Small cakes

Small cakes

By
Margaret Fulton
Contains
18 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742706306
Photographer
Vanessa Levis

Hints & tips

Nearly all cake mixtures lend themselves to being baked in individual small cakes or portions. There’s something very comforting about small cakes, and the indulgence of a cupcake or small sweet treat with a cup of tea or coffee. Meringues, macarons, madeleines, friands and cupcakes are suitable for all sorts of occasions – dress them up for dinner parties, or make them colourful and fun-looking for children’s parties, fêtes and fairs.

Cupcakes & friands

Bake cupcakes in muffin or patty tins. For children’s parties and informal occasions, bake and serve in fluted paper cases, which are available in various colours and patterns. They retain their shape better if the cases are placed in muffin tins for baking. Fill the tins or paper cases about two-thirds full to prevent the mixture from overflowing.

Friands are generally baked in oval-shaped moulds, which may be plain or have a pattern in the base. Alternatively they can be baked in muffin tins.

Macarons

Macarons are dainty little shiny, domed meringues containing ground nuts, which are sandwiched together with a filling such as butter cream, jam, or ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream). There are a variety of methods to make macarons. Some start with a base of beaten egg white and sugar syrup, others are made with beaten egg whites and icing sugar before the ground nuts and flavouring are folded through before being piped. A simpler version is made by mixing ground nuts and sugar with egg whites then rolling the mixture into balls.

Tips for success

Try replacing some of the ground almonds with other types of nuts such as pistachio, for a different flavour and texture.

Sift both the ground nuts and the icing sugar separately to make for easy mixing and to minimise imperfections.

For best results, use a clean copper bowl and beat the egg whites and sugar with a balloon whisk. Otherwise use a clean dry glass, metal or porcelain bowl and a rotary or hand-held electric beater. Beat the eggs whites until stiff, then add 4 tablespoons of the sugar, one at a time. Continue beating for about 1 minute or until the egg whites are glossy; the meringue should form short peaks when the whisk is lifted. Then, with a spatula, fold in the remaining sugar a few tablespoons at a time. Fold in the vanilla with the last of the sugar and continue folding until the meringue forms long peaks, lastly adding the ground nuts.

To flavour and colour macarons, it is preferable to use only dry ingredients and powders; mix them in along with the ground nuts. Liquid flavourings such as fruit purées can spoil the texture and shape of the macarons.

When mixing the macarons, pour the meringue on top of the dry ingredients and fold together with a spatula until the mixture is combined and is softened. You need to ‘slap’ the air out of the mixture with a few sharp blows to the mix using the spatula. If you lift the mixture with your spatula and it holds its shape, you need to keep mixing. It should start to run down the bowl.

To pipe the macarons, fit a pastry bag with a plain 1.5 cm nozzle, fill it two-thirds full and twist the top. Pipe mounds 3 cm wide on the prepared trays.

Once piped, lift the tray and bang it down hard to spread the macarons to 4 cm and to even the domes and remove ripples. Dust liberally with extra icing sugar. Leave at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking to help them to set and hold their shape.

Meringues

There are many variations of meringue – all based on egg white and sugar beaten to a stiff froth, then baked in a very slow oven until light and crisp. Glamorous vacherins, dainty petits fours and fluffy pie toppings are all favourites. Meringues are usually plain but a flavouring may be added such as chopped nuts, chocolate pieces or coconut.

Meringue mixture can be shaped and used in various ways. Small buttons or rosettes baked until dry and crisp may be joined together with whipped cream to make a delicious sweet for afternoon tea or dessert. These tiny meringues may also be used as a topping for desserts or cakes.

Another popular way is to shape meringue with an oval dessertspoon or tablespoon, and these ovals may be joined with whipped cream to form an egg shape. Meringue is often made into a pie shell or basket – individual baskets are very popular, and these may be filled with fruit, whipped cream or any number of creamy desserts.

Hints for success

Egg whites for meringue should be at room temperature to ensure maximum volume when beaten. They should be beaten with a pinch of salt, cream of tartar, or a few drops of lemon juice. This may be done in a copper bowl with a wire whisk or in a glass bowl or stainless steel bowl with electric beaters. (Plastic bowls do not give a good result because they can contain residues of oil in their porous walls that will affect your efforts.)

Ensure the bowl is meticulously clean. The slightest trace of yolk in the whites will inhibit their rising (as yolks contain fat). The same holds true for bowl and beater: both must be totally free of fat or grease. It is best to wash the bowl and beater with hot water and dry them with a clean, fresh tea towel before beating the whites.

Add some of the sugar gradually at first, after the whites become foamy. The meringue has been sufficiently whipped when the whites form soft peaks and cling to the beater in a mass. They are over-beaten if they look dry and stand in sharp, jagged peaks, and the mixture will probably fall when placed in the oven.

Then fold in the remaining sugar. To do this, cut gently down through the mixture and lift some of it up and over onto the top, repeating and turning the bowl until whites and sugar are lightly mixed. Don’t worry about mixing thoroughly; it is important not to overwork meringue or the air bubbles will break down. Shaping the meringues will mix the whites and sugar a little more. You must work quickly once the sugar is added or the meringue will wilt.

The baking trays for meringues should either be lightly buttered, dusted with flour and the excess flour tapped off, or they may be covered with baking paper. Baking trays coated with non-stick surfaces are also good.

The oven temperature should be as low as possible. The point is to dry the meringue by getting all the moisture out of the mixture rather than baking it. A temperature of 120°C is as high as it should go. Higher than this, the meringues brown too quickly, turn leathery and collapse. Properly baked, a meringue is crisp, feather-light, the palest beige in colour, almost white. If liked, meringues may be dusted lightly with caster sugar before baking.

Bake meringues for about 1 hour, although they may be left in the turned-off oven to crisp. Excess moisture in the air makes meringues go soft, so it is best not to bake them on a very damp or rainy day or have anything steaming on the stove while they are cooling on wire racks. Should the meringues absorb any moisture, they can be dried in a very slow oven (100°C) for 15 minutes or so.

To store, transfer cooled meringues to airtight containers, where they will keep for weeks, even months, ready at any time for myriad uses. Fill them with cream, berries or any other soft fruits, finish with a fruit sauce or coulis, or fill or top with a piped rosette of chocolate, coffee or chestnut cream.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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