Anyone who follows me on Twitter or ‘likes’ me on Facebook will almost certainly have heard more than enough about the weekend’s baking, but I’m not done yet. I’d like to share the photos and some of the story behind the baking just one last time before I stop harping on about it. When I say ‘one last time’, I mean ‘two last times’, of course, as there’s a lot to get through… For mothers’ day, I made a fancy ‘high tea’ for my mum and aunt, though my dad, sister and I got in on the act too. I wanted to make food that would be delicate and ladylike to reflect the occasion, and accordingly set the menu as follows:
- tiny cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
- tiny salmon sandwiches
- lemon and ginger sponge cake
- raspberry and honey scones
- two kinds of jam tarts – strawberry and blueberry
- three kinds of macarons – vanilla, rose and lavender
- selection of teas
Inevitably, I have the most to say about the macarons, as they were the most complex and time-consuming component. I have least to say about the sponge cake since it wasn’t even touched! I’ve yet to hear anything about it – perhaps it was rubbish. I’ll try to find out, and will blog the recipe at a later date if it’s a goodun. I’ll start with the middle ground, then, and talk about the scones and jam tarts first. I’ll then devote a whole separate post to the macarons, including some shots of successful and not-so-successful attempts, plus a few hints that might be of use, in conjunction with the pages and pages of hints and tips you can find elsewhere online. In the end, I’d say that you can’t learn how to make them without giving it a shot, but it’s good to be prepared, and to accept that the phrase ‘fold until the batter flows like lava’ will soon seem unremarkable.
The scones were made using this recipe for honey scones, though I halved it to give six small scones. I made a couple of changes; first, I didn’t use dried fruit but used (frozen and then defrosted) raspberries instead, about a quarter cup. Secondly, I added some extra honey; next time I would have also brushed the scones with honey just as they came out of the oven, as the taste was very subtle, especially once smothered in butter and jam… Thirdly, instead of using a scone cutter and dealing with all that re-rolling you have to do with the left over dough, I patted the scone dough into a rectangle and cut it into six even squares. It’s quicker and easier than using a cutter, and I like them this shape. The only thing I’d say is with them being so small, the crust to soft middle ratio is a little high – next time I’d make the full recipe and make each scone bigger to get more of that light, sweet sconey goodness.
The jam tarts might actually be my favourite part of the whole lunch; the macarons were exotic, and technically difficult and therefore rewarding to get right, but there’s something about nailing a classic recipe that makes me feel very proud. I’d never made jam tarts before, and have struggled with making sweet pastry successfully, but these came together perfectly first time. The recipe for the pastry – or pâté sucree if you’re feeling a bit French – is here at Leite’s Culinaria (quelle surprise). It’s part of a recipe for jam tartlets that looks very interesting, with a crumble topping, but I stuck with a more traditional route. I made the pastry with a hand mixer rather than a stand mixer, and it came together beautifully. It rested for three hours in the fridge, then I rolled it out to about 1/8 inch thick. It was soft and moist, which meant I had to keep the rolling pin and surface well floured, but once I had it rolled out it was easy to work with and didn’t tear or rip. I buttered a shallow muffin tray, then used a round cutter to cut circles of pastry, which I pressed gently into the moulds of the tray. I filled each mould with a generous teaspoon of jam – six blueberry and six strawberry. The blueberry jam was a gift, and came all the way over from Maine (where I’ll be visiting later this year, how exciting! I must pick buckets and buckets of these famous blueberries, and then kick up a fuss when I’m not allowed to take them on the plane back home again). I made the strawberry jam myself by simmering some defrosted strawberries until they were liquid, then adding a touch of fig balsamic dressing and some jam sugar. The end result was a soft-set jam, which baked up a treat in the oven and was also delicious spread on the scones, atop a layer of butter, naturally. At first I was disappointed in the softness of the set, but it really grew on me when I took a bite. I must admit that I didn’t make it soft set on purpose but at least now I know it’s an option…
Having filled the pastry cases with jam, soft set or otherwise, I was all ready to put the tarts in the oven when I had a flash of inspiration. I had lots of pastry left over, and I recently bought myself a set of star-shaped presses for fondant icing, and the two things came together in my brain at just the right moment to give me the idea of finishing the tarts with a bit of decoration. I used the large and small cutters to make little pastry stars, and stuck them to the jam. How adorable! One might even say ‘squee!’ if one were so inclined. I especially like the really tiny ones, and since I have a reliable recipe for sweet pastry now I’ll be able to make lots of very pretty looking pies and such like with these little guys.
It turns out that I was a little too generous with the blueberry jam, as it rose up righteously in the oven and submerged many of the little stars, poor things. Still, most managed to stay afloat, and the strawberry ones looked rather spiffing. Yes, spiffing. All this talk of high tea has brought out my inner posh person, you see. Her name is Agatha.
Hehleow, Agatha heah. Wahndahful to meet you, simply mahvellous.
That’s her alright.
So the jam tarts went a bit beresque in the oven, but on the whole I really loved them, and can’t wait for an excuse to make them again. It’s not something you see very often in these days of cupcakes and macarons, but I think they’re under-rated. At least, now that I’ve made a fairly successful batch, that’s what I think. If they hadn’t worked out I’d definitely not have considered them under-rated… Next time I try these I’ll use less jam and try to be super careful with the pastry, to maintain the nice pattern that using a scalloped scone cutter gives them round the edges. A few of them split a little while baking; I’m not sure if that’s to do with the pastry being of an uneven thickness, or to do with it not being shaped into the moulds firmly enough, or something else altogether, but I look forward to investigating and turning out perfect, professional looking little tartlets.
I’d like to finish up with some pictures of sandwiches. I don’t have much to say about them – they’re sandwiches, after all – but I thought they added to the charm of the whole lunch. Here they are, beautifully arranged by Miss J while I footered around finding plates for everything else. The gorgeousness of the plates will be better appreciated next time when you see how well co-ordinated the colours are with the macarons. This was sheer luck, or possibly fate.
A final thing to mention is those brilliant wee flags that are stuck in everything. They say things like ‘Do try one’ and ‘Absolutely scrumptious!’ and Agatha thoroughly approves of them, what ho, etc. Miss Amanda bought them for my birthday last year and only this weekend did I have an occasion so dainty and elegant as to be worthy of them. Completely worth the wait.