Sunday, 3 April 2011

Green tea and black sesame macarons

I had several reasons for spending far too much precious time making macarons today:

1)   procrastination
2)   imminent departure for Japan (provided we don’t get bumped again, for then I should give up rearranging my carefully laid plans and take to a darkened room instead of beating my fists against Acts of God and sending several of Flight Centre’s International Travel Consultants on stress leave) where they use such things as matcha and black sesame – why yes, you’re right, that is a flimsy connection
3)   procrastination
4)   the discovery that all the little plastic containers taking up space in the freezer added up to 18 egg whites, thanks to my recent ice-cream-making obsession
5)   procrastination
6)   I named my blog for them, and what do I have to show for that so far?
7)   procrastination

I’ll briefly run through my method for this; thankfully no one reads this blog in order to be mislead – to skip to the end and get it out of the way, these didn’t work and I don’t know why. 

Green tea version first. Sift 110g icing sugar, 70g almond meal and 2 tablespoons matcha into a bowl. I’m no greater fan than Nigella of sifting, but concede it’s best not to skip this step – the almond meal especially usually yields a half-teaspoon or so of not-so-fine meal that needs to be discarded lest it roughen the surface of the macaron. If only that were the extent of the macaron’s worries.

In an electric mixer, whisk 100mL eggwhite* and a pinch of salt until stiff. Add the teensiest bit of green food colouring – I jabbed a wooden skewer into my Wilton gel and used what came away on it, that’s how miniscule I’m talking. That pack of colours will see me out, I think.

 *100mL = 90g or about 3 whites. Probably about 5 tablespoons, although it’s very difficult to measure whites that way – there’s always a glutinous chunk that likes to slip out and take the level down with it.

Re-sift the sugar/flour/matcha over the bowl of whites and gently fold in until the mixture has achieved a magma-like consistency. Fill a piping bag fitted with a 5mm nozzle and pipe as best and consistently as possible onto a silicon-lined tray, as if creating little snails, flicking back the nozzle at the last instant to avoid a snail with a … tail. 

 This is where I go so very wrong, time and again. I’ve watched Youtube clips, I’ve read up, I’ve steadied my hand, I cannot get the uniformity of circle I so want. And because I have a crappy small oven that only takes a tray of meagre size, I fall into the trap of putting them too close together – they will spread a bit, and often do as they rest. 

In spite of having been in this pickle before, I did the same again today and then thought better of it and scraped the ones most at risk of colliding back into the piping bag with a spatula, in the process injuring the adjacent ones and sending them the same route. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I also chopped up some vanilla sencha and sprinkled that over them. 

Then I did the whole thing again for a batch of black sesame macarons, with about quarter of a cup ground black sesame seeds instead of the matcha. And no food colouring.


 The tray of circles or ovals or whatever then sit until their surface can be very lightly touched with the tip of a finger and not come stickily away on it. How long this takes depends on how warm and humid it is – a lot of recipes talk about half an hour, but I left these all day before they passed the touch test.

And then there is the baking of the macaron ...

So anyone anywhere with anything to say about macarons agrees that it’s a 150 C oven for 10–11 minutes. No more, no less. Well, that does nothing for mine. I bump it up to 170 and it still needs almost half an hour before any kind of hardening of the surface starts to happen. So I grow bored and walk away, and then they’re lightly browned, quelle horreur. And it gets worse.


In fact, they’re nothing but flat discs with too much crunch. How do they not have feet? I don’t know the answer – I’m none too clear on how perfectly made macarons do form feet.

This lot are actually the worst macarons I’ve ever made, worse even than my first attempt. I really could do with one of those fabulously expensive weekend macaron workshops.

And there it is. Sunday Fail Part II.

I was loath to waste a perfectly good ganache on these sorry specimens, so I knocked together a buttercream filling with another 2 eggwhites, 100g castor sugar, 170g butter and some vanilla extract. The resulting sandwiches did have a good taste – the degrees of matcha and black sesame seemed okay, not too overpowering or subtle, so I might try these again. One day.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Silverbeet and spinach pie

 I set out to make spanakopita, but didn’t have filo or pastry or feta or sesame seeds, so sort of made this up from bits and pieces of sources, mainly Stephanie Alexander’s Crustless Spinach Pie in Kitchen–Garden Companion. Here it is, in its stages. It’s like lasagna, I should tell you first – it seems straightforward enough, yet by the time it’s in the oven you realise you just spent most of Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. Still, it’s a good slice-up-and-freeze-the leftovers option.

First thing I did was ditch the crustless aspect, referring to the flan pastry in Michel Roux’s Pastry. How can a pie be allowed to lack a crust?

500g plain flour
250g cold butter, chopped into bits
2 teaspoons castor sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
80mL combined water and iceblock

Put all ingredients except the water in the KitchenAid, and combine with a dough hook on slow speed until grainy-looking. Slowly add the ice water until it all clumps together. Scrunch it all together in the mixing bowl a bit, and divide in half. Shape the halves into flattish discs, wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Sorry if I just tricked you into making a double quantity – it’s true that only one disc is needed for this here recipe, but why not make another for future reference with no more trouble? It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days, or freeze against the winter. It can be used for most pie situations that call for a nice rich buttery crust.

After it’s chilled and rested, roll out on a floured board and line a greased pie dish. Stab it with a fork and line with foil before pouring in pie beads or split peas and blind-bake for 20 minutes at 180 C. Remove the baking weights and bake for another five minutes. Set aside to cool.

2 onions, chopped
several cloves garlic, chopped
bunch silverbeet, leaves shredded (save stalks for a gratin or soup)
bunch spinach, leaves shredded
Soften onions and garlic in a little olive oil over a medium heat, add silverbeet and cover for 5 minutes until wilted a bit. Add spinach and stir until it’s all cooked. Leave to cool. Add dill. A little dried mint is another good addition I didn’t think of until now.

500g ricotta, give or take
3 eggs
grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

[gratuitous unmoulded ricotta shot, thank you for your patience]

Mash all this together in a bowl as thoroughly or roughly as you like (personally I like to come across the odd chunk of ricotta when slicing the pie) and combine with the greens. Pour into the prepared pastry case. Sprinkle over:

chopped kalamata olives
lightly toasted pinenuts
grated parmesan [whatever quantities you feel like for all these]

Cook at 180 C for about half an hour until there are browned bits on top.