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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cinnamon Apple Macarons and failed Pina Colada Macarons (13th June)

        So when I am left with 12 egg whites from making Leche Flan, I thought it would be the perfect chance for me to try my hand at making macarons again. I've had my hand at making macarons before and it's quite a daunting task as it relies on so many elements turning  out right to give you the perfect macarons. I envy those who have mastered the art and turn out perfect batches every time. I however, have yet to master the art and even the thought of them turning out badly already sends shivers down my spine. If it were the same time last year I would have just been content with popping out and buying these but being able to make your own just gives such a sense of accomplishment.

        I love the apple cinnamon combination and Ryan loves anything coconut so I thought I would attempt to make cinnamon shells with an apple fruit filling and coconut shells with a pineapple Malibu/buttercream filling. For the apple filling I was going to just cook some apple and puree it and thicken with a bit of cornflour and for the coconut shells I was intending to flavour them with some coconut cream powder and for the pineapple filling I was thinking of trying to get some pineapple flavoured Malibu and mixing it through some buttercream.
        I couldn't find any coconut powder at home and Mum wasn't home to ask and I tried finding some up at the local shops and even Woolies but had no luck. All the local liquor shops also didn't sell the pineapple Malibu so I had to think of some Plan B's. I buy a bottle of coconut Malibu instead and ended up trying to put through some dessicated coconut through the processer with the almond meal and icing sugar but the coconut doesn't really break up as I had hoped.

        When I see that the coconut is still quite coarse I kind of had this feeling that it wouldn't work but I decided to ignore that feeling and thought I would be okay.

        I also have this feeling that I had overdone the egg whites as they were quite stiff.

        When I mix through the almond mixture I immediately have this sinking feeling that I had stuffed up. I could just tell that it was way too thick due to the egg whites being too stiff and was farely coarse because of the coconut.

        I thought I would take the risk anyway and piped out my macarons and hoped that they would turn out okay.

        The state of my kitchen bench after the first batch of macarons, and I hadn't even done the fillings yet. I thought I would wait until I see the state of my first batch of macaron shells before I start on the filling. I am usually not quite this messy of a worker.

        While I was working on my first batch of macarons I had finely diced up an apple and had it in the oven on a low heat to dry it out. I was hoping that this would add a bit of texture to the apple filling for my macarons - if they turned out.

        When peering into the oven it appeared that my biscuits had spread quite a bit and had feet of sorts but upon pulling out the trays I saw these hideous looking monsters. Erm they have feet?! I kept trying to cook them longer as they didn't seem to want to cook but the longer they were in there the darker they got. I ended up with these really soft gooey almond 'biscuits'.

        I still had 9 egg whites and not wanting to give up I thought I would give it another go. During my macaron google researching I came across a macaron recipe by the blog named tartlette which according to other websites/blogs seemed to be the fail safe one to use. But you really do have to understand all the processes and carry them out precisely, I used the same base recipe for my batch of coconut shells but as my small adaptions wern't really adapated properly I failed. This time I followed the base recipe precisely with the only difference being that I added a few teaspoons of cinnamon into the batter. The batter seemed pretty spot on when I piped it onto the sheets and they looked as they were suppose to.

        Anxiously watching the oven making sure that they 'pop' and have the frilly feet.

        I jump for joy at the sight of these! So far they look absolutely perfect *fingers crossed*.

        So I proceed to make my apple filling for the macarons. I have no real recipe for this except to cook by instinct. I dice some apples and cook them with a bit of brown sugar and a dash of water and lemon juice.

        Once the apples are cooked I put them through a blender and then transfer the puree to the pan and add some cornflour and cook it through until the puree thickens.

        My cinnamon macaron shells with feet ready to be filled and sandwiched together.

        Had to just taste test some while I assembled all the macarons. The perfect combination of flavours.

        Innards shot, Ryan absolutely loved them. One thing I discovered though is that there was too much moisture in the apple filling, perhaps I needed to store them in the fridge too, or only fill them before serving. I left the filled macarons in a container overnight and found that the filling had 'leaked' and completely saturated the shells and they just fell apart upon the slightest touch. I will have to rethink my filling for next time but am definately keen to do the same flavour combination again.

Cabramatta Eating Tour - A Different Perspective (19th June)

Freedom Plaza - Cabramatta (taken from cityofsydney.com)

        *I'd like to apologise to all my regular readers and fellow bloggers for my lack of presence around the place, have been caught up with other stuff and the family went up to Queensland over the weekend to be part of my cousin's wedding. Didn't realise that it would be so jam packed and that all my energy would be sucked out of me, didn't help that we were all running on minimal sleep and then had to do a 12 hour road trip back home. I've been going to bed early most nights since coming back and had to unpack and sort through and post up all my photos of the weekend.*

        It's funny how there are so many things we take for granted but when someone comes along with a different view on the same subject/item it also influences your original view point. Cabramatta has long been a place that I take for granted and overlooked and being surrounded by people who had never been there before made me see that place in a different light. It probably also has to do with my recent deeper appreciation for all things edible.
        Once upon a time Cabramatta to me, was just a suburb that was too far away to get to and was just 'that place my family dragged me too' every once in a while when I was a kid. I couldn't even remember the last time I had been there on my own accord. (Warning: the photos are not in line with my writing, I've placed them to break up the text a bit).

Tan Viet - Crispy Chicken with Tomato Rice, Best Crispy Skinned Chicken I've had ever.

        So Amy cookbookmaniac messaged me asking if I was interested to join some fellow food bloggers and friends/partners on an eating tour of Cabramatta one Saturday (John heneedsfood, Mr K, Betty bettysbites, Richard richardelliot, Maria scandifoodie, and Amy's partner Pizzaboy). 'Why not' I thought, it was also a good chance to meet some like minded people too. This would be my first 'food bloggers meet up'.
        At first I actually was a little hesitant and not all that excited, it was 'just Cabramatta', I went with a 'take it as it comes' attitude so I guess I probably didn't come across as excited as the others in the group. Ryan was pretty much in the same mindset as me, he also had to work the Friday nightshift so we were late in catching up with the group. Unfortunately I didn't take many photos (still too shy to do it in public) but John, Richard and Maria have some fantastic shots and reviews from the day on their blogs - different perspectives too.

        How do you spot a group of food bloggers? As Ryan and I walked down John street looking for the group but not really knowing what to look for there was a bunch of people huddled around in a circle sampling some food, Ryan spotted their cameras and pointed them out to me. Ahuh! I think I recognise some of these people from their profile photos.
        Introductions are done (though I could have done it better, I'm never really good at meeting new people) and we walk along John Street, stopping by a huge supermarket along the way. I was in absolute awe as I don't think I've ever been in an asian grocery that was so big, my aunty's shop would only be a quarter of the size. Spotted some matcha powder which I had to buy knowing that I had trouble sourcing it locally. This shop just stocked absolutely everything you could think of. It's made me realise that Marrickville is quite limited when it comes to the availability of asian food products but then I guess the asian/vietnamese population isn't as concentrated as it is out west.

Food Arcade

        Next we go get outselves some pho tasting (Pho Tau Bay), two bowls between 8 people, I wonder what the people thought of us. The pho was good, not as good as mum's but for store pho it was pretty tasty. The interesting part was sitting opposite to Maria and John who had never had pho before, well I think John had but it had been a while. For Ryan and I, pho was almost a staple with Mum always whipping it up in large pots at home. It was intriguing watching everyone eat and take in the experience.
        After pho, we go down an alley to another restaurant for some beef stew with egg noodles and some duck leg with egg noodles. Two very interesting dishes I hadn't experienced before. I'd like to go back for the beef stew with egg noodles. The beef was so tender and the intense flavours of the broth was intriguing. The alley way itself was the most suspect looking place, if it wern't for our hosts Amy and Betty, I'd probably never ever know it was there or even try to attempt walking down such a place.

Pandan Waffles

        After the alley way noodles we head back to the main street with the aim to try the best crispy skinned chicken in town. I absolutely LOVE crispy skinned chicken, always finding myself ordering it whenever eating out. It's something that mum actually doesn't cook at home as it's actually a tedious process to get the skin so crispy and she just doesn't have the time to do it.
        There was a line out of  Tan Viet but suprisingly it moves quite fast so we don't stand around waiting for too long. If it were just Ryan and I visiting we probably would have given up and moved on elsewhere, we don't like to wait too long for food. I don't know if everyone was lining up for the chicken, but after tasting I'd definately go back and line up just for the chicken. The skin was just ultra crispy but yet the meat was still very tender and moist. I find that many places have the crispy skin but the chicken ends up being quite dry which taints the whole experience.

Fried banana fritters

        I want some dessert now! - that's what my brain is thinking. We head back along John street and head down the busiest food filled arcade. "Are you sure?" I hear from somewhere behind me. There was a bit of reluctance to head down the arcade which I found puzzling as Ryan and I had actually walked up this arcade from the carpark. Then I remember all the pushing and squeezing through bodies that Ryan and I had to do to get through.
        Walking down this arcade with food bloggers would indeed be a hard task as there is food everywhere waiting to be looked at, touched, smelled, tasted and of course photographed. And then there's the hoard of people already filling the arcade left right and centre. We all walk down the arcade and when I turn back around I seem to have lost sight of some people already. Maria, Betty and Ryan didn't even make it down the arcade yet, they had stopped for pandan waffles, which I totally forgot about. Good on Ryan though for grabbing a couple, chomping down on one brought back a flood of childhood memories. Mum used to also make them at home but it had been such a long long time since I last had one. Pandan waffles arn't really waffles as they are more like a thin pancake or thick crepe but cooking them in a waffle iron changes the texture altogether, it would be quite different if you tried to cook it in a flat pan.

Banana Fritter Innard

        There is so much food to see and it makes me wish I didn't live so far away. We reach the end of the arcade and I am greeted by a big mound of freshly fried banana fritters, at $1 (or $1.50?) each how can I not grab a couple. I adore banana fritters, though whenever we make them at home it just doesn't seem the same. At the same place there were mountains of containers filled with assorted sweets and snacks going for a really great bargain, I think it was something like 3 for $5. They all looked so good but upon closer inspection most of them were easily accessible at home as mum makes them.
        There was one in particular though that caught my attention. It was a box of colourful strips coated in shredded coconut. This is a particular sweet that mum doesn't make often (as it's too time consuming). I don't really know what to call it but can describe it as being grated/ground casava mixed with glutinous rice flour and possibly some water or coconut milk and then steamed and cut into strips and tossed through dessicated coconut. I loved eating this growing up.

Vietnamese Sweets
 
        Next we walk along the back street adjacent to the car park stopping and looking at a few more grocers and a fish shop. Lot's of interesting fruits and vegetables that I don't usually see in Marrickville and the huge variety of seafood that was available was incredible. Unfortunately though it's getting later in the afternoon and I had promised Mum that I would come home and cook dinner (chilli crab with noodles) so we had to farewell the group.
        I really didn't want to leave but knew we had a long drive home and we were both already a little exhausted and overwhelmed in the short time we were there in Cabramatta. It's a shame we couldn't come earlier and stay later as reading back on Maria, John and Richard's blogs I felt that Ryan and I could have experienced a lot more of the side of Cabramatta we didn't know about. Plus we had just met a bunch of awesome people, which I am excited to see again this weekend when we do a walking eating tour of Newtown - another suburb which I take for granted living so close by.

Monday, July 19, 2010

White Jaffa Cupcakes - Putting my Planet Cake skills to use!

        After attending the Planet Cake Decorating Course and coming home with a bag of leftover fondant, I knew I had to at least try out some of what I'd learnt and use up the fondant before it spoilt and became rock hard. I thought I'd decorate some cupcakes this time as there was no real occasion for a large cake and I don't think I had enough fondant to recreate what I did in the class.

        I need to make my cupcakes in order to decorate them, I was originally going to make just a plain buttercake with white chocolate ganache but decided I should at least put in a little effort and make a nice cupcake while I was at it, aftter constantly going backwards and forwards flipping through my books I still hadn't decided on a cupcake flavour. Then I had an idea of just doing a chocolate jaffa cupcake, simple but yet interesting with a citrus kick.
        So I set about buying my cream and butter etc assuming I had plenty of chocolate melts at home. Upon inspecting the cupboards I barely had enough dark chocolate melts to even make a ganache let alone a batch of cupcakes. I had plenty of white chocolate melts though, enough for ganache AND cupcakes. At first I thought the chocolate jaffa idea was out the window, "what am I going to do with this orange?" I thought to myself, "Oooh white chocolate jaffa!".

        I used the white chocolate cake recipe from the Planet Cake book which I had used before, this time though with the addition of the juice of an orange and the zest. I found the cake to be a little dry last time so didn't alter the ingredients to accomodate the extra liquid. (I did possibly overbake last time as it was a HUGE cake).

        The recipe yields for approximately 48 small cupcakes (plus or minus a few) though the first lot that were baked were not quite as full so they didn't dome up as I imagined them too.

        My gorgeous little white chocolate and orange cupcakes or "White Chocolate Jaffa".

        I also made a matching ganache for the cupcakes using the zest and juice from the same orange, I actually made this first so that it would set while I made the cupcakes, once it was flavoured to my liking I used the rest of the orange for the cake batter.

The ganache has set ready for spreading/covering the cupcakes.

        There are two stages in getting the cupcake to a smooth finish. With the soft ganache I cover the cupcakes and get the surface as smooth as I can - at this stage it won't be perfectly smooth and flat yet. I let the cupcakes dry and set and then dipping my palate knife into hot water I run it over the cupcakes to smooth out all the little bumps and uneven surfaces. You can see the difference in the photo above. I still need practice doing this.

        It really is tiring work ganaching all the cupcakes, I cover about 2 dozen cupcakes and then soften the ganache in the microwave and just dip the rest of the cupcakes in for more of a 'glazing' effect.

        Here's a cupcake cut up for sampling, the cake is spongey and moist and the citrus comes through well but is not overpowering. I quite like the combination. The cupcakes are left overnight to set so that the ganache is hard and forms a protective cover for the cake.

        I've gone out and bought some tools to help me decorate my little babies. The fondant as I said is leftover from my Planet Cake course so didn't really have any option in colouring. There is more green than ivory which means that my cupcakes will have a green base and I use the ivory fondant for the 'decorations'.

        So I roll out my icing and use a round cutter to cut out the tops for my cupcakes. The cupcakes are brushed in an apricot syrup before they are covered with the icing. I use my smoother/buffer to press down the icing and smooth out the surface, not quite perfect as you can see. If the ganache underneath has any lumps or bumps it will show through the icing, as you can see my ganaching skills still need improving.

         I use two designs from the Planet Cake book, try and copy the one that I learnt in the class and the other designs are what I could do with the cutters I had. The first design is a dragon fly, I actually had a go at doing this while at the Taste of Sydney festival at the Planet Cake stand.

Pretty little dragonflies.

        The next one is a bow design, these are all the pieces needed to make it.

The two parts of the bow ready to be attached to the cupcake.

        I thought they looked a little odd, then realised I got the proportion all wrong, little cupcakes with oversized bows.

        This is pretty boring here, four leaf clover? I just used the heart cutter and cut out four hearts and attached them as shown. I have seen this done before though.

        Next I try and copy the 'exploding' design which I learnt. Being such a tiny cupcake I wasn't sure if it would work. This is step one, it's the contrasting colour which you want to be seen 'inside'.

Step two, looks a little rude here somehow =D.

        Step 3. I think I put too much syrup which has made the icing all sticky and wet which in turn made it hard to get the design right. The one far right I think was the best one.

My 'exploding' cupcake.

        Just playing around with fondant here, was hoping for a two toned spiral of some sort and this is what I got.

        My butterflies, I think it was a four petal flower cutter which I then cut in half and rolled a small long piece for the body.

Simplicity, just some flower cupcakes.

        So here's my tray of a dozen home made and decorated cupcakes. I spent about 2 hours in the kitchen (just decorating) which my mum thought was ridiculous. For a first go I think I didn't do too badly. Makes me appreciate the people who do it for a living though I really can't justify paying the price for one of these but for looks wise and if you want to impress they probably are worth it. I gave these decorated ones away to my cousin and my friend Di for their birthdays, perfect birthday presents don't you think?
        I also gave some to my other cousins. My uncle was impressed with them asking me if I was thinking of going into it professionally or something because everytime I send over a box of goodies I keep outdoing myself.. He said they looked really good and the cupcakes were fantastic and most importantly moist, the best work I've done so far. Now this uncle is probably my hugest critic ever (used to own a huge baking business too), so getting two thumbs up from him is pretty amazing. I don't think I will persue this type of cake decorating but you never know =).