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.   














Sunday, 14 September 2014

Afternoon Tea in the Merrion Hotel


If you are going to do Afternoon Tea, pull out all the stops (and your purse) and do it right, in style, in somewhere where the pastry chefs are the Picasso's of ganache and mousse. And the chefs at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin certainly don't lack imagination or skill. Their 'Art Tea' is a two course menu, the first being a variety of sandwiches, scones and cakes and the second being a selection of three miniature desserts inspired by three paintings selected from the Merrion's own art collection. 

The photographs speak for themselves but there is also something that I couldn't capture on film and that is the relaxed, laid back atmosphere in this beautiful room. We sat for almost three hours, drank at least 10 cups of tea and ate ourselves silly. 

You can also get a beautiful doggy bag to bring home, which takes the pressure off if you are like me and can't possibly comprehend leaving any cake un-tasted. 

What a treat.



The sandwich plate:
Smoked salmon with horseradish cream on brown Irish soda bread
Egg mayonnaise and cress on a brioche bun;
Rare Irish Beef on white bread; and
Cucumber with cream cheese and chives on tomato bread.


The cake and scone plate:
Battenburg (the colours and design are inspired by a painting);
Lemon cake;
Porter Cake; and
Plain and fruit scones served with lemon curd, jam and clotted cream.


From the other side.

The three paintings selected by the chef to inspire his/her second course.

Wow factor: The second course

 Raspberry and passion fruit tart.


Rosewater and Orange Mousse on a White Chocolate Feuilletine


Chocolate Trinty- a choux bun filled with chocolate ganche

€36 each at the Merrion Hotel Dublin, see http://www.merrionhotel.com/

Monday, 8 September 2014

Cronuts!




Right now the "cronut"tm is the One Direction of the baking world. A creation of Dominque Ansel, this wonder is (as the name might suggest)  a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. In New York people queue from early morning to get a cronut before they sell out.  You can only buy two at a time and they will set you back $5 each.

Along with your double soya frappe, a cronut is the ultimate breakfast fashion accessory. Because just like the fashion world, foodies are suckers for a trend. From Primrose  and Magnolia bakeries' cupcakes to dainty macarons, we are a pretty easily led bunch.


Unfortunately I haven't had the pleasure of an Ansel cronut, but this recipe combines the softness of a doughnut with the buttery, flakey deliciousness of a croissant and is surprisingly easy to make. If you have made puff pastry or croissant pastry before you might think there would be  a lot of that "laminating" business, but happily this recipe isn't much different from making normal scones except for a little rolling technique required.

You can roll your cronuts in sugar, but if you want to go the whole hog, decorate with bright glacé icing by mixing icing sugar with a very small amount of water and a drop of food colouring.


From sortedfood.com 

Makes 12

125g plain flour 
125g strong flour 
60ml milk 
65ml warm water 
7g packet dried yeast 
150g cold butter diced
30g caster sugar
 1/2 tsp salt 

Creme Pattiserie 
250ml full fat milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean split 
2 egg yolks 
50g caster sugar 
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour 
1 1/2 tbsp custard powder 

1. Put the water, milk and yeast in a jug and stir. 
2. Mix the flours together in a bowl. Add the butter and mix in a food processor or with your fingers until very coarse breadcrumbs with plenty of lumps. 
3. Add in the caster sugar and salt and mix well.
4. Add in the wet ingredients and mix until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out onto a big piece of clingfilm and bring together into a ball. 
5. Place in the fridge for 2 hours. 
6, Take out of the fridge and roll into a rectangle twice as long on one side as the other. Fold like an envelope- fold one third of the dough back over the dough and then fold the other third over. 
7. Turn the dough 90oC and then use the same rolling and folding technique twice more. If the dough is getting sloppy and buttery place in the fridge for 15 minutes. 
8. Leave in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight is best. 
9. Take out of the fridge and roll to 1/2cm thick. Use a large round cutter to punch out 6-8 rounds. Poke a hole in the centre with your fingers or with a small cutter. 
10. Leave to rest for another hour at room temperature covered with a clean tea towel. 
11. Heat the oil to 170oC.  
12 Cook a few at a time for 4-6 minutes each side until golden to dark brown. 
13. When cool inject 5 or 6 with shop bought custard or make crème patisserie as below. 

For the crème patisserie 
1. Heat the milk and vanilla together until just at the boil. 
2. Mix the egg yolk, sugar, cornflour and custard together in a bowl. Add half of the milk stirring constantly. 
3. Pour the mixture into the rest of the milk, return to a medium heat and cook, whisking all the time for 5-6 minutes or until thick. 
4. Pour into a bowl, cover with a circle of greaseproof paper and place in the fridge until needed.  



Saturday, 6 September 2014

Julia Child's Madelines de Commercy



I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Julia Child until the very enjoyable film Julie and Julia where she was played by the amazing Meryl Streep. If you are even further behind than me, Julia Child is credited with bringing French cooking into American homes and her recipes have been relied on for generations. Who better than the Queen of French cooking to guide us through the sometimes murky waters of Madelines, a French delicacy!

Lightly flavoured with lemon, these Madelines have a slight crunch on the outside and a soft sponge interior. Perfect with a cup of tea on a drizzly Saturday in Dublin!

From Julia Child's Kitchen - Makes 2 dozen

2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 ounces unsalted butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons for buttering the molds (total of 5 1/4 ounces)
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
3 drops of lemon juice

1. Bring all the ingredients to room temperature.
2. Put the butter over a medium heat and allow to melt. Turn up the heat and watch while it sizzles and spits. Once brown flecks appear and the butter goes silent take off the heat and allow to cool but not congeal.
3. Take 1 tablespoon of the butter and use it to brush the madeline tin. Don't let big pools of butter sit at the bottom of the tin. Dust lightly with plain flour and place the tin in the fridge.
4. Mix the flour and sugar together in a clean bowl. Add 3/4 of the egg mixture and beat until well combined. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
5. Beat in the remaining egg and cooled butter saving 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir in the salt, vanilla and lemon.
6. Place the mixture in the fridge for a few hours- overnight is better as this will help the hump form.
7. When ready to bake preheat the oven to 180oC. Fill the madeline molds 2/3 full using approximately 1 large tablespoon of mixture.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden at the edges. Allow to cool and then remove gently from the pan.
9. Brush the pan with the remaining tablespoon of butter, dust with flour and place in the fridge for 1 hour before baking the second dozen.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Fluffy American Pancakes with Caramelised Peaches


I am swept up in Leaving cert results this week for the first time in years. The stress, the nerves, the excitement, the feeling that everything hangs in a delicate balance, the anticipation of an unknown future. 

Inevitably I started to think about my life since that envelope got ripped open. What would I say to my 17 year old me? What would she say to the present me, 7 years down the line? Anyone who says they have no regrets is in denial or lying.

But regret, as inevitable as is it is equally pointless. Instead of thinking about what I would say to my 17 year old me, I should be thinking about what the 30 year old me would say to me now. It is easier to regret than to take a good hard look at your now. 



But all this introspection requires sustenance in the form of sweet sweet breakfast food! Inspired by the realisation that the summer is slowly coming to an end, these light fluffy pancakes are the perfect summer weekend breakfast. There is still time left to capitalise on those bits of summer that are fastly becoming glimpses in the rear review mirror; a burst of sunshine, the tickle of grass on your bare feet and eating the final pieces of summer fruit.  

I haven't done much with these peaches, a knob of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar before being shoved under the grill is all they need. 


Serves 2

For the pancakes 

135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
1 egg
150ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g butter, melted and cooled

For the peaches

3 peaches, halved and cored
1 tablespoon of light brown sugar
knob of butter for each peach half

1. Preheat the grill to medium heat.
2. In a bowl mix all the dry ingredients for the pancakes together. In a small jug beat the eggs, milk and vanilla together, lightly.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the egg/milk mix. Beat well with the whisk ensure that there are no pockets of flour. Finally mix in the melted butter until thoroughly combined. Let to stand for 5-10 minutes.
4. Put the peach halves in an oven proof dish. Place a small knob of butter on each half and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes until charred and soft, checking every five minutes to ensure the edges don't burn. If they do, turn the grill down.
5. Heat a non stick pan to medium heat. Pour a ladle of pancake batter on to the pan. The mixture will be very thick and so is easier to handle than traditional crepes.
6. When the bottom starts to solidify and the top begins to set and form bubbles, flip the pancake to cool on the other side until brown. The mixture should make 6-8 pancakes. Keep warm in the bottom of the oven while waiting for the peaches to cook.
7. Remove the peaches from the grill and allow to cool before serving on top of a stack of pancakes. Add a squeeze of honey to serve.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Black and white éclairs




Eclairs are the Coco Chanel of the dessert world; simple, timeless and elegant. I, for one, am incapable of stifling a gasp of admiration when presented with these glossy delicious choux pastries, a sweet-tooth's favourite since the turn of the nineteenth century. 

I have kept the flavours simple here, the eclairs are filled with chantilly cream and topped with chocolate ganache. And to add a little pizzaz I have used a decorating technique deceptively easy and eye-catchingly effective called 'feathering'. Try it out!





For the choux recipe click here.

For the chantilly cream
200ml cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar, sifted

For the topping
100ml heavy cream
50g dark/milk chocolate
pinch of salt
25g white chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 220oC.
2. Make the choux according to instructions on the link above. Pipe 12 x 3 inch lengths, well spread apart onto two baking sheets using a 1 1/2inch nozzle. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Change position of the baking trays, reduce the temperature to 190oC and bake for a further 20-25 minutes.
3. Once golden brown and puffed up, take the eclairs out of the oven and cut each in half lengthways. If they are too hot, stab them to let the steam escape and then cut them lengthways later.
4. Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Sift the icing sugar over and fold in. Keep in the fridge until needed.
5. To make the dark chocolate ganache, break the chocolate up into a bowl with the salt. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until almost boiling then pour over the chocolate. Stir with a spatula in circular motions until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is thick. Put in the fridge to cool until required.
6. To assemble, spoon or pipe the cream into the bottom half of the eclairs and replace the top.  Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or a small saucepan. Fill into a piping bag with a narrow nozzle.
7. Using a wide knife spread the ganche over the éclairs. While the ganache is still wet, pipe lines of white chocolate horizontally across the éclair parallel and at even intervals.
8. Drag a cocktail stick lightly up the long length of the éclair from bottom to top, creating the white chocolate pinnacles. Next drag the cocktail stick top to bottom creating pinnacles in the other direction. Repeat until you finish the design across the éclair.  For photos and guidance see here.