Sunday, January 29, 2012

Zumbo-style macaron tower

It seems that I have made a bit of a name for myself at work as a master macaron baker. Mostly because I have been taking all my practice runs in to work so I'm not left eating them all!

This notoriety resulted in one of my colleagues requesting an Adrian Zumbo style macaron tower (for 100!) for his wifes 40th birthday. I hesitantly accepted the challenge (for a fee!), with the disclaimer that I'm ok to make macarons for 100, but I was not so sure on the 'tower' part.

So, given that I recently spent a weekend making 150 macarons, I thought I'd share my current macaron recipe. I've switched from the French method to the Italian method, and while it requires a bit more work & messing about, it has much more reliable results. And, they look a lot better too!

The tower required me to make three batches of macarons - raspberry, mocha (or choc-coffee) and salted butter popcorn - giving 150 filled macarons in total. After a full day of baking and filling the macarons, I left them in the fridge overnight so they would be nice and firm for the assembly stage.

As I suspected, the tower was by far the most difficult part. It started badly when I struggled to find any reasonably sized styrofoam cones that are required to form the base of the tower. I finally tracked down an art shop in Perth that stocked them up to the largest, 550mm, size, but being the Christmas/New Year period, were not able to get one in for me in time. Conveniently I was in Melbourne for work the week before I needed the cone, and had a ring around there to see if I could track one down, but again, no success. After the first option fell through, I organised to hire a back up option from a local bakery, but I was never really happy with this option, so I tweeted the master himself, Adriano Zumbo, to find out where he gets them from - success!! Zumbo suggests a specialist foam cutter. We managed to track one down in Perth, who was happy to assist at the last minute, but could only cut a pyramid, not a cone. At this stage, Mr Alphie stepped in, and, after covering our dining room with styrofoam offcuts, turned a 550mm high, 200mm square pyramid into a 550mm high, 200mm diameter cone.

Mr Alphie trimming the pyramid into a cone

The drama with the cone extended to the assembly stage. After reading a few blogs on the best way to attach the macarons, I started spearing the tower with toothpicks and sticking the macarons on in a way that resembled a kindergarten craft project. Halfway around the bottom row, I gave up. I just couldn't get them to sit right, they kept falling off, it was a disaster. For the second time that day, Mr Alphie stepped in, taking over the assembly, and with a lot more patience than I will ever have, created a macaron tower to rival Zumbo!

 Mr Alphie assembling the tower

The assembled tower taking over the fridge!

Italian Macaron Method
Adapted from a Caroline Velik recipe, SMH Good Living, May 17 2011
makes approx 100 shells, or 50 filled macarons
  • 200g almond meal, laid on a tray overnight (or up to 2 days) to dry out
  • 200g pure icing sugar* (not icing mixture)
  • 150g egg whites (approx 4 large eggs) sieved, and left out overnight to dry out
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • 200g caster (or regular) sugar
  • 50g water
  • food colouring, if required (gel or powder is best)

    Process dried almond meal and icing sugar together in a food processor to combine and get a finer consistency.

    Sift combined almonds and icing sugar together, twice, discard anything left in the sieve each time.

    Divide the egg whites into two 75g quantities. Mix one lot into the sifted almonds & sugar to make a thick paste, and set aside.

    Put the remaining 75g into a (very clean) mixer bowl, fitted with a whisk attachment, with the cream of tartar, and set aside.

    Put the caster sugar and water into a small saucepan over a medium heat**. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature, and once at 110°C, start whisking the egg whites on low, increasing the speed until thick.

    When the sugar syrup reaches 118°C, and the egg whites are ready, slowly pour the syrup down the side of the mixer bowl, while on medium. (If the sugar syrup gets too hot while the egg whites are not quite ready, add 3tsp more water to the syrup to cool it a bit.)

    Continue to mix for 10 minutes, or until the meringue cools - the bowl will still feel slightly warm.

    Using a spatula, mix the meringue into the almond meal paste, mixing until it becomes supple and shiny, this texture is often referred to as lava-like.

    Fill a piping bag, fitted with a plain 0.5-1cm nozzle pipe 3cm rounds onto a lined baking tray. I use a template created for me by my graphic designer sister in law, but you can trace circles on the reverse of the baking paper lining the tray, or come up with a template yourself!

    Leave the shells to dry for 5-30 minutes, or until they are just dry to the touch. They should still be soft, but just not sticking to your finger when you prod them. This step really depends on your climate. In Perth, in January, it's not really necessary at all, but in more humid climes, you might find you need more than half an hour.

    Bake in a pre-heated 140°C oven for 10-12 minutes until they are firm, but just before they start to colour.

    *For chocolate macaron shells, replace 25g of the icing sugar with cocoa powder
    ** For coloured macaron shells, add the colouring to either the meringue or the sugar syrup when it's around 110°C. It will take a bit of practise to know how much colour in the syrup you need to get the right coloured shells, but it is considered the best time to add food colouring.

    To fill the shells, you can either use ganache or buttercream. Ganache is much easier to make, but buttercream gives you more flavour options without the overpowering chocolatey-ness of a ganache. But that is a post for another day...

    Tuesday, January 24, 2012

    Nobu @Burswood, Perth

    Quite some time ago now, Mr Alphie and I went to Nobu for my birthday dinner. Surprisingly, we were able to get a table on a Saturday night (in December!), even though Mr Alphie only booked two days before.

    It was a stinking hot Perth day, so the light 'summery-ness' of Japanese (Japanese-South American fusion, to be precise) was the perfect choice for dinner. Nobu Perth is located within the Burswood casino complex, alongside Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill, Modo Mio and (A)lure. Burswood was bustling, with people everywhere, and every function room filled with a corporate Christmas parties (plus a few in marquees on the lawns), however, once inside the restaurant, you can easily believe you are in a stand alone restaurant - the bustling casino a mere memory.
    We were escorted to our seats amid a chorus of 'irrashaimase' ('welcome' in Japanese) and presented with the menu, which, while quite long, was well explained by our waitress. Despite the helpful explanations, we opted for the 'Omakase Menu', because we simply couldn't decide! Our dining preferences were discussed; chilli - yes! raw fish - yes! and once we said yes to everything (except avocado - blurgh!), the banquet commenced.

    Salmon Tartar with caviar

    Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno

    Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing
     Black Cod Miso

     Beef Toban-Yaki

    A selection of sashimi - tuna, yellowtail, ???, and some sort of egg thing ('smelt egg'?)

     As for drinks, we opted to choose from the cocktail menu, as my food-wine matching skills are not up to the task of matching a banquet of Japanese-South American fusion to a single bottle of wine. As a lover of all things gin, I started with the Emporio Martini (Juynmai sake, gin, lychee juice, fresh lime & cranberry juice), and followed with a Lychee Martini (vodka, elderflower liqueur & lychee). Mr Alphie, started with the Japanese Mule (Nobu rocks, fresh lime, fresh lemongrass & cloves, ginger beer), followed by a something that I can't remember...

    Emporio Martini                   Japanese Mule

    The only disappointment of the night was the dessert - Bento Box with Green Tea ice cream and Goma tuille - the dessert itself was faultless. The chocolate fondant was perfectly cooked and still gooey in the centre, the green tea ice cream was delicious atop a sesame seed ('goma'?) tuille.
    Bento Box with Green Tea ice cream

    But, it just lacked that 'wow!' factor that all of the previous courses has delivered. I would have loved to try the Ichigo pannacotta with Yuzu granita and lychee or the Miso cappuccino with vanilla ice cream and cappuccino foam, both of which sound more exciting than chocolate fondant and green tea ice cream, which kind of felt like a cop-out. But, then again, I can always try the other desserts next time!