Macaroon Making at L’Atelier Des Chefs

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This weekend, I treated myself to a Macaron (or Macaroon) making class at the formidable L’Atelier Des Chef in their Oxford Circus branch. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised upon arriving, to be welcomed into a warm and friendly atmosphere, with a view of one of their kitchens in the background and a wonderful array of kitchen implements and gadgets galore to the left of the entrance.

We were shown to a large wooden table where I met the rest of the group (10 of us in total) and given some fetching plastic aprons to put on. Then we were let loose in the kitchen, under expert guidance from the friendly (and very patient) chef. Between us, we made the shells and fillings for the following flavours:

  • Pink shells with a buttery salted caramel filling
  • Vanilla white shells with a creamy praline crème pâtissière filling
  • Orange shells with a zingy orange and lemon buttercream
  • Green shells with a lip-licking chocolate and mint ganache

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In groups of three or four, we blitzed, mixed and folded our way to near-perfect macaroons. Some were slightly flatter than others (due to over-mixing) some did not have the crunchy shell like some of the others (due to not drying out as much) but overall we had a fabulous batch of macaroons, to nibble on the train home. The best thing, was that we were able to learn from the chef, exactly what we were doing wrong and how to get it right next time. Just what I needed, as a complete Macaron novice!

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We had two fun-filled hours and we didn’t feel rushed or under pressure to fit in too much in the time available. The class was very well organised and I am already itching to do one of their other classes – maybe one of the Baking courses (home-made jam doughnuts anyone?).

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The Cake and Bake Show 2014

I totally forgot to tell you about my trip to The Cake and Bake Show in October last year. I must be losing my marbles! Hours of fun was had at Earls Court in London, ooohing and aaaahing over beautiful cakes, lovely lace fondant and Mary Berry on a Unicorn.

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There were cooking demos by the Neff ladies (well that’s what we called them) – they were ladies who used Neff ovens to make delectable dishes. They had the ovens that are used on The Great British Bake Off (you know the ones – with the sliding doors), and some other gadgets that got me very interested (love shopping for my kitchen).

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There were pretty stalls selling brownies, cakes, meringues, tarts and pastries.

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My favourite display was from the Meringue Girls – beautiful rows of multicoloured meringues.

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There were a lot of cakes on display, showing off new techniques like the fondant embossers (something I had never seen before).

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All in all, a grand day out. Looking forward to the next show already!

World’s Best Cakes – Chocolate Gianduja Torte

It’s not often that I crave cake. Usually I crave salt or chocolate, and indulge in a manic burst of crisp-scoffing or jump head-first into a box of Ferrero Rocher (my guilty pleasure). This weekend, I was determined to bake a cake. Of course, I needed to incorporate chocolate in there somewhere, seeing as I have literally piles and piles of bars lying around my house.

My husband often reminds me of this.

‘Honey, did you know you have five bars of ‘Madécasse’ on the dressing table?’…’Yes dear’.

‘Honey, did you mean to leave that bar of Duffy’s on top of the fish tank?’…’Yes dear’.

Having spent several hours pouring through my cake books, I came across a delectable recipe for Paul A Young’s Torta Gianduja in The World’s Best Cakes, by Roger Pizey . If you are wondering, Gianduja is a paste consisting of chocolate, hazelnuts and sugar and is pronounced ‘Gi-an-doo-ya’.

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Roger Pizey is a renowned Chef and has worked alongside Marco Pierre White, who wrote the forward for his fabulous book. Marco describes him as ‘One of the finest pastry chefs Britain has ever known’, and going by his recipes, I couldn’t agree more.

So, on to the business of cake-making. This is a large and very rich cake, which will comfortably feed twelve peckish people or eight piggy ones!

Paul A Young’s Torte Gianduja

Ingredients:

160g butter at room temperature

180g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids, Paul A Young uses Valrhona Guanaja, but I used Pacari Raw Organic 70%)

65ml hot water

60g cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp Frangelico or Amaretto (Frangelico is a hazelnut liquor, whilst Amaretto is an almond based liquor)

260g light muscovado sugar

4 eggs separated

150g ground hazelnuts

A pinch of well-crushed Maldon sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 2 ½/160oC/310oF and line an 8 inch (21cm) round cake tin.

Melt the butter with the chocolate in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, on a low heat, stirring constantly.

Pour the hot water into a bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder until there are no lumps. I found that the cocoa powder and water mixture became a sticky ball, instead of a paste, so I added a little more water to make it ‘whiskable’. Then add the vanilla and the liquor.

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Add the cocoa mixture to the chocolate and butter. Mix well to make a smooth batter.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar, until thick and light in colour. Now, as the recipe does not give you the size of egg required, I used medium eggs, and found the yolk/sugar mixture was slightly too thick to whisk. So I added a splash of water to the egg yolk mixture, to enable me to mix it properly.

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Then pour in the chocolate mixture and add the ground hazelnuts. Fold well until fully incorporated.

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In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt, until you have soft peaks.

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Gently fold in the egg whites with a large metal spoon.

Pour into the cake tin, and bake for 40-45 minutes. I found that the centre of my cake was very soft (which I didn’t mind as I like my cakes squidgy, but if you like yours cooked through, you can leave in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin.

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Serve on its own, with a cup of strong coffee or as suggested in the book, with a dollop of sweet mascarpone (mascarpone cheese mixed with icing sugar).

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Et Voila! My cake and sugar fix is fulfilled, and not a Ferrero Rocher wrapper in sight.

Wild Blackberry, Coconut and White Chocolate Blondies

This year, we have an awful lot of weeds in the garden. Luckily for me, some of them are blackberry plants, and in the past few days the canes have been bowing heavily, full of ripe and juicy, blackish-purple fruit.

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SONY DSCSo, what is a girl to do with so many wild blackberries? Well, a thumb through of the Flavour Thesaurus (without which, I am lost), told me that white chocolate is a great pairing and since I have a huge bag of it in the house, my mind was made up!

A quick Google search bought me several recipes for blackberries and white chocolate, including muffins, fools, parfaits and cheesecakes, but I had a hankering for cake or brownie. Something sweet and satisfying, something to give you a hug when you are down, and tastes great with a cup of Masala Chai.

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And so I bring to you, my recipe for…

 

Lightly Spiced, Wild Blackberry, Coconut and White Chocolate Blondies

(makes 9 big or 12 smaller blondie squares)

You will need:

113g Butter (melted in microwave)

165g Coconut Palm Sugar

2 Medium Eggs (beaten)

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

5 Cardamom Pods (seeds crushed finely in a pestle and mortar)

4 small sticks of cinnamon (crushed/ground into a fine powder)

96g Plain Flour

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1/4 teaspoon Salt

64g White Chocolate (chopped)

90g Wild Blackberries

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Then you need to do this:

  • Preheat your oven to 190C (160C for Fan assisted).
  • Grease and line an 8 inch square baking tin
  • Beat together the melted butter, beaten eggs and coconut palm sugar until smooth and lump-free
  • Add the vanilla extract, crushed cardamom seeds and cinnamon. Mix well.
  • Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir well.
  • Add the white chocolate, wild blackberries and coconut. Stir gently and combine fully into the mixture.

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  • Pour into tin and level with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25-35 minutes or so. The top should be golden brown and a wooden toothpick placed into the centre should come out relatively clean (a few sticky crumbs is fine).
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Then tip out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

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Or cut into squares whilst still lukewarm and enjoy with a cuppa.

The result? A satisfying and soft, fluffy blondie, with the occasional sharp and fruity tang of blackberry, alongside the mellow creaminess of coconut and white chocolate. A beautiful combination.

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Now, if you don’t have coconut palm sugar at home, don’t fret, you can use soft brown sugar instead. I happened to have some Biona Coconut Palm Sugar in the cupboard, and it reminds me of Jaggery, which is used a lot when making Indian desserts. Along with the cardamom and cinnamon, this addition contributes to the really unusual flavour of the blondie. Try it as a dessert after an Indian meal, maybe with some vanilla ice-cream. Yum!

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Also, if you want to add other ingredients or even take some away, then go for it! Just remember to balance out the recipe (i.e. remove some liquid (maybe use smaller eggs) if you decide to take out the coconut).

On to the chocolate, I used deZaan Obsession 30 white chocolate, bought from Keylink (who else!) This chocolate is not as sweet as some shop bought versions, so you may want to taste a few before you choose one to bake with. I have a sweet tooth and I really love this chocolate, even though I find most white chocolate is far too sweet for me.

Finally, as if this recipe wasn’t amazing enough, I realised when tidying up, that my flour was gluten free (Doves Farm – thank you!) and so was my baking powder. So in essence, I managed to make a gluten free recipe, without even trying. Result!

If you do decide to try this recipe, please let me know how you get on. I hope you love my blondies as much as I do.

Now, off to hide them from the husband!

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