My Top 5 Gifts For A Caker

Can you believe its only 87 more days until CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!! It’s my favourite time of year and also my busiest time of year with chocolate biscuit puddings, fruit cakes, etc and I am so excited. Today I was asked by my younger sister what I would like for Christmas (she’s crazy, already on the prowl for gifts) and it got me thinking……….What would I like?!?! Hmmmm so I got googling and I came across some amazing gifts that would suit any caker, especially if they’re as cake mad as I am.

Here’s what I found……

  1. These are definitely my Number 1 gift. I absolutely adore shoes, what girl doesn’t. Being a cake decorator means I work most weekends, especially those late Friday and Saturday nights, icing cakes, decorating, screaming, crying, you’ll know what I’m taking about if you’re a caker, so to get to my point- I have lots of beautiful shoes THAT I NEVER GET TO WEAR, but, can you picture me decorating cakes in these babies? Yes, they are high heels decorated as icecream, don’t they just make you want to eat that cherry right off?  It would make it all seem so much more worthwhile if I had these. They are made by the fabulous and innovative guys at Shoe Bakery!!!! Check them out they have amazing stuff on there. Which brings me to my Number 2.ice-cream-heels
  2. And while we’re on their fabulous site, why not get a matching bag? I mean it would be rude not to don’t you think?!?!?!?!? This Limited Edition White Sprinkle Bowler Bag is totally fashionable, even for non-cakers. It’s a must have for me.

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3. And look what else I’ve found which is also matching…..Yes, its an Icecream Cone Phone Cover from the incredibly clever guys over on Iced Jems. How cute is this? Would I use this? Hell yeah, its totally awesome. It may not be the right time of year to sport this phone cover, but who cares? A girl can dream, or so they say!

icecreamphonecover

4. My next gift worthy of my top 5 are these super cute keyrings from Laduree. I completely and utterly love French Macarons, they come in such a vast range of flavours I love love love to make them. They can be quite tricky to make, of course, they tend to drive people to near insanity trying to perfect these temperamental little treats, but when you have them mastered, you will acquire a deep affection for them just as I have.  You can read my blog and tutorial on Macarons here.

macaron-keyring

5. And so this brings me to my last, but not least gift number 5….

I get such a thrill from trying new recipes, and one day would love to write my own Cake Book. This would be absolutely perfect for anyone who like me, loves to bake and try out new recipes and also come up with your own. So what better way than to keep record of them in this cute little recipe book, and who knows, maybe one day publish your very own!! It can be bought here from Paperchase online.

recipe-book

So there you have it. My top 5 gifts for a caker, baker, or basically anyone who swoons over sugar and spice and all things nice!! For my sister, husband, friends, if ever you get a burning desire to buy me a gift……be sure to check off my list first.

Jen ♥ xx

 

 

 

French Macaroons….Swiss Meringue Style

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Hi everyone, I hope you’re all having a great week so far…….

As today is Wednesday (obviously lol) it is one of my busiest days of the week. I supply cakes to two very well established cafes in Dublin, one of which has many branches across Dublin which I supply to also, and one of their must haves from us here at JensCoutureCakes are my macaroons. They sell exceptionally well and thankfully they’re one of many favourites that I bake.

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So let’s get straight to it………French macaroons!?!?!?!?!?!?! What baking genius actually came up with these tough little buggars and where do they origin from? Well, I think their name gives the latter away, but let’s explore the first question- WHO came up with these beautiful, delicate, scrumptious little treats? Anyone know the answer? If you do, you are very inquisitive indeed, as most bakers like myself simply follow recipes and don’t look that far down the gene pool to see who created the recipes they follow. But for me, as I had such a Love/Hate relationship with them for so long, I was actually that annoyed one evening at the result of many batches after batches failing, that I felt the absolute NEED to find this out for myself. I’m not gonna lie, at that moment in time I fantasised about hurting this person because of the sheer mental and physical stress they (macarons) had inflicted on me.

So low and behold, like many of us earth creatures, I decided sure what the heck? Google is the way forward and the only method I need. As I typed, I entered into the Pandora’s box (a.k.a. the search bar) WHO INVENTED FRENCH MACARONS. And yes, I typed it in all capslock as I was so annoyed. Straight away, I went to Wikipedia as they know absolutely everything and they have to be right, right? Well according to them, Macarons, or Macaroons as most people pronounce them, were first created in the 8th century in Venetian monasteries, and then during the Renaissance Catherine de’ Medici (if ever I wanted to change my name, its now! From now on my new name is Jennifer de’ Medici- it screams sophistication doesn’t it?). She brought them with her to France in 1533 via her pastry chefs when she married Henry II of France. In 1792, two Carmelite nuns seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution baked them and used the money they made to pay for their housing. If only they made me that much money nowadays I would be up to my ears in them!! But however, it was only in the 1830’s that the idea of sandwiching these beauties together with a scrumptious filling inside came to light, when they were originally called “Gerbet” or the “Paris Macaron”. Pierre Desfontaines, of the French patisserie Lauduree, has been known to have created it along with another baker, Claude Gerbet. So to my distaste, there was absolutely no way I could punish these people for creating these complicated creations, however, little did I know that later in the future I would wish to have been alive back then to meet these sweet geniuses and thank them for creating such a mouth watering confection, that melt on your tongue and literally create an addiction you will never satisfy!

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French macarons, when made right, can literally be the show stopper at any party or event. They can be coloured almost any colour and filled with any filling of your choice, the most popular being dark ganache’s, buttercreams or jams. When colouring my macarons, I will only ever use Progel Food Colours from Rainbow Dust. They have 37 Progel colours, and I have tried most of them, if not all. As one of my clients have Lime Green as their company brand colour, this is by far one of the more popular colours for me but, the red, pink, orange, etc are amazing too. The colours are so vivid, and the beauty with this range is you literally only need a small amount, especially to get a pastel colour range. If you want a deeper colour, obviously you need to use more as the colours do tend to fade when the macarons are baking in the oven, but as the saying goes a little can go a long way. Also, the gel consistency is perfect as it doesn’t affect the macarons one bit. Liquid food colours have a tendency to affect the consistency a lot more making the macarons more difficult to make.  When I’m asked, or when I see others having trouble with other food colours, this is the one I recommend and only recommend. And just to be clear, I am not and have not been linked with Rainbow Dust, so I am not pushing this product on you in no way, shape, or form, it is just the only fact that I have found this range to be the best one to use for my own personal use. I have tried so many others and have never had the results I’ve wanted, but other bakers may have different preferences, but for me, this is my go to brand for any food colouring, whether it be macarons, buttercream or fondant.

Here is a pic of their colour range I took from their site. Isn’t it so pretty???? Its like a rainbow! Now it makes sense where they got the name Rainbow Dust for their company name, lol.

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OK, so lets get down to the nitty gritty’s. My JensCoutureCakes foolproof method for making and creating beautiful French Macarons! This recipe will make approx. 30-40 macarons, depending on how big you pipe your them.

For the Macarons, you will need

Ingredients:

300g Ground Almonds (also known as almond flour or almond meal)

300g Icing sugar (also known as confectioners sugar)

125g egg whites (at room temp)

300g Caster sugar (fine white sugar)

100g egg whites (for the meringue)

food colouring of your choice (here I have used Progel Lime Green)

Equipment:

Weighing scales

Large mixing bowl

Sieve (optional)

4-5 Baking trays

Greaseproof paper (parchment paper)

Spatula

Electric hand blender

Thermometer (ikea have great ones)

Piping bags

Large round decorating nozzle

Bain Marie (basically its a pot of water with a metal bowl sitting on top)

It is important to have your egg whites at room temperature. Many people swear by egg whites that have been separated and stored for a few days but I have never tried that. I have always just taken my eggs from the fridge a couple of hours before I need them to bring them to room temp.

Now that we have the ingredients, lets get down to the step by step!

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 150°C. In a large mixing bowl, blend together the ground almonds and the icing sugar until they’re well combined. You may use a sieve for this but I prefer to use my hands to do this. My great aunt showed me a trick they used to use in convents with the nuns. To do this, dig your hand to the bottom of the bowl and have your fingers on both hands touching each other at the tips.Bring up the almonds and icing sugar upwards above the rest of the mix and allow it to sieve through your fingers (I hope this makes sense?!?) basically use your hands as the sieve and let the flour/icing sugar fall between your fingers allowing it to fall into the bowl. This helps to create air and is a perfect method for making a classic Victoria Sponge Cake- I wlll do a post on this method very soon! On the other hand, Just use the sieve to combine both ingredients together.
  2. When you have it evenly combined, push the mixture to one side in the bowl using your hand and leave a deep well to the opposite side. This is for egg whites! Scared yet?
  3. Pour in the first batch of egg whites weighing at 125g into the well.
  4. This is the part for the food colouring. Depending on how deep you want the colour to be, squeeze in or add in drops of the food colouring. Using a tooth pick or skewer, mix the food colouring into the egg whites until fully combined but be careful not to “whisk” it, do it slowly and gently. Put the bowl to one side.
  5. Using your Bain Marie (put a pot of water under your stainless steel mixing bowl) and put it onto the cooker on a low heat. We are going to use the steam from the water in the pot to “cook” the swiss meringue.
  6. Place your second batch of egg whites (100g) into the bowl, and using your electric hand mixer, whisk away on a low speed. When you see the egg whites turning frothy, now is the time to start adding your caster sugar. Add it in, very slowly making sure that each time you add it you mix it well before adding some more.
  7. This is where it gets a little tricky and I’ve often wished I had an extra limb to help me…… At this point, you need to use your thermometer. To do this, hold the thermometer in one hand stuck into the meringue mixture. Make sure it isn’t touching the bowl as the metal will be hotter than the actual meringue. And in the other hand keep the blender going on a low speed for approximately 5-8mins.
  8. You will be looking out for a thick glossy mixture and you want it to reach 50°C. As soon as it does, take the thermometer out and take the bowl off the heat straight away and place to one side. Please be careful doing this as it is quite tricky holding everything in your two hands and remember to turn off the cooker!!
  9. Then using a spatula, empty out the meringue mixture into your large mixing bowl with the ground almonds,etc.
  10. With the spatula, using it clockwise, mix the mixture together. This will of course take a good few turns, approximately 20 but be sure not to over mix. As soon as the food colouring is completey combined, now is the time to stop!
  11. Grab your piping bag, and snip the top of it off if you’re using a disposable one. If not, use a regular piping bag with a large round decorating nozzle, and fill your piping bag. The easiest way I find to do this is to use a tall glass/tumbler and put your piping bag into it. Then fold down the bag around the glass, almost like youre turning it inside out over the glass and use your spatula to place the mixture into it. This will take a few times especially if your piping bag is small but in my opinion you have better control over a smaller amount of mixture so the smaller the bag the better.
  12. Cut and measure your greaseproof paper to the size of your baking trays and then, use a tiny amount of the macaron mixture on each corner of the trays to secure the greaseproof paper to the tray. This prevents it from moving around.
  13. Now using your filled piping bag, squeeze out a small amount of the mixture onto the lined trays, but don’t have the nozzle touching the lined tray keep it about 2-3mm up away from the tray. To pipe, apply pressure to the piping bag and just as you can see the size of the macaron you want, release the pressure and using a circular motion, pull the bag to one side to ensure you don’t get a “peak” on your macaron. If you have a peak , dip the tip of your finger (anyine will do) into warm water and ever so gently place your finger onto the raised area and gently push it down. Be extremely gentle here and dont have your finger dripping with water literally just have the tip of your finger damp. When all your macarons are piped, bang each tray at least 3 times pretty hard off the counter. This pops out any air from the mixture and then place them to one side to set for about 30 minutes or until a film has formed on the tops of the macarons. The time may vary depending on humidity, so usually if its quite warm in your area, the film will form a lot earlier than this. To test for this, again ever so gently touch the top of the macaron and if its not sticky and none of the mixture leaves a residue on your finger then they’re ready to go into the oven. The reason we do this is because this film traps all the air inside the macaron only allowing air to escape out of the bottom of them and this is where the “foot” of the macaron is formed and the macaron is forced to raise upwards giving it it’s height (such an amazing process really!!).
  14. When ready, place the trays in the oven. Personally, because my oven is ever so temperamental, I only ever bake one tray at a time on the top slot in my oven, and I bake them from 8-12 minutes. Let me explain why. Sometimes when mixing the meringue into the ground almonds and we over-mix it ever so slightly, the mixture becomes “wet” and therefore more of a runnier mixture and can take longer to bake in the oven. However, when I know myself how much ive mixed it I can then decide myself how long to bake them for. This is something you can only gain through experience with baking macarons. So for you guys, whether first timers or not the easiest way for you to know when your macaron is baked is to check them after 8mins and using your spatula, see if you can slide it in underneath one of the macarons and lift it from the greaseproof paper. If it lifts, its ready. If not, leave for another 2 minutes and try again. But again, personally, after at least 10 minutes I already know that my macarons are baked and can be removed from the oven and initially they may not lift off the paper but once theyre out from the oven and let cool for a few moments, they lift off easily and perfectly.
  15. Allow them to cool. Approx 5mins. Then to sandwich them together, use a tiny amount of the filling of your choice and stick one of the macarons to another one the same size and voila……………you have some French Macarons,
  16. Next………………………….USING THE TIPS OF YOUR FINGERS, PICK ONE UP, OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND PUT ONE IN…..LOL WELCOME TO FRENCH MACARON HEAVEN!!!!!
Here is a picollage of photos I took specifically to show you the steps. I hope this helps.
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I really hope this blog posts gives you some insight into the macaron world and I would love to know how you got on with your macarons after this blog post. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to comment below or email me, I would be more than happy to help as I once lived in macron hell and know exactly how frustrating they can be.
Looking forward to hearing about and seeing your beautiful creations,
Jen ♥ xx