French Macarons Inspired by Persian Love Cake

Macarons used to terrify me. Not eating them… that was easy enough. Making them though scared me so much that I very rarely attempted them. My very first attempt, shockingly, was a success. Others after that were a disaster, with nothing but cracked macarons, very unelegant!

There are 2 methods of making macarons, French or Italian. A lot of my friends advised me to try the Italian method as that seemed to make the shells more stable. That method involves boiling sugar and water and adding it to the egg whites. I can be a real stickler for detail though, which can be a real pain in the backside. The stickler in me decided that as macarons are a French treat, I wanted to be able to make them the French way. I found a wonderful book in a set of 3 published by Love Food. This book is called Macaroons and has lots of different recipes. I’ve tried a few now and each time they’ve come out perfectly. My Persian Love Cake Macaron recipe is based around the recipes I picked up from this book.

The story of the Persian Love Cake is a beautiful tale of love and romance, which really appeals to me. Depending on which version you follow, it shows that the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach! A lady fell in love with a Persian prince and baked him a beautiful cake as a symbol of her love. In the version I like to believe, the prince fell in love with her and they lived happily ever after. In the other version, the prince was allergic to one of the ingredients and died. Boo hiss. I don’t like that version! There are nuts in these macarons though so make sure the person you give them to doesn’t have a nut allergy!!!

The macaron shells are flavoured with cardamom and rosewater. You can buy ground cardamom but the very best flavour and aroma comes from grinding them yourself. For baking purposes, you need green cardamom pods. Black ones are much more savoury and not suited for sweet bakes. The pods are quite hard, but break them open to reveal the cardamom seeds. It is these that you need. Grind them as finely as you can using a pestle and mortar. You can buy them in the spice section of supermarkets, or a great online seller for all your spice needs is The Spiceworks. They also sell dried rose petals in various sized bags, which are used to decorate these macarons.

Another ingredient in Persian Love Cake is saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. It is derived from the stigmas of the crocus flower, and is handpicked as there is no machine capable of such a delicate job. I use saffron from The Persian TraderThey only use the most superior grade of saffron from farms in North Iran, with the most intense colour, flavour and aroma. Cheaper versions can be bought but they are sometimes artificially dyed or mixed with less superior grades. As saffron is so expensive, you may as well make sure you’re getting the very best for your money. And believe me when I say you only need to use the tiniest amount, so a jar lasts forever!

Persian Love Cake is also flavoured with pistachio nuts. As macarons already have ground almonds I didn’t want to add extra nuts but wanted the flavour of the pistachio. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Monin syrups and had a bottle of pistachio syrup already. This was perfect to make a pistachio buttercream. The flavour was all there but the texture was beautifully smooth.

Enough waffling… here’s the recipe.

PERSIAN LOVE CAKE MACARONS

FOR THE MACARON SHELLS

115 g icing sugar

75 g ground almonds

Seeds from 5 green cardamom pods, ground very finely

2 large egg whites, must be at room temperature

50 g caster sugar

Half tsp rosewater

Pink food colouring, gel or paste but not liquid

FOR THE FILLING AND DECORATION

115 g icing sugar, sieved

55 g unsalted butter, softened

1.5 tbsp Monin pistachio syrup

dried rose petals and saffron to decorate

  • Using a food processor fitted with a sharp blade, blitz the icing sugar, ground almonds and cardamom until it is like powder, around 20-25 seconds. Sift this into a small bowl using a fine-meshed sieve. If there are any bits left in the sieve, throw them away.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. This means that when you lift the whisk, peaks will form but the tips of them will fold back over. I find it is best to use an electric handheld whisk for this, but you can use a stand mixer if you prefer. Add the caster sugar very gradually, whisking well each time you add any. The meringue mix will become glossy. Add the rosewater and enough food colouring to give the meringue a beautiful pink colour, and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks. This means that when you lift the whisk, peaks will form and will not fold over.
  • This next part is the stage that is most likely to cause problems if not done right, so be extra careful at this point. Tip a third of the almond mixture in with the meringue and use a flexible spatula to very gently fold the dry mixture in to the meringue. I scrape around the bowl, then lift the mixture from underneath and fold it over, occasionally cutting through the middle. When it is all combined, tip another third of the almond mixture in and repeat. At this point it will start to firm up a bit. Finally add the last third of the almonds, and fold as before until fully incorporated in to the mixture. It will be quite firm now. Keep folding gently until the batter loosens a bit. When it is ready to pipe, it will be glossy and smooth, and when you lift the spatula out of the mixture and let some fall off, it will lie in a trail on top of the batter for around 30 seconds without losing it’s shape. If you over-mix at this point allowing the batter to go too runny, your macarons will not hold their shape when piped.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. (I have a fan oven, so to make sure the breeze from the fan doesn’t lift the paper, use a tiny bit of the meringue mixture left on your electric whisk to stick the corners of the paper to your baking sheets). Spoon the mixture in to a large piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Or if you are using disposable piping bags, just snip the end off to make a 1cm opening. Pipe 16 macarons on to each sheet, around 3 cm wide. To do this, just hold your piping bag vertically almost touching the paper, and squeeze until the mixture spreads to around 3 cm. Lift and repeat to pipe 4 rows of 4 shells on each sheet.
  • Hold the baking sheet with one hand and very firmly tap all along the underside with your other hand. Or gently tap the sheets on to your worktop. This helps to get rid of any air bubbles. The macarons will spread very slightly as the action flattens them a bit and gets rid of any peaks from the piping. If you do still have any peaks, lightly wet your finger and gently smooth them down. Carefully place a rose petal and a few strands of saffron on to 16 of the macaron shells. Saffron tastes very strong so don’t put too many on!
  • Leave the macarons on the side at room temperature to stand for around 30-40 minutes. They need to dry out a bit so that they bake evenly without cracking. They are ready to go in the oven when you can gently touch them without any mixture sticking to your finger. They will also lose their shine as they dry. While they are standing. preheat your oven to 140C fan, or 160C conventional oven.
  • Bake one sheet at a time for 10-15 minutes. (They take 10 minutes in my oven). Check them after 5 or 6 minutes and if they look like they are browning, turn your oven temperature down slightly.
  • To test if they are ready, gently nudge one of the macarons. If it wobbles on its base, it needs a little bit longer. If it has a crisp shell and doesn’t move, it is ready. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Cover a wire cooling rack with a piece of baking paper, gently peel the macarons off the baking sheet paper and place them on the wire rack to cool completely.
  • While they are all cooling, make the buttercream. Place the icing sugar, butter and pistachio syrup into a bowl and beat until light, fluffy and smooth.
  • Use a piping bag with a small nozzle or cut a small opening on a disposable piping bag, and pipe buttercream on to the macaron shells which don’t have the rose and saffron on them. Then place a decorated macaron shell on top and gently press together.

 

As these are based on a royal story, I wanted to make them extra indulgent, so brushed some gold lustre dust around the tops of them. You don’t have to though if you don’t want to.

Eagle eyed readers will notice I said pipe 32 shells but I only have 15 complete macarons in my photos. I couldn’t resist instantly sampling one before the photos were taken. My willpower is sadly lacking!!!!!

These would make beautiful gifts for loved ones, or wonderful wedding favours. What better way to celebrate a union of love than with these romantic treats. Whoever you make them for, I’m sure they’ll be very gratefully received.

 

Chocolate and Caramel Eclairs – April’s BakedIn Baking Club Recipe

I was ridiculously excited when I opened April’s BakedIn Baking Club parcel. I absolutely LOVE eclairs, and in this box there were all the dry ingredients needed to make eclairs with 2 different toppings, caramel and chocolate.

Also included was the brilliantly detailed recipe card, butter measure, piping bags, baking paper, and an extra special treat… some delicious vanilla and chocolate gourmet marshmallows from Belinda Clark.

These were simply beautiful. Soft, light and fluffy just like a marshmallow should be, and then coated in yummy chocolate. Heaven! There must have been a marshmallow monster hiding in my house though as I only managed to have one and the rest mysteriously vanished! My son assured me he hadn’t seen anything suspicious but it was hard to get any sense out of him as his cheeks were all puffed out and he was unable to talk properly for some reason. His condition disappeared on its own after a few minutes but the marshmallow mystery remains unsolved.

As some of you may know, I had a major kitchen disaster a few weeks ago, and I don’t mean burning a cake! To cut a long story short there was a terrible leak from pipes under the kitchen which destroyed the floor and the base cupboards, so everything needed to be ripped out and a new kitchen fitted. This all took a lot longer than I was expecting, so obviously baking went out of the window for a while. The BakedIn kit arrived on the day the kitchen was completed so I couldn’t wait to get on with making the eclairs! I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t sure how the new oven would be but it went like a dream.

The recipe card said you could make 24 mini or 12 large eclairs. I opted for the large! I have made choux pastry several times before but this recipe had an extra instruction before putting them in the oven that I had never heard of in other recipes – an egg wash on the raw pastry. It is a tip I will be using every time I make any from now on though as they developed a gorgeous golden colour with a lovely sheen.

 

I left them in the oven a couple of minutes longer than the recipe said to make sure they were dry enough not to deflate, and then let them cool on a wire rack.

While they were cooling I made the toppings. The chocolate was easy as I have made ganache many times. Caramel scares me slightly as it can go wrong so easily. I thought mine had if I’m honest. I followed the instructions but it just didn’t want to thicken enough to use, so I popped it in the fridge for a bit. Luckily it thickened beautifully in there! After filling the eclairs with cream and spreading the chocolate and caramel on top, the final stage was to drizzle them with melted white chocolate for extra indulgence.

I have loved every single recipe that BakedIn Baking Club have sent, but this one disappeared faster than any of the others so far. The finished eclairs were the best I have ever made, and this is the only recipe I will use in the future.

The recipe cards you receive with the kits are so well-written and easy to follow, and each stage has a photograph so you can see you’re on the right track. To make them even better, they are all exclusively created for BakedIn by Michel Roux, and he includes a Top Tip on every recipe card to either enhance the recipe further or to make things easier during the bake. The fact they are created by such a world-renowned chef tells you they are going to be amazing!

The Baking Club subscription costs just £7.99 per month including delivery, and is perfect for yourself or to give as a gift. You can cancel at any time, but I highly doubt you will! If you would like to try it, click HERE to go to the BakedIn website and find out more.

Happy Baking!

DISCLAIMER: I do not work for BakedIn, nor do they ask me to write Baking Club reviews for them. I pay for my subscription and genuinely love it, so like to recommend it to others so they can find out more for themselves. All views and opinions are my own. My reviews are always honest and genuine, and I would NEVER recommend something I didn’t truly like. I receive no compensation for my reviews, except for the happiness they bring to me 🙂

Spaghetti Carbonara – Satisfying Family Meal For Less Than a Fiver!

I recently overheard a conversation between two mothers, talking about the cost of food. One was saying she finds it impossible to make a meal for less than £10 for her family of 4. I was a bit shocked, as I could think of plenty of meals that could be made much cheaper. I decided to go home and come up with some tasty and satisfying meals which would cost half of that price. The first recipe in my #FeedAFamilyForAFiver series is this delicious Spaghetti Carbonara.

It is such a simple and quick meal to make, so perfect for when time is limited. I based the meal price on the cost of ingredients in Tesco, as that is my local shop. I did look on Asda’s website at their prices too though and it worked out pretty much the same. It could be made even cheaper by using eggs from caged hens, but I never ever recommend that, so this recipe uses free-range eggs. Apart from not wanting to support the sale of caged hen eggs for compassionate reasons, they don’t taste anywhere near as good as free-range either. Free-range yolks are much more yellowy-orange compared to the insipid colour of caged hen eggs, and the flavour is much better.

I have tried this meal with Tesco Value spaghetti which cost just 20p for 500g and another brand which cost £1, and I can honestly say there was no difference in taste, so you may as well stick with the 20p one for this recipe. Most recipes for Spaghetti Carbonara use pancetta, but I just used a pack of unsmoked streaky bacon and it was delicious. My son isn’t a huge fan of smoked bacon but if your family like it, by all means try it with smoked instead.

Here is the recipe:

SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

1 pack of unsmoked streaky bacon, around 275-300g

50g butter

340g spaghetti

4 medium eggs

100g grated Parmesan cheese

  • Beat the eggs in a jug or small bowl and add most of the Parmesan cheese. Keep a little bit of the cheese to one side to sprinkle on the cooked meal if wanted.
  • Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the packet, usually for around 8 minutes, until cooked but still slightly firm to the bite (al dente). Remove from the heat but do not drain it.
  • While the spaghetti is cooking, use kitchen scissors to cut the bacon into small pieces. (Bear in mind that the bacon will shrink as it is fried, so don’t cut them too small). Melt the butter in a large non-stick pan and add the bacon pieces. Fry over a medium heat until the bacon is brown and crispy. Turn the heat down to low. (You might be thinking there looks like too much butter in your pan now as the bacon fat has added too, but it is all needed so don’t worry).

  • Use tongs to lift the spaghetti and place it in the pan with the bacon. Toss the bacon and spaghetti together, letting the butter and bacon fat coat the spaghetti, until the bacon is evenly distributed. Remove from the heat.
  • Pour the egg and cheese mixture on to the spaghetti and use the tongs to toss it together, making sure the spaghetti is all coated with the mixture. Add 3 tbsps of the spaghetti water and mix well. This will produce a lovely slightly creamy sauce without making it sloppy. Season with black pepper to taste.
  • Serve, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese if required. Enjoy!

 

You might be wondering about the eggs now, and whether they are safe to eat as they are not cooked. Well, the answer is yes they are fine as they DO cook. You have to remove the pan from the heat before you add them or else they would simply scramble, and you don’t want that. The heat from the freshly boiled spaghetti, along with the hot butter and bacon fat, and the boiling hot spaghetti water will cook the eggs to a safe level while keeping them soft.  I have made this recipe many times and none of us have ever been ill from it. In fact it is now a firm favourite with my son. There are only 3 of us so we have some leftover when I make it. My son loves it cold from the fridge the next day too!

Here’s the ingredients price list to show how cheap it is to make. This is using Tesco ingredients.

  • 100g Tesco grated Parmesan cheese – £2.00
  • 500g Tesco Value spaghetti – 20p
  • 1 pack of Woodside Farms streaky bacon – 275g – £1.04
  • 6 free-range medium eggs – 89p – this makes it 60p for 4
  • Block of Tesco butter – £1.18 for 250g- this makes it 24p for 50g

Total for the ingredients used – £4.08!!

Ok so you don’t use all of the spaghetti in the pack but that’s only pence anyway. Obviously you can spend more if you use other brands, but the brands I used made a very tasty meal which we all loved. You really can keep the cost down without compromising on taste!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we all do 🙂 Check back soon for another cheap but tasty family meal.

 

Peach Schnapps and Raspberry No Bake Cheesecake Hearts

One of my all-time favourite desserts has to be a no-bake cheesecake. So simple to make, yet with so many different flavour combinations to try. My favourite up until now has been THIS ROSE AND PISTACHIO CHEESECAKE but I think I’ve now come up with a worthy contender for the title of my number one recipe.

I was kindly sent a fantastic mini hearts pan to use from The Little Cook Shop and I’ve used it in a few recipes now as it is so versatile. (See HERE and HERE for a couple of other recipes using it). I was going to make one big cheesecake but decided that mini hearts ones would be much nicer, especially as the topping was going to be bright red. I was also going to make a peach puree to mix in but decided to use peach Schnapps instead. I used Archers as I always have a bottle in the house. You can’t beat Archers and lemonade on a Summer’s evening!

The secret of a no-bake cheesecake is in the pan you use. Never make one in a pan that has a fixed base, or else you’ll have a nightmare trying to get it out in one piece (unless you line it with strong foil first and lift it out). That is why this heart pan is so perfect. Each heart has a loose base so that you can easily push the cheesecakes out of the pan when they are set. It is such a good quality pan and washes up so easily too. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!

I made these cheesecakes yesterday and half of them disappeared very very quickly. I’ve eaten another one today and it tastes just as good, if not better! These will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but I doubt you’ll have any left after two!

PEACH SCHNAPPS AND RASPBERRY NO-BAKE CHEESECAKES

160g digestive biscuits (about 10 biscuits)

60g unsalted butter, melted

150g full-fat cream cheese

30g icing sugar

85ml double cream

2.5 tbsp Peach Schnapps, or more for a stronger taste

150g fresh raspberries, rinsed

30g caster sugar

0.5 tsp lemon juice

extra raspberries to decorate if required

  • To make the biscuit base, either blitz the digestives in a food processor, or place them in a ziplock bag and bash them with a rolling pin, until you have fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and mix well until completely combined.
  • Divide the mixture equally among the heart shaped cavities, and press down firmly with the back of a teaspoon until flat and well-compacted.
  • Place in the fridge for an hour to firm up.
  • Place the cream cheese and icing sugar in to a bowl and whisk until smooth. Place the double cream in to another bowl and whisk until it reaches soft peak stage. (This means that peaks will form when you lift the whisk out of the cream, but the tips of the peaks will fold back down).
  • Add the cream to the cream cheese and fold in until combined. You’ll notice it becoming thicker as you do this. The more you fold, the thicker it will become. Add the peach schnapps and keep folding to mix it in well, until smooth. (Taste a tiny bit at this stage and add more schnapps if required).
  • Divide the mixture between the hearts. I found it easier to use a piping bag to make sure I covered the bases completely. Use a small palette knife or spatula to level the tops, then place in the fridge for at least 3 hours to set. The longer the better.
  • While the cheesecakes are in the fridge, make the raspberry sauce: Press the raspberries through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds (or blitz in a food processor and then pass through the sieve). Pour the seedless raspberry juice into a small saucepan, add the sugar and lemon juice, mix, and place over a low heat on the hob. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring regularly, and keep on the heat until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • When the cheesecakes are set, remove from the fridge and push the bases up from underneath to release them from the pan. Use a knife to gently ease the metal heart base off the biscuit. Place on to a serving plate.
  • Stir the sauce until smooth and pour in to a disposable piping bag. (If the sauce has thickened too much, just mix in a little bit of boiled water that has cooled down). Cut a tiny end off the bag to make a very small opening. Drizzle the sauce over the cheesecakes, and add a raspberry on top of each if required to decorate.
  • Enjoy!!!

As these are so small with a decent amount of biscuit base, they are easy to pick up to eat. Or you can be more civilised and use a spoon, of course.

You could substitute the Schnapps for any flavour or alcohol you prefer. I can think of many cocktail-inspired cheesecakes to try with various alcohol and fruit toppings. I’m looking forward to making many more!

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If you would like to give these a go and would like to make them in the same pan, you can buy it HERE and to make it even more tempting, if you use the code CONFARREO10 at the checkout you will get 10% off your order. That code can be used for everything on their website so make the most of it 🙂