May 19, 2012

White Vanilla Cake with Macarons

This may be one of the best cakes I've ever made. It's pretty, elegant and most of all, really delicious. And I made it within 3 hours, which was a mad rush to bake the cake layers, make the macarons, whip up the frosting, assemble the cake and frost the whole thing before my friends came over. I know, I should have planned it earlier and started a day ahead because my macarons didn't turn out right. I was devastated to see the poor, cracked with no crinkly feet macarons looking like mini whoopie pies when I took them out of the oven. But in the end I still used them, because they just tasted so good. I didn't let them set long enough to dry as I didn't have enough time. Lesson learned.

The main inspiration for the macaron topping came from the Balsamic Strawberry Butter Cake by Steph of Raspberri Cupcakes (I am her no.1 fan of her blog!). My cake is no where near as perfect as her cake (and all of her other amazing cakes) and I should have topped the cake with more macarons too. The frosting on the cake isn't super smooth because I didn't bother spending more time on that, and those air bubbles from whipping so much made it even harder to smooth out. Speaking of frosting, I used my go-to recipe: Perfect buttercream frosting, minus the cream cheese. This never lets me down and always impresses with its light and not-too-sweet whipped cream taste...yum.

For the cake, I used the recipe from Joy of Baking, which is great for me because it uses the egg whites and egg yolks. It is more complicated than just mixing the ingredients together, because you have to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold it through the cake batter. But, it's totally worth it when it comes out of the oven, because it creates a beautiful light, moist and buttery crumb that tastes oh so vanilla. I also carefully increased the recipe by 1.5 times, so that I could have a third layer. And it turned out just as it should which made me really happy, unlike my attempt at a third layer on the Chocolate Delight Cake.

The macarons are the star on this cake even though they weren't as perfect as I had hoped. I recently bought the "Macarons Chic & Delicious French Treats" book by Annie Rigg from the bookstore, and it is an beautiful little book full of stunning pictures and ideas for making various flavours of macarons. I adapted one of the ideas to flick some red liquid food colouring on the unbaked macarons (a genius idea!), which gave it a Jackson Pollock effect. It gave it a pretty colour on an otherwise plain macaron. I was also going to make heart shaped macarons but I ended up piping the regular round shapes, so I'd love to try it the next time I make another batch.

White cake recipe adapted from Joy of Baking.
Makes one-3 layer 8 inch cake.

3 large eggs, separated
262 grams cake flour (about 2 and 3/4 cups) or use plain flour and replace 4 tablespoons of the flour with cornflour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon of salt
170 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups (300 grams) of sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3/4 cup of milk
1/8 plus half of 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Macarons recipe from 'Macaron Chic & Delicious French Treats' by Annie Rigg.
Makes about 20 filled macarons

200 g (1 and 1/2 cups) icing/ confectioners'/ powdered sugar
100 g (2/3 cup) ground almonds
120-125 g egg whites (about 3 eggs)
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of sugar

For the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 177 degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease and line three 8 inch round cake tins with baking paper.

2. Separate the eggs, reserving both the egg yolks and egg whites and set aside in covered bowls.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

4. Beat butter with an electric mixer until soft and add 1 cup of the sugar. Continue to beat until creamy and fluffy.

5. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition and add the vanilla extract to beat until combined.

6. Add the flour mixture and milk in three additions, alternating between each to make sure the flour is added in the beginning and end.

7. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

8. Gradually add the remaining sugar (1/2 cup) and keep beating until it forms stiff peaks.

9. Gently fold a little of the egg whites in the cake batter with a rubber spatula and then add the rest, mixing until combined. Be careful not to overmix the batter otherwise it will deflate.

10. Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared cake tins (weigh the batter if you want to have exactly even layers) and bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center is clean. Cool the cakes in the tins for 10 mins and let them completely cool. Cover the layers with plastic wrap and place them in a freezer for at least an hour to make it easier for assembly.

For the macarons:

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees F). Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds in a mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer in a clean bowl. Add the salt and continue to beat until it just holds a stiff peak. Add the sugar a teaspoonful at a time and mix well between each addition. It should form a thick, white and glossy meringue.

3. Fold the icing sugar and ground almond mixture into the egg whites until combined and smooth.

4. Fill a piping bag with the mixture and pipe even circles on the baking/parchment paper lined baking trays, about 2 inches across in diameter.

5. Tap the bottom of the trays sharply to remove any large air bubbles. Dip a clean toothbrush in some red liquid food colouring and flick the bristles over the macarons to colour them (the food colouring may splash quite a bit).

6. Leave the macarons for at least 15 minutes to an hour, until they become dry and have set. They should not feel wet or sticky when tested with your finger.

7. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes until the tops are crisp and the bottoms are dry. Let them cool completely after baking.

8. Fill the macarons with some buttercream, jam, ganache or frosting (I used some leftover frosting from the cake) and sandwich them together.

To assemble the cake,

1. Fill the cake with about 1/2 cup of frosting on each layer (I used my favourite buttercream frosting here), stacking them layer by layer and frosting the outside of the cake. Put it in the fridge to set for at least an hour. Top the cake with macarons just before serving and serve at room temperature.

May 13, 2012

Chocolate Heart Whoopie Pies

For those of you who aren't into the baking trends, whoopie pies may be new to you. So what is a whoopie pie? It's basically two cookie-like cakes sandwiched together with a delicious creamy filling. They are a combined version of cookie and cake and are taking over the baking world by storm, becoming increasingly popular among bakers. Traditionally, whoopie pies are made with a marshmallow filling but I decided to give it a modern twist and use classic buttercream instead. No one likes bland food, especially when it comes to sweet treats. And what's my version of whoopie pies without a little surprise inside?

Thanks to Not Quite Nigella's recipe, I was able to reproduce some delicious chocolate whoopie pies. It was the first time I've ever made these treats, and I'm glad that I did! They however, came out a bit too large for me so I decided to cut out heart shapes with my cookie cutter and split each in half, which explains why there are so many crumbs. You can cut out other shapes or have these in their regular circle shape and fill them with your favourite frosting or filling. You could even try strawberry and cream whoopie pies like the traditional scones!

I wanted to surprise my tasters with a strawberry-flavoured marshmallow hidden inside, surrounded by the creamy buttercream. It was a delicious treat with a nice chocolatey moist crumb which was complimented by the filling and heart-shaped marshmallow. The dark chocolate chips added in the batter were a nice addition and took the whoopie pies to another level. Next time I might try adding in white or milk chocolate chips, or even sprinkles for a funfetti version.

They may not be too pretty or fancy, but they are certainly tasty and worth to try. There are so many flavours and versions of whoopie pies from pumpkin to red velvet to choose from, that it may be time to try another one soon!

Chocolate Whoopie Pies adapted from Not Quite Nigella.
Makes about 12 whoopie pies

125 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 cup of milk
1 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of plain/all-purpose flour
1 and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
1/3 cup of chocolate chips

Classic Vanilla Buttercream from Savory Sweet Life.

226 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 cups of confectioners' (icing, powdered) sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons of milk/cream

To make the whoopie pies,
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 F). Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well until creamy.
2. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt and set aside.
3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating in three parts with the milk and mixing well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips and mix to combine.
4. Use a greased whoopie pie pan and fill the moulds with batter, OR use a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop and drop 12 balls of batter, about 6 inches apart, onto a baking paper lined baking tray. You can also pipe them with a piping bag if you're a neat baker.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle is clean or they spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before filling or decorating.

To make vanilla buttercream,
1. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for a few minutes until pale and creamy. Turn the mixer to a low speed and add 3 cups of the icing sugar and mix until incorporated.
2. With the mixer at a medium speed, add the vanilla extract, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. Add another cup of icing sugar for a more stiff consistency or add the rest of the milk/cream a tablespoon at a time.

Assemble the whoopie pies by piping or spreading some buttercream on one cake and sandwiching it with another. Decorate as you like with icing, sprinkles or sifted cocoa/icing sugar on top!

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