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Achievement Unlocked – Level Macarons!

achievement

Macarons have been my biggest challenge to date. Generally I am quite satisfied with my ability to follow a recipe and get my expected result. With macarons, however, this was not the case.

Christmas Macarons

[Let me just clarify something quickly: macaroon vs. macaron. Think: coconut vs. almond flour.

Quick recipe for a macaroon: condensed milk and desiccated coconut, mixed in a ratio that lets you form little balls and place on a baking tray to bake at 180º until the edges start to brown and the biscuit is pretty firm]

My first attempt at macarons used a recipe from Dan Lepard‘s cookbook, Short and Sweet, which has proven delicious and basically perfect every time… until now. Then I tried Mary Berry and Great British Bake Off‘s chocolate macarons. I followed the instructions to a T, and they ended up burning anyway.

I figured it was time for a troubleshooting guide, when I stumbled upon this absolute gem. She even linked to her step by step guide to making macarons, which I tried after re-attempting Dan’s recipe using some of her advice. This was my result:

Her recipe was the first to start coming out right. But surely I didn’t have to follow all of her steps? Who has time to wait overnight for egg whites to mature? As it turns out, it is important, and it makes a substantial difference.

What also helped, was this guy. I absolutely love his work! His tutorials on macarons showed me that I might have been over-beating my eggs, and maybe I was “not overmixing” too carefully. Fully incorporated, people!

Red Christmas macarons

Eventually, I ended up with these bad boys, which I made for our Christmas party. Aren’t they beautiful! And added bonus was that they were gluten free, so everyone, even the fussies (though not the Banting folk), could enjoy dessert.

They were accompanied by vanilla cupcakes with green cream cheese frosting, and cute little marshmallow reindeer that my little cousin thoroughly enjoyed.

Marshmallow reindeer

Marshmallow reindeer

Vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Vanilla cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Macarons

Makes about 30 sandwiches

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • ¼ tsp creme of tartar
  • 210g powdered (icing) sugar
  • 125g ground almonds/almond meal/almond flour
  • 30g caster (granulated) sugar

Method

  1. Separate the egg whites. Leave overnight to mature in the fridge, and remove from fridge well ahead of time to allow to come to room temperature
  2. Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds together. Place this into a food processor and blend together until very fine and resembles a flour. Do this in stages, and make sure you’ve scraped down the sides of the food processor to break everything up. Also don’t go for so long that the mixture starts to heat up (we are making macarons, not over-sweetened almond butter)
  3. Sift the icing sugar-almond mix back into the bowl. If there are any remaining chunks of almond, remove them, they will make the mixture lumpy – DO NOT PUSH THEM THROUGH
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and creme of tartar until very soft peaks form – peaks should hold their shape for long. Add the granulated sugar here in two stages, beating until stiff peaks form (but not hard peaks – they should have some movement to them still). Colour your meringue mixture now, using powder or gel food colourings – don’t use liquid colouring
  5. Add one third of the almond mix and fold in gently. Once it has started to combine, add the second third, and repeat with the final third. Ensure mixture is of the same consistency and there are no dry patches
  6. Place mixture into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle about 0.5-0.8cm in diameter. Pipe this onto a stencilled mat or template, taking care not to put too much mixture for each biscuit as they spread quite a bit. Tap the baking tray firmly onto your working surface to remove any air bubbles. If there are remaining bubbles on the surface, give these a pop with a tooth pick
  7. Leave to form a shell at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Just before that time is up, preheat oven to 160ºC
  8. Place baking tray in the oven, and bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 140ºC and continue to bake for another 5-7 minutes
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before sandwiching together with filling. I filled mine with canned caramel (boiled condensed milk trick) sprinkled with some salt (salted caramel), a coffee buttercream, and some leftover green cream cheese frosting from the cupcakes
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Brownie bake-off…

… a quest to find the best brownie recipe of them all!

Which one will it be? Which brownie recipe is Brownie of them all?

Which one will it be? Which brownie recipe is Brownie of them all?

Brownies are definitely my thing, so I was determined to find the best brownie recipe out there. I have some favourite blogs and some recommended recipes that I had to give a go, so I set them all up against one another and had a day-long brownie bake-off. I made six batches of brownies (obviously in my absolute element!) and got a bunch of my friends to rate them and decide on the best one. 

Batch # 1: Yuppiechef

Batch # 1: Yuppiechef

The first batch I made was the one from the online shop, Yuppiechef. They are certainly my favourite online shop because they sell cooking equipment to heaven and back and I just want to buy absolutely everything on that site! You will see the brownie pan that I bought from them in later photos, it was very handy, producing cute little individual brownies.

The judges’ opinions: Softer, cakier, moist, not dry and not too sweet (however a later test group noted that they were sweeter than Batch #2, which is contrary).

Batch #2: Food.com

Batch #2: Food.com (in my Yuppiechef brownie tray)

I had this recipe at a baby shower I went to once and it was beautiful. They had been baked perfectly. I do love my fudgy edges, and those didn’t have them that time, but wow, not too cakey, not too fudgy, they were fabulous. This batch turned out quite nicely as well, but perhaps somewhat less chocolate-y than the first time I had them.

Judges’ opinions: soft inside, chocolate-y, with a crunchy coating. [I would say the crunchy coating is a bit of an exaggerated description, but they were somewhat fudgy on the outside]

Yammie is my favourite food blogger, possibly because we have a lot in common, but also because she produces some superb and truly delicious recipes. All her posts have so much character and her recipes are easy to follow. These brownies have proved a huge success in the past, when I used them in my slutty brownies and when I made a brownie pizza once as well. They are really great.

Judges’ opinions: Cakey, doughy and hard. Crunchy [They were more dense than crunchy]. One judge thought they would be good with tea, but that is because they are dense and chocolate-y.

These brownies are flourless and dairy-free, which means that they cater for a large number of people. And they taste fantastic as well! They have added coffee, which intensifies the chocolate flavour, and they still have great structure, even though they don’t have any flour. They are quite dense and a little bit sticky, but if that’s how you like your brownies, then that shouldn’t be a problem.

Judges’ opinions: Bitter [from the added coffee], dark and gooey [from the lack of flour and added coffee].

Batch #5: BBC Good Food

Batch #5: BBC Good Food

This recipe sounded absolutely fabulous! And it would have been too, however, by this time I was slightly limited. I no longer had a sieve (note the lumps of cocoa powder) and I was using a new oven. A new and extremely hot oven. We cooked them at 110 degrees Celcius (instead of 160), for 15 minutes instead of 25, and they got burnt to an absolute crisp. It was a sad day; I had been so looking forward to them. I managed to save the remains and everyone got to taste a sliver at least.

Judges’ Opinions: “How a brownie should taste”.

Batch #6: How Sweet It Is. These ones didn’t make photo-time unfortunately.

I love this blog as well. She has a lot of character and got me really into reading food blogs. What I liked when I first came across her page was that there is more than just food in her posts (similar to Yammie), she also had stories and you could really see her personality. She now posts some very interesting and different recipes. I am particularly keen to try this sandwich of hers.

IMG_6739

“But, what do you mean you don’t like this one? It’s the best!”

IMG_6738

“If you don’t like it, I’ll have it!”

IMG_6745

Brownies to last the week of studies

IMG_6742

So the final verdict…

Final brownie results

Final brownie results

In order of the best:

1st place: BBC Good Food (even though they were dinky and a tad burnt. Such a pity!)

2nd place: Food.com

Tied 3rd place: Yammie’s Gluten Freedom (see, gluten and dairy free can still be delicious) and Yuppiechef

5th place: Yammie’s Noshery

6th place: How Sweet It Is 

Rainbow sugar cookies

When my cousin asked for rainbow cupcake for her 16th birthday, I got really excited, eager to give it a go. I never got around to it, what with my own birthday party planning, and her mom ended up making her a gorgeous and massive rainbow layer cake. I still hadn’t given her a birthday present yet, so I was still keen to do my baking bit. I decided cookies were just as good as cupcakes.

I went with a simple sugar cookie recipe, making sure it was the kind that asks you to “chill” your dough (wanting a more stable roll-able mix) – I wanted to roll my dough up and cut cookies as slices of the sausage. This only kind of worked…

Guess what? There's a pretty large amount of sugar in sugar cookies. Although, adding a little bit more doesn't hurt either

Guess what? There’s a pretty large amount of sugar in sugar cookies. Although, adding a little bit more doesn’t hurt either

I separated my basic sugar cookie dough into four doughballs, and worked on colouring them, which proved to be a bit of a messy challenge, but was rather therapeutic, and they came out beautiful in the end.

Brightly coloured balls of dough, waiting to be baked together into deliciousness

Brightly coloured balls of dough, waiting to be baked together into deliciousness

I used two different methods to make my cookies, and I definitely preferred the more simple one, because it was A) easier, and B) looked prettier because there was more of an even distribution of colour, rather than mostly green.

In the first method, I took half of each colour, and I rolled it out flat. I placed the layers on top of one another, rolled it together some more, and then rolled it all up into a great big sausage, ready to be chilled.

It looks really weird because I kind of got over this method halfway through when one of the layers tore a little bit,

It looks really weird because I kind of got over this method halfway through when one of the layers tore a little bit. So basically this picture represents failed attempt #1

After chilling, I sliced it up, and placed it on the baking tray, ready to be baked. It was at this point that I realised that they were too green.

Cookies waiting to be baked. I didn't let it chill for long enough, so they got flattened a bit as I sliced them

Cookies waiting to be baked. I didn’t let it chill for long enough, so they got flattened a bit as I sliced them

The baked and finished product with this method wasn’t too bad, but by the time I had retrieved these, I was already in love with the other batch.

The baked spiral cookies still look pretty exciting

The baked spiral cookies still look pretty exciting

I would definitely make the layers thicker next time (if I attempted this method again) so that there is a fat layer of each colour as it spirals. Like the delicious biscotti’s you get with coffee.

My second attempt just basically had me taking a pinch of each colour, and mushing it together so that you can see a lot of each colour. This was a faster method, and it looks far prettier.

Rainbow cookies attempt #2 look much more rainbow-y and delicious as well. Proof that simpler is often better

Rainbow cookies attempt #2 look much more rainbow-y and delicious as well. Proof that simpler is often better

Rainbow Cookies Recipe (original sugar cookie recipe found here)

Makes 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cups softened butter
  • 1 Cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 Cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4x 2 tsp of your chosen food colouring colours

 

Method

  1. Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl
  2. Add vanilla extract and eggs, mixing well
  3. Mix in the baking powder, salt and flour. You should be left with a fairly crumbly mixture that will stick together much more easier once the food colouring is added.
  4. Separate dough into 4 batches
  5. Add chosen colour to each batch, mixing in each colour into its batch well and washing hands between batches. The crumbly mixture will become more dough-like as you are mixing it.
  6. Chill dough balls for half an hour
  7. Either roll dough out and form layers that are rolled up into a sausage to be chilled for an hour, OR take a pinch of dough, about the size of a cherry from each coloured batch, and squish together, making sure the colours don’t blend together. This can be done by rolling colours all together into one ball and pressing flat to the size of the cookie that you want. Place these on a baking tray and chill for an hour
  8. Place cookies into a preheated oven at 200 degrees C, and bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on your oven
  9. Remove cookies from the oven and let them cool

 

Note: My gran finds that our oven takes forever to cook things (I think she’s crazy), so your time may be shorter than mine. Just keep an eye out that the edges of your cookies don’t start to go too brown (this could ruin the rainbow effect completely — have you ever seen a rainbow with brown in it?)