Mini Tartes Tatins

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RECIPE: Actually three recipes in one (Mini Tartes Tatins, Delicate Sweet Pastry and Fruit Glaze), these tarts were fairly easy to follow, but you definitely need to be precise and follow the instructions. The recipe asked for a combination of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples, which at this time of year I was unable to get, so I had to use only Granny Smiths.

COMPONENTS: It’s very important to freeze the rolled pastry before cutting it. What the recipe doesn’t tell you is it’s best to let it sit for half a minute once you take it out of the freezer because if you cut straight away the pastry sheet cracks. The lightly floured circles of pastry lifted up with the cutter, which meant you could gently pop them out on to the baking tray. I cut them to 3mm thick but then they spread in the oven so ended up being more like 2mm, which was a bit thin. My heart always races when making caramel, which doesn’t help. I made a perfect caramel, then poured it onto the apples before adding the water and butter. It immediately set to toffee, which I then had to remove before starting the caramel again. It worked perfectly the second time with the water and butter added at the appropriate time. Keep hands away from the sugar as you add the warm water – it spits. I baked the apple in a shallow baking tray with the caramel, but what is important is that the apple is in a single layer so the liquid can reduce properly at the end of the bake (mine was more like a double layer). I pressed the apple in a fine sieve to remove the last of the liquid before placing it into the moulds. The fruit glaze was straightforward and doesn’t take long. I did realise halfway through grating the citrus peel (fortunately before I added it to the sugar mix) that the recipe had said to use a peeler so it was possible to strain it out at the end.

ASSEMBLY: The apple took longer than the suggested hour to become firm enough in the freezer to push out on to the moulds. Fully frozen is fine, and the glaze works beautifully spooned over a the apples on a rack before putting the apple on the pastry.

IMPRESSIONS: This tasted okay but they were more tart than I expected, which may have been because of my choice of apples. The apple texture wasn’t that exciting. Having said that, everyone at work raved about them, possibly because they weren’t overly sweet like tarts can be sometimes. It was a good exercise for practicing technique, but I probably wouldn’t bake this one again.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder

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Choux au Craquelin

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RECIPE: My aim was to attempt choux pastry, which meant that I dissected the pear and apple choux recipe for the parts I wanted, namely the choux buns and the crackle finish. I filled it with a basic crème pâtissiére from the croquembouche recipe in the same book. I didn’t have gel colour, so substituted liquid colour. This added more liquid to the recipe, but it didn’t seem to ruin it. I used leftover banana creme to assemble the little lady 🙂

COMPONENTS: First job is the crème pâtissiére, as it needs to cool for a few hours before use. Having curdled custard many times, I stirred this like crazy, not stopping for a second. I didn’t cook it as long as the recipe required because it became thick very fast and I was scared of overcooking it, as it had SOOO many egg yolks in it. I froze the egg whites, as they can still be used in meringues after being frozen. It was a big relief to store my perfect custard in the fridge, ready to add later. The trick with the craquelin is to roll it to the thickness you need at the end before putting it in the fridge to cool. It doesn’t hold together too well when you’re assembling the buns but it didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t applying perfect discs of even thickness.

I’m not sure how, but my choux pastry worked first time. I liked the tip that it was ready when a spoon will stand in the mix. I piped the choux dough onto the tray and used the method of cooking at high heat initially then reducing the heat of the oven to finish. Baking the choux didn’t go quite so well. There is a reason recipes tell you NOT to open the oven door while the pastry is cooking. I couldn’t resist on one batch because I was worried my old dysfunctional oven was burning the ones at the back. The result can be seen below. The bun on the left was cooked according to instructions; the one on the right was when I opened the oven during the bake!

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Rather than spend a lot of time explaining how to perfect your choux pastry, I suggest you read this page by Dini the Flavor Bender – she does an excellent job.

ASSEMBLY: About three-quarters of my choux buns weren’t flat and were suitable for filling. The craquelin worked well. I put the crème pâtissiére in a piping bag but didn’t have a good-sized nozzle. The one I used put a bigger hole in the bottom than ideal. It piped perfectly, with the custard helping to fill out some of the buns that had collapsed. I used the banana cream to stick the two buns together and then used a star nozzle to pipe some as decoration around the join.

IMPRESSION: I’ve still got work to do with choux pastry, but I’m pretty happy with how most of these turned out. I only had enough suitable buns to make about four little ladies, the rest had visual faults of some sort. They still tasted marvellous.

Recipe from Zumbo by Adriano Zumbo

Butter croissants

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RECIPE: I have several recipes for croissants and all quite different. I was all set to make Julia Child’s recipe given she is lauded as the expert in French cookery, and with a recipe 12 pages long I figured I couldn’t make a mistake. An online review thought her recipe had several issues which they believed stemmed from Julia making compromises for the home cook. On the other hand Bourke Street Bakery has been pretty reliable, so I used theirs instead. There were lots of instructions but no images, which might have helped in understanding the steps. I peeked at my other recipes with images for guidance on the folding – I’m a visual person.

COMPONENTS: So much chilling, resting and waiting! Everything was fairly straightforward, it was just getting the pastry rolled out to the right length. I could probably have done with more resting time to cool the pastry again for each step. I seemed to get a good amount of lamination though, so perhaps near enough on the rolling out was good enough. I was lucky enough to have a day no warmer than 25 degrees, but cooler would have been easier. Apparently a heavy stone rolling pin cooled in the fridge each time is also helpful. After several rolls, a small amount of butter came out the sides and through the occasional hole in the pastry. It didn’t seem to matter to the results (no butter was lost), but it did make it a bit harder to roll because the pastry was greasy. I began to see the thin layers in the final roll, when it began to peel off with my rolling pin. I successfully used my pastry mat again and so didn’t need to flour the bench.

ASSEMBLY: I think I would have been better off resting the pastry in the fridge for a while after the final roll out to one metre long (I struggled for bench space!). By the time I cut the pastry into triangles the pastry was getting soft and shrinking in size so I had to press out each triangle before rolling. I was surprised how much they increased in size during the final rise after rolling them into their final shape.

IMPRESSION: These croissants were lovely and I’m still surprised that the entire batch worked. I usually give away my baking, but not this time as they took so long to make! They freeze well, but you can’t beat eating them straight out of the oven. These were much easier than I expected, and it’s achievable to make them in one (well-organised) day while you’re doing other stuff around the house.

Recipe from Bourke Street Bakery by Paul Allam

Fraisier

RECIPE: This is another pretty cake I had admired from the Great British Bake Off. The recipe for Fraisier seems to vary a bit. The traditional version uses a genoise sponge, an alcohol flavoured syrup, fresh strawberries and crème pâtissiére, topped with almond paste; however, the type of sponge can vary and it can alternatively be topped with meringue and glaze or simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar. My recipe used a ladyfinger sponge cake, but I substituted a spare joconde sponge that I had frozen after making L’Opera. The recipe also used a more complicated mousseline cream, which was delicious: you mix an Italian meringue with an egg yolk buttercream and then blend this combination with a crème pâtissiére. I’ve noticed some recipes use gelatine.

COMPONENTS: I can’t comment on the cake, but otherwise there were a lot of steps, especially compared with other recipes for Fraisier. You had to liquidise the sugar and heat it to 118 degrees Celsius for both the Italian meringue and the egg yolk buttercream, which is a step that requires constant attention and careful timing. It all came together well though. My mousseline cream was soft, even after being in the fridge for an hour or so, and this affects the assembly of the cake. I can see why other recipes use gelatine. I probably should have spread the meringue a little thinner on the top of the cake – the recipe doesn’t say how thick and I realised afterwards it would have been better at 2mm instead of 5mm. It’s a finishing trim rather than a full component of the cake. My apricot glaze needed to be thinner; it sat on top of the cake instead of flowing over it. The recipe said to sprinkle sugar over the strawberries before adding the rest of the cream. The cake was very sweet, so this step really wasn’t necessary.

ASSEMBLY: This was definitely the hardest part of making this cake and can really impact the finished look, which is why mine (above left) is nowhere near as pretty as the picture from the recipe (above right). You really need your sponge to go right to the edges of your tin mould. In hindsight, I wish I had cut smaller cakes and then assembled them in the cutters, just so the cake went right to the edges. The mousseline cream is soft, so even if you line up your strawberries with the edge of the cake, the cream will push them out from between the cakes. I had major overflow issues! I could only get huge strawberries so had to cut them in half. The cake will be flatter and more stable with consistently sized strawberries. See my post on L’Opera for tips on getting flatter cakes.

IMPRESSION: The taste was great, but it didn’t look at all like it was supposed to. I may try this again one day because there were multiple aspects I need to work on, but maybe with a different recipe. I think I’ll try Mary Berry’s, although I’d still use Felder’s finish of the meringue and glaze, which has the potential to look amazing.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder.

Banana Caramel Macarons

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RECIPE: I love Christophe Felder’s book because he provides step by step instructions with lots of photos to show exactly what the step is meant to look like. I tackled this recipe because I’ve tried making caramel several times and every time the sugar has crystallised. I felt better about this after watching every contestant fail a caramel technical challenge in the Great British Bake Off. I read all sorts of advice on the internet that suggested not stirring at all, different temperatures, painting down the sides, but this recipe is the first time I’ve managed to get it to work. Relief! Once again I halved the recipe, as I didn’t want enough macarons to make a croquembouche 🙂 Even though I halved the caramel I still have lots left, but it is perfect warmed up and drizzled over ice-cream.

COMPONENTS: The banana caramel is made in a couple of stages. I found it was important to have everything ready, as timing is critical when working with sugar. Even if you do get the caramel to work, it turns to crystals very quickly if you’re not ready to add the cream. I followed the recipe and stirred the sugar. There was no water added, it was just sugar, and I stirred constantly, not leaving it for a second. I admit to being nervous so probably added the cream a little early – the recipe asked for dark caramel and mine was more of a medium. This only affected the depth of flavour and I don’t care because it worked! The recipe required Italian meringue (the type that adds a sugar syrup to the egg whites). After one lot of crystallised sugar (I ignored my earlier success and didn’t stir constantly), I managed a good sugar syrup, which then almost crystallised because I didn’t have my eggs whipped to soft peaks ready for the sugar to be added. Timing really is critical. It also helps to read ahead in the recipe so you know what’s coming! Adding the egg whites and meringue to the macaron mix was straightforward. I rested the piped macarons for a little while before putting them in the oven. While the recipe didn’t recommend this, I know resting helps prevent cracking of the tops and creation of the ‘feet’ of the biscuit.

ASSEMBLY: The caramel and the macarons need to be cold, otherwise you’ll have sliding issues. I started by piping the caramel, but after overflows and not being able to stop the flow between macarons, I gave this up and used a teaspoon and dabbed it on. Make sure your macaron shells match in size, I paired mine up before I started.

IMPRESSIONS: I’ve never had a macaron that didn’t have a buttercream filling, and I’m now never going to hesitate to try different fillings. This was delicious. Sweet but not too sweet, soft with a crisp shell, and very more-ish.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder.

L’Opera

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RECIPE: I had some chocolate ganache left over from another recipe, so L’Opera seemed like a good option. Opera Cake is joconde sponge painted with coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, and topped with a chocolate glaze. While you might expect this cake to be a sugar-overload, it had a light coffee flavour that worked well with the light sponge. It’s kind of a French version of Tiramisu. I halved the recipe, and still had a LOT of cake. If you’re halving a recipe, it’s not a bad idea to write the halved amount in pencil on your recipe, so you don’t forget halfway through…

COMPONENTS: I was pleasantly surprised that all the components of this cake were easy to prepare. Having your butter at ‘room temperature’ for buttercream means about 20 degrees (not the temperature of my kitchen, which is often 30 degrees!). In the process of halving the recipe, I added the full amount of sugar to the egg whites. I discovered that it’s not possible to bring additional egg whites to a soft peak and add them to a meringue – the air went out of the whole lot very quickly, so I had to start the eggs again, made the full recipe for the cake component and ended up with some spare joconde for the freezer.

ASSEMBLY: To get an even sponge layer, flip the sponge onto a flat surface lined with baking paper so that both sides are flattened. To get a much sharper finish than I achieved, place the top layer of sponge on the cake upside down so the flattest side is up. Use a palette knife to flatten a thick layer of buttercream, then cool before adding the glaze.

IMPRESSION: I loved this surprisingly easy cake for the light coffee flavour and light texture, didn’t find it difficult and would definitely try it again, and it even freezes well.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder.