Thursday, 27 May 2010

Baby tiramisu macarons

I was tempted to title this post "somewhat tiramisu" macarons which was the label I used for photos of these macarons posted on my facebook page. Encouraged by my not-too-disastrous pilot attempts at macarons last week and extremely kind comments left by friends on my macaron photos posted on facebook, I was eager to work on some interesting macaron flavors this week. There were quite a bit of mascarpone cheese left in the fridge, and I knew I had kahlua & cocoa powder in the kitchen cupboard, so I ended up setting my mind on creating some tiramisu macarons!

A quick research on the internet didn't yield me a tiramisu macaron recipe that I could use or modify with the ingredients I had identified for use... that meant I had to improvise somewhat blindly which is always risky for me. For some reason I thought it might be good to have coffee flavored shells, so I added some instant coffee powder to the ground almond and powdered sugar mixture. Just as I was ready to bag and pipe the brown colored batter, I suddenly recalled Herr Scherrer's suggestion to make bite-size macarons, hmm... so I ended up piping little circles no more than 2cm in diameter (some around 2cm, some closer to 1.5cm due to my lack of consistent piping skills).

So into the oven they went after resting on the baking sheet for around 30 mins. I absentmindedly set the oven temperature and timer at 138 C and 25 mins which was what worked for my last batch of macarons, but forgetting that these macarons are much smaller!! So when I looked into the oven 15 mins later, I could tell some of these baby macarons were going to end up with a cracked top. I immediately reduced the temperature and timer and managed to salvage most of it, though quite a number were goners...

Next came the filling. Still trying to go with the tiramisu theme I scooped around 60g of mascarpone cheese into a mixer bowl, went with my gut feel and threw in 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of kahlua. After a few minutes of beating I tested the mixture and realised i probably added too much cocoa powder as the choco taste overwhelmed everything else. I quickly threw in another 20g of mascarpone cheese and 1 teaspoon of kahlua. In my view the end result was still a little heavy in terms of cocoa, but the last minute rescue managed to balance it out a little - I could definitely taste the kahlua. If I were to try this again I would probably use 3/4 or half the cocoa quantity.

So... if you have been reading my lengthy rant above you'll understand why I labeled my photo "somewhat tiramisu" macarons. One could almost think of tiramisu when biting into these macarons but it could have been more distinct had my gut feel been more accurate... oh well...

Other than macaron escapades, the past week I also decided its time to "upgrade" to an SLR in an attempt to shoot better photos of my kitchen creations. I've so far been using a compact camera and as much as I enjoy its convenience, I also get a little frustrated at times by its simplicity. So, these photos of "somewhat tiramisu" macarons are with my new nikon D5000!!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Apricot mascarpone macarons

I must confess I was never really into macarons, even when it got really popular with home bakers as well as commercial outlets in recent years. It could be due to the lack of really good macarons here in Asia - no Ladureé or Pierre Hermé outlets here in Hong Kong as far as I'm aware. To be honest, I'm not quite sure why macarons never really caught my interest. That changed recently when I received a generous box of Confiserie Sprüngli's luxemburgerli last winter. There must have been 10 assorted flavors in that box, and it took me (together with Herr Scherrer) no more than a few days to gobble it all down...

When I started researching into macarons with the intention of trying to make some at home, I realized its must be one of the most blogged about baking topic - great for me as I had a lot of references available as well as tips from fellow bakers who generously share their trial and error stories. From what I could gather, its an extremely frustrating process for those brave enough to attempt it at home - plenty of issues including macarons not having feet, batter spreading too much resulting in completely flat macarons, macarons has little peaks that won't go away, to rest or not to rest batter before baking, how much folding is enough / not enough.... gosh the list seems never ending... yet, the idea that one could improvise any sort of flavors into those sandwich cookies is enticing for a home baker - its like having a blank canvas with endless possibilities and room for creativity - the catch is one needs to master the basics first.

After a long period of procrastination, one day I happen to have some egg whites left over in the fridge from working on something else. Almost all macaron recipes advocate the use of aged egg whites for best results... so guess what I did? Yes, make macarons!

I'm very thankful to all who have shared their own macaron making experience on the internet - I must have picked up quite a bit of tips from them as my first attempt was not a complete disaster like I thought it would be. My shells came out too soft as I followed the recipe exactly, forgetting that Hong Kong's humidity required it to be left longer in the oven. My second batch came out too hard after I over adjusted the baking time. I finally got the baking time right in my third attempt. Surprisingly, all my attempts had healthy looking feet. I think I still have to work on my piping skills to ensure I get consistent size rounds.

Photos posted here are those of my third attempt - green & orange macarons with apricot mascarpone filling. I'm definitely thinking of interesting flavors to attempt next.... watch this space!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Rosemary & raisins

I love the subtle smell of herbs when munching into a piece of bread.  Last week, I was happy to work on a loaf called pane di ramerino or simply rosemary raisin bread.  Pane di ramerino, as the name suggests, is an Italian bread. Enriched with eggs, milk and olive oil, its believed to be of Tuscan origin made since the 16th century.  

Instead of using fresh rosemary and raisins as I did, the recipe also provided an alternative: using almonds in place of rosemary, dried figs in place of raisins and orange juice in place of olive oil - you'll get Pane ai fichi con mandorle or Fig bread with almonds instead.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Climbing mont blanc while in the kitchen

I'm always nervous when I need to pipe something on my desserts, mainly due to the fact that the damage is usually irreversible and somehow I simply lack the skill to do it beautifully like its meant to be. This weekend I set myself up for a challenge by working on a chestnut piece involving plenty of piping - a dessert commonly known as "mont blanc".

There are 3 parts to this dessert: the sable breton base, a center filling made with dark chocolate mousse (or any flavored mousse that goes well with chestnut) and last but not least the signature chestnut cream "noodles" on the top.

The sable breton base and dark chocolate mousse filling were manageable, though I had to improvise slightly the method for rolling and shaping the sable breton base due to the warm weekend we had (is summer finally here to stay??). I made the base first and since the dough needed 1 to 2 hours rest in the fridge before baking, made use of the waiting time to complete the dark chocolate mousse which had set nicely for removal from mold by the time the sable breton base was baked and cooled. Putting together the chestnut cream was also relatively easy - the recipe actually called for dark rum but I didn't have any at home so used cointreau instead which also goes well with chestnut. I also used lemon zest instead of orange zest (as specified in the recipe) for the sable breton.

The most tricky bit came when I had to complete the ensemble by piping the chestnut cream on top of the tart in a manner that should ideally look more like an organized ball (or half a ball) of yarn, yet mine was more inclined to look like a pile of messily tossed permed brown wheat soba (yes, that's not a typo - it looked permed)... sigh... so guess what I did? I trashed the first batch and tried again, with the stubborn belief that I can't be that bad at piping!!

So, the pictures you see here are that of my second attempt (I was too distraught to take photos of my first attempt). As you can see, I still need to work on my piping skills... Thankfully, no matter how it was piped, the chestnut cream tasted lovely together with the sable breton and dark chocolate mousse. Much thanks to Aran for the original recipe!


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