Friday, December 10, 2010

Chocolate Macarons, Piped Shortbread, Biscotti

Chef Gert's Piped Shortbread, Biscotti, Macarons

With the assessment behind us, the atmosphere today was noticeably more laid back, so what better way to suit the mood than with a big tray of cookies and biscuits?

Rolling Out Biscotti, Slicing For 2nd Bake

A centuries-old recipe from the Italian city of Prato, biscotti or "twice cooked/baked" refers to the unique way the biscuits are baked twice to dry them out, weathering them through long journeys and bitter wars. Far from being hard and tasteless, these biscuits are packed full of flavor and literally fat-free!

And they couldn't be easier to make: mix egg, sugar, citrus zest, honey, salt and vanilla essence for the flavor base, add whole almonds and pistachios for crunch, star anise for a hint of spice, flour and baking powder for structure and Bob's your uncle!

Shape into a long log and bake at a low 150'C for 40 minutes before extracting from the oven, slice thinly, lay face up back onto the tray and bake again at a lower 120'C to avoid burning the thin wafers. When they feel hard to the touch, you're in business!

Piping Macarons, Shortbread

Macarons are the increasingly popular meringue-based confectionery with almond meal as the star ingredient. Made right, they have a smooth dome, ruffled "foot" and a moist, crunchy interior. Although this sweet dessert varies throughout different regions of France, my personal benchmark of a good macaron would have to be by Pastry Maestro Pierre Hermé.

Shortbread is very similar to the Biscuit Viennois we made in basic; flour, butter, sugar, salt, icing sugar, vanilla essence and zest is mixed to form a paste and piped into shape. Once baked they are sandwiched with jam and dipped in chocolate, to make a good thing taste great.

My Biscotti Jar

I substituted star anise with ground cinnamon and nutmeg, these spices coupled with the orange and lime zest and a festive splash of rum made my biscotti smell very much like Christmas morning. They were very Moorish too, like rusks for adults, you may enjoy them plain, dipped in strong espresso, or a sweet dessert wine such as muscat. My tipple of choice? A good, strong Port.

Macarons & Shortbread

Making macarons for the first time, I wasn't sure how they would turn out, all the bad press about how tricksy they are to the amateur cook did nothing to inspire me, and I find them too sweet for my liking, not to mention too costly to buy ($2.50 for 1 macaron? Seriously??). But for me the real joy of being a pastry chef is in making desserts more than eating them, so I was anxious to see how my virgin macarons would turn out. With the close eye of Chef Gert as my guide, they came out pretty well, with the requisite smooth dome and ruffled foot. And I didn't mind the taste either, esp when sandwiched with not just any chocolate ganache, but a strong rum flavored one! 

The shortbread I keep in an air-tight container, and whenever I open it up the warm fragrance of zest and butter would come drifting up to whet my appetite. Pop one in your mouth and they melt with no resistance, which makes finishing a whole tray of these so very easy.

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