Thursday, 30 October 2014

Oh la la, its a French Macaron!!! Workshop at Angel Food Bakery

Just over a week ago, I spent a lovely day in Brighton with my friend Sophia.  As well as a good excuse for a spot of shopping and a nice lunch at Vietnamese Restaurant 'Pho', our main reason for visiting was to attend a workshop at Angel Food Bakery on How to make French Macaron. 

Now Sophia is a bit of a dab hand at these already, but was keen to pick up any tips.  I've tried them twice.  Beginners luck gave me some passable Lemon Macaron.  My second attempt........ well they were welded to the baking parchment.

It seems these little blighters are a bit pesky and very sensitive.  Preparation is key.  I have listed some of the top tips below to help towards a superior Macaron.  

We had a go at two types of Macaron.  The first was a plain shell, which had colour added at the end of the meringue whisking.  A simple butter cream was used as the filling and could have flavourings added.  Not surprisingly, I chose to make purple Macaron.

Sophia got a bit enthusiastic with the pink food colouring.

There were 5 of us on the workshop and as you can see the colours are all pretty different!

Once cooked and cooled, we then got to choose our flavour for the butter cream filling.  As mine were purple, I went for Violet and added just 5 drops of Violet flavouring to my butter cream.  I didn't colour the butter cream as I wanted the contrast between purple and cream.  They were lovely and delicate in flavour.

We also had a go at Chocolate Macarons which has cocoa powder added to meringue mixture and were filled with a chocolate ganache.  I opted to have half fill mine with dark chocolate ganache and then added some orange flavouring to the remaining ganache for a dark chocolate orange filling.  Delicious.  The chocolate Macaron are a little harder in texture, but still have an amazing flavour.

They make a very decadent afternoon treat.

Or equally lovely to give away as gifts.

At £45 for a 3.5 hour workshop, its well worth the money and you come away with a box full of tasty treats.

Top tips for a superior French Macaron.
  • Crack your eggs at least a few hours before attempting Macaron.  Ideally leave the egg whites to sit overnight.  It helps loose some of their elasticity and makes a stiffer meringue.
  • The ground almonds mustn't be too damp as you need to sift them first, but don't force any bits through your sieve, else you release too much oil and alter the crucial ingredient ratio.  You may have to throw some large bits away, or save them for a cake that isn't so fussy!
  • Sieve the already sieved ground almonds with your icing sugar and then grind together in a Magimix for about 10 seconds.
  • Food colouring powders are better for Macaron than liquid colouring as they don't affect the mixture ratio, but if you cant get them use colour pastes like Sugarflair.  They give really intense colours. 
  • When you pipe the meringue onto your baking sheet, you are sometimes left with little peaks.  To flatten out wet your index finger, shake off any excess water and gently tap the peak down.
  • The proper whisking of the meringue is crucial.  There is a fine line between under and over whisking.  It needs to be whisked for at least 5-6 minutes until it resembles shaving foam and little bits start flicking off the whisk. This is when you add your colouring, then quickly turn off before it gets over whisked.
  • If you can bare it, leave the filled Macaron in the fridge, loosely covered, to mature for at least 24 hours.  This helps the flavours meld into the shells and gives them their distinctive chewiness.
  • Filled Macaron can be frozen!
I learnt so much more in this workshop and its an absolute bargain at the price.  I hope to attempt some more Macaron at home this weekend now I feel more confident, playing around with new colours and flavours.  Then back to Brighton in a couple of weeks for a Cupcake Baking and Decorating Workshop!

Angel Food Bakery is a gem of a find.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wonky Log Cabin Xmas Lap Quilt - Cowslip Workshops

One of my favourite crafty places to visit is Cowslip Workshops in Launceston, Cornwall run by Jo Colwill.  For the last few years I've been lucky enough to attend their 2 day Christmas Bonanza workshops, where there is stacks of inspiring projects to get stuck into.  This was the display from 2 years ago.

This is Ruddy, one of my creations.  I can't bare to put him away after the festivities, so he holds court in my spare bedroom!

2 years ago, I started on my Wonky Log Cabin Xmas Quilt.  Rather than creating squares around a central starting point with rectangular strips, with the Wonky Log Cabin you make your first square with the strips of fabric.  Then, using a cutting square you cut on an angle in a downhill direction.  The second round of strips is cut in a uphill direction and the third downhill again and so on depending how many rounds you do.  I did 3 rounds.  It gives a more unusual effect.

It was meant to be turned into a much larger quilt with many more Xmas tree squares, but at the Christmas Bonanza last year, I took inspiration from some of Jo's quilts and turned it into a little lap quilt/wall-hanging.

I still used the main ideas from the larger quilt design including the leaping Reindeer with Rudolph leading the pack.

The Reindeer were hand stitched with silver thread around the outer edges, whilst my snowflakes were stitched on the sewing machine, with special silver machine thread.

After adding the wadding and lovely soft red backing fabric, I decided to hand stitch around certain parts of the quilt with embroidery thread, starting in the centre to hold everything together. 

The quilt was finished by folding the backing fabric over and machine stitching it down.

I cant wait to display it this Xmas and who knows what I'll create at this years Christmas Bonanza.  There is talk of Reindeer draught excluders and Robin doorstops!  How exciting!

Happy Sewing!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Austrian Hazelnut Ring Cake - Nusskranzkuchen

So its not that I haven't been baking recently, I've just been baking the same cake A LOT!  Last year, whilst in Vienna, I picked up a copy of 'Culinary Austria' in one of the bookshops.  Its a great little cookbook, with many favourite Austrian recipes, translated into English.  The cake I've been working on is a Nusskranzkuchen or Hazelnut Ring Cake. 

200g soft butter
200g granulated sugar
1tsp vanilla sugar
200g plain flour
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
100g chopped or ground hazelnuts
100g chocolate chips
1/8tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp baking powder
2 apples.  Peeled and grated.  I used medium sized cooking apples.

It felt a bit like the technical challenge on the Great British Bake-Off.  Very basic information was offered in the book, so with a little baking knowledge I've picked up along the way, here is my interpretation.

Grease a 23-25cm ring tin or Bundt tin with butter.  Preheat your static oven to 170c.  Reduce accordingly for a fan oven.

Cream the softened butter with 100g of the granulated sugar and the vanilla sugar until blended and pale in colour.  Add the egg yolks one at a time until blended and creamy.

Add your hazelnuts (I use ground hazelnuts as it makes the cake more moist, but they are harder to find in the UK, so chopped are fine), chocolate chips (I use dark chocolate ones but the milk ones are fine also) and grated apple (leave grating your apples until you are ready to add them, otherwise they will go brown quickly) until mixed.

Add the flour, with the baking powder and ground cinnamon.  I don't bother to sift the flour, but you can if you prefer.  Just mix until blended as you don't want to overwork the batter.  It will be quite dense at this stage, but don't worry.
Now is the time to whisk your egg whites in a clean, dry bowl, until it forms soft peaks.  Add the remaining 100g of granulated sugar and whisk until blended and still retaining the soft peaks.  It should have a nice shiny gloss to it.  Don't be tempted to whisk your egg whites until you need to add them, or else they may separate.

Now gently fold the egg white mixture into the batter with a large metal spoon. Cut through the centre and fold onto itself.  The idea is to fully incorporate the egg whites (who wants white blobs of egg whites in your finished cake), but not to lose the eggs airiness and overwork the batter.


The batter will now be lighter.  Add evenly to your prepared Bundt tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden and a skewer comes out clean.  The skewer or knife will look moist, but that will be the apples in the batter.  If you still have batter on your skewer, bake for a bit longer until it comes out clean.  If the cake isn't baked but browning on top, pop a layer of baking paper over the top to prevent burning.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.  Don't worry if it sticks a bit.  That will be the choc chips!

You can either dust with icing sugar or I like to melt about 50g of either dark or milk chocolate and drizzle over for a little decoration.  Then tuck in whilst dreaming of snow-capped mountains and lederhosen!  Its delicious. 

Happy baking!