GBBO Pièce Montée

ferris wheel piece montee coloured spun sugarwork wheel profiterole stack

Well it has come to the final week of #greatbloggersbakeoff2014 – and here is my final showstopper!

I wanted to challenge myself, as the bakers had done in the tent, so embarked on the very final challenge of the series. This was the pièce montée – a decorative celebration or centrepiece cake, featuring different baking elements, decorations, and techniques.

Well this certainly was a learning experience for me – planning shapes and sizes and doing things in the right order are just two points to note! Nevertheless, everything came together to create, kind of, my ferris wheel pièce montée (what do you mean you can’t see it!)

ferris wheel pièce montée showstopper greatbloggersbakeoff2014 sugar work macarons ombre cake biscuits choux profiteroles ferris wheel pièce montée cake profiteroles choux white chocolate biscuit macarons sugar work

The different elements I used were as follows:

– Ombre chocolate cake base (adapted from Nigella’s recipe), filled and covered with raspberry butter cream
Macarons, decorated with a light dusting of edible glitter
– Chocolate and ginger biscuits (adapted from a Christmas gingerbread house recipe)
– Profiteroles, filled with raspberry cream and decorate with white chocolate
– A golden and red sugar decoration, to represent the wheel (simply made by creating a sugar syrup in a heavy bottomed pan)

white chocolate mud cake ombre gbbo showstopper raspberry buttercream macarons on pièce montée cake raspberry buttercream finished with edible glitter raspberry cream profiteroles decorated with white chocolate biscuit and choux profiterole constuction on pièce montée cake gbbo ferris wheel spun sugar pièce montée with biscuit and profiterole supports great bloggers bake off

The individual elements I was very pleased with – the putting together a little less so! I had not filled and iced my cake early enough, so it was not set enough by the time I came to build everything up, and things started to slide a little…
I had also vastly over-estimated the size of the sugar wheel, it was too large for the cake and dwarfed the profiteroles and biscuit behind!

white

Nevertheless, everything tasted good, and pulling it to pieces and eating was definitely the most fun part 🙂

piece monte chocolate ombre cake with raspberry butter cream and edible glitter macarons inside raspberry cream profiteroles white chocolate decorations foodporn greatbloggersbakeoff chocolate and ginger biscuits decorated with white chocolate lines leaning cake in background spun sugar ferris wheel decoration Thank you to Jenny for hosting the GreatBloggersBakeOff again this year – it was great fun and I definitely learnt some new techniques, watch out for some more choux pastry coming soon!

greatbloggersbakeoff2014

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Macarons… in McDonald’s?!

mcdonalds price list macarons belgium brussels euro chocolate vanilla raspberry pistachio

Last weekend I was working in a very cold Brussels – the temperature didn’t seem to reach above freezing the whole time we were there. More than a little tired (think, 12 hour days, 3 hour plane delays…), a colleague and I set out for dinner, only to stumble across McDonald’s advertising macarons in their window.

mcdonalds rue neuve brussels outside photo selling macarons belgium

Now, we are both big macaron lovers and were very easily sucked into the idea of a quick and easy dinner – there was no other way to it!

Consulting the menu we obviously had to try one of every kind each, but at 3 Euros for 4, fantastic value for macarons.

The four flavours were chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, and pistachio. The latter slightly unusual for the mass market maybe? But oh how European!

macarons in mcdonalds in brussels belgium one of each chocolate vanilla pistachio and raspberry review

Packaging was a big let down – a paper bag! If McDonald’s can put their burgers in boxes I’m sure they could manage it for macarons as well, they are supposed to be a delicacy…

macarons in paper bag from mcdonalds brussels

So how did they taste? Well, rather good actually! The vanilla had a thick sweet cream in the middle – perhaps a little too much so?

vanilla macaron with a bite taken review from mcdonalds in brussels

And the chocolate, a thick ganache filling. Having sunk into the macaron shell a fair amount this was really more like a round, fudgy brownie (albeit it a tasty one), than a delicate macaron:

chocolate macaron filling like a fudge brownie review brussels belgium mcdonalds

I’d had enough of photo and wanted to concentrate on eating – but the raspberry was filled more with jam than buttercream, and the pistachio was my surprise favourite, a lovely delicate flavour throughout.

Overall – a tasty trip, and lovely little desserts for the price. However, and somewhat understandably for a mass and fast food market, not quite what you’d expect from normal macarons. They were quite a bit heavier, denser fillings, and sadly lacking in the crunchy-chewy shell that macarons normally have.

Would I have more? Well, if the temperature is still in the minus figures when we return in a month, then I’ll have to substitute my usual McFlurry for something else sweet – and these are certainly not a bad compromise!

We also managed a little sight-seeing of our evening:

Stunning architecture in the main square, the Grand Place:

brussels belgium grand place main square at night panoramic view

Tintin fire escape mural – genius! Did you know he was Belgian?

brussels belgium tin tin mural fire escape painted on wall snowy dog captain haddock

And of course we visited some of the famed chocolate shops. There are a lot of replicas around of Brussels’ famous statue, Manneken Pis (the weeing boy, yes really!). We saw the actual fountain itself, but these were my favourites – with chocolates to match!

brussels belgium mannekin pis little man pee weeing boy famous statue multi coloured replicas chocolate shop

Christmas Candy Cane Peppermint Macarons

If you are one of those people who completely shuns Christmas until December, please, look away now. I shamelessly admit to loving Christmas and (almost) everything that comes with it. Yes, I confess, my tree went up last night a whole 5 days before the start of advent – shock horror!

I’d originally planned these macarons to take to cake clubs Christmas gathering (also held yesterday, so it’s not just me!), but time just wasn’t on my side this weekend, and I couldn’t make it back over to Nottingham. I decided to make them anyway, much to Rob’s delight, and we happily munched through rather too many, in front of a good Christmas film last night.

You can find my macaron recipe on this previous post. I followed it exactly as is, adding a tiny blob of gel colour in at the egg beating stage, saving the majority of green colouring to right before piping, painting lines of green gel colour inside the piping nozzle before adding the macaron mixture.

In hindsight I should have piped a bit through first, as the first shells came out rather uncoloured:

But, as I piped on, they got more swirly and candy-cane like, and when the piping bag needed refilling, I streaked in some more good, solid lines of colour (using a cocktail stick).

The result – some great swirly shells! I love how they got little circles in where the air bubbles rose up and popped (during the slamming on the worktop stage), no two were the same.

I left them for their skin-setting period and baked, and for reasons which fail me, they just did not rise up as much as my previous macarons. Answers on the back of a postcard please. Nevertheless they still had all the elements of good shells: shiny, crispy outsides, and soft chewy middles, all encompassed by great festive green swirls. (Yes, size-consistency is still on my to-do list 🙂 )

For the real candy cane element – the sweet mint flavouring, I whipped up some light, white, mint buttercream.

Using approx. 50g lurpak (good for white colour buttercream), 110g icing sugar and 1 teaspoon of peppermint essence (available easily in the supermarket), I beat the butter well, to add lightness in both flavour and colour, using an electric whisk on high for about 3 minutes, before adding in the icing sugar and mint flavouring.

I paired the shells up on the cooling rack ready, then sandwiched each pair together with a very generous dollop of the peppermint cream.

Ensuring it was well spread out from all sides (a cocktail stick came in handy here), I then rolled the whole macaron in red sparkly sugar, which stuck to the wet buttercream.

Half an hour in the fridge and they were soon ready to eat – a crunchy treat with a soft, sweet, sticky mint outside. They won’t be around for long!

My First Macarons!

On my trip to London last week I was lucky enough to be given a beautiful box of bright coloured macarons, which were very quickly devoured in the office. Loving their sweet, crunchy shell, chewy inner and moist, rich filling, I set out to find more about making them for myself.

For meringue-style macarons such as these (not to be confused with coconut macaroons (spelt with 2 ‘o’s which are more of a drop-biscuit made with whole eggs) – there are 2 methods, Italian and French. The difference is in the making of the meringue – the Italian method uses a heated sugar syrup, whereas the French uses a standard meringue base, whipping the egg whites and sugar cold.

I chose to go for the French macaron method, largely out of simplicity (and a little laziness!) As these biscuits (is that what they are?) are such a delicacy and can be tricky to make, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible on my first attempt.

My recipe came from youcandoitathome – they also have an equally good page on the Italian method.

Ingredients (makes approx. 15 macarons)

2 medium egg whites
*Approx. 70g ground almonds
*Approx. 105g icing sugar
*Approx. 40g caster sugar
Handful of blueberries
30g butter
100g icing sugar
*The exact science behind meringues lies in having your ingredients in proportion to the weight of your egg whites. My 2 medium egg whites weighed 65g and I used the following proportions to calculate the rest of the ingredients. There are many different ideas online about what proportions should be used, but I found these worked perfectly so will be sticking with them again:

egg whites: 1.00 part
ground almonds: 1.10 part
icing sugar: 1.65 part
caster sugar: 0.60 part


Method

– put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz for 1-2 minutes. This starts to aerate the mixture and helps grind down any coarser bits of almond
– whisk the egg whites until they are thick and foamy (shaving foam like texture), then add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, whisking on high speed until the mixture is at soft peak stage – i.e. holds its shape when you make peaks in it. If you want to add a colour then now is the time – being my first batch I kept it simple and left them uncoloured.

(at this stage I was very glad for my electric mixer and food processor. With a history going back hundreds of years, I’m glad the labourious task of making macaroons is that bit easier with all our gadgets and gizmos!)

– sieve in the icing sugar and ground almond blend. The almonds are still quite dense so you may need to push on the mixture with a spoon to get it through the sieve. Don’t try to get through the coarse bits of almond left at the end – they will not be kind to your smooth macaron mixture!

– carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue mixture. You want it to be combined but not over-mixed, and it will have quite a thick, sticky, bubbly texture. Mix too much and your meringue mixture will start to break down and go watery.

– fill your piping bag with the mixture, using a wide, round nozzle on the end

– ready your tray with non-stick paper (these bad boys do have a tendency to stick after cooking!). I found some brilliant re-usable, no-need-to-grease sheets in Aldi, they worked a treat. Be careful if you’re using any kind of fat to grease your sheets that it doesn’t have a chance to get into your mixture.

– pipe your mixture into even circles, with a couple of centimetres between to give them room to spread. Make the circles by keeping the nozzle close to the sheet and pressing on the piping bag. Once you have enough mixture twist the bag away so it leaves a clean circle on the sheet.

– if you end up with a little peak on the top of the macaron then fear not – simply wet your finger and gently smooth the bump down (the same works for little bumps at the side)

– once all your macarons are piped, give the tray a couple of good hard bangs on the work top. This will remove any air pockets and flatten out the shells slightly.

– leave the trays to sit, uncovered, for a minimum of 30 minutes. What you are aiming for is a skin to form on top of the shells; you can’t see it, but if you gently touch with your finger, the mixture will not stick to it, your finger will stay clean. When this happens, your macarons are ready to be baked.

– pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C. Put the macrons in and then immediately turn down to 140 degrees C. The time will depend on how thickly you’ve piped your circles, but it should take them around 10 – 14 minutes to bake. Take them out when they are crispy but before they go brown.

– leave the shells to cool for a minute before very gently lifting off and placing onto a cooling rack. They’re very delicate so be careful, if they don’t immediately come off then carefully slide a palette knife or spatula underneath.

– some of my shells came out the oven with air bubbles having risen to the top. I’m not sure if this is because I didn’t bang the tray hard enough, but it certainly didn’t affect the taste. They did however have a perfectly risen ‘foot’ – the unsexy name for the straight side bubble part that rises up under the domed top while cooking

– once completely cool, pair up the shells into equal shapes and sizes (if you’re a piping pro then they should all be identical!)

– beat together the ingredients for the buttercream and sandwich the shells. I placed a big dollop in the centre of one shell, before carefully and evenly pressing down slightly with the second one on top.

– Et voila! Perfect bite size macaroons, with a crispy shell, chewy inner, and buttercream centre. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before eating so the buttercream can set slightly. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

Dare I say it – don’t hate me! – but they weren’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought! Yes you have to be quite precise with the recipe and rather delicate when handling the mixture and piping, but, follow a simple set of instructions… and who knows what you can achieve!