Monday 27 February 2012

Valentine's Chocolate Truffles

For Valentine's Day this year I took my boyfriend on a surprise chocolate making weekend! We went to the Chocolate Boutique Hotel in Bournemouth and took part in a chocolate truffle making workshop.
Gerry, who runs the hotel and the workshops, does corporate events as well as chocolate making sessions that are open to both people staying at the hotel and those who just want to come for the class. When we began the workshop, he had already tempered the chocolate - which was a bit of a shame as I would have liked to learn how to do that. However he did explain the process and also gave us a lot of interesting information on chocolate - everything to the origins of the cocoa bean to the different types of chocolate bar on the market.

If you read my previous post on making chocolate truffles, or you've made them yourself, you'll know it's a relatively straightforward process. You temper your chocolate and mix it with cream and it thickens right away. But while the actual recipe is quite easy, I still learnt several tricks and techniques I didn't know about. As you can see in the picture above, Gerry then put the chocolate truffle mixture into a disposable piping bag, and piped long thick chocolate logs (no jokes please!).

Below: a selection of coatings for the chocolate

Here are my chocolate logs
You cut each log into chunks an inch or so big, and then roll them quickly between the palms of your hands to make them into balls.

It's a pretty messy process!

Another trick I learnt was how to give the truffles a crisp chocolate outer shell. When I made truffles at home, I dipped them in melted chocolate, and left them to set. But they set with the excess chocolate that ran around the bottom, and I also had a lot of trouble getting them off the plate afterwards! Obviously I should have put them onto greaseproof paper to set, which we did this time. But the other trick I learnt was that rather than dip the truffles in chocolate, put on some disposable rubber gloves and dip your hands in melted chocolate. Pick up each truffle and roll it gently in your hands to coat with chocolate. You can leave them to set and repeat the process up to three times, although we only did it once as we didn't have enough time to wait for three coats to dry.

We coated some of them in chopped nuts, some in icing sugar and drizzled melted white chocolate over some of the others.

Here are our finished truffles

We then packaged them nicely, and each had four bags to take home. I managed to give three of them away and not eat them all myself!

I really liked the Chocolate Hotel. It wasn't cheap - even a night there without the truffle workshop costs more than a lot of other hotels in the area, but the hotel has a unique selling point. Every room is chocolate themed, there is a chocolate fountain on reception, chocolate cocktails in the bar and it's generally a chocaholic's paradise! We really enjoyed our stay there and our truffle making workshop. And I thought I'd share a few of the other little things we had in our room as part of the Valentine's package:
chocolate heart on the bed (about a foot big)

chocolate fountain in our room

and a chocolate pancake for breakfast! Happy Valentine's Day.

I am entering my chocolate truffles in Tea Time Treats, hosted this month by Kate from What Kate Baked, as the theme for February is "romance". And what's more romantic than chocolate truffles handmade on a romantic Valentine's weekend away?

Thursday 23 February 2012

L is for...Limoncello macarons

I wanted to try making macarons again after recently taking a class at Caroline's Tea and Scones and came across a recipe for some using a lemon liqueur, so decided they would fit the Alphabakes theme for February as well. I had a feeling they wouldn't turn out as well as the macarons I made in the class, but I was hopeful!

The recipe was from a book called "Biscuits and macaroons" from Marks & Spencer. It was a different recipe to the one Caroline gave us in her class, but as I wanted to add the limoncello I decided to follow this one from the book.

3 egg whites
55g caster sugar
yellow food colouring
200g icing sugar
120g ground almonds
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
60ml single cream
150g white chocolate
4 tsp limoncello lemon liqueur

The recipe didn't say to age the egg whites, but following Caroline's advice in the class I took, I cracked them the day before. So to begin, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Add the sugar
Add a few drops of yellow food colouring and beat
Add the ground almonds and icing sugar
This is my silicon macaron mat that I bought over the internet. It is flat and the circle shapes are only slightly raised, so it is as if you are piping onto a baking sheet but with a guide and a slight edge that will help keep the macarons the same size and shape. It's also easy to remove the macarons afterwards as the mat is flexible so you simply peel it off.
I'm not sure why this picture came out sideways as I did try to rotate it. Here's a trick I learnt from Caroline, and I can't believe I never knew about it before! When you're filling a piping bag - I always use disposable ones these days - stand it in a glass (this is a pint glass) and fold the excess bag down over the top. You can fill the bag without needing to hold it or get messy, and when you're done, simply fold the rest of the bag up and remove from the glass.
Piping onto my macaron mat - it really does work! It's important to leave the macarons to stand for at least half an hour, so they form a slight skin on the top. Meanwhile preheat oven to 150 C. Bake for 20 mins.
Unfortunately the macarons spread a little and became attached to each other, though they were fairly easy to separate from each other....
... unfortunately, they weren't so easy to get off the macaron mat in one piece! Some of them were a bit stuck on and left half of the macaron behind when I took them off. I don't know if they weren't quite cooked enough, or if I should have greased the macaron mat, or if I was just too heavy-handed when I took the first few off, as they came off fine after that. So I only had about half as many macarons as I'd expected - at least the ones I did have looked OK if not perfect!
For the filling, I used a bottle of Limoncello I had bought back from Italy and not opened yet. I'd never tried this lemon liqueur before - it's really sweet but has quite a kick!
Bring the cream to the boil, take off the heat and stir in the white chocolate. Add the liqueur and allow to cool until it is thick enough to spread on the macarons.

The finished product
When I made the macarons in Caroline's class, they had shiny, glossy tops. Mine were a lot more matt, and also they tasted more grainy as if you could taste the ground almonds inside. I don't know whether to put that down to the fact that I used a different recipe or not - next time I will try Caroline's own recipe and see how they turn out.
The macarons tasted more of white chocolate than of lemon in my opinion - next time I would try to adjust the recipe so the lemon flavour comes through more. The filling  was also runnier than I would have liked - it set when it was in the fridge and it was easy enough to fill the macarons, but when they had been out at room temperature for just a couple of hours, the filling went quite runny and started to seep out the sides of the macaron. It wasn't too bad, but I didn't think I could give these away as gifts like I did with the chocolate macarons I made in class.

Overall I wasn't too disappointed with my attempt at macarons, even though they were quite different to the ones I made in Caroline's class. I think next time I will have to try to recreate her recipe and see if I have any more success!

I am entering these into February's Alphabakes challenge - the letter L - hosted by me and Ros from TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker.

I'm also updating this to send to Baking with Spirit, hosted by Janine at Cake of the Week, as her ingredient this month is Limoncello.

It also happens this month that the Classic French challenge is macarons so this recipe fits the bill for that too (and I'm not going to attempt to make macarons again in a hurry!).  The challenge is hosted by A Kick At The Pantry Door this month on behalf of Jen at Blue Kitchen Bakes.

Monday 20 February 2012

Oreo truffles

This is another belated post from Christmas! I wanted to make some edible gifts and came across a recipe for Oreo truffles. They looked pretty easy to make, and considering how well the Oreo cupcakes went down, I had to give them a go!
I don't have a recipe with exact quantities but you can kind of make it up as you go along. First blitz some Oreos in a food processor (you could also crush them by hand, but it won't be as good).

Then take some cream cheese (Philadelphia or similar) and mix with the biscuit crumbs until you have a sticky dough, firm enough to be moulded into balls like this.
 The next stage is to coat them in chocolate- and that's the reason I'm publishing this post now, as I have since learnt the proper way to do it - which is not the way I did it this time!
I melted some chocolate, and dipped in the truffles to coat them. I put them on a plate and in the fridge to set.

 I then packaged them up into a pretty box and gave them as a gift.

So with the benefit of hindsight, and having now done a chocolate workshop (more on that later), I would say I made three mistakes:
1) I didn't temper the chocolate correctly, so it was a bit lumpy when it melted - and the truffles don't have a smooth glossy finish
2) Dipping the truffles in the chocolate means there is excess chocolate which will drip off, and set to form a 'skirt' around the bottom. What the experts do is simple but would never have occured to me: put on some disposable plastic gloves, and dip your hands in the melted chocolate and rub your hands together. Pick up a truffle and roll it around in your hands until it is evenly coated. Leave to dry then repeat up to three times for a thicker chocolate coating.
3) Don't put truffles coated in melted chocolate on a plate to set! The minute I took them out of the fridge I kicked myself for not having used greaseproof paper (doh!). I could have then peeled the truffles off, rather than having to hack at them with a knife to get them off the plate!
Even so, they turned out pretty nice - and tasted wonderful!

Sunday 19 February 2012

A Valentine's card for my sweetheart

I didn't have a fixed idea for a Valentine's card for my boyfriend so got out a square card blank and a selection of pink patterned papers. I decided to cut different sized pieces of the different papers, and arrange them in a patchwork pattern. I then added a die cut heart to the middle, with a 'be my Valentine' outline sticker and 'I'm all yours' at the bottom, and two lovebirds at the top. I think it looks quite pretty :-)

L is for... low fat slimmers' lemon cheesecake

L is for.... low fat slimmers' lemon cheesecake!
I initially decided to make something else for my Alphabakes entry, and I still might - providing I have time and that my annoyingly intermittent internet connection holds up! But on the spur of the moment I decided to make this cheesecake as well.

I've recently joined Slimming World - quite possibly as a direct result of all the baking that I do! Which would explain why I don't make so many cakes any more.... sigh. Anyway, this Saturday we were told there would be a tasting session, where members were invited to bring anything they had made from a Slimming World or low fat recipe for other people to try. A lot of people made savoury dishes, but I couldn't turn down the chance to make a dessert! I also thought that it would be easy for everyone to have a little taste.

I found a recipe for lemon cheesecake on the Slimming World website, but I couldn't find one ingredient - fat-free fromage frais - in my local supermarket (it's a small shop). So instead I decided to use equal quantities of fat free Greek style yogurt, and Quark. Quark isn't an especially common ingredient in this country (though most big supermarkets do stock it) - but I used to live in Germany where it is eaten all the time, as everything from an ingredient in savoury dishes to a dessert in itself. It's technically a curd cheese but tastes more like fromage frais, and can be sweetened, or mixed with all sorts of other things.

I had to adapt the recipe even further than I had anticipated however - when I was half way through cooking, I looked in my cupboards for some powdered gelatine... and looked.... and looked.... oops! I did have a sachet of lemon and lime jelly crystals so hoped that would do instead!

So I give here my recipe, adapted from the Slimming World one!

284 ml (half a pint) of skimmed milk
8 tbsp Splenda or other artificial sweetener
2 eggs, separated
1 sachet lemon and lime jelly
1 tbsp vanilla flavouring (use less if you are using vanilla essence)
200g tub Quark
250g fat free Greek style yogurt
142ml Elmlea Light double cream
8 ginger nut biscuits (you could also use digestives)

Put the milk and sweetener in a saucepan and heat gently until the sweetener has dissolved. Don't let the mixture boil.

 Separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and add to the pan.
Stir until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Again don't let it come to the boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Empty the jelly sachet into a bowl or jug. Boil the kettle and add a splash of boiling water to the jelly powder. You are not trying to make up the jelly, just melt the crystals. Stir until dissolved and stir into the pan.
Add the zest and juice of the lemon to the pan. Leave to cool.

In another bowl, mix the quark and the Greek yogurt (you could also use fat free fromage frais). Stir in the vanillla, then pour the contents of the pan into the bowl.
Refridgerate for 30 minutes until it begins to set.
Whip the cream and fold into the fromage frais mixture. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the fromage frais mixture.

 Crush 8 gingernut biscuits - you could also use digestive. I did this in my food mixture as it turns them into fine crumbs, but you could also crumble them by hand or do the old plastic bag and rolling pin method. Press into the bottom of a loose-bottomed cake tin.
I would say here that when I have made cheesecake before, I normally melt butter and mix it with the biscuit crumbs. As this is a low fat recipe you leave the butter out. I was a bit concerned that the base wouldn't hold together but as long as you press it down well, it should be OK once the cheesecake sets on top. If you're not aiming for a low fat recipe though you could add some melted butter to the biscuits at this stage.
Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set - I left mine overnight. I added a few lemon slices (from a tub of cake decorating orange and lemon slices, you know the ones I mean). In retrospect I shouldn't have done this until the next day, as the colour bled slightly, but it wasn't too bad.
 As you can see, the yellow bled slightly. I also sprinkled edible yellow glitter over the top, and the next morning carefully removed the cheesecake from the tin. I was really pleased with it, and it went down well at Slimming World!
If you are following Slimming World, this has 5.5 syns per slice (serves 8) on Extra Easy. I think my adaptations make it come out at the same syn value, but of course at Slimming World everyone only had a little taste.
I think this would be a good dessert to make if you are on a diet but having people over and want to make something that looks indulgent, but that is actually low fat. Nobody would know this was a slimmers' recipe!

I have another confession to make- as well as not being able to get hold of fromage frais, and using jelly as I didn't realise I'd run out of gelatine, I also missed out one stage of the process! That's what happens when you're under the weather with a bad cold, rushing from the recipe on your laptop into the kitchen while trying not to miss the start of your favourite TV programme! Yes folks, I forgot to add the egg whites! In fact it was only while typing this recipe just now that I even noticed I was supposed to whip the egg whites and add them to the mixture. I did think the cheesecake was a little soft but as you can see from the final picture, it actually set and held its shape really well, and tasted lovely! But I will try to pay more attention to the recipe next time :-)

I have also decided to add this to Simple and in Season on Fabulicious Food, as lemons are in season at the moment.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

How to make macarons - a foolproof method?

Macarons, macaroons - however you spell them, they are a little piece of heaven! But they are also a real challenge to cook!

The macarons of today are not the same as the macarons of my youth - I remember eating lumpy coconut biscuits with a piece of rice paper on the bottom. But a couple of years ago I had my first bite of a proper French macaron from Paul's patisserie - they are two discs of almond meringue, sandwiched together with flavoured buttercream, and probably one of my favourite indulgent treats!

I tried to make them myself a year or two ago - before I had this blog, so there is no photographic evidence, thank goodness! The meringue spread when I piped it onto the baking sheet, so instead of perfectly rounded discs I had a mixture of random shapes, that didn't rise properly and just didn't taste right. I've always wanted to have another go, and have had my eye on the various macaron classes offered at cookery schools in and around London for a while. Unfortunately as they are so hard to make, and now in such demand, most of these classes cost £100 or more. So I was chuffed when I found an offer on Time Out's website for a macaron-making masterclass for only £22 - half the usual price of £44. So I signed up right away!

The class was run by Caroline of Caroline's Tea and Scones, who has 15 years' experience of specialising in goodies for afternoon tea. The class was held at her central London flat, and I have to admit spending the first few minutes of the class gazing around her beautiful apartment in awe! We had a huge long table in the centre of the room with enough space for everyone in the class - I think there were 11 of us - to sit around. Caroline showed us a few books on making macarons (which had some really unusual flavour combinations in the recipes) and the equipment that we were going to use.

I won't reproduce her recipe here as I don't think that's fair - if you want to learn from an expert, sign up for one of Caroline's classes! But I don't think that you are losing out by not getting to see her recipe- Caroline explained that macarons are indeed very difficult to make, and every baker has one particular recipe that they swear by - and if they use a different recipe, they might not turn out so well. So have a look on the internet or through your recipe books, give one or two a try, and when you find a recipe that you're happy with and that works for you, stick with it! Caroline even commented that there are so many different factors that can affect the quality of macarons, from weather and humidity to the brand of ingredients (she personally recommended Co-op ground almonds) and that as far as she knows, even the famous patisseries will probably throw away about half the macarons they make! So while the piles of macarons you see in their windows look absolutely perfect, there are an awful lot that didn't make it that far!

Frankly I wasn't aiming for perfection, just something a lot better than my previous attempt! So I took note of all Caroline's advice and tips and also resolved not to lose heart if I try them again and they turn out wrong - after all, it could be down to the weather, rather than anything I did wrong!

We began by sifting icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder into a bowl and mixing. Then take the egg whites and whisk into peaks. Add caster sugar and whisk again. Combine with the dry ingredients and pipe onto a lined baking tray.

We were split into two groups, with one group making pistachio macarons and the other making chocolate. Do you really have to ask which one I did? ;-)

It's important to leave the macarons for about half an hour after piping them onto your baking sheet, as this allows a slight skin to form. This means they will (hopefully) be smooth with a shiny top when they come out of the oven. Some recipes also say to leave your egg whites out at room temperature for 24 hours before using; Some recipes even state the egg whites should be separated two days in advance! It's all down to molecules and basically means the moisture in the egg whites starts to evaporate. I also learnt a new word: macaronage! It's the technical term for mixing the egg whites with the dry ingredients. So now you know.

While the macaron shells were in the oven we made the filling, which seemed a lot easier. You basically make a ganache from chocolate and cream - yum!

When the macarons came out of the oven, Caroline sighed that the tops were all a little cracked - but I could have practically danced a little jig, I was so pleased with them! There was one single perfect macaron, which of course we all took a photograph of! You need to leave them to cool a little and pipe a little of the buttercream onto one half, sandwich them together... and eat!

We all had a couple of the macarons to try - both the pistachio and chocolate flavours were lovely (it's a shame pistachios are relatively expensive to buy, then again they are a lot cheaper than buying a whole box of macarons!). Caroline gave us all a little gift box to take another 7 or 8 home, but I was particularly good and managed not to eat any of them (well, I am supposed to be on a diet). Instead, I carefully packaged them up and sent them to my grandmother, who hadn't been well. I've had a report from my mum that she thought they were wonderful, and kept showing them to anyone who visited!

I definitely recommend Caroline's classes - check out her website.

The big challenge now will be to have a go at making macarons myself! This was admittedly a group effort and we were working under Caroline's watchful eye. I also think my oven is a bit rubbish - never seems to be at the right temperature, and I haven't been using it long enough to have understood all its little quirks (Caroline for instance said one side of her oven was hotter than the other so she always accounts for that). And I'm the sort of person who gets half way through a recipe for dinner in half an hour's time and get to the part of the instructions that says "Now marinade in the fridge overnight". So I will probably forget to age my egg whites! Still, I am planning to have another go at making macarons soon, so watch this space!