How to Make Macaroons at Home

Macaroons, aren't they just to die for, cute, delicious they are also.........very expensive.
As an average baker, I could only dream of them: the Graal of Yummies, if there is such a expression, but you know what I mean.

Sometimes recipes are just not enough. It's all in the know-how. And to learn how to make macaroons, I attended a class run at the L'Atelier des Chefs.
Perfect. The class started with a short intro and then hands on all the way. The interaction with the instructor was brilliant, we got lots of tips. Macaroons are delicate so you need to get it right every single step of the way. Having mistakes corrected as we went along was a huge bonus. If you have a birthday coming think gift card.

In the meantime here is what I learnt:
To make 35 macaroons  Shells you'll need the following
250g Ground Almonds
350g Icing Sugar
150g Caster Sugar
215g Egg White (s)
5g Powdered Food Colouring

You will also need Baking Paper not the parchement which has got wax and will leave a taste on your little jewels and a tray with tiny holes to let the air circulate during cooking.

Preheat the oven to 155'C.
Icing sugar develops little crystals with humidity, they will affect the way macaroons looks.
This is the reason which it has to be sifted.
    extra tip: always keep icing sugar in sealed container after opening

When you sift don't check from left to right, it's very tempting to do so but the sugar is very light and will fly all over the shop. So use your hand to press sugar and almond mixture through

Step 1: Sift the ground almonds and the icing sugar together.

Now pay attention, the scientific bit is coming up :

Tip : It's preferable to use pasteurised egg whites, found in supermarkets in cartons. Pateurised egg whites are more runny than fresh therefore the meringue will rise better.

Of course fresh egg whites can be used in both cases, you'll need to add a pinch of salt to stabilised the proteins and use the whites at room temperature.

Step 2: Whisk the egg whites until white and fluffy and then add the caster sugar to the egg whites and continue whisking until you have stiff, glossy peaks.

You know it's ready when it looks like so : very shiny, with soft peaks so whisk away and don't worry you can't overwhisk meringues.

Step 3: Fold the ground almonds and icing sugar into the meringue mixture.
Cut and fold the mixture with a spatula until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is smooth, shiny and has reached the ribbon stage.

Our instructor's tip for this step was: find your own method to incorporate the mixture in the egg-whites, one way to do it : Slide the spatula in the bowl at 12.00o'clock push it all the way till 6. Fold turn the bowl and repeat. 
Step 4 : Carefully add the food colouring making sure not to overwork the mixture. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag.
Tip: do not use liquid colouring. Powder is the best if you can't find powder use gel. A little goes a long way, by adding 1/4 spoon we had really bright colours, like the one below. At this stage, incorporate the colour quickly without overworking the paste                 

When all this is done, it's time to pipe and bake.
Step 5: Pipe 2cm circles in straight lines across a baking sheet lined with a silicon paper. Leave a 1 cm gap between each macaroon shell. Drop the tray of macaroons onto the work surface from about 30 cm to remove any large air bubbles.

Step 6: Allow the macaroons to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes or until the macaroon shells are no longer sticky to touch.

Step 7: Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. If you are baking lots of macaroons you may need to keep the oven door slightly ajar (with a spoon or paper) to prevent steam building up in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the macaroons are cooked by gently lifting a macaroon at the edge of a tray. If the test macaroon does not stick, allow the tray of macaroons to finish cooking on the tray as it cools.

Step 8: Allow the macaroons to cool completely before filling.
Et voila: 
At the Atelier des chefs we made several fillings from ganache to caramel.
Macaroon shells freeze well, so make a batch, freeze half and when there is an impromptu visitor, get some out fill with chocolate paste, jam and leave to defreeze which takes no time.
My thanks to the Atelier des Chefs for inviting me to one of their macaroon  class.

Roasted Sweet Red Peppers

Sweet Peppers: You've seen them on supermarkets shelves, pointy, red or yellow, though sometimes purple. They look so delicious that you buy a bag, then what?

What do you do with sweet peppers?

Stuff them.
But that can get really repetitive and ultimately boring . Unless ......the stuffing is varied. He found this Gary Rhodes recipe where the combo of ingredients is perfect for the job. So next time, the sweet peppers jump in your supermarket trolley, add a few small tomatoes and you are in for a treat.
Roasted Red Peppers
4 sweet red peppers, cut in half with the seeds removed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, choppes
12 small plum tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs
4 tbsp tomato coulis
100g Cheddar cheese, grated

Peppers (whatever the kind) need to be well cooked otherwise our digestive system will rebel.
In a preheated oven 180C/mark 4 -bake the peppers on a tray until they have softened.

In the meantime (should be about 10 minutes) cook the onions in a pan + oil until soft. Add the tomoatoes, herbs, coulis and cook for a few more minutes

Fill the peppers with the tomato mixture and top with the grated cheese

Bake for 15 minutes, during the last 5 minutes, keep an eye on the cheese, take the dish out if you see that the cheese is browning, it needs to be golden.

For variations on sweet pepper recipes have a look here

Carrots Julienne for Vegetarian Week

It's not on the cards for Pebble Soup to follow a vegetarian diet anytime soon. However like many people at HQ we eat too much meat, our lifestyle doesn't require so much proteins therefore once a week we have a vegetarian day.

During vegetarian week, I'll be introducing a few things I picked up along the way. Starting with French special: a salad. An ordinary salad, an extremely simple one and that's what makes it so extraordinary.

That combine with the fact that in France, in Delicatessen or Charcuterie Carrottes Rapées is a best-seller. This dish is  as much a national dish as Steak-Frites-Salade actually it's often la salade in the steak frites. Carrottes Rapées is slightly different from Julienne de Carrottes.

Julienne is a technique whereby vegetables are cut in long thing stripes using a sharp knife. Rapée on the other hand is done with a machine and the stripes are so thin than often they break. If you want a bit more crunch to your salad then Julienne is for you.

Celeriac as in rémoulade is a Julienne too, onions in Ceviche are Julienne. To prepare a Julienne, the vegetable needs to be topped and tails and made into a long rectangle so that thin strips of about 3mm are cut. That is if you don't have a Julienne peeler as the one, an OXO Good Grips product.
The OXO peeler and myself had a bit of a compatibility problem, it makes a perfect Julienne but I found it slightly hard to use and I didn't like it at all when at some point it developed a mind of its one and mistook my index for a carrot. Though it's a nifty tool and with a bit a practise it will be very useful.

Online RRP : £6.00

To make a Carrots Julienne for 4 people. Peel 6 carrots, cut stripes as shown on the picture. Season with salt, pepper, the juice of a lemon and oil (ordinary will do). Get you hands in and toss the carrots, add parsley if you wish but don't be tempted to add anything else.

Bon Ap.

Disclaimer: This post is part of OXO Good Grips Vegetarian Week.

Bengal Tiger - Restaurant Review -

Bengal Tiger, London, Duck tandoori

I probably visited more curry houses than any other type of restaurants and yet I never reviewed any. Why?
Would it be because, frankly I can't be bothered to bring you, reviews which look like an accountant inventory, places where the food is fine but there is nothing to write about.
Of course, I review my own trial and tribulations from my own kitchen but when eat out I expect more. Don't get me wrong, in Greenwich we have a few good curry houses (a few bad one too).

However, I have yet to taste "a-nudge-above-the-rest-dish" in an Indian local. A dish which will make me go, "Hmmm, I wonder what's in there" a dish where "The flavours are intriguing and delicious enough so that I can take them back home to my kitchen." 

So when we "tubed it" to sample The Bengal Tiger's dishes, I wasn't expecting much more than a business-like version of my locals. It, being situated in the City.
And that would have been fine. I was certainly not expecting "Duck Tikka Tandoori", for the good reason that I have never seen a duck dish in an Indian restaurant. Seriously, I have missed something there, though, Indian restaurants menus can be very long and this goes for the Bengal Tiger too. 

And that is what differentiate The Bengal Tiger from a local curry house: Within the long list of tandooris, baltis, kormas and more there are a few intriguing dishes which make you want to come back for another helping.

But it doesn't work for everybody, His paneer starter was "OK", the main signature dish Sikandari Raan (slow pot roast lamb shank with aromatic herbs and spices) was "good". Not over-complimentary adjectives so I was under the distinct impression that the flavours wouldn't follow him to our kitchen and that he would eat here again only if he was in the area.

Let's go back to my own choice of dishes and move on to the main, a pre-historic looking Pomfret. Pomfret doesn't appear very often on menus and this is quite a treat. Pomfret flesh is a flat fish with a central bone, therefore deboning it, isn't a big deal, think sea-bream. It's a fish which benefited from being cooked fresh, perfect for the Bengal Tiger kitchen where " All food is freshly cooked to order".
A few more things in no particular order: The dessert menu though we didn't sample takes you back to the 70's and that is really fun. Then, the staff is genuinely friendly, this shouldn't have to be said, but far too often, I think that waiters in Indian restaurants have been trained in a Parisian school of hospitality.
The decor is rather striking. There is a bar and a good wine list at resonable prices. When it comes to the bill, a meal will probably cost 20% more than at any local curry-house's but then not many of us dwell in the shadow of St Paul's.  

Disclosure : we enjoyed this meal as guests of the Bengal Tiger
62 Carter Lane
City of London,
(020) 7248 6361
Bengal Tiger on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

What's New in the Kitchen #8 : "That's Weird"

This month, I am looking into "the un-usual-s" which arrived at Pebble Soup HQ in the past month or two.
From Pilgrims Choice, a brand new generation of grated products, grated Cheddar "version 2.0". "How is this weird?" I hear you say. 
Well let me explain: We love "cheats" which cuts preparation time. We are all busy, in a hurry, bladibladibla.....hence, the grated cheese market phenomenon. Who would have thought that we would buy grated cheese instead of grating it ourselves.
Moreover the grated cheese market is one of the fastest growing in the cheese industry.
Cause to effect, in order to satisfy customers' demand, Pilgrims Choice have come up with a new range: The Crumbles.  Equally diced cubes, 4mm thick which melt more evenly and faster than home grated cheddar.
Does it work? yes, the result is creamier as in softer, less dry, even melt is achieved, it's just a little ...freaky and it adds a premium of £5 or more per kilo of everyday value cheddar which you'd grate yourself. Is it worth it?

To see a chapati pan in a western kitchen is a little weird. Sometimes, you don't know what you are missing before getting it and that is exactly what happened with this chapati pan. 
At Pebble Soup HQ we were blissfully unaware of a gap in the pans department until we were (virtually) hit on the head with Lakeland's Chapati Pan.

This is an absolutely fabulous implement. It's a flat slick surface which radiate heat all throughout. What they don't tell you, is that though it's designed for chapatis and flat breads, it's also a fab griddle for vegetables and I am certain there are many hidden uses in that rimless, non stick, pan. Pancakes spring to mind.

I love it and if the kitchen was to burn down, I would save the chapati pan too.

A salt grinder is a salt grinder. Right.
Wrong. How many times do you use your salt grinder per day? think about it.
Something as useful utilitarian as this, deserves consideration.
It needs to be cute enough for you to want to look at it when you use it. On that score, OXO salt grinder is...not winning, I am afraid. It's a little chunky, not desperately elegant.
But then for functionality, it ranks up there. Easy visibility, means that you'll never run out of salt at seasoning time. Five choices of grind is more than anyone wants but it's reassuring to know that grinder will provide from fine to coarse at a turn of a wheel and I vouch for it, that worse

But, best of all OXO salt grinder seats on the "turny" bit so, no more rings of salt on the work surface. 

Disclaimer: My thanks to OXO, Pilgrims Choice and Lakeland who provided samples and photography for review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review, opinions expressed are my own. I didn't receive financial compensation for these reviews.
Products RRP: Lakeland Chapati Pan £17.99
OXO Good Grips Salt Grinder £16.99
Pilgrims Choice Crumbles are available in three different varieties Mature, Mature with Black Pepper and Extra Mature with Breadcrumbs and Herbs £2.80 (180g) 

Spiced Bramley Apple Cake

News, fresh from the press: Morecambe Football Club is British Pie Awards Supreme Champion 2014 with their Bramley Apple Pie. The awards were launched in 2009 by the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association to celebrate achieving PGI status for the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie.

While on the subject of Bramley Apples........

Pebble Soup + Spice Bramley Apple Cake
                                                          Spiced Bramley Apple Cake

When I first arrived in London, a job as a librarian seemed out of reach so I took what ever was on offer. In doing so, the bowels of Guy's hospital in London became my working environment for a few months.
Filing assistants are people behind the scene or rather below the scene, as they mostly operate from basements. In Guy's, they get medical records in and out of gigantic shelves operated by enormous wheels, bring them on rickety trolleys via long poorly lit and often damp corridors to a sorting room, from where they are dispatched.
It's an indifferent job which leave a lot of time for confabulations, simmering resentment and malicious gossip. Soon after I started, a long serving member of the filing team stood tall over my desk and declared loudly,
-"Do you know, why English women are better than, you, French?", puzzled by a seemingly out of the blue aggression, I shook my head.
-"Well you wouldn't, would you? then let me tell you" she add, "That's 'cause we cook with Bramleys, none of that crap golden delicious". 
With that, she went back to her station.
For years, I refused to buy Bramleys. I avoided to cook recipes with Bramley apples, the same way I had kept well away from that person, averting my eyes and pretending, they didn't exist.
Then for no reason, I baked Spice Bramley Apple Cake. And it plainly became clear that they are just perfect for the job and the firm filling they provide when cooked is unique. What that ignorant character didn't know is, that Bramleys are protected under EU regulations therefore no chance to buy them outside the UK.
Local apples found in French gardens are often use to bake pies, Braeburn and Reinettes grises du Canada are the commercial kinds which "French" tend to use for cooking. Does that make English women better? I'll reserve judgment on that one. 
Spiced Bramley Apple Cake
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 180C, gas 4 and you'll need a loose bottom round cake tin, preferably lined with baking paper 
  • 225g 8 oz Butter (unsalted) softened
  • 180g 6½ oz Unrefined light muscovado sugar
  • 4 Egg(s) (free range) medium
  • 300g Plain white flour 
  • 2tsp Baking powder       
  • ½tsp Salt 
  • 2 Bramley apple(s) peeled, cored and cubed
  • 1tsp Cinnamon 
  • 1tsp Nutmeg (ground) 
  • 1tsp Cardamon (ground)
  • 200ml 6⅞ fl oz Crème fraîche
For the topping
Bramley apple(s) peeled, cored and diced
2tbsp Lemon juice 
2tbsp Unrefined golden caster sugar 
2tbsp Orange marmalade (smooth and warmed up)

In a large bowl beat together butter and sugar, when fluffy add the eggs

Then stir in all the dry ingredients leaving flour and creme for the next step
now add the flour and the cream alternatively

Pour the apples in and transfer to the cake tin

Cut the apple for the toppin and mix it the sugar and the lemon juice
top the cake with the apple

Bake for about 1 hour  at that stage check if the cake is cook by inserting a skewer or a knife in the middle it might need another 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave it to cool for 10 mins
When cold enough brush the warm marmalade on the top

"Wow, Vanilla" May's Spice Trail

This month's Spice Trail is different, on two accounts:
For the first time, the challenge is hosted outside Bangers 'n Mash and the spice of choice is associated with sweet recipes.  
May's spice is:
The choice was motivated by all the fresh flavours that early spring brings us. Fruits desserts, ice-creams, all delights enhanced by vanilla and then there is the prospect of outdoors eating, what would a picnic be without cakes?
I have to confess that there is a hidden agenda, we are very curious to see which savoury dish you are going to enter (if any)..... 

This month's Prize
We've have teamed up with a small family-run company Naturally Good Food which "offers the best wholefoods and free-from foods to match your larder and your purse".
The company was born out of need for good value healthy food to feed the kids. it started as a local bulk buying group. Decades later, Cathal and Sue operate a leading wholefood shop on the web from a modern eco buiding near Rugby. The scale may have changed but the company is still very much customers focused and the owners easy to talk to. 
One lucky winner chosen by the team at Naturally Good Food will receive a selection of Steenberg organic essences:
  • Almond Extract - 100ml -
  • Orange Flower Water 100ml -
  • Rose Water -100ml -
  • and of course Vanilla Extract- 100ml
So to your pods and see you on the May's entries list.

How to enter The Spice Trail
    Display The Spice Trail badge (above and also available here) on your recipe post, with a link back to Pebble Soup and Bangers 'n Mash, and details of this month’s challenge.
    Up to three recipe links accepted per blogger, so long as each one features vanilla.
    Feel free to link up recipe posts from your archive, but please add the information about this challenge to the post and The Spice Trail badge.
    Use The Linky below to enter your recipe(s) or if you prefer send your recipe URL to me at pebblesoup-at-gmail-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Wednesday 28 May 2014 at 17.00.
    If you tweet your post, please mention #TheSpiceTrail @Solangeweb and @BangerMashChat in your tweet and we’ll retweet each one we see.
    As entries come in, links coming by mail will be added to the bottom of this page.
    At the end of the month a guest judge will choose a winning recipe and the winner this month will receive a selection of products from Naturally Good Food as described above.
   The winner will be announced in a monthly round-up of all the entries.
Entries from bloggers all around the world are accepted, but unfortunately the prize can only be shipped to a UK address.
    All entries will be added to The Spice Trail Pinterest Board.
We are looking forward  to seeing your Vanilla recipes. Any questions, please tweet or email me.
And thanks to everyone who is entering May's Vanilla Challenge.



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