Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart

I was thinking recently that I have never tried to bake or prepare rhubarb. This is such an lovely ingredient and still I was never even tempted to try. However this time, I realized that rhubarb is actually in season, as I stood in the veg and fruit section in one of my local shops. So I grabbed a packet and decided to make a tart for my friends as they were coming for lunch in a couple of days.

When I make tarts I always prepare my own pastry. I used the shop-bought one a couple of times and I must admit it is an easy option. But I just love making it myself. It is not so difficult and you can most definitely spot the difference in the texture and also in the overall taste. My hands are usually very cold and this is very useful when working with butter. Some recipes suggest to use food processor when starting the breadcrumb process but I prefer to do it myself. In this way I get a better feeling on how much more liquid is needed and how the pastry is binding together.

Rhubarb itself is super easy to prepare. I bought the forced rhubarb which was unfortunately more green than lovely pink colour. But once cooked the colour became paler and lighter. I was unsure whether the round tin will work when arranging the stalk. But then I figured out the way of placing each segment without breaking it too much.

Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart (serves 8)


450 g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 13 cm long batons
1 tsp vanilla essence
50 g caster sugar
juice form 1/2 lemon

For pastry
225 g plain flour
20 g ground almonds
2 tbsp icing sugar
140 g cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

For creme patisserie
250 ml milk
2 egg yolks
2 rbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour
50 ml double cream

Put sugar, vanilla essence and lemon sugar with about 300 ml water in a wide pan or casserole and bring to boil over the low heat. Once the sugar is dissolved add the rhubarb batons and ensure that rhubarb is covered with the liquid. Leave to simmer for about 5 minutes. Then take from the heat and allow to cool. Keep the rhubarb in the sirup for another 1 hour or up to 1 day.

For the pastry, mix butter and flour with almonds and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers to break the chunks of butter and to create breadcrumb texture. Stir the ingredients every now and then to allow large chunks come to the surface. Then add egg yolk and dribble of 1-2 tbsp cold water. Knead the pastry briefly to allow all ingredients come together and to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and allow to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

For creme patisserie, place milk and vanilla essence on the hob and bring to boil on a medium heat. Whilst milk is coming to a boil, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with flour in a bowl, until pale and light. Pour the hot milk whilst whisking the eggs mixture. Place the mixture back on the medium heat (in a clean pan) and stir continuously until it becomes thick and covers the back of the spoon. Be careful with the heat at this stage, as creme is very likely to stick and burn at the base of the pan. Scrape the creme into a bowl and cover it to prevent the skin formation. Chill for 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thickness  and line the tart tin. Press the pastry into the flute edges of the tin and ensure it is also overhanging the edges of the tin. Chill for another 30 minutes. Heat the oven for 200 C/180 C fan/ gas 6. Line the pastry with a baking parchment and place baking beans on top. Blind bake for 20 min and temvoe the baking parchment. Then bake for another 6-8 minutes until pastry is golden and dry. Whilst pastry is still hot trim the edges of the tin with a sharp knife. Cool in the tin.

Remove the rhubarb from the syrup and set aside. Then bring the syrup to boil until it becomes thick and sticky. Leave on the side to cool down.

Whisk the cream until stiff and carefully fold in the creme patisserie. Fill the pastry case with the creme patiserrie and smooth the surface. Then line the rhubarb on the creme and ensure the whole surface is covered with the rhubarb. Glaze the tart with the rhubarb syrup and chill for 30 minutes.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons

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These macarons came as an inspiration from watching far too many videos on Instagram. Working with chocolate can be rewarding but also pretty damming. Chocolate is very temperamental and needs to be very liquid when doing the straight lines. I had a real problem to transfer it from a bowl into my piping bag. But I found the easiest way was to put the piping bag into a high glass and wrap the end of the bag around the edges. This way I could use both hands, one to hold the bowl and another to scrape chocolate with spatula.

I like to sandwich my macarons with light filling if possible. The shell itself is fairly sweet so I usually try to find a way to avoid adding more sugar into the filling. Double cream is very easy to get in any of the shops and I think it works very well. But feel free to use whipping cream if you prefer.

Although I had to work this weekend, somehow I managed to find enough time and to pop to my favourite bookshop on Saturday. Waterstones at Piccadilly has an excellent selection of books and I was salivating over a number of patisserie books they had. No matter how many books I buy, I could still spend most of my monthly wages just on cookery books and random utensils for the kitchen. Unfortunately for my credit card, I even took pictures of books that will need to be purchased soon, very soon. I believe this matter is urgent….

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons (makes 18)

For the macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
pink food colouring (preferably gel)

For the filling
200 ml double cream
2 tbsp raspberry jam

For the decoration
35 g dark chocolate

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. Add a small bit of food colouring to the meringue. Mix thoroughly and add more colouring if needed. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven.

For the filling, whisk double cream until it is about to thicken. Then add raspberry jam and transfer to the piping bag. Pipe a small amount of the filling on one of the shells and sandwich together.

Melt chocolate in the microwave for 20-30 seconds until all melted. Transfer to the piping bag with a very fine round nozzle. You can practice your first lines with chocolate on the board. Place macarons all together on the board and pipe chocolate by making quick movements from tip to bottom of the tray. Chocolate needs to be fairly liquid so that the lines will be as straight as possible. Allow to set for about 20 minutes and then place the macarons into the fridge.

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Macarons need to ‘mature’ for at least 24 hours. Or in other words they taste better on the third day.

by Maria

Vegetarian impromptu: avocado amuse-bouche and warm potato peperonata

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A sunny Sunday in London is a gift, particularly for an Italian guy. And sun makes you want to eat simple, colourful food. The kitchen was pretty much empty, so this happened. The avocado helped keeping the stomach busy while I was preparing the potato peperonata for main course.

First, I cut in half an avocado and dressed with salt, oil, and three drops of balsamic vinegar. I like to eat it off its skin with a spoon–apologies to Pixar’s Wall-e fans, no robot was harmed in feeding this human…

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This simplest amuse-bouche gave me time and energy to see what else could be done with the few ingredients left in the kitchen. I found a few new potatoes and three red peppers, a couple of almond flakes (leftovers from the courgette pesto risotto), and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge. Enough to prepare a lighter version of peperonata.

Originally, this Sicilian dish was a simple sauté mix of peppers cooked with onions and tomato sauce, something you would have had with bread pretty much, and nothing else. It is a dish that then started to be used on the side of meat and even as a pasta sauce, but its humble origins confirm it was meant to be eaten alone, till you were stuffed. This version is stripped of the heavier base and finds potatoes as a good substitute for the bread. I cooked it in the oven in a little more than half hour.

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Potato peperonata (serves 2)

500 g new potatoes
3 red peppers
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few almond flakes
2 tbsp oil

Start washing, drying, and cutting the peppers. Lay the pepper slices on an over tray lined with foil, add some salt on the peppers, and leave in hot oven on grill (240°C/gas 9) for about 6-7 minutes. They will lose some water and get a little firmer.

Meanwhile, wash, dry, and cut potatoes. Lay them cut-face up and add a pinch of salt. Take the peppers out of the oven, add the potatoes, and mix all together with the oil.

Place the tray in hot oven at 220°C/gas 7 for about 30 minutes. You can give the vegetables a quick toss during their cooking, but keep the oven closed and hot all the time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and flaked almonds. Eat it hot, warm, or even cold. And remember to enjoy the sun!

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by Max

Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

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Risotto is a vital part of my food. It says heritage and cooking experience to me. The options are always many, the last one was a fresh discovery. This risotto is cooked in courgette pesto and its flavour makes it a light, green-tasting new tint for me. The courgettes are prepared raw with cheese and some nuts, and then cooked with the rice. It takes little time to prepare and it is worth it.

Italian food has honoured courgette for centuries, literally. Arriving in Europe with the ingredients from the ‘New World’, courgettes were at the beginning confused for the European pumpkin, which was already widely diffused. Already in the seventeenth century, Italian courgettes from Modena were renowned for their versatility in the kitchen and for apothecaries uses.

Courgettes are the kind of vegetables that you go and get from the garden at home, and that is why they are prepared in so many ways, from vernacular roots to a posh finish, across Italy’s many local traditions. This version is geographical catch, because risotto is typically cooked in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, pesto comes from Liguria, and green courgettes are equally diffused north and south of the Boot.

Courgette pesto risotto (serves 4)

400 g rice Carnaroli–ideally, otherwise Arborio
1 l vegetable broth
1 glass of white wine
1 shallot
200 g courgette
20 g basil
1 clove of garlic
20 g pine kernels
10 g almond flakes
50 g goat cheese
oil

Start with washing the courgettes, cut extremities off, and shave each one at a time through a grater. Add a pinch of salt and let them drain some liquid.

Wash the basil leaves and blend with pine kernels, almonds, the cleaned garlic clove, and a tablespoon of oil–keep a few nuts for the serving decoration. Add the courgettes and another bit of oil. Your pesto has to look and feel soft and even.

Warm the oil in the pan, add chopped shallot till golden, and then raise the fire to toast the rice. After the first few minutes, the rice starts to lightly toast and smell very ‘cerealy’: add now the wine and let it reduce. Lower the fire and let cook for about 18 minutes adding the broth from time to time. Add your courgette pesto at the end with the very last bit of broth. Instead of creaming with butter, add the goat cheese and mix.

Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining pine kernels and almond flakes.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Lemon Macarons

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Macarons have become my weekend treat. I enjoy making them and find it ever so satisfying to come up with new flavours and colour combinations. There really isn’t too much to it. Just ground almonds, sugar, eggs and of course food colouring.

I have been obsessed with perfecting my chocolate macarons. It takes a little bit of time to get the mixture right and also learn to use a right oven temperature. But this time I was tempted to make a colourful and fresh citrusy tasting ones. Lemon curd is a great filling as it contains butter, therefore it is really easy to pipe. Plus you will most probably have some leftover lemon curd that could be used for next time. If you don’t fancy making it, then shop bought one will be just fine.

My friend watched me the other day when I was banging the baking tray to get rid of the air from the macaron shells. She thought I was upset and that it didn’t work. However, she did laugh after I explained that it is super important to knock the air out so that the shells are not hollow. She probably think I am insane but then again she is too polite to say anything.

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Sweet Treats: Lemon Curd Macarons

For macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
green food colouring (preferably gel)

For lemon curd
65 ml fresh lemon juice
65 g caster sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
65 g unsalted cold butter, cut into small chunks
pinch of salt

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. This allows the macarons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven. However, remember that the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out of the oven.

For the lemon curd, whisk eggs with sugar, then add lemon juice and place over the bain marie. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and continue to cook for further 5 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and you should be able to draw a path through it. Remove the curd from the heat and quickly whisk in the cold butter until it is completely dissolved and glossy. Transfer the curd into a clean bowl and allow to cool. Place the cling-film over the top of the curd to prevent the skin formation.

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Pipe lemon curd onto one macaron shell and then sandwich together. Macarons will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.

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by Maria

Sweet Treats: Passion Fruit Macarons

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Happy Macaron Day to all!!

It has been a few years since I tried making my first batch of these delightful treats. To be honest with you I have made a plenty of attempts before I got even half decent macaron shell. But I never gave up on the idea! It is so incredibly rewarding once you master a magic art of preparing them in a correct way. In the end you will be ever so proud to see them come out of the oven! So lovely, shiny, round and standing on their ‘feet’.

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I feel that using the right ingredients makes a huge difference. And one of the very important things is to age the egg whites. You can either separate egg yolks from egg whites and store them in a fridge for 24 hours. I am not particularly keen on this method, as I do not like to keep the separated eggs in my fridge. What works for me is simply using ‘older’ eggs. I always buy eggs one or two weeks in advance and simply keep them out the fridge so they come to room temperature before whisking.

This particular recipe is my favourite as I only recently fell in love with passion fruit. The trick is to keep it until the skin becomes all wrinkled and a bit crunchy/dry. The actual fruit inside is then wonderfully sweet and just perfect to use for the filling. Of course, I mix it with slightly bitter chocolate ganache which goes really well with the sugary macaron shell. I decided to use double cream in this recipe, which does not add any more sweetness but still holds the flavour very well.

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When deciding on the colour of your shell, you can either use a small amount of the food colouring to create light shade or add a wee bit more to create a rich and deep colour. But be careful when adding the colouring as this could change the texture of the meringue and  macarons they will not rise. Also overworking the mixture, when you try to get the colour evenly spread, would cause knocking too much air out. In this way mixture because too runny and spreads too much on a baking sheet. I usually add the gel food colouring just towards the end of making a meringue.

Passion Fruit Macarons (makes 18)

95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
yellow food colouring (preferably gel)

For the chocolate ganache
80 ml double cream
one passion fruit (you could also use two depending on the size of each)

Whip the egg whites until still. Keep in mind that you have to add the caster sugar gradually while you are whipping the egg whites. This allows the macaroons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. The easiest way is to use a toothpick. You can easily regulate how much colour you need to use. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubles to come out: in simpler words, knock the air out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake.

Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky that mean they need a bit longer in the oven. However remember the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out off the oven.

For the filling, whip double cream until it still has a bit of a runny texture. If you over whip it, then cream could split when piping onto shells. Add the inside of one passion fruit by scrapping each half. You can also add two passion fruits as long as the filling does not become too runny. Mix well and transfer into a piping bag.

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Match two shells so that their size will be as similar as possible. Pipe a little bit of double cream filling on one macaron shell and sandwich together with the second one. Leave to cool in the fridge. Macarons are best on the next day and ideally kept in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge about an hour before eating, to allow the filling to warm up to room’s temperature.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Chocolate Macarons

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Colourful, chewy but crisp on the outside, delicate but full of rich flavours hidden in the fillings. Macarons are becoming ever so popular these days. Internet is flooded by these brightly coloured sweets, sometimes with rather fancy and exotic fillings. They are most certainly nothing new, as the first mention of macarons dates back to the sixteenth century! At the time there wasn’t any filling to join two macaron shells together. That changed only at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree, decided to use chocolate ganache.

Some say that making these delicacies is not easy, even though the ingredients are so beautifully simple. To make things even trickier, there are two different ways of preparing the meringues for your macarons. You can either follow the French technique or the Italian one. I prefer using the French method, as it does not involve any use of the temperamental hot sugary syrup.

You can experiment with any colour you wish, but remember to use either gel or powder food colouring. Introducing additional liquid to meringues would ruin the macaron. I added one teaspoon of cocoa powder to my meringues to complete the chocolate theme.

Chocolate French Macarons

95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds

For the chocolate ganache
80 ml double cream
100 g dark chocolate

Whip the egg whites until still. Keep in mind that you have to add the caster sugar gradually while you are whipping the egg whites. This allows the macaroons to develop their characteristic shine. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Always make sure that all piped macarons are the same size, as making them in different sizes would burn the smaller ones. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubles to come out: in simpler words, knock the air out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake.

Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. Be careful when taking macaroons shells from the baking paper as they are very fragile and sticky.

For the chocolate ganache, bring the cream to boil on a low heat. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave to stand. Mix together with a spoon and leave to stand preferably in a cool place. Once thick enough, transfer into a piping bag.

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Match two shells so that their size will be as similar as possible. Pipe a little bit of chocolate ganache on one macaron shell and sandwich together with the second one. Leave to cool in the fridge. Macarons are best on the next day and ideally kept in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge about an hour before eating, to allow the ganache to warm up to room’s temperature.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: almond and blueberry cake

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Almonds, blueberries, and cream…that just can’t go wrong! An absolute Foodamazers’ favourite: we love this scrummy cake. This was one of Maria’s, our patissier, first cakes, the one she would make for friends. It is simple and works really well as a light dessert for a dinner party or just as a little treat for one of those lazy Sunday afternoons. It just feels like home. If you are not keen on blueberries, you can replace them with any other fruit you fancy, like strawberries, blackberries, or even passion fruit. And if you feel double cream is a bit too heavy, whipping cream will also do the job.

Almond and blueberry cake (serves a few good hungry friends)

4 eggs (preferably large)
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
50 g ground almonds
75 g plain flour
3 tbsp Lemon and lime marmalade
300 ml double cream
220 g blueberries
1 lemon zest
20 g toasted flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180°/160° fan/mark 4. Grease or line two sandwich tins with baking parchment (if you have only one 8in cake tin, it’s fine, just slice the sponge in two discs once cooked).

Whisk the eggs with caster sugar and vanilla extract until pale and twice the original volume, usually about ten minutes. Be patient when whisking because this will determine how well the sponges will rise in the oven. Keep going until the eggs turn light, almost ivory colour and full of bubbles. Mix flour and almonds in a separate bowl and slowly fold into the whisked eggs. The trick is not to overmix and lose the volume.

Pour mixture into the sandwich tins in the oven for about fifteen minutes (or thirty minutes if you are using one large tin). The cake is ready once it is turning golden and pulls away from the sides of the tin. Let it cool in the tin for a few moments and then release to cool on a wire rack.

Prepare the base sponge spreading lemon and lime marmalade on it. Then whisk the double cream with lemon zest and spread half over the sponge. Add two thirds of the blueberries and then top with the second sponge. Spread the rest of the double cream on the top and scatter with the remaining blueberries and toasted flaked almonds. To finish, dust with a little icing sugar.

Now, treat yourself!

by Maria