Friday, 31 August 2012

Macarons #2

It is pretty ridiculous how a successful batch of Macarons can lift my mood!
No wonder there are entire blogs just dedicated to pursuing the perfection of these things.

So, needless to say I've been " macarooning" again...

My husband took our children off to the farm for the afternoon and evening.
The first thing I did was get a pedicure. Haven't had one of those in over 4 years! How have I been coping?!
I came home to a very quiet house. Very. And didn't really know what to do with myself. So I landed up in the kitchen, of course!

I've had some egg whites aging in the fridge for a few days now. Just waiting for an opportunity like today: this was the first time I've made Macarons with NO interruptions. It should be part of the list of requirements in the recipe! It obviously helps.

Really, it does: Macarons are all about ingredients, technique and timing. Okay, all baking is ; )
But it is especially so with these tricky treats.
You can't let your whipped meringue sit for too long before mixing in the almonds/ icing sugar. And then, while folding it into the meringue, don't get distracted and over-mix it! Then, you can't let the mixed batter sit for too long before piping it out. And don't over-handle the piping bag, either...

I think you've probably just got to accept that your first few (dozen!) batches will be failures. I hope they aren't, but if they are - don't be discouraged. It's a learning curve. Take heart, as long as you are learning : )

So look at the results and try figure out what needs to change for the next batch. Here are 2 links to troubleshooting tips that I found helpful: and

Here is the recipe that is working for me. ("Macaron Confusion").

Once you've made them a few times you get the feel for the batter, and can recognize the "ribbon" stage when it's sufficiently mixed and ready for piping.

Another factor is oven temperature - if I'd known how important that variable was, I might not have attempted Macarons with my dodgy, dodgy oven (the one that blasts out 240'C heat when dialed to 180'C). And oven temp. is what I've concentrated on the last couple of batches.

I now place the Macarons into an oven that has been pre-heated to 175'C, immediately turn it down to 150'C, then after about 10 minutes crack open the door; and then leaving it slightly open, check on the mac's every 30-60sec thereafter. That's how quickly they can brown!
And just before the browning starts, take them out the oven. (Undercooked macaron shells will crack and collapse.)

Nothing complicated ; )

I plan to fill these shells with white chocolate ganache, but for now they are going into the freezer. (They are also destined for the Paris-themed Grandparents day.)

Now that those are out if they way, I can't wait for my little distractions to come home tomorrow. Children really help you appreciate things in life - even if somedays it's just the quiet and calm once they've gone to bed!

Happy baking!


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Quilted Cookie Tutorial

Another dry, hot 'Berg wind today - great cookie decorating weather (except for the soot blowing up from the valley, after all the winter fires).
So I did a whole lot of cookies for my son's school Grandparents Day - Paris Theme.  The event is only in two weeks time, but I don't know how long this dry weather will hold, and I just don't feel like trying to do this with wet, soggy royal icing...

 ...they were done with rubber stamps, and gel food colouring for ink. So simple.
So now I'm going to be on the look-out for interesting rubber stamps. I love having an excuse to visit Scrapbooking shops! I always have to remind myself that the embellishments they sell aren't edible. though!!

At the same time I did a couple of quilted cookies, and I thought I should share the technique with you.

Before I start - mine really are not the prettiest quilted cookies you will ever see! I don't have a steady enough hand, and as much as I like Ateco nozzles, the size 1 just isn't fine enough.

Anyway, here goes...

Start with a cookie ; )

Outline with 15-20sec icing (see Royal Icing notes here)

Cross-hatch with the same icing

Fill in alternate squares with the same icing

And now leave it to dry

Once dry, fill in the other squares

(bad photo, because it was now nighttime)

And once those squares are also dry, finish off with dots at the line junctions.  

That's all! 

Happy decorating.  


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Humidity and Royal Icing

I'm feeling quite nervous about the approach of Spring...
Until a few years ago I loved misty, rainy weather (books, DVD's and hot chocolate...bliss); but that was BC (before children), and also before cookies!
Royal icing and humidity just are not happy companions.

Last week it felt as if we were living in a cloud - mist billowed in through open doorways and windows, and everything was damp and soggy...including my biscuits! Sob!
I started doubting myself - bad cookie dough? oil in the royal icing? But it was really just the weather.

Let me show you:

Ladybird cookie iced in 100% humidity

See how dull the icing is? The dots were meant to be raised, but even after 30 minutes the base layer hadn't dried and the black dots still sunk into the yellow.  There is no "textural" interest to the cookie, just flat and d-u-l-l!

This one I did on Saturday  - hot, hot, hot day and a wonderful dry 'Berg wind (or rather gale) blowing

The outline dried within minutes, so it stayed well defined; and the spots were nicely raised on the flooded background without having to wait a day for that to dry.  
And it is beautifully glossy.  

This butterfly was drying so quickly that it was hardly wet-on-wet technique. By the time I finished, the  second layer details weren't flowing in at all.   

And small details like eyes and noses (do caterpillars have noses? or eyebrows??) stayed beautifully 

So what to do in high humidity? 
You can try:
Put your cookies in an airconditioned room and use a de-humidifier if you have one.  
Use a fan to blow air across their surface (I tried that, but it was just circulating damp air...) 
Use a heat-lamp. 
Bake cupcakes instead. 
Move to the Kalahari.  

I might seriously consider the last option come Spring rains.

Happy baking, while it lasts!


Friday, 24 August 2012

Strawberries & Cream Cupcakes

The mist finally lifted, just in time for a cookie class - royal icing just does not dry in 100% humidity : ( 
and we had a lovely sunny nearly-Spring day for our "Bugs and Butterflies" class.  
And tea today was in the Spring mood, too: Strawberries & Cream Cupcakes. Yum!

Strawberry cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking power
120g butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar 
1 egg
2 egg whites 
1/4 cup cream (whipping cream / heavy cream *)
80ml strawberry puree (just whizz the whole strawberries in your food processor, or mash finely)  
a pinch of salt

* this is cream that has a fat content of approx 35%, so if you look at the nutritional information, it will have 35g total fat per 100ml 

Preheat oven to 180'C.  

In a bowl, sift together baking powder, flour and salt. 
In the bowl of your mixer cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  
Add the eggs and egg whites - scrape down the sides of the mixer - and mix well.  
Add half the flour to the egg/butter/sugar mix.  Combine gently. 
Add in the strawberry puree and cream, mix.
Add in the second half of the flour.  Mix until just combined.  

Spoon out batter into 12 cupcake cases in a muffin baking tray. 

Bake at 180'C for 20-25 minutes - until a skewer comes out clean.  


Whipped Strawberry Cream 

250ml whipping cream 
2 TBS caster sugar
80ml chilled strawberry puree or strawberry jam  (consider omitting the sugar if you use jam, depending on your taste) 

In a cold mixing bowl whip together the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Then add the strawberry puree. Whip until stiff - but don't turn it into strawberry butter ; )

Ice the cool cupcakes with this delicious, light (as in weight - not fat content!!) only slightly sweet frosting.  

Finish with a dollop of puree or a whole strawberry as garnish. 

Simply, perfectly strawberry : )


Monday, 20 August 2012

Dark Chocolate Carrot Cake

This is just a quick entry - for Julie-Anne, a fellow baking mom : )
 Go visit her on Facebook at thecupcakemomza.

This dark chocolate carrot cake is just sublime!
It is a deliciously moist chocolate cake, with subtle undertones of orange. You are hardly aware of the presence of the carrots - if only in your conscience, where they re-assure you that what you're eating must be good for you... surely ; )

The original recipe is from the book From My Oven, by Fay Lewis (Struik): great recipes and lovely photographs!

185g butter, at room temp
10ml grated orange rind
160g caster sugar
2 jumbo eggs
15ml golden syrup
375ml finely grated carrots (I use the food processor)
200g self-raising flour
2.5ml bicarb
75ml cocoa powder
200ml milk

Preheat oven to 175'C
Grease a 21x11cm Bundt tin. (I usually use a rose shaped silicone cake mould....but it can be tricky with such a moist cake...)

In a mixer, cream together the butter caster sugar and orange rind.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the syrup.

Add the carrots and milk; then sift in the flour, cocoa and bicarb. Mix gently until combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, and leave to cool before turning out from the tin.

The original recipe calls for  Cream Cheese icing, but really all this cake needs is a drizzle of something....cream ... melted chocolate... white chocolate.
...Or a great big dollop of Vanilla ice-cream.
In fact, it is actually a perfect "desert" cake - it would also be delicious hot from the oven, with any of the above toppings.

...drizzled with white chocolate...



Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hedgehog Cupcake Topper Tutorial

Following on from the previous post about working with modeling paste and tylose (here), I though I should go through a photo tutorial of how to make a cute cupcake topper.

I chose to do a hedgehog with you because a) they are just so very cute! and b) when I was looking on-line a while ago for ideas on how to model a hedgehog, I couldn't find any.
So, this is the way I came up with - I'm sure there are others ; )

What you will need:

-a ball of dark brown modeling paste or chocolate marshmallow fondant (approx large marble size)
-a ball of lighter brown modeling paste, with a small marble sized portion put aside
-tylose glue and brush for applying
-modeling tools: bone tool, and the one that makes a smiley face* or a small piping nozzle
-a knife or palette knife
-small fondant roller
-a pair of sharp pointed scissors

  *I have no idea what this is called!! And if you don't have one, the edge of a small icing nozzle does the job just as well.

Begin with the light brown paste. Roll it into a fat sausage with a point, and with the one finger flatten out the pointed end. 

Mark off where you will put the eyes

From the small ball of light paste that you put aside, roll out 4 balls for feet (NB leave some paste for ears).  

Make them into tear-drop shapes

Tuck them under the body of the hedegehog - use a little glue; and indent the paws with a palette knife

Take a small piece of the dark brown paste / choc MMF and make your hedgehog a nose - attach with a dab of tylose glue. 
Give him/her a smile ("smiley" tool, or edge of icing nozzle) 

Now it's time to work with the dark brown fondant ...start with a ball

Roll it into an oval 

Measure it on your hedgehog, and cut off the excess (doesn't he look all naked and a little pathetic in the background there? Shame - lets dress him, quick!) 

Lay  this over the back of the hedgehog (attach with tylose glue)

Then, take the scissors, and with the flat of the blades parallel to the table, use just the tips to cut small V's into the hedgehog's coat.

Continue doing this until the whole coat is done

Now take the rest of the light brown paste, and roll it into two small balls

Indent with the bone tool

pinch them out on the one side

Leave them to dry for a few minutes, so that they don't distort when attaching them.  Then glue them in place.  

Optional extras:
You can either paint the eyes in with gel colour, or just use black sprinkles if you have them  

 Add a bit of blush to the cheeks and nose  

and a small tylose flower next to an ear...

All done. Sweet and simple  : )

Happy creating!


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Tylose: Powder, Paste, Glue

Whenever a "crafty" project comes up, my first though is...Can I do it with sugarpaste??

The most recent task was an Olympic Torch for my son's Olympics Day at school. I had to go with paper for that one... lots of glue, staples, and sticky-tape... really not my natural element!

But give me a task to make something out of fondant or modeling paste, and I can't wait to get my hands dirty, literally: most days my hands and nails are tinted various shades of gel-colour.

Tylose (or CMC) comes in the form of a powder, which you can then make up into a paste, or mix into fondant (fondant is commonly referred to as "plastic" icing in South Africa).
You can even make an edible glue out of it.

Because you can roll tylose / CMC paste out really thin, it is great for making flowers, butterflies and all sorts of other delicate edible decorations. You can colour the paste with gel-colours or powdered colours, or paint it once it has dried.

You can also model figures out of it. I prefer to model things out of a mix of tylose and fondant **, though - it doesn't dry out as quickly, so it is easier to mould and shape. And it also doesn't dry rock hard the way pure tylose paste does. So if a child does try to take a bite out of the fairy or teddy bear (which 90% of the time they do!) they're not going to be cracking any teeth : )

**Editors note: Update - My favourite modelling medium now is a modelling chocolate / fondant blend, which I also add tylose paste too, depending on the project. 

Tylose paste:

1 egg white (large egg)
Approx 2 cups sifted icing sugar
2 level tsp tylose powder (from baking supply stores)
Holsum (white veg fat - find it by the butter and margarine in the supermarket)

In a small bowl, break up the egg white with a fork.
Add 1 cup sifted icing sugar.
Mix well. The consistency will be runny.
Sprinkle the tylose on top of this, add 1/2 cup icing sugar. Mix well with a fork. Slowly add more icing sugar until the paste is too stiff to mix with the fork
Turn onto a surface sprinkled with icing sugar.
Rub some Holsum onto your hands, and knead the paste until non-sticky, adding icing sugar as you knead to...I mean need to ; )
Knead it until smooth.
Divide it into 2 balls and store in small plastic bags, or cling-wrap. Then store these bags in an air-tight container.

Tylose paste dries quickly when exposed to air, so make sure to keep it wrapped. If it does develop a crusty edge, just cut that away - you can still work with the un-crusted paste.

When you roll the paste out, first smear a little Holsum on your work surface.

You can roll it out very thinly - especially if you're doing petals or butterflies. (You should be able to see printed writing through it.)
Use egg boxes, folded card, foil - whatever- to dry your cut-out pieces into the shape you desire. I use plastic containers that the mini-eggs come in at Easter to dry my flowers in little cup-shapes.

Store your decorations in cardboard boxes, not airtight plastic containers.

To model figures, simply add a small amount of tylose powder to your fondant; add more if the fondant isn't firm enough to maintain it's shape. Don't overdo it - it will become unworkable. About 1/2tsp for a tennis-ball sized volume of Fondant should do it, or 5mls tylose powder to 250g fondant if you like to be more exact ; )
Or you can make modeling paste by mixing the fondant with tylose paste in equal proportions.

 I do both, but adding powder directly to the fondant is what I use most.

To make tylose glue, simply add just less than 1/ 2 tsp tylose powder to 250ml (1 cup) boiling water.
The powder looks like it's clumping. It is! - but leave it overnight, and it will all dissolve.
Store it in a lidded container. Discard when it is no longer clear. 

Happy creating!


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Macaron Confusion

  I don't know if I should be writing this. In fact, I probably shouldn't be writing this...What do I know about macarons? Not nearly enough, it appears.

At the end of my last blog,  I blithely mentioned that I was going to use up some extra egg whites by making macarons. How naive!

I'd never made them before, and sure - I'd read that they were tricky, but honestly - how difficult could they be. Well....
I have been at the point of weeping with frustration.  And the info out there can be pretty confusing to a novice-macaroner:
Age the egg whites...don't age the egg whites
Beat the whites until stiff and dry ... don't overbeat the egg whites until stiff and dry...
Pipe them close together, they don't expand... don't pipe them close together, they expand...
Let the macarons rest for an hour before baking... don't let them rest for longer than 40minutes...
Don't overmix... but don't undermix the batter....
Bake for 20minutes... bake for 10minutes...

And then the obsessive-compulsive nature of the process - weigh the egg whites; time how long you beat the egg whites for, at each speed; double sift the almond meal and icing sugar;  replace the large granules of ground almonds you discard - by the gram; use a stainless steel bowl, or best a copper one; count the number of times you fold the batter... oh, come on!!

The first recipe that I looked at was in one of my favourite recipe books - Australian Women's Weekly: Cupcakes, Cheesecakes, Cookies.  But then I did some internet research on technique, and that got my brain into a complete fog. The recipes are all quite similar, the techniques vary slightly but have a lot in common. But I think you have to follow a recipe with its technique to the letter.

In the end, the recipe which has worked best for me is the Women's Weekly one - I should have just gone with it in the first place.

So, this is it, and the technique I used to get a decent batch of macaron shells...

French Macarons

3 egg whites (about 100g), at room temp. - which I'd aged for 3 days (2 days should do) .
2 tbs caster sugar
200g icing sugar
125g ground almonds/ almond meal/ almond flour (it's all the same thing.)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Gel colour

Prepare baking trays with parchment - I used silicone paper.
NB - Use un-warped baking trays.

Put the almond meal and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse until all well mixed and finely ground.  Sift into a bowl. Discard the large granules which don't pass through the sieve. (Only replace this amount if you discard a lot of the almonds).

Whisk the egg whites at low speed with an electric beater until frothy, then add the cream of tartar.
Continue to beat at medium speed until soft peaks are starting to form, then add the caster sugar slowly down the side of the bowl.

Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.  Add gel colour; beat until colour incorporated.

Sift (so this is the second sifting) the almond meal / icing sugar mix into the meringue in two batches  - folding in between.

Gently fold until the batter is loosened and falls in lava-like ribbons from the spatula.

Transfer to an icing bag with the tip cut off / fitted with a large plain round icing nozzle (not more than 1cm diameter).

Pipe small dots of batter beneath the corners of the silicone paper, to keep it on place on the baking tray.

Pipe your macaron rounds - about 3-4cm diameter, about 2cm apart. Pull your piping tip to the side - this leaves a tiny tail, which will settle.  Bang the tray a good couple of wacks on the counter - really, you must! It gets rid of air bubbles. And all that pent-up frustration.
(If the little peaks don't settle, you have under-mixed the batter!)

Now, turn on your oven - 150'C
[New note: see Macarons 2]

Leave the macarons to stand for 30+minutes until they form a "skin" - ie. when touched with a clean, dry finger they aren't sticky.

Bake at 150'C for 12 - 15 minutes. Check in the final few minutes that they are not browning.

Leave to cool for 5minutes, then remove off the trays.
 If they are undercooked, they will stick to the paper...and collapse...but still taste pretty good.  If overcooked, they might brown.  Don't worry if they are a bit overcooked and dry.
Macarons are best after being filled and left for 24hrs - the filling rehydrates them a bit.  

If they are undercooked, they will collapse as the shells aren't hard enough to stand up.
 The shells can also crack because the oven is too hot, or a skin wasn't well-formed before baking, or because air bubbles weren't wacked out of the batter before baking, or because the meringue was underbeaten, or because the batter was undermixed... can you bear it??!!

If they have no feet (the little skirt that forms beneath the macaron), it could be because the batter was undermixed, or they rested too long, or the meringue was underbeaten, or the oven temp was too low... really, can you bear it?!

If they brown, it was because they cooked for too long: check every 45 sec (!) towards the end of the baking time.

 But here is a batch - exactly the same batter: the first lot are browned, but the perfect shape;  the second tray: cracked (oven temp too high? / not rested long enough?),  and no feet (oven temp too low?! rested too long?!).

Actually, I can't bear it!

But I can't stop now.

And really, I don't know if i should be writing this...

... and you really really shouldn't be reading this....!


Friday, 3 August 2012

Lemony Cupcakes

I really like cupcakes with hidden centers, don't you?
I like eating them, I like making them, and I really like seeing other people enjoy them.

There are various ways to get a hidden centre into a cupcake...okay, really only two...into the batter, or into the baked cupcake.
Which you choose depends on the cupcake, and on the fill.  Am I stating the obvious??

If you want to put the centre in before you bake the cupcakes, then you have to make sure that your batter is dense enough to hold the weight of the fill.
And if you are going to squeeeze a centre into a baked cupcake, then use cake that is airy enough to accommodate the extra volume.
Of course, to make room you can just cut a cone out of your cupcake and throw it away...or eat it... but, there is not much to say about that, except - use a sharp knife ; )

For these "Lemony Cupcakes" I used light and airy cupcakes, and force-fed them with some lemon curd.

The recipe for the cupcakes is here, you can also add some lemon zest to the batter, if you like.

Lemon Curd Recipe

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Zest of 3 lemons
30 ml lemon juice
115g butter, cut into cubes (about 16)

Use a glass or metal bowl that you can place on top of a pot of simmering water.
(NB the bottom of the bowl must not be in contact with the water).

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until smooth.
Add the lemon juice and zest. Mix well.
Place the bowl on top of the pot of gently simmering water.
Whisk until mixture starts to thicken. (10+ minutes....yawn!). It should "coat the back of a spoon".
Pour the mixture through a sieve into another bowl - to remove the zest.
Add the butter a cube at a time, allowing it to melt (mostly) before adding the next...I'm a bit of an impatient baker...

Store with a layer of cling-wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate. get the curd into the cake...This is what I do, but you can cut a cone out of your cupcake if you want to...
Put the lemon curd into a piping bag fitted with a long narrow piping tip, bury the tip into the cupcake - aim for the centre. And squeeze. Complicated, hey?! A little bit does erupt onto the surface of the cupcake, but that's just like a little extra zing hidden in the icing.

That's it.

For the icing for these - I used cream cheese icing cream cheese icing with grated lemon zest (yes, these are very lemony cupcakes!)
Ed's note: try these cupcakes with lemon swiss meringue buttercream - recipe here

The first time I made these because I needed to use up some egg yolks - exactly 5, in fact. But I liked them so much that I've made them again, and now I have to use up 5 egg whites. The perfect number for Swiss Meringue Buttercream .... Or macarons....

And I'm thinking, bye-bye Switzerland, France here we come....wish me luck ; )

Happy baking.