Mad about New Macaron Flavours

December 1st, 2011

               Jasmine and Olive Oil Vanilla Macs

With less than a month before I go back to work full-time (this was back in Oct, so this post is really late), it was time to get all the baking in that I could.

WL and C came over to bake macarons (what else?) from the PH book. WL wanted to make the jasmine and olive oil with vanilla flavoured ones. These are two flavours that I’d probably never have tried, but I was happy to give them a shot, especially since I knew that WL had been wanting to make the olive oil flavoured ones for a long time now.

               Olive Oil Vanilla Macarons

I was worried that the olive oil ganache would break since the recipe called for a large amount of olive oil to be emulsified into the ganache, but nothing really exciting happened. We did have to re-emulsify the ganache after we placed it into the fridge to cool to a pipeable consistency, but it wasn’t difficult.

The only thing I would have changed was the olive oil that we used. WL had brought a strong, flavourful oilve oil, which turned out to be more grassy than fruity, resulting in a ganache that tasted very strongly of olive oil with no vanilla flavour at all.

Interestingly, most people who tried the olive oil macarons actually LIKED them A LOT, despite the distinctly grassy flavour. I’ve since come across an Australian olive oil in the supermarket that sounds like a potential candidate based on the description on the bottle, but can’t bring myself to make this flavour again so soon.

               Jasmine and Olive Oil Vanilla Macs

The jasmine flavoured macarons were not particularly exciting. WL felt that compared to the one she had tried in Paris the macacrons we made weren’t as strongly flavoured and that the flavour would fade really quickly.

She also thought that the addition of a jasmine essence (which we didn’t have and is mentioned in the book, but not included in the recipe) would make a huge difference. I actually thought that the flavour wasn’t particularly weak and I could still make out the jasmine even after 2 days, although it was admittedly less obvious than on the day that we had made the macarons.

               Montebello Macarons

Still driven by the fact that it wouldn’t be long before I would literally have no time to bake, I flipped through the book for more non-chocolate flavors to try. I was immediately drawn to the vibrantly colored shells of the Montebello macarons, which is a flavor with pistachio ganache filling and a raspberry jelly center.

               Montebello Macarons

The batter for the Montebello was more fluid than the other macarons that I’d made from the book and I could make out a very faint salty aftertaste due to the amount of coloring I had to add to make the brightly colored shells. The flavor was otherwise fantastic. Who would have thought that pistachio and raspberries would make such a great combination? I was also pleasantly surprised that the small amount of pistachios I used could impart such great flavour. I’ll definitely be making these again.

               Hazelnut Praline Macarons

The other flavour I chose to make was the Pietra macarons. I didn’t have Piedmont hazelnuts (I don’t know if they are available here) and used regular supermarket ones.

The brittle was easy enough to make (ok, so I did end up with a small sugar burn, but mainly because I used too small a pot for the hazelnuts and sugar), but the crushing part wasn’t. The instructions in the book said to finely crush the hazelnut brittle, but didn’t say how. I did consider using a blender, but thought that the brittle would just turn into paste. I ended up putting the brittle in Ziploc bags and smashing them with a rolling pin. Not the best method, since the hard brittle made many small holes in the bags, leaving bits of caramelised hazelnut all over my kitchen counter.

Hazelnut Praline Macarons

The buttercream was pretty standard, only redeemed by the crunchy bits of praline. Sadly, the crunchiness didn’t last beyond 3 days in the fridge. I also felt that the overall flavour was pretty one dimensional unlike the Montebello ones. I’m unlikely to make these again, except maybe for someone who LOVES hazelnuts.

Mad about Plaisir Sucré Macarons

October 20th, 2011

              Plaisir Sucré Macarons

The PH Macaron book has finally been published in ENGLISH last month after years of speculation about when it’d actually hit the shelves. This gave me the push I needed to try another recipe from my French copy of the book.

When I told H that I’d finally be baking macarons again, he immediately said, “I only like the chocolate ones!” So I decided to go with the Plasir Sucré macaron. Okay, so he doesn’t really like milk chocolate, but hey, at least it’s chocolate and there’s coffee (which H loves) in the shells!

Plaisir Sucré Macarons

I honestly thought that this particular recipe would be fairly simple to follow. But the fillings turned out to be really annoying to make.

First up, the hazelnut praline centre. The recipe said to “pour” the mixture into a gratin dish and leave to set in the fridge/freezer, but there was nothing pourable about the chocolate-nut mass I ended up with. I had to press the mixture into the dish and when I tried to unmold it from the dish, it wouldn’t budge a millimetre. To make a long story short, I ended up with many broken bits of praline and a very messy, chocolatey counter top.

Next, the milk chocolate ganache. This took more than 3 hours in the freezer to take on a even remotely “scoop-able” consistency. It was close to midnight and I had no idea if the ganache would firm up further, so I added more melted milk chocolate and the ganache quickly thickened up to a pipeable consistency. I’d definitely recommend making the milk ganache a day ahead.

Plaisir Sucré Macarons

The shells still turned out crispier compared to my usual macaron recipe. I was a little surprised by this since I’d already reduced the baking time and baking temperature, given my previous experience with his Macaron au Chocolate Amer recipe.

The crispy shells meant that the 24 hour maturing and 2 hour thawing time recommended in the book could not be ignored. This is the one thing that I dislike about the PH macaron recipes. I mean, who wants to wait an entire day and then some more to sink their teeth into something that already took more than half a day to make?

Macaron

So were the macarons worth the wait? Absolutely! I prefer the Chocolat Amer ones, but these were wonderful too. I especially liked the crunch of the hazelnut praline centre and the distinct taste of the hazelnuts. I was slightly disappointed that the Gavottes on the shells weren’t crispy anymore, but I’d already expected that given the humidity and the thawing time.

If you’re looking to purchase the English version of the book, I’m afraid that it’s already entirely sold out on Amazon and being offered at ridiculously high prices by resellers. You probably have a much better chance tracking the book down at your local book store, which is exactly what I did.

I’m ending this post with photographs of some other things I’d baked in the past 6 months and didn’t have time to blog about. Fingers crossed that my next post will be much sooner!

Strawberry Cheesecake

              Strawberry Cheesecake

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

              Triple chocolate mousse cake

Roasted Bell Peppers Pizza with Sheep’s Milk Feta Cheese

              Homemade Pizza

Mad about Ashley’s 1st Birthday Cake

March 26th, 2011

              Actual Birthday Cake

Birthdays were always a big thing in my family when my siblings and I were kids. The thing I remember most fondly from each of our birthday parties were the cakes that my mum made for us with the 4 most memorable ones being:

1. Cake in the shape of a butterfly.

2. Figure 8 cake for my 8th birthday with M & Ms neatly arranged like mosiacs on top. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken my mum to place every one of those small candy covered chocolate pieces.

3. Figure 6/9 cake for my brother’s 9th birthday and my sister’s 6th birthday (their birthdays are 4 days apart). They shared one cake, which could be turned one way to become a figure 6 and another to become a figure 9.

4. Cake in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

Having all these fond memories of my own meant that when it came to Ashley’s 1st birthday cake, I couldn’t in all good conscience simply order one from the cake shop, even though she’d in all likelihood not remember a thing about this first birthday party, not to mention the cake.

          Cake Figurines

I had a hazy idea on what sort of cake I wanted to make: 2-tiers, fondant covered with some cutesy figurines for decor. Working full-time meant I had to prep for the cake way in advance, especially when the cake plan included elements that I didn’t have much experience with. I eventually decided on a safari-themed cake and since I’d not attempted a large tiered fondant cake before, I decided to make a trial one first.

I’d found the designs for the animal figurines while exploring Flickr for decorating ideas and emailed Vania for permission to use her completely adorable designs on Ashley’s cake. With her blessing, I went ahead and made the figurines over a span of 8 nights, each one taking about 2 hours each night after Ashley had fallen asleep. I started with the polymer clay versions and later made the gumpaste ones since I wasn’t sure if the polymer clay ones would be safe to put on a cake.

              Assembled Trial Cake

With tips and advice from friends and other helpful strangers on Flickr whom I emailed, the trial cake turned out all right for a first attempt, except for a minor blowout on the top tier (which I later found out was caused by moisture which had nowhere to escape) and a wrinkly and slightly lumpy bottom tier (which was due to the iced cake not being at room temp when I covered it with fondant, too thick a layer of buttercream and too thin a layer of fondant).

          Birthday Cake Collage

With the lessons learnt from the trial cake, the actual birthday cake turned out much better than I’d expected. The bottom tier still had some wrinkles, but I think that may have to do with the italian meringue buttercream not being able to withstand the heat that is our tropical weather, despite air-conditioning. Otherwise, I was really happy with the cake, especially the design of the lower tier, which was really a last minute change; I made the gumpaste flowers only 2 nights before the birthday party compared to 3 weeks ahead for the figurines.

Most importantly, Ashley seemed happy enough with the cake. She went straight for the colourful figurines and the gleeful look on her face as she held the monkey and tiger figurines in her hand made all the effort and late nights that went into the cake completely worthwhile. :)