Tag Archives: London

Hot and Bothered At Red N Hot

Have I gotten over the fact that winter has come early? NO.

Am I glad that the bitter cold makes me crave for hot and spicy Szechuan food? Hell, YES!

Is Red N Hot THE place to go to satisfy this craving? 99% YES!

RedNHot

Why 99%? Because this place stinks, literally. The pungent chilli vapours tend to be rather offensive and clingy after a while, so bad that your clothes, hair, bags stink when you leave. But we don’t care, because the food is really good. Besides, we have been well-trained enough to wear our grubbiest clothes and not bring our most precious leather bags whenever we eat at Red N Hot. Seriously, this is very important if you don’t want to spend days sniffing at yourself, and grimacing whenever you do that. You don’t want to get your Birkin permanently defiled with the stench too (yes, we saw a Birkin, and a couple of Chanels make grand appearances at a completely unforgiving place like Red N Hot, and we winced in pain to witness this, even though these bags were regrettably not ours).

Anyways, five of us soldiered on to Red N Hot yesterday, armed with ridiculous appetites, without a reservation, and lots of time to spend in the queue for a table. This place is popular. An hour later, we earned a table upstairs, and since we were familiar with the menu, we ordered without hesitation and ended up sharing ten dishes.

RedNHot

Of these, my favourite has got to be 口水鸡, which literally means mouth-watering chicken or saliva chicken. Not that this is prepared in the chef’s saliva, that would be really appalling, to say the least, but this is a cold dish, where poached chicken is drenched in copious amounts of spicy chilli oil, and so eating this makes your mouth water. Personally, I think the sight of this makes me salivate. There is something very alluring about the scarlet red chilli oil interlaced with the creamy skin of the poached chicken. Now, Red N Hot does this really well. The spice from the oil and fragrance from the roasted groundnuts, bring out the creaminess of the chicken. I could have this everyday with bowls of rice, and not ever complain. It isn’t very spicy to me, subtle heat comes through with every bite, just enough to tantalise you for more, but not too much to put you off eating it. We always have two portions of this, because it is a real crowd-pleaser.

To cool us down, we would always have the cucumber (蒜泥黄瓜) marinated in garlic and sesame oil. It’s calming, well-flavoured and you emerge, yes, cool as a cucumber, with all the Szechuan spices you are having.

RedNHot

This may sound disgusting, but I like pig’s ears (红油猪耳) and having them steeped in a spicy chilli oil is a must. You get a little bit of crunch with the cartilage in the sliced ears, and it’s a pretty good snack, to me at least!!

We also like the dried beans (干煸四季豆), it is a tad salty, but this is nothing a warm scoop of rice can’t solve.

RedNHot

The Gong Bao King Prawns (宫保虾球) are very good too. Succulent, fat ribbons of prawns in a sweet and spicy sauce, again, a great accompaniment for rice!

Do also try the Sliced Fish Topped with Chilli and Szechuan Peppers (水煮鱼). This is a rather fiery dish, with impossibly tender pieces of sliced fish drenched in oil. The kick comes from the Szechuan peppers. These are little peppers that resemble black peppercorns; biting into one of this will numb your mouth instantly, so beware!! I can’t deal with numbness because I like to be able to taste my food, so I always pick the peppers out. The heat from the dried chillies that permeates the oil should be enough to light you up.

I haven’t got any pictures, but the sliced pork belly in mashed garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉) is absolutely fantastic with lots of rice (can you tell that I’m a big fan of rice, already?). The white tofu in golden yolk casserole (金沙白玉豆腐) is simple, but so very delicious; this consists of smooth tofu cubes soaked in a light and fragrant salted egg yolk broth, again very delightful with rice.

I would recommend having a mix of spicy and non-spicy items. It can be an overkill if you have everything spicy (and you might suffer from the runs….), and it certainly defeats the purpose of visiting a Szechuan restaurant without trying anything fiery. Also, grab a bunch of foodies, because you would want to try as many dishes as you can. The ones I’ve recommended are good bets, my group of dinner pals always enjoy these dishes and so do I. If you are squeamish about oil and heat, Szechuan cuisine is probably not for you. But to me, this is a good way of staying warm during winter and a refreshing departure from the usual Chinese food we have in London. You can also opt for the Szechuan hotpot dinner at Red N Hot. We haven’t tried this because we can easily replicate this at home.

Whatever it is, if you’re planning to head to Red N Hot, just remember to dress really simply in your dirtiest clothes. You will thank me for that. If not, you can grab takeaways too.

Check out my other food adventures!

Red N Hot is located at:

59 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0NE

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I Hate That Summer’s Gone


Cherries during summer

Over the last couple of days, the weather has turned too icy cold, too quickly and it’s time for us to unearth our winter clothing. I’m feeling a little upset about this. The days are getting shorter; the sky gets dark so early in the day that it drains my energy. Hell, I don’t even feel like stepping out of home. It’s just too dreary. I hate London like this, and I miss the long hours of cool heat that we enjoy in summer.

Everything feels heavier… my mood, my heart, my footsteps and even the produce. I’m going to miss the good stuff that summer brings, such as strawberries, cherries and blackberries. We can’t beat getting 4kg of really juicy and sweet cherries from fruit grocers at only £4, can we?! Gonna miss out on baking some really neat stuff with berries.. I had planned to make all sorts of jams and gelees to stuff to liven up my macaron fillings, but I procrastinated and there wasn’t enough time!

Sigh.

By the way, that is one of the many photos I took of my beloved cherries, during one of the magical summer days that we spent together….

Goodbye Summer: Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake

As summer peaked in July, strawberries and cherries were everywhere, and so very plum! As my husband craved for cheesecake, it was a no-brainer for me to procure some strawberries from the grocer to make us some strawberry swirl cheesecake. It’s, after all, not everyday that the husband announces his longing for something sweet.

Strawberry Cheesecake

I haven’t made cheesecake in a while, because of its sheer richness and really, there are just two of us, sharing them between us would just teleport us straight to jelly belly hell. But I couldn’t resist. Creamy cheesecake, marbled with tart strawberry swirls, atop a plateau of buttery crumb. Mmmm. It’s not everyday that strawberries are so plentiful, and in season, and so very cheap. Besides, I thought it would be oodles of fun to make some, I haven’t ‘swirled’ any of my baked treats before, or anything for that matter. Oh imagine the excitement of watching two contrasting colours merge imperceptibly into one! Ok, maybe it’s just the baking psycho in me talking. I do apologise for my graphic display of affection for making pretty eats.

Strawberry Cheesecake

The result? I got exactly what I asked for. Creamy cheesecake, laced with tart strawberry swirls, atop buttery crumbs. This spells summer for me, and as the heat slips from London much too quickly, I write to cling on to whatever that is left.

Here’s the recipe:

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake (adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

To create the strawberry swirls:

150g strawberries, washed, stems removed
1 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 tablespoon cornflour

1. Blitz all ingredients together into liquid (sort of a pulpy juice texture). Set aside or refrigerate for further use.

For the crumb base:

150g digestive biscuits, crushed into fine crumbs
50g unsalted butter, melted

1. Mix crushed biscuits and melted butter with a fork. Press into greased and lined 8-inch cake tin.

2. Bake for 7 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius. Set aside to cool completely.

For the cake filling:

500g full-fat cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
2 medium eggs

1. Beat cheese and sugar together till smooth and creamy at low speed.

2. Add eggs one at a time, scraping to incorporate and beat to combine. Mix till smooth, do not overmix.

To assemble the cake:

1. Layer half of the cake filling on top of the crumb base.

2. Add 7 tablespoons of strawberry ‘juice’ in dollops as shown in the picture.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.  (There should be extra strawberry ‘juice’ left, you can make them into a beverage!)

4. Using a chopstick, swirl to mix the cake filling and strawberry ‘juice’.

5. Place cake tin in a deep tray, fill with water to 2/3 way up the cake tin, bake for 40 min or until golden brown and center remains slightly wobbly. Do not overbake. Cool slightly at room temperature and cover to chill in fridge before serving.

Enjoy!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post is featured on Photograzing. Check out my Photograzing profile to see my other featured posts!

Lime & Coconut Macarons


Lime & Coconut Macarons

I was travelling too much and eating too much good food, naturally, I spent too much time blogging on everything but. This is seriously backdated, I made these lime & coconut macarons in June, and the recipe have been stashed in my growing recipe book since.

As I blazed through my food trails in Singapore on the blog, the dust settled, quite literally too, on my measuring cups, whisk and  everything I made in the last couple of months (with the exception of mooncakes, only because the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is tomorrow). I missed proper baking very much during the break in Singapore, but now that I’m back in London, the kitchen’s all mine (sometimes shared with my husband, but he cooks and I bake, so that’s okay), and I’m sure writing this, will excite me into aging some egg whites again!

Lime & Coconut Macarons

Macarons, oh macarons, they frustrate me and they tease me. I don’t know why I like to dive back into making them so much, even though they are arguably one of the trickiest treats to make in my dictionary. The shell can’t be too chewy, or too crisp, the filling can’t be too sweet (for me, at least). Too much macaronage yields a paste that runs everywhere, too little gives shells that look offensively like boobies. Yet, I love making them. Talk about being sadistic.

Anyways, why lime & coconut macarons? I was really into the whole summer vibe going on in London during the month of June, and I went through a ‘tropical’ phase. Everything I ate or made had to have some element of the tropics. I went a little overboard and decided to make lime & coconut macarons. As the meerkat says, simples.

I was working with the shell recipe from Cannelle et Vanille to make some vanilla bean macarons with salted butter caramel buttercream, and it didn’t quite work out for me on my first attempt with it (possibly because I was rather green at making macarons then). The shells had feet but they weren’t very smooth. So I thought I would try out the shell recipe from heavenwildfleur, an incredibly talented pastry enthusiast that I’ve met in blogosphere.

I wanted a slightly sweeter and sturdier shell to go with the tart lime & coconut cream cheese filling I planned to make, so I tweaked the recipe a little. It worked very well in giving me very smooth and shiny shells with nicely risen feet, but I probably went a little too far with the macaronage, the paste was a tad runny to work with so I couldn’t get perfectly round shells. The macarons nailed my craving for all things tropical; slightly sweet shells with a hint of flaked coconut, giving way to the tartness of lime, mmmm lovely! Here are the recipes.

For the macaron shells:

120 egg whites, aged for 3 days
3g egg white powder
90g caster sugar
140g almond flour (finely ground!)
160g icing sugar
A handful of flaked coconut
Green food colouring

1. Preheat oven at 170 degrees Celsius

2. Sift almond flour and icing sugar together in a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites and egg white powder till soft peaks are formed. Whisk in caster sugar until stiff peaks form.

4. To the egg white mixture, fold in dry ingredients from Step 2 in 1/3 portions to combine. Add in the food colouring (the amount depends on intensity desired), and fold in the mixture more vigorously. Test the consistency from time to time by lifting a generous dollop of macaron paste and dropping it into the mixing bowl. If the macaron paste does not settle smoothly after 30 seconds, continue folding the paste. If the macaron paste smooths out too quickly, you’ve gone too far.

5. Pipe out the shells onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle a little flaked coconut on the shells and leave them to rest for 30 minutes before baking.

6. When a crust is formed, turn temperature on oven down to 140 degrees Celsius and bake for 15 minutes, turning the tray halfway through baking.

7. Cool parchment of baked shells on cooling rack. Unmould when the shells are completely cool.

For the lime & coconut cream cheese filling:

75g unsalted butter, room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold
75g icing sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon flaked coconut

1. Beat butter and cream cheese together till combined, then beat in icing sugar.

2. Mix in lime juice and flaked coconut until well-combined.

3. Pipe filling onto cooled shells and sandwich them for the final product.

As the cream cheese filling is a little runny, the macarons are best eaten a day after making them. The filling would have hardened slightly by then, and the shells are still perfect. I kept these at room temperature and they were fine for a few days (this might depend on the humidity at your location).

Enjoy and let me know how this works out!

If you love macarons, join me on my macaron journey.

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post is featured on Photograzing. Check out my Photograzing profile to see my other featured posts!

Making My Own Snowskin Mooncakes

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

Mid-Autumn is almost here, and I’ve been bitten by the mooncake bug. My recent trip back to Singapore saw me prowling through the mooncake fair at Takashimaya, indulging in this, this and this, and ever since I returned to London, I’ve been missing ’em babies.

The Mid-Autumn festival, celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese, falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar. It is a time for family to gather to savour mooncakes whilst admiring the moon, which is the fullest and roundest at this time of the year. There are various Chinese legends as to how people came to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, and most are associated with the reunion of Hou Yi and Chang’e on this day. At that time, it was said that there were ten suns, which alternated to bring light and heat to earth. But one day, all ten suns appeared and caused the earth to burn. Hou Yi, a skilled archer, was summoned to shoot down all but one sun, and for his successful efforts, he was rewarded by the Emperor with a pill that would give him immortality. Hou Yi kept the pill hidden, but Chang’e discovered and swallowed it. She then gained immortality, flew to the moon, forever separated from her husband, Hou Yi. It is on the 15th day during the 8th month in the lunar calendar, that Hou Yi and Chang’e would reunite and that is why the moon is said to be the most beautiful on this night.

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

Since we’re celebrating Mid-Autumn with a group of close friends in London, and I have been dreaming of snowskin mooncakes that aren’t widely available here, I thought I could try to make some. These require quite a bit of effort, I don’t think it’s difficult, but it takes up a considerable bulk of time and patience. So if you would like to try making snowskin mooncakes, make sure you set aside two half-days or a one really long day. You will also need to start off with a very, very good mood.

Mooncakes are traditionally filled with lotus paste, or red bean paste with a salted egg yolk centre, but modern adaptations have seen yam, green tea, chocolate and custard etc coming into the market. The skins are either unbaked (snowskin, somewhat like mochi skin), baked, or deep fried (flaky). I rather like snowskin, so I decided to make Snowskin Mooncakes with Home-made Lotus Paste and White & Milk Chocolate Pink Champagne Truffle. I made the lotus paste first; this is the filling that would be wrapped by the snowskin. I have adapted both lotus paste and snowskin recipes from Amanda, and this is what worked for me.

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

Lotus paste

250g fresh lotus seeds (those with skins and green centres already removed)
150g granulated white sugar
125ml vegetable oil
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 and 1/4 tablespoon condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
8+6 tablespoons drinking water

Makes 400g of lotus paste.

1. Soak lotus seeds for 20 min and drain off the water after soaking.

2. Cook for 3 hours (varies) in boiling water until soft and tender, drain off, and blitz softened lotus seeds in food processor. Add 8 tablespoons of drinking water whilst blitzing to form a thick paste.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and caramelise 75g of sugar on low heat in a non-stick saucepan. If you want a darker-coloured lotus paste, caramelise the sugar to a dark copper colour. Be careful not to burn the sugar, constant stirring is required.

4. Add the blitzed lotus paste, 75g sugar, oil and salt to the caramel, and fry on low heat till it thickens (somewhat like the consistency of slightly runny kaya). If the oil is not taken up by the paste and it forms a layer over the paste, add 1 tablespoon of drinking water at a time and fry until the oil seeps into the paste. (I needed  6 tablespoons). Again, constant stirring is absolutely essential.

5. Add golden syrup and condensed milk and fry till paste is thick and dry enough to leave the sides of the saucepan. It is crucial to stir continuously to prevent the paste from ‘splitting’, where oil seeps out of the paste to form a separate layer. Steps 4 and 5 should take about an hour.

6. Cool the paste and refrigerate (cover bowl with clingfilm) for later use (I used mine over the next two days).

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

So the tiring part is over, and the fun part comes when you make the snowskin and shape the babies with spring-loaded moulds! Of course the traditional moulds are made of wood, but those are rather difficult to source in London, and I turned to eBaY for modern-day solutions. The spring-loaded plastic moulds are really fabulous – easy to use and clean, hop over to my Facebook Page for a look in one of my photo albums, I’ve uploaded a rather amateurish picture of the mould from my iPhone.

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

Here’s the recipe for the snowskin:

100g koh fun (cooked or fried glutinous rice flour, store-bought)
100g icing sugar
30g shortening (I used Trex solid vegetable fat), cold
120ml drinking water
Food colouring (I used pink and yellow)
1 tablespoon condensed milk
Champagne truffles (I bought the Prestat ones)

Makes 14 mini snowskin mooncakes

1. Sift koh fun and icing sugar together. Rub in shortening until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2. Mix water, colouring and condensed milk. Make a well in the centre of dry mixture in Step 1, and add in liquid, mixing until a soft, just-combined dough forms. Do not overknead. At this point,the dough should be soft, but not sticky. Rest dough for 10 min.

3. Divide lotus paste into balls of 1-inch diameter. Divide dough into balls of 1 and 1/4-inch diameter. The size of the balls will depend on sizes of mould and the truffle centre. The mould I used was about 4.3cm in diameter.

4. Lightly dust working surface with koh fun. Roll out dough into a flat piece.

5. Wrap champagne truffle with lotus paste, and then wrap this with the flattened dough.

6. Lightly dust the mould with koh fun, pop the dough from Step 5 into the mould, press firmly with fingers to help the dough take shape, and pump out the mooncake. Refrigerate to set, and enjoy them with family & friends!

*If you would like to do the two-toned dough, lay one flattened piece of pink dough onto of one flattened piece of yellow dough. Use a rolling pin to press on them. Roll the combined piece into a swiss roll. Cut the swiss roll cross-sectionally and with the swirly part of the cross section facing up, press down with your palm and roll it out accordingly. Done! If you don’t understand this, drop me a line, and I’ll try to explain.

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

I thought the mooncakes turned out quite well. The lotus paste was nice and smooth, fragrant with a hint of caramel. The sweetness was nicely juxtaposed with the spiciness of the champagne truffle. The skin was soft too, without being too filmsy or chunky. I made these two days ago, so I’ll update this post to let you know how well the snowskin keeps in the refrigerator.

Making Snowskin Mooncakes

I hope you enjoyed the post! I most certainly enjoyed making and photographing the mooncakes. Let me know how this recipe works out for you.

Check out what I’ve been baking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post is featured on Foodgawker, Tastespotting and Photograzing. Check out my profiles on Photograzing, Foodgawker and  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

I had loads of salted butter caramel sauce left in the fridge after making macarons with them. Waste not, so I whipped up a chocolate cake according to The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook recipe for a Brooklyn Blackout Cake, and instead of having chocolate custard as a filling between the layers, I made oodles of salted butter caramel buttercream.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

Of course, I made sure nobody was looking over my shoulder when I packed in as much salted butter caramel sauce as humanely possible into the buttercream. Nobody needs to know how decadent this cake is, it might just spoil their appetite for all foods buttery, rich and delicious.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

And if that wasn’t enough, because I was overzealous in making the buttercream, I ‘accidentally’ spilled some onto the top of the cake and ‘decided’ oh well, serendipity it is. Off I went, armed with my palette knife and spread the buttercream so enthusiastically, a hardcore personal trainer would have been pleased with all the arm action.

I was also very pleased that I didn’t break the cake layers up when trying to assemble them, because I always do!

When all the important cake tasks were done, I slipped off my apron, made some black tea, and invited my husband for a girly time with me out on the balcony. Don’t know if he enjoyed the girly bit, but he loved the cake, and so did our friends.

Hope you enjoy making and eating this as much as I did!

Here’s the recipe:

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream
(adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook’s recipe for Brooklyn Blackout Cake)

For the cake:

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
260g caster sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
45g cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
170g plain flour
160ml whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line bases of two 8inch cake tins with greaseproof paper.

2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs one a time, mixing well to make sure all incorporated.

4. Beat in vanilla paste, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda in at slow speed until well mixed.

5. Add half the flour. Mix well. Then add all of the milk, mix well, and finish off with the remaining half of the flour. Mix everything until well combined.

6. Pour cake batter into prepared cake tins, and smooth over with a palette knife.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 min. This will depend on your oven, you don’t want to cake to be dried out.

8. Leave cakes in tin to cool slightly, and turn out onto cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the salted butter caramel buttercream:

250g Icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
A few tablespoons of store-bought salted butter caramel sauce or home-made sauce, at room temperature

1. Beat butter and icing sugar until well mixed. Add icing sugar in portions and taste as you mix to get the desired sweetness without having the buttercream too runny to spread. You don’t have to use up all 250g of the sugar. Also remember that you will be adding salted butter caramel sauce later so you need to tweak the amounts of different ingredients added to suit your preferences.

2. Add salted butter caramel sauce, however much you want again, to get the desired taste without making the buttercream too runny to spread. Beat frosting until light and fluffy and spread to your heart’s content!

Enjoy!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

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*Updated: This post is featured on Photograzing. Check out my Photograzing profile to see my other featured posts!

Sin Is Good When It Comes In The Form Of……

…..Very Chocolatey Macadamia Brownies!

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies

Ahhh…how I love brownies. Ass on the couch, gut hanging out, brownie chunk in left hand, glass of cold milk in the right. Chocolate smeared across my cheeks, lips and teeth. My favourite pose of all times.

Here’s how you can emulate this. Oh I really mean just making the brownies, personal style can’t be taught, my dears!! Besides you need time to cultivate a hanging gut.

Very Chocolatey Macadamia Brownies
(adapted from Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies)

225g unsalted butter
225g + 170g semisweet chocolate chips, divided in respective portions
84g unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 and 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 and 1/8 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup plain flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour a 12 inch by 9 inch shallow pan.

2. Melt butter, 225g chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in microwave. Cool slightly.

3. Mix eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar together, and stir this mixture into the warm chocolate mixture. Cool to room temperature.

4. Stir together 1/2 cup of plain flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the cooled chocolate mixture from Step 3.

5. In another bowl, coat nuts and 170g chocolate chips in 1/8 cup of plain flour. Add this to the chocolate mixture from Step 4. Pour this into prepared pan.

6. Bake for about 30 minutes or until skewer comes clean. Do not overbake. Cool brownie block, refrigerate and cut into squares to serve.

Enjoy!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

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*Updated: This post is featured on Photograzing. Check out my Photograzing profile to see my other featured posts!

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

So I started off my macaron adventures with making erm, fake  nut-free macarons. I wasn’t contented with the fact the those macarons didn’t have feet, looked rough as hell (optimists call it rustic, home-made looking) even though they tasted great. I wanted to push myself to making better macarons and went on a hunt for a good recipe for the shells. I found this on Cannelle et Vanille, the most gorgeous food blog written and developed by the very talented Aran Goyoaga.

Making real macarons is incredibly hard work. I’m used to making cupcakes, biscuits, cookies, cakes, brownies, and nothing I’ve experienced through my years of baking prepared me for this very attempt. Four hours of very prolific swearing, aching arms, hair adorned with sticky pink bits of the batter, I swore I almost cried at the end of it. Tears of frustration and tears of joy, sounds very much like giving birth, no?

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

I did feel very much like a mother, scrutinising the anatomy of my newborn babies when they came out of the oven. Let me explain. My oven is smaller than what would have been suitable for making tonnes of macaron shells, and my baking trays are small-ish too. I had to bake all those cute little rounds in a crazy number of batches, couple this with my lack of experience, I took four bloody hours to finish making these macarons. But this was good too, because I had a number of batches to play with, this meant that I could adjust baking times, and think about what went wrong with each batch, and learn from my mistakes pronto. My first batch was underbaked so they looked a bit pale (kinda fleshy pink), and the fact that they had nipples *giggles* suggested that macaronage had not gone far enough. Very frustrating for me because I am the most sedentary person and my arms were already aching badly from the macaronage, but the fact that little pale boobies came out of my oven for the first batch made me laugh. Yes I’m very childish….

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

So I cheated for the second batch, and mixed the macaron batter for a while more. My arms were threatening to give up by then, but oh in the name of macarons and the ever-important learning process, I persisted. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to mix the batter again after letting it sit exposed for a while, but oooh, it kinda worked for the other batches because the nipples disappeared! I also made sure I covered the batter with a cling film to prevent excessive exposure to air because they might dry out too soon before I could even get round to baking them in my small oven. Nobody wants unsightly cracks on macarons, do we? I also went crazy maternal when I saw little feet forming on the bottom of the macaron shells. Feet, oh precious feet!!! My babies have feet!!! Nevermind the complexion!

My hubby calmed a very excited me down for a bit before I went on to make the salted butter caramel buttercream. Mind you, I didn’t know how to make proper salted butter caramel (I made a very elementary version which tasted good but wouldn’t be called proper caramel in a pastry chef’s dictionary…) and erm, I screwed it up big time because I didn’t understand what caramel actually was. I made up my own recipe but I ended up making a solid, rock-hard ‘caramel’ out of just butter, sugar and salt. A web search led me to realise that I needed cream in the equation to make it pliable and yielding, so off to Tesco for some cream, and thank goodness, I managed to turn what was teeth-breaking candy to a velvety smooth, sexy copper-coloured salted butter caramel. Phew.

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

I cooled the caramel sauce down, mixed it up with butter and icing sugar, and spread the filling lovingly on my babies (have I told you they have feet?!) before attempting to take pictures that would do them justice.

Vanilla Bean Macarons with Salted Butter Caramel Buttercream

So there, my very exciting experience in making real macarons for the first time. Very frustrating, brought out the worst in me, full of mistakes I call lessons, but very very enriching and completely worth it! Because of that, I’ve gone on to make more macarons with improved recipes thanks to another fab food blogger, so stay tuned!

The recipe for the vanilla bean macaron shells is found on Cannelle et Vanille site (follow the link above), I haven’t changed anything except for the baking times. I would suggest using the different batches to test this out because it would differ with ovens.

Here’s my rogue recipe for salted butter caramel buttercream. As I made lots of mistakes while trying to correct my self-made recipe, I tried my best to record what I did to rescue it in the mayhem, and erm, I hope I did it as accurately as I should have and I sure hope it works for you too! I also made this the caramel sauce a little saltier as I wanted to add it to butter and icing sugar for a well-balanced buttercream.

For the salted butter caramel sauce:

150g granulated sugar
100g unsalted butter, cubed
2 teaspoons sea salt (lower the amount of salt if you aren’t intending to make a buttercream out of it)
200ml whipping cream

1. On medium-low heat, add sugar, butter and salt to deep saucepan and stir continuously while sugar melts. Caramelise this mixture to a copper colour. Note that caramel burns extremely easily, so keep an eye on it the whole time.

2. Meanwhile, heat whipping cream until it just comes to boil and take it off the heat.

3. Remove saucepan from heat, add the hot whipping cream. The caramel will splatter (very vigorously, I burnt myself in the process!), so you might want to wear oven mitts and definitely lean as far away as you can from all the action. Stir the mixture continuously until well-combined to a smooth sauce.

4. Cool caramel sauce at room temperature, and at this point, you can store the sauce in the fridge. I kept the leftover sauce in the fridge for two weeks (cling wrapped the bowl), and it was fine. Whenever I wanted to drizzle it over ice cream, or use it for baking, I take a portion out to room temperature and let it soften to a more workable state.

For the salted butter caramel buttercream:

150g unsalted butter, softened
25g icing sugar
2-4 tablespoons of salted butter caramel sauce, room temperature

1. Cream butter and icing sugar together.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of salted butter caramel sauce at a time, until you get the desired taste without making the buttercream too runny. I recall that I used about 3 tablespoons, but again this would depend on the temperature and humidity of your location. So add the sauce slowly and taste it as you go, stop when you’re happy or before the buttercream gets runnier than it should be.

If you love macarons, join me on my macaron journey.

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

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