Earl Grey, White Chocolate and Lemon Macarons

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I used to only drink Earl Grey tea as a special treat, until a good friend of mine who only drinks it helped me realise that some things are worth reserving for special occasions – macarons, for instance – but tea really isn’t one of them. You often find Earl Grey paired with dark chocolate in macarons, but I find it dominates the delicate flavour of the tea. Instead, I’ve paired it with the subtler white chocolate flavoured with lemon zest, to bring out the perfumed, citrus notes of the Earl.

It took me many, many attempts to get macarons right – too flat, too lumpy, too runny, cracked on the top, no feet on the bottom – but I’m pleased to report that I’ve never had a problem since working out this recipe. They really aren’t as intimidating as they seem and many first-time macaron-makers among my friends have had success with this method.

You will need a freestanding mixer, as the egg whites have to be whisked for a good ten minutes, two piping bags (no nozzles required) and either two silicone macaron matts or two sheets of greaseproof, with 28 x 3cm circles drawn out in pencil as a guide, on baking trays.

Ingredients
40g caster sugar
125g egg whites (from around three eggs)
100g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
3 Earl Grey teabags
200g white chocolate
65ml double cream
the zest of 1 lemon
edible cornflower petals (optional)

Makes 56 shells, 28 once sandwiched

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Method
Place the caster sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and beat on low (4 on a KitchenAid) for 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium (6-7) for further three minutes. Finally, increase the speed to high (9-10) for three minutes more. You should now have very stiff peaks.

Meanwhile, weigh out the ground almonds and icing sugar into a bowl, along with the contents of the Earl Grey teabags. Stir well to combine. Add the almond mix to the whisked egg whites and fold together. It should take about 20 turns to come together, but don’t stop there. Continue to fold until you achieve a molten consistency, where a spoon of mixture dropped into the bowl sits on top of the rest and then melts away after around 10 seconds. Too thick and your piped macarons will have peaks rather than lying flat; too runny and, well – try not to get that far.

Spoon the mix into a piping bag (stand it up in a pint glass so you can fill hands-free), twist and fasten the top with whatever you have to hand – a plastic clip, an elastic band, a hair tie – and then snip off the end to give a roughly 1.5cm opening. Pipe swirls in the centre of each dip/drawn circle on your macaron matt/baking paper, leaving a little space around the edge as they will spread as they settle. Scatter the tops of one tray’s worth of macarons with cornflower petals, if wished.

Preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Leave the two trays of macarons on the side while it heats; they will form a soft skin. Rap each tray on the worktop a couple of tips to push any bubbles to the surface. Bake the macarons one tray at a time in the top of the oven for 13 minutes if using a silicone matt, 10 minutes if using greaseproof. Leave them to cool for five minutes on the tray before peeling them off and placing them on a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the ganache filling. Place the chocolate and cream in a bowl and heat gently in the microwave for a minute. Remove and stir to combine; the chocolate will continue to melt in the hot cream. If it needs more time to melt completely, continue in 30 second bursts, stirring after each, until melted. Stir to combine, then leave to cool on the side. Once cool, sit in the fridge for 20 minutes.

To create white, pipe-able ganache, whip up the chilled ganache with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer for 3-5 minutes until it is pale and fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag, as before, and pipe circles on the bottom 28 shells. Sandwich with the top 28 (the ones decorated with petals, if you chose to).

I best like to eat macarons after a 24-hour resting period; simply store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to eat.

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Chocolate & Vanilla Mini Madeleines

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As well as my usual Christmas presents of cookbooks and history tomes (A History of the Viking World, anyone?), I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of new bits of baking kit. Among them, a silicone Mastrad mini madeleine pan. So, obviously, I had to test it out for you all.

Madeleines are one of the most unassuming delicacies you’ll find in Parisian patisseries, but that buttery nuttiness and beautiful shell-shape arejust too good to resist. I mixed up two flavours – vanilla and chocolate – and made a nice little batch of each, plus some marbled ones. I’ve included the recipe for vanilla ones below, but to make them chocolate, simply take 10g each out of the almonds and flour and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Madeleines this size are perfect to pop one on your coffee saucer – though, to be honest, you’re probably going to end up eating at least three.

Ingredients
125 butter
100g icing sugar
40g ground almonds
40g plain flour
3 egg whites
2 teaspoons clear honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Extra icing sugar for dusting, or chocolate for dipping if you prefer

Makes: around 40 mini madeleines, or 12 large ones

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Method
First, liberally greasing your madeleine tin with a little butter or margarine and set aside.

Madeleines get their moistness and golden colour from beurre noisette; a technique that roughly translates as ‘brown butter’. To make it, melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan over a medium heat, then continue to heat gently until it turns a beautiful golden brown (being careful not to let it burn). Pour the butter through a sieve to strain it and leave to cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a mixing bowl with an electric beater), whisk the egg whites, vanilla extract and sugar together until light and at least doubled in size.

Sift the almonds and flour into the bowl and gently fold together. And I mean gently; to get the light crumb of a madeleine you need to avoid developing the gluten.

Next, pour over the beurre noisette and honey and fold together. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 40 minutes.

Spoon into the moulds, filling them almost to the top around the edges. Don’t be afraid to mound them higher in the middle; that gentle dome on the bottom is part of the madeleine’s charm.

Refrigerate again, uncovered, for about 20 minutes to let a skin form. While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Bake the madeleines for 8-10 minutes (10-15 if you’re making large ones) and then turn out onto a baking tray immediately.

Repeat until you have used all the mixture, then decorate with a dusting of icing sugar or half-dip them into a little melted chocolate. If you want to make marbled ones, simply spoon a little of each mixture into the moulds and swirl together one at a time. Then serve up with your mid-morning coffee or, for an extra-decadent treat, dip them in hot chocolate.

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Butter Croissants & Pain au Chocolat

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I will never get bored of the “I can’t believe I made that” magic of croissants. The whole process takes about 16 hours from start to finish, but it’s totally worth it for that buttery, flakey goodness. And, oh man, it makes your kitchen smell good.

Croissants are made from a laminated dough, which means that, rather than being mixed in, the butter is folded in-between layers of dough. When the butter melts in the oven, it creates steam, causing those characteristic pockets of air between the layers of pastry. Temperature is vital when making croissant dough: too warm and the butter will melt and mix in with the dough, creating a bready texture; too cold and the butter will break through the dough when you try to roll it. Make things easier for yourself and use a good quality Normandy butter if you can as it has a higher melting temperature.

Ingredients*

500g strong white bread flour
10g salt
10g easy bake yeast
80g caster sugar
300ml water
300g chilled butter
1 egg (for glazing)
100g dark chocolate, if making pain au chocolat (the great Mr Paul Hollywood swears by Bournville, and I do too)

This recipe makes 12 croissants – I made six crescent-shaped butter croissants and six pain au chocolat.

*As in Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake.

Method

Set up a standalone mixer with a dough hook and add your flour. Put the salt and sugar on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other.

Add the water and mix on low (about 4 on a KitchenAid) for 2 minutes, then on medium (about 6) for a further five to six minutes. It will make quite a stiff dough so you could knead it by hand instead, though you might need to do it for a little longer than in a mixer.

Put a handful of flour into a clean plastic/freezer bag and (securing the top) give it a shake. Put the dough in the bag and pop in the fridge for an hour to cool and firm up.

In the meantime, tear two sheets of greaseproof paper about 40cm long. Put your cold butter in one block in the middle of one sheet and put the second on top of it. Use a rolling pin to bash the butter as flat as you can, and then roll it out into a piece about 40cm by 19cm. Pop your sheet of butter in the fridge, still between the greaseproof, to let it harden up again.

Once it’s been an hour, turn your dough out on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a rectangle about 60cm by 20cm, short end towards you. Take your butter sheet from the fridge and cut it into two squares, then peel back one of the sheets of greaseproof. Place the first square, butter-down, onto the middle of your dough and peel back the other sheet of greaseproof. Fold the top third of the dough down over the butter. Place the second square of butter on top of that folded-down third, then fold the bottom butter-less third up over the top. Press down on the open edges to seal, then put back in the plastic bag and return to the fridge to chill for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. That’s the most complicated bit, I promise.

Once your dough has chilled, turn it out onto your floured surface, taking care to maintain its square shape. Place it with the sealed fold end towards you, so that you will always be folding in the same direction. Roll it out, short end towards you, into a 60cm by 20cm rectangle. Fold the top third down over the middle third, then the bottom third up over that. Press down lightly to seal the edges again, return to the bag and then back in the fridge for another rest – again, between half an hour and two hours. Repeat this step twice more, then leave to rest in the fridge for at least eight hours, or overnight.

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Line three baking trays with greaseproof paper and set aside. Again, turn your dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle, this time about 30cm by 40cm. Cut it in half lengthways to give you two strips of dough, 15cm wide by 40cm long. I used one of these strips for plain croissants and one for rolled pain au chocolat, but you could just do one type if you prefer.

For the plain croissants, cut your strip into isosceles triangles with bases of about 12cm. You should get six, with two half triangles at either end – bin these. Take a triangle, hold down the wide base and pull the pointy end away from you to stretch out, then roll up from the wide end, tucking the pointy end under to seal. You can either leave them straight or curl the ends round to create crescents – personally I prefer the look of the crescent. Place on the baking trays.

For the pain au chocolat, chop up your dark chocolate into small pieces. Cut your strip of dough into 6 pieces, 6-7cm wide by 15cm long. Place about a tablespoon of chocolate in a line across the width of each strip, about 2cm from the end closest to you. Roll them up, starting by folding the 2cm end over the chocolate and then continuing, tucking the close under. Place on the baking trays.

(If you want, you can freeze some or all of your croissants, at this point, pre-prove, and then let thaw and rise at room temperature for two to three hours before baking anytime you fancy one.)

You now need to leave your croissants to rise at cool room temperature (20-24 degrees) until doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Don’t let them get too hot; otherwise, the butter that you’ve spent so long carefully folding in will melt and leak out or soak into the dough.

Preheat your oven to 180°C fan. Once your croissants have puffed right up and the dough springs back almost immediately when you press down, you’re ready to bake. Beat the egg in a mug or small bowl with a fork, then brush all the exposed pastry to glaze. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown – if you can only fit two trays in your oven at a time, the third won’t suffer for being left out a bit longer – and tuck in as soon as they’re cool enough. If you manage to save some for the next day (the perfect thing to cheer up a Monday morning), you can bring a bit of life back to them by reheating in a hot oven for five minutes before eating.

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Chocolate & Hazelnut Macarons

IMG_0569 23.36.22Macarons have a reputation for being notoriously difficult; the kind of thing only mastered by sexy French chef-types like Eric Lanlard and people who win the Great British Bake Off. But they’re actually pretty simple once you know how. My favourite thing about making macarons has to be their versatility: once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can experiment with different nut flours, flavourings and fillings. Basil and lime macarons? Why not.

Variations

This particular recipe is a slightly jazzed-up version of the basic ‘blank canvas’ almond shells, which uses hazelnut flour and cocoa powder as well as almonds; to make the originals, simply take these extras out and use 100g of almonds instead. You can also try making them with pistachio flour, or adding natural flavourings in everything from cherry to champagne. I recently discovered Foodie Flavours at the Cake and Bake Show and am a complete convert. If you want to add a little extra colour to your shells to get that class Parisian patisserie-window brightness, use paste colours so you don’t destabilise your egg whites by adding lots of liquid food colouring.

Equipment

You will need an electric beater for this, preferably a standalone mixer, as you have to whisk the egg whites for about 10 minutes.

I use two silicone macaron mats, primarily because I can never be bothered to draw circles onto greaseproof paper to use as guides, but you don’t need these.

A disposable piping bag, no nozzle required.

Ingredients

120-125g of egg whites (from 3-4 eggs)
40g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
50g ground hazelnuts (if you struggle to find these in the supermarket, buy them whole or chopped and grind yourself in a food processor)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Nutella, or other chocolate spread

Makes: 56 shells, 28 once sandwiched

 

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Make sure your mixing bowl is spotless and completely grease-free as any traces of fat can stop your whites from whisking properly. Either place your silicone macaron mats on two baking trays, or line the trays with greaseproof. If you think you’ll struggle to pipe consistent-sized circles without guides, draw rough 4-5cm circles on the paper.

Place your egg whites and caster sugar in the bowl and, if you are using a standalone mixer, fit it with a whisk attachment. Turn your mixer to a low-medium speed (around 4 on a KitchenAid) and beat the egg whites and sugar for 3 minutes. Then, turn the mixer up to a medium-high speed (around 7 on a KitchenAid) for further 3 minutes, and lastly up to a high speed (around 8 on a KitchenAid) for the final 3 minutes. You should now have a stiff meringue that sticks inside your beater. (If you wanted to add any flavourings to your macarons, this is the time to do it.)

Next, add the almonds, hazelnuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder to the bowl. There is no need to be ceremonious about it; macaronage (yes, that’s a thing) is all about knocking the air out of your batter.

Using a spatula, begin to fold your dry ingredients into the batter. At first, it will look like they’re never going to come together; don’t panic, that’s normal. After about 20 folds, you should have a well-incorporated mixture. Don’t stop there. You need to continue to fold until you’ve achieved a ‘molten’ consistency, where a little mixture dropped from the spatula into the bowl sits on top for around 10 seconds before recombining with the rest of the mixture.

If your mix is too stiff, it will be difficult to pipe and will form a peak rather than a nice flat top on your macaron. If you start piping and find that it is too stiff, you can always return the mix to the bowl and give it a few more folds. If your mix is too loose, it will just run everywhere and won’t stay in nice round circles on your baking tray. Try not to reach this point.

When your mix is ready, fill your piping bag, secure the open end with an elastic band and snip the other to form a nozzle about 1cm wide. Pipe circles on your trays, starting from outside and piping inwards in a swirl. Once you’ve used all your mixture, give each baking tray a few firm raps on the work top to burst any bubbles and leave to form a skin for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 170°C fan.

After 20 minutes has past, your macarons should have formed a very thin, slightly matte skin.  Bake, one tray at a time, on the top shelf of your oven, for 14 minutes if using silicone mattes or 10 minutes if not.

Once your macarons have baked, leave them to cool for five minutes or so before peeling them off and cooling completely before filling. I filled these with Nutella, but you could use any chocolate spread. Whole Earth do a nice one which is whipped and slightly less cloying than Nutella. If you’re being really particular, pipe it in a circle with a star nozzle on one half of the shells, before sandwiching together, or just spread with a knife. Et voila.

Macarons are best eaten a day or two after baking, so pop in some tupperware and leave to rest for at least a couple of hours.

A longer version of this post, with step-by-step pictures, was first published by Lippy Magazine.