Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers October Challenge--French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.


Before the challenge reveal date I had never eaten nor heard of a French Macaron.  To me, a macaroon was one of those chewy cookies made mostly of coconut.  I was a little intimidated by the challenge after reading so many posts about how these cookies are so hard, how successful macarons have large feet and you have to "age" your eggs, yada yada yada.  In my research I found that macarons come in every color possible and every flavor you can think of.  I was a little overwhelmed about the possibilities but decided that I needed to stick to as traditional of a version as I could get so I could experience a true macaron.  I posted on the forum and was informed that the most "traditional" would be to not flavor the cookie and to use nutella or ganache for the filling.  So, I decided on a semi-sweet and a white chocolate ganache.  

My next hurdle was finding almond flour.  After calling 4 stores I was about to give up and borrow a food processor to make my own, then I thought of one other option and I was in luck!  I did age my eggs as was suggested, but I wanted to make them over the weekend and the revel date was Thursday, so I only aged my eggs 2.5 days instead of the 3 days that were recommended.  I set the container of aged eggs out to come to room temperature (I probably should've taken the lid off the container) and it seemed like they were taking FOREVER!  So, I cheated a little on that, (I think they were still a good 45 minutes away from "room temperature") and off I went baking away.  Here is the recipe from Daring Bakers.

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen. Ami's note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.

I didn't have any trouble mixing things up.  I only have one silicon pad, so I used some parchment paper too.   I went back and forth a little on small macaroons and larger ones.  But here are my beauties all piped out.

The next hurdle was my annoying oven. I really can't wait to buy a house and an awesome, reliable oven.  I swear our oven is off by 50 degrees, but because every time I count on it being off 50 degrees, I burn things.  So, I usually turn it up about 25 degrees.  But it turned out 25 was not enough.  Not knowing what they should look or taste like I was a little unsure if they were cooked completely, but after we each tasted a couple we decided that the first pan was indeed under-baked.  But, I just threw the pan back in the oven for a few minutes and it all worked out.

The recipe details weren't very clear if you should cool completely on the pan or on cooling racks.  But I quickly learned when the inner half of the cookies stayed on the pan that I needed to let them cool completely on the pan.   

One of the measures of successful macarons is that you have large "feet" (the airy looking bottom half).  I think I was successful on that measure :)

Here is a close up of the feet on my first pan.

Another measure of successful macarons is that they are not golden brown on top, you're supposed to pull them out just before they start browning.  But I was a little worried about under-baking the 2nd pan too so they got probably a little too brown, but still not bad.  And I think this second pan had even better feet than the first!

I made semi-sweet ganache and white chocolate ganache.  But we both found the semi-sweet to be a little too dark for our liking.  So, I ended up mixing some of the white chocolate with the semi-sweet to make a "milk" chocolate ganache.  

I think white chocolate was our favorite but both were absolute DELICIOUS!!!!  And the next day I came to realize that cooled macarons are even better because the ganache sets up enough that it doesn't squish out the sides of the sandwich---yum yum I'm craving them now!  I absolutely fell in love with French Macarons!  I have found a new favorite treat!  Just another reason why being a Daring Baker is so great, you're "pushed" to try something new that you probably wouldn't have ever even thought of trying and you end up finding something you love! 

And a pat on the back:  The non-procrastinating type Daring Bakers (like me) post our challenge pictures early on a forum only DB members can view.  I posted mine the first week of October (after making them on the 4th of October).  One of the two Daring Baker "Macaron experts", Tartelette, commented on mine saying "They turned out perfect! Great job!"  How cool is that?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baking Overload--Whoopie Pies

Okay, I seriously need to take a baking vacation!  Not because I don't love it, but because I'm worried that that 5lbs I lost a couple months ago is going to come back in no time (it may already be back but I'm refusing to weigh).  I just noticed this picture on my camera and realized I never posted about it!  I made these about a month ago (I really did not realize how much I've been baking lately).  I often get in trouble food blog surfing on my lunch break, because then I just can't shake the urge to bake!  Al sent me a link to this news article about Whoopie Pies, which links you to this recipe.  I cheated a little and used store bought cream cheese frosting mixed with whipped topping (my favorite semi-homemade frosting).  But they were SO good!

At least every time I bake I'm sure to invite my friend/neighbor/co-worker Lisa over for some taste-testing.  She gave it an "amazing" rating :) The cheesecake with pecan pie in the center was given a "party in my mouth" rating :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Martha Stewart Cupcakes--Boston Cream Pie

This was like 2 months ago, but this summer my sister bought me Martha Stewart's Cupcake cookbook.   And because I wanted to swear off baking for awhile (that didn't happen) to loose weight (that did happen), but also really wanted to try one of the cupcakes, I made these yummy and cute little Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes! 

They were very delicious but a bit messy to eat.  Al's convinced they should be filled with the cream instead of cut in half.  But I learned with these as I seem to be learning with any ganache, cream, ooey gooey centered dessert, that they taste even better and are way easier to eat when you let them cool in the fridge for a few hours.  Definitely making a mental note of that!

I also made the peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes for a work party earlier this month.  However, I overcooked 2 of the 3 dozen and didn't think the 1 salvaged dozen was that great (too dense for our liking).  But, everyone at worked RAVED about them, and for a good week!  I was even asked for the recipe!  I probably could've passed off the overcooked ones and they still would've loved them!  Didn't take a pic of those, didn't think they were picture worthy, but I guess I was wrong.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pecan Pie inside of a Cheesecake

When Al and I were at our first BBQ judging event we heard that the previous night, at the "anything butt" contest, a cheesecake with a pecan pie inside was submitted!  Al was bound and determined from then on that we needed to make one ourselves.  So, after finding this recipe online and talking it up for a couple of weeks, Al finally convinced me to make it.  Saturday morning I happened to wake up early and by 8am I had 3 homemade pie crusts in the freezer and a pecan pie cooking in the oven!  On Sunday I made the candied pecans and the cheesecake (with the pie inside).

Then Monday we eagerly came home, hurried to eat dinner and then dove into this heavenly dessert!

Al's mom was waiting on the phone while I took pictures and cut into it, she was so impatient waiting to live vicariously through us while we took the first bites and reported how heavenly it was!

And if you were one of the 8 lucky ones that we work with and got a piece to try--yeah for you! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Curry Chicken

This is one of the stable dinners in our house!  Pictured is 1/2 a chicken breast on top of the dish, I now typically serve the breast to the side.  Al found this recipe for "Country Captains Chicken" which we just call Curry Chicken from the website at the University of SC's culinary school restaurant, The McCutchen house.  Use the following link for the recipe from the McCutchen house, which is formatted nicely to print out and put in your recipe binder.  But I've also pasted it below so that I could add my comments of the changes we've made to the recipe and tips I have, those are in brackets and in italics along side the recipe.  Some changes are made to better the recipe, some due to my husbands allergies and some because of our preferences.

2 each onions, chopped [We love onions, I use 2 vidalia onions which are probably bigger and therefore more than the recipe calls for, but we're okay with that]
2 Tbs. butter [I use olive oil]
2 each green bell peppers, chopped
1 Tbs. curry powder [I used 2 TB--1 is just not flavorful enough; also beware that house brand curry at the grocery store is extremely bland, we bought some Indian curry from Amazon, but if you don't want 64oz of curry on hand--don't worry we got it for a deal--I'd look for some real curry at a local Indian grocery store or at least buy a name brand spice like McCormicks]
1 can (16 oz) whole tomatoes, roughly chopped [I just used a 14.5oz can of chopped tomatoes and if I have any fresh around I add a little more]
½ cup chicken broth [I grew up with bouillon cubes, but canned, boxed or homemade broth is WAY better--if you do use bouillon cubes I would double the number of cubes you use]
1 Tbs. parsley, chopped [I just used dried parsley-1 teaspoon]
½ tspn. salt
¼ tspn. black pepper
¼ tspn. ground mace [I never put this in]
1 clove garlic, minced
6 each boneless, skinless chicken breasts [I usually just put 3 breasts in but don't half anything else]
2 Tbs. flour [I use cornstarch instead, I'm pretty sure I use more than 2 TB, I just cover a small plate with cornstarch and lay the breast on top and coat both sides in cornstarch]
2 Tbs. vegetable oil [Again I replace this with olive oil]
(Serves 6 guests) [Using only 3 breasts it give us more veggies per serving and makes enough for dinner for 2 plus 2 lunches for my husband]
In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in the butter until lightly browned, add the bell pepper and continue to cook an additional five minutes.
Stir in the curry and cook for a minute, add the entire contents of the tomatoes, chicken broth, parsley, salt, pepper, mace, and garlic. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for five more minutes.
Flour the chicken breast and shake off any excess. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and brown the chicken on both sides. Add the chicken to the tomato mixture and continue to cook, covered, for another thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce becomes too thick, water may be added.
Serve immediately over rice. [I use brown rice]

Hope y'all enjoy it as much as we do!