Tag Archives: meringue

Snow and Salt

Last week I got to enjoy a rare luxury. Not the actual maracons themselves, but the luxury of free time. My year at work has been rather fraught (in the understated British sense, which means absolutely manic) and thus no easy dates on which to take leave. Sure, I had a mega-trip in the US in November, but I’ve still ended up with way too much leave to carry over to next year. As a result, I’ve been enjoying the bonus of a few long weekends. As I’m the only one around on these random Mondays and Fridays, I’ve foregone the idea of foreign jaunts, and instead I’m able to enjoy a slower pace of life in my own big city. I can go to some of my favourite cafés and just walk in and get a table. No waiting, no sharing. I can go to galleries and enjoy them peacefully, standing in front of the same picture for ages without being jostled or moved along. I can also engage in small talk with some interesting people who are equally unhurried. Bliss.

However, last week was another story altogether. Those first hints of spring from a couple of weeks ago had gone, like some sort of Phoney Spring, and were  replaced with snow. Lots and lots of snow. On Monday, the new cats and I just did not fancy leaving the house, so I was left with a little time to fill. After spending an hour getting the cats to chase a piece of string (their joint favourite thing, along with clawing the sofa), I decided to hit the kitchen and have a go at my kitchen nemesis – French macarons.

I know there are some people out there that have “the gift”, who can just knock up a batch at a moment’s notice without a second thought. I, however, am not one of those people. I’ve grappled with them on numerous occasions with varying levels of success. True, I’ve made them successfully on occasions, but I think my hit rate is about one in four at best. So for every batch of picture-perfect delicacies with their smooth domes, frilly feet and perfect symmetry, I’ve ended up with three batches of cracked almond meringue biscuits.

Well finally, finally, I think I’ve nailed it. I think my mistakes can be put down not to faulty technique as such, but the fact that many of my attempts were small batches. The smaller the batch, the more precise the measurements need to be, and I fear that trying to make macarons with just one egg white was pushing things too far. You need to be bold and think big. Large batches are the way to go! And as you can see below, the results look pretty darned good! There is still some irregularity there, but I find it hard to put into words just how utterly thrilled I was to remove the tray from the oven and find perfect macaron shells with no cracks. Yay!

salted_caramel_macarons

I opted for the salted caramel flavour as it’s actually delicious when made well, and the filling is a doddle to make. However, the one thing that I didn’t go to town on was the colour the shells. I know some people like shocking colours, and that salted caramel is often some sort of day-glow orange. However, I wanted something more subtle.There are two reasons. First, I am not that happy about using colouring that is highly artificial – if it only takes a few drops to turn something bright yellow, vivid red or electric blue, then you have to wonder just what it is doing to your insides. Second, on a purely aesthetic level, I find the intense colours of some commercially-available macarons rather lurid! Instead, I just used a few drops of some natural vegetable dyes in the sugar syrup to provide a light caramel colour to boost the colour of muscovado sugar, which I think looks rather pretty.

When it comes to the filling itself, it can only be described as filthy. The base is a simple caramel made from white sugar. Throw in some salted butter, cream and a few drops of vanilla, then whip once cooled with even more lovely butter. The result is a silky-smooth salted caramel cream which can be easily piped into the macaron shells, but which does not leak out (which pure caramel, delicious as it is, is apt to do). You’ll end up with quite a bit of the filling left over, and you’ll probably just want to eat it with a spoon. As I said – filthy, and irresistible.

One final trick – these are worth making ahead of time. If you can, leave the assembled macarons overnight in the fridge, and be sure to leave them to come up to room temperature before serving. This will help make the inside of the shells lightly chewy and the creamy filling with be delightfully soft and fluffy. Things to make you go wow.

So what’s your baking nemesis? Have you managed to beat it?

To make salted caramel macarons (makes 25-30):

For the shells:

• 175g icing sugar
• 175 ground almonds
• 130g egg whites (about 4 eggs), at room temperature
• 175g light muscovado or brown sugar
• 75ml water

• caramel food colouring

For the filling:

• 150g white sugar
• 50ml water

• 180g salted butter (divide into 30g and 150g)
• 150ml double cream

• vanilla extract
• salt, very finely ground

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper.

2. Mix the icing sugar and ground almonds, and put into a food processor or spice mill. Grind until fine. Put into a large bowl.

3. Divide the egg whites into two portions (2 x 65g). Add one half to the almond/icing sugar mixture and mix until you have a smooth, thick paste.

4. Next, make an Italian meringue. Put the water and muscovado or brown sugar into a saucepan. Add caramel/brown colouring as desired (I used enough to enhance the brown tint from the sugar, probably 20 drops of water-based colour). Heat to 114°C (237°F). In the meantime, whisk the rest of the eggs whites until frothy. Acting quickly, pour the hot syrup into the frothy eggs and beat the living daylights out of them! The mixture should quickly start to turn pale and fluffy, and increase in volume. Whisk for 5 minutes until the mixture is stiff and glossy – it should easily hold its shape.

5. Take one-third of the meringue mixture, and fold into the almond paste mixture to lighten it. Fold in the next third, then fold in the final third. Try to do this gently, and don’t mix too vigorously or for too long.

6. Fill a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm hole nozzle. Pipe out the macarons, leaving a few centimetres between each. Leave to dry at room temperature for around 20 minutes.

7. Bake the macaron shells for around 12-15 minutes until the shells have developed little feet but they are not browned. You might want to open the door briefly during baking to let any steam escape. When baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool, then peel from the baking sheet. Arrange on a cooling tray and prepare the filling.

To make the filling:

8. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Place on a medium heat until the mixture turns into a medium golden caramel (don’t be tempted to stir it at any point – it will turn into a crystallised mess!). The colour should be rich but without any burnt or acrid smell.

9. Remove the saucepan with the caramel from the heat, add the butter and stir well. It will sizzle, so watch out! Add the cream and vanilla to taste (just a drop or two) and stir until smooth. Put the pan back on the heat, and cook until it reaches 108°C (225°F). Remove from the heat and leave until almost cooled.

10. Put the cooled caramel and soft butter into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until perfectly smooth. It might seem like the mixture has curdled at one point, but keep going and it will come good. You should end up with a very smooth cream. Add a dash of powdered salt (to taste, but go a little at a time).

11. Fill a piping bag with the salted caramel cream and use to fill the macarons.

12. Leave the macarons in the fridge for 24 hours, and remove from the fridge a couple of hours before serving.

Worth making? A complete faff, but the results are superb so it’s worth trying when you’ve got a few hours to yourself.

Advertisements

15 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Eton Mess

I’ve become a total flag waving maniac over the last few weeks, which culminated in a flag-and-chocolate-gold-medal arrangement in my front window for the duration of the Olympics. I’m sure the sight of chocolate just out of reach annoyed many a passing child! Earlier in the week, the Paralympic flame was lit in Trafalgar Square and the overnight torch relay is underway, so the fun starts all over again from tomorrow – and yes, I’m lucky enough to have more tickets!

But while the venues were amazing, the sport so far has been amazing and the Tube has kept on tubing, I’m going to say it…the London Games managed to get something rather wrong. It was the food, and all I can really say is “oh dear”!

OK, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but where, oh where, was the Best of British? The proper tea shop, selling scones, clotted cream and jam? Summer desserts? Bowls of strawberries? I really think they missed a trick here – I suspect Japanese visitors would have loved the sight of miniature Battenberg cakes and Bakewell tarts, although just how popular that Scottish legend, the deep-fried Mars bar, would have been remains unclear.

To counter this, and to get into practice for the Paralympics, I’ve dug out my old recipe for Eton Mess, which is essentially whipped cream, fruit and meringue. This might sound like an odd name for a recipe, but it has the benefit of being a complete doddle to make and tastes great. The fact that it is all “messed up” means that you can make this recipe with zero creative skills, but I would imagine that in most cases, the urge to artfully swirl the mixture will take hold. Whether all that meringue and cream really suits a major sporting event is another matter…

There are two ways to make this dessert. Either you can buy the meringues, then just crush them, mix with some whipped cream and chopped strawberries, and that’s it.

However, you can opt to go posh (and I suspect that at Eton they do, rather). Make your own meringue according to preference, then mix with softly whipped cream infused with whatever flavours you like (vanilla or even a tiny dash of booze). Then the fruit – prepare it ahead if time and allow to macerate, and you end up with a gloriously rich, sweet, fragrant mush then combines seductively with the rest of the pudding.

Whichever option you take, I recommend assembling this pudding at the last possibly moment – that way, you get to enjoy the soft cream, crisp-and-chewy meringue and ripe fruit. However, if you leave it for more than a few minutes, the meringue will start to dissolve and you’ll lose all the contrasting textures and flavours.

Strawberries are traditional in this dessert, but you can make changes depending on what you have to hand and what is in season. Raspberries add some sharpness that balances the sugar, stewed rhubarb goes well with the strawberries, and brambles are great later in the year. And all this talk of fruit brings me to my final tip – make sure you have the fruit at room temperature when you are making up the pudding – you’ll get the best flavour that way.

So now…sit back…and let the Games begin…again!

To make Eton Mess (serves 8):

For the meringue:

• 2 egg whites
• 100g white caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• few drops vanilla extract

To finish the pudding:

• meringues
• 1 pint (450ml) double cream
• 1 pound (450g) strawberries

To make the meringue:

1. Preheat the oven to 130°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt, then whisk until you get to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar, a quarter at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla and whisk on full power until the mixture is smooth, white and stiff, and you can’t see any sugar crystals (allow a good five minutes for this).

3. Place tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet. Put the meringues in the oven and immediately turn down the heat to 110°C. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat. Leave the meringues in the oven until cold (overnight is ideal).

To prepare the dessert:

1. Clean and trim the strawberries. Cut into quarters and put in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir and leave to sit at room temperature for an hour (covered with cling film to keep insects away!).

2. Break the meringues into chunks (between 1 and 1/2 inches) and place in a bowl.

3. Whip the cold cream until you have soft peaks, then add to the meringue pieces. Add 2/3 of the fruit. Fold the mixture together gently – aim for the mixture to have a rippled look.

4. Divide the mixture between the serving bowls, and top with spoonfuls of the remaining strawberries. Serve straight away.

3 Comments

Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things

Diamond Jubilee: Queen of Puddings

The Diamond Jubilee festivities are ongoing – the Thames Flotilla yesterday and the Concert on the Mall this evening. Today I’ve moved on from baked goods and tried my hand at a pudding recipe. It’s the suitably regal Queen of Puddings.

The Queen of Puddings is a very rich dessert, which has a custard base, flavoured with lemon and vanilla, with a layer of jam (usually raspberry) and then topped off with lots and lots of fluffy meringue.

There are two ways to make this pudding – either in individual ramekins, or fill a large oven-proof dish for an even larger pudding. The result was – surprisingly – not unlike lemon meringue pie. Of course the custard was not as rich, nor as lip-smackingly tart as in a lemon meringue pie, but the citrus notes are still there. The pudding is traditionally served warm with custard sauce, but I think it also works well when served cold – you can appreciate the flavours of the custard, and the meringue becomes soft and marshmallow-like. In individual ramekins, I think they make for quite a stunning little dessert.

I suspect you might share my first reaction to the name of this pudding – I mean, it’s quite a bold claim, isn’t it? There are lots of desserts out there, so what makes this one so special? The first clue to the name is that this is the Queen of Puddings, not desserts. In days gone by, those that could afford sugar would make simple puddings with sweetened milk and left-over breadcrumbs. In time, a more luxurious version appeared, which included a layer of jam and which was finished off with a meringue “crown”, and hence the name “Queen of Puddings”.

This is a very easy pudding to make – you bring milk and cream to the boil, then add butter, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Then pour over fresh breadcrumbs and leave them to absorb the liquid. Once cooled, add egg yolks, then bake until set. Then you add a layer of jam, and then your imagination really can run wild. You finish off with a meringue topping which you can either pile up and swirl like clouds, or pipe it into swirls or cover in lots and lots of peaks. The recipe below is my own creation based on a number of sources – I’ve gone with what seemed right, what would give the right amount of sweetness and flavour.

Now…I’m going to confess that making this dessert was not quite as drama-free as I may have led you to believe. I started out making a large Queen of Puddings. I made the custard, baked it, added the jam, then piped the meringue on top to look like lots of little peaks. It looked superb. I baked it until the peaks were just golden, removed from the oven, and then tried to take pictures of it. The light was starting to fade, and I was keen to get the last of the sun’s rays for my shot, and hence I needed to get a surface to shoot on that was as close as possible to a window. At this point, I had two options. Either do it on a solid, stable surface, or build a precarious tower of cookbooks and balance a tray on top, then put the lot on a soft footstool.  So, like an idiot, I went with the latter, and after three pictures, the pudding started to slide. And it kept on sliding. The it fell off. I ended up with hot pudding all over my right hand (which spend a long time in cold water, then had anaesthetic cream applied to stop the sting!) as well as jam stains on my trousers and the carpets. Next time I am making something warm and want that “just from the oven” shot, I’ll be making sure my foundations are much more stable!

Now, time to setting down and watch the Diamond Jubilee concert!

To make a Queen of Puddings (makes 6 ramekins)

For the custard base:

150ml milk
• 150ml cream
• 25g butter

• 25g sugar
• pinch of salt
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 75g fresh white breadcrumbs

• 1 egg yolk

For the topping:

• 120g  jam (any, but red fruits are best)
• 2 egg whites
• small pinch salt
• small pinch cream of tartar

• 100g caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon cornflour
• 1 teaspoon icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Rub six individual ramekins with butter.

Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the sugar, butter, salt, lemon zest and vanilla. Stir well until the sugar had dissolved. Add the breadcrumbs, and leave to sit for 20 minutes until the breadcrumbs have absorbed the milk and the mixture has thickened. If lumpy, blitz in a food processor for a few seconds. Once cool, add the egg yolk and mix well.

Pour into the ramekins and bake for around 15-20 minutes until the batter is just set but has not browned. Remove from the oven. Turn the oven heat up to 190°C (375°F).

Next, heat the jam in a saucepan. Once hot and runny,  divide between the six ramekins.

Now, make the meringue topping – in a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar to stiff peaks. Fold in the caster sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Add the cornflour and beat for another few seconds. Spoon or pipe the meringue mixture over the puddings, dusting each with the icing sugar, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the topping is lightly golden.

Note: if you want to make a large pudding, double the amount of custard, pour into a 1 litre ovenproof dish. Use the same amount of jam. Make the meringue using 3 egg whites and 150g sugar.

8 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte

I’m not going to write very much today…

…instead, I’ll just tell you a little about this Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte and let your imagination and the pictures do the rest: it is made from layers of chewy meringue made with toasted hazelnuts, filled and topped with a rich chocolate ganache, and finished with a rich salted caramel sauce, studded with hazelnuts dipped in caramelised sugar.

Hopefully by now you’re drooling with notions of rich, decadent luxury.

Just a couple of tips: be sure to use good-quality hazelnuts, and do toast them lightly. This will release their full, rich flavour. Use a dark rather than milk chocolate for the ganache – the meringue is quite sweet, so you want something to counter that. And make sure to use salt in the caramel topping. Yes, salt. It takes the caramel from being sickly-sweet to something that is rich and  sophisticated. All this, and it’s gluten-free – not even a dash of wheat flour comes near this torte.

The recipe below looks quite elaborate, but each stage is quite easy. You can even skip the caramel on top, and it is still richly delicious.

Tempted yet? You should be!

To make a Wickedly Sinful Chocolate Torte:

I know this looks quite long and labourious, but it’s actually three relatively easy stages – I’ve just tried to set out what happens and what to watch out for as you’re going, so you don’t get any surprises.

For the layers:

• 4 egg whites (120g)
• 225g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon vinegar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two 20cm (8 inch) cake tins with greaseproof paper (I recommend double-lining them – this prevents burning.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks. Add the sugar in 4-5 batches, whisking very well after each batch. Keep mixing until you have a stiff, glossy mixture.

Stir in the vinegar and vanilla, then fold in the ground hazelnuts. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins. Spread level, and bake for 45-50 minutes until crisp (it won’t puff up much, if at all). The surface will develop to a light beige, but should not get brown.

Once the meringue layers are ready, remove from the oven, and leave to cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache filling and topping:

• 300g double cream
• 150g dark chocolate
• 1 scant tablespoon caster sugar
• 1-2 drops vanilla extract

Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Stir and put to one side.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Leave to cool until lukewarm. Pour the chocolate into the cream mixture and whisk immediately. The mixture will quickly thicken into chocolate whipped cream (takes only a few seconds, so act quickly and do not over-whisk!).

Spread half the filling over the base meringue. Put the second layer of meringue on top, and add the rest of the chocolate cream  Finish as desired – smooth, swirly or peaks. If you are going to add the caramel on top, then make peaks around the edge to keep the caramel from dripping off the top.

Store the filled torte in the fridge, removing about 30 minutes before serving.

For the caramel:

• 150g white sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
• 150g double cream
• 25g butter
• fleur de sel/kosher salt, very finely ground

Put the sugar in a saucepan with the water. Cook on a medium heat until the water has evaporated, and the sugar turns to a light caramel (watch like a hawk – it goes from golden caramel to bitter and burnt in a matter of seconds).

Pour about two-thirds of the cream into the caramel, and stir vigorously. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble up. Add the butter, and stir well. Leave to cool for around 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the cream, and add salt to taste – this really is matter of personal judgement, but it is easy to add to too much, so little by little is the way to do it.

Leave the caramel until completely cool. It should flow, but be very thick (if too thick, add a teaspoon of cream and stir well). Pour or drizzle over the chilled torte.

To make caramelised hazelnuts:

• 100g white sugar
• 2 tablespoon water
• 100g skinned hazelnuts, toasted

Put sugar into a saucepan with a little water. Cook until you have a light caramel. Add the nuts, mix quickly, and transfer to a non-stick baking sheet. Using a fork (because they’re very hot!) separate the nuts. If the caramel is too hard, put the lot into a hot oven and it will soften.

Worth making? Indeed! I made this for a party – it lasted about 5 minutes on the table.

11 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Kiss Kiss!

Remember this song from many, many summers ago?

Yes, a very tenuous link to today’s post subject – meringue kisses. I had to make something for after dinner. Too hot to make truffles, too lazy to make baklava. So I made meringue, piped it and dusted it with cocoa. And don’t they look sweet?


The mixture is a simple Swiss meringue – egg white and sugar, whisked over a bain marie, and then cooked in a very, very slow oven. I also added a tiny pinch of cream of tartar and a couple of drops of white wine vinegar, so the resulting cookies are crisp on the outside, but stay soft and a little chewy on the inside. And I don’t think they took more than 10 minutes to make. So not much more to say, other than here are a few more photos to admire!

To make meringue kisses (makes around 40):

• 2 egg whites (should be 60g)
• 100g caster sugar
• pinch of cream of tartar
• 2-3 drop of vinegar
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• Cocoa powder or cinnamon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 70°C (160°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Put all the ingredients except the cocoa/cinnamon in a bowl and beat lightly. Put the bowl over a pan of just-simmering water, and beat with an electric whisk for 4-5 minutes until the mixture is white, light and fluffy – it should hold stiff peaks.

Fill a piping bag with the meringue, and pipe out the cookies(*). Dust very lightly with cocoa powder or cinnamon, if using.

Bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the cookies in the oven for another 30 minutes. (**)

(*) Use a plain nozzle. Technique is to squeeze out a dome of the meringue, stop squeezing, then pull the nozzle right up from the mixture – it should then form a little “point”

(**) If the oven is too hot, the cookies will split and bubble open. The aim is really to dry them rather than bake them – remember, you will have cooked the egg white over the double boiler.

2 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things