Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's a macaron-athon! (Oct - Nov 2010)

        No, not really. This post is really just to give you a recap of the macaron flavour combo's I made since my last batch of pink white chocolate macarons - my very first paid baking gig. (And also act as a diary entry of the flavours I've tried out). I've been getting cravings for macarons lately but am yet to satisfy my craving. Last time I ate a macaron was probably a month and a half ago, and I wasn't entirely satisfied with my purchase - overpriced and a little on the tough cookie side =( and overly sweet! I think I am going to prep some egg whites to whip up a batch this weekend, possibly.
        I can't say that I've perfected the art of macarons yet either but what I have managed to produce is good enough by my standard for home made macarons. As long as I get my feet that's all that matters. (As mentioned in one of my previous macaron blog posts, I refer to the macaron recipe using the french meringue method via tartlette, with a few minor adaptions e.g I use ground almonds or almond meal in place of grinding my own, replacing a teaspoon or two of icing sugar for my spice/flavouring).

        The last two batches of macarons I baked before these were for other people so we never really got to enjoy my hard work which instigated Ryan to request that I make a batch for us to eat. After a little brainstorming of flavour combinations we came up with the idea of chilli macarons with milk chocolate ganache. I may have been slightly heavy handed with the chilli powder and the ganache was a bit on the runny side though. Not everyone took to the flavour combination with some people finding them too strangely spicey. Ryan and I absolutely loved them.
        Macarons are generally only flavoured in their filling and not the shell but I am determined to make macarons containing flavours both in the shell and filling. This makes me resort to sourcing powdered flavourings or ground spices that I can use which are dry and will not effect the consistency of the batter, seeing as the only method I know how to do at the moment is the french meringue method as opposed to the italian meringue method.

        My next two batches I made were for my cousin's birthday as a present to her (low and behold her friends also show up with boxes of macarons from Lindt). My two macaron flavours here were Cinnamon & Salted Caramel and Cardamom & Rosewater Ganache. I used the salted caramel recipe from Baroque Bistro's Salted Caramel macarons, posted on Not Quite Nigella. Wasn't quite sure what I did wrong but my caramel ended up splitting on me.
        The other flavour combination I thought that might be good to try was Cardamom & Rosewater, looking to middle eastern flavours for inspiraton. I just added some rosewater and pink colouring to some white chocolate ganache, again my ganache was a little on the runny side. Thumbs up for both flavours all around but I think the Cinnamon & Salted Caramel was the winner.

        Matcha & Rosewater macarons. I had a packet of matcha (green tea powder) which I picked up on my tour of Cabramatta and have been meaning to use it in some kind of dessert and though matcha macarons would be nice. I also do like the combination of green tea and florals (e.g green tea with jasmin) and seeing as I still had heaps of rosewater ganache from the last batch I thought I would use it with my matcha macarons. The rosewater ganache was quite overpowering and sweet and masked the flavour of the matcha. Ryan was right, I should have used a buttercream with the rosewater instead of the white chocolate ganache. They were still good, maybe more matcha next time even.

        I always make things in two so together with the Matcha & Rosewater macarons, I also made a Star Anise & Pandan Mung Bean combination. This flavour combination takes inspiration from Mum's vietnamese cooking. I was remembering back to a sticky rice dish where mum would add star anise to pandan flavoured sticky rice and then press it into a mould with layers of mung bean paste in between. She also adds sesame seeds to the top of this sticky rice dish but I thought that might be a bit too much.
        So my take on it was star anise flavoured shells with a buttercream flavoured with green coloured pandan extract and crushed split mung bean mixed through for a bit of extra texture and flavour. This was by far the favourite of the two and something I might look at recreating in another dessert.
        So it's been since November since I've made macarons. This craving is making me want to get back into the kitchen and whip up some egg whites. I'm also eager to incorporate some Manuka Honey into my desserts seeing as Ryan and I came back from New Zealand with a 1 kg jar of the stuff, Honey Chai macarons perhaps? Possibilities are endless! Stay tuned for some more mac-ventures in my kitchen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Broken Glass/Shattered Glass Jelly - Green & Gold for Australia Day

        I know this is probably a little late if you wanted to make something for Australia Day on Wednesday but I thought I'd share my idea with you anyway. But I'm sure if you are super organised you would be able to throw it together =)

        It's been years since I've eaten Aeroplane Jelly even though my sister occasionally makes it at home. I've never actually tried making anything with it so when I was contacted by Rachel from Beyond the Square Communication if I wanted to receive a gift pack of green (lime) and gold (lemon) Aeroplane Jelly for Australia day, how could I resist? (That's my can of condensed milk by the way).
        I initially had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with 12 packets of jelly but as soon as I mentioned it to Ryan straight away he said 'Broken Glass'. 'What the heck is broken glass?' I ask him, to which he doesn't really offer much of an explanation. When I mentioned it to one of the other PA's at work she also mentioned this broken glass and even sent me a recipe one of the guys in her department had put together.
        The recipe I was given was a little obscure to follow so I decided to do a bit of googling to see what the concept of Broken Glass (or Shattered Glass) was. I'd actually seen it done before but it just never crossed my mind that this is what broken glass jelly was. I decided that I would make my own version of it.

Recipe: Broken Glass Jelly
6 x 85gr packets of Aeroplane Jelly (or any other brand of Jelly/Jello), 3 of each colour, 2 of each colour etc.
Boiling Water
Cold Water
2 cans condensed milk
1 cup pineapple juice (I only had about 1/2 cup left in the fridge)
Gelatine powder
Malibu or coconut rum (optional)

        First make your jelly. For every one packet of jelly, mix with half a cup of boiling water and then half a cup of cold water (so if using 2 of the same colour, 1 cup hot and 1 cup cold). Leave in the fridge to set. Tip: use a shallow dish or container as this will allow the jelly to set faster. 

        One jelly is set, cut into cubes or simply scoop into small pieces for a more jagged look. Fill the bottom of a deep dish or pan with the broken jelly, mixing up the colours. I used a roasting pan and lined it with glad wrap, made it easier to take out too. I also only ended up using half of the jelly that I made, you can always eat the rest of it as it is.

        Put the condensed milk and pineapple juice into a jug and add about 1 cup of water (or a little less, should make 5 cups of liquid in total). Dissolve 2 1/2 tablespoons of gelatine in 1 cup of hot water then stir into the condensed milk mixture. Tip: I used the McKenzie's brand of gelatine and the instructions said 1 tablespoon to set 400ml of liquid, 2 1/2 tablespoons for 750ml was my approximation.

        Pour the condensed milk mixture over the broken jelly and refridgerate until set. Probably best left overnight depending on how deep your dish is, the shallower the quicker it will set.

        Once set, invert the jelly onto a tray. You can see that all the jelly has floated to the surface so you can invert it again for presentation.

        Cut into slices and serve. The broken jelly pieces look like bits of broken glass hence it's name. I found that my jelly as a whole was still quite wobbly, but I didn't quite give it that much time to set. It set a little bit more when I put it back in the fridge but I did imagine that it would be much firmer jelly. I actually quite like the texture that I ended up with though.

        I just used a spoon to break it up into pieces and served it in a martini glass. Splash on some Malibu over top and it's the perfect adult's treat! Creamy sweet condensed milk jelly with a hint of pineapple, intercepted by tangy bits of lime and lemon jelly, and then the coconut rum just ties it all together. It was so good, Ryan asked for a second helping =D

        A lovely tropical summery dessert, perfect to celebrate Australia Day, or just being Australian =).

        Drizzle some condensed milk over the leftover jelly and you have another dessert on hand - kid friendly too.

        Or serve the jelly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This is something Mum taught me growing up, jelly and vanilla ice cream, oh how I've missed you! Perfect for the kids and adults alike this summer.

Happy Australia Day!
        Despite all the negative things about this country, I really do call Australia home. I can't quite imagine myself living anywhere else. This is dedicated to all those who have suffered from the floods (both in Queensland and around the country) and all those people who have just opened their hearts and homes to strangers to help them out.
        It is so comforting hearing about all the great help my family is getting up there in Queensland, complete strangers, armed forces, just showing up to help those in need with no reservations or discriminations. Apparantly Channel Seven showed up to interview them and lend a helping hand (and I missed watching it because our family miscommunicated and told us it was Channel 9). It's tough for our family at the moment but they are getting through okay, posessions will eventually be replaced, some things may never get replaced, the main thing is that they're all okay and safe.
        If you havn't already done so please donate to the QLD disaster relief appeal to help out a fellow Australian, it's just heart breaking seeing people's homes completely torn apart. It's going to take a long long time for them to recover and get their lives back to some sort of normality. Take a moment to appreciate all that you are blessed with this Australia Day, and be thankful that you havn't lost your home and think about those that have.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Orange Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes - Christmas Baking Project #2

        So following my Ginger Bread House project is my contribution to the Sydney Food Bloggers Christmas Picnic. I knew I had to make something to take to the picnic, buying something just didn't quite cut it, especially when you are a food blogger.
   Things I had to consider were, serving temperature, ease of transportation and storage, storage temperature, appeal of the dish, and how comfortable and confident I would be making it. Should I try something new, or make something that I know will go down well?
   I ended up going with something sweet because my brain at the time couldn't think of any savoury dish that would be suitable eaten cold and made the night before.

        So after bouncing ideas of Ryan, he suggested that I make some cupcakes. The next challenge was to think of a flavour(s) that wasn't too boring for a bunch of food bloggers. Mum had brought home a huge box of very sweet juicey oranges so I thought I should try and incorporate them in. I also remembered that I had a packet of pistachios in the pantry and though the two flavours would work well, especially after my orange pistachio chocolate truffles. For a touch of interest I thought I would add some cardamom.

Orange Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes
• 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 250gr unsalted butter, softened
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• 2 oranges (to make 1 cup of juice)
• 1 cup pistachios, crushed
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3-4 teapoons ground cardamom
(I found that it didn't really come through so feel free to add more)

Cardamom Buttercream
• 250gr unsalted butter softened
• 3-4 cups icing sugar (confectioners)
• 3-4 teaspoons ground cardamom
• a few drops of green food colouring

For the cupcake, sift all your dry ingredients into a large bowl.

        Peel and segment the oranges and put them through a food processer (or juicer). All you really want here is the juice so strain the mixture. You can save a few segments and chop them up to stir through for some fruity bits (peel off the membrane!).
        My mistake was that I left everything as it was thinking I would get some 'texture' in the cupcake. I ended up with bits of crunchy membrane throughout my cupcake, hope no one noticed - if you did then I'm sorry!

        Beat the butter until it is light, pale and creamy. Beat in your egg, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly mix in the flour mixture and juice, a third at a time alternating between each.

        Stir in the crushed pistachios. I only partially pounded mine with a morter and pestel but that just ends up with inconsistent 'texture' in the cupcake. It would be better done in a food processer, if you don't have one just crush up the nuts a bit more than what I did.

        Put into patty pans and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celcius for about 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

        For the buttercream, beat the butter until light, pale and creamy and then gradually beat in the icing sugar until well incorporated. Add the cardamom and food colouring and mix until combined. I found that I had to keep adding more cardamom because I couldn't really taste. It's one of those spices that can be very overbearing if used in the wrong amounts. Keep tasting and adding as required.

        Pipe, or spread buttercream on to cooled cupcakes in whatever style you desire and viola! I decided to do something a little fancier than I usually do and piped 'flowers'. So these were a little bit more fancier than your regular vanilla cupcakes.

        Check out the awesome cupcake caddy/food carrier I scored for 20 bucks at The Reject Shop! Love it when I pick up bargains =D. It was a very very warm weekend so I stuck my cupcakes into the fridge. Beware that the icing does actually set (silly me ignored warnings that I read). I find that when you take them out the buttercream texture also does change a little (needs to be set to room temp and beaten again).
        Leaving them sitting exposed to the air also doesnt help because the buttercream started to crust up too. That's probably just me being pedantic though. They all didn't go at the picnic =( There was just absolutely so much food and so many sweet items too. I thought they were quite unique and interesting, in a good way! Ryan loved them =)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gingerbread House - Christmas Baking Project #1

***Extra belated Christmas post, better late than never though! Also, an update on my family's situation with the Queensland floods in this blog post.***

        Who knew building a house yourself was such hard work! And yes that is a cow in the front of my house. What better way to kick off the holiday baking season than to bake and construct my own gingerbread house. I don't recall seeing these around nowadays as much as I used to when I was growing up. Or maybe because as I grew up I paid less attention to them, until now that is. I have always wanted to make my own gingerbread house, even putting it down on a cooking/baking 'to do' list of sorts. Now I can tick another item off the list! Yay!

        Say hello to my new baby! Isn't she purtyy? She had been sitting in a box for a few months now, only being pulled out once to make a failed brioche recipe from Bourke Street Bakery. It's tricky sharing a kitchen and pantry with Mum while I still have the luxury of living at home. I don't have a permanent spot to put my baby at the moment. It was definately worth the spend though because I have given her a huge workout with everything I had been making for Christmas since this gingerbread house. Everything is just so much easier, and faster too!

        Recipe from the Taste website (I'd say follow the original quantity if it's your first time, I wanted a big house so did 1 and a half of the quantities given, double was actually too much for my mixer bowl)
• 250g butter, at room temperature
• 155g (3/4 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
• 80ml (1/3 cup) golden syrup
• 2 eggs
• 750g (5 cups) plain flour, sifted
• 1 1/2 tbs ground ginger
• 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1/4 tsp ground cloves
• 2 egg whites
• 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
• 420g (2 2/3 cups) pure icing sugar, sifted
• 200g dark chocolate melts

        Sift plain flour, ground ginger, bicarbonate of soda and ground cloves into a large bowl.

Beat together the butter, golden syrup and brown sugar until pale and creamy.

Gradually beat in the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Gradually stire in the flour, ginger, bicarb soda and cloves. Knead until smooth.

        To make things easier I divided my dough into as many balls as I had walls and roof pieces. Wrap the dough and chill in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes. I left mine overnight and found that the dough hardened quite a bit so had to quickly microwave each for about 20 seconds to soften up before rolling out.

        It does say to roll the dough out to 5mm thick however I think I end up rolling mine out much thinner which gives me some rather fragile pieces to work with once baked. I think in this case thicker is better. I made my own template for the house, however I should have also built a template house first just to gauge how massive it would be. Oh and pizza slicers make cutting straight lines so much easier.

This was suppose to be the front of my gingerbread house.

Leftover dough makes for gingerbread men!

        For the 'stained glass' windows I was suppose to use boiled lollies which I would have baked in the oven to melt and form the windows. I couldn't find any so made some toffee to pour into the windows instead, bad mistake because it sweats and leaks!

        For the 'frosting' beat the egg whites until foamy and then beat in the lemon juice and icing sugar. To glue the house together I actually melt the dark chocolate melts - this was a tip from the recipe and it worked a treat.

Decorate the walls as you wish, I've done such a dodgy job.

Roof slabs, full of freckles!

        I had to transform my back wall into the front wall because my front wall cracked on me.

        And the front wall becomes the back wall, see the dark chocolate where I tried to glue my house back together? You're also meant to trim the edges but I knew mine were just too fragile so thought I would just make do with my slighly uneven edges. I'd just fill in the gaps with chocolate =D.

        All canned products in the pantry come in handy when it comes to assembling the walls together.

The house crumbles on me again! Some dark chocolate will fix that up.

        And we have a standing gingerbread house! I use the extra frosting to make it look as if it had been snowing on my house. And to cover up any mistakes/accidents.

        A candy cane picket fence, a Christmas tree from the Reject Shop, and a few toy animal candy dispensers from Big W and my Christmas landscape is complete. I used some leftover fondant I had to 'glue' down all my decorations on the cake board. I had something else in mind when I started the project but this is what I ended up with. I was thinking an Aussie Christmas complete with a swimming pool in the backyard, unfortunately my scaling and proportions are a bit off.

        My back yard, look Santa is lurking around, the sheep aint happy. Tree is used to hide all the mistakes.

My awesome picket fence!

        Look I even have a little Peugeot in the driveway. I wrapped it up in cellophane and took it into work to put on display. Mum was a little upset I disappeared with it before she managed to have a proper look at the completed work because I was working on it late into the night. Everyone was blown away when they saw it, I was annoyed at all my little imperfections (things that I noticed but no one else seemed to have). I'm glad I tackled this project, wether I'd do it again this Christmas I'm not sure, maybe on a smaller scale.
        I came back to work after Christmas to find all my windows had disintegrated, one of the guys poked at it and a piece of the roof crumbled. Then someone snuck by and opened it up to eat the broken off piece, and it all went downhill from there. I eventually broke it apart and binned it - was a sad moment indeed. Until next Christmas I guess.