Thursday, 8 March 2012

Basic macaron tips

I have a confession. My name is Fiona and I am addicted to macarons.

Its true Iam absolutely and completely in love with these little French delights. The crisp outer shell, the chewy inner and soft centre, whats not to like?

It is, admittedly, an expensive addiction, delve deeper however and you will find you are paying for the effort that goes into them rather than the core ingredients. So it seemed very obvious to me to put the effort in myself and get more of these treats at less of a cost, simple mathematics!

Macarons are known to be notoriously difficult, fact. So armed with the beautiful macaron recipe book I got for Christmas I delved deep into the blog world hoping to find out some tips and what pitfalls I could avoid!

I compiled a list of tips that I thought made sense, and first attempted some plain shells. I figured there was no point getting fancy until I had cracked the technique; as they say, do not run before you can walk.

What I have learnt:

1) Age your egg whites, I must admit I could not bring myself to leave them uncovered but I did put them on the work top for 24 hours.

2) Mix your mixture until it flows off the spatula. Admittedly this can be a little tricky, my book says fold in for 50 turns. However 50 turns for me gives me lumpy shells with little peaks, if I fold for closer to 60 I get a mixture that pipes much better and do not get peaks. Nb You can mix TOO much though and then your macarons will spread too much.

3) Tap the sheet sharply to release any air.
Macarons with no peaks
4) Allow your piped macarons to dry, and form a skin. My book says that this can take 15-60 minutes. However if you live in Scotland in winter you could leave them out forever without a skin forming and so popping them near a radiator for 20-30 minutes is crucial. The macaron should not be tacky if you lighly touch it, and should have formed a dry skin. This is the most crucial of all my tips, without this skin your macaron WILL NOT have FEET.
Baked macarons with feet
5) Line your baking sheet with baking parchment NOT greaseproof paper.

6) Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet and then they should just slide off.

When I follow all these tips I get lovely macaron shells, they have feet and hold together well, do not have lumps or air pockets and most importantly they have a lovely texture, crisp outer shell and soft, oh so slightly chewy centre.

Too be honest I was not expecting them to work so well and so was rather unprepared for the filling! I just sandwiched them together with whatever was in the fridge (jam, caramel, peanut butter, lemon cream cheese).

I will post the actual recipes, in the very near future, once I have made macarons with actual flavours. 

ps. I know the pictures are not the best, I have a kitchen with no window, I could take pictures at 12 noon or midnight and they would all look the same. Thankfully I am soon to move to a kitchen with a window and hopefully picture quality will improve...

Friday, 2 March 2012

Stem ginger shortbread

We have all been there, so much happening in such a short space of time that it can inevitably only end in one of two ways. Killing someone, or sitting in a crumpled heap rocking yourself and sobbing. Not wishing to partake in either activity I settled on a third option, bake something comforting.

Now in the middle of a rather hectic move I only had the basic ingredients, and being the middle of lent, chocolate was most definitely out, I wanted my sweet treat to be relatively fast and fuss free which ruled out waiting for things to cool before smothering them in frosting.

And then like a little beacon of hope there it was, a little jar of stem ginger.

Armed with the Great British bake off cookbook I set about making myself some stem ginger shortbread cookies.

I have used this recipe before, but just for vanilla and chocolate shortbreads. It is the most crumbly buttery shortbread imaginable but I do have one issue with the recipe. Once the dough is made I am supposed to be able to roll it into a log shape, refrigerate it and then slice off nice little rounds. I have never been able to get this dough into a log, it is just too crumbly, and I am conscious of not wishing to work it too much, tough shortbread is not nice.  

I have learnt that I can sort of bash it flat a bit and then roll it out. This seems to hold the dough together enough to roll it out.

If you are gentle the trimmings can be re-rolled and I have found it does not affect the end biscuit, hurrah.

The stem ginger version off these shortbreads is by far my favourite, the ginger is not too overpowering and the buttery texture is extremely morish. However if ginger is not your thing then omit the ground and stem ginger and add a teaspoon of vanilla paste to the creamed butter and sugar mix, then leave plain or throw in a handful of choc chips, or finely grated lemon zest, alternatively exchange a couple of tablespoons of plain flour with cocoa powder, as they say, the possibilities are endless.

Stem ginger shortbread (from the great british bake off cookbook)

Butter                        200g
Caster sugar             100g
Plain Flour                260g
Rice Flour                 40g
Ground ginger         ½tsp
Stem ginger              50g

Preheat the oven to 170oC and grease 2 baking sheets

Finely chop the stem ginger
Cream the butter with a mixer, or good old elbow grease if you are that way inclined, until well softened, add the sugar and continue to mix until light and fluffy.

Add all the other ingredients to the bowl and bring together with your hands to form a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 15-30 minutes. If you are rolling the dough closer to 15 minutes is best.

Roll out the dough to 1cm thick and stamp out shapes of your choice.

Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Enjoy with a cup of tea or plenty of cold milk!