Monthly Archives: January 2012

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My Ultimate Brownies!

I have been on the quest for brownie perfection for sometime. I have tested out numerous people’s recipes and despite all being delicious, none of them have been quite to my taste. After lots of trial and error, I have finally settled on my ultimate recipe. The amaretto is optional but it adds a wonderful depth of flavour to the brownies…
Ingredients

165g butter, roughly diced
235g dark chocolate 50% cocoa solids
265g golden caster sugar
3 medium eggs
165g plain flour
rounded ½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 4 tsp boiling water
20ml amaretto (optional)
65g dark chocolate 50% cocoa solids, roughly chopped
Method
  • Preheat the oven to Fan 180°C and grease and line an 8″ square tin.
  • Break the 235g of chocolate into pieces and place in a microwaveable bowl along with the roughly diced butter, coffee and amaretto. Microwave in 20 second bursts, stirring inbetween each burst until the mixture is evenly melted and smooth. Alternatively you could gently heat the ingredients over a bain marie.
  • Meanwhile, place the eggs and sugar into the bowl of a mixer and using the whisk attachment whisk the ingredients until pale and double in size.
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking powder and set aside.
  • Once the egg mixture has double in volume, keep the mixer running on a low to medium speed and gradually pour in the chocolate mixture.
  • Whisk until fully incorporated before removing the bowl and folding in the sifted flour mixture by hand. Do this gently so as not to lose the air.
  • Finally, fold through the chopped chocolate before pouring the mix into the prepared tin.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. This time will depend on your oven and how gooey you like your brownies. I cooked mine for 15 minutes for maximum squidginess.
  • Leave to cool completely before slicing into small squares.

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A Quest For Macaron Perfection

In my day job I work as a hospitality chef at a bank in the city. My normal role is to work alongside my colleague to provide firstly, fine dining for meetings, and secondly canapes, sandwich lunches and fork/finger buffets for larger functions. We have recently however been given an extra duty: to provide the bank’s two coffee bars with little treats such as macarons, fudge, calissons, pâté de fruit, biscotti etc. Both being keen pastry chefs, we have relished this opportunity and I especially have made it my task to MASTER THE ART OF THE MACARON… 

…easier said than done.

clockwise from top left – Apricot & Almond, Pistachio, “Lemon Meringue Pie”, “Reese’s Pieces”
On my journey, I discovered the many variables that need to be controlled to create the perfect macaron: temperature, texture, time, viscosity…
My first attempts (pictured above) were relatively successful but were all a little on the dry and crunchy side. In order to realise what we were striving towards, we managed to persuade our boss to send us on a little field trip to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. We then brought our goodies back to the office to let the research commence!

First up was Pierre Hermé‘s offering with a mixture of slightly experimental and more traditional flavours. Examples include White Truffle & Roasted Piedmont Hazelnut Slivers, Olive Oil with Mandarin Orange as well as Salted-Butter Caramel, Rose & Rose Petal.

Ladurée’s flavours however were more simple: pistachio, coffee, green apple, raspberry, liquorice.
The general consensus between myself and my fellow tasters was that we preferred Ladurée. The main reason was the better ratio between shell and filling. I loved the look of Pierre Hermé’s, especially with the added lustres, but the filling was just too generous resulting in an overly sweet macaron. The tangier “Olive Oil with Mandarin Orange” was however a real winner.
Both brand of macarons had a beautifully soft texture so with this new-found knowledge I went straight back to the drawing board.
I decided to purchase the Ladurée book in order to sample their tried and tested recipe for success.  The method resulted in a perfect batter but I did stick with my own oven temperature and timings. My favoured method is to preheat the oven to 200°C, place the tray of macarons on the bottom shelf, before closing the door and switching the oven off. It’s then all down to trial and error with your oven as to when you take them out. I have found it is usually in the region of 12-15 minutes…
…And so after many trials and tribulations, I feel I have finally cracked it! Here are a few of my favourites…
Coffee with a coffee infused chocolate ganache
And my latest ones…
White Chocolate, Raspberry & Pistachio; Chocolate & Coconut a.k.a. “The Bounty”
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Piggy Bank Cake

This is my first corporate cake that I made just before Christmas. It was commissioned by the Banking & Credit Team at HM Treasury as their alternative to “Secret Santa” this year. I thought this was a wonderful idea as given past experiences with “Secret Santa”, one usually ends up with a (potentially) throw-away gift!
The theme was decided by one of the girls at the Treasury and so my role was simply to bring it to life…

I had the bank notes and credit card printed onto sugar paper so the whole cake was edible (bar the foil on the chocolate coins). The actual cake was a vanilla madeira filled with vanilla buttercream and morello cherry jam and the piggy bank was shaped out of mint chocolate sponge. Finally I added some glittery snowflakes to give it a touch of Christmas sparkle!