Friday, 24 June 2011

Lemon Cupcakes With Fruity Meringue Nests

I've had the idea for these cupcakes for ages now, so it was about time I actually got around to making them.  After all it's been nearly 2 months since I've made a cupcake. How very odd of me!


These cupcakes are the perfect summer time treat.  A delicious and moist lemon cupcake with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, topped off with a homemade meringue nest that I filled with lemon curd and fresh raspberries and strawberries.  AMAZING!!!  They were even more delicious than I imagined they would be.

These cupcakes were the perfect excuse to try making my own meringue nests - one of my many bookmarked recipes from "Desserts" by Gordon Ramsey.  I must point out that this book is not a new release, but the most recent re-print of Gordon Ramsay's book previously titled "Just Desserts".  Despite the original release of this book being over 10 years ago, I would definitely recommend it as it's got some very solid recipes and techniques such as Pear Tatin, Chocolate Torte, Puff Pastry, Creme Patissiere, Brioche, Lady Fingers, Chocolate Truffles - the list goes on and on.  



Desserts is split into 8 chapters: Fruit, Ices and Creams, Mousses Bavarois and Souffles, Crepes and Batters, Homely Puddings, Accompaniments and Chocolates, and Basics.  I think probably the most useful chapter for me would have to be the Basics chapter because it covers things that I've wanted to make for ages, but have just never got around to such as pastries, pastry cremes, and Choux Pastry - which is actually supposed to be very easy.


Summer Berry Filo Horns

There are so many delicious looking recipes in this book I can't wait to make some of the others.  If the rest of Gordon's recipes are as delicious and simple to make as the meringue nests (or Vacherins as they're called in the book) were, then I'm sure I'll be getting a lot of use out of "Desserts."

In order to make these cupcakes I'd recommend preparing the meringue nests a day in advance - you don't have to, but because they take at least 2 hours to bake, so keep that in mind.  



Lemon Cupcakes with Fruity Meringue Nests

Meringue Nests:

3 Large Egg Whites
Small squeeze of Lemon Juice - approx 1/2 tsp
150gr Castor Sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 230ºF (110ºC).  Pour the egg whites and lemon juice into a clean bowl (make sure there is absolutely NO grease, otherwise your egg whites will not whip properly). Using an electric mixer, whisk the whites until they double in volume and hold a peak when the whisk is drawn through them.  While the mixer is still running and add the sugar a tbsp at a time, incorporating completely before adding the next. Whisk until all the sugar has been added and the whites are stiff and glossy. 

2.  Trim a sheet of parchment paper so that it fits onto your baking pan. Using a pencil, draw medium sized circles the size of the top of a cupcake (about 2.5 inches) onto the parchment, and flip the sheet over so the pencilled side is facing down. Spoon the meringue into a large piping bag fitted with a nozzle (I used a Wilton #18 nozzle) and begin to pipe your nests.  Start in the middle of the pencilled circle working your way out to the edge in a spiral motion.  Once you've got the correct base size start building up the walls of your nests by piping around the outside edge 2 or 3 times.  Bake the meringue nests for 2 hrs until they are crisp and lift off the paper easily. Leave to cool completely.  


Lemon Cupcakes:


1 1/2 Cups (188g) Self Raising Flour
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup (114g) Butter, softened
1 Cup (225) Castor Sugar
2 Eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup (125ml) Whole Milk, divided
1 Tbsp + 3/4 tsp Lemon Juice


1.  Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC), and line a cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.  Sift the self-rising flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. 


2.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until they're light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one.  Mix in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. 


3.  Gently beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture, one third at a time, alternating with half the milk and half the lemon juice after each of the first 2 additions of flour. Beat until just combined.  **Do not over mix. 


4.  Pour the cupcake batter into the paper liners so they're about 3/4 full (I weigh mine out on a scale so they're all the same size - usually between 55g-60g each).  Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean - about 17 minutes.   Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling a rack, and cool completely before moving on to the assembly stage.


Sweetened Whipped Cream: 

3/4 Cup (175ml) Whipping Cream or Double Cream
2-3 Tbsp Icing Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1.  Whip the cream with an electric whisk until it's slightly thickened.  Add in the icing sugar and vanilla extract, and whip until thickened.  Just make sure not to over whip or it will turn into butter. 

To Assemble The Cupcakes: 

Meringue Nests
Lemon Curd
Fresh fruit of your choice (I used raspberries and strawberries)
Lemon Cupcakes
Whipped Cream

1.  Fill each meringue nest with 2-3 tablespoons of Lemon Curd and top with freshly cut fruit.




2.  Take your lemon cupcakes and add a dollop of the sweetened whipped cream onto the top of each one.  



3.  Place the meringue nests on top of the whipped cream topped cupcake, and serve immediately.  


**The meringue nests will begin to dissolve once they begin to absorb the moisture from the fruit, lemon curd and whipped cream, so only assemble the number that you need.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

5 Fruit Smoothies

Ever since I found out I was pregnant I've done my best to try and get in as many fruits and vegetables as possible.  I kinda figured that carrot cake, banana bread and apple crisp weren't exactly going to count towards my "5 a day" - bummer!  I'm a lazy eater, and tend to grab what's easiest at that particular time, which isn't always what's best for me.  Although I was buying a lot of fresh fruit, I wasn't necessarily finishing it before it would start to go bad.  In order to prevent the fruit from spoiling I'd cut it up, put it in zip lock bags and throw it in the freezer where it would wait until I came up with something to use it in - like these Lemon & Lime Blueberry Muffins I made a while ago.


I've had a slight obsession with strawberries over the past few months, and since strawberry season came kind of early in the UK this year, they were often on sale for buy one get one free.  I'd eat one package and wash, cut and freeze the other pack.  The same thing happened when I made those Lemon & Cheesecake Raspberry Bites I just threw the left overs in the freezer.  

I quickly began to accumulate a wide variety of frozen fruit in my freezer, and I needed some way to use it up.  Then it hit me - the best way to get a few servings of fruit into my diet quickly  and easily would probably be to make a fruit smoothie.  Back in Canada I loved smoothies, but I never actually made them myself - I always ended up paying a ridiculous price for one whenever I was at the mall.  


After ordering and waiting for my smoothies to be made at the mall, I'd seen how easy they were to make, so I started making my own.  I love tropical flavours like pineapple and coconut, so usually try to incorporate at least one of those in my smoothies.  I don't have an exact recipe for them, and I tend to just use whatever fruit I have on hand.  Lately that's been pineapple, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, mango, etc.  Add in a bit of vanilla yogurt and some fruit juice, blend for a couple minutes and you're done!



5 Fruit Smoothie

15 Blueberries, frozen 
1/2 Banana, frozen
10 Raspberries, frozen
7 Large Pineapple chunks, frozen
5 Strawberries, frozen
2 Tbsp Shredded Coconut
1/3 Cup Vanilla Yogurt
1/3 Cup Pineapple Juice

1.  Dump everything into a blender, turn it on, and you guessed it - blend!  Blend everything together for a minute or two until there are no large chunks of fruit remaining.  Check the consistency to make sure it's not too thick (or thin).  If you think your smoothie is too thick, just add in a bit more juice and blend again.  If it's too thin, add in a bit more frozen fruit and blend. 

To avoid making a portion way larger than I can drink, I usually fill the glass I'm going to use with my fruit as I've found it to be a pretty good indicator of how much smoothie it will make.  Fill the glass with frozen fruit - get a glass full of smoothie.  Fill it half full, get half a glass of smoothie.  Pretty simple.


If you don't like or have one of the fruits above, just use something else.  There's no rules with smoothies!  You can also use fresh fruit as well, as long as you use at least 1/2 frozen fruit then you'll still get a nice thick consistency and it will be cold without needing any ice.

I like my smoothies to be a tad thicker which can mean that they can be a little hard to drink through a regular straw.  I've found the best thing to drink my smoothies with is a Bubble Tea straw because they're wider than normal.  


There you have it - a quick and delicious, yet healthy treat!  I can't say that about most of the things I blog about!  


Friday, 10 June 2011

Peggy's Favourite Cakes and Cookies Review.... And Some News!

If you're a fan of cake and cookie decorating, then you'll no doubt have heard of Peggy Porshen before now.  Peggy is an absoloute master at cake and cookie decorating.  Her designs are simple, yet elegant, which makes them the perfect learning tools for people wanting to learn about cake and cookie decorating.  

Photo courtesy of Peggy Porschen


Peggy has released numerous cake and cookie decorating books, and her latest book titled Peggy's Favourite Cakes and Cookies is essentially that - a compilation of her favourite cakes and cookies from her previous books.  This means that there really isn't any new material in this book, which is perfect if you don't own any of Peggy's other books, or have been trying to decide on which one of them to get.  

Peggy's Favourite Cakes and Cookies is broken down into four main chapters - Cookies, Cup Cakes, Miniature Cakes and Large Cakes.  There is also a chapter at the back called Basics where you will find all of the recipes and key decorating techniques.

Photo courtesy of Peggy Porschen


A few of the projects featured in the book are the: Rosebud Sugar Cookies and Wedding Cake Cookies, Ruffle Rose Cupcakes and Butterfly Fancies, Pansy Pots and Mini Tea Rose Wedding Cakes and the larger Romantic Rose Tower and Peggy's signature Neapolitan Monogrammed Cake.

Photo courtesy of Peggy Porschen


There are so many gorgeous cookies and cakes in this book it was hard to choose what to make.  For my first project, I could't decide between one of Peggy's mini cake designs (my favourite chapter in the book) or her gorgeous decorated sugar cookies.  In the end I choose to make the sugar cookies.  

Photo courtesy of Peggy Porschen


I've made decorated sugar cookies a few times before, but never using Peggy's recipe and never putting as much effort into them as I did with these.  I can definitely say that her sugar cookie recipe is the best I've ever used.  They kept their shape perfectly and tasted great as well.  I had also planned on making Peggy's Royal Icing, but in the end laziness got the best of me and I opted to use the Tate & Lyle Royal Icing mix that only required me to add a bit of water before mixing it up.

So what sugar cookie design did I end up baking?

Well, it's about time I let you all in on a little secret I've been keeping.  Despite all the gorgeous sugar cookie design's in Peggy's book, I choose a very special design - the "Baby Shower" cookies.  Why?  Because I'm pregnant! 


Despite a few complications during the first few months (hence the lack of posts & tweets earlier in the year) I'm pleased to announce that my husband and I are expecting our first baby  at the end of August, so I made these cookies to celebrate! 


These cookies were really fun to make - although they did take a lot of time as Royal Icing can be a little finicky to work with and they needed to be iced in layers, so I actually made them over a period of 2 or 3 days.



Peggy's Sugar Cookies
Makes about 25 medium cookies   

Ingredients:

200g Unsalted Soft Butter  
200g caster sugar
1 egg lightly beaten  
400g plain flour, plus more for dusting   

Optional flavours:  For vanilla cookies, add seeds from 1 vanilla pod.  For lemon cookie, add finely grated zest of lemon.  For orange cookie, add finely grated zest of orange.  For chocolate cookie, replace 50g of the plain flour with 50g of cocoa powder   

Instructions:

1. With paddle attachment of electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar and choosen flavouring until well mixed and just creamy in the texture.  *Do not overwork, or the cookies will spread during baking.   

2. Beat in the egg until well combined. Add the flour and mix on low speed until a dough forms. Gather into ball, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour.   

3. Place the dough on floured surface and knead briefly. Using marzipan spacers, roll out to an even thickness.   

4. Use cookie cutter to cut out shapes and using a palette knife, lay on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Chill again for about 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 375ºF (180ºC).   

5. Bake for 6 - 10 minutes, depending on size, until golden brown at the edges. Let cool on wire rack before decorating.


Peggy's Royal Icing 
(note: I have not tried this recipe)

Ingredients:

25g Merriwhite (dried egg white powder)
150ml Water
1kg Icing Sugar, sifted 
1 tbsp Lemon juice

Instructions:

1.  Mix the merriwhite with 150ml water and pass through a sieve to get rid of any lumps. 

2. Place the icing sugar in the clean bowl of an electric mixer, add about three-quarters of the merriwhite mixture and the lemon juice, and start mixing on low speed. 

3. Once the sugar and the merriwhite are well combined, check the consistency. If the sides of the bowl still look dry and crumbly, add some more merriwhite until the icing looks almost smooth but not wet. 

4. Keep mixing for about 4-5 minutes, until it has reached stiff-peak consistency. 

5. Spoon into a plastic container, cover with a clean damp j-cloth and the lid. Store at room temperature.

Royal Icing Consistencies: Simply thin down your basic royal icing with water, a little bit at a time, mixing with a palette knife, until you have the right consistency. Keep your icing covered with cling film or a damp cloth when not using it, to stop it from drying out. Stiff-peak consistency: for piping sugar flowers and leaves Soft-peak consistency: for piping lines, dots and borders Runny consistency: for filling in the centres of spaces.

*** While making these cookies I discovered the following things to be very helpful ***

Made With Pink's Top 5 tips for baking and decorating sugar cookies:

1. Use disposable chopsticks on either side of the dough to help ensure an even consistency when rolling out your dough.

2.  Instead of using flour to prevent sticking when rolling out your dough, use icing sugar.  This will prevent your cookies from absorbing too much flour and becoming tough, and will also sweeten up your cookies a tad more.

3. To save time, instead of refrigerating the cookie dough cut-outs for 30 mins in the fridge, pop the whole cookie tray in the freezer for 10 minutes to prevent them from spreading while baking.

4.  After you've made your Royal Icing, take the bowl and give it a few really hard taps/bangs on the counter top to bring any air bubbles to the surface.  This will prevent any tiny air bubbles appearing just after you've pipped your cookies. 

5.  When filling your cookie with a base colour, work quickly.  First pipe the outline, and then fill the inside of the cookie.  Give the cookie a few good shakes side to side in order to help spread the icing evenly and fill in any little gaps.  

Good Luck!!!


These cookies were absolutely delicious, but unfortunately they gave me horrible heart burn.  Other pregnant ladies, you know what I'm talking about!!!

If you're pregnant you may need to serve these with a side of Gaviscon or Tums!



Overall I've been very impressed with Peggy's book.  Despite there not being any new content in the book, the designs are beautiful and the directions and recipes are easy to follow.  When I wrote a previous review for Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns I mentioned that I had assumed there would be more decorating techniques given the title of the book.  I do admit that although the recipes in Bake and Decorate were delicious, I was a bit disappointed that there were so few advanced decorating techniques in the book, so I felt it was much better suited to a beginner or someone just looking for nice recipes.  Peggy's Favourite Cookies and Cakes was much more suited to me - I enjoy trying new decorating techniques, and there are countless designs and ideas in this book.  It also makes a beautiful coffee table book.

Oh, and one other piece of news......


Peggy's Favourite Cookies and Cakes is published by Quadrille Publishing, and is available now.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Little Bites Of Heaven

The other day I bought some beautiful fresh raspberries.  I was planning on eating them just as they were, but then I came up with an idea.  Maybe it was because my mind is constantly thinking about cakes and other sweet treats, but suddenly plain old raspberries sounded a bit boring.  But raspberry cheesecake sounded good! So did raspberry lemonade.  Problem was, I didn't actually feel like baking a whole cheesecake just to satisfy one little craving, and I didn't have any lemons to make the lemonade.  BUT - I did have a package of cream cheese and a jar of lemon curd in the fridge.  Then it dawned on me - raspberries are like miniature dessert cups made by nature!


I quickly whipped up a batch of my no bake cheesecake, got my lemon curd from the fridge and put each in a piping bag fitted with a smaller star tip.  I took each little raspberry and pipped a dollop of either the cheesecake or lemon curd into them.  The end result was like a little bite of heaven!  The cream cheese ones tasted like raspberry cheesecake and the lemon ones tasted like nice tart pink lemonade!  

I just put my raspberries in a bowl to snack on, but I think they'd look super cute all lined up on a wooden bamboo skewer as a little portable snack for party guests.  

These are super easy to make.  The most time consuming thing is to pipe the fillings into each raspberry.  Just make sure not to snack on them while you're filling the remaining berries, otherwise you may end up with half as many as you thought you would!



Raspberry Dessert Bites

2 Cups Fresh Raspberries, washed 
Lemond Curd, homemade or store bought - it doesn't matter! 

No Bake Cheesecake Filling:

8oz (227g) Cream Cheese (don't use light, as it won't work the same) 
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37g) Granulated / Castor Sugar 
1/4 cup (60ml) Whipping Cream or Double Cream 
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract   

Instructions:

1. Wash your raspberries and set aside.  In a medium bowl mix the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer until nice and smooth. 

2. Whip the cream, and then fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture so it's fully combined.  Fold gently though - you don't want to loose all the air in the cream! 

3. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to firm up. 

4.  Fill two piping bags fitted with small star tips with your fillings - 1 with lemon curd and the other with the cheesecake mixture (note: if you don't have any piping tips or bags you can put each filling into a plastic zip lock bag and snip the tips off of them).  One by one, take each raspberry and carefully fill each one with either the cheesecake or lemon filling making sure not to squeeze the raspberries too much or they'll go to mush!  Fill them all, and then snack away!

As I mentioned before, these would be a great party snack if you lined a bunch of them up on a wooden bamboo skewer.  They'd also make a great garnish for cakes, cheesecakes and cupcakes!

**I made quite a few of these, and couldn't finish them all so I ended up freezing the remaining ones to throw in my fruit smoothies!


And now for something exciting - it's time to announce my giveaway winner!  First of all I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who commented on my blog to enter the giveaway.  Unfortunately a few days into the giveaway Blogger really started acting up, resulting in my followers widget to go missing as well as the comment forms for my entire blog.  I know many of you tried to leave comments during this time, and I did have to erase a few that appeared with an error message.  Thank you to those of you who took the time to email me your lovely comments over the past few days and also to those of you who requested that you be entered into the giveaway.  I pleased to announce that the comment option is now back up and running, and I really do hope that Blogger has finally fixed all of the kinks they were having with their systems.

I have tallied up the comments and selected the winner at random..........and the winner Salter MyScale is:



Congratulations Rebecca!  I'll be in touch shortly, but if you see this first please feel free to email me your mailing details so I can arrange to have the scale shipped to you.





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