STRAWBERRY MINI-CAKES FOR BAKE PINK PROJECT

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I am joining Chef Colette Christian in her Bake Pink Project. I don’t know how many dear friends and acquaintances of mine have been affected by breast (and other) cancers, but far too many.  In fact, one in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime, with early detection being KEY to survival. In other words, get screened annually, and talk to all your friends to make sure they do the same.

I’ve never met Chef Colette in person. But I know for a fact she is one of the nicest human beings around. I will talk more about it in a few months, for reasons that will become clear by then. For now, let me just say she is a fantastic online instructor who is responsible for me finally conquering macarons a few years ago (check her 6 classes at Bluprint, all pretty amazing). Once I got addicted to baking macarons, my horizons were opened to other kinds of patisserie. In many ways, I think Colette is the person who helped me go from cake-o-phobe to passionate baker.  She is winning her own battle with breast cancer, and I am absolutely thrilled to join her BAKE PINK project. Today I share a recipe for a cake I recently enjoyed at Ottolenghi’s cafe in London.  It is pink, it is delicious, and quite simple to put together.

STRAWBERRY-VANILLA MINI-CAKES
(slightly modified from Ottolenghi’s Sweet)

recipe also available online here

for the cake:
250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250 g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
4 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
120 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
140 g almond flour
15 oz fresh strawberries, hulled cut in half
1 T olive oil
2 T maple syrup
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

for the strawberry icing:
55 g fresh strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
300 g icing sugar
1 T light corn syrup
1/8 tsp vanilla paste

to decorate:
whole strawberries
freeze-dried strawberries
sprinkles

Heat the oven to 400°F.

Start by making the roasted strawberries, preferably many hours in advance, or the day before.  Mix the strawberries with olive oil, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl, add to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast until the edges start to get dark and the liquid gets thick. Do not let the strawberries burn or get too dry.  Reserve. Dice before using in the recipe. If there is excessive liquid, drain it.

Prepare four mini-loaf pans by coating them with butter and flour or using a baking spray.

Make the cake batter. Place the butter, sugar, and vanilla paste in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium speed until light, then add the eggs, a little at a time. Continue to beat until fully combined. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then stir in the almond flour. Turn the speed of the mixer to medium-low, then add the dry ingredients in three batches and finally fold in the diced roasted strawberries.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pans.  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of one of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the strawberry icing, place all the icing ingredients in a food processor and process together until smooth. Drizzle the tops of the upside-down cakes with the icing, allowing it to drip down the sides. Garnish and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: While in London, I really wanted to stop by Ottolenghi’s place, but since my schedule was quite tight, I was worried it would not happen. So one afternoon I was all by myself and realized I barely had the time to catch the tube and get to the cafe before closing time. When I got there, I could not sit down for an early dinner because they were just getting ready to call it a day, so I was a bit frantic trying to decide what to get. From the corner of my eye I saw some cute mini-loaf cakes, and that’s what I bought. My plan was to travel back to the hotel and have it as my dinner. But it could not hurt to take a test-bite as I walked back to the metro station, right?  Right. Problem is, I could not stop eating it. Moist, sweet, but also tangy with the strawberry taste. It was so so good… The sweetest walk ever through Notting Hill.

Of course, it is often problematic to try to match the great things we stumble upon like that. But I have to say, the ones I baked at home were pretty close to that level of goodness. I opted to roast the strawberries because at this time of the year they are not at their peak, and also because roasting will always intensify the flavor, so why not? It is just a small additional step that I think pays off big time here.

Chef Colette, thank you for Baking Pink, and for all the help and advice you’ve given me this past few months.  You are a sweet and bright person…

And for all my readers and fellow bloggers, let’s do all we can to raise awareness about breast cancer, it is a serious killer that can be tamed by early detection.

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MARSHMALLOW MACARONS

I wanted the first post in my second decade of blogging to be special. Macarons have a permanent spot in my heart. My fascination with these cookies made me persist after many failures, but what ultimately led me to conquer them was getting the perfect instructor to virtually hold my hand and show me the tricks to master these finicky creatures. Colette Christian is her name. Her class on Bluprint (former Craftsy) will turn ANY person into a confident macaron baker. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may notice that her recipe is my go-to. I sometimes venture into Italian and Swiss territory just for fun, but if I have a very important batch to make I don’t blink, Colette’s tried and true it is.  Her instructions are flawless, and if you have questions she always answers them. The inspiration for the flavor and looks of this batch came from Ettore Cioccia, an Italian patissier who works in Spain. I follow his beautiful productions closely online.

MARSHMALLOW MACARONS
(adapted from Colette Christian’s Craftsy version)

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
113 g almond meal
113 g egg whites at room temperature
a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
caramel food gel from Chefmaster
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

for the filling:

90g egg whites  (from about 3 eggs)
130g sugar (superfine if available)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

to decorate:
4 ounces (113 g)  70% chocolate
1 + 1/2 tsp coconut oil
white non-pareils sprinkles

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar and almond meal   in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm.

Switch to paddle attachment. Add half the almond meal mixture, turn the mixer on low and mix for about 3 seconds. Stop and add the rest of the almond mixture, turn the mixer on low, and process for about 5 more seconds. It should still be reasonably thick, but the grains of almond should be more or less disappearing in the batter.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and finish the macaronage by hand.  Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with one of the tips listed above. Pipe on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. Ina dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Decorate half the shells with chocolate. Place chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt gently, mixing well. Dip half of the shells into the chocolate, leave to almost set. Add the white sprinkles when the chocolate is still a bit sticky to the touch. Reserve.

Make the filling: Fill a wide pot with a couple of inches of water. Place over high heat until almost boiling, then adjust temperature to maintain a gentle simmer. Combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set over steaming water, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula, until egg whites reach 175°F. It should take less than 10 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip at high speed until meringue is glossy and beginning to ball up inside the whisk, about 5 minutes.  Place the mixture in a piping bag fitted with a closed start tip. Pipe on the shells that are not decorated with chocolate.  Burn the surface with a torch, and immediately close the macaron with a decorated shell.  Press gently so that the burned design shows through the edge.

 Store in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: These macs were a ton of fun to make…  I wasn’t sure how the Swiss  meringue would behave as I torched it, but the whole thing worked flawlessly. Remember that I cooked the egg whites to a slightly higher temperature than most recipes call for, resulting in a more stable meringue. I piped and torched four at a time.  More than that could be a bit tricky. The chocolate shell was still pretty nice after 2 days in the fridge.  You could use tempered chocolate or if you truly want to simplify, candy melts work too. However, real chocolate tastes a lot better and in this case there’s quite a bit of it on the shell. Just make sure to coat the shells carefully so that no chocolate drips to the side.

Although, I doubt anyone would mind a little chocolate insinuating its presence down the shell… Would you?

 

About Chef Colette Christian

Chef Christian not only teaches SIX classes at Bluprint (Macarons, Miniature French Desserts, Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, Danish and other goodies), she also published a macaron cookbook that goes way beyond the basics to show amazing decorating techniques and cool things to bake using macarons as the basic method. To order your copy click here.  To visit her blog click  here.

 

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