One of my new year’s resolutions for 2012 was to make my own bread. Another was to always have a craft project on the go and to make or buy handmade gifts. I also decided to explore upcycling and always have fresh flowers in the house. Many things to keep up with, but all small, achieveable challenges.
I’d managed it all until last weekend when feeling poorly, I popped in the local bakery and bought a (super tasty) loaf. I figured that over the course of a year, the odd slip up is allowed, provided I buy local and handmade.
My locally purchased loaf and homemade mantra got me thinking about handmade items in my life and the potential in every day objects. My creative side was drawn to my oversized collection of jam jars and random boxes, igniting the possibility of yet more craft projects.
I’ve planned some creative and thrifty weekends in May with friends. We’re working on a list of things to try. I am determined to find a new and hopefully pretty purpose for my jam jar stash. Maybe some of them will even end up as upcycled gifts or decorative vases for the fresh flowers in my house.
Not everyone appreciates the time, effort and love that goes into handmade items (maybe even bread kneading can be an art!), but I love nothing more than gifting and receiving handmade.
My close friends will know that I’m a little bit obsesssed with French Macarons. Light and chewy in the middle, a bit size treat and fat free which I constantly remind myself of. That means I can have more right?! Next week I’ll be visiting London for my Masters graduation and will definitely make a stop at Laduree for a box of treats, I can’t wait.
Periodically, I’ll bake a batch to share with others, but many don’t even make the construction stage and jump right off the baking sheet and into my mouth. These almond meringue sandwiches are a real delight, so it only seems right to share a recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Macarons.
75g Ground Almonds (gives the chewy and slightly nutty flavour)
115g Icing Sugar
2 Large Egg Whites (room temperature)
50g Caster Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
Food colouring (your choice)
Good quality Strawberry Jam (for filling)
Place ground almonds and icing sugar into a food processor and blend for 15 seconds. Sift mixture into a bowl.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper. I have this nifty silicone macaron mat which my sister gave me for Christmas from the wonderful Squires Kitchen. It makes piping the rounds much easier later on.
Whisk egg whites until holding soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar to make a firm glossy meringue. (Hold above your head to test!) Whisk in the vanilla extract. (Sadly my life is without a Kitchen Aid, but my good old Kenwood handmixer does the job).
Using a spatula (I love the silicone ones), fold in the almond mixture into the meringue, one third at a time.
When dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, add a splash of food colouring and continue to cut and fold the mixture until it becomes shiny, with a thick ribbon-like consistency. I need to invest in some good food colouring pastes, as the cheap stuff doesn’t produce a nice vibrant colour for macarons once baked.
Pour the mixture into a piping bag. My tip is to place the piping bag (I’ve used a disposable today for ease) into a glass and fold the top over. It’s much easier to fill this way and keeps it sturdy.
Pipe small rounds onto the baking sheet. If you don’t have a silicone mat, you can mark circles in pencil on the sheet with a round cookie cutter or similar.
In hindsight, I would have tried to have keep my piping ‘flatter’ so as to produce a smooth macaron after baking.
Tap the baking sheet firmly on the work surface to remove air bubbles. Leave macarons at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees / Gas Mark 3.
Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, cool for 10 minutes and carefully peel of baking paper. Don’t be tempted to pull them off before they have cooled as they will stick to the baking paper!
I used Bonne Maman strawberry jam to sandwich pairs together, as I think it’s the best you can buy in the supermarket and the jars are super cute for vases and craft projects afterwards!
Enjoy with a cup of herbal tea. I put some on my favourite childhood plate (Bunnykins – anyone remember?) & they didn’t stay there long!
Unfilled macarons will keep in an air-tight container for 3-4 days or can be frozen for up to 1 month. They are best eaten at room temperature an hour or so after filling.
What flavours would you try when making macarons? I like rosewater and lavender tones and pistachio is a perfect flavour. Let me know if you try them and what flavours you explore.
Lastly, how cute are these patisserie boxes from Lakeland?