Rasberry, rose and lychee macarons

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I’ve made macarons a few times, but always using French meringue. The results have mostly been good, with the problems mainly being me (pulling them out of the oven too early, not resting them before baking enough). The macarons were smooth, with-feet and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I had never made Italian meringue macarons and I am very pleased with the results. Some of the things I’ve read say that French meringue macarons are less reliable and more sensitive to things like humidity and overmixing. Italian meringue macarons on the other hand, are more  difficult to overmix and are generally used in professional kitchens as less can go wrong.

Although macarons are not my favourite thing to eat, of all those that I’ve tried, this rose, raspberry and lychee one is really good, the Ispahan by Pierre Hermé. This blog beautifully illustrates how to make and assemble it.

1. Make your filling, I used rose-flavoured mousseline, or you can use rose-flavoured buttercream. Leave in the fridge to firm up.

2. Make your macaron shells as per the recipe. You can add raspberry flavour if you wish. Colour them a light pink when the meringue has cooled down; a little goes long way.

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3. Assemble the macarons, as per the Travelling Foodie’s blog, with a lychee in the middle (sadly canned), fresh raspberries around, and a rose petal and raspberry on top.

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4. Decorate with a rose petal and raspberry.

Thanks Pierre Hermé!

Enjoy.

Tips:

– Make your macarons in advance as they freeze (unfilled) extremely well.

– You can make the mousseline filling in advance as well, it keeps in the fridge for a few days

– When making the Italian meringue – for macarons – pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites when they are at soft peak. You will get lumps and bumps in the macaron if you wait until stiff peaks.

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Kouign Amann

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This French cake/bread/something in between and indescribably (this spelling looks wrong!) delicious confection hails from Brittany, France and the name literally means “cake butter.” You may think you’re about to make puff pastry when you see the ingredients, but with the addition of yeast and lots of sugar folded between the layers, this is another beast altogether:  a cake that’s crunchy with buttery caramel on the outside and soft and doughnut-like on the inside. I’d never even heard of it until a few weeks ago, although it turns out it’s there is a recipe here. To quote David Lebovitz, whose recipe we used, “Is there anything more fabulous than something created through the wonder and miracle of caramelization?”

A friend who recently made their own European-style butter, kindly showed me how to make the Kouign Amann:

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Make the first dough and knead it. Leave to rise in a buttered bowl.

Once rested, roll out the dough:

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Then add butter and sugar to the middle third of the rectangle. Fold over the left and right thirds, and now sprinkle the surface facing you with more sugar and fold into thirds again. Chill for an hour or more in the fridge.

Roll out with more sugar and fold into thirds as before and refrigerate:

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Remove from the fridge and assemble in a baking pan, topping with yet more! sugar and melted butter:

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Bake for around 45 minutes until golden brown:

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Tips:

– Make sure you eat this the day they it’s made, and not too long after it has left the oven.

-It may be risky – considering the hot caramel – but I would advise removing the cake as soon as possible from the baking pan; as once the caramel starts to harden, it gets more difficult.

Lamb Tagine

Country of origin: Morocco

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I’ve been meaning to make a slow-cooked stew since last winter, so I’m biting the bullet and going for it now, despite the sweltering weather. As an ex-vegetarian, I’m still nervous about cooking meat and this is the first time I cooked lamb in my life. I’ve never been to Marrakesh, but I hope I’d been eating something fragrant and spiced like wonderfully comforting dish, with a plate of fluffy cous cous.

I adapted this Anthony-Worrall Thompson BBC recipe, which calls for lots of ingredients, most of which will be in your cupboards. The lamb is marinated overnight in a blend of dry spices which include paprika, turmeric and cinnamon, and the time really does make all the difference to the taste. The next day, you brown the meat in a pan, being careful not to overcrowd and bring the temperature down too much. .As with most stews, the next step is to sweat some onions, add garlic, toss in the meat and then you add most of the other ingredients. Dried fruit and pomegranate molasses add a delicious tangi-ness and flaked almonds give the tagine a lovely crunch. Once it’s come to a boil, you can put in a low oven for about 3 hours.

I served the tagine with cous cous, and a random addition of cauliflower steaks and cauliflower puree.

Recipe, serves two generously

Dry spice blend:

  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Ib shoulder of lamb, cut into small chunks
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250ml tomato juice
  • 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 4 dates, chopped
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 1/2 tsp saffron, soaked in cold water
  • 400ml/ 2 cups chicken stock

Garnish:

  • handful of chooped cilantro/corriander
  • handful of chopped parsley

Tips:

– If you’re using lamb shoulder, you can cook the tagine in a low oven for 2-3 hours which makes the meat so soft it’s almost melts into the sauce. If you’re using a more tender cut, like leg of lamb, reduce the overall cooking time.

– Don’t cook your instant cous cous until right before you are ready to serve!

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Fraisier/Framboisier

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Country of origin: France

I have been meaning to make these for a while and have finally assembled most of the equipment needed. You only really need a large sheet pan (for the sponge layers), a cake ring and some acetate, although even cling film/Saran wrap will do.

I would recommend doing these first steps two days before you want the cake:

1. Make the pastry cream, which you can lighten with whipped cream or butter (making it into mousseline). I used the pastry cream recipe in here, and I used double the recipe for a ten-inch diameter cake. Cover with cling film/Saran wrap and cool, then store in the fridge.

2. Make some simple syrup.

3. Make any chocolate decorations that need to harden and set.

4. Raspberry coulis topping (optional): make rapsberry coulis following the recipe in here, but don’t add the gelatin (do that just before you pour onto the cake.) If you don’t want to add the raspberry coulis just glaze the top layer of the cake with neutral glaze instead (which I did with the larger cake pictured below.)

The day before you want the cake:

5. Make the sponge layers, you can use a genoise sponge, regular sponge cake or a butter-less sponge recipe. I used this recipe (under Chocolate Joconde, and omitted the cocoa powder) and it makes enough for one half-sheet pan. Use a spatula to smooth the batter in the pan, to ensure you get even layers. However, do this quickly and with light hands: you don’t want to beat out all the air bubbles in the meringue.

6. While the sponge is baking, you can prepare and cut the fruit you plan to use. Traditionally this is strawberries cut in half or raspberries left whole, but I don’t see why you couldn’t try something else, mango perhaps?

7. Cake assembly:

Once the sponge is baked and cooled, remove from the pan and cut it to size using the cake rings. You want two layers for each ring. Cut on the outside of the ring, as you want a snug fit when the biscuit goes in the ring (no gaps please, otherwise the pastry cream will seep through!).

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On a tray or plate lined with parchment paper (check that this tray/plate fits in your fridge!), place the cake ring for cake assembly. Line the inside of the cake ring with acetate or cling film/Saran wrap. Then put the first layer of sponge in. Brush with simple syrup.

Align your fruit, equal distances apart in a circle, cut side out. Make sure you leave enough room at the top for another layer of sponge plus a bit more.

Put your pastry cream/mousseline in a piping bag and pipe the cream in between the strawberries. Then put a spiral of cream in middle and top with some chopped fruit.

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Using an offset spatula, smooth out until it’s flat and you can just see the tips of the strawberries upright strawberries.

Add the next layer of sponge and syrup it.

Now you’ll only have a little space left. Add a final layer of pastry cream. Smooth this completely with an large flat knife/ruler.

Put in the fridge to firm, you can leave it overnight, but at least a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours it’s time for the glaze/raspberrry coulis final layer or neutral glaze.

If you have neutral glaze, which you can buy here, heat it up as per instructions and glaze. Confidence is the key! Pour it on when it’s nice and liquid and using a flat knife spread it so it’s even. Again, back in the fridge to set.

Alternatively, you can pour on your raspberry coulis, with gelatin added.

Once the whole cake has sat in the fridge for a while, you can take the ring off carefully and peel off the acetate from the side of the cake.

Decorate as you wish and eat!

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Tips:

Don’t use skimmed milk if the recipe calls for whole, i tried and ended up with split and grainy pastry cream.

Aloo Paratha

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I’m still trying to shake up my breakfast routine, and as Sunday morning rolls around again, I’m going to try something new. Potato-stuffed paratha: cousin to the Indian roti, but a richer, more luxurious relative. Parotha are made of flour, some fat and hot water, the dough is rolled out and a filling may be added, then they are lightly fried. They can be left empty (delicious with scrambled eggs) or filled with any manner of things like mince, spicy sweetcorn, paneer or mashed potatoes.

There potato paratha were nicely spiced and tasty with a dollop of yoghurt. They are delicious for breakfast, but don’t let that stop you eating them any time of day!

Ingredients for the basic paratha:

200 g flour (I used 100g whole wheat and 100g all purpose flour)

Three tablespoons melted ghee/butter/oil

Pinch of salt

Potato filling ingredients:

One medium potato

A teaspoon of cumin powder

Half a teaspoon of salt, to taste

Fresh green chilli, to taste

A teaspoon of minced garlic

Half a teaspoon of ginger

First make the potato filling: boil the potato, as you would for mashed potato and when tender, mash up, with a dash of milk and add all the spices, ginger and garlic and salt to taste. Leave to cool.

For the paratha, put the flours in a heatproof bowl and add the fat (if using ghee or butter, melt it first). Mix with your hands or a spoon until combined.

Now add the hot water from a recently-boiled kettle (I used about 80 ml, or eight tablespoons) and carefully mix unti you have a smooth dough, knead for a few minutes.

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Divide into  six little balls, about the size of golf balls. Roll them out to about a four inch diameter, and spoon in some potato mixture, around a tablespoon should do it.

Now pinch around and make a pocket, like a money bag and squeeze this shut. Then turn it around, and gently! roll out again, being careful not to let the potato leak out. I didn’t have the nerve to roll them out too big, about five or six inches in diameter.

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Then, put a generous amount of neutral oil in a frying pan, for shallow frying, and cook the parotha for a couple of minutes on each side until they are golden brown and cooked through.

Aubergine with buttermilk dressing

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I got a lovely new book recently, Plenty, by Yottam Ottolenghi, which was published a few years ago. The first thing that had to made was this very pretty aubergine dish.

This would make a really quick starter with things like pita bread, hummous and falafal or as a main with something like pine nut rice and a big salad. You simply roast the aubergine and then top with buttermilk dressing (buttermilk, yoghurt, garlic and salt) za’atar and pomegranate. The result is soft, melting thyme-flavoured aubergine with a lovely soft tangy-ness from the buttermilk and za’atar and juicy sweetness from the pomegranate.

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Naan

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Buttery naan is always something I order when I go out, but why wait until then? I decided to make these and they are really not too much trouble at all. The proofing time is just 15 minutes! The one thing I would say is that a pizza stone is so handy, it quickly cooks the bottom of the naan and the top puff up and brown nicely.

I thought I’d try two different recipes, one with yeast, one with just baking powder. In the end, there wasn’t much between them, but the yeast one was slightly lighter in texture.

Of course, these plain ones can be embellished any way you like, onion seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, fresh corriander, just make sure you brush them with butter.

Spicy Breakfast Potatoes

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I’m stuck in a Sunday morning breakfast loop: some variation on pancakes (banana, blueberry, raspberry…), potato cakes with a poached egg or a frittata. It’s time to jazz things up a bit! So it’s still potatoes and eggs today, but with a twist.

Serves 2

One large or two small potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into small cubes

One teaspoon of mustard seeds

Two teaspoons of minced garlic

One teaspoon of minced ginger

Fresh green chilli to taste

Roasted and ground cumin and corriander seeds

Pinch of dried turmeric

Salt, to taste

Squeeze of lemon juice

Add some oil to a pan, and on a medium heat lightly fry the mustard seeds until they give off their lovely pungent aroma. Add the cubed potatoes and fry for a few moments, allowing them to get a little golden and crunchy. Add the ginger, garlic, green chilli, dried spices and salt, and lower the heat, cover the pan and let them cook in their steam until tender. Add a squeeze of lemon juice.

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Fry or poach an egg and serve on top of the potatoes, with chopped corriander and hot sauce, if desired. Alternatively, the potatoes are delicious with yoghurt.

Chicken Biriyani

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Spiced chicken in an onion-enriched tomato sauce on a bed of fluffy rice. Chicken biriyani – it has all the components of comfort food, but it’s a little bit special, with all those fragrant spices: cinnamon, saffron, cardamon and cloves. It certainly doesn’t have to be chicken,  you can use prawns, fish, vegetables, cubes of toasted paneer or lamb instead. The toppings also vary wildly, I’ve seen french fries, fried onions, toasted cashew nuts and boiled eggs cut in half. The chicken is cooked in an onion-based sauce and the rice is partially cooked separately. Then the two are layered together in a dish and cooked again in the oven for the flavours to meld and come together. It is a fairly long-winded process, but so worth it.

Ingredients

Chicken:

2 large onions/3 medium

2 sticks of cinnamon

4 cardamon pods

6 cloves

1 chicken, boned and cut into pieces

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 can of tomatoes, blitzed

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground corriander powder

1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric

powdered and fresh chilli, to taste

salt, to taste

Rice:

2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked for half an hour

Cucumber raita:

250g yoghurt

1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped

Salt and cumin powder to taste

Chicken:

Using a food processor, chop the onions until they are about the size of a kernel of sweetcorn. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a large pan and add the chopped onions, along with the cardamon, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Fry these on a low/medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, it’s a long time, but as they are cooking, you can get on with cooking the rice. Stir constantly, and you should end up with lovely caramelised onions that are almost dark brown.

Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic and all the spices, remembering to taste (and an optional step: blitz this whole mixture with a stick blender, if you want a smoother sauce). Then put the heat back on to low/medium and pop in the raw chicken. Cover and cook for about twenty minute-half an hour, or until the chicken is completely cooked through.

Rice:

Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large pan, on a medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes. Add the washed rice and fry (like you would for risotto) for five minutes, and then add water from a recently boiled kettle, until the rice is just covered. Once that water is almost evaporated, lower the heat, add more water from the kettle to just cover the rice, and cook covered on a low heat. Check every few minutes and add water if needed. The rice needs to be just undercooked (75% cooked through), as the whole dish will cook again the oven.

Once the rice is done, assemble the dish. In an oven-proof dish add a layer of rice, using a third of what you have. Then add a layer of chicken in sauce, more rice, chicken again and then rice. If using saffron, soak a few strands in water for a few minutes and then sprinkle over the dish. Also, if using toasted cashews and deep-fried onions, add now. Put in the oven (300 F/150 C) and cook for half an hour.

Serve with raita or plain yoghurt.

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Galette des Rois

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Country of origin: France

This delicious almondy King Cake is made to celebrate the Epiphany, and the Three Kings around January 6th every year.  Never having grown up with this tradition,  I think it’s a lovely post-Christmas luxury: puff pastry, almonds, pastry cream… The galette is traditionally circular and is a disc of puff pastry, filled with almond cream or frangipane (almond cream with pastry cream), sealed with another disc, egg-washed and then decorated by scoring with a knife.  A very useful blog post about making your own is Chocolate and Zucchini’s post on making your own Galette des Rois.

Attempt one was rather a disaster, as I was in rush – never a good idea when baking – and number two the ready-made puff pasty I bought had torn, so I made the silly decision to fold it over itself and roll it out again (I should have just kept rolling and patched up the rip I think). As a result, the pastry didn’t rise as much as it should have and it tore during baking. It still tasted good though, if a little rich – I had filled it with almond cream alone.

I thought I’d have another go on a lazy Sunday morning, and whilst I still haven’t managed to muster the courage to make my own puff pastry, I tried the galette again, with mixed results. I used this recipe, but diluted the almond filling with one batch of pastry cream from this book. The pastry still cracked in the oven, but the taste of the filling was much better. The frangipane filling was divine(!). By the second slice, I had to add  a handful of berries to cut through all that sweetness, which made me think of making a Galette des Rois with a fruit puree layer…for next year.

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Anyway, to be tried again, when my arteries have recovered from all the butter. I will get it round and it will not crack!

Tips:

-Once you’ve rolled your puff pastry out to the required thickness, let it rest for at least 15 minutes, covered, in the fridge, to avoid it shrinking in the oven

– Watch that egg wash, make sure it’s evenly spread and not pooling in places, as they may burn and stop even rising of the pastry

-Practice your design on a piece of paper, to ensure a steady hand