Friday, June 28, 2013

Liquorice Macarons

Your search of the perfect French macaron ends here, with this Italian-inspired recipe. 
Macarons are notorious for making even the best bakers cry. I, myself, have shed many a tear while sitting on my kitchen floor in the dim light of my oven whilst peering through the warm glass while praying that my macarons would make feet. If my relationship with macarons was on Facebook, my status would be set to 'it's complicated' but hey, that doesn't stop me from dating them (totally normal analogy I just used there, by the way).

On my brother's last visit, his Milanese girlfriend brought me a beautiful black glossy bottle of Italian liquorice liqueur. The bottle was so gorgeous I simply had to create something that was just as jet black - enter the liquorice macaron with black sesame seeds. I added the sesame seeds because Italian boyfriend brought me 1kg of them the other day (he brings me foodie things in leu of flowers). And yes, our family obviously has a thing for Italians.  

Liquorice is one of those tricky flavours, like banana, that people either love or hate. There are no in-betweeners. Apparently 53% of people don't like it (and 66% of people who don't sleep on their side don't like the treat either - yes, you needed to know that) and although scientists have tried to figure out why, they've agreed it probably comes down to how you were brought up. If liquorice Allsorts were a regular part of your family's sweetie tin then you're probably a fan and it's no biggie. But if you don't care for the treat, then by all means, omit it from the recipe and replace it with whatever other liqueur takes your fancy! 

Liquorice macarons with black sesame
Makes 25

120g ground almonds
200g icing sugar
3 tbsp black sesame seeds, crushed into a paste
100g egg whites (about 3 large eggs)
1/4tsp cream of tartar
35g white sugar
black gel food colouring

Liquorice ganache
60ml cream 
250g white chocolate, chopped
40ml liquorice liqueur

Line 2-3 baking sheets with baking paper.
Sift together the ground almonds and icing sugar to remove any clumps. Blend any leftover mixture then sift again until nothing remains. 
Begin beating the egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed. Once the egg whites are very foamy, begin sprinkling in the sugar as you beat. Increase the speed to medium, if necessary, and beat the meringue to stiff glossy peaks. Beat in the sesame paste and black colouring until desired shade. 
Add about 1/4 of the almond/sugar mixture and fold until no streaks remain. Continue to add the almond mixture in quarters, folding until incorporated. 
Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a fluted nozzle and pipe rows of batter onto the baking sheets, giving them space to spread. Tap the pan on the counter to bring up any air bubbles and quickly pop them with a toothpick.
Allow the cookies to rest on a level surface for 30-60 minutes until they are no longer tacky to a light touch. 
While they rest, place an oven rack in the lower 3rd of your oven and preheat to 150C. 
Bake the cookies, one tray at a time, for 16-20 minutes.
Make the ganache by heating the cream until just simmering. Pour over the white chocolate and stir until melted then stir in the liqueur and colouring. Allow to set until spreadable.
Sandwich the macarons together with the ganache. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ginger, custard and red wine pear tarts

The second part of my obsession with red wine poached pears continues with this fabulously simple tart. Because who doesn't love a pretty tart? Erm. This dessert has everything going for it, simplicity, beauty and a delicious variety of textures - the crunch of ginger biscuits, the smooth custardy-creamy-airy filling and the soft bite of those gently poached pears. Heaven on a fork I tell you! The red wine pears add a lovely flavour to the dessert but feel free to experiment with other seasonal fruit and biscuits. Dark chocolate biscuits and pomegranate rubies or coconut and caramelised pineapple or buttery shortbread and stewed vanilla guavas!  

Ginger, custard and red wine pear tarts
Makes 4-6

200g gingernut biscuits, crushed 
75g butter or margarine, melted
3 egg yolks 1⁄3 cup castor sugar
1 cup cream

1t vanilla extract 
21⁄2T corn flour 
2 cups milk
4 pears poached in red wine, sliced (click here for the recipe)

Mix the crushed biscuits and butter or margarine and press into 4-6 small springform tart tins then refrigerate until set. 
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and cornflour to form a paste. 
Slowly add the milk, place in a saucepan and simmer until thickened. 
Cover the surface with plastic wrap and allow to cool completely then refrigerate for 1 hour. 
Whip the cream until thick and stiff peaks form then fold in the custard. 
Spoon into the tart cases and top with thin slices of poached pear. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Father's Day Chocolate Meringue Crunch Cake

I often credit my mother and grandmother for my love of food and baking but seldom do I mention the person who gave me my insatiable sweet tooth (and good genes to tolerate a sweet tooth!) My father is still the only person who can finish a slab of chocolate faster than I can and he has always been my unofficial taster; I judge how good a recipe is by how long the treats sit on the kitchen counter after baking! And as they say, if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, this chocolate cake should get you there as quickly as my dad made this cake disappear when I baked it.  Jokes aside though, what I love most about this recipe is that you don’t need to make a frosting as the meringue is baked right on top of the cake. It’s light and crispy and not overly sweet or decadent - a superb way of cutting down the fat content of a cake. And it's also gluten-free! One of my absolute favourites! Happy Father’s Day!

Chocolate meringue crunch cake
(serves 8)

150ml butter
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
 6 eggs, separated
4 egg whites
360g dark chocolate, melted and cooled, plus 120g roughly chopped
1T vanilla extract
pinch salt
1T cornstarch
 1/4t cream of tartar
1 cup castor sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a 22cm spring form cake tin and sprinkle with flour. Cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in melted chocolate and vanilla. Set aside. Whip 6 egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form, stir 1/3 into the chocolate mixture and fold in the rest. Pour batter into tin and bake for 25 minutes. Meanwhile mix hazelnuts, chopped chocolate and corn flour. Place remaining 4 egg whites in a bowl with cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually until stiff. Fold in hazelnut mixture. Remove cake from oven, spread meringue on top and return to oven, bake until meringue is lightly browned and crisp about 25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving. Decorate with chocolate curls, if desired.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to make perfect red wine poached pears

Winter's treasure of plump ripe pears get an even rosier blush with a good glug of red wine and a sprinkling of spices. Embarrassingly simple to prepare, these tipsy poached pears with their gluhwein spices were inspired by the delicious Pinot Noir-themed tasting menu I recently had at Haute Cabriere restaurant in Franschhoek. The menu really got me thinking about how versatile red wine is and Haute Cabriere's range of famous Pinot Noir's infused a soft spiciness to these gems. It's a simple low-fat dessert that will leave a lasting impression on the lips (and not the hips!) But if you're after something more decadent, I'll be posting two more delicious recipes during the coming weeks that use the boozy fruit. 

Photography by Angie Lazaro Photography
Red wine poached pears
(Serves 4)

2 cups red wine (see TIPS)
1/3 cup castor sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean,split and seeds scraped
4 ripe pears, peeled

Combine the liquid, sugar and spices in a saucepan and stir until sugar is dissolved. 
Add the pears and bring to the boil. 

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover with a cartouche. 
Poach gently until pears are tender, for about 1 hour. 

Remove the pears. 
Bring the syrup to a boil and reduce until slightly thickened. 
Pour over the pears and allow to cool before refrigerating.

  • Experiment using different liquids such as white or sparkling wine, fruit juice, port or sweet wine, teas such as green, jasmine, earl grey etc.
  • Vary the spices by adding cloves, cardamom, star anise, lemongrass or saffron
  • Core the pears from the underside and pipe in flavoured mascarpone or mousse before serving.
  • Add poached pears to baked puddings, layer into trifles, or serve with French toast or crumpets drizzled with honey for breakfast.

To book for the Pinot Noir tasting menu:
Haute Cabriere
Pass Road, Franschhoek, Cape Town, South Africa
+27 21 876 8500