29. Messy Macaroons – France

In Hiroshima, I spotted shop windows stylishly displaying towers of tantalisingly multicoloured circular sandwiches, of every colour in the rainbow. At this point, a couple of yearrs ago now, I had never even heard of Macaroons, let alone tasted one. I kept promising myself one, but with all the other amazing food I never got round to it! Returning home I realised I was macaroonless.

Hello Hiroshima

I then heard more and more about Macaroons, they were everywhere, from Gossip Girl to Lorraine Pascale. (Think Blair Waldorf eating an entire box of pistachio macaroons in the bath.) Then The Great British Bake Off with Edd Kimber’s fabulous macarons. The more I heard about them the more I wanted to try them. Newcastle is not the Macaroon (or macaron – you choose which spelling you prefer, English or French?) central of the world. However my Mam happened upon them in Betty’s Tea Room and bought me an entire box! How decadent and divine, so light and sweet. I sampled the lot,  lemon, pistachio, chocolate and strawberry glossy and smooth macaroons filled with delicious jam and buttercream. They feel like something French aristocrats would enjoy on a daily basis.

Betty’s Tea Rooms Handmade Macaroons – note the glossy exterior, feet and lift!

I had to attempt them myself. They are a French invention, but it seems quite a few other countries have their own variation and have adopted them too. We used to make coconut macaroons with my Mam, but they are something entirely different. (But I have bought some rice paper to have a go myself soon…)

My Messy Macaroons

You can use the Italian meringue method (which uses hot sugar syrup to cook the egg whites before drying out the meringue in the oven. I used it to create my Key Lime Pie) or the French meringue method (where the raw meringue is cooked slowly in the oven)  to make the macaroon shell. I opted for the French method, as it seemed easier! However upon further research the Italian method may be more tricky but it supposedly produces more consistent results. (Next time I’m up for experimenting a bit more with this!)

I learned a few things along the way when making these. They are quite technical and a bit tricky but essentially they are a meringue and like when I made pavlova and mini meringues they require ‘drying out’ or cooking in a low temperature oven.

I chose a classic macaroon recipe to follow and adapted it to suit the flavours that I had in my cupboard. Which meant that I ended up with pink lemon flavoured macaroons. This kind of messes with your mind a little.

Whisking the egg whites

I started by whisking the egg whites and a tablespoon of lemon juice with an electric mixer for quite some time until it becomes stiff. Then gradually whisked in  the rest of the lemon zest and sugar until it was fully incorporated. I also added some powdered red food colouring at this point until I reached my desired pinkness. It’s probably best not to use liquid food colourings here as you don’t want to disturb the consistency of the egg whites too much… Runny egg whites make for one flat and merged meringue. (I should know I’ve already been there and done that.)

Adding the pinkness

It can take 10 minutes or so to whisk the egg whites until they are shiny. Then you known they’re ready for the ground almonds. Using a metal spoon I carefully folded in the ground almonds, so as to keep as much air  in the meringue as possible.

I spooned the meringue paste into a piping bag with a plain round nozzle and piped freestyle. Some people like Holly Bell, who are far more prepared than me, use a template of equally spaced circles (or other shapes) under their greaseproof paper to pipe equal amounts onto the tray.  I however was in a baking frenzy and choose to guess. Therefore my  results are somewhat less than consistent. My piping was supposed to produce little delicate rounds of meringue onto the baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Occasionally little meringue peaks formed on my macaroon circles. I quickly flattened them down again with a slightly wet finger. Good news however! There’s no need to grease the paper before piping, which is always a nice treat.

Piped onto the baking paper – all shapes and sizes

Now here’s my lesson at this point I wish that I had

a)    Gently banged the tray on the worktop to make sure the bottom of the macaroons were flat.

b)    Left the macaroons for 20 – 30 minutes to dry slightly and form a skin on the top before putting them into the oven. (I have since discovered that you get a more glossy finish by doing this and it helps the macaroons to form their characteristic ‘feet’(the little rugged ridge around the base of the shell) and lift up from the tray in the oven.

c)    Blitzed my ground almonds in the food processor before using them to make sure they were really fine. This is supposed to help ensure a smooth and glossy finish. I may have even sieved them if I could have been bothered.

d)    Used icing sugar! The recipe just called for caster sugar. Other recipes I’ve looked at use powdered sugar to get a smoother finish.

e)    Froze the first batch before I filled them. Apparently freezing macaroons helps to make them look and taste even better.

Just baked macaroon shells – oh so many I ran out of trays to pipe them on! (oh and I dropped a wooden spoon on that one in the middle before it made it to the oven…)

But this is all fine and well in hindsight. I didn’t have this wisdom then. I was pleased that they held their shape (whatever shape that may be)  in the oven when I baked them for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open. However they didn’t develop the little feet or lift that they are supposed too so they weren’t as sophisticated as I hoped. They were most definitely not smooth, glossy or shiny either, but more of a pumice stone texture. Thankfully they didn’t taste like pumice stone! They were chewy in the centre and crisp on the outside, just how I like them. (I couldn’t resist trying a few straight from the oven.)

I left them to cool completely before filling them with a generous smudge of my home made lemon curd and a sneaky layer lemon buttercream. Then sandwiched two shells together.

Little and Large

This recipe was only supposed to make 15 macaroons. I ended up with well over 30, so perhaps I made slightly smaller ones than I was supposed to, but they seemed massive to me. All the more macaroon to enjoy in my opinion.

My Messy Macaroons

I took a whole box along with me on my last day in my job and they were the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, which indicates success despite their ever so rustic appearance. With the other half I wrapped the empty shells carefully in layers of greaseproof paper and stored them in an airtight container. I froze them for a month and defrosted them for my friend’s leaving do. They accompanied me to the pub in their own takeaway container.

Take away macaroons

I have a whole macaroon book to experiment with so you can definitely expect messy macaroons part 2 in the near future as I’m determined to perfect them!

Things that I used to make messy macaroons

4 egg whites (I used medium eggs)

1 lemon (juice and zest)

250g caster sugar

200g of ground almonds

Buttercream

Approx 300g icing sugar (enough to create smooth sweet paste when combined with the sugar)

1 lemon zested

1 tsp vanilla extract

250g butter

Lemon Curd

Approx 3 tablespoons of homemade lemon curd (but you can add as much or as little as you like)

Baked for 40 minutes at 150 degrees C with the oven door slightly open.

**Note to self – I also used a little splodge of the uncooked meringue mix on each baking tray to hold the greaseproof paper in place**

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26. The 10 Minute Irish Soda Bread Challenge – Ireland

Soda Bread

I’ve heard pretty good things about soda bread but never have I attempted to make it myself. I discovered a recipe from Ballymaloe House in Ireland, in my food processor cookbook that appeared to be very straight forward. Promising to only require 10 minutes preparation and 40 minutes cooking! I took on the 10 minute soda bread challenge and set to work.

This was actually very quick and dare I say it… Easy to bake! With very little kneading or washing up required. Hurrah!!

I literally whacked everything in the food processor…

  • 450g of plain flour (not bread or strong flour)
  • 500g of plain live (active/cultured) yoghurt (or alternatively you can use 350-425ml of buttermilk)
  • 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp sugar
  • A glug of double cream (just because I needed to use it up)

… and set it to high for a couple of minutes using the dough hook attachment. You could use a bowl and a spoon or even just your hands to combine it all together into a runny, floury mixture.

Once it all comes together the challenge is to remove the sticky mess from the bowl in one swoop and not get coated in runny flour mess. I failed on this count and had to deploy a spatula to encourage the mix out of the bowl.

I tipped it out onto a lightly floured surface (also known as my glass worktop protector thing). Adding more plain flour to the board until I could bring the dough together without it adhering to my hands.

Once it starts to take shape all it needs is some encouragement, folding and lightly kneading the edges into the middle to form a round dough shape about 4 cm deep.

Flattened circle

I greased and floured a flat baking sheet and plopped the smooth circle of dough (folded edge down) onto the sheet.

Challenge complete in less than 10 minutes!! Taking my sharpest knife I cut a shallow cross into the top of the loaf and teased the edges out slightly so the cross was more defined. The cross helps the heat penetrate the loaf and cook evenly throughout. Irish folklore also says that that the cross lets the evil spirits out. Good to know.

Criss Cross

Into the oven it went for 10 minutes at 230 degrees c. (gas mark 8). While the oven was heating up I popped a roasting pan in the bottom to get really hot. Then just before shutting the oven door I threw a cup of cold water into the pan to create some steam and a soft crust on the bread. Perfect! (I love this tip – thank you Holly Bell)

After 10 minutes I turned the oven down to 200degrees C (gas mark6) and baked for 30 more minutes until the crust was golden brown and the loaf sounded hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Risen

What a result!! I was astounded that a yeast free bread rose so much! It doubled in size and didn’t need any proving or strenuous kneading either! Amazing result for so little effort. It smelt amazing and tasted a bit like a cake too. What could be better than a bread/cake hybrid?!

One hunk of Soda Bread

We ate this for breakfast one weekend and I loved it. I could happily eat it without any butter as it’s so moist, but I did put nutella on it (it was Saturday after all). This loaf should serve 4 and is best eaten fresh which is a good thing as I devoured a quarter of the loaf chunk in one sitting.

with lashings of Nutella?

I loved it so much I made it again however I was obviously a bit complacent after my initial success. I used plain yoghurt which wasn’t active but a little past it’s best, assuming this would mean it had grown some cultures. I guessed wrong as this time it didn’t expand as impressively and I was a little disappointed by its lack of height. I will be baking it again but following the recipe properly next time! If you haven’t baked it before I really recommend it! And please let me know how you get on!

The slightly deflated second attempt…

*Recipe taken from Kenwood Creative Food Processor Cooking Book, by Becky Johnson. Thanks!

Irish Soda Bread

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We’re Jammin’ – Marguerite Patten’s Apple and Ginger Jam – England

Homemade Apple and Ginger Jam

Technically not a bake but as I set my own rules and disregard them frequently, I declare that making something on the oven is almost the same as in the oven. Why quibble over semantics?! Also jam making is a skill that I’m yet to master as my previous charred cherry remains and ruined pan are testament to. Watching a 10 minute River Cottage Preserves Programme does make me a jam expert. New baking commandment. Thou shalt not invent your own jam recipe. Disaster shall prevail if so….

My Own Cherry Jam Recipe... Burnt Toffee

Jam features in so many baked items so I think it’s essential to teach myself how to make it. Also I’m sure Holly Bell whipped up a quick pan of jam in The Great British Bake Off final  therefore I can justify it.

My Wonderful Annotations. Thankfully I can now spell milk... My Mam must have loved those additions to her book.

I dug out my Mam’s proper cookbook. The original Prince cooking bible, complete with little Lauren scribbles and misspelt notes. (Mam must have been thrilled when I did that.) She taught me how to bake from this. I tried to help whenever I could with Graham Gingerbread, Carrot Cake and of course, Rock Buns.

My Mam has always been very good and artistic making impressive celebration cakes for the family. I was a very lucky child to have the Pink Panther, Hello Kitty and most recently Frank n Furter recreated in cake, icing, licorice and glitter for my birthdays. I wish I had some photos to share with you here! I tried to repay the honour by baking Mam her favourite, Christmas Cake. Unfortunately the marzipan snowman got a bit squashed when I pushed a tin lid on it…

The First Ever Christmas Cake That I Baked (2009)

I didn’t really appreciate the wonder of this Everyday Cookbook until I started looking through it over the last couple of weeks. I didn’t even know who Marguerite Patten was, or that she received  for her contributions to cooking, a pioneer of economical cookery. A woman after my own heart.

The one and only Marguerite Patton Ever Day Cook Book

With my remaining wedding apples I wanted to do something special. I LOVE apple and ginger jam and can’t find it anywhere apart from Tynemouth Market once, 2 years ago. But lo and behold Marguerite has a recipe for it!

Apples in Ginger

Only one slight hand injury incurred during some late night apple chopping and I left the apples to marinade in a lot of ginger powder overnight. When I tried to measure out the sugar needed I realised that I had been looking at the wrong side of my scales and had over 1kg of apples, not 1lb that the recipe required. (How did I carry them all back from James and Lara’s wedding!?) It was a very close call and a good catch. I re-weighed everything and after a bit of mental arithmetic I worked out very roughly the proportions of sugar to apple that I needed to get the consistency right.

Rather a lot of apples required...

I know jam is a complicated and delicate process but despite not measuring things correctly, I then threw all of the sugar in at the very start. Upon re-reading the recipe I realised this is NOT what you do. It’s all about getting the magical pectin to seep out of the fruit to make it set, but I had probably ruined it. I followed the rest of the rules however and didn’t stir it once it reached boiling point and hoped that I wouldn’t have to throw out my best pan. Putting the lid on I watched it nervously steam and froth.

Don't Panic! It's all (kind of) under control

It didn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes at the most and then I had jam! But I wouldn’t recommend tasting it at this stage. It’s far too hot…

Looking Jammy

I got a bit carried away when jar shopping . Luckily I bought extra jars, just incase I made more jam than the recipe predicted. It’s almost like I’m psychic. The recipe was only supposed to produce 1lb of jam. I made enough to fill 2 1lbs jars!

Marguerite Pattons' Preserves

I kept a little bit back to have on my toast for breakfast and it was fantastic! Real jam!

If you burn the toast perfectly then Hello Kitty's face appears. It's an art form.

Breakfast Time. Perfect with a cup of tea

Now just to decide if I should keep it all for myself, bake it in a cake or give it away as Christmas presents… What could say ‘I love you’ more than a big jar of homemade jam or ‘I built you a cake?’ What you will need to make your own Apple and Ginger Jam

  • 1lb of apples peeled and chopped in the cubes
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger (although I added far more and think the more ginger the better!)
  • 1lb of granulated sugar
  • No extra citric acid is needed when making apple jam as its got enough pectin in the fruit to set the jam

This recipe yields 1    2/3 lb of jam in total. When I made it it filled two 1lb jars.  Marguerite’s Jam Tips!

  • Marguerite explains that although it’s best to use preserving sugar which has more pectin added to it to encourage the jam to set, you can still use loaf/granulated sugar (which is often cheaper) particularly when preserving fruits with higher levels of natural pectin such as Blackberries.
  • Some fruits such as cherries have low levels of pectin and therefore you will need to use more fruit than sugar and add some citric acid, such as lemon juice to encourage it to set more.
  • If using a fruit with high levels of pectin such as blackcurrants you should use more sugar than fruit. You should get better results when you use more sugar than fruit in any jam as this helps the jam to set.
  • Stew the fruit slowly to maximise the vital pectin extraction

3. Before Work Baguettes… France (again)

I realise that I’ve baked from France already, but the more I think about what I could bake, the more I realise that I want to bake everything that I’ve never tried before. This could actually be an impossible task. Alas a girl can’t survive on cake alone, although she can give it pretty good go, I must bake something savoury.

I’ve made bread before, mainly in cookery class at school and the odd occasion at home. It usually turns out more like a solid brick, so dense I could probably hammer nails in with it. So  I wanted to try something that is actually supposed to be crunchy. Now I must admit the weekend I conceived the Around the World in Eighty Bakes idea I had began a baking frenzy which did involve baking a plaited loaf. To pay hommage to the Great British Bake Off (yet again) I thank finalist Holly for the wonderful tip of adding a dish of water to the bottom of the oven. Amazing tip! Soft bread!

A plaited loaf. It was pretty good (even if I do say so myself)

A quick google and I found a Paul Hollywood baguette recipe to have a go at. (Thanks for the recipe!) I don’t think it’s the full recipe, so in hindsight it’s more akin to a technical challenge on GBBO with some of the steps missed out. I didn’t really think about the consequences and carried on regardless.

It looked quite simple with chucking flour, water and yeast in and leaving it to prove overnight… I didn’t really take into consideration the other 2 hours of proving required. I set my alarm to get up early thinking I could pop them in the oven before work and have a lovely baguette for lunch. I also rather over estimated my multi tasking abilities and also prepared a chicken and potatoes to roast. (I didn’t cook the home grown ones however.)

Early morning pre work proving (and chicken baking too)

and potato digging?! Disappointly pea sized potatoes

Needless to say the dough was not proved in time for baking so I left it all day to rise instead then finished them when I got home. It probably had an extra 10 hours of proving time (not sure what Paul Hollywood would say?!) and I had to do a bit of substitution. I didn’t have any strong flour so just used plain (this is probably a mortal baking sin) and no fresh yeast so a sachet of dried fast action yeast instead.

The final rise

Hoping this is what they are supposed to look like before baking

Epic fail. The dough was very very sticky. I didn’t think (or dare to deviate from the recipe) to grease or flour the baking paper in case it changed the consistency of the bread. This resulted in two baguette like breads being welded onto the paper. In fact I think the paper has now become one with the bread. Try as I might, I can’t prise them off the paper. Curses!!!! I’ve learnt my lesson. Follow the recipe but use common sense too. I sampled a slice and it (or the top) does indeed taste very baguetteish. It’s a lovely soft butter texture and a bit of a crunch outside. The water worked yet again.

Baguettes (baking paper still welded to the bottom)

If you don't look closely you can't see the brown smooth papery finish

These baguettes are tasty but must be eaten with a warning. Do not consume the bottom. Must do better next time….

The look relatively baguette-like

A tasty slice