HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: JULY PROJECT

Every month me and several of my friends who shared the amazing experience of baking “in a certain tent” face a little group challenge. This month our challenge was set up by Marissa, a finalist in the Great American Baking Show. Her brief could not be simpler: BAKE YOUR STATE. We could do pretty much anything in all areas of baking, but the theme would be the state we grew up or live in. I coupled the state where I live with my usual state of mind. And the outcome was obvious: Macarons!  Kansas is The Sunflower State, so a bit of sunflower seed “flour” went into the shells. And black walnuts grow wild here, so the filling was a black walnut buttercream. A little dressing up, and here’s my contribution for this month:

KANSAS SUNFLOWER SEED AND BLACK WALNUT MACARONS
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

For the shells:
200g Icing/powdered sugar
100 g almond flour
15 g sunflower seeds, ground to a fine powder
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
green food color (I used green, brown and black to get a forest type green)

for the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese (half a regular package), softened
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon black walnut extract (or vanilla)
225 g powdered sugar
1/3 cup ground Black Walnuts

to decorate:
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder

Make the decorations, the day before. Beat all ingredients with a KitchenAid type mixer and the paddle attachment for about 7 minutes. Let the icing rest for 10 minutes, adjust consistency if needed. For piping rosettes, it must be thick but soft enough to squeeze through a small piping tip.

Color most of the icing yellow, color a small amount brown.  Use a small leaf tip to make the petals. Add the center with a small icing tip. Pipe your shapes over parchment paper and allow to dry. If desired, brush some of the petals with bronze dust.

Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla and the food color. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.

For the black walnut buttercream: Add the cream cheese, butter and vanilla to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and beat until very smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar,  whisk until smooth and fluffy, then fold in the black walnuts.

Assemble the macarons: match two shells similar in size and add buttercream to the bottom of one of them. Place another shell on top and gently squeeze to take the filling all the way to the edge.

To decorate the macarons, add the Royal icing flowers on top using melted Candy melts or royal icing. Store the macs in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I tried using exclusively sunflower seed as the component of the shell but it did not work. So I went with Plan B: added a small proportion to my regular recipe. It does bring a very interesting and noticeable flavor, I liked it a lot. As to the filling, black walnuts can be a bit of an acquired taste. They almost have a perfume quality to them. I am not too wild about extracts, but this one from Beanilla had nice reviews and worked well in the buttercream. If you cannot find or do not like black walnuts, use regular ones, slightly toasted.

The decorations were a lot of fun to make, although I realize the sunflower “look” is quite elusive. I used a very small leaf icing tip (this one) to pipe the petals, and a small icing tip (Ateco #2) for the center. It would be very hard to make the flowers without a little gadget to hold and rotate as you pipe. I made a template with parchment paper, clear acetate over it, and then glued squares of parchment on top with double-stick tape. Make a bunch of squares and have them ready, so you can pipe many flowers and then choose the best ones. Some will look like cabbages after a rabbit attack. Those you don’t use.


I find that the hardest part is getting the consistency of the Royal Icing right. It needs to be thick, but soft enough to flow smoothly without breaking, so it might take a few trials. Be patient. Once you get it all going, it’s quite mesmerizing to see each flower shaping up.

Marissa, thanks for choosing such a cool theme!  Amazing that we are publishing this on the 1st year anniversary of each of us stepping on a plane to the UK to start that incredible journey…

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends baked for their states of choice… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: Curry Turmeric Sourdough

TWO YEARS AGO: Black Olive Tapenade and Deviled Eggs

THREE YEARS AGO: Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Bundt Cake

FIVE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes and Avocado

SIX YEARS AGO: Strawberry Coffee Cake

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Brownies

NINE YEARS AGO: Salmon Tacos

TEN YEARS AGOCinnamon Turban Bread

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin

PRUE LEITH’S SMOKED SALMON AND BEETROOT BLINIS

This recipe was chosen by Prue as a technical challenge for the Great British Baking Show last year. Of course, small details in the preparation are not shared with the contestants, but the online recipe tells you pretty much all you need to know to make them without stress in the comfort of your kitchen.

SMOKED SALMON AND BEETROOT BLINIS
(slightly adapted from Prue Leith’s recipe)

For the blinis:
170g all purpose-flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 large egg, separated
1 tbsp olive oil
220ml whole milk

For the topping:
100g cooked beetroot
1 tsp hot prepared horseradish
pinch of crushed sea salt
125g cream cheese
smoked salmon, flaked
¼ lemon

Make the blinis. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, then add the egg yolk and the olive oil and whisk, drawing in the flour. Slowly add the milk, whisking to a smooth batter.

In a separate bowl, using a hand-held electric blender, whisk the egg white to stiff peaks, then gently fold them into the batter.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, spoon 1 tablespoon of the batter into the pan and cook for 1–2 minutes, until the edges are set and the mixture is bubbling. Turn the blini over and cook until golden brown on the other side, then place on a wire rack to cool. Cook in batches using the remaining batter until you have 12 blinis. Set aside to cool.

For the topping, place the beetroot, horseradish cream, salt and 50g of the cream cheese in the bowl of mini food processor and blitz until smooth. Spoon the beetroot mixture into a clean bowl and fold in the remaining 75g of cream cheese, until evenly combined, thick and smooth. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium piping tip.

Pipe a swirl of beetroot mixture onto each blini, then top with flakes of the hot smoked salmon. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top, then garnish with fresh dill.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: These were very delicious!  I made them as an appetizer for our Valentine’s dinner but as you know, I can be pretty slow to blog on stuff, so you only got to see them as July is coming to an end. Such is life.

The main issue the contestants had with the recipe was cooking the blinis. Many added oil to the pan, and that’s a mistake. Even if it seems like it cooking them on a dry pan will end in tragedy,  that’s how you get the right searing, proper texture and no excess oil as you bite into them. They are delicate, soft, and I find the addition of beets to the cream a real touch of class. Cannot beat that color. Or…should I say cannot “beet” that color?  (ouch!)

ONE YEAR AGO: Mandioca Frita 101

TWO YEARS AGO: White Chocolate Raspberry Dome Cake

THREE YEARS AGO: Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pickled Red Onions

FIVE YEARS AGO: Strawberry Chocolate Chip Cake

SIX YEARS AGO: Mini-Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Grated Tomato Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: A Taste of Yellow to Honor Barbara

NINE YEARS AGO: Gratin of Beefsteak Tomatoes

TEN YEARS AGO: Tour de France Final Stage: PARIS

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Snickerdoodles with a Twist

 

BROWN SUGAR COOKIES WITH BUTTERCREAM ICING

Since lockdown, Sugar Cookies became a weekly baking activity. I make a batch of dough, divide it in three portions, cut, bake and decorate one-third of it, save the leftover dough in the freezer to use on the following two weeks. By doing so, I can easily include some in every Friday Common Table spread, concentrating just on how to decorate them (although they are very tasty even plain). In this version, I used a crusting buttercream instead of the usual Royal Icing.

BROWN SUGAR COOKIES WITH BUTTERCREAM ICING
(adapted from many sources)

for the cookies:
360 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice (I used this one, see comment at the end of the post)
100 g granulated sugar
100g brown sugar
226 g butter, cut into chunks
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla paste

for the icing:
60 g butter
60 g vegetable shortening (I used Spectrum)
360 g powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla (clear, if available)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
pinch of salt
gel food color (pink and purple)
sprinkles
gold powder
lemon extract or vodka

Heat oven to 350. Whisk the flour, baking powder and mixed spice, set aside.

Add the butter (cold is fine) to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and cream with both sugars.  Add the egg, vanilla and salt, and mix until everything is incorporated nicely.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl, so that no dried bits of flour stay unincorporated. If you want to divide the dough, do it now, freeze amounts for later and work with half or one third of it right away. Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4″ and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, freeze for 5 to 10 minutes, and bake for about 12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. The edges should start to get golden, but do not allow the full cookie to get too much color.  Transfer to a cooling rack and decorate as you desire, or leave them plain.

Make the frosting. Combine butter and shortening (both at room temperature) in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer using the whisk attachment. When they are well incorporated, add the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk, whisking in low speed at first. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk for a couple of minutes. Adjust consistency with heavy cream or more powdered sugar, if needed.

Divide in three portions. Dye one portion pink, one portion purple, and leave the third portion white. Place in piping bags fitted with 1M icing tip. I left the pink as a solid color, and mixed the purple and white together, adding more purple than white to the bag. Pipe rosettes on top of the fully cold cookies, decorate with sprinkles. Once the frosting is solid enough on the surface, decorate the pink rosettes with gold powder mixed with vodka or lemon extract.

Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature for 24 hours before wrapping or placing in a box.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Buttercream icing might seem like a lot of extra work, but I find it more forgiving because it is easier to get the consistency right. Royal Icing requires a lot more precision, and I’ve had situations in which I had to empty the piping bag, adjust the consistency, fill it again… and REPEAT the process… Not fun. The buttercream will start to crust within one hour, and after 2 hours you can paint the edges with gold if you like.  Leave the cookies at room temperature for 24 hours before packing them, so that the frosting is nice and firm. It will be soft as you bite into it.

For the rosettes, I think that mixing white buttercream with the dyed gives a more subtle and elegant effect. I did that for the purple decoration. The pink was piped as a solid color, but then the gold detail did the job of softening the overall look, or at least that’s what I was trying to go for.

Another third of the dough was decorated with Royal Icing the following week. I used the small-batch that I blogged about in the past, you can see it here. Some got a painted icing decoration as described by Helen in this post.

The addition of brown sugar and spices changes quite a bit the flavor of the cookie itself. I liked it so much that it made me think if I could go back in time I would use this recipe instead of the one I had planned to use in a certain tent: a plain sugar cookie perfumed with Fiori di Sicilia and cardamon. But, since I never made it to the cookie episode, going back in time would be a moot point.

About Mixed Spice, here is the composition: ground cinnamon (40%)  + ground coriander (40%), complete the other 20% amount with ground caraway, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves adjusting them to taste

ONE YEAR AGO: Mandioca Frita 101 

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Puffs

THREE YEARS AGO: Vietnamese-ish Chicken

FOUR YEARS AGO: Rutabagas Anna

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Raspberry Sorbet

SIX YEARS AGO: Crispy Cornmeal Sweet Potato Fries

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pan-grilled Tilapia with Smoked Paprika & Avocado Cream

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Golden Saffron and Fennel Loaf

NINE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2011

TEN YEARS AGO: Heavenly Homemade Fromage Blanc

ELEVEN YEARS AGOA Perfect Sunday Dinner

 

CORN FRITTERS

I have deep aversion for frying things, and since getting the air-fryer I almost never do it on top of the stove. This recipe appealed to me, and I could not quite see it working in the air-fryer, so I took a deep breath and embraced the job.  Absolutely worth it. And since it is shallow frying, it was not that bad at all.  It all starts with a can of corn. Yes, corn from a can. Trust me, it works beautifully…

CORN FRITTERS
(adapted from Tin Can Magic)

1 can (340g) corn in water, drained
about 1/4 cup parsley leaves, minced
zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
grapeseed oil for shallow frying

Stir together the corn, minced parsley, flour, eggs, zest and salt in a large mixing bowl. Reserve.

Heat a wide, non-stick frying pan over high heat, then pour in enough oil to coat the pan. When the oil is almost starting to smoke,  spoon the corn mixture into the pan, leaving enough space between the portions. You will have enough for about 8 fritters, so eye-ball the amounts.

Allow the fritters to cook on one side for 3–4 minutes, then carefully flip and fry for another 4 minutes. Transfer the fritters to a plate lined with paper towels, and keep warm in a low oven as you fry the second batch.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is one of those recipes that I thought could have a high chance of failure. Most batters for fritters get some type of leavening agent for extra lift, this one did not. I was pleasantly surprised by the resulting texture. My only advice is to leave it alone as you pour the portions on the hot oil. You need that beautiful brown crust to form, that will set the cake and allow the interior to get all creamy. Could you use fresh corn? I am sure you could, but the beauty of this recipe is the simplicity. Plus, using canned corn makes this simple recipe easy to make the whole year.  We had it with shrimp in a spice tomato-based broth. A very tasty dinner.

ONE YEAR AGO: Minnie Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Air-Fried Mexican Meatloaf

THREE YEARS AGO: Mimi’s Sticky Chicken, a Call from my Past

FOUR YEARS AGO: Perfect Soy-Grilled Steak

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Devil’s Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: Heart of Palm Salad Skewers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Potluck Frittata and Lavoisier

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Home-made Corn Tortillas

NINE YEARS AGO: Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Peanut Sauce

TEN YEARS AGO: Brigadeiros: A Brazilian Party!

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Lemony Asparagus

 

ODE TO HALVA

My last post featured tahini, which is pretty much peanut butter made from sesame seeds. To my personal taste, it is perfection. If you join tahini with sugar and perform some magic tricks cooking them together, you’ll get halva. Until recently I was a halva-virgin, which means my life had a void I was unaware of. When I first tried a little bite, I thought it was quite unusual, with a bit of an unpleasant texture. But then, as the taste slowly developed, I was hooked. Today I share two recipes using halva, Ottolenghi’s Brownies and Cheetah Macarons with Halva Buttercream. Very hard to pick my favorite.

Starting with the brownies, the original recipe is from Ottolenghi’s Sweets. I used a halva containing pistachios, and loved the way every once in a while you bite into a little green gem with a burst of additional nut flavor.  The recipe is available in plenty of websites, I share the one published by Joanne, from Eats Well with Others.

FOR THE RECIPE, CLICK HERE

Comments: This is such a beautiful batter both before and after baking, it will sure give you a smile as you go through the preparation.  Some people might object to brownies because they are too sweet, so this recipe will almost certainly please those in that team. The tahini and halva completely change that aspect.

Moving on, let’s talk macarons. I was dying to try painting shells, even though I have exactly zero artistic skills. I watched many youtube tutorials, gathered the right tools for the job, took a deep breath, and went for it. Maybe they would make a cheetah fume, but I can tell you I had so much fun that I might offend other animals in the future.

CHEETAH MACARONS WITH HALVA BUTTERCREAM
(from The Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Eats Well with Others)

For the shells:
200g  powdered sugar
115 g almond flour
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or extract
yellow or gold food gel dye (I used gold from Sunny Side Up Bakery)
Sweet Sticks purple and gold edible paint

For the halva buttercream:
7 oz vanilla halvah, cubed
2 oz white chocolate, melted
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt

Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond flour mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.

Make the halva buttercream: Place the halvah in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Drizzle in the melted white chocolate and again blend until smooth and incorporated.

Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment along with the sugar. Beat on medium until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add in the vanilla and salt and mix again until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add in the halvah paste and mix until smooth. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the frosting. Use to fill macarons. Allow them to mature overnight in the fridge before consuming or freezing for storage.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you watch videos on how to paint the cheetah motif, some people do the outlining first and then paint the centers. It did not work well for me, the gold paint sipped into the outlining bit, so I prefer to add the centers first, let them dry and then go with the purple around it. Most bakers favor Sweet Sticks brand of edible paint because it is so user-friendly. You shake the bottle well, and it is ready to use. I got mine at Etsy.

The Halva Buttercream was straight from Joanne’s blog, she used it to fill shortbread cookies. I adjusted slightly the composition to accommodate the amount of halva I had. The recipe makes a lot, so you can conceivably make half and it will be enough to fill a full batch of macarons. Once again, the halva cuts through the excessive sweetness of buttercream, and goes well with the almond shells.

If you are interested in more uses for halva, I found these recipes that seem pretty tasty too.

Halva and Chocolate Babka 

Halva Sesame Ice Cream

Halva Chocolate Bark

Tahini Halva Truffles 

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Pao de Queijo (re-blogged)

TWO YEARS AGO: Apricot Linzer Torte

THREE YEAR AGO: A Trio of Air-Fried Goodies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Focaccia with Grapes, Roquefort and Truffled Honey

FIVE YEARS AGO: Moroccan Carrot Dip Over Cucumber Slices 

SIX YEARS AGO: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Cilantro-Jalapeno “Hummus”

EIGHT YEARS AGO: A Moving Odyssey

ELEVEN YEARS AGO:
 Shrimp Moqueca