Macarons (GF)

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Macarons. Macarons are those famous treats that both delight and frustrate. From what I’ve learned testing some recipes for these sweet treats there’s a lot to remember when it comes to making Macarons, and missing even one step can produce some rather interesting results. But because I had such success with the beignets I was emboldened, and I knew I had to give Macarons a go for this FF!.

It’s been a really fun challenge, and I feel as though I’ve learned a lot of skills on the side from practicing these recipes. For one thing I seem to have recovered the ability to separate eggs with my hands. I know it’s normal for a lot of people to do it, but for a long time I have been known for “Hulking out” on eggs, accidentally half crushing them when attempting to crack them delicately, and so on. I have a rather strong grip for someone with tendinitis and such apparently! But it was fun to be able to separate eggs bare handed again, as I didn’t then have to worry about the yolk breaking or washing the egg separator afterwards! And there’s something very zen about separating them with your bare hands, oddly enough.

I have also become a lot more confident in my ability to make meringue base. Twice now I have managed to get beautifully stiff, glossy peaks, which I have then been able to do the trick of holding upside down over my head without ending up with a terrible mess afterwards! The first time I was tentative about it, but the second time I took the risk and just upended the bowl over my head to see what would happen. The egg whites didn’t so much as wobble.

They were perfect! But getting used to Macarons has been interesting. I have now learned the importance of a very uniform batter, as not having it uniform will mean the tops will crack. I have learned the importance of texture, and how the batter must be able to run from your spatula in one smooth, unbroken sort of ribbon like lava or honey. I have also learned that the tap you give the baking sheet of Macarons against the counter can’t be all that gentle, as that won’t shake the air bubbles out and will mean little air pockets inside your Macarons. Lastly, the importance of letting the Macarons sit at room temperature to form a skin on the top. I still have a lot to learn, but I have gained a lot along the way!

What Worked

When folding the batter, I cut through the middle with the flat of the spatula and drew a big J in the bowl as I folded and turned it, this seemed to work better for the texture of the Macaron mix. Using a large, round piping tip or cut in the piping bag as recommended works well, because the mixture will be thick enough you don’t have to worry about it running out all over the place and you don’t want a gigantic ball of mixture, you just want a semi-flat circle. Extra sifting and grinding is useful because lumps in the flour – be it almond, pistachio, hazelnut, etc, can make the batter not come together well or be less uniform. I sifted my second recipe’s dry mix an extra two or three times and used my little smoothie blender to work the lumps out. Using a stencil the first time to get a feel for the shape and spacing of the Macarons.

What Didn’t Work

Not folding enough with the first batter. I didn’t fold enough to get the batter completely uniform, so some of mine cracked. With the second batch I counted how many folds I needed until I had that honey/lava texture, and I did about 40-45 folds after adding the second half of the flour mix before I was satisfied with the texture. I think the first time I was worried about over folding, but seeing the improved texture reassured me. Not using a wide enough piping tip/cut in the bag the first time wasn’t so great, as I noticed that it was so much easier to pipe more uniform Macarons using the larger cut/piping head as recommended. With the second batch I didn’t give them as rough a bang as I did with the first batch, so there were still some air bubbles trapped under the skin.

A Tip

There is a lot of information about Macarons out there, and it can seem overwhelming, but having done some research actually really helped me out a lot. Also I find in general that recipes done by weight/volume tend to be more successful than recipes not using such exact measurements. But that can also be personal preference.

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Beignets (GF)

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A positive encounter with the Yeast Beast convinced me that these little treats would be perfect to bring along to Fiesta Friday this week. I have to say, I have become slightly spoiled since going to the Hunter Valley. Tasting the good food there has made me even more determined to improve these skills of mine, and so I thought I would start with tackling the Yeast Beast. As it turns out there’s a lot to learn when it comes to this particular creature, but with a little love and a little patience it produces delicious results.

Beignets are a treat that aren’t at all common around here. In fact I couldn’t find even one person who knew how to pronounce their name around either home or work! But given how straight forward the recipe looked I thought it would be a shame not to give it a go, and see how I went tackling the Yeast Beast. Well, I was impressed. Not only did the batter come together rather well, but once I mastered getting the temperature of the oil and the frying time correct, I was astounded at their delicious texture and taste.

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I would call these treats something like a fritter, and something like a donut. I don’t tend to deep fry these sorts of sweets, or really eat too much deep friend food, so it was rather interesting getting used to the process of heating the oil and watching these little beauties bob around as they gently browned. I also turned away from what seems to be the traditional topping of icing sugar, and instead went or cinnamon and white sugar. Yum!

I would recommend eating these warm, as that was when their flavour was the best. Also I hope this gives a bit more confidence to those starting to tackle the Yeast Beast! Happy FF!

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Weddings and Wine

It came up on me all of a sudden that I would have to leave work altogether on Friday and zip up to the Hunter Valley with Pete, and his friend Evan, for the wedding of their friend Adam to his longtime partner Linda. So unfortunately there’s no recipes this post!

It began with a bit of confusion as to where we were going to have to go, but at last we were told it was the Hunter Valley. And because that’s a bit of a drive from where we live we decided to set out a little earlier than we had planned before. As it turned out this was a marvellous idea. We arrived at our accommodation, a beautiful place called Peppers Guest House, in good time. At the front desk I asked the receptionist for a map of the area, and she not only provided one, but then made a recommendation for a winery we should nip out to see before the evening was through! There are a lot of wineries in the Hunter Valley, which is famously referred to as Wine Country. But even I wasn’t prepared for the sheer beauty and frequency of the various wineries. However, Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard was our first stop, and I couldn’t have been happier with the recommendation.

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Hello readers! Here I am! I’m normally a bit shy about sharing photos of myself with people I’m not really very close to. But the sheer beauty of our holiday destination has convinced me that I need to share it! So here I am, in one of the many rows of grapes at Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard. The setting was perfect. It was right on top of a hill, and so it had a fantastic view right out across the region. The wine was refreshing and delicious, and Pete picked up a bottle of red.

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It was absolutely stunning, and I do recommend it as a place to visit for those in the area. But we were also in luck in that Hungerford Hills, a winery of interest because it shares my family name, was also open until 6pm on the night we arrived. We nipped down the hill and around, and found ourselves popping right out at their front door! I couldn’t resist snapping a photo with the sign, and I was very pleased at their beautiful selection of wines – and other gourmet products like spices, vinegars and so on. But of course the best thing there was the fact that they sold gluten-free mango chutney, my father’s favourite flavour of chutney. I didn’t hesitate to nab him the last bottle! Pete bought another red there, while although I loved the early bird semillion I was more keen on the chutney, and then we were off for dinner!

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Harrigans Irish Pub was located not that far from the Guest House, and it blew our minds. Pub food hasn’t always been a lot of fun for me in the past, and less so now that we know I’m gluten intolerant. However, Harrigans had quite a few gluten-free items to choose from, and the service was good. Both Evan and Pete got black angus steaks, the size of which astounded me. I got the twice cooked duck marlyand and was absolutely delighted at how much meat I ended up with. I’m used to ordering chicken or duck, etc, and getting scraps of meat with more bones than I know what to do with. But this was a hefty dish, and in the end I had to have a bit of help in finishing it. But the men loved their steaks, raved about the chips, and I was absolutely in love with the duck! We finished with a gluten-free chocolate mousse and meringue stack for dessert, had a quick dip in the pool and the spa at the guest house, and then watched a movie until it was time to go to bed.

Breakfast at the Guest House was also fantastic. I was able to get gluten-free bread, and we stuffed ourselves on fresh fruit, sausages, eggs, tomato and bacon, as well as mushroom, orange juice, coffee and more. The men dipped into the range of sweet pastries while I stuck with mounds of delicious fresh fruit. We then nipped across the grass to Peppers Creek Barrel room, the winery our accommodation was attached to, and investigated their own little antique shop. After that we were out again, hitting up a local grocer which had a splendid chocolate shop, and a tea and jam shop! Pokolbin has some gorgeous local produce, so this grocer is well worth the stopover! We then moseyed on over to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, where we stocked up on delicious chocolate goods and treated ourselves to some of the best hot chocolates I have ever drunk!

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Then it was on to our final official stop for the afternoon before the wedding, Pukara Estate, to taste the olive oils and vinegars. I was in love with their truffle oil and their caramelised onion jam. I would have bought both if I had thought I could get enough use out of them. Unfortunately the onion jam contained xantham gum, which would make dad quite sick on the stomach, so I left it. But I did discover a delicious jar of basil pesto, perfect to use to make a nice lunch for work and so I picked that up. On the way back we decided to stop at Tempus Two, another winery, which also housed a few restaurants. We ate at Oishi for lunch, so that we wouldn’t get hungry during the wedding ceremony, and I highly recommend it. It was then nap time for the men, while I worked on a draft of this post.

After this it was time to get all gussied up and to head out to the front garden for the wedding! It was a beautiful affair, and I certainly had fun dancing the night away after all the meals and speeches were had. I’m very happy for Adam and his lovely bride! It seems a shame now that we hadn’t had even more time there around the wedding, but what time we did spend there was wonderful. We’ve made up our minds to return again with another group, and this time to spend at least a week there going on various tours and trying even more activities. I wouldn’t mind investigating some of their cooking classes, the Hunter Valley Gardens, and even doing a little horse riding!

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies and more! (GF, Experimental)

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I have been promising that I would post more recipes in the experiments section, and I have been promising recipes from a new cookbook I was given for christmas as well. So – here we are! I have picked three recipes to add to this experiments section, although I have not been fortunate enough to have the time to snap pics for all of them. I still wanted to add them here, as I have a lot to talk about in regards to each recipe and want to share the experiences I had in making them (and taste-testing them). I will be giving a brief overview, and then going through what worked and what didn’t under the cut. Once I get a chance to do more work on these recipes I will also edit this post. But I wanted to give all the wonderful readers out there a chance to see what I have been working on.

So, to start with I want to talk about these sour cream sugar cookies. One thing I have noticed time and again with sugar cookies is that – like meringues, they seem to be sensitive to my local weather and climate. I thought it would remain nice and cold right up until the weekend when I wanted to bake these, but no such luck. I woke up to a stinking hot day, so unfortunately my dough wasn’t too pleased with me. However, their flavour was wonderful. I was worried the brandy in the recipe would be too strong, but it cooked out and became lovely and subtle. I also approved of the chance to use up the egg whites not used in the dough in a batch of royal icing to put on top, so there was no waste!

Secondly, I made some crumble bars. Originally I put these together as an extra snack for work, however, I found their sweetness overwhelming and had to give them to mum to take to work. Unlike me her co-workers are serious sweet tooths and gobbled them up. I absolutely loved the flavour of the biscuit base, and the crumble topping, however. And after some thought I realised a few things this recipe would need to make it perfect for us, including the use of real fruit instead of jam or fruit spread, and adding more biscuit dough to the base to make a thinner top.

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Thirdly, I put together a vanilla cake with double chocolate frosting. This recipe was an absolute success, and not much of it needed improving. Although I do want to experiment further with flour blends, etc, and see what I can make of it. I will say that this case is extremely decadent, and very, very chocolate-y. So I would reserve it for a party or something of the like, as it’s a bit too rich for standard afternoon tea fare. I will also be including a tip I used on how to save a cake when the edges stick, or it doesn’t come out exactly as round as you were hoping! Happy FF!

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Support

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I’m a bit late this week. I was hoping to do this post to coincide with the start of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But better late than never! I want to show support for all the people in the world who are still being discriminated against on the basis of not only sexuality, but also identity, mental health, gender, ethnicity and so on. We are all human, and we all have one world to live in. Don’t let discrimination come between us. What’s important is that we are good people, and that we are comfortable being ourselves. Love is love – regardless of gender! So my love and support to you all, and I hope that the day comes soon when we can all be safe to be ourselves.

Passionfruit Sponge Cake (GF)

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It had been a somewhat stressful week. And one thing that cheers me up when I can’t get together with the ones I love is to bake. I have been testing a recipe or two from a gorgeous book I got given for christmas – so watch this space. However, this recipe is from another book which is continuing to prove to be extremely reliable: The Gluten Free Dessert Bible.

This sponge cake is simple to make, even more so now that I know the trick for getting wonderful, stiff egg whites is to beat them until I can tip the bowl up and not have them fall out. I also learned another neat tip with folding egg whites, and that is to fold through a dollop of egg whites to loosen the mixture before you gently fold in the rest. This second tip works really well! And it makes the mix much lighter and easier to fold!

This sponge comes out lovely and golden and it holds its shape very well due to the arrowroot flour. It does become quite a thin sponge, but it’s still quite a sweet treat and when filled you don’t mind it’s lack of height. I filled mine with passionfruit whipped cream, although the original recipe used passionfruit curd. I recommend any of those sort of tangy/sweet fillings for this cake.

So a happy FF to all!

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Donuts, Donuts, DONUTS! (GF, Vegan)

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I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I first stumbled across Baked Doughnuts for Everyone. It’s a gorgeous cookbook, filled with donuts recipes of every kind. I absolutely love it. However, it did require some experimentation as previous posts will show. At first this was because I had no access to unsweetened applesauce, which seems to be a very common and easily found thing overseas. Applesauce in general is not such a popular thing here, so finding even the sweetened kind wasn’t as easy as you might think. I soon overcame this when my favourite allergy friendly store brought in huge jars of unsweetened applesauce for a pittance! I bought four right then and there because it continues to astound me how often this ingredient is called for. Secondly I then had to experiment with flours, as this book uses a standard mix of: sweet rice flour, oat flour and almond meal, sometimes with flaxseed meal added in.

Sweet rice flour is also known as glutinous rice flour, which is incredibly cheap and easy to find at my local asian supermarkets. Almond meal and flaxseed are also pretty common. However, oat flour is not. And a I have mentioned before oats are not exactly “gluten free” here, as most of them are processed in places where they then become contaminated. And even then oats contain a protein that is very alike to gluten, and which can still cause some pretty serious upset for coeliacs and intolerants alike. So then I began experimenting with what sort of replacement I could use for the oat flour, as plain flour (gluten-free of course), was do-able, but not perfect.

I went through a few different flours, settling at last on buckwheat flour. I got the idea after some research in which someone described oat flour as being a dense and “soggy flour”. It soaks up liquid well. And for some reason that immediately turned my mind to buckwheat flour, as to me it’s also a “soggy flour”. So I did a few tests, and the results were exactly what I was hoping for!

What Worked

Subbing the applesauce for melted nuttelex or oil – although using actual applesauce is the best solution, swapping flours gram for gram throughout the testing, sticking to the three flour blend as much as possible, being mindful not to over mix the batter, baking the donuts for longer than recommended until the skewer test proved they were cooked to my satisfaction.

What Didn’t Work

Replacing the oat flour with all purpose/plain flour (gluten free) – it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I wanted, using the recommended amount of batter per each hole – you really only get six donuts out of each mix so don’t be shy about making sure all the holes are full! Happy FF!

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