Thursday 1 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #5

Today's Challenge: Fast from... wheat.

Going wheat-free is counter-intuitive for me - I bake wheat-based bread most days and it's a rare day indeed when I don't consume something made from wheat so today has been a departure from the norm - no bad thing perhaps.

Today's wheat-free menu plan was as follows:

tea with unsweetened soya milk
apple juice
a pear and a clementine
porridge made with oats, milk and water and drizzled with maple syrup 

homemade Greek-style yoghurt
half a mango and a clementine

black tea
Christopher's macaroons - my brother-in-law's recipe which I pass on below.

cottage pie made with minced beef, onions, carrots, celery, tinned chopped tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, homemade vegetable stock* and topped with mashed potato dotted with butter
steamed spinach and carrots 

stewed blackberry and apple with some more Greek-style yoghurt on the side (I have a yoghurt glut at the moment!)

* I usually add a teaspoonful of Marmite to my cottage pie base. Truffle Marmite, for preference, if I have a jar on the go, which adds a wonderful, rich, extra, umami flavour but although I had initially thought that Marmite would get under the wire today as 'yeast extract', when I checked the label on the jar, it clearly states 'contains wheat' so I had to omit it. 

Have you tried Truffle Marmite? It's the latest in a series of varieties that Marmite have produced recently. It has a slightly strange, not entirely pleasant aroma, compared to original Marmite. Our verdict, (as a household of dyed-in-the-wool Marmite-lovers) is that it is not terribly nice on its own, spread on toast or in sandwiches. All that changes when you use it in cooking though where it is dark brown, liquid gold! Add a teaspoonful to mushroom or meat sauces for pasta, to other mince based dishes like cottage pie, to gravy, or to a glaze for sausages before baking or barbecuing and you are in for a treat. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I don't know how available it is abroad but here in the UK, Sainsbury's stocks it. 

Back to tea-time macaroons! Macaroons have become very trendy in recent years especially those little French-style ones in different colours and flavours, often sandwiched together with various fillings. My preference is for the larger, more old-fashioned, single-decker kind which are plain and more homely in appearance but very good. Pâtisserie Valérie used to do a particularly delicious version of these but they were a staple in old fashioned British bakeries and cake shops for decades. Sometimes topped with a single blanched almond or a scarlet glacé cherry.  Macaroons like these can be deceptive. Although simple in formula, it's not easy to get the right balance of crisp outside and melting inside and it has to be said that some iterations can be disappointingly dry. 

This is the recipe I use, which I find excellent. It comes from my brother-in-law and so in this house they're known as 'Christopher's macaroons'.  

2 large egg whites
250g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
½tsp almond extract
blanched almonds
rice paper

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. 

Wet your hands and form the mixture into 10 golf-ball size portions - don't make them too small or they can dry out more easily. Place each ball of dough onto a rice paper-lined baking tray with plenty of space between each one. Now fill a mug with cold water and take a fork and dipping it into the cold water first, flatten each macaroon slightly. Wet the fork afresh each time. Use a slight rocking motion from side to side to release the fork as you lift it up and it won't stick. Add a single blanched almond in the centre of each macaroon. 

Bake at 130-140℃ for about half an hour depending on the size of the macaroons, your oven and the way the macaroons look - watch them like a hawk and take them out sooner, if you think they're done. They should be just tinged with colour to give you that crisp shell and melting centre. Leave the baking tray on a wire rack to cool - the macaroons are fragile on emerging from the oven. 

Once the macaroons are cold you can cut round them with kitchen scissors to remove the excess rice paper or just tear them away.

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