha.

In the end, I made two rolls of this, the first with the egg white glaze and the second one without. Conclusion is I definitely preferred the second one. It tastes more like sables and less like Chinese-style cookies. Also, I'll be sure to make these with coarse granulated sugar next time (used castor in this picture as that was the only sugar I could find at home) to increase the crunchiness in the cookie. Nevertheless, this recipe is for keeps! :)

Matcha Sablés
adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida

240g plain flour – chilled
15g green tea powder
150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
130g icing sugar
a pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
Granulated Sugar

1. Sift flour and green tea powder twice, set it aside.
2. Cream butter, icing sugar and salt until soft and creamy.
3. Add egg yolks and mix well.
4. Add flour and green tea powder mixture and fold in with a spatula.
5. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 mins.
6. Divide dough in half and place both portions in 2 large pieces of parchment paper.
7. Shape into logs about 3.5cm in diameter. Wrap logs with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm.
8. If not using immediately, wrap with cling film and freeze.
9. Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Cut logs into 7mm thick rounds. Dip edges in granulated sugar.
10. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
11. Bake for about 25 mins, remove and leave to cool on wire rack before serving.

Yields 32 cookies.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toasted Coconut and Raspberry Charlotte

Have you ever had a recipe bookmarked for months, or even years, yet you never get around to making it? I have. In fact, I have tons of such recipes. Perhaps I'm easily distracted, fickle-minded, or just plainly indecisive...but I've changed my mind time and time again even after deciding to bake that particular recipe over that particular weekend. Hmmm...I'm sounding like a tough cookie to crack huh?

This is one recipe that I've bookmarked for really long. I've always loved pretty looking charlottes. They are always the first to catch my eye whenever I pass by a bakery. There's something special about the round ladyfinger wall that really cheers me up and brightens up my day.

When i made these Toasted Coconut and Raspberry Charlottes using Tartlette's recipe, I thought they turned out really really cute! My rendition's far from perfect and I'm not a big fan of the slightly milky-tasting raspberry mousse, but I loved these all the same simply because they are charlottes (yes, I know I'm weird)!

Perhaps next time, I'll make the raspberry mousse without the custard base, make individual lady's fingers instead of piping them together like what I did here and experiment with a mixture of berries for the mousse filling. One thing I really liked about these are the homemade lady's fingers - they are super duper delicious! Topped with toasted coconut, these are highly addictive and were immediately swiped clean by my family.

Hmmm...I might just bake another batch of these for the snack cravings that I have during weekday afternoons....then again, perhaps not, it's just too dangerous to have a box of these lying around my office desk....haha :P.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Macarons - Getting Over My Fears...

So glad to be baking and posting again. The past few weeks has been Craaaazily busy for me and so will this coming week. Rushing from place to place, hardly had time for a real good rest. Finally, I slept to my heart's content today. It was a good loooong rest which I really enjoyed - a much needed one too.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of life, I NEEDED to do some baking to preserve my sanity. Haha, yes, bake to preserve my sanity. I feel baking takes my mind off the other things in life and makes me focus all my attention on the task before me. What better way to do this than to make macarons? These finicky cookies demanded my FULL attention, not allowing me to rest on my laurels. Plus, I decided to attempt my baking nemesis - the French Meringue Macaron - once again despite my previous two massive failures.

I made sure I did my research and read as many tips and troubleshooting posts I can find. Of all the posts, I read this and this the most times as I found them really detailed and helpful. Thank God for all these bloggers who took their time and energy to help people like me who, for the life of me, can't figure out the personality and behaviour of these little French cookies.

I used Tartlette's recipe for this batch, one that I failed with twice, convinced that the crucial factor that needed change was ME rather than the recipe itself. The batter looked alot more convincing this time, and it took me less than 50 strokes of macaronnage to get everything to come together nicely. However, I felt the batter was a little runny and prayed for the best when I sent the piped shells into the oven. The piped shells are so FLAT! I waited, and waited, and finally saw them rose to their feet.  I was ecstatic! However, the feet continued to spread and resulted in FLAT macarons. Sob...well, at least they looked like macarons this time! French meringue isn't that bad after all...

See...my flat macarons!

In some ways, I like the French meringue macarons for its simplicity. Whip the egg whites to a stiff meringue, add the powdered sugar and ground almonds, a few quick turns and you're good to go. However, I do find this method more temperamental and less forgiving than the Italian meringue method.

There are many tweaks I still need to make. For one, I need to lower the oven temperature and cut the baking time. I baked these at 150 degrees C for 15 minutes on my centre rack. They ended up like crisp cookies with browned tops and the bottoms were still a little sticky. I'll be sure to place them in the lower rack of my oven next time to dry the bottoms.

Next is the filling. I've long wanted to try the passionfruit milk chocolate combination myself and I happened to buy a pack of passionfruits from the supermart the other day. I strained the puree, boil it together with the cream and poured over milk chocolate before stirring to incorporate the mixture. I also added some butter and mix to emulsify it. You know what, this combination tastes great! I'm torn between my lemon chocolate macarons and this. Perhaps because I love the tanginess of these fruits complementing my favourite chocolate. These are really good!

I'm still on my quest to improve these French meringue macarons. Still aren't quite happy about how they looked. One thing I really liked about these are their flat, less rounded tops compared to my Italian meringue macarons. I can hardly stack my Italian meringue macarons like these! Hmmm...now I feel like reaching for another macaron again...greedy me!

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Macarons

60 grams egg whites (aged for 48 hours)
20 grams granulated sugar
140 grams powdered sugar
80 grams ground almonds
cocoa powder, for sprinkling

[Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Ganache]
100 grams milk chocolate
40 grams passionfruit pulp
20 grams heavy cream
15 grams butter

1. Sift the powdered sugar and ground almonds mixture.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue that looks like shaving cream. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry.
3. Add the dry mixture to the meringue in three separate additions. Give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
4. Fill a piping bag with the batter and pipe small rounds (1 inch in diameter) onto parchment paper  lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 to 45 minutes to harden their shells a bit.
5. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 140C. When ready, bake for 13 minutes. Let cool. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store the shells in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks

[Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Ganache]
1. Chop the milk chocolate into small pieces. Boil the strained passionfruit pulp and heavy cream together and pour over chocolate. Stir until incorporated and the ganache forms.
2. Wait a couple of minutes for the ganache to cool a bit and add the softened butter. Stir to create and emulsion. Let it harden a bit until it is pipeable and fill the macarons.

Yields 16 filled macarons.


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