May 30, 2014

French Macarons!

Finally! I've wanted to make these for so long, but every time I delved into the world of making French Macarons (One "o" (!!), MacarOOns are those coconut things), I got so overwhelmed by the foodie fuss over how finicky these are and how you are doomed to fail over and over. 

I thought, who has time for that? Turns out, this sweet spot between the end of medical school and the beginning of residency means that I DO!

Boy, was it worth it! Yes, it took me several hours to make a few batches but once I got the hang of it, man I got the hang of it. Good news, I only failed once.

Exhibit A: Failure. These guys don't have the "feet" or frilly bottom of proper macarons, not to mention that the color wasn't distributed evenly...fear not though, they tasted fantastic. 

Exhibit B: Successful "feet!!!". See how they rose up above a little skirt of frills? Now that is a proper macaron and yes, I totally did a happy dance in the middle of their baking as soon as I saw them form!

I won't bore you with all the ins and outs of these things. If you're interested in making them, I included a "tips and tricks" section at the bottom. But trust me, if you're interested in making them, I wasn't kidding about foodie fuss over these. There are eons and eons of webpages dedicated to trouble shooting them and the various techniques involved. Bottom line: there is more than one way to make these, you just have to experiment with what works for you.

By the way, these are chocolate macarons with a dark chocolate ganache and the little pink guys have a strawberry buttercream inside.

Alright, ready for the recipe? Here we go!

French Macarons
Adapted from too many sources to count
Makes ~16 macaron cookies or 8 sandwiches

Note: the recipe below will fill about 1 baking sheet worth of macarons. I cut the recipe in half to help in the "you will fail!" process. Once you get the hang of it - you can double the recipe and go to town. Tips and tricks will be below

1. Sifter: preferably one with a handle. Sifting makes a difference and if you are like me, you will NOT want to be painstakingly pushing almond meal pieces through a tiny sieve. Buy one with a handle.
2. Silicone baking mat
3. Food processor
4. Hand mixer
5. 2 baking sheets (one on top of the other)

For the macarons
1/4 cup + 3 teaspoons almond flour (for chocolate ones, replace the 3 teaspoons with cooca powder)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white, at room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
3 teaspoons superfine sugar
Food coloring, in paste form (optional)

In a food processor, grind the almond flour and powdered sugar (or + cocoa powder) until well incorporated. Sift this. Seriously, invest in a good sifter. My thumb still hurts from using a tiny sieve.

In a stainless steel bowl, whip your egg white with your hand mixer until just foamy. Then, add a pinch of your cream of tartar. Continue mixing while slowly adding in your superfine sugar. At this point if you want to add color, add it in while you're beating furiously with your hand mixer. Continue beating for about 2 minutes or until stiff peaks form. 

Fold in your almond flour/sugar sifted mixture with a rubber spatula. I literally counted 50 folds and found that it was the perfect consistency. Try it! You want it to be a thick ribbon when it falls off the spatula. See tips and tricks for consistency tips.

Using a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the end cut off, pipe 1 inch rounds about 1 inch apart on a silicone lined baking sheet (s). Drag the tip of your piping agent to the edge of the macaron as to avoid peaks. Slap your baking sheets onto the counter a few times to get rid of air bubbles. Let these guys sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375F. During the last 5 minutes of their rest, reduce your oven temperature to 325F. 

Bake for 10 minutes and hope for feet!! Let cool before filling

For the strawberry buttercream
1/4 cup butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon strawberry puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whip together and pipe into cookies! This will give you enough to pipe a lot if you like lots of buttercream. I unfortunately can't cut down the recipe anymore without getting into awkward measurements.

For the chocolate ganache
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter

Heat your heavy cream and butter over a double boiler until the butter is just melted and the cream is hot but not boiling. Pour over your bittersweet chocolate and let sit for a minute. After a minute, mix the mixture until you have an even chocolate ganache. 

Let sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes until thicker, but not yet hard. Pipe into your chocolate macarons. 

Storing: After you've piped the filling, let the macarons sit in the fridge in an air-tight container for at least 24 hours to let the flavors meld. Bring them to room temperature just before serving.

Okay, now:

Tips and Tricks!
Disclaimer: This is what worked for me. That is to say, I did not try to do some of these things wrong intentionally to see whether or not it would cause failure. At the very least though, they did create success!

1. Almond flour: Also marketed as Almond Meal. This appears to be very coarse. Unfortunately, it is. Mixing it in the food processor with sugar helps to make it finer and helps your sifting step. Do NOT try to make the almond flour more fine by simply running it like crazy in the food processor. Before you know it, you'll be asking yourself ...."hey...isn't this how almond butter is made?...". It is. 

2.  But do I have to use superfine things/sift: Yes. The superfine sugar is right next to the granulated sugar at the grocery store. Mine was domino's brand and it came in a box. My fail batch was the product of being too impatient to sift. Also, sift before you start with the eggs otherwise they'll sit there while you sift and sift and sift.

3. What about the egg whites?: So I didn't do this, but the general consensus is that it is best to "age" your egg whites or separate them a few days ahead of time and let them sit in the fridge for a few days before bringing them to room temperature. The idea is that this process will help remove the moisture in the eggs and help them whip up nicely and ideally increase the probability of getting those feet. I also think that this is more necessary if you're making these on a rainy day or live in a humid environment. 

4. I don't have cream of tartar: I made these without, and it was fine. Adding it in again makes the egg whites nicer and better for humid days. If you have it, add it!

5. Why two baking sheets?: It help insulates the baking sheet you are directly using and helps prevent your macaron bottoms from burning.

6. Dry everything!: Make sure all of your tools are clean and water-free. The less moisture you introduce into this environment, the better.

7: Piping tips: I found that the best way to pipe the filling was actually starting from the outside and working your way in. Aesthetically, you want a nice even filling layer peeking out in between the cookies and the best way to ensure this is to start from the outside. That way, you don't have to use excessive force to squish the filling to the edges. 

8. I didn't get feet...: Blame any of these steps. I found that trying to pinpoint it to any one thing wasn't very helpful. Try again! That's why I posted a recipe that only makes a few. Also, they still taste delicious without those feet. 

9. Where do I get food coloring paste?: Michael's the craft store. A little paste goes a long way. Using liquid messes with the delicate proportions of things. They run a little more than $2.00 which is just about the cost of one macaron at any bakery. So really, you're saving money.

10. How do I know I've folded enough?: 50 strokes but in general you want it a little runnier that you would think since we're working with egg whites and all. There is less of that "careful! don't deflate the whites!" attitude here than there is with meringues or angel cake. When you're piping it, if you find ourself actively trying to push peaks down, you probably need to fold a little more. Trial and error...trial and error. 

Alright, longest blog post ever but as always, enjoy!


May 28, 2014

Strawberry Crumb Bars

I really can't believe I'm saying this, but the weather seems to have finally warmed up a little bit! I am however, ignoring this current New England bit of 50 degree situation today. If I tell myself that it's a fluke enough times, it will be. Right? Anyway, last week was actually warm which made me feel like it was time for seasonal fruit baking!

Few things say warm weather baking quite like strawberries in my opinion. Plus, they're just so darn red, fragrant, and pretty! These crumb bars practically screamed spring.
I saw a recipe for blueberry crumb bars from one of my favorite baking blogs but I took the liberty of adjusting the recipe a bit for strawberries. Also, I went big-guns on the strawberry. Also, I ate a few of these with ice cream on top. Worth it!

Pretty little crumb bars, all in their little parchment paper jackets and ready for their 7am photo shoot. Oh, the things I do for lighting...

Strawberry Crumb Bars
Adapted from smittenkitchen

Yield: 24 ish medium sized squares (more for smaller, less for bigger!)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cold, unsalted butter cut into little cubes
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
5 cups fresh strawberries, de-stemmed and diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 375 and grease a 9x13 baking pan.

In one bowl, mix together 1 cup of the sugar, flour, and baking powder. Add in your salt and lemon zest. Using a fork, pastry cutter, or food processor cut the butter and egg into the mixture until the dough has lots of pea-sized pieces of butter coated in your flour mixture. Press about half of this dough into the bottom of your prepared pan.

For the strawberries, mix together the 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Toss your strawberries until coated and sprinkle this on top of your crust.

Take your remaining crumbs and sprinkle over your strawberries until coated. You may have leftover crumbs after your strawberries are covered (depending on how much you used to make the crust). It's up to you if you want to have extra crumbs on top, or less. Just use or toss!

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the strawberries are bubbling and the crumb topping is slightly brown. If you're using a glass pan, check to see that the bottom crust is also a golden brown.

Cool completely and cut into squares. Serve with ice cream for optimal results!



May 14, 2014

Brown Sugar Pound Cakes (with brown butter icing)

Yesterday, I stopped by Georgetown Cupcakes for some birthday cupcakes for a father-in-law and realized that it's been a hot minute since I've made some cupcakes! 

These brown butter cupcakes will do. They came out of the oven with a nutty caramel flavor that only baked brown sugar can make. Mmmmm cupcakes...

After they cooled, they got a dip in a brown butter glaze which added another depth of caramel nutty deliciousness. 

Pouring browned butter for the icing! Yes, those burnt bits gave the glaze it's color and adorable little flecks. 

Delicious! Nothing like a stop in a cupcake store for some cupcake inspiration!

Brown Sugar Pound Cakes
Adapted from: Martha Stewart
Makes 24 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup reduced fat milk

Preheat your oven to 325F.

Sift together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together your butter and brown sugar. Add in eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Add in your flour mixture, alternating with milk until your mixture looks like a fluffy yellow cupcake batter that you'd just want to eat right then and there.

Pour your batter into your lined cupcake tins and fill about halfway. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top springs back at you, the edges are golden brown, or till a toothpick comes out clean! Let cool while you make your brown butter icing.

For the Brown Butter Icing
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk

In a saucepan, heat your butter over medium heat until caramel in color (about 7-10 minutes). Don't worry if you see burnt bits, this part will stay in the pan. Once nicely toasted, slowly pour your butter into a bowl (over a sieve if desired) so that the burnt bits mostly stay at the bottom of the pan.

Add in your sugar, vanilla, and milk. Whisk together until well incorporated and take your cupcakes for a dip.

Note: this icing can separate if left to cool for too long. If this happens, simply reheat over simmering water (double boiler style) and whisk until back until glazing texture!



May 7, 2014

Mini Banana Nut Muffins

Holy hiatus. Life got kind of nuts these last few weeks! Updating this site was always on the back of my mind but getting to a computer to do it seemed impossible. Getting home to my oven was even harder from all around the world (yup, world travels got in the way. pity me...)

 For this, I apologize. During this time, my medical school friends and I all found out where we're going to go for our residency and we're now only a mere few days away from graduation!

Alright, enough! Time to discuss muffins! I made these guys before we embarked around the world for a brunch and they were so cute. Not to mention, they were just as banana nut muffins should be - full of banana flavor with some walnut crunch on top.

Nothing like freshly mashed bananas into these little guys. I added the nuts on top right before I put them in the oven (they were also in the batter, no fear) which gave them a nice aesthetic.

Stay tuned for more posts coming soon!

Mini Banana Nut Muffins
Makes 24 mini muffins
Adapted from Tyler Florence

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 overripe bananas
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cool
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnut pieces (some set aside for sprinkling on top)

Preheat oven to 375F and lightly butter your mini muffin tin

In one bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Mash 3 bananas in a small bowl with a fork until mushed but still have some texture to them. Set aside.

In another bowl, take your remaining 2 bananas and mash together with the brown sugar until completely mixed, no banana texture left! To this, add your melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well until well incorporated. Add in your dry ingredients and fold in your nuts and remaining bananas.

Spoon your batter into your mini-muffin tins (about 3/4 of the way full) and sprinkle with some remaining nuts.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the tops spring back at your or a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy with a good cup of coffee!