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: Mini Croquembouche Filled With Caramel Cream

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I still remember the first time I tried to make profiteroles…and the second, and the third, and also the fourth time… It was not an easy task but they were absolutely perfect, once I realised what went wrong. So, be brave and don’t give up if the first batch doesn’t work out. It is so worth it to make these glorious little golden globes! Plus choux pastry is amazingly versatile and it could be used for desserts as well as starters and nibbles.

The origin of profiteroles is rather mysterious and hardly anyone could find out who was the first person to make this delicious treat. However, we do know that cooks in Southern Germany and France during the thirteenth century already started experimenting with puff pastries. It is more likely they were made with savoury filling based on cheese. One of the stories claims that it was actually one of the cooks of Caterina de’ Medici who came up with the idea. Nonetheless, choux pastries are wonderful and such a great fun.

Profiteroles look their best in croquembouche, which is traditionally made for weddings, baptisms, or other family gatherings. There are some spectacular ones and of course you can choose caramel or chocolate to stick choux pastries together. They can be decorated with a variety of ingredients, most traditionally sugared almonds. Last Saturday, I  decided to make this simple mini croquembouche just for a few close friends who came for dinner and they loved it…

Mini Croquembouche filled with Caramel and Cream  (Serves 5-6)

For the choux pastry
3 eggs
200 ml cold water
85 g unsalted butter
115 g plain flour
pinch of salt

For the filling
250 ml double cream
50-100g carnation caramel

For the caramel
100 g sugar
25 g water

For the chocolate sauce (optional) 
50 g dark chocolate
25 g butter
125 ml double cream
1 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven 200°C/180°C fan/mark 6.

Place water and butter into a pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Once the water starts to boil, tip in the flour and mix quickly until combined. Continue mixing on very low heat, preferably with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the edges of the pan. This allows the drying of the batter, in order to avoid the profiteroles ending up soggy.

Leave to cool slightly for about 5 minutes and then mix in one egg at the time. When you add the eggs, the mixture will split into smaller chunks, but keep going and it will come together into smooth and glossy dough. Once all the eggs are incorporated, transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a 1 cm nozzle. If you haven’t got a nozzle, just cut off the end of the bag with scissors.

Pipe small balls in a regular pattern on a baking sheet and glaze with egg or just press the top with a wet finger. Place in the oven and leave to bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow profiteroles to brown slightly. Lighter colour would make them wet inside once cooled down.

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For the filling, whip the double cream until almost stiff, then add as much caramel as you please. Do not overmix, as it will curdle when pipping. Remember, the caramel will make the filling rather sweet, so there is no need to add sugar. Make a hole in each profiterole with you finger and fill with the cream mixture. It is easier if you are using a small nozzle.

For the caramel, place sugar and water into a pan, and slowly bring to boil on a low heat. Don’t be tempted to stir and move the pan, as this would encourage the formations of crystals. Let it boil slowly and the caramel will start to brown. You can turn the heat down once the caramel is turning darker, just to prevent burning.

Please, be very careful when arranging your croquembouche, as the caramel will be extremely hot. Dip the tip of each profiterole into the caramel and start to build base in a circle, then continue by adding more layers. Caramel will act as glue and it will hold all profiteroles together very well. Finish of by carefully pouring caramel over your completed croquembouche.

For the chocolate sauce, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix the rest of the ingredients and heat in a separate bowl until combined well together. Remove from the heat and add the melted chocolate. Stir well until combined. When you serve the croquembouche, show off first, then serve several profiteroles in a bowl for each person, and dress with the hot chocolate sauce.

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 by Maria

Sweet Treats: raspberry and chocolate cake

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Birthday cakes are very special kind of cakes. They can be excessively extravagant, decorated, and shaped to anything you wish them to be. I like cakes to be simple but, at the same time, I want them to stand out and let the candles brighten up everyone’s face. Keep that in mind if you are struggling to find a perfect birthday present…

Chocolate and raspberries taste sublime together and bring a wonderful colour contrast. It is always easier if you try to arrange the raspberries on the side rather than straight onto the cake, to allow a regular pattern and to ensure you won’t run out of them before finishing the cake.

Raspberry and chocolate birthday cake (serves 10-12 people)

175 g salted butter, plus 10 g for greasing
75 g dark chocolate
300 g plain flour
375 g golden caster sugar
25 g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200 g buttermilk
100 ml boiling water
4 tbsp raspberry jam
250 g fresh raspberries

For the chocolate ganache
170 g dark chocolate
120 ml of double cream

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/mark 4. Grease with butter and line two 8-inch cake tins. Boil the kettle with water. Put chocolate, broken in small pieces, and butter into a small pan, then heat gently and continuously stir until melted. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, and soda bicarbonate together with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk until lighter in colour then add to the flour mixture together with melted chocolate. Add 100 ml of boiling water and whisk preferably with electrical whisk, until the mixture is lump free.

Divide the cake mixture into two tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remember to swap tins halfway through the bake if place on different shelves in the oven. Also rotate tins if you put both tins next to each other to allow even rise and bake. Check with a skewer every now and then. Cake is ready once the skewer comes out clean. Take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool down before decorating.

For the chocolate ganache, pour the double cream into a heavy based pot and bring slowly to boil. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave it to melt the chocolate for a few moments. Be careful when stirring the ganache, if you stir it too soon, not all the chocolate will melt. If you have a few lumps of chocolate left, then place the bowl in warm water to allow the heat to melt the rest of the chocolate.

Squash a few raspberries with a fork and mix with raspberry jam. Spread the jam over the first sponge and place the second sponge on the top. Spread another but thinner layer of jam on the top sponge. You can also spread some of the chocolate ganache over the first sponge if you wish to make this cake a bit richer. Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake and cover all the sides. Leave the cake on the side for about 10-15 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.

Wash all the remaining raspberries and dry. Then place them on the top of the cake. Dust with icing sugar if you wish.

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by Maria