Tag Archives: petit four

Royal Baby: Petits Fours

Hurrah, after all that waiting, the royal baby has arrived! Even if you were not following the event closely, the atmosphere in London was exciting – one of the hottest days of the year, giving way to excitement in the warm evening as the news emerged. The media went into meltdown, getting more and more excited as we got to see the first pictures, then the news and the newborn was to be called HRH Prince George.

Never one to shy away from a bit of baking in honour of a national event, I’ve made a batch of little cakes with a suitably regal theme. Little blue petits fours flavoured with almond and topped with silver.

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Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I made these little cakes just ahead of the birth, and hedged my bets by decorating some of them blue and others pink. I had planned to post the right colour on the day, but in the end I think they all look rather sweet so you get to benefit from the blue and silver look, as well as pink and gold.

For some reason, I had it most firmly in my mind that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be having a girl. I even took a £5 hit on our office sweepstake where I went for the name Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Frances…maybe next time!

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Petits fours are one of those things that can seem like a lot of work, and I agree they are hardly the sort of thing that you can whip up in less than an hour. However, I think there is something quite satisfying about tackling something a little more complex when you have a few hours to spare. All the more so when you are in the middle of a heatwave – after each stage, you can pop out into the garden to bask in a little sunshine, which allows you to make sure you do not get too much exposure to the sun in one go.

If you’re keen to try making these, you’ve got two choices. I used a recipe from Martha Stewart to make thin layers of almond sponge, then sandwiched them together to make the cakes. However, there is a simpler way – get any sort of dense cake (like pound cake), then trim off the darker crusts and cut into cubes (or go crazy – use round or heart-shaped cutters to get creative). In all honesty, this latter option is a lot easier and ideal if you want to try making these little cakes with children. They tend to want to minimise the time between cake-making and cake-eating. You could still go for a fancy effect by using a marble cake as your foundation.

When it comes to the filling, this is entirely up to you. Jam would be traditional, with raspberry providing a slightly tart contrast to the sweet icing. Otherwise, try a firmer fruit jelly made with pectin if you want thicker layers of summery sweetness. However, I happened to have a pot of almond jam from Mallorca lurking at the back of the cupboard, and it was just perfect here (and fittingly – I bought it the week before the Royal Wedding in 2011). The flavour was nutty rather than sweet, with a dash of cinnamon and citrus to round out the flavour. To keep the almond theme going, I added a little marzipan square on top of each cake.

When it comes to icing, again Martha came to the rescue. I’ve tried simple water icings in the past, but they tend to be too thin, take too long to set and don’t give a great finish. The perfect – and traditional – option is to make sugar fondant, then melt it using sugar syrup. However, this is a bit of a faff, and I tend not to have an amazing hit rate when it comes to working with sugar syrup and getting things to set. The third way seemed like something I would work with – fill a large bowl with icing sugar, add liquid glucose (the nearest thing we have in the UK to corn syrup), water and any colouring, then warm in a bain marie until smooth. This went on like a dream and set fairly quickly.

So there you have it – pretty little petits fours which I might dare to suggest are fit for a prince. I would just make sure he has access to enough outdoor space to run around after all that icing!

For the cake recipe, see Martha’s recipe here. This was a great simple almond sponge so recommended whenever you need a thin layer sponge.

If you fancy making a pound cake, my butter-rich version is here.

Martha’s icing recipe is here, and there is a great video showing the technique here. It’s worth checking it out before having a go yourself! When I was making this, I found I needed to add a little water from time to time to keep the icing at the right texture. If it gets too thin, just pop back over the bain marie to warm and it should sort it out.

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Oh, mon amour! Macarons à la framboise

You remember I said that I wanted to something a little bit different for Valentine’s Day? Well, I did it with the beetroot risotto, so now let’s balance that by going all traditional. I whipped up a batch of very fruity raspberry macarons, which as you can see were very pink and rather romantic.

Previously, when making macarons, I have tended to make nutty, spiced or chocolate variants, usually filled with ganache. Why? My issue has been around the filling – I find meringue-based buttercream a bit of a faff, and I am not a massive fan of the result in all cases. The alternative – using jam as the filling – didn’t strike me as too satisfying either. So I played around, and came up with a winning combination. A simple buttercream, with fresh raspberry puree folded in. The result is creamy, sweet and fruity all in one go, and they have the freshness that jam just does not bring. I realise that purists will shudder at the butter-plus-icing sugar filling (too grainy! not smooth! too easy!) but it worked here and tasted good, so that’s a success for me!

This was also a chance for me to try out some all-natural food colouring that I bought in [Mmmmh!] in Brussels last year. This one is a deep pinkish-red, and is a beetroot extract – and looks like dried beet juice, ground to a very fine powder. I like the natural food colouring. The shades are a little more muted, but actually quite pretty, and it does make you ask what actually goes into something that is blood red, royal blue or shocking purple?

While this powder was perfect for adding a delicate pink hue, I am afraid that I did over-reach myself. Inspired by raspberry and peppercorn macarons from Cannelle & Vanille, I used some of my beetroot powder as she used raspberry powder. I imagine that powdered raspberry is fruity and sharp, welcome on the tongue as a foil to the sweetness of the macaron shell and the smoothness of the filling. As I could not have guessed, mine had a vague taste of root vegetable to them. The ten macaron shells I tried this on went straight into the bin, poor things.

But look closer…you can see I have hidden something from you. In the spirit of surprises for St Valentine, I included a chunk of fresh raspberry in the middle of each macaron, for a sort of “maximum fruit” experience. And it worked well! So it would seem that I have overcome my mini-phobia of macarons with real fruit flavours. Bravo!

For raspberry macarons (makes around 25-30):

• 150g ground almonds
• 150g icing sugar
• 110g egg whites (4 egg whites – but weigh them to be sure)
• red food colouring (I used a natural beetroot-based colour)
• 165g white sugar (granulated or caster)
• 35ml water

Combine the icing sugar and ground almond, and sieve well. Set aside.

Put 55g of egg whites in a bowl. Add the food colouring (if using) and whisk very lightly – they will become a little frothy, but should remain liquid.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the other 55g of egg whites until it reaches the firm peak stage.

Put the white sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat gently until it reaches the “soft ball” stage (118°C, or when you drop a little of the sugar into cold water, it forms a soft ball). I find this happens once all the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Once ready, pour in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites, beating continuously. This is best done using a Kitchen Aid or beater. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.

Pour the coloured liquid egg whites onto the almond mixture.

Add one-third of the meringue mixture to the almond mixture and combine. Add another third, combine, then add the remainder of the meringue. With a light hand, mix well until you have a smooth, glossy batter. It should flow slowly (think lava, not a mudslide).

Pipe the batter onto a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet, so that you have a sheet with lots of little rounds, around 3-4cm across. Leave to sit in the open for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 150°C for 15 minutes. Half-way through cooking, turn the baking sheet around.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet. Assemble the macarons with the filling of your choice.

For the raspberry buttercream:

• 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 150g icing sugar
• 1 tablespoon cream
• 2-3 drops vanilla extract
• 50g raspberries, crushed

Combine the butter, icing sugar, cream and vanilla in a bowl. Begin with a spoon, then start to whisk with a beater until light and fluffy. Fold in the raspberries. If the mixture splits or seems too wet, add more icing sugar until you have a smooth, soft mass. Use in a piping bag to fill the macarons – pipe on one side, place 1/2 raspberry on top, then add a dot of filling to the top macaron shell, and press together very lightly.

Worth trying? These macarons are super-pretty and very romantic, so perfect if you are looking to impress on Valentine’s Day. The trick with the fresh fruit in the filling is, in my view, the best way to provide a flavourful raspberry macaron. And they provide just a little glimmer of the summer that is hopefully not too far away now.

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