Afternoon Tea at The Merchant Hotel

 

Apparently jeans are discouraged.. oops! Well they still served us.

I’m sure my face was quite a sight when the lady in her little blue uniform carried towards us this beautiful tower of treats. Everything so was perfect and miniature, I was scared to touch anything when it arrived in front of me. Oh and the smell! The little scones were freshly baked and their warm, butter, vanilla scent  soon made me very hungry…

We finally made it here, my Mum and I, after she promised some time ago to take me out to Afternoon Tea to celebrate my birthday, her birthday and also my exam results. For many years we have meant to share it together whilst in London or elsewhere, but sadly it never happened. So now, in this magnificent setting of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, it felt very special indeed. Not least because this building holds special significance as in fact my Dad used to work here when it was still a bank, and before it became this famous hotel. My mum remembers taking me here many times as a small baby to visit Dad, and so coming here when I am now very nearly 17 must be a strange feeling for her!

The outside of the building has a large grand staircase, before you enter into the moving doors and arrive in the enormous Great Room. The grandeur and decoration everywhere is breathtaking and makes for quite an entrance. It also felt very exciting to be here, as just under a year ago, I spent over 4 hours queuing and patiently waiting outside, opposite the main entrance to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber arriving at the hotel, back when the MTV EMA’s were being held in Belfast.

I was also on a little high after such a successful and exciting first day at my new school. Thank you all so much for your kind words of support! I was surprisingly more confident than I anticipated and quickly said many ‘Hello’s’ and got acquainted with as many people as I could. By lunchtime I already felt part of things, and soon realised that everyone else was as nervous and apprehensive as me on their first day of term. I now look forward to starting my first proper week and really getting into the swing of things.

This delightful looking dessert above, I believe, was an Apple and Cinnamon Charlotte, although all I was worried about was the gorgeous rich chocolate centre. Oh and the other beautiful mousse in a small little glass was an Orange Blossom Jelly and Peach Coconut Mousse shot glass. It was delicious! We were also served a pretty little raspberry macaron (which I really was not too impressed with as the inside was far too sticky and fell apart!) and a tiny little Mixed berry Tartlet which really was delicious! And as for the scones.. Well you should know that I am a huge fan of scones, and so of course these went down a treat. Enough said.

Having never really tried proper pastries before, or anything of this kind anyway, I was blown away by how you could incorporate so many different flavours, textures and processes into one small bite. The aroma of the Orange Blossom Jelly really was incredible, and me and mum spent ages trying to figure out what it was.. (we thought Jasmine, obviously a little off on our tasting skills!) I had always been fascinated by the pastries and desserts of France, and yet this shows that they are also right on my doorstep. I have vowed to find out how to make these little desserts one day, they are just incredible! However, as mentioned above, the macaron left a little to be desired. It was pretty much hollow, and one whole shell side came off, leaving a gaping, overly sticky hole, with all of the filling attached to the other side. I passed this one to mum, who didn’t mind the praline filling. This made me very much proud of my own macaron attempts.. It wasn’t even smooth on top! (Oh and apologies for the sticky plate!)

However, all in all, I loved this little outing and it was an experience I will treasure for many years to come I’m sure. Once back at school and work we would rarely have time to do things like this together, with a younger sister and another brother to look after too, my mum is a busy lady! After a quick visit to the equally gorgeous Ladies’ Restroom, of course, we were off for a spot of shopping! A day well spent.

A x

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Lemon Meringue Pie Macarons

Macarons may just be one of my most favourite things. Know why?

Just look at those little cuties!! Quintessentially French, they turn any moment into a very special one, and make any kitchen look sophisticated. What’s not to love?

Okay, so I may have skipped out a few down points. Those little feet? You’re never guaranteed that they’ll form.

Lo behold if you turn them over to find a hollow..

And taking out a tray of cracked, bubbly tops is enough to make any baker’s heart drop.

Despite my fears, and reading many a post that told me macarons were never meant to be perfected by anyone except  Pierre Hermé, I bought a 1 kg bag of ground almonds and got ready to bake!

I can clearly remember the first time I set eyes on a French macaron. In Paris, of course, and last year on a school trip. Told to go in search of one for my Mum back home, I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking for, or what was so incredible about this little Parisian treat. Pardon me if I say Paris will tell you about its macaron. Found just about on every perfect little street, in every patisserie and knitted into its wonder just as much as the Eiffel Tower and the baguette, the macaron is just another reason I long to soak up more of France, and one day find myself in Paris.

Opening that oven door a fraction and finding that these little rounds had magically developed beautiful, frilly feet.. Wow, that was a relief! Patiently waiting another few exact minutes was tough. Though I finally took them out, tested their bottoms, found they were hard to move yet not wobbly, and so decided they were done! Hooray!

They had not retained their bright yellow as much as I had hoped (my camera setting gives them a little boost) and so I will need to look into this one for my next macaron session. However, all in all, a successful batch I believe. Not perfect, but I never expected them to be. Better than the last time is all I was hoping for, and gives me more confidence to try again! Oh and converting my non French loving brother to the beautiful land of macarons was well worth it in the end. Although it does mean there’s now less for me and mum!

This post really should have been written and published a good few days ago. Wednesday really.. But I got a little sidetracked and caught up in other things.

I got my GCSE results! The exams I was busy studying for, months and months on end. I am very, very pleased to tell you, my lovely followers that I got.. 8 A*s and 2 As! I am over the moon, and so incredibly relieved! No sleep was had the night before, and my stomach really did have a mind of its own for the whole day before. Add to that the fact that our principal decided to invite the local media and TV crew along in the morning when we were to receive our results, and that made for one extremely scared, nervous, bewildered Amy who was now stressing about what to wear!!

By 9.30am the envelope was opened, and after a few anxious moments trying to decipher what the blooming sheet and all its complicated numbers and letters were trying to tell me, I let out a sigh of relief and ran straight to my waiting mother in the car, (whilst trying to avoid the man with the camera!) However our eager school secretary soon had me cornered and thrust towards the lady with a microphone and so I waffled out a few excited and surprised sounding sentences, something about just being really happy, and adding in that I had had no sleep?! Oh dear..

That desperate interview made it onto the news, the Northern Ireland news, and so my phone started buzzing as relatives and friends realised yes, that was me on the TV, waffling in an excited way, with a lawn mower cutting grass behind me! If you really, really want to witness this for yourself, and hear what I sound like.. though trust me you don’t, then you can drop me an email, or comment! Anyway, moving swiftly on..

If you would try to try these macarons for yourself, and please do, then you can follow this recipe below, which I found after coming across the beautiful blog, Sweetest Kitchen, and I hope she won’t mind me sharing this wonderful recipe! It is adapted from the book ‘Macaroons’ which I really hope to buy, and get baking some more delicious macarons!

Lemon Macarons

*adapted from the book ‘Macaroons

75g ground almonds

115g icing sugar

2 large egg whites (left at room temp for 3-4 hours)

50g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

yellow food colouring paste or liquid

Method

1. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

2. Place the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz for 15-20 seconds.  Sift the mixture into a large bowl.

3. Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk with electric mixer until holding soft peaks.  Gradually whisk in the caster sugar to make a firm, glossy meringue.  Whisk in the lemon rind and enough food coloring to give a bright yellow colour.

4. Using a spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue mixture one third at a time.  When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to fold the mixture gently until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbon-like consistency.

5. Pour the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1-cm round tip.  Pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.  Tap the sheets gently on a work surface to remove air bubbles, and then pop any with a cocktail stick.  Leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or until the batter does not stick to your finger when touched lightly.  Preheat the oven to 160C.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then carefully peel the macarons off the baking paper.  Leave to cool completely.

Lemon Meringue Filling

*adapted from ‘Making Cupcakes with Lola’

(I scaled the recipe below, roughly by a third, as you require much less to fill macarons)

160g sugar

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3 egg whites

60ml water

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Good quality or homemade Lemon Curd

1. Whip egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar in a large heatproof bowl with an electric mixer until foamy.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a gentle simmer and set bowl over pan.

3. Beat on high until peaks form, about 5 mins. Mixture should feel quite warm.

4. Take off heat and add vanilla, beat again till thick.

5. Spread a small amount of Lemon Curd on one macaron, and a small amount of the meringue on the other, and then gently sandwich together.

6. After filling all macarons, place in an airtight container, and resisting the urge to gobble them up immediately, refridgerate for 24 hours. Trust me, they taste much better this way after the long wait!

Bon Appetit!

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