Macarons, Macarons!

Finally! I have pretty much cracked it. It has taken weeks of practice, a class, many tutorial videos and reading pretty much every blog on the subject, but finally I am consistently getting good macaron results (nice high feet, a smooth top, not hollow insides etc)

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I thought it was probably time to share what I have learnt…

Ingredients:

  • 175g Icing sugar
  • 125g Ground almonds
  • 110g Egg white (I try to bring them up to room temp but I have had perfect results out of the fridge… I don’t age my eggs whites, I have also used pasteurized with no ill effects)
  • 75g Caster sugar

Method:

  1. Put your almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz them together to make sure they are totally mixed and to break down the ground almonds a bit more. Don’t over do this or you will release too much oil from the almonds and make nut butter. A few quick pulses will do the trick.
  2. Sift the ground almonds, the icing sugar together and discard any big bits left in the sieve
  3. Whisk the egg whites for a minute or so and then add the caster sugar bit by bit with the whisk still on until it forms stiff, glossy peaks (still meringue will make much better macarons so stick with it!) .
  4. Fold the ground almonds and icing sugar into the meringue mixture one-third at a time. If you are adding colourings do so right at the start so you don’t have to do additional mixing at the end.  Make sure the dry ingredients are incorporated (there are no lumps or bits of dry stuff at the bottom) and the mixture is smooth, shiny and has reached the ribbon stage – over mixing will make your mixture wet and it will not make good maracons so if in doubt under mix! Under mixed macarons have bumpy tops but still taste good
    Spoon the mixture into a piping bag
    Pipe out circles straight lines across a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Leave a 1 cm gap between each macaroon shell. I do this by holding the piping bag vertically to baking tray and piping for the count of three and releasing “one-two-three-release!” counting for longer will give you bigger macarons!
    Rest at room temperature for about 30-60 mins until a skin has formed and the shells are no longer sticky. You can pre-heat the oven at this point. If you don’t have one already, get an oven thermometer. Ovens are rarely the temperature the dial claims it is and for macarons you need accuracy.
    Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes at about 150c – keep the oven door slightly open with a spoon to prevent steam building up in the oven. Every 5 minutes rotate the tray.
  5. After 15 minutes, check the macaroons are cooked by gently lifting a macaroon at the edge of a tray. If the test macaroon does not stick, allow the tray of macaroons to finish cooking on the tray as it cools.
  6. Make sure the macarons are cool before filling.

Fillings…

Italian meringue buttercream flavoured in different ways is great as a light filling or use the left over egg yolks to make creme patisserie and flavour it up! Lazier fillings include nutella, jam er…lemon curd, whatever really.

Pistachio paste in base Italian Meringue Buttercream!

11030644_10155282300425302_4217013893606554780_n Coconut sprinkled on the shells after piping filled with white chocolate ganache made with a mix of double and coconut cream.

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The main thing to note about macaron making is that although you need to be precise and it takes practice – it is not magic. Follow the steps, enjoy even the less than perfect results (they will still taste good). under mix rather than over mix. Have fun. It is just a biscuit.

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream

Toffee apples are an amazing thing but I find them rather too sweet so I got to thinking that salted caramel apples should totally be a thing (I know, I know, I am obsessed) I made a spiced apple sponge with salted caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream. The sharpness of the apples was a good contrast to the salty/sweet icing.

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For the cakes (makes between 12-16):

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 80 ml milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • half tsp mixed spice
  • 5 medium apples (750g) – I used Granny Smiths
  • 100g saltanas soaked in 100ml boiling water and allowed to cool (I did mine in half rum, half boiling water)
  • 25g butter, extra
  • 1/3 cup (75g) soft brown sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven 180°C and put cases in a 12 hole muffin tin – I usually do a few extra in a second tray just in case
  2. Peel and core apples. Cube into little cubes (no bigger than 0.5cm). Sprinkle cubed apples a bit of lemon juice to avoid browning. Melt the 25g extra butter in a large frying pan; cook apple cubes until browned lightly (about 5 minutes). Add brown sugar and saltanas (including soaking rum if used, if not drain the water off); cook stirring until it goes nice and thick (about 5 more minutes). Allow to cool completely.
  3. Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light & fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Add flour and milk in 2 batches folding in gently.
  4. Fold in the apple mixture into the cake mixture until totally combined.Fill cases to about 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes (till golden brown springy).

 

For the buttercream (this makes enough for about 24 cakes; it is worth making lots and then freezing the rest if you are doing less cakes)

Basic Recipe

  • 375g white caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100ml water
  • 6 egg whites
  • 600g soften unsalted butter in 2cm-ish chunks
  • 2 quantities of Nigella salted caramel sauce (totally cooled – use it from the fridge ideally)

 

Method

  1. Put sugar, golden syrup and water in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and stir until totally combined.  Brush the inside of the saucepan with clean water on a damp pastry brush to dislodge any stray grains. Set over high heat and bring to a rapid boil. When the sugar mixture has come to the boil add a sugar thermometer and keep cooking until it reaches will into soft ball stage, 121°C.
  2. Meanwhile put the carefully separated egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer (with a whisk attachment) and whisk the egg whites to soft peaks – be careful not to over whisk. Then slowly pour a steady stream of sugar syrup into the egg whites, being careful not to hit the whisk while doing so – I find pouring down the side of the bowl is the easiest way of doing this. Continue whisking until sides of the bowl feel cool. Add the softened butter chunk at a time one by one at a time and whip until fully incorporated and smooth
  3. Add in caramel and whisk until fully combined
  4. Pipe on to cakes and drizzle with a bit of caramel

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I used the left over icing a week later on a version of these cupcakes: https://bakeitinstinct.com/2013/07/08/salted-caramel-oh-salted-caramel/ and added sugar glass for some slightly Halloweeny decoration.

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Lemon cupcakes with lemon Italian meringue buttercream

Ever since I ate a cupcake with  Italian meringue buttercream, I knew I had to learn to make it. It was so creamy and light and grown up – less like icing and more like the nicest mousse in the world. The thing is, it really difficult to make – it uses Italian meringue (boiling sugar poured and whisked into egg whites to cook them), you need a sugar thermometer and to handle boily sugar without melting your skin off.  On the surface of it, these cupcakes look pretty simple but actually the icing has taken a lot of fiddling and practice to get them right. The first test I did, there seemed to be too much butter in the recipe I used and I poured in the boiling sugar incorrectly so it clumped at the bottom. The second attempt (this one) was much better.

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To make the buttercream you are going to need a stand mixer – I think you might be able to try it with a hand whisk but I needed two hands to get the boiling sugar in safely whilst whisking all the time. I have a Kenwood KMix (a beautiful white one which goes with my shiny white kitchen) which is probably my most used kitchen item, I turn it on at least 3 or 4 times a week. We do bread, pizza dough, biscuits, cake, brownies etc. in it.  It had been a toss up between that and an Artisan but I think the Artisan looks a bit twee, it is much more expensive for almost no additional benefit and my granddad worked for Kenwood his whole life so I have some deeply rooted brand loyalty,  Isn’t it beautiful? I still tell it that I love it from time to time.

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Anyway on to the cake – I made lemon sponge with a lemon curd centre, lemon italian meringue buttercream and homemade chocolate buttons on top.

For the buttercream (this makes enough for about 24 cakes; it is worth making lots and then freezing the rest if you are doing less cakes)

Basic Recipe

  • 375g white caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100ml water
  • 6 egg whites
  • 600g soften unsalted butter in 2cm-ish chunks

For lemon curd buttercream add:

  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 3 tbsp of Lemon Curd

Method

  1. Put sugar, golden syrup and water in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and stir until totally combined.  Brush the inside of the saucepan with clean water on a damp pastry brush to dislodge any stray grains. Set over high heat and bring to a rapid boil. When the sugar mixture has come to the boil add a sugar thermometer and keep cooking until it reaches will into soft ball stage, 121°C.
  2. Meanwhile put the carefully separated egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer (with a whisk attachment) and whisk the egg whites to soft peaks – be careful not to over whisk. Then slowly pour a steady stream of sugar syrup into the egg whites, being careful not to hit the whisk while doing so – I find pouring down the side of the bowl is the easiest way of doing this. Continue whisking until sides of the bowl feel cool. Add the softened butter chunk at a time one by one at a time and whip until fully incorporated and smooth
  3. Mix in zest, juice and lemon curd for lemon flavour icing.

For the cake (makes about 16)

  • 250g unsalted softened butter
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon

For the filling

  • Jar of Lemon Curd

For the buttons

  • White chocolate

Method:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180c (I have always used an oven thermometer to check because most ovens are way out – except my brand new oven. That is perfect) and put some cases in a muffin tin or two
  2. Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. Sift in the flour and then add the lemon zest and the juice of one lemon and mix until well combined.
  3. Spoon it into the cupcake mix into the cases for about 2/3 full. I use an ice-cream scoop (I have 3 in different sizes and this ensures they are all exactly the same)
  4. Bake for about 15 – 18 ish minutes but keep an eye on them from around 12 minutes
  5. When they are beginning to look golden and are springy to the touch they can come out
  6. For the filling, core out your cupcakes using either a corer or a sharp knife, put a teaspoon of lemon curd in each one and replace the tops
  7. To make the chocolate buttons, gentle melt the white chocolate and pour into silicone button mold like this one from Amazon 

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Stroopwafel Cupcakes

For part 2 of my Dutch cupcake series, I made stroopwafel cupcakes. Stroopwafels are those delicious biscuits with caramel in the middle that come from the Netherlands or Starbucks or a corner shop in Mile End.  Sainsbury’s in Tooting sell them. They are usually best served warmed over a cup of coffee or made into a cupcake. I made a cinnamon sponge, with a caramel core and cinnamon and caramel icing topped with a mini Stroopwafel. Served in a Delft blue cupcake case – very Dutch, ja?

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Anyway, on to the recipe (makes 12 big-ish ones)

For the sponge:

  • 200g softened butter
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1tsp cinnamon

For the caramel filling:

  • 2 quantities of Nigella’s salted caramel sauce making it with just enough salt to cut away the sweetness but not enough to be fully salted caramel (hold some back for the icing and decorating)

For the icing:

  • 80g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar, sieved
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 100g of the salted caramel
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

To decorate:

  • Mini stroopwafels or chunks of the big ones

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170c and line a muffin tin with 12 good size cupcake cases
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat really well after each one. Pro Tip: making sure the eggs are at room temperature will stop it curdling but if it does add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it together
  4. Sift together the flour and cinnamon and add this gradually and fold in until just combined
  5. Fill your cases to about two-thirds full
  6. Bake for 18 minutes or until they spring back when touched. Leave to cool slightly before putting on to a cooling rack.
  7. When the cakes are totally cold  core out the middle and fill with the caramel.
  8. For the icing cream the butter and caramel until it is really really soft and add a small amount of the icing sugar and the cinnamon (taste as you go to see if you need more). Keep adding icing sugar slowly, adding milk in between additions to moisten the mixture if you need to.  Add more icing sugar if it is too sloppy or buttery.  Beat until fluffy and smooth.
  9. Pipe it on to the cakes
  10. Get a disposable icing bag and add a few tablespoons of caramel, cut the very tip off and drizzle over the cakes and finish with a mini-stroopwafel

These got really good reviews in my office and lots of happy noises.

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Speculaas/Speculoos Cupcakes

The week before last I was in Amsterdam. I was mainly working but I did manage to visit a supermarket and stock up on some amazing Dutch delicacies. I have a bit of a thing about Speculaas biscuits (or Speculoos, depending on your country) and I have been hankering after a jar or three of Speculoos paste for ages although I hear you can buy it in Waitrose. So I came back with a suitcase full and OMG it is so tasty. It is like Nutella but make of ground up biscuits, I am not sure you are supposed to just spoon it out of the jar but yeah… it happened.

 

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Anyway, to stop myself just scoffing the lot, I decided to make Speculoos/Speculaas cupcakes. I had seen a few recipes online (mainly in French) but in the end just made something up.  They turned our pretty well:

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So here we go (if you want to bake along at home)

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 100g softened butter
  • 150g Speculoos paste
  • 200g sifted self-raising flour
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs

For the icing:

  • 100g butter softened
  • 100g Speculoos paste
  • 400g icing sugar
  • drop of milk (if needed)

To decorate:

  • Speculaas/Speculoos biscuits

Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160c and line a muffin tray with about 12 large cupcake cases
  • Cream together the butter and Speculoos paste until totally combined
  • Add in the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy
  • Add the eggs in one at a time mixing thoroughly after each one
  • Add in the sifted flour and fold in until just combined
  • Fill the cupcake cases about 2/3 full (I use an ice-cream scoop for this to make sure they are all the same size)
  • Bake for about 18 – 20 minutes or until they are springy to the touch
  • Allow to cool properly before icing or it melts or slips off
  • For the icing, cream together the butter and Speculoos paste and add the icing sugar in batches. Add a drop of milk if needed to keep it smooth.
  • Pipe on to the cakes and add a shard of speculaas biscuit to decorate.

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So tasty. I also made Stoopwafel cupcakes! Post to follow.

 

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

For the last month or so I have pretty much only been making salted caramel brownies because they are everyone’s current favourite and they freeze well and they are easy to convert to gluten free by just switching the flour and they taste so good. Anyway, finally I have made a new and exciting thing: Gin and Tonic cupcakes. Gin and tonic is by far my favourite alcoholic drink and with a friend’s party coming up I thought it was a perfect excuse to try something a bit more grown-up.

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It was based on a recipe I found on Katie Cakes but slightly modified in places:

Ingredients:

For the cakey bit:

  • 175g unsalted butter softened
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 4 tbsp tonic water (I used Fever Tree – yum)
  • 2tbsp gin (I used Hendrick’s)

For the icing

  • 250g unsalted butter softened
  • 500g icing sugar
  • Juice of one lime
  • 4tbsp gin

To decorate

  • Zest of one lime
  • 1 lime halved and thinly sliced

Method:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 170c and line a cupcake/muffin tin with 12 cases
  2. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat together until light and creamy making sure you use a spatular to clear down the sides
  3. Add the eggs one at a time whisking in and making sure each one is fully combined before adding the next
  4. Sift in the flour and fold in being careful not to over stir it
  5. Stir in the tonic water
  6. Divide the mixture between the 12 cases but don’t fill more than 2/3
  7. Bake for approximately 20 mins until they are golden and spring and a skewer comes out clean
  8. Remove from tins and place on cooling rack while they are still hot pierce each one with a skewer half a dozen times and brush as much gin as you think you can get away with
  9. For the icing, soften the butter with your whisk, add in the icing sugar and whisk fully batch at a time
  10. Squeeze in the juice of lime into the icing and add the gin. Whip again until soft and light and fluffy
  11. Pipe on to the cakes and add a slice of lime and some lime zest to decorate.

Enjoy and careful if you lick the icing bowl. I got a bit tipsy.

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Triple Lemon Cupcakes

There is nothing nicer than lemon drizzle cake, except lemon curd filed lemon drizzle cake with lemon curd icing (I am saying icing here rather than frosting because, you know, I am British and we say icing) – Triple Lemon.

Triple Lemon

Having said I rarely make the same cupcake twice, I have made this one 3 times probably because it is less sickly sweet than some of the others and it is really good for using up lemons (and they look pretty!)

Lemony

The recipe (makes about 16)

For the Spongey bit

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • finely grated zest 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 225g self-raising flour

For the Drizzle

  • Juice of about 1½ lemons
  • 85g caster sugar

For the filling:

  • Jar of Lemon Curd (save some for drizzling over the top to decorate and some for the icing)

For the icing:

  • 80g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g sifted icing sugar
  • 100g Lemon Curd

Method:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180c (I have always used an oven thermometer to check because most ovens are way out – except my brand new oven. That is perfect) and put some cases in a muffin tin or two
  2. Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. Sift in the flour and then add the lemon zest and the juice of one lemon and mix until well combined.
  3. Spoon it into the cupcake mix into the cases for about 2/3 full. I use an ice-cream scoop (I have 3 in different sizes and this ensures they are all exactly the same)
  4. Bake for about 15 – 18 ish minutes but keep an eye on them from around 12 minutes
  5. While they are in the oven make the drizzle – mix together the lemon juice and sugar until combined
  6. When they are beginning to look golden and are springy to the touch they can come out
  7. Let them cool in the tin for about 10 minutes and then poke them with a skewer and drizzle over the lemony mixture
  8. Now leave them to cool properly and the top to crisp up
  9. For the filling, core out your cupcakes using either a corer or a sharp knife, put a teaspoon of lemon curd in each one and replace the tops
  10. To make the buttercream, beat the softened butter in a big bowl and add the lemon curd and combine. Add the icing sugar gradually until it is at the right consistency. Use more icing sugar or a couple of drop of milk if it needs to be dryer or wetter
  11. Pipe on to the cakes. I have done them with both a ‘rose’ piping (start from the inside and work your way out) and standard icing (work from the outside in and up)
  12. I like to finish mine with a bit of lemon curd drizzle. Stick some lemon curd into a disposable piping bag or small plastic bag and cut the very tip off the corner and swish it over the top.

Rose piper variation:

Rose Piping

I thought rose piping would be really tricky, but it isn’t. There is a good tutorial on how to do it here:
Also I always fill my piping bag up using a large glass (kind of like they do in the video), so if you find you end up getting messy – fold the top of the piping bag over the lip of the cup so it holds it out for you and fill it that way so you can use both hands to get the icing in the right place and out of the bowl.