A colourful present: macaroons

Le macaronWhen some friends came to dinner a while ago, they didn’t want to arrive empty handed. Usually, you bring a bottle of wine, but as I’m not a big fan of wine at all, they wanted to bring something else. So they went to a cookery store and said to the lady behind the counter: we need a present for someone who loves to cook but already has everything. The lady knew just the thing, and that’s how I got my own Lékué macaroon set including a macaroon mat and silicone piping equipment. I already had the cutest cookbook on macaroons as well, the French book Les secrets du patissier: le macaron. I’ll admit, I mainly bought it for the gorgeous cover and the beautiful pictures, but it’s a fantastic book that helps you overcome your fear of tackling a macaroon recipe. So now, I only needed a good occasion which came about yesterday as we were invited to dinner by some friends. They have 2 little kids, so I assumed they would prefer sugar over wine too!

I opted for a batch of vanilla macaroons and a batch of raspberry macaroons, but the basic recipe is really the same. For 20 macaroons, first sieve 100 g almond powder and 100 g icing sugar in a bowl, stir to combine and set aside. Now make the meringue. You have 2 options here, either you make a French meringue where you first mix your egg whites until stiff and then add the sugar and mix again (the easy version) or you opt for an Italian meringue, where you add a hot sugar syrup to your stiff egg whites. This is more difficult to achieve, but your macaroons can’t fail with the Italian version, whereas for the French one all depends on the precision of the rest of your actions. On my first set of macaroons a year ago, I used the French version and got hollow macaroons as a result, so this time I didn’t want to take any chances and tried the Italian meringue instead.

Italian meringueFor both versions, first mix 40 g egg whites until stiff (add a pinch of salt to speed this up) – you’ll need 80 g egg white which is about 4-5 eggs (egg white freezes really well, so when you only need the yolk for a recipe, like for bavarois for example, just put the whites in a freezer bag). For the French version, add 100 g caster sugar in batches and keep beating until incorporated. For the Italian version, put the sugar in a small pan with 40 ml water and gently heat without stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for 8 to 10 min until the syrup reaches 115 C (you can measure this with a sugar thermometer. If you don’t have one, just boil the mixture until it starts getting syrupy and starts to thicken, you need something like a runny shower gel consistency). Gradually pour the syrup on the egg whites and keep beating all the time. Continue to mix for about 10 min to cool down the mixture a bit. The result should be a glossy mix which holds it’s shape.

Piping macaroonsNow add 40 g raw egg white to your sugar almond mix and stir until well combined and you get a thick paste. This is were the two types start to differ: for vanilla macaroons, add the seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry version, add a few drops of red food colouring (optional). Stir until completely combined (it’s a great work-out for your arms). Add 1/3 of your stiff egg whites to this and stir well to loosen the mix. Now add the rest of the egg whites and gently spoon through until it’s fully combined. Put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small circles on a baking sheet. Leave to stand for at least 30 min (this is a very important step: by doing so, the top will harden a bit and will rise uniformly in the oven which means the macaroons won’t crack).

Fresh out of the ovenPreheat the oven to 140 C and bake the macaroons for 15 min. If you used baking parchment, the recipe suggests sliding the paper on a slightly humidified surface when they come out of the oven as this helps the macaroons to come of the baking parchment more easily. Once cooled, sandwich the macaroons together with the filling (after trying them first of course, being a chef has it’s perks).

Macaroons in a box

For the vanilla macaroons, I opted for a vanilla buttercream filling. For this, mix 125 g softened butter with 70 g icing sugar, 80 g almond powder and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. For the raspberry macaroons, I used shop bought raspberry jam (the recipe indicates how to make your own, but that’s where I drew the line). Put in a nice box for a great present or store in an airtight tin for yourself. They are best eaten on the day or the day after, but they will keep for a couple of days. Enjoy!

Christmas part 2: Buche Nero

Buche NeroFor Christmas, I made Buche Nevado but I wasn’t sure everyone would like it as it was made from white chocolate and almonds, which is too sweet for some people (my dad for starters). So I decided to “invent” a dark version and gave it the very original name “Buche Nero”, how’s that for my Spanish! After the taste test, the verdict was in: most tasters like this version better and apart from my dad that included my mom, grandmother and brother. My sister just couldn’t decide.

Here’s how I did it: I decided almonds wouldn’t work with dark chocolate, and used hazelnuts instead (the ones you also add to ice cream). To avoid it getting to sweet, I decided to replace the raspberry coulis by oranges instead, it works well in sachertorte, so I knew it would work well here too. For the rest, I stuck to the recipe and made it as follows:

To get started, line your mould with cling film that you first brushed with olive oil (if you don’t have a pastry brush, just put some oil on a paper towel and wipe that on the cling film).

The recipe consists of 4 elements and you can easily make it a day ahead. You can even make the chocolate mousse and coulis 2 days ahead as they need to set.

Step 1: orange coulis
Put 2 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften. Heat a pot of orange marmalade until boiling, then take it of the heat and add the sheets of gelatine (squeeze the water out first). Pour onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or oiled cling film and put in the fridge to set. You can do this 2 days in advance.

Step 2: dark chocolate mousse
For the dark chocolate mouse, I used the recipe of Jeroen Meus, another famous Flemish TV cook, a bit the Jamie Oliver of Belgium. First, put 1 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften (you don’t need the gelatin for this recipe, but I added it to be sure as I’m taking the mousse out of a mould later). Melt 100 g dark chocolate au bain marie (so in a bowl over simmering water). If using gelatin, squeeze the water out of the it and add to the chocolate. Separate 3 eggs and mix the egg whites until stiff (you need to be able to turn the bowl upside down and that’s no joke! Add a pinch of salt to get there sooner). Now mix 180 ml cream until you see the trace if your mixer in it. You still want it to be half runny, if it’s too stiff it will split. Finally, mix the egg yolks with 50 g caster sugar for 5 min until they are foamy and almost white. If you do the mixing in this order (egg whites – cream – egg yolks) you don’t need to wash it in between! Now you’re ready to assemble: first mix the chocolate with the egg yolks. Now fold in the egg whites and finally add the cream. You want to fold in the cream quite quickly to avoid it splitting. Pour in the prepared tin until half full and allow to set in the fridge. You can do this 2 days in advance as well.
Tip: if you’re just interested in the chocolate mousse and have no desire to turn it into a log, this recipe will serve 4 people. Leave out the gelatin and pour into glasses and put in the fridge to set. You can decorate it with some red fruit for a gorgeous dessert.

Step 3: hazelnut sponge
Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Put 75 g hazelnut powder in a bowl with 30 g icing sugar and 12 g plain flour and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, mix 90 g egg whites (from 2-3 eggs) until stiff, then add 50 g caster sugar and mix again. Carefully fold the egg whites into the almond mix until combined and spoon onto the baking sheet in a rectangular form, about the size of your loaf tin. Use a knife to nicely flatten the top. Bake in the oven for 10 min until the sponge is lightly golden and springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven, turn it out onto a sheet of lightly sugared baking powder, carefully peel off the lining paper and lay it back over the sponge. Allow to cool completely.

Step 4: hazelnut crumble
Turn the oven up to 180 C. Mix 100 g plain flour with 100 g hazelnut powder,100 g sugar1 g fleur de sel or salt and 100 g butter until it resembles bread crumbs. Put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, roughly the size of your loaf tin, and bake for 12-15 min until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Now you’re ready to assemble. You already added the chocolate mousse to your loaf tin, and by now it is set. Take the coulis out of the fridge, cut it to the same size as your loaf tin and put it on top. Don’t worry if you need to patch it up a little. Now do the same with the sponge and finish with the crumble. Make sure to turn the crumble upside down for this, so that the flat part is on top. Put in the fridge again until you are ready to serve. When ready, turn out onto a serving plate (use a blowtorch to loosen a bit if you have one (if the chocolate is too runny after that, just put it back in the fridge for 15 min or so to stop it running), if not just peal of the cling film) and decorate as desired. Cut into slices and enjoy!

Modern Christmas log: Buche Nevado

Buche NevadoFor Christmasm I was in charge of – surprise, surprise – the dessert. I didn’t want to make the traditional log, as I’m not a huge fan of that, so I opted for this modern version. I came across this recipe in a magazine. It’s a recipe from Joost Arijs who owns a patisserie & chocolaterie in Ghent, called, of course, Joost Arijs. It’s made of white chocolate mousse, red fruit coulis, almond sponge and almond crumble. The recipe indications where very fragmented, so I consulted other recipes as well to get the desired result. Also, I figured not everyone is a fan of white chocolate because it’s very sweet, so I created a dark version as well, I’m calling it Buche Nero and I’ll be adding the recipe soon as well!

But first for the Buche Nevado. I don’t have a buche mould, so I opted for a normal rectangular loaf tin instead. I did some tests on how to best get a chocolate mousse out of it, and 2 options work best: adding the chocolate mousse straight to the mould and then going round the mould with a blowtorch to melt it a bit so it slides out or, if you don’t have a blowtorch, oiled cling film. So to get started, line your mould with cling film that you first brushed with olive oil (if you don’t have a pastry brush, just put some oil on a paper towel and wipe that on the cling film.

The recipe consists of 4 elements and you can easily make it a day ahead. You can even make the chocolate mousse and coulis 2 days ahead as they need to set.

Step 1: red fruit coulis
Put 2 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften. At this stage, the recipe suggests making your own coulis by mixing 150 g red fruit, passing it through a sieve and adding 25 g sugar. Or you can use the shortcut and just buy raspberry coulis as I did. The next step is identical: heat the coulis (if making your own, you want the sugar to have melted) until boiling, then take it of the heat and add the sheets of gelatine (squeeze the water out first). Pour onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or oiled cling film and put in the fridge to set. You can do this 2 days in advance.

Step 2: white chocolate mousse
White chocolate mousseAt this point, the recipe just indicated to make a mousse with the ingredients, so I opted to use the “no fail” recipe of Piet Huysentruyt, a Flemish Michelin-star-turned-TV-star instead. First, put 2 sheets gelatin in cold water to soften. Heat 400 g white chocolate in 1/2 dl cream (adding the cream will avoid burning the chocolate) and stir until melted. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin and add to the chocolate. Seperate 4 eggs and mix the egg whites until stiff (you need to be able to turn the bowl upside down and that’s no joke!). Add 50 g caster sugar and mix again. Now mix 1 and 1/2 dl cream until you see the trace if your mixer in it. You still want it to be half runny, if it’s too stiff it will split. Finally, mix the egg yolks with 50 g caster sugar for 5 min until they are foamy and almost white. If you do the mixing in this order (egg whites – cream – egg yolks) you don’t need to wash it in between! Now you’re ready to assemble: first mix the chocolate with the egg yolks. Now fold in the egg whites and finally add the cream. You want to fold in the cream quite quickly to avoid it splitting. Pour in the prepared tin until half full and allow to set in the fridge. You can do this 2 days in advance as well.
Tip: if you’re just interested in the chocolate mousse and have no desire to turn it into a log, this recipe will easily serve 4 to 6 people. Just pour into glasses and put in the fridge to set. You can decorate it with some red fruit for a gorgeous dessert.

Step 3: almond sponge
Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Put 75 g almond powder in a bowl with 30 g icing sugar and 12 g plain flour and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, mix 90 g egg whites (from 2-3 eggs) until stiff, then add 50 g caster sugar and mix again. Carefully fold the egg whites into the almond mix until combined and spoon onto the baking sheet in a rectangular form, about the size of your loaf tin. Use a knife to nicely flatten the top. Bake in the oven for 10 min until the sponge is lightly golden and springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven, turn it out onto a sheet of lightly sugared baking powder, carefully peel off the lining paper and lay it back over the sponge. Allow to cool completely.

Step 4: almond crumble
Turn the oven up to 180 C. Mix 100 g plain flour with 100 g almond powder, 100 g sugar, 1 g fleur de sel or salt and 100 g butter until it resembles bread crumbs. Put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, roughly the size of your loaf tin, and bake for 12-15 min until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Adding coulisNow you’re ready to assemble. YLayersou already added the chocolate mousse to your loaf tin, and by now it is set. Take the coulis out of the fridge, cut it to the same size as your loaf tin and put it on top. Don’t worry if you need to patch it up a little. Now do the same with the sponge and finish with the crumble. Make sure to turn the crumble upside down for this, so that the flat part is on top. Put in the fridge again until you are ready to serve. When ready, turn out onto a serving plate (use a blowtorch to loosen a bit if you have one (if the chocolate is too runny after that, just put it back in the fridge for 15 min or so to stop it running), if not just peal of the cling film) and decorate as desired. Cut into slices and enjoy!

Buche Nevado

Getting ready for Christmas: apricot & marzipan twist

Apricot and marzipan twistMy December issue of GoodFood magazine arrived and as every year this is the Christmas issue, full of delicious recipes and ideas. I always want to start baking right away when I get it, but a lot of recipes are for a crowd and this is one of those. So I had to wait for a crowd first, but that’s usually not a big worry. This recipe serves 12 and is by Paul Hollywood, BBC’s Great British Bake Off judge.

You need a lot of time for this one because it requires rising. You even need to start the night before: chop 120 g dried apricots and put them in a bowl with 150 ml orange juice to soak overnight.

The next day, make the dough by putting 250 g strong white bread flour in a bowl with 1 tsp salt, 50 g softened butter, 100 ml milk, 10 g dried yeast and 1 large egg and mix together to form a dough. Knead for 6 min. The recipe suggests turning it out on a floured surface and kneading by hand, but the dough is incredibly sticky, so I suggest using electric dough mixers instead and keeping the dough in your bowl. If not, you’ll be adding flour for 6 min to reduce the sticking and it won’t even make much of a difference! Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl (if you used the mixer, it’s already in one so you can leave it). Cover with cling film and set aside to rise in a warm place (aka on the heating) for 1 hr.

Meanwhile, drain the apricots. In a mixing bowl, cream 90 softened butter and 70 g light muscovado sugar until fluffy. Mix in the apricots, 35 g plain flour, 60 g raisins, 65 g chopped walnuts and the grated zest of 1 orange.

Turn the risen dough out on a floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 25×33 cm. If your dough is still extremely sticky (as was mine), just use floured hands to flatten it into a rectangle and forget about the rolling pin altogether. Evenly spread over the apricot mix. Roll out 200 g marzipan to a same size rectangle and lay it on top (if you’re not a big marzipan fan, you can easily leave it out, your twist will still be very very tasty). Roll up the rectangle tightly like a swiss roll (or try to make it look like that even if the dough is too sticky to roll). Now cut lengthways along the roll, leaving 1 end joined. Twist 2 lengths together, then shape into a ring on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Set aside to rise for 1 hr.

Heat the oven to 180 C and bake the twist for 30 min until risen and dark golden. Towards the end of the baking time, gently warm 50 g apricot jam (in a small pan or in the microwave). Brush the freshly baked loaf with the warm jam to glaze it, then set aside to cool (you can omit this step if you don’t have any jam – I did have jam but just forgot it, and it tasted great anyway). Once cool, mix 150 g icing sugar with enough water to make a runny icing and drizzle the twist heavily with the runny icing. Great for a boxing day brunch or just for any Sunday of the year really. Enjoy!

Simply delicious: almond praline cake

Almond praline cakeThis is a real show stopper and it’s absolutely delicious too! If you’re not baking for a crowd, you can easily half the recipe as well. And if you’re planning on making this more than once, I have some time saving tips along the way. This is not your everyday cake, as it does take some time to make it, but it’s totally worth it! And there is a lot of licking the pot along the way, so there are some cook’s perks too! I found it in Rachel Allen‘s Bake, a book full of delicious recipes.

The recipe consists of 3 parts: making the praline, baking the cake and making the praline buttercream icing.

Part 1: make the praline (you can easily do this a day or more in advance)
Place 150 g caster sugar in a non-stick pan and set over a high heat until the sugar turns a caramel colour. Do not stir, but you may carefully swirl the pan to allow the sugar to caramalise evenly (a bit daunted? Check out this video on how to make caramel). Scatter 150 g unskinned almonds over the top and swirl the pan again to coat the nuts. Pour the mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. When the praline is cool and hard, place in a food processor and whiz to a gritty powder. Alternatively, place the praline in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.

Step 2: bake the cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter and flour a 20 cm diameter cake tin (the recipe suggests 2 tins, so you can bake 2 cakes, which you each slice in half to add a layer of buttercream. Being lazy, I stick to one tin and slice the cake in 2 or 3 depending on how well it has risen).
Mix 225 g softened butter  with 225 g caster sugar until fluffy and soft. Add 4 eggs one by one, beating well between each addition. Gradually stir in 225 g self-raising flour (or use regular four and add 1 tsp baking powder). Add 6 tbsp of the crushed praline and mix lightly, adding 1 tbsp milk to moisten. Put in the prepared tin(s) and bake in the oven for 30 min (or 10-15 min longer if in 1 tin), or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.

Step 3: make the buttercream icing
You can do this when the cake is in the oven, or you can make it upfront too. If you’re only making half a cake, you can still make all the icing and freeze half for next time. This is quite a big batch of icing anyway, so I usually freeze half and only use half to assemble my cake.
In a saucepan, bring 125 ml water and 350 g caster sugar to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up high and let the syrup boil for 4-5 min to the ‘thread’ stage, when the last few drops that fall from the back of a metal spoon dipped into the syrup come off in one long, quite thick and syrupy thread.
While the sugar is boiling, beat 7 egg yolks (you don’t need the egg whites, but you can freeze them for later use. just defrost and you can use them again) for 1 min, then very gradually add the hot syrup. Continue beating until all the syrup is added and the mixture has cooled. The consistency should be stiff, mousse-like and able to hold a figure of eight pattern made by the beater (this should take about 10-15 min).
Place 350 g softened butter in another bowl and beat until very soft. Continuing to beat, gradually add the mousse, a spoonful at a time. Then stir in 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 12 tbsp of the crushed praline.

If you still feel your arm after all that beating (or if you have a food mixer that does the work for you) you are now ready to assemble (if not, take a break, wrap the cake in foil so it doesn’t dry out and come back tomorrow). To assemble, slice each cake in half horizontally (or if you made 1 cake and it has risen well, slice it in 3. If you only made half of the recipe, you can cut the cake in half vertically and your cake in the shape of half a circle). Spread the inside of each cake sparingly with butter icing and and sandwich together, stacking each layer above the other as evenly as possible. Ice the top and sides with the remaining icing. Sprinkle the remaining crushed praline all over, including the sides. Serve while loudly saying “ta-da!”, after all that work, you deserve all the oohs and aahs. Enjoy!

My all time favourite: bavarois

BavaroisMy mom stopped asking what I want to eat on my birthday as the answer has been the same for ages: bavarois! I totally love this and after a dinner party with this dessert, my boyfriend regularly catches me with my head in the fridge the day after, secretly getting some extra bites. If I’m not careful, I’ll eat the whole lot! I checked for the English name, but apart from “bavarian cream” I didn’t find anything else, so I’m sticking to Bavarois on this one. It’s basically cream, eggs, sugar and milk so only the good stuff! You need to make it a day ahead, but you can easily make it more than 1 day  ahead, it will happily sit in your fridge for over a week, that is if nobody secretly eats it in the mean time!

Here’s how to do it: soak 16 g of gelatin leaves in cold water for later use. Mix 250 g caster sugar with 6 egg yolks until they are pale and creamy (you don’t need the egg whites for this recipe, but you don’t need to throw them away: make some meringues on the spot, or just freeze them for later. You can simply defrost them afterwards and use as needed, for example to make macaroons). You can do this in a big cooking pot as it will need to go on the hob later. In the mean time, bring 1/2 liter milk to the boil. Gently add the boiling milk in small amounts to the egg mix while mixing constantly. Now put this mix on the hob until it thickens. You don’t want it to boil, so keep an eye on it. As soon as it starts to increase in volume, you know it’s almost boiling and you can take it of the hob. Now add the gelatin leaves one by one (squeeze all the water out of them first) and stir them into the mix.

Cool the mix by putting the pot in a sink filled with cold water (au bain marie). Leave it to cool for at least half an hour. Stir it every now and then to avoid it stiffening too much. If it’s getting too stiff already, just take it out of the water and get on with the next step. If on the contrary it’s still very runny after more then half an hour, don’t panic: it will turn out just as great!

Next up is the cream: beat 1/2 liter double cream until it’s stiff. You don’t want it to be too stiff, that will make it difficult to add it to the egg mix, stop when you can see the traces of your mixer and it already thickened considerably. Add 1 tbsp icing sugar to the cream and mix again. Now add the cream to the egg mix, stirring until it’s all incorporated. Poor the mix into a mould that you lightly greased with some oil (this makes it easier to get it out again), preferably not a metal mould (don’t ask me why, my mom’s recipe just mentions this, I’m sure it’s granny wisdom that thus cannot be ignored).

Put it in the fridge overnight (or longer) until it’s firm. A good way to test it, is to poor whatever bit of mix you have left in a small bowl so you have a “testing bowl”, every good cook needs to try everything before serving! When you’re ready to serve, turn it out onto a plate and hope for the best! The easiest way to loosen it is by hitting the side of your mould on the kitchen counter (you might want to put a towel in between not to alarm your guests with the noise) and work your way round so it comes loose from the sides. As soon as you get some air in it, it will loosen all the way round. Then turn it upside down on the serving plate, hit a few more times and peak a bit to see if it did the trick!

Serve with raspberry coulis (shop bought will do just fine, you’ll find it in the fridge or in the freezer) and some fresh raspberries for that extra wow factor. Obviously, strawberries or other berries will work just s well. Enjoy!

Deliciously crumbly: yo-yos with passion fruit cream

Melting moments or yo-yo'sThis is another recipe from my New-Zealand cookbook A second helping by Alexa Johnston. I ate a lot of these (also called Melting Moments) when we were on holidays in New-Zealand and absolutely fell in love with them. My favourite variety were the once containing passion fruit in the filling, so when I found the recipe from Australian chef Bill Granger, I just had to give it a go by mix and matching the recipes and this is the result! They last very long in the tin too (if like me, a flu is preventing you from eating them all at once. Can’t really think of any other reason you could have for keeping them).

First, preheat your oven to 160 C and line two baking trays with baking paper. Cream 170 g soft butter (if it comes straight from the fridge, just put it in the microwave for no more then 25 seconds) until it is light and fluffy, then mix in 55 g icing sugar, 170 g self-raising flour (or use regular flour and add 1 tsp baking powder as well) and 55 g custard powder (I used the powder to make vanilla pudding. If you don’t have this, you can use cornflour instead).

Take  a small teaspoon of dough and put it on the baking sheet. Continue until all the dough is used up. Don’t bother counting them: if you have an even number, great for you, if not, that’s the cookie you can eat to make sure they’re all good! Now use a fork dipped in water to flatten them a little (this will add some lovely lines to your cookies too). Bake for 15-20 min until the biscuits are a very pale gold and slightly browned at the bottom. Leave to cool slightly on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack. Careful, they are very crumbly! Don’t worry too much if some break in half, you can stick them back together again using the passion fruit cream as glue.

While the biscuits are cooling, make the passion fruit cream beating 60 g soft butter until fluffy. Gradually add 125 g icing sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the juice of 2 passion fruits (push the flesh through a sieve you are left with only the juice). If you don’t like passion fruits, just use a tsp of vanilla extract instead, or go for a fresher taste with a good squeeze of lemon juice. Mix and match the cookies to find 2 of the same size and stick them together with a dollop of the passion fruit cream. Admire your work before storing in a cookie tin. Enjoy!