The Macaron Diaries, Part 2

Following my earlier experimenting with the ever-elusive macaron, I had enough ingredients to give them another go! I decided to try and make salted caramel macarons. The recipe for the shells is the same as before, with the exception of some food dye to try and give them some colour.
 
Ingredients for orange (or caramel coloured) macaron shells
 
100 g egg whites
50 g caster sugar
200 g icing sugar
110 g ground almonds
1 tsp vanilla
4 drops yellow food colouring
2 drops pink food colouring
 
Method
 
1. Whip egg whites and sugar until stiff meringue peaks form. For a more detailed example, click here for Part 1 of my macaron making adventures.
 
2. After sifting ground almonds and icing sugar thoroughly, add them to the meringue (I just dumped the whole thing in!). I gave the mixture about 50 folds with a spatula, but I found it was still a little too stiff after baking and quite reminiscent of my previous attempt. So what I did was bring back the handheld mixer and try out something I read on the website of Adriano Zumbo, the macaron master himself. He does something named “pulsing”, which apparently helps make your macaron mixture smoother and gives it the correct consistency (my mixture certainly needed this). After pulsing twice, my mixture finally appeared to have the “lava” consistency desired.
 
3. After piping out the macaron mixture, I noted with joy that the mixture had spread rather than staying stiffly on top of the baking paper. A slight skin formed after 15 min, after which I grew impatient and decided to put the macarons into the oven. They baked for 16 min at 180 degrees Celsius. Note that my oven starts burning macarons after about 18 min, so I lowered the baking time a little. Since I decided to make salted caramel macarons, I sprinkled a couple with a little salt. Note that if you do this, make sure to eat those macarons quickly. Salt absorbs water very easily and after a while you might find that the tops of your macarons have gone a bit soggy.
 
4. The macarons came out looking quite well compared to my previous two batches. The tops weren’t 100% smooth, but smooth enough the pass. The feet were visible, but didn’t spread out too much. I was disappointed with the colour – I wanted a much more vibrant orange. I always forget that colours tend to pale and change when baking, so next time I will make sure to make the colour extra strong to counter this. Almost there!
 

Macarons after baking.

Macarons after baking.


 
Salted caramel/chocolate ganache
Recipe is from simmer & boyle, but I made half of the batch. I also lacked glucose syrup – must look this up in the future.
 
112 g dark cooking chocolate, chopped
57 g caster sugar
1 tbsp water
95 ml cream
1/2 tsp salt
 
1. In a small pot, melt the caster sugar and water over a low-medium flame. The recipe says not to stir (so I didn’t), but it does allow you to swirl the caramel a little. I have never made caramel before so I read up on this, and apparently stirring can increase the risk of burning your caramel. I decided the caramel was ready after about 5 min of cooking, when it had turned a nice amber colour. Unfortunately there was a lump of toffee along the side, possibly because the water hadn’t dispersed properly throughout the mixture.
 
Making the caramel. As the sugar starts melting a little crust forms on top, which then later dissolves to give a smooth, clear, amber-coloured liquid. Note the lump in the bottom of the pan - not a good sign.

Making the caramel. As the sugar starts melting a little crust forms on top, which then later dissolves to give a smooth, clear, amber-coloured liquid. Note the lump in the bottom of the pan – not a good sign.


 
2. After taking the pot off the stove, it was time to whisk in the cream. I poured it all straight in and whisked it in. I found that some of the caramel had hardened, so I put the mixture on top of the flame again to dissolve it a bit. I am not sure this was the best thing to do … I ended up with a mixture that was maybe a bit too liquid and that lacked the exact consistency of caramel I was looking for.
 
3. I poured the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and sea salt, then allowed it to melt the chocolate before whisking it all together. The result was much too flowy, so I popped the bowl into the fridge to let it cool down. Although it came out a bit more viscous from the fridge, it melted quite easily after I placed the macaron halves together.
 
The caramel on one side, and the ganache containing all the ingredients on the right side.

The caramel on one side, and the ganache containing all the ingredients on the right side.


 
The final result. I am not sure I am a fan of chocolate with salted caramel – I feel chocolate is an unnecessary element in something delicious as it is. Next time I’ll attempt to make a salted caramel filling without chocolate, if possible (or maybe white chocolate it give it a creamier texture?). Other than that, there is a disconnect between the tastes of the macaron shell and the filling. I wonder whether it is possible to make a more savoury shell to complement the filling. I already forsee my next adventure in macaron making!
 
My first macarons that actually look like macarons.

My first macarons that actually look like macarons.


 
The take home messages:
– Add extra food colouring to the macaron mixture if you want bold colours (or in my case, just extra food colouring all the time. I seem to misjudge how much colours change with baking).
– Make sure all the sugar is dissolved before pouring the cream in. This should be achieved by coating the sugar thoroughly in water and dispersing it evenly over the surface of the pot.

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Baking with J: Gingerbread cookies and houses

Christmas 2013 has come and gone, and this is the second year I have made a gingerbread house. Last year I made two, one for my boyfriend’s family and one for a family friend. This year, I took one to my work’s brunch. Personally, I prefer minimally decorated gingerbread houses, but I thought taking in one with some sweets plastered to it could also be fun.  

Here is my recipe, passed on to me from my mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from a wizard … you get the picture.
 
Gingerbread 
 
makes enough for one gingerbread house, and between 20-30 cookies

250 g honey
250 g raw sugar
100 g margarine
cinnamon (ground)
cardamom (ground)
nutmeg (ground)
ginger (ground)
allspice (ground)
2 eggs
600-700 g white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

 

Melt the margarine, honey and sugar on medium heat with stirring. Make sure sugar is 100% melted, otherwise it’ll be grainy in the gingerbread (this has happened before, it isn’t that great). When it has cooled down, mix with the eggs and the dry ingredients until well combined. I never follow specific measurements for spices, I prefer to add them to taste. If you’re not sure, start with 1/2 teaspoon of each spice and go from there. I make my gingerbread with a lot less ginger than other people because I prefer a dominant cinnamon taste. Allow it to rest overnight. Chilling it means the dough will be less sticky to work with the next day. It also means you don’t need to do it all at once 🙂 . After taking it out of the fridge, roll it out onto a floured surface and bake at around 180-200 degrees celsius for around 15-20 min depending on your oven until it has acquired a nice light-medium brown colour. I roll out my dough to about 5 mm thickness, but you can make it thicker. I wouldn’t recommend it to be too thin though, unless you’re aiming for gingersnaps. I also freestyled the measurements of the house … just make sure to have matching walls!

 

Gingerbread icing
 

Egg whites
Icing sugar (a.k.a powdered sugar)

 

Beat the egg whites on high until foamy and then add the icing sugar. I don’t follow precise measurements for this step, I generally look at the mixture to make sure it’s what I want. Start off with 3-4 egg whites. If you add more icing sugar the peaks stay still and stiff, and your icing will be a bit more brittle but will stay in place, which is great for decorating cookies. Less icing sugar with slightly runnier peaks forms a mixture a bit like runny white cement, which I think is good for assembling the house. Experiment and see for yourself!

 

Assembling a house
 

I do this on a chopping board, mainly because I don’t want to have to scrape icing off my table or countertop. I start by putting together two walls together on the gingerbread base, then wait for the icing holding the walls together to become stiff before putting together the next two walls. If they keep falling down, stack books next to them (I put my polar bear Zumy bookstand and some books beside it), or you can also be sneaky and hold it together with pins/needles until dry. The final part should be the roof. Note: you want to decorate your walls and rooftop before assembling, otherwise things can get runny or your pretty patterns will be ruined. See pic below. Remember to pull out any pins when you are done.

 

Gingerbread house for work, Christmas 2013.
Gingerbread cookies are also quite a big deal in my culture, and though I didn’t have the energy to make them this year, here is a photo of last year’s cookies. I hung some of these on the tree, as is tradition.

 

Gingerbread cookies, 2012.