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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Loaf cake, three ways: lemon drizzle, chocolate pecan & banana

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The humble loaf cake is an under-appreciated thing. Quick, simple – hello no icing – and not too fragile to transport in foil on the underground (a very real and pressing concern of mine), they’re not going to qualify as a showstopper anytime soon, but they sure do go down well with a cup of tea. It’s all about priorities.

I’ve got three different recipes for you, all of which can be made in a standard 900g loaf tin. The lemon drizzle is one of my most popular cakes and still manages to keep that lovely citrusy tang which is so often lost in baking; I like to finish it with some cornflower or rose petals as the bright colour makes a beautiful contrast to the yellow of the sponge, but it’s just a frivolity really. My chocolate pecan has a hint of coffee in it to help bring out the depth of flavour in the cocoa powder and is lovely and dense (thanks to a much higher flour-to-egg ratio than the lemon); perfect warm with a dollop of sour cream and a cup of something hot. And lastly, the banana bread – not the prettiest of things, it has to be said, but it is one of the few cakes that I think you can justify eating for breakfast, and for that, it’s my favourite. The riper the bananas the stronger the flavour but you don’t have to wait until they’re black if you don’t have some to hand when the craving strikes; just make sure they’re soft enough to mash easily.

Lemon drizzle

150g unsalted softened butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
3 lemons
150g granulated sugar

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Grate the zest of 2 lemons and juice one of them (keeping the spare fruit for later).

Place the sugar, flours and baking powder in a bowl and mix. Add the butter, eggs, and lemon zest and juice and beat together for as short a time as possible to blend evenly together. With an electric beater, it should take no longer than a minute.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave it to cool slightly in the tin while you prepare the drizzle. Simply juice the remaining two lemons and mix in the granulated sugar. If you prefer a smoother glaze to the traditional grainy version, give the mixture a few short bursts in the microwave until the sugar dissolves a little.

Pierce the top of your loaf with a knife, roughly every 2cm, stopping just before the bottom of the tin. Pour the drizzle over the top and leave to set in the tin.

Chocolate pecan loaf

200g unsalted softened butter
200g soft light brown sugar
140g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon coffee granules (espresso if possible)
1 tablespoon milk
Around 50g pecans, finely chopped (I use a food processor for this)

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Dissolve the coffee granules in one tablespoon of boiling water and stir in the milk. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Lastly, add the dry ingredients and the coffee and mix until combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and scatter the pecans over the top to cover. Bake for about an hour, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Banana bread

125g unsalted softened butter
175g light muscovado sugar
280g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
125ml of milk
3 bananas, mashed

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Next, add half the milk, followed by half the remaining dry ingredients and beat together. Repeat. Lastly, mix in the mashed bananas and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for about one hour, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. If the top begins to brown too much before the centre is cooked, cover with foil to stop it burning.

For best results, make all three at once at let cake-carnage ensue.

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