Wednesday, September 28, 2011

French macarons



French macarons seem to be the ultimate goal for bakers these days. Golfers have the hole-in-one, figure skaters have the axel jump (which I am happy to say that I accomplished when I turned 30!), and bakers have the French macaron. These are not macaroons, which are coconut cookies, but rather macarons. These little bites of perfection are quite the task to make - you have to age the egg whites, rest the mixed batter, do a special jig... Ok, just kidding on the last part. But either way, these cookies are more high maintenance than your typical chocolate chip cookie.

A true macaron has pied, or feet, which are the little split seams that you see on each half of the cookie above. To achieve the feet, you must use old egg whites (which must sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours) and then rest the batter for 15-30 minutes before baking. Got all that? Ok, good.

I was seriously intimidated by these treats originally but knew that my baking skills would be able to hold up. I've read just about everywhere that you have to use a kitchen scale, but I don't own one, and things worked out just fine. My in-laws and husband were my taste-testers for these and they all agreed that they were delicious. Next time I make these, I will do a better job piping out the macarons and add more filling to them.

If you own a kitchen scale, I'd recommend using it, but if you are confident in your baking skills and want to go without it, be my guest!

My macarons have feet!

Ingredients
  • 1 cup (100 grams) almond flour (I used Trader Joe's almond meal and put it in the blender to chop it finer)
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups (210 grams) confectioners' sugar
  • 4 egg whites (120 grams), at room temperature and at least a day old (I used 1/2 cup of egg whites, which were at least 5 days old; they sat out at room temperature for at least 12 hours)
  • 4 tablespoons (50 grams) sugar
Line a clean, flat cookie sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper, and set it aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in middle of oven.

Sift together almond flour (or ground up almond meal like I did), cocoa powder, and confectioners' sugar and set aside. Make sure the mixture is well-sifted!

In a spotlessly clean stand mixer bowl, whip the aged, room temperature egg whites on medium speed until they are foamy and you can start to see the tines of the whip leaving a trail in the whites, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, and continue to whip for about 30 to 45 seconds. Add another tablespoon of sugar, and whip again for another 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat with the third and fourth tablespoons of sugar.

When all of the sugar is mixed in, whip the whites for about another minute or two until they become glossy and shiny. Remove from mixer.

Fold in about half of the almond flour/confectioners' sugar mix; when most of it is folded in, add the rest of the dry mix. Fold until mixture is smooth and a little stiff -- it should drop smoothly off of the spatula.

Using a piping bag and a small round tip, pipe out small rounds of macaron batter about 1 inch in diameter. Try to pipe straight down and quickly pull away when you are done to minimize peaks. Pipe until you’ve used up all the batter.

Rap the cookie sheet several times to flatten out the mounds and to pop any bubbles that might be in the batter.

Let cookies rest for about 15 to 30 minutes, until they are no longer tacky to the touch.

Place in oven, and immediately turn oven down to 300 degrees. After 8 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet. Depending upon your oven, cookies take from 15 to 20 minutes (mine took 15 minutes). Remove from oven, and let cool.

Remove the meringues from the parchment and pair them by size.

Chocolate ganache filling

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 ounces bitter sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used a blend of high quality dark chocolate, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bring cream and corn syrup to a simmer in a medium sized pot over medium heat. When simmering, remove from heat and add chocolate. Mix cream and chocolate together with a spatula until smooth. Stir in butter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Transfer chilled ganache to a disposable piping bag and pipe a scant tablespoon onto half the shells. Cover the piped shells with plain shells for sandwich cookies. 

Source: Macarons slightly adapted from Beantown Baker and chocolate ganache filling slightly adapted from A cup of Mai

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Giada's chocolate hazelnut gelato



If you asked me what my favorite dessert was, I would have a hard time picking, but ice cream and other frozen treats like gelato and frozen yogurt are certainly in the top 3. As I've gotten older, I've realized that store-bought brands of ice cream just aren't quite as good as the real homemade stuff. Sure, the packaged brands are convenient, but they contain way too much air and don't have that dense, velvety texture that I crave.

One Christmas I asked for an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and received it (thanks, Mom Lu)!  I couldn't wait to try making some ice cream at home for the first time.  It was much easier than I expected, and now I've been making my own ice cream throughout the summer.

Giada's chocolate hazelnut gelato is a favorite in our household, and I'm glad it's the first ice cream recipe I tried making.  The texture is nice and creamy - the way gelato should be.  We'll be making this recipe time and time again.

Ingredients


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed, for garnish (optional - I did not use)

Directions


In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar using an electric mixer until the eggs have become thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Add this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Place a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the warm custard mixture through the strainer. Stir in the vanilla and hazelnut spread until it dissolves. Chill mixture completely before pouring into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions to freeze. To serve, scoop gelato into serving bowls and top with hazelnuts if using.
    Source: Giada De Laurentiis, via the Food Network

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Cookie dough brownies




    As if brownies weren't delicious enough, Jen of Beantown Baker just had to go the extra mile and add cookie dough on top of these.  Um, yes please!

    One of the best things about this sweet treat is that there are no raw eggs in the cookie dough, so it's completely safe to eat. Your pregnant friends will thank you for this one!

    My husband actually prefers to have a thinner layer of the cookie dough so the bars aren't too thick or sweet. Others liked the bars just as the recipe states, so adjust according to your personal preferences. Either way, you can't lose with brownies and cookie dough!

    Ingredients

    Brownies:
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    • 2 1/4 cups sugar
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups chocolate chips
    Cookie Dough:
    • 3 sticks butter, softened
    • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • 9 tbsp milk
    • 3 cups flour
    • 3 cups mini chocolate chips (you can use regular semi-sweet chips if you can't find the mini ones)
    Directions

    Prepare Brownies:
    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

    In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

    Transfer the sugar mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, if you've heated it in a saucepan. Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla.

    Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth. Add the flour and chips, again stirring until smooth. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan.

    Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
      For cookie dough:
      Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in milk. With mixer on low, add flour and mix until well combined. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
        To assemble:
        Spread the cookie dough onto the cooled brownies. You can put the pan into the freezer for about 30 minutes if you're impatient! Chill the brownies until the cookie dough is firm. Cut into bars and serve.
          Source:  Beantown Baker

          Friday, September 9, 2011

          Sugar cookies with royal icing

          Several months ago, I co-hosted a baby shower for a friend. I wanted to make favors for all the guests and thought that decorated sugar cookies would be the way to go. I created several different designs for our UVA-themed party (the mother-to-be is an alumnus of UVA).

          I placed two cookies in cellophane baggies and tied them with ribbons in the school colors. These were a huge hit! Everyone loved the cookies and noticed the almond flavoring and also commented on the designs.

          I must say that these were quite time-consuming and took up a bunch of time over a weekend. I made the cookies one evening and let them cool overnight. I made the royal icing the next day and flooded the base of the cookies and had to let them harden before adding the finishing touches and embellishments. After letting these cool another evening, I finally packaged them the next day. The 3-day project was totally worth it though!

          Ingredients
          • 1 cup butter
          • 1 cup powdered sugar
          • 1 egg, beaten
          • 1 ½ t. almond extract
          • 1 t. vanilla
          • 1 t. salt
          • 2 ½ c. sifted flour

          Directions
          Cream butter and add powdered sugar. Blend in egg, almond extract, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm.
           
          Roll to ¼” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters and place on greased cookie sheets.
           
          Bake at 375° for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool.
            Yields ~40 cookies.

            Royal Icing

            Ingredients
            • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
            • 2 tbsp. meringue powder
            • 5 tbsp. water
            Directions

            Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  
             
            Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container.  This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. 

            Add water (a very small amount at a time) and stir by hand until fully incorporated.  Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.  If you are having any difficulty piping, it is still too thick.  Add a little more liquid and try again.
             
            Using a pastry bag, pipe around the edges of each cookie.  Let stand so the icing will set.  Keep the leftover icing covered at all times when not in use so that it does not begin to harden.

              Annie has a helpful tutorial on decorating with royal icing if you want some pointers.

              Source:  Cookies from Annie's Eats. Icing also from Annie's Eats.

              Jacques Torres' mudslide cookies




              You may or may not know that Jacques Torres is often known as "Mr. Chocolate."  The guy is famous for his chocolate creations, so when I came across this recipe online I knew that I had to try it.  I mean, if it's a recipe from Mr. Chocolate, it's gotta be good, right?  Right!

              These cookies are so decadent and chock-full of rich chocolate flavor. You can definitely tell that you've used high-quality chocolate in these cookies.

              I adapted this recipe slightly from the original since I didn't want to waste my time letting the dough chill in the refrigerator. Who's got time to do that when there are cookies to be eaten?

              Hope you enjoy this as much as my friends, family and coworkers did! Of course, these are best enjoyed with a nice glass of milk.


              Ingredients

              • 6 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) unsweetened chocolate, in chips or chunks (I used Baker's chocolate)
              • 32 oz. (about 8 cups) bittersweet chocolate, in chips or chunks (I used Ghirardelli baking chips)
              • 3/8 cup unsalted butter
              • 2 cups sugar
              • 5 eggs
              • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
              • 2 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
              • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
              • 1 1/4 cup walnuts (optional - I did not use)

              Directions
              Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Melt the unsweetened chocolate and 16 oz. (4 cups) of the bittersweet chocolate over a double-boiler (a simple double boiler can be set up by putting a metal bowl over a simmering pot), stirring periodically.

              Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy and add the eggs one at a time, blending until mixed.

              Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the butter mixture and mix just until combined.

              Add the melted chocolate and mix until combined and stir in the nuts (if using) and the remaining 16 oz. (4 cups) of bittersweet chocolate. 

              Use a cookie scoop to measure out the dough evenly and place on a cookie sheet (I love using my Silpat for this). Place cookies at least 2 inches apart.

              Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, until crusty on the outside (they should still be gooey on the inside). Allow to cool before eating. 

                Yield: About 4 dozen cookies, if using a medium cookie scoop.


                Source: Slightly adapted from Jacques Torres, via the NY Times

                Fresh strawberry cake with strawberry swiss meringue frosting



                Welcome to my blog!  I'm excited about my very first post, so bear with me. Oh, and excuse the bad photo, but unfortunately I took the picture in the late afternoon when the sun was starting to set.  Lesson learned.

                I saw this strawberry cake on Shawnda's website and knew that I had to make this pronto. Strawberries are my favorite fruit, and cake is yummy, so what's not to love? I went ahead and bought some fresh strawberries that very night at the grocery store and set out to make this cake.


                I found that the recipe made too much strawberry puree, so I would halve it next time (the adjustments are not reflected below).  And since I had too much puree, I decided to add it into the frosting for an added strawberry bonus!

                My coworkers absolutely loved this cake, and there were no leftovers to be taken home.  That's probably a good thing too, or else I'd have to skate another hour to work this off!

                Ingredients

                For the cake:
                • 24 oz fresh strawberries (you can use frozen too; make sure you thaw and hull them)
                • 1-2 tsp sugar (optional)
                • 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
                • 4 large eggs
                • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
                • 2 1/4 cup cake flour (I used All Purpose flour, plus 2 Tbsp of cornstarch)
                • 1 3/4 cup sugar
                • 4 tsp baking powder
                • 1 tsp salt
                • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened (not melted)
                For the icing:
                • 4 oz egg whites (3-4 large egg whites or about 1/2 cups)
                • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
                • 1 lb unsalted butter, room temperature
                • 2 tsp vanilla extract
                Directions 
                Lightly toss the strawberries to remove excess liquid. Discard the liquid. Put strawberries in a food processor or blender and puree. (You could use frozen strawberries if you don't have a fresh berries) Reserve 3/4 cup puree for the cake. Use leftover puree to fill the cake or add into the frosting, if desired. 

                Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 8 inch round pans by spraying inside with baking spray or coating with flour.

                In small bowl, combine puree, milk, egg, vanilla and mix with fork until well blended. In bowl of stand mixer, add sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Continue beating at slow speed and add butter. Mix until combined and resembling moist crumbs.

                Add liquids and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until full and evenly combined. Stop mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and hand beat for 30 more seconds. Divide the batter evenly among the pans and smooth tops.

                Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (time will vary). Let cakes rest in pan for about 10 minutes and turn out onto wire racks. Let cakes cool completely (about 2 hours).

                For the icing:

                Lightly whisk egg whites and sugar together over simmering water in a double boiler until egg-white mixture is hot to touch or a candy thermometer reads 140°F (60°C). 

                Pour hot egg whites into a room-temperature bowl and whip at medium high with a wire whip, until double in volume and achieve stiff peaks. Meanwhile cut the butter into 2-inch pieces. (The butter should be slightly moist on the outside but cold inside.) 

                On your mixer, remove the whip and attach the paddle. Turn mixer on and add the butter piece by piece into the bowl until thoroughly mixed. 

                Add a few tablespoons of the strawberry puree into the frosting until the color is to your liking (I added about 3-4 Tbsp).

                Storage: Store the icing in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost completely (several hours) and rewhip before using.

                Yields: ~12-16 servings


                Sources: Cake adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride, who it adapted from Cook's Illustrated Classic White Cake and Good Things Catered. Frosting adapted from The Novice Chef.

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