Tag Archives: sweet tooth

Moreish Macaroons

KitchenAidcropAll this Bakeoff fever of late has inspired me to treat myself – well, with some birthday money – to a coveted KitchenAid food mixer in shiny candy apple red. Having taken delivery a few weeks ago, I’ve been so busy with work and with going up to London every Saturday for the past three weekends, that I simply haven’t had time to christen it! Until today, that is, when I finally put it through its paces with some luscious lemon macaroons.

I’ve given a recipe for coffee macaroons before, and Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in her Domestic Goddess book are another favourite of mine, but I hadn’t tried lemon ones. It was surprisingly hard to track down a recipe that appealed, i.e. didn’t use an inordinate amount of egg whites, or sound too fiddly, so I ended up adapting a number of recipes I came across online and adding my own previous macaroon-making experience – so far so good! A number of recipes used cream, mascarpone or buttercream to fill, but I wanted the zesty, tangy hit of pure lemon to offset the sweetness of the macaroons themselves, so opted for home-made lemon cheese. Here’s what I did:

Lemon Macaroons – makes 16-18

Lemon macaroons100g icing sugar

75g ground almonds

Finely grated rind 1 lemon

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

75g caster sugar

Home-made lemon cheese to fill

 Spritz a silicone macaroon mat with oil (if you have one! See the coffee macaroon recipe for details otherwise – I really do recommend them for perfectly even-sized macaroons!) or line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Place the icing sugar, ground almonds and lemon rind in a food processor and blitz to a fine dust.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (You can add a few drops of yellow food colouring at this point if you like, but I prefer my food to be natural, and am happy with beige macaroons!)
Gently fold in the icing sugar and almond mixture with a metal spoon, until well incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to an icing bag with a plain nozzle and pipe the mixture evenly into the macaroon tray or onto the baking parchment-lined trays. It should make about 32-36 small (say 4cm) circles.

Bang the sheets down a few times, to remove any air bubbles and peaks – that’s the theory anyway; I really struggle to make my macaroons completely flat without the little peak where you detach the piping stream – any tips gratefully received! It’s not really a problem, but completely smooth tops would be the ideal. Set aside for 30 minutes to dry out and form a skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C, then bake the macaroons for about 18-20 minutes until the surface is firm and the macaroons lift off the paper or tray when gently eased with a knife or by bending the silicone mat. Leave to cool on the baking tray.

When cool, fill with lemon cheese and serve.

If lemon macaroons don’t appeal, I also experimented with another variation on the theme for my birthday afternoon tea party back in the summer, making coffee and vanilla macaroons (using vanilla extract rather than coffee essence), but sandwiching them together with a rather scrumptious salted caramel filling instead of the usual chocolate ganache. The filling is from a recipe by Eric Lanlard in Sainsbury’s magazine. Try it and see!

Vanilla Macaroons with Salted Caramel Ganache

Birthday afternoon tea_crop4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the vanilla extract or paste until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 -28 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

Salted Caramel Ganache

175g salted butter

150g vanilla sugar

150ml double cream

Cut 25g of the butter into small cubes. Heat the sugar in a thick-based pan until it turns a dark caramel colour, stirring from time to time – it will happen! Remove from the heat and add the diced butter. Heat up the cream in a separate pan. Put the caramel back on the heat and gradually add the hot cream, bubbling for a few minutes – stir if lumps of caramel form and these should melt again. Allow to bubble for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. Whisk the remaining butter until pale and fluffy, then gradually whisk into the cooled, salted caramel.

This makes more than enough to sandwich both the coffee and the vanilla macaroons (i.e. a 4-egg white macaroon mixture in total) and still leave extra in the fridge to dip your finger in when passing…

Oh, and the KitchenAid, you might ask? It passed its first test with flying colours: simplicity itself to use, easy to dismantle and wash, and what a treat to be able to wander off to the other side of the kitchen whilst it’s doing its stuff!

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Rhubarb Raptures

Charged with the task of creating a gluten-free dessert for my guests this sunny spring weekend, and with the early rhubarb finally getting into gear down at the allotment, I decided to experiment with a rhubarb and orange cheesecake. Rhubarb and orange are already one of my favourite combinations for a roast rhubarb compote, so it was just one step further to imagine it as a delicious topping for a light cheesecake. The base couldn’t be the usual biscuit crumbs, of course, so I wondered about trying crushed amaretti biscuits for a change. Rhubarb and almonds are another flavour twosome made in heaven, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’m delighted to report that it went down a storm – and was even better the following day when the flavours had really married together, although the base wasn’t quite as crisp. Here’s how:

Rhubarb & Orange Amaretti Cheesecake

Rhubarb orange cheesecake

serves 10-12

250g bag of amaretti biscuits*

100g melted butter

500g mascarpone (2 standard tubs)

300ml double cream

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

100g caster sugar

700g rhubarb

4-6 tbsp light brown sugar

Juice and grated rind of two oranges

2 tbsp amaretto liqueur (optional)

Cut the rhubarb (unpeeled unless really thick and woody – shouldn’t be necessary with early-season produce) into 2” batons, halving the stems first if really chunky. Place in a shallow, rectangular baking dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar (to taste), orange rind and juice. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 160°C (Gas 4) until tender, but still whole, for about 30-40 minutes. Leave to cool, then add the amaretto liqueur if using.

Make the base by crushing the amaretti biscuits in a food processor (or in a large plastic bag with a rolling pin), then mix in the melted butter until thoroughly blended. Tip into a 23cm round springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with a circle of baking parchment. Chill in the fridge while preparing the filling.

Whip the mascarpone lightly in a large bowl with the caster sugar. Stir in the grated rind and juice of 1 orange. Whip the double cream separately until softly stiff, then fold into the mascarpone mix. Scrape the mascarpone/cream mixture onto the prepared base and chill the cheesecake in the fridge for at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, drain the rhubarb batons from the liquid (retain the liquid to serve separately in a jug) and arrange over the cheesecake, removed from the springform tin, as decoratively as you can.

Serve and enjoy!

The rhubarb compote is also delicious served on its own or as a sublime accompaniment to panna cotta. I love Nigel Slater’s slightly lighter recipe from Kitchen Diaries, also ideal for anyone avoiding wheat or gluten for whatever reason:

 Rosewater & Yoghurt Panna Cotta

300ml double cream

100ml milk

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1.5 sheets leaf gelatine

3-4 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

2 tsp rosewater

150 ml thick, creamy yoghurt

Put the double cream and milk into a small pan, the add the vanilla bean paste. Put the pan over a moderate heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes. The mixture will reduce a little during this time. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water until soft. Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the sifted icing sugar. When dissolved, add the drained gelatine and the rosewater. Fold in the yoghurt. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large jug, then pour into six lightly greased moulds placed on a tray – or use small espresso or tea cups if you can’t face turning them out afterwards! When cool, cover the whole tray with clingfilm and refrigerate until set – preferably overnight.

To serve, turn out – you may need to quickly dip the mould in boiling water or run a hot knife around them! Or place the cups on a pretty dessert plate if you’re not upturning, of course. Serve with the rhubarb and orange compote.

In season, I have also served this with a gooseberry and elderflower compote, cooked in the oven the same way as the rhubarb, but with a tablespoon of elderflower cordial rather than the amaretto. In this case, you could also add elderflower cordial to the panna cotta instead of rosewater.

Heavenly….

Sissinghurst hot garden spring 2015Hot garden at Sissinghurst in all its spring glory

*Note: true amaretti biscuits (or home-made macaroons) shouldn’t contain any wheat flour, but some of the mainstream brands may. I’ve just checked on the Doria Amaretti I usually use and surprise, surprise they do contain wheat flour. Fortunately my guests weren’t coeliac, but PLEASE check if it’s an issue for you.

Weekend treat: Rocky Road Flapjack

ImageMy student son is home for the weekend, back for a bit of rest and relaxation, respite from the hectic whirl of studying for finals and applying for jobs, and of course the opportunity for home cooking in a clean, warm house with Sky TV and a powerful shower. Not that he isn’t an excellent cook himself, but this weekend’s request menu featured steak – and that’s beyond the average student budget! Rhubarb crumble was also on the menu with the first of the season’s rhubarb – delicious!

Also on the list was something to take back to university next week to sustain him through the late nights at the essay coalface, and Rocky Road Flapjack was his chosen treat. This recipe was adapted from a Waitrose Kitchen magazine special on traybakes last summer, tweaked a little, and resoundingly approved all round. Try it and see!

White Chocolate Rocky Road Flapjack

300g butter

80g light muscovado sugar

150g golden syrup

450g porridge oats

100g unsalted peanuts

100g mini marshmallows

100g dried cranberries

100g white chocolate

Grease and line a deep 12” x 8” roasting tin with foil.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large pan over a low heat. Mix in the oats, then the peanuts, cranberries and marshmallows. Roughly chop the white chocolate and mix though last of all, when the mixture has cooled slightly. Transfer to the tin and bake at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool completely in the tin, then cut into at least 16 squares. Serve and eat with a cup of tea, convincing yourself that something so delicious and with all those healthy ingredients (fruit, nuts, oats…) MUST be good for you….

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be varied according to what you have in the store cupboard. I used dark chocolate this time, which was equally scrumptious, and cashew nuts work well instead of the peanuts, as would apricots or sour cherries/blueberries instead of the cranberries. A date and walnut or pecan version would be good too, although I haven’t tried that yet, I must admit. The original recipe replaced a third of the oats with jumbo oats, but I’ve never had those in, so haven’t attempted that either. It also drizzled the melted white chocolate on top of the cooked flapjack, but I have a horror of melting white chocolate, as it can all too easily go too far and form lumps, so I opted for the cheat’s solution! They did suggest placing the white chocolate in a freezer bag, sealing and putting the bag in a bowl of just-boiled water until melted, then snipping a corner of the bag and drizzling over, which sounds as though it should work – give it a go if you fancy a challenge…

However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

 Image

However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

The start of it all?

At last! Having knocked my perennial borders in the garden at home into shape last weekend, breathing in the deliciously sweetly-scented daphnes (Jacqueline Postill and aureomarginata) as I worked, I finally managed to make it down to the allotment to start my spring clear-up, the traditional start of my allotment year. I suppose it was really a case of cutting down dead foliage from last year: the autumn rains came upon us so fast and persisted so long that I just hadn’t had chance to take down my runner bean and pea supports or finish cutting things back. No matter, now is just as good. And in the case of asparagus and dahlias, I always feel leaving the spent stems in situ over the worst of the winter protects the precious crowns and tubers underneath. The weeds are shooting fast and furious, but the soil was surprisingly crumbly and workable in my raised beds, so weeding was easy and quite pleasurable – especially after weeks of not being able to get out in the garden at all…. The badger-ravaged sweetcorn stems finally came out today too, and all the woody material and pernicious perennial weeds like couch grass, buttercups and dandelions went straight up to the allotment bonfire heap for burning.

I cut back my autumn raspberry canes too (Autumn Bliss and Joan J), a job which should ideally have been done last month, but never happened – too many family birthdays and celebrations on the few sunny days! The early rhubarb is looking very promising, but I think I’ll wait another week before I try my first taste of the year.

My autumn-sown broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia – what else?) are looking good, but I filled in the few gaps there were with a spring-sown variety, De Monica, which extends the season a little, although I never find the later-sown ones do as well as the delicious November-sown crop.

My raised beds have been in situ for 6-7 years now and some of the boards are starting to rot. I definitely need to contact my local scaffolding company and see if I can arrange a delivery of more used boards before the growing season really begins in earnest. Other plotholders have also expressed an interest, so I’m hoping we can combine our orders and save on delivery.

My couple of hours down on the plot flew by – and I still had time for the inevitable and enjoyable chat with fellow allotmenteers: such a sociable pursuit! I had to leave time to walk the dogs before darkness descended, though, so I downed tools, tired but very content, at 5 o’clock and returned home with a highly satisfactory haul of leeks, parsnips, purple-sprouting broccoli and a bunch of daffodils just starting to show their golden yellow.

Time for a cup of tea and a well-deserved piece of tiffin, I think.

Tiffin

1 8oz pack Nice biscuits

4oz butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

2oz sultanas

1 tbsp golden syrup

4oz dark chocolate

Melt all ingredients apart from the biscuits and chocolate in a saucepan. Crush the biscuits finely in a polythene bag with a rolling pin and stir into the mixture. Spread into a shallow, 7” square tin (lined with foil for ease) and chill in fridge for a couple of hours. Melt chocolate in a bowl in the microwave at a gentle heat (I do it in short bursts as it burns very easily!). Spread on top of the tiffin and leave to set, then cut into 16 squares. Perfect with a cup of tea after a good day’s work in the garden!

Tiffin

Sticky Toffee Heaven

Sticky Toffee Pudding

AND STILL THE STORMS, the wet and the wind of this dreadful winter rage on… Flooding over a huge part of the country, no chance of getting out in the garden, dogs returning mud-bespattered from every walk – definitely time for some comfort food!

My son was back from university this weekend with his American girlfriend and they put in a request for his all-time favourite winter pudding: Sticky Toffee. It certainly hits the spot on these dank, sunless days, all the better for being served with some homemade ice-cream – honeycomb or amaretto are two of my favourites. Well, it WAS his birthday, so what could I do but rise to the challenge?

I believe my Sticky Toffee Pudding is the original Sharrow Bay recipe from the famous Lake District hotel of the same name. My version is now recorded on a very scruffy magazine cutting in my well-worn recipe scrapbook, but it has certainly stood the test of time!

Tempted? Here’s how:

6oz stoneless dates, finely chopped (I snip them with scissors)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2oz unsalted butter

6oz caster sugar (or Muscovado sugar works well for a more treacly result)

2 medium eggs, beaten

6oz self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

Toffee sauce:

7oz light Muscovado sugar

4oz butter

Small pot double cream (1/4 pt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

7” square cake tin, greased and lined

Pour ½ pt water over the chopped dates in a small pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add bicarbonate of soda and set aside for 10 mins to cool.

Set oven to 180˚C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in eggs. Carefully fold in the flour, then the date and water mixture and vanilla extract. The mixture will look very loose and sloppy at this stage: this is quite right! Do not be tempted to add anything else to thicken it up!

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until springy to the touch and dark-golden in colour.

While it’s cooking, prepare the sauce: mix all ingredients together in a pan over a gentle heat until they come to the boil, then simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until toffee-coloured.

When the pudding is cooked, drizzle a little of the sauce over the top and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

To serve, cool slightly, then cut into generous squares and serve with the hot sauce.

Leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave: you may find you need to add more cream in this case to keep a runny consistency. The sauce is also delicious with ice-cream and/or profiteroles!

AS FOR THE ICE-CREAM, good vanilla is always acceptable but I like to make a very simple honeycomb ice-cream (no  ice-cream maker required!) or an amaretto ice-cream which I do make in an ice-cream maker, but you could always part-freeze and re-whip in the time-honoured manner.

The Honeycomb is simplicity itself: place 5 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup in a pan and cook over a low heat until the sugar melts, then boil quickly until it turns a mid-gold caramel colour. Remove from the heat and quickly sift 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda over it – it will froth up dramatically, so stir gently to combine any loose powder, then pour onto a greased baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile whip 1 pint of whipping cream with a large tin of condensed milk (not the light version) until quite stiff. Fold in the honeycomb pieces and place in a freezer container. Freeze overnight until set: enjoy!

And last but not least, the Amaretto for a more sophisticated treat: make a syrup by dissolving 4 oz granulated sugar in 4 tbsp water in a small pan and cooking for 5 mins until syrupy. Allow to cool completely. Whip 1 pt whipping cream with the cold syrup and 3 tbsp amaretto liqueur until it thickens and begins to hold its shape. Pour into an ice-cream maker (mine is a basic Magimix Glacier model where you have to freeze the bottom bowl in the freezer overnight beforehand: simple but effective – and not very expensive to buy if you make a lot of ice cream (or have made the mistake of making your own and are unable to revert back to the shop-bought stuff like me!). It should take about 30-40 minutes to churn, then turn into a freezer container and stir in about 12 crushed amaretti biscuits – or more according to taste! Freeze overnight and serve as desired. The alcohol content keeps this one relatively soft, but you may need to get it out of the freezer 10 mins or so before serving for ultimate unctuousness.

There: probably most of your sugar quota for the month, but worth every mouthful. And just what’s needed whilst we wait for the first shoots of spring….

Springing spring