Sunday, 14 December 2014

Ile Flottantes

This day last year I was in Paris. After a hearty bean stew full of sausage, bacon and ribs in a bistro beside our hotel that coincidentally happened to be on the Guardian's list of best cheap eats in Paris, we ordered Il Flotantes (translates to Floating Islands) for desert. Served in a shallow enamel dish, it was a curious looking thing. Squares of mallowy meringue drenched in caramel floated on a sweet custard. Simple, homely, stunning.

I can't believe it has taken this long for me to make it at home. It's perfect after a heavy meal and great for those with a simple palette.

From Ed Kimber's  Patisserie Made Simple

For the Custard
400ml full fat milk
100ml single cream
5 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean

For the Meringue 
3 egg whites
100g caster sugar
1L semi skimmed milk

For the Caramel 
100g caster sugar

1. For the custard. Heat the cream and milk in a pan with the vanilla bean split lengthways or the vanilla bean paste until almost boiling.
2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk in a bowl. Add the hot milk in a continuous stream whisking constantly.
3. Pour back into the saucepan whisking constantly over a gentle heat until the custard thickens to the consistency of single cream- not as thick as traditional custard.
4. Pour into a clean bowl and leave to cool completely in the fridge.
5. For the meringue beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until the meringue is glossy.
6. Put the semi skimmed milk in a large wide saucepan and heat to barely simmering. Using two tablespoons dipped in cold water, shape the meringues into ovals- called quenelles.
7. Slide into the warm milk and cook in batches for around 10 minutes with the lid on, turning them half way through.
8. Take the meringues out with a slotted spoon and leave to drain on kitchen paper.
9. When you are ready to serve, make the caramel. Put half of the sugar in a large saucepan and heat over a low heat until melted. Add the rest of the sugar sprinkling evenly oven the melted sugar. Heat the caramel until medium brown.
10. To serve, ladle the custard into a shallow bowl. Top with two meringue "islands" and drizzle over the caramel sauce.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Cherry and White Chocolate Tiramasu

Let's get Christmassy. It is 6 December and the tree is going up, cheap baubles and all. Let's embrace that warm fuzzy in our stomachs and hit the shops like we are Pretty Woman and Richard Gere just gave us his credit card. There are a few cookbooks on the cards this Christmas and plenty of baking plans. Just part of the fun and excitement.   

White chocolate cherry Tiramasu is a great Christmas dinner party option. Easy to prepare in advance, the red and white colour contrast makes for a stunning visual. You can use jam jars to keep in style with your hipster glasses and brand new 'beat up' boots or tumblers to keep things simple. I used martini glasses for an extra 'ooh' and 'ah' factor, I never pass up an opportunity to pump up the glamour. If you feel you want to keep your martini glasses purely alcohol filled, I appreciate and respect that. 


Adapted from Neven Maguire's Home Chef

For the custard (or buy good quality custard)
3 egg yolks
1/2 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tbsp custard powder
2 tbsp caster sugar
150ml milk
50ml cream

For the cherries
150g fresh cherries pitted and halved
150ml red wine
35g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1star anise
2  tablespoons amaretto or port

For the marscarpone cream
250g marscapone
75g cream
80g white chocolate
4 sponge fingers

1. Make the custard. Beat the egg yolks, caster sugar, cornflour and custard powder in a large bowl.
2. Heat the milk and cream until almost at a boil. Pour the hot milk and cream over the egg yolk mixture whisking constantly.
3. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over a medium heat until the mixture gets very thick. This could take 5-6 minutes. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the custard with a circle of greaseproof paper to avoid a skin forming.
4. Chop 40g of the white chocolate very finely. Heat 2 tablespoons of the cream in a small bowl in the microwave or a small saucepan until below boiling. Add the chocolate and stir until thoroughly melted. When cool add to the cooled custard.
5. For the cherries, put the red wine, caster sugar, cinnamon stick and star anise in a small pan and bring to the boil. Turn now and simmer with 5 minutes with the lid off until the mixture reduces.
6. Add in the cherries and cook for 5 minutes until slightly tender but holding their shape.
7. Take off the heat and leave to cool.
8. Put two tablespoons of cherries in the bottom of each glass. Break one of the sponge fingers for each glass and place over the cherries sugar side down. Spoon over the red wine mixture until all used up, discarding the cinnamon stick and star anise. Put in the fridge to cool.
9. Grate the white chocolate. Beat the rest of the cream in one bowl until thick. Beat the mascarpone until soft and then fold in the cream and white chocolate.
10. Spoon the mascarpone mixture over the cherry mixture. Top with a sprinkling of cocoa powder and fresh cherries.

Monday, 24 November 2014

English Muffins

It's bright and sunny and cold and I have remembered that I don't completely hate winter now that the torrential rain has passed. In fact I quite like the bundling up ritual, the numb tingle in my nose and the completely valid excuse to batten down the hatches when the dark evenings set in...

This weekend I made English muffins. Perfect for breakfast, excellent at tea time, these muffins are soft and fluffy on the inside with a crunchy exterior thanks to the polenta and a hot frying pan. I recommend eating warm smeared with butter, accompanied by a hot cup of tea. 

Recipe by Paul Hollywood, makes 8

300g strong white flour 
1 tsp salt 
7g sachet of yeast 
1 egg, lightly beaten 
15g caster sugar 
15g butter softed 
170ml milk 
15g polenta, or semolina

1. Put the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt in one side and the yeast in another. Mix well. 
2. Add the butter and rub into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. 
3. Add the egg and the milk until a soft dough forms. I found that I did not need all the milk. 
4. Smear a very small amount of oil on to the worktop. 
5. Turn out the dough out onto the worktop and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. 
6. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place until doubled in volume. 
7. Punch the dough to remove the air. Dust half the polenta and flour onto the work surface. Roll out the dough to 2.5cm thick. Using a cutter, stamp out 8 rounds. 
8. Put the rounds on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. 
9. Heat a frying pan or a griddle pan to a low heat.
10. Cook the muffins on both sides until dark brown, around 6 minutes either side but keep an eye on them. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Melting Moments

These biscuits are SHORT. 

There isn't too much jargon in baking, but 'short' comes up quite a bit. 'Short' means a high butter to flour ratio. When you read short you understand rich, buttery and crumbly, i.e. delicious melt in the mouth biscuits. 

Today we are going old school, forgetting about fancy macarons and patisserie and the like and baking what our Grannies made for teatime. To maintain the very effective swirl, I used a star nozzle and made sure the dough was very cold before it went into the oven to maintain its shape. Skip the fridge and you will end up with a baking tray full of melty disfigured biscuits. 

From the Great British Bake Off Series 2 Book

Makes about 16 sandwiched biscuits

For the biscuits
250g butter, softened
60g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla
250g plain flour, sifted
60g cornflour, sifted

For the buttercream icing
200g icing sugar
75g butter, softened
1/2tsp vanilla

1. Beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and very smooth. Add the vanilla and beat briefly.
2. Sift in the flour and cornflour and beat well until the mixture is well combined.
3. Fill a piping bag with a star nozzle with the mixture. Pop the piping bag in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4. Pipe 5cm diameter swirls onto sheets of greaseproof paper, well spaced apart. Place the baking trays into the fridge for at least an hour, The longer the better.
5. Preheat the oven to 180oC.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just lightly golden.
7, For the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar in a bowl until creamy. Add a dash of milk and the vanilla and beat again. Add food colouring if desired.
8. Sandwich the biscuits together and leave to set in the fridge.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mocha Religieuse

Choux buns just got stacked up, covered in shiny ganache, filled with chocolate coffee pastry cream and given a frilly collar. Hello Sunday! Hello Religieuse, so named because they are stacked to look like nuns. 

In every pattisiere shop window in Paris you will see Religieuse. Although traditionally dipped in ganache, in the windows of Laudurée and the like you will see them dipped in bright glacé icing. Personally, I am not a big fan of the overly sweet glacé icing, so I kept these traditional. The pastry cream is one of my favourites. It packs a delicious creamy coffee punch and the ganache too as I used milled instant coffee powder. 

If you have mastered choux, these really are a very small step for added impressiveness. Give them a go! 

For the choux (from Paula Daly)
150ml water
50g margarine
65g plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

For the chocolate coffee pastry cream 
250ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour
1 tablespoon custard powder
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1/2 tablespoon of milled instant coffee

For the ganache 
100ml single cream
100g milk chocolate
pinch of salt
2 teaspoon milled instant coffee

For the collar
100ml single cream
Coffee beans, optional

1. For the choux, heat the water and margarine in a saucepan over a medium heat until melted. Sift the flour into a dry bowl. Increase the heat and bring the water to the boil.
2. Take the water/margarine off the heat before the water evaporates. Dump in the flour and beat well. Put back over the heat for 1/2-1 minute to cook out the flour.
3. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
4. Add a little egg at a time, beating well between each addition. The mixture may curdle but keep beating until it comes together and it is shiny.
5. Mark eight one inch and eight two inch circles onto greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 220oC.
6. Pipe the choux onto the marked circles. If they have pointy tops, dip your finger into warm water and smooth out the tops.
7. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190oC and bake for a further 15-20 minutes.
8. Take out of the oven, transfer to a wire rack and stab with a knife to let steam escape.
9. To make the pastry cream, heat the milk with the vanilla in a small saucepan until almost at a boil.
10. Mix the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour, cocoa powder, coffee and custard powder in a bowl until combined.
11. Pour in half of the milk while whisking vigorously.
12. Pour back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk and beat over a low heat until thick enough to pipe. This will take 4-5 minutes.
13. Make the ganache. Heat the cream and coffee in a saucepan over a low heat until almost to the boil.
14. Break up the chocolate and place in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Pour over the hot cream and mix in a tight circle, slowly widening the circle until all the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth and shiny. Put in the fridge until ready to use.
15. Using a piping bag with a plain nozzle, fill the choux buns.
16. Beat the cream in a small bowl until peaks form. Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
17. To assemble, dip the top of the big choux buns in ganache. Dip a small choux bun in the ganache and place on top of the big bun.
18. Pipe a frilly collar with cream and top with a single star and a coffee bean, if desired.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pierre Hermes' Salted Caramel Macarons

Macarons are like cats, Paris and Michael Fassbender; I love them far more than they love me.

After a disastrous first date, we have come to an understanding.... I accept that I will never have a 100% perfect macaron yield, at least 4 or 5 will crack across the top and not have "feet". Same batter, same tray, same temperature- my only reasoning is that the oven isn't giving out heat exactly evenly. Short of throwing out my relatively new oven and buying a new one, I think I may have to live with less than macaron perfection.... Grrh.

I used to use this Bravetart recipe, but have now switched to this Pierre Herme's recipe. Herme's recipe is a little bit tricker in that it involves making a sugar syrup and you have to age the egg whites for at least two days, but I find the results are slightly better, a shinier top and more chewy. If you aren't bothered getting a sugar thermometer out, do try the Bravetart recipe, by all means a less fussy option.

Happy macaronage!

From Pierre Hermes

Makes 36 shells
For the macarons
150g icing sugar
150g ground almonds
55g egg whites, left on the counter for 48 hours or longer in the fridge covered in clingfilm and stabbed with a fork
7.5g good quality yellow food colouring
7.5g vanilla extract
55g egg whites, left to liquefy, as above
150g sugar
slightly less than 40ml water

Salted caramel filling 
150g granulated sugar
175ml single cream
15g salted butter plus 70g salted butter
1/2 tsp good quality salt

1. Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds separately and then together in a big glass bowl. Discard any chunky bits of almond stuck in the sieve.
2. Mix 55g of the egg whites, food colouring and vanilla extract together in small bowl. Pour on top of the icing sugar and ground almonds but do not mix.
3. Beat the other 55g of egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
4. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan until the syrup reaches 118oC. Take off the heat and allow to cool to 115oC and then pour down the side of the bowl while beating the egg whites until the egg whites cool to 50oC- this shouldn't take long.
5. Mix the meringue in to the almond/icing sugar mix in three batches until the mixture flows like magma. This will take a few minutes. Use a spatula to smear the mix against the side of the bowl. The mixture should fall from the spatula in a smooth ribbon and disappear back into the mixture within 20 seconds.
6. Pipe into rounds of 3.5cm diameter. Rap the baking sheet onto the counter sharply to get rid of any air bubbles. Leave the macarons at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow a skin to develop.
7. Heat the oven to 180oC.
8. Bake the macarons for 12-14 minutes, opening the door very quicky twice to allow steam to escape. I found that the macarons baked better on the top or bottom shelves, but it may take some experimentation with your oven to figure out what suits you. The macarons are baked when they can be peeled easily from the paper- the bottom should not be too sticky.
9. To make the filling, put 25g of sugar in a saucepan and allow to melt over a medium heat. Add the rest of the sugar in 25g portions once the previous 25g is melted until all 100g is used up. Once all the sugar is melted, cook until the sugar turns a dark amber. Play close attention and use your nose as a guide- if it smells like it is burning pull off the heat and plunge the saucepan into a sink of cold water.
10. Heat the cream until almost boiling.
11. Add 15g butter and the cream. The mixture will bubble and splatter and the caramel may go hard but will melt at the next stage.
12. Turn up the heat and boil until the mixture reaches 118oC.
13. Pour into a shallow container and cover with clingfilm. Put in the fridge to cool completely.
14. Beat the 70g of butter for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Add the caramel in two additions beating well between each. Add the salt and beat well to combine.

15. Pipe generously to sandwich the shells together.
16. Allow the macarons to 'mature' for 12 hours and then allow to come to room temperature for 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Blaa Blaa White Bread

Have you heard of Waterford blaa bread yet? Since obtaining EU protection status which means that true blaa bread cannot be made outside Waterford, blaa bread is cropping up on hipster trendy menus all over the country. And as Ireland's only yeast bread inspired by the Hugenots, this bread deserves wider recognition outside a small corner of the south east. Very soft, fluffy and characteristically floury, blaa is quite unlike other white bread rolls, more similar to a bap and good sweet or savoury. Apparently, a blaa roll is traditionally filled with 'red lead' in Waterford, some sort of ambiguous sausage meat for lunch. Count me out of any 'red lead' consumption... 

From Niamh Shield's 'Comfort and Spice'

500g strong white flour 
10g dried yeast 
10g caster sugar 
10g unsalted butter 

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 275ml of warm water. Stir well and leave for 10 minutes to froth. 
2. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the butter. 
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix vigorously until a shaggy dough forms. Dump it out on the table and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. 
4. Place in a clean bowl and allow to rise for 1 hour until doubled in size in a warm place like a hot press or sunny window. 
5. Preheat the oven to 210oC. Punch the dough to knock the air out and divide into 8 balls. Place on a baking tray, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for another 50 minutes until the rolls swell.
6. Dust liberally with more flour and then bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Eat the same day.