Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Chocolate peanut butter macarons


Italian meringue
200g caster sugar
75ml water
80g egg whites (3-4 eggs)

100g ground blanched almonds
100g ground blanched unsalted peanuts
200g icing sugar
80g egg whites (3-4 eggs)

125g double or whipping cream
175g dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons peanut butter

These macarons use the Italian meringue or "cooked sugar" method. You will need a sugar thermometer or else a knack for catching sugar at the soft ball stage. Macarons usually only contain almonds but I've used half peanuts and half almonds - the peanuts add flavour and the almonds ensure the mix is sufficiently dry to form the macarons. If you're grinding the nuts yourself, be careful not to over-grind them or the nuts will become too oily to form a crisp macaron shell.


Start by making the Italian meringue mixture. Heat the water and sugar to 114 degrees C as quickly as possible without stirring. While this boils, gently beat the egg whites to soft peak. As the syrup reaches 114 degrees C, increase the speed of the mixer and pour the syrup in a thin stream down the side of the bowl into the beaten egg whites. Continue beating for 5 to 10 minutes while the mixture cools

Working quickly, make the paste: mix the icing sugar and ground nuts together, then stir in the unbeaten egg whites. Using a spatula, fold in one third of the meringue mixture, then add in the rest, taking care not to overmix.

Line several baking trays with parchment (you can use a little of the mixture to stick the parchment to the tray). Put a number 1A plain round nozzle in a piping bag and pipe out small round mounds onto the parchment. Tap the bottom of the trays lightly on the counter and leave the macarons to rest at room temperature for about half an hour. They will form a thin crust so that when you lightly run a finger over them, no batter sticks to you.
Bit ashamed of my piping nipples
Heat the oven to 150 degrees C and bake the macarons for 14 minutes. As soon you take the cooked macarons out of the oven, slide the parchment on to a cold counter top to "shock" them and ensure they come cleanly off the parchment.

Be prepared to have a few disasters - for me the macarons at the bottom of the oven often come out a hollow sticky mess. 

With any luck most will have a nice smooth bottom

While these cool, make the filling by bringing the double cream to boiling point. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate and allow to sit for a couple of minutes, then beat into a smooth glossy ganache. Then add the peanut butter. Once the filling has cooled, use it to sandwich together the macarons.

And the failed macarons? Well you've got a load of egg yolks hanging about so why not make some ice cream and break the macarons on top?
Chocolate peanut butter ice cream with peanut macarons

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Banana cake with peanut butter frosting

For this week's Clandestine Cake Club I made a banana cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting, which went down a treat.

Here's the recipe:


450g unsalted butter
450g light brown sugar
9 eggs
450g self raising flour
2.5 teaspoons mixed spice
4 overripe mashed bananas

For the frosting:

150g full fat cream cheese
150g smooth peanut butter
200g icing sugar, plus a little more for dusting

3 tablespoons of caramel sauce (optional)
handful of chopped peanuts (optional)

This recipe makes a very substantial cake - you can reduce the height of it by making less sponge:

325g unsalted butter
325g light brown sugar
6 eggs
325g self raising flour
1.5 teaspoons mixed spice
3 overripe mashed bananas

Use the same amount of frosting as you're covering the same surface area. Besides, it's so tasty you won't want to skimp on it


Grease and line three x 8 inch round tins and preheat your oven to 160 degrees C/Gas Mark 3

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one by one

Sift the flour and mixed spice together, then gently fold this into the mix. Lastly, add in the mashed banana

Divide the mixture equally between the three tins and smooth with the back of a spoon
Bake for about 40 minutes (about 30 minutes if you're using the smaller amount of sponge) until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting by beating together the cream cheese and the peanut butter until light and fluffy, then add gradually add the icing sugar.

Spread the top of two cakes with the frosting, the caramel sauce (if using) and a scattering of chopped peanuts (if using). Stack the cakes and dust the top and sides with icing sugar. You can decorate the top by piping on leftover frosting and adding the last of the chopped peanuts.


Note to cake decorators: this sponge is firm enough to level, cut and ice - just substitute the cream cheese for a butter icing or ganache that doesn't need to be refrigerated.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

James Morton - Brilliant Bread

If one of your summer highlights is watching the BBC's Great British Bake Off, you'll remember James Morton from the 2012 final - that nice young medical student from the Shetlands with a penchant for Fair Isle knitwear. 

Following the success of a talk on baking during the Edinburgh Fringe, James was invited to do a Christmas show at The Stand comedy clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Newcastle also boasts its own The Stand, but sadly he wasn't crossing the border.

Undeterred, Newcastle Cake Club ladies did a five hour round trip to see him bake a stollen. Last time I was at The Stand in Glasgow it was to see Daniel Kitson, who shares James' love of knitwear but was no help whatsoever when it came to bread.

James talked the audience (about 98% female) through baking a Christmas stollen and shared his love of baking bread. While there is a whole science to baking, which he clearly understands, he completely demystified baking. He argued that home baking is simple and far better for you than supermarket bread, squishing a loaf of cheap white bread in his hand to prove his point that it is basically raw. As someone living on a student budget, he eschewed expensive equipment ("Don't buy a baking stone, just get a loose paving slab or roof tile and give it a wash"). 

We bought his book Brilliant Bread, took a little  bit of his sourdough starter, had our photo taken and made him promise to come to Newcastle next time.

Unsurprisingly for someone who runs a cake-making business, I bake a lot of cake. But I rarely bake bread. It was time to getting cracking with my new recipe book.

I like to read magazines and books starting at the back, meaning I skip the adverts and know who dunnit straightaway. So I started near the end and the first thing I baked was Peanut Butter Brioche Twists.

But James was waiting for me on page 117: "back to the start you chancer" and I scuttled off to the beginning to make soft white rolls

Meanwhile, I'd been feeding the sourdough starter we'd been given in Glasgow and, like me, it was ready for his favourite chapter: Sours. I've tried making sourdoughs in the past and given up. To be honest I was slightly scared of the starter growing in my kitchen every day, sometimes bursting out of its container and shouting FEED ME SEYMOUR. James' book has changed this: for a start, I've realised that you're meant to keep throwing away some sourdough and that you can keep it in the fridge if you're not baking every day.
An ideal gift
Advanced white bread
Marmite bread. Delicious, especially as cheese on toast 
Staple white sourdough
India Pale Ale and Cardamom Loaf
Seeded sour (yes that is a normal amount of butter)
Proving bread in the fridge overnight has been a revelation for me, as has baking in a cast iron pot. I admit that I can't always get a good shape on a sourdough but the pot helps to support it - baking with the lid on creates steam to help it rise, then taking the lid off during baking helps caramelise the crust.

One excuse I've used for not making my own bread is that I can't eat a whole loaf on my own but this sourdough bread keeps so well that I can easily eat a loaf without it going stale, plus it's so delicious that I want to eat it all straightaway anyway. I've also found that friends are more than happy to accept half a loaf. I bought a supermarket "artisan" sourdough loaf last week and was shocked at how bad it was - no taste, no crumb and it went dry very quickly. It also went in the bin very quickly.

One sourdough that defeated me was the real pannetone, billed as one of the hardest breads there is. After two days' effort, it ended up on the flour and I thought perhaps my sourdough hadn't been active enough

On my second attempt I waited until the sourdough was fizzing like an EDL supporter with a parking ticket, but found the dough was more like batter and it didn't achieve any height at all. If anyone has any advice, please let me know - I've already tried the "consoling myself that I don't even like panettone that much while putting it in the bin" method.

No 'magnificent height' here
I had more success with focaccia bread, challah and stollen.
Wasn't sure I'd manage to eat all this on my own but the olive oil kept the bread moist for days
Four strand challah
Chocolate stollen. It didn't make it to Christmas so I had to bake a second one
Han and I also had a lot of fun deep frying some doughnuts she made and then filling them with jam. The pleasure of eating a fresh, warm doughnut comes a close second to winning Euromillions.

Years of medical training have gone into this injection
James Morton's book is written with warmth, humour and an eye on economy  - no fancy brioche moulds for him ("if you're buying these you've got too much cash to burn") and some tips on making do - I'm pleased with my razor on a stick for scoring the bread instead of a fancy lame,

though after a few weeks of baking I decided to invest in a nice wicker banneton so I could get that swirly pattern on the crust

The recipes have clearly been tested and do work (the blame for the panettone lies squarely with me). It encourages bakers to try their own flavours and offers good sensible advice on the practicalities of home baking, particularly on a budget. Brilliant Bread is already a firm favourite and I recommend it to anyone who wants to start baking at home. Thanks, James, come to Newcastle next time!