Monday, April 8, 2013

Making Macarons with Breadlab

Breadlab made a new video showing you how to make macarons:


Basic macaron recipe: (for about 50 macarons)

(smaller batches are possible, but are more troublesome to mix)

300 gr. blanched finely ground almonds
300 gr. confectioners sugar
220 gr. egg whites
300 gr. fine sugar 
75   gr. water

candy thermometer
baking paper or silicon mats
baking sheets
piping bag, plain nozzle #10

Separate the egg whites up to 4 days in advance. Have them on room temp when you start working with them.

The Almond Mixture

Grind the blanched almonds together with the confectioners sugar as fine as you can manage. Divide the egg whites in half. If you are using coloring, mix it into one portion of the egg whites, and pour it over the almond & sugar mix. Do not stir it in!

Italian Meringue

Pour the other 110 gr. of egg whites in a bowl of a (stand) mixer. Start mixing on low to medium speed to form nice tiny bubbles.

At the same time start preparing your sugar syrup. Put 300 gr. of fine sugar with about 75 gr. of water in a small saucepan (avoid non stick). Heat this up, without stirring, until the syrup reaches a temp of 115° C. At that point, increase the speed to max on your mixer, and whip the egg whites to form soft peaks. When the sugar reaches 118° C, take it off the heat (be careful!) and drizzle it into the egg whites, beating at high speed.

The meringue should at least double in volume and go thick and glossy after a while. Keep beating at medium speed until the mixture has cooled to 50° C.

Preheat your oven to 180° C with fan.


Add about ⅓ of the cooled meringue to the almonds. With a flexible spatula fold the meringue into the almonds. Then, carefully fold in the remaining ⅔ of the meringue. Don't overbeat. The mixture will get shiny after a while. Pulling the spatula out of the bowl, the ribbons that fall back should disappear into the rest of the batter after 4 to 5 seconds.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag. Pipe onto silicon baking sheets or onto paper. Pipe 2½ cm circles. Keep a good distance between the shells, for they will ooze out a little.

Drying the Shells

Let the shells dry for at least 30 minutes. When you touch the skin of the shell with a dry finger and it doesn't smudge, the shells are ready for the oven.

Bake the shells for 12 minutes on 180° C with fan, in the lower part of your oven. Rotate them to ensure even browning after 8 minutes.

After taking them out of the oven, take the shells off the baking sheet to stop further baking. Let them cool completely before taking them off the paper/silicone.

There is a multitude of possible fillings in a macaron. Once you get the hang of making the shells, the possibilities are endless; chocolate ganache, buttercream, marmelades, you name it and you can put in into a macaron!

For the lovers of history: here is Breadlab's first macaron movie. Epic! Enjoy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Windmills in my Oven

Some time ago I picked up this baking book because of the intriguing title-author combination. A book on Dutch baking, written by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, whose roots are in British Guyana, India as well as The Netherlands, where she married and settled down with her Dutch husband.

The story behind the book is remarkable. Once moved to the Netherlands, and very much interested in anything food, Gaitra started asking around for the culinary highlights of her new home. Invariably her friends would respond that no such a thing exists in The Netherlands. A bit startled by this collective expression of low self-esteem, she set out to prove them wrong.

In her quest she found out her friends were right. In cooking there is hardly anything worthwhile to be found in The Netherlands. There are some national dishes that involve mashed potatoes and veggies with a big sausage (stamppot) and sure, there is a Dutch pea soup we all eat whilst ice-skating around the windmill, on wooden shoes of course, throwing cheese and tulip bulbs at each other. But that's it.

Being as thorough as she comes across in her book, Gaitra looked further. Probably further than the average native Dutch ever has. She found the treasure trove of culinary goodies she was looking for, when she turned to baking instead of cooking.

Initially the book was written for the British market under the title 'Windmills in my Oven'. Ten years later (!) it has been re-edited and published in Dutch under the title 'Het Nederlands Bakboek'. It was elected cookbook of the year in 2012. And rightfully so.

This book is all about connecting the recipe to its origins. Every recipe is put in historical and cultural context. For me, as a born and bred Dutch country boy, the book reads like a parade of dear memories coming back to me. Knieperties, Bossche bollen, Zeeuwse bolussen, chipolata cake, cookies, everything is in there, and it is indeed  as Dutch as it gets.

almond rondos
The look and feel of the book are great. The art work is honest and plain. No bells and whistles, just the way the Dutch are supposed to like it. It makes the book accessible to both beginners and more experienced home bakers. The latter will probably pimp up their cakes, the beginner is getting exactly what the pictures promise.

So far all the recipes I have tried from this book, have delivered wonderfully. My personal favorite so far is the 'Rondo', a small cake filled with almond paste. It is one of these very Dutch baking goods that no one makes themselves any more. The difference in taste between the supermarket version and the home made version is, of course, phenomenal. Nothing better than home made almond paste!

almond paste
And it's is the easiest thing to make! Just take equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar. Add lemon zest to taste and make the mixture come together with just a little bit of well beaten egg to make it smooth out. Use fine sugar and finely ground almonds for a smoother paste. For the intermediate bakers: try and get your hands on some bitter almonds, or bitter almond oil, to dramatically increase the  depth of flavor of your almond paste. Just add a few drops of oil, or a small handful of bitter almonds. Leave the paste to ripe for a few days before using, it will have a more developed taste to it, especially with added bitter almonds.