This makes just a few eclairs – about 10. Enough for 4 to 5 people as a dessert of two-ish each. That’s because I’d rather create a dessert enough for one dinner, and I can make something else the next day! Obviously you can double up quantities if you like for larger numbers.
The peanut butter fudge and the caramel sauce can both be made up to a few days ahead
Alternatively, you can buy fudge if you aren’t confident with confectionary
Leave out the amaretto if you’re serving them to children (can replace with a dash of almond essence)
Baking trays, lined with parchment
1 cm round nozzle and large piping bag
Smaller nozzle (for piping cream) and piping bag
Ingredients – eclairs
Strong white bread flour – 65g
Eggs, medium – 2
Caster sugar – 5g
Salt, fine – 5g
Unsalted butter – 50g
Water – 125ml
Ingredients – caramel (This is slightly too much for this recipe but it’s easier to cook this amount. It can be kept in the fridge – great for ice cream)
Granulated sugar – 50g (you can use all granulated sugar but I think 50/50 give a nuttier flavour)
Demerera sugar – 50g
Butter – 50g (unsalted or salted: your choice on this one)
Double cream – 60ml
Ingredients – Chantilly cream
Double cream – 400ml
Amaretto liqueur – 1 tablespoon
Icing sugar – 2 tablespoons
Method – eclairs
Put the salt and sugar into the flour in a jug or a small diameter bowl (this makes it easier to chuck it all in at once later on)
Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly until they are just broken up (don’t make them frothy)
Bring the butter, water to a rolling boil
When boiling, remove the pan off the heat (keep the burner/hob on though) and tip all the flour/salt/sugar in all at once
Whip vigorously with a wooden spoon until it is all incorporated smoothly and then move the pan back on to the heat
Continue to ship until the dough dries out a little and comes away from the side of the pan and stops sticking to it
Turn off the burner/hob
Tip in half of the egg – you may not need all of it so it’s best to do it this way
Mix it all in until the mixture is smooth
You will now need to add more egg, little by little. You need to aim for a smooth, loose but not runny consistency. The usual explanation is that if you lift a spoon or spatula out of the dough mix it should form a nice ‘V’ shape hanging off the bottom of the spoon
While it is still warm – be careful! – put the dough into the piping bag, fitted with the round nozzle
Put your oven on to 200C fan / 220C conventional
Pipe long lines of choux on the sheet, leaving space for them to puff up. They need to be about 10cm long each
Wet the back of a teaspoon and gently tap down any loose ends of the choux dough
Tip a cupful of water into a baking sheet or ramekin at the bottom of your oven to create some steam
When the oven is at temperature, pop the tray into the oven for 18 -20 mins until they are a mid brown. Do NOT open the door! This will flatten your lovely eclairs
Turn the oven off and leave the eclairs in there, undisturbed for another 10 mins
They should be puffed up and firm
Leave them to cool on the tray (one thing I’ve found useful is to roll them all over as this stops the moisture on the bottom of the choux from making the pastry soggy)
These will be ready to fill and decorate when cool
Method – caramel
Tip all the ingredients bar the cream into a heavy bottomed, medium pan (the sugar will bubble)
On a low to medium heat, stir gently until all the ingredients are melted together
Turn up the heat (note: NOT to max temp – just over halfway or you risk burning the sugar and ruining a pan).
Add in the cream and stir to combine as the caramel starts to heat up
Don’t do any rigorous stirring now, but you can ‘swirl’ the wooden spoon through it occasionally to stop hot spots occurring in the caramel, which in turn reduces the risk of burning
Let the caramel bubble away for a minute or two until it goes that nice warm brown colour and has thickened
Pour into a jug, cup or bowl and leave to cool
Method – Chantilly cream
Beat the cream until thickened and then add the icing sugar and amaretto
Whisk in until combined and taste – you may like to add a little more of the liqueur
Spoon into a piping back with a 5mm (or so) round or star nozzle (your preferred choice) ready for use
Method – construction
Take the fudge you made with the recipe on this page (or you can have bought some)
Cut several chunks up into finely diced pieces – enough to sprinkle over all of the eclairs
Take an eclair and make a tiny incision in the top of the eclair (there may be a natural gap there anyway) and pipe the Chantilly cream into this gap. Fill the eclair with the cream
Alternatively, you can slice the eclair lengthways and fill it as if it were a sandwich (this is much less fiddly and creates a taller finished eclair)
Repeat for all eclairs
Take a knife and spread the cooled caramel sauce on the top of each eclair, this will cover the hole you piped through (if you did that method)
Unsalted butter – 175g in a block and an extra 40g for melting
Nutmeg, freshly grated – a pinch
Cinnamon – a pinch
Fine salt – a pinch
Water, cold – about 100ml
A little extra flour for dusting and rolling
Sieve the cocoa – as it often has lumps – into the large bowl
You shouldn’t need to sieve modern flours but you can do if you prefer (originally, sieving was to remove the flour weevils and other nasty stuff, but it’s continued to persist as normal practice. I only sieve if any product appears clumpy, as cocoa powder can sometimes). Tip or sieve the flour into the large bowl with the cocoa powder
Add the other dry ingredients (salt, cinnamon, nutmeg), the melted butter and about 80ml of the water
Mix together. Then add the rest of the water little by little if you feel it is too dry and not coming together nicely. The dough is a bit stickier and thicker (but only a little) than plain puff pastry
Shape the dough into a rough, flattened square about 15cm across and dust lightly and then cover with cling film
With the rest of the butter, shape this into a flat square the same size as the dough and cover with cling film
Chill both pastry and butter for up to two hours. However I confess I cheat and stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes – it never seems to affect the quality of the pastry
Now, take the chocolate pastry and roll it out into a larger square (about twice the original size).
Unwrap the butter and place in the middle of the pastry
Fold in the corners of the pastry over the butter like an envelope
Roll the envelope gently to flatten and straighten it
Now roll the pastry so that it extends to three times its original length, making a long rectangle – its short side to long side should be a 1:3 ratio
You will now make what’s called a gatefold, by folding the top short edge over and the bottom short edge upwards over that. Imagine the rectangle is three squares – fold at the two edges where the squares meet
Straighten up the edges and corners with your hands to be as neat as possible
Rotate the pastry 90˚, roll out to a rectangle again as in step 13
Repeat the gatefold folding process again as in step 14
Again, straighten up the dough and then loosely cover with cling film and pop in the fridge for an hour or the freezer for 10 minutes
Take the dough out and repeat this rolling out, folding, turning, rolling out and folding process again (steps 13 – 17). By this stage you have made four folds
Again, straighten up the dough and then loosely cover with cling film and pop in the fridge for an hour or the freezer for 10 minutes
Take the dough out and repeat this rolling out, folding, turning, rolling out and folding process again (steps 13 – 17). By this stage you have made six folds – this is enough. This has made 729 layers or leaves of pastry!
Now your pastry is ready for use in your recipe – chill it again for a while first, though
Pick up a dessert-spoon sized amount of mix with the palette knife and, holding the template steady with one hand, spread the mix smoothly over one of the tuile holes. The mix should be about 2mm thick. Try to get it as even as possible
Repeat with the whole template (you will either need two baking trays to use up all the mix or cook in two or more batches)
Remove the template
Sprinkle the nuts over each of the tuiles
Pop the baking tray(s) in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes – but keep an eye on them after about 12 minutes as they can turn very quickly
The tuiles are done when they are a golden brown all over and you can lift them with a palette knife without them ruffling up as you push the knife under (if they do this pop them back in the oven for another minute)
To shape, pick up one tuile with a palette knife and place over a rolling pin. Press the sides gently over the rolling pin to accentuate the shape
You’ll need to work quickly with each tuile as the time they are flexible is very short. However, because the baking tray is hot the rest should stay warm enough to be flexible while you lay them out
Leave to cool – this will only take a couple of minutes
This was a little project I’ve been hatching for a while. It combines a bit of research into Victorian treats, a bit of illustration and drawing and some recipe reverse-engineering. It also marries an homage to Alice in Wonderland in its 150th birthday year (as I love the story and, in particular, John Tenniel’s original illustrations) to a ‘tea time treats’ challenge hosted by the Lavender & Lovage and HedgeComber blogs.
So, quite a list and suitably I’ve been working on it for some while (way before I stumbled on the Tea Time Treats challenge). One of the most tricky things for me on this project is that I don’t do ickle or dainty. I do try and make things look nice, but elaborate bakes are too time consuming to be an option for me as a working mum. My baking hobby has to get squeezed in between my normal day job and the rest of the chores. Plus, when I get time to bake patisserie is my go-to choice, not decoration. So, all in all, out of my comfort zone somewhat.
Tea time treats
This little project seemed to fit nicely with the June Tea Time Treats challenge run by the Lavender & Lovageand The Hedgecombers blogs (Karen Burns Booth and Jane Sarchet respectively) which calls for small cakes. I’ve not participated before.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said
Because there are quite a few instructions just for the fondant fancies, I have not included either the recipe for the lemon and cucumber G&T in this post, else it would be a really long read:
Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, just four years after Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management, so this should have proved a rich contemporary reference source for an appropriate recipe. I had already decided that I’d like a lemon sponge and read through Mme Beeton’s book and tried her recipe for lemon cake. Frankly, it was awful – doughy and oddly flavoured (the amount of orange flower water was a bit overkill). Many of her recipes have stood the test of time, but this one got fed to the blackbirds.
So, I went back to a more typical sponge ratio and concentrated on looking at construction and flavours from the contemporary period. I picked out an apricot jam filling and a marzipan covering, held in place by a layer of buttercream. I researched some contemporary food illustrations and settled on striped piping. To link to the Alice theme, I modelled some mini roses (white and then half painted in red, to mimic the book), a top hat or two and a Cheshire Cat to top off the cakes along with the pink pralines.
The little cakes would definitely be the ‘eat me’ so I decided to have a ‘drink me’ item too and matched a G&T to the lemon flavour of the sponge with limoncello and lemon verbena. I also added a slice of cucumber, to evoke cucumber sandwiches in a British tea party – it was really lovely. The recipe is here.
I’ve had such a curious dream
To link to Alice and give me an excuse to do a bit of drawing I drew up some eat me and drink me food tags. I was enjoying myself so much I ended up doing a few more…
20cm x 20cm cake tin, greased and lined
Palette knives: a small cranked handle one and a ‘normal’ large one
Piping bag with fine plain nozzle
Two circular tall biscuit cutters one about 5cm in diameter, the other about 6cm (just ensure that one cutter is quite a bit bigger than the other, as it will be used to cut the marzipan for the top of the fondants)
Ingredients for the sponge
Caster sugar – 175g
Unsalted butter, softened – 175g
Plain flour – 175g
Eggs, medium – 3
Lemon – the zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
Bicarbonate of soda – 1/2 teaspoon
Ingredients for the buttercream
Unsalted butter, softened – 200g
Icing sugar – 200g
Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon
2 x 200g packs of coloured marzipan
Royal icing (make up from icing sugar and a little added water and egg white and some food colouring) or buy in
Apricot jam – you’ll need about half of a typical sized jar
Decorations for the top of the fondant fancies – you don’t have to make your own as I did – or you can leave plain
Method – sponge
Turn the oven on to 150C fan / 160C conventional
Cream the sugar and butter together, then combine all the other ingredients
Smooth into the prepared cake tin
Bake at the bottom of the oven for about 40 minutes – test with a skewer to see if it’s done; the skewer should come out clean
Leave to cool in the tin and then remove onto a cutting board
Using the smaller biscuit cutter, press out 16 rounds from the cake
Cut each of the sponge rounds in half with a bread knife
Spread the apricot jam onto the bottom half of each of the mini sponges and then sandwich the two back together
Pop all 16 of the mini cakes in the freezer for an hour, as this will make the next steps much easier
Method – buttercream
Prepare the buttercream while the cakes are in the freezer
Gently stir the icing sugar into the softened butter to incorporate it without creating a cloud of icing dust
Add the lemon juice and adjust the consistency with a little water or more icing sugar as you see fit
Once incorporated roughly, you can then whisk it for about 3 minutes (the longer you whisk the smoother and fluffier the buttercream)
Take the cakes out of the freezer and paste the buttercream onto the sides and the top, making a small dome on the top of the cake, to round it off
Smooth it a little, but don’t worry too much – it is getting covered in marzipan
Leave the cakes while you prepare the marzipan and the royal icing
Method – placing the marzipan
Each of the marzipan packs will cover eight of the cakes pretty much exactly
Roll out one of the marzipan packs very thinly. It needs to be thin for two reasons – you don’t want an overwhelming taste of marzipan drowning out the lemon of the sponge and it also ensures you have enough to cover all the cakes
Measure the height of the cakes with a strip of paper – and cut a long strip out of the marzipan with its width matching this height. This strips will wrap around the sides of a cake.
Make sure the strip is a little longer than the diameter of the cake (if you want to really check, use a piece of string to measure the cake diameter and then lie it down along the marzipan).
Cut a round out of the marzipan using the larger cutter
Trim the end of the strip of marzipan to have a straight edge
Put this straightened end on to one of the cakes and press the marzipan strip all around, wrapping the sides of the cake
Overlap the rough end over the original straight end and take a sharp knife and trim the excess so that it fits exactly
Smooth the edges of the marzipan strip together a little with the back of a spoon or the edge of a knife
Place the round you cut out on top, and again smooth the edges down to try to hide them a little
Repeat for all the cakes, including swapping to the second marzipan pack, so that you eventually have 16 fondant fancies, with eight in each colour
Method – piping
Make up your royal icing and add some food colouring. As I had both pink and blue marzipan, I chose to use a single colour for the piping – purple, as it would go nicely with both. They would look lovely, though, with a combination of two or three complimentary colours if you really wanted to take it even further
Using a fine circular nozzle, start from the top centre of one of the cakes and draw out a line of piping slowly and slightly away from the cake
To get as straight a line as possible, you need to not pipe directly on to the marzipan but pull the icing out and over the cake in one continuous stream and let it fall down one side to the bottom – almost as if you were using a piece of string – like in fig 1.
Once you have one line done, start from the top again and pipe three more lines in turn, making a cross over the cake (effectively marking the cake into quarter pieces)
Eventually you need to have twelve lines piped equally spaced apart around the cake – making those first four quarters just makes it more easy to do it evenly. I’d suggest you do it in order as in Fig 2, but however you think best to get twelve lines
Repeat for all twelve cakes
Use a large palette knife slid under each cake to move them, if you need to while the icing dries
If you are using a decorative topper, such as pink pralines or modelled roses, Cheshire Cats and top hats, pipe a small blob of the royal icing in the middle at the top of the cake and push the topper gently into it
This is a recipe I’ve been working from for quite a number of years. Some years ago, when in my twenties, I made some Florentines and took them to my Italian night school course. The lady who was teaching us commented on how her mother baked them. The weird thing is a few years later I remember reading a book about Tuscan cooking and the author (sorry, I can’t remember the book) said that Florentines aren’t from Florence, wider Tuscany or even from Italy. They suggested that they are a French invention, made in honour of Catherine di Medici, who was Queen of France but had been born in Florence – and that’s where the connection was from.
I don’t even know why I remembered this – I have a memory for trivia and not much else (although as an aside I’m a good quiz team member!) I did a quick Google search earlier and found comments to support both theories – so I’m none the wiser: they’re just nice anyway!
Anyway, the pointers my Italian teacher gave me were to use sour cherries and don’t cover in chocolate. I’m ignoring that last bit as I think the addition of chocolate is lovely. It’s often difficult to get hold of sour cherries (plus they usually come in syrup so need to be washed and dried before use). She did say her mother baked them in the bottom of a muffin/small cake pan, rather flat on a sheet, which I have been doing ever since as they come out nicer than just dropping them onto a baking sheet. So, sorry to all the Mary Berry recipe followers who like them to spread out and adhere to Mary’s penchant for ‘lacy edges’.
Please do use either non-stick or line them – or you’ll never get them out – if using metal pans. About a year ago I bought a silicon mini tart case which is just genius for these – they come out every time. I’ve added a picture of my case below; I got mine from Amazon but I have seen similar in Lakeland and occasionally in TK Maxx recently. Any flat silicon mini cake case will do (even oval friands) as it doesn’t have to be the tiny ones I use, although they are cute.
Makes about 28 tiny Florentines (in the silicone tray I have which gives about 30cm rounds) or about 20 ‘normal sized’ (typical muffin/fairy cake pan). There are just four steps: heat the sugar mix, mix all the ingredients, bake in the oven then coat with chocolate.
Turn these into Florentine shortbreads!
Bake one batch of my vanilla shortbread recipe and select a biscuit cutter the same size as the bottom of the tin/mould you are using to bake the Florentine mix in. Make the shortbread to the recipe using this round cutter and allow to cool. When both shortbreads and Florentines are done and cooled, take about 40g of additional chocolate and melt it. Use this chocolate to ‘glue’ the base of a Florentine onto the top of a shortbread round. Leave until the chocolate has set and joined the Florentine to the biscuit.
Sugar thermometer (easy with one but you can do it without)
Muffin tray / silicon tray
Bowl for the chocolate
Wire cooling rack
Demerara or golden caster sugar – 70g
Honey – 35g
Double cream – 35g
Sour cherries – 35g (if you can’t get these, ‘decent’ glace cherries will do or your choice of candied fruit)
Flaked almonds – 75g
‘Other’ nuts, chopped roughly – 50g (I used a mix of pistachios and hazelnuts here but I have used whatever I’ve got to hand and pretty much any nuts, excluding peanuts, work)
Chocolate – 100g (use whichever you prefer – it’s nice with milk, dark or white)
Put the oven on to 165C fan, 175C conventional
Prepare your muffin pan with little circles of baking paper or simply use a silicone tray if you have one
Heat the sugar, honey and cream over a medium heat to 118-120C. If you haven’t got a thermometer heat until the mix bubbles all over and is just about to start turning a caramel colour (you’ll have to watch it closely!)
Take the saucepan off the heat
Tip all the other ingredients into the saucepan (apart from the chocolate!) and mix thoroughly
Spoon a scant teaspoon of the mix into the bottom of the mini pan – or about 1 1/2 teaspoons if you are using a normal size muffin pan
Don’t worry about the mix forming a lump in the middle of the pan – as it heats it will spread out
Stick the tray in the oven and bake until the mix is golden brown and bubbling – this is about 8 – 10 mins
Leave to cool in the pan and then tip them out, flat side up (you’re going to cover the flat side with chocolate)
Esterházy cake is a dacquoise layer torte originating in Budapest in the late 1800s. It was created (as many famous/regional speciality cakes are) by a confectioner keen to impress one of the great houses of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and one of its members in particular, Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha. Its longevity as a popular recipe proves the Prince (or at least those around him who ate the cake) must have designated it a success. Some of the essential features of this torte are the fondant glaze with spider’s web pattern, the chopped (or slivered) nuts pressed into the edges of the cake, the number of layers separated by a French nut buttercream. Recipes vary in the number of layers and, as the recipe for the cake travelled and got more popular throughout mid-eastern Europe it naturally altered, as these things do due to taste and availability. Some variants are all hazelnut, some almond, some walnut and some a mixture.
The only thing I have altered was that I could only get ground almonds. I had wanted to use half and half almonds and hazelnuts, but as I don’t have anything that can successfully grind nuts or spices down without turning them into a mush, I had no option but to purchase pre-ground. Ground almonds are easy to get hold of, but ground hazelnuts proved trickier and I could only find them online (and I didn’t think they’d turn up in time so I bypassed them). I have used chopped hazelnuts on the outside of the cake though, so I think this balanced the flavour back out a little at least. Some recipes include alcohol (usually cognac) and some don’t; I’ve kept without it because there would be children eating it too and I’m not a massive fan of boozy cakes anyway. One last thing, this is me being pedantic but I piped the layers. Most recipes just say to spoon or spread the meringue sponge. I fully admit I’m OCD in the kitchen with trying to get my bakes (especially any patisserie) as exact as possible so there was no way I’d do anything else than use a piping bag and round nozzle. I piped the meringue sponge onto a pre-drawn circle (underneath side of baking paper) starting in the middle and spiralling outwards – this is a typical method to make large single macarons. You can please yourself – it doesn’t alter the flavour or texture and the top layer gets covered in fondant anyway. It’s just I knew it was there… 🙂 Don’t panic at the length of the recipe – it’s not as tricky as some might have you believe, it just has quite a few stages to it. The only tricky thing is piping the chocolate spiral. I did make this cake over two days, not because you really can’t make it all in one go, but that I started at about 8pm one night (after a full day’s work and the usual tidying and preparing dinner after getting home) and frankly ran out of steam to complete it that evening. This recipe was submitted for a Daring Bakers Esterházy cake challenge, hosted by Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake.
Round template about 5cm (6 in) – a pan lid, plate or cake tin
Piping bag and large, round plain nozzle (about 8mm or 3/8in diameter) and another (or a plastic piping bag with the end snipped) with a small, plain nozzle (about 1mm / fine)
Saucepan and heatproof bowl for bain marie (or a double boiler if you’re posh/well equiped)
Bowls and stand mixer/handheld mixer
Stand mixer or handheld mixer (you can do the meringue by hand but it’ll be laborious)
Smaller items: pastry brush, palette knife or cake lifter, rubber spatula, marker or pencil
Ingredients – nut meringues / dacquoise
Egg whites – 6 large
Icing sugar – 180g
Caster sugar – 20g
Ground almonds – 200g (or 100g and ground hazelnuts 100g)
Plain flour – 60g
Vanilla extract – 1/2 tspn
Method for the dacquoise/nut meringues
Mark out five circles on your baking paper using your circular template/lid etc
Turn on the oven to 150 C
Whip up the egg whites to stiff-ish peaks using a fast speed
Slow the mixer a little to medium speed and slowly tip in the caster sugar and incorporate, then the icing sugar (a little at a time or in a slow stream – just don’t plonk it all in at once)
Ensure the meringue is glossy and fully incorporates the sugar and remove the bowl from the mixer
Mix in the ground nuts (about a third at a time) and the vanilla extract slowly with the rubber spatula in a figure of eight motion. Be gentle but do make sure all the ground nuts are spread evenly throughout the mixture
Using a blob of the mix on your finger, fix down the baking paper (with the marked out circles on the underside) onto the baking trays – this will keep them fixed in place as you pipe or spread
If you’re piping: place the mix in the piping bag with the large plain nozzle (you’ll have to refill) and start in the middle of the circle and pipe in a tight spiral round and outwards until you have a disc. It is better to overlap the spiral rather than have gaps, as you can spread out the mix afterwards. (spreading out the mix when there’s gaps will thin out the layer too much). You can smooth the discs a little with a palette knife
If you’re spreading, spoon the mix onto the sheets and smooth it out to the edges of the circle. You’re aiming for just under 1 cm in height
If you have a bit left over, pipe or spoon a small circle so you can test ‘doneness’ at the end of the cooking
When you’ve done all five pop them in the oven for about 16 mins. Do NOT let them go brown, you want just under but definitely cooked. Judging this is fairly tricky, and they will carry on cooking slightly from the residual heat for a few minutes after you remove them anyway. If you were able to pipe a smaller circle you can test this – if you think it’s underdone, pop them all back in for another 2 minutes
Take out and leave to cool on the baking sheets – don’t move them until you have to as the meringues are slightly fragile
French nut buttercream
Egg yolks, large – 6
Caster sugar – 125g
Unsalted butter, softened slightly – 150g
Ground almonds/hazelnuts – 75g
(Plus a little whipped double cream to lighten if you prefer)
French buttercream – recipe
Made in a bain marie (a bowl over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water, although do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl, or use a double boiler, if you have one)
Bring the water to a gentle boil, put the yolks and sugar in the bowl on top and whisk while heating until smooth and thickened
Leave to cool
In a separate bowl, whip up the butter until fluffy and then beat in the yolks and the ground nuts until smooth and fully incorporated
Just one note – to lighten the buttercream if you prefer fold in some whipped double cream (I know this doesn’t exactly lighten the calorie load but it can create a lighter feel and taste on the palette, as some people find buttercream too cloying). Should you wish to add a spoonful of cognac or other liquer, you could do that now
Assembling the layers
For this don’t use all the buttercream – you’ll need enough kept aside for the sides and one teaspoon to add to the chocolate to thin it for piping
Alternate the dacquoise layers with buttercream and build the torte – two things though: put the top layer on upside down (so it is flat at the top) and do not put any butter cream on the top
Apricot glaze method
Warm the apricot jam and a teaspoon of water in a microwave or a saucepan
Brush it over the top layer of the torte – let it cool/resolidify before you attempt to pour on the fondant icing
Mix together the icing sugar, a little lemon juice and a little water – you want it to get to only just starting to slip off the back of the spoon. It’s better to add the water a tiny drop at a time, as it’s so easy to make it too runny and you’ll need a lot of icing sugar to bring it back. As a guide for a cake this size you’ll need about 100ml in total
Before you start pouring it on, ready the chocolate (see below) so it is to hand as soon as the icing is smooth
Pour on the icing and smooth it out with a palette knife – if you’ve got a cranked one that’s easiest
Chocolate spiral method
Melt the chocolate (in a microwave is easiest – zap it in 10 second intervals until it’s malleable) then stir in a teaspoon of the creme you’ve prepared
Put it in the second piping bag with a small nozzle (or a new bag with the corner snipped off)
Start in the middle of the cake, squeeze evenly and spiral the piped line of chocolate round and outwards, until you’ve got a nice spiral that meets the edge of the cake
To ‘draw’ the spider lines you’ll be using a skewer or toothpick to alternate between dragging over the lines from the middle to the edge, then from the edge to the middle. Imagine a bike wheel – you’re drawing the spokes and it’s easiest to do an even number of lines so you can mentally divide the cake up easier to match the lines up.
Finishing the cake
Using a palette knife spread the remainder of the creme round the edge of the cake and then gently press the chopped hazelnuts into the creme
I have made Paris-Brest before on a few occasions and to follow the original recipe is to produce one large ring-shaped choux filled, decorated simply with toasted, flaked almonds and filled with crème mousseline. It’s typically large enough that it can be sliced to serve a number of people. So, for a change I thought I’d do individual choux and add a new flavour in.
I find crème mousseline (also sometimes known as German buttercream) a bit much when it’s the main filling. It’s wonderful with fruit or when there’s a little less of it, but in a Paris-Brest there’s a massive amount of cream for the amounty of pastry. So, I thought I’d I try a crème diplomate as a change – I also opted for a chocolate topping (more like an eclair) than the traditional icing sugar and flaked almonds.
Crème mousseline is a 4 : 2 : 1 mix of pastry cream : butter : hazelnut paste. Just reading it makes it sound heavy and artery-clogging! There are plenty of recipes online if you prefer to make this.
Crème diplomate is a 2 : 1 (typically) mix of pastry cream to whipped double cream. Not exactly slimline in itself, but it feels lighter in the mouth to me. Maybe I’m making that up/it’s wishful thinking? Anyway, whichever you choose to use this is not going to be a dieter’s dessert.
Background to the Paris-Brest
The Paris-Brest is another of those pastries dreamt up by a very canny self-marketing Parisien Chef Patissier. In this instance, it was Louis Durand, in 1910 who chose to commemorate the Paris to Brest and back-to-Paris cycle race by creating a ‘bicycle wheel’ in choux pastry and filling it with crème mousseline. It certainly drew attention, ensured his name became synonymous with the delicacy and firmly placed it as a staple of French patisseries ever since. I guess it worked out well for him! The history of cooking is littered with French chefs trying to create the next best thing and get their name known – some are known for their overall contributions (like Carême onwards though Soyer, Lenôtre, Desfontaines, to today’s Parisien Chefs like Michalak and Felder) and some like Durand for one particular success. Clearly celebrity cheffery is not a new phenomenom in France!
If you can read French (or are adept at working out Google translate) you may like to view this website on the Durand patisserie in Paris. The Patisserie is still going and this link takes you to some information about Louis and his creation, and includes some simply fabulous photos of Louis, his wife and the original facade of the shop and you can browse the rest of the site to see their current pastries.
This makes about 8 small choux (about 10 cm across)
baking paper or parchment
plastic flexible spatula
piping bag and large round nozzle
a circular object about 10 cm in diameter – like a side plate or pan lid just to draw round
Ingredients – choux
This choux recipe (best I’ve tried) is taken from ‘Patisserie’ by Murielle Valette, printed by Constable 2013, ISBN 978-1-9089-7413-6
Water – 250 ml
Unsalted butter, diced – 100 g
Caster suger – 12 g
Salt – 5 g
Strong white bread flour – 125 g
Eggs, medium – 4
Method – for the choux
Bring the water, salt, butter and sugar to a boil until all are disolved together
Taking the pan off the heat tip all the flour in quickly and mix until it comes together into a ball
Put the pan back on the heat and stir for a about half a minute to dry the pastry out a bit further
Put the mix into a large bowl and start stirring in the eggs one at a time. It takes a while to mix in the egg fully
Pause at egg number four – as you made not need the whole egg. It’s easier to add a fraction of an egg if you beat it first to mix yolk and white. Add a little of this last egg at a time – you’re looking for a consistency which is heavy and just above dropping – in that the paste should slowly slide down the back of a spatula but not actually get anywhere near dropping off the end
It’s now ready to put in a piping bag and use
Mark out circles on the baking paper with the lid/plate you’re using as a template – how many you get on a baking tray will depend on its size. You need to leave about 5 cm between the circles so you will probably get four on a typical baking tray
Turn over the baking paper so thedrawn circles are underneath and just show through (even with permanent markers the ink may come off – as I can testify to!)
Heat your oven to 190 C fan / 200 C conventional
Pipe the paste in a ring so that the outside of the ring matches the lines of the circle (ie pipe inside). Repeat to use all the mixture up
Wet the back of a teaspoon and smooth the paste where the ends join
Sprinkle the baking paper the choux rings are on with a little water and put the trays in the oven.
Cook them for around 15 mins and then turn down the oven to 155 C fan / 165 conventional for at least another 15 minutes. Don’t open the oven door for at least this half an hour period or the choux will sag (the first 15 mins is enough to cook it and let it rise and the second 15 mins will dry the pastry out further). Unfortuantely, although cooking choux isn’t as hard as some say, judging when it’s done does take a bit of practice. If in doubt, turn the oven off and leave them in there for anouther 15 mins. Choux should be a medium-to-dark brown (a bit darker than most other pastries).
When ready take them out, leave them on the trays and leave to cool
Ingredients – crème diplomate
For the crème patisserie
This will give you more than you need but it will freeze.
Full fat milk (the richer the better, for example Channel Islands gold top) – 500 ml
Caster sugar – 90 g
Egg yolks, large – 4
Plain flour – 20 g
Cornflour – 20 g
Butter, unsalted and cubed – 40 g
Vanilla pod, split – 1 or vanilla paste – 1 tspn
For the passionfruit crème diplomate
Whipped double cream – 300 ml
Passion fruits – 3
Method – to create the crème diplomate
Prepare the crème patisserie
Bring the milk and spilt vanilla pod/vanilla paste to a boil in a small but heavy-bottomed pan
Remove from the heat
In a large bowl, whisk together everything else except the butter
When the milk has cooled a bit, tip a little of the milk into the egg and flour mixture and mix it in (tipping a small amount in first will stop you getting scrambled eggs, which is likely to happen if you lob it all in in one go)
when this is mix, gently pour in the rest and combine
Tip it all back in the pan and return the pan back to the heat
Bring to just under boiling while stirring constantly
When it’s nice and thick, remove from the heat
Pass it through a sieve into the bowl again
Put the cubes of butter in the bowl and stir until it’s totally incorporated
Set aside to cool and when cooled enough store in the fridge until needed
Prepare the passionfruit cream
Whip the double cream until really thick
Scoop out the flesh of the passion fruits into the cream – you can sieve out the seeds if you don’t like them but personally I think they add a nice texture and the black seeds look good in the cream
Mix the fruit into the double cream
Combining the two creams into crème diplomate
When you’re ready to combine (ie everything is chilled), just mix the crème patisserie with the double cream and fruit – use a spatula and mix until combined
Chill until ready to use
Freeze any leftover
Ingredients – for the toppings
Chocolate (dark or milk – your preference) – 100 g
Various toppings – I used pearl sugar, flaked almonds and chopped pink pralines but you could use anything you like/have to hand
Building the Paris-Brest
Using a sharp serrated knife (I used my bread knife after sharpening it) and slice each choux in half
Melt the chocolate – being careful to temper it to a nice shine (see my tempering temperatures blog)
Dip each of the TOP halves of the choux in the chocolate
Leave to start setting – when the chocolate is still just just the melty side of set sprinkle the toppings over
Leave to cool completely until the chocolate is hard
Spoon the crème diplomate into a piping bag and pipe onto the BOTTOM halves of the choux and place the chocolate covered halves on top of the cream
I got a bit bored with never remembering the crucial temperatures in each part of the tempering process every time I wanted to work with chocolate in my bakes. Searching for websites or leafing through numerous books is time consuming so I thought I’d draw up a resource to help me – a visual aide memoire on tempering temperatures. The result is an infographic that I can refer to quickly – I’ve actually got it stuck to my cooker hood.
Further down, I’ve added a bare bones reminder of tempering (more like revision notes really) and a few links to websites that have really good information on tempering chocolate.
The tempering process – the utter basics of the bain marie method.
Only use this as ‘revision notes’ on the process of tempering (please first read how to do it properly in one of the links below or one of the many others online).
put finely and evenly chopped chocolate in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water
let it melt, while stirring gently, to the first temperature given (#1 on the infographic for each type of chocolate)
pour 3/4 of the choc onto a slab and work it with a spatula until is teaches temperature (#2)
keep the remaining 1/4 warm in the bowl
put the worked, cooled choc into a slightly warm bowl then add (enough of) the kept-warm choc and stir until it reaches temperature (#3)
Cooking is an art, but baking is definitely both an art and a science and few things seem to illustrate the science of baking as much as making a meringue.
I’m no subject matter expert, but I’ve read up on the subject from a number of places – biochemistry books, cookery technique books and various online sources (it helps I work at an University so have access to some good libraries!). While I found quite a lot to go from, there was no one single place with this information altogether. This is then is a baker’s/layperson’s explanation of what’s going on for anyone else who is as interested about this as I’ve been. I’ve tried to check everything I’ve written, including the illustration, and have developed this post to be as correct as I can. If something is howlingly incorrect please let me know (and tell me why it’s incorrect) and I’ll do my best to improve it.
So, how exactly does watery egg albumen turn into snow white, crisp on the outside and gooey-mallowy in the middle meringue? It turns out there are a lot of chemical and biochemical processes going on and there are a few things you can do (or avoid) to help you to get the optimum meringue.
Lower down I’ve explained some of the ingredients and methods that can improve your meringues or cause you problems and looked into any scientific reason behind them. There’s also an explanation of the cooking process – what exactly happens to the meringues as they dry out.
The science-y explanation
Egg white (or albumen) contains almost zero fat, less than 1% carbohydrate (glucose) but around 92% water. What’s left (about 8% of its total composition) is made up of proteins, trace minerals and vitamins. The proteins are the important bit for making meringue. Egg white proteins are long strands, suspended in water that makes up most of the egg white. They lie coiled up individually like tiny balls of wool. This is because each protein hosts two types of amino acid and some are attracted to water (hydrophilic) and some repel against water (hydrophobic) and chemical bonds keep them that way. This means that when the proteins are coiled the water-loving amino acids all sit round the outside closest to the water and the water-hating amino acids hide inside the coiled-up strands to avoid get wet. (I’ve drawn up a very rough representation of what’s happening with the protein strands – please see 1 in the drawing).
The proteins will stay in this form unless they are subjected to physical stress, certain chemicals or heat and the incorporation of air. We’re interested in the physical stress option for a typical French meringue – beating the hell out of the egg white with a whisk. [Italian and Swiss meringue methods introduce heat stress to the mix as well, which causes thermolysis (where the heat causes the proteins to pull apart). Italian meringue recipes include pre-heated sugar syrup and Swiss meringues are made over a bain-mairie (hot water bath).] When you beat egg white you cause the break-up of the chemical bonds that keep the protein strands together. This is called denaturation. By whisking you also start to incorporate air bubbles into the egg white that the hydrophobic amino acids become attracted to and this also encourages the proteins to unravel from their natural curled-up state.
These two stress processes cause the coiled-up protein strands to un-curl and turn the egg white from a liquid into a foam. The chemical bonds that hold the protein strands together break and the hydrophobic amino acids start to attach to the bubbles of air you’ve whipped in, holding the air in place and keeping the foam structure fairly intact. (See 2 in the drawing). The final part of this is coagulation, where the protein strands, attached to air bubbles by the hydrophilic amino acids, start to bump together and create chemical bonds with each other, creating a sort of mesh-like structure. This keeps the air bubbles locked in place and supports the foamy composition of the whisked egg white. (See 3 in the drawing).
The three states often cited for whipping meringue – soft, firm and stiff peaks – relate to how much stress the proteins have been subjected to. Less stress by whipping (and therefore also less air) leaves the protein strands less untangled so they can’t bond together quite so effectively. This means the foam structure is not so strong, giving softer peaks. The more you beat it applies higher stress and more air so the stiffer the foam will be. This is because you will really straighten out the proteins, so they are fully open to being in contact with other strands and can create new chemical bonds around larger air bubbles. But beware – there is a limit to the stress you can apply and egg white can be overwhipped. Proteins can be stretched too far, become unstable and collapse, releasing the captured water and air. This results in a flat meringue where seconds before it was beautifully fluffy. There is a remedy though – please see below.
Added sugar dissolves into the water molecules in the egg white and this actually increases both the strength and elasticity of the whole mix, and helps support the proteins from stretching too far and collapsing. This, in turn, allows a little more air to be whipped in making the egg whites even fluffier. Sugar needs to be added after the stress process has already started – so never, never add sugar before you start whipping. If you add sugar first it will have the opposite effect to what you want and will prevent the protein strands from uncurling. Because sugar is there to dissolve with the water molecules you should give it a fighting change and use the finest caster sugar you can get. Some recipes even list icing (confectioners) sugar.
Four things that can help a meringue
1. Using fresh eggs
It’s best to use only the freshest eggs that you have for meringues. Fresh egg albumen has a high acidity level, and this level drops sharply as the egg ages. Acid in the egg white will slow down the coagulation process (where the un-curled protein strands bond with each other), which gives you more time to beat in air, it will seem harder but it’s definitely worth it for that perfect meringue. I’ve seen a few places which suggest that you should use older eggs because they are easier to whip up to a foam. In older eggs the chemical bonds in the proteins have loosened, making it easier to beat in air and so get a foam more quickly and with less effort. However, it’s a false economy because once whipped up they will not coagulate fully due to those relaxed chemicals – the bonds won’t reform with any adherence. This means you’re less likely to get really stiff peaks, the meringue will sag and loosen and it will be less likely to have a nice crisp shell as it will stay slightly sticky. So use fresh eggs for the best results. That said, while you should still avoid eggs that are getting close to their ‘use by’ date, you can get away with eggs that are a few days old by employing the next tip…
2. Adding white wine vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar
Some people swear by adding one of these ingredients in the meringue mix. They may not know why they work or may think that it just makes the meringue more ‘glossy’. The real reason that these work as an extra ingredients is because they all increase the acidity level of the mix, mimicking the same effect as using the freshest eggs. It’s better, though, to just to use the freshest eggs as something made with the fewest ingredients is preferable and it also just slightly alters the flavour (especially the lemon juice – but then you might want that for your recipe). However, if your eggs are a few days old, it’s worth putting in a half a teaspoon of white wine vinegar (my preference out of the three ingredients) to help. Having tried all three ingredients my least favourite is cream of tartar as it definitely results in a slightly drier and crispier meringue. I prefer my meringues to be more gooey on the inside, but if your preference is for crispy it may be the extra ingredient for you. If using, you must add the extra ingredient after you’ve incorporated the sugar.
3. A metal or glass bowl
Any metal or glass bowl is just easier to wash and keep grease-free than a plastic one. However, I have read in several places that there is a specific benefit to using a copper bowl – see below. However, I can’t imagine anyone other than a professional pâtissier using these as they are just so expensive.
Copper molecules actually bind with one of the proteins in egg white. This binding causes a reaction that tightens the chemical bonds between the strands, resulting in a stiffer and less prone to collapse foam.
Five things that can cause problems
Any fat present will make the denaturation process more difficult. It’s not impossible to whip a meringue where some fat is present, but it will take a whole lot longer – so long it may not be worth trying! Anything more than the smallest amount of fat and it will be impossible. One way to ensure the bowl is scrupulously clean is to rub it with the cut edge of half a lemon (this also adds a little of one of extra ingredients listed above that can help with the meringue mix).
2. Plastic bowls
It’s not the plastic itself that will cause you grief, but the fact that plastic attracts fat and it’s more difficult to complete clean a plastic bowl free of grease than most other materials. So, avoid a plastic bowl if you can to give yourself an easier task. However, if you’ve only got a plastic bowl, clean it with very hot water, wipe it bone dry with a kitchen towel, maybe wipe over a cut lemon and apply a little extra effort. If it’s clean, it will still work.
3. Dirty utensils (beaters, whisks, spatulas etc)
As with bowls, make sure your utensils are scrupulously clean. Any residue or grease on them will affect the denaturation process and stop you from getting a fully fluffy mix. Wash in the hottest water posible and leave to dry out or dry with a kitchen towel.
4. Egg yolk
The reason you need to separate out the egg yolk intact from the egg white for meringues again is because of fat. Yolks have a high fat content. With the teensiest amount of egg yolk in it’s still possible, but as with the comments for plastic bowls, you’ll need to whip the meringue for a lot longer and a lot harder. Anything other than a minute amount of yolk and you should just start again separating the eggs out – save the original whites and yolks for something else.
5. Eggs from the fridge
It’s best to have room temperature eggs for making meringue, as the bonds holding the protein strands in curls will already be slightly weakened. Room temperature eggs are already going through a very mild occurrence of heat stress (or ‘thermolysis’ as mentioned earlier) which will lead to denaturation. It just gives you a head start.
The cooking process
Actually, meringues are less ‘cooked’ than actually just ‘dried out’. In your carefully whipped and very fluffy meringue, water and air bubbles are held in the foam. Think of how a sponge looks – a framework of material around pockets of air and water. All you need to do to a meringue is heat it enough to tighten the chemical bonds in the protein strands (to finalise coagulation) and to evaporate the water, leaving the framework intact.
Cooking/drying out slowly with a low heat also enables the proteins to coagulate together in an even way (it gives them time to ‘settle’), ensuring the structure of the meringue is perfect. Use a low temperature (a max of about 120°C for a conventional oven or 100°C for a fan oven) to remove the water and ensure the best bake.
In fact, you can actually dry out a meringue by putting it in either a very low oven (80/60°C) for a few hours or an oven that was heated and turned off as soon as you put the meringue in; just leave the meringue in overnight or for about six hours in this case.
I’ve given a recipe for French meringue in another blog post, plus it has some explanations on how to check if your meringues are ready and what you can do if things have gone a bit wrong.