Saturday, 15 March 2008

If you're not into Marmalade...

...then Orangettes are the way forward. I got a lot of lovely bitter Seville oranges from Riverford, and since Marmalade only needs to get made every five years or so in my house, I've started making them into the candied orange peel needed for Orangettes. I'm a big fan of candied orange peel dipped in chocolate at the best of times, but the Seville oranges make all the difference. As in Marmalade, they give a deep, zesty taste which just isn't achievable with normal oranges. And of course it goes perfectly with good dark chocolate.

It raining outside was the perfect excuse for this kind of project.So I've peeled, removed the pith, and chopped the peel into fine strips, boiled it in water three times to remove too much bitterness, and boiled it again in sugar syrup until it was sweetly edible. The house is filled with an uplifting smell that reminds me of christmas, and I'm covered in a thin film of sugar (as is the kitchen).

But my orange peel is now drying in long stripes on the kitchen counter ready for dipping in tempered chocolate tomorrow.

Cinnamon Buns

My mother used to make cinnamon buns for breakfast for us when I was a child with relative frequency. She'd use tons of butter, but convince herself they were healthy because of the brown flour she used. I loved them: there isn't anything as good as sticky cinnamon buns, and I'd hack the burnt buttery sugar globs off the bottom of the pan and spread them on. The one or two left over made an excellent mid-afternoon snack, especially spread with yet more butter and accompanied by a hot mug of tea. It's only now I'm older and life is filled with the hectic everyday chores of filling in applications and paying the gas bill that I realise quite how fantastic and organised it was to have hot cinnamon rolls ready for breakfast on a regular basis. Somehow when she made then I just tripped down the stairs and into the kitchen, and was not in the least surprised to find the table laid, coffee made, orange juice poured and the sweet smell of sugar.

Though A. is a dab hand with the expresso machine in the morning, he isn't a breakfast person at all. And when he is it's protein he's after not refined carbohydrate. Few people can eat there way through a batch of cinnamon buns alone, so until now I hadn't made them. But this afternoon the wind howled, and it rained all over my washing, and somehow all this added up to a deep desire to bake something warm and sweet and satisfying. So I halved the recipe. And it turns out I can make a pretty good dent on half a batch of cinnamon buns, even when eating alone.

(this recipe will make a full batch, but you can reduce the filling by half and bake half of the dough into plain bread rolls)

For the bread:
500g white bread flour
3tbsp of yoghurt
1 egg
75ml milk
200ml water
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar

For the filling:
125g of butter
4tsp cinnamon
50g of muscavado brown sugar
a handful of chopped walnuts
a handful of raisins

My breadmaker came in handy here. All the bread ingrediants simply go in and get kneaded on the dough setting (1 1/2 hours). Alternatively if you're making this by hand you want to add the liquids into a well in the dry ingrediants, stir until combined, and then knead thoroughly. Then let the dough rise for 1/2 hour and when its risen knock it back.

Once the dough is out of the breadmaker, or has been knocked back, you make the filling. The measurements here are rough - mum used her eye and so do I. So feel free to up the sugar, lower the cinnamon, and generally play around. Finely chopped apple makes a great addition, or you can use dried figs instead of raisins. Mix the sugar, cinnamon and butter to a paste. Roll out the dough into a long, thin rectangle. Smear the butter mixture over and sprinkle with the fruit and nuts. Now roll the dough up like a swiss roll, so you have a long sausage filled with a pinwheel of cinnamon butter. Seal the join with a little water.

At this point you can slice off rounds to create individual buns or join the ends of the sausage together to create a ring. Either way put the dough on a baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for half an hour in a warm place. Heat the oven to 200oc. If you've made a ring you then need to slice into the ring almost to the centre all the way around, so you have a sun shaped loaf, and leave it to rise for 15 more minutes. If you've made buns they can go straight in the oven. Depending on the oven, and the shape of your buns, these should take 25-35 minutes. Make a cup of tea or coffee while you wait. When the buns are golden brown take them out of the oven. Leave them to cool ever so slightly (hot butter and sugar burns!) and then tear into them.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Birthday Cake with Raspberry Macaroons

My best friends birthday was on Thursday, and as she loves Macaroons, particularly those from Laduree, I decided her cake just had to be decorated with them.

Now I've tried at various points over the past year to bake the perfect macaroon, but success has been elusive. They are currently my baking holy grail, but thus far I haven't even managed to get a recipe that gives consistent results, and I've tried a few.

I'll share with you the most successful recipe at the end, but first I have to have a little rant about Gordon Ramsey. Now, Ramsey is pretty successful over here in Britain, and mostly I like his recipes, but his recipe for Macaroons is just wrong. Not only did the results not look like macaroons (no feet see?) but they didn't taste like anything approximating a macaroon. While my trouble with most recipes was that I'm a perfectionist, and they didn't give me macaroons with crumbling feet and shiny tops, Ramsey's Macaroons tasted like eating cardboard. Perhaps this is the beginning of the fall of the empire...

All this macaroon baking meant the cake supporting them had to be pretty simple and quick to bake. A victoria sponge filled with more raspberries and cream seemed a simple foil for the macaroons, and countered their sweetness nicely.

So finally here is the recipe that (finally) worked for me. Worked so well, in fact, that now I'm getting excited about all the other flavours I can knock out. I based my recipe on one which appeared in The Times newspaper, written by Lucas Hollweg . In making raspberry instead of lemon, I omitted the lemon juice from the macaroons, coloured them pink, and filled them with a buttercream flavoured heavily with strained raspberry puree.

For the Macaroon shells

200g icing sugar
100g of ground almonds
100g of egg whites (roughly 3 egg whites - but weigh it!)
A few drops of pink food colouring to colour
20g of caster sugar

For the raspberry filling

200g of raspberries, pureed, and the juice strained from them
50g of butter
icing sugar to taste

Blend the icing sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine powder. Sieve into a large mixing bowl.

In a large, very clean bowl (copper is best) whisk the egg whites until they hold their shape. Continue whisking and start gradually adding the caster sugar. Once they are stiff and glossy (a little like shaving foam) whisk in the food colouring until combined.

Now mix a third of the whites into the almonds and fold into a paste (it will be quite thick, but the idea is to make combining the dry ingredients easier to do without loosing all the air. Now gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. You want a well combined, smooth mixture, but not too liquid, it should still be able to form a ribbon on the surface of the mixture.

Fill a piping bag, and pipe into 2cm rounds onto a silicone baking sheet. You can use a spoon but the shape won't be as good. If you macaroons have little nipples on the top use a wet finger to smooth them down to make sure you create a smooth top.

Leave the macaroons to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Little skins will form over the top of the macaroons - DON"T TOUCH!

Now heat your oven to 130oc. When the oven has reached temperature, put a tray of macaroons at a time on the middle shelf, and bake for about 12 -15 minutes. After about 5 minutes you should see the little feet form at the bottom of the macaroons. This is when you know the recipe worked.

Once done remove from the oven and leave to cool on trays. You may want to play around a bit with the time, depending on the temperature of your oven. Remember, the macaroons shouldn't colour, so if they start going golden brown either your oven is too hot, or they've been in too long. Similarly, they aren't meriangue - you want soft insides, neither gooey nor overly crisp.

While they are cooling you can make the buttercream for filling them. Cream the unsalted (!) butter with the strained raspberry puree, then sweeten to taste. Once cool sandwich the macaroons together with a buttercream filling.

Macaroon heaven.