COFFEE MACARONS DRESSED UP TO PARTY

As I debate with myself the feasibility of changing my blog name to The Bewitching Macaron, I am here to share one more take on the French delicacies I am so in love with. Once again I used my basic recipe that works quite well, with a minor change. I dried the almond flour-powdered sugar mixture for a couple of days before using. That was a tip I found somewhere and decided to try. The filling is a slight modification from Nadiya, a contestant from the Great British Baking Show. Excellent, I highly recommend you give it a try if you are a coffee lover. If you are not a coffee lover, there is always the opportunity to become one. I am showing you the path of caffeine enlightenment. Grab my hand and walk with me…

COFFEE MACARONS
(adapted from a basic recipe from Craftsy)

Yield: About 72 shells; 36 assembled macarons

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
113 g almond meal
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee
113 g egg whites (I aged mine for three days)
1 g or a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Brown Gel color from AmeriColor
2 drops vanilla extract
for the filling:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
2 egg yolks
50g dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 ½ teaspoons fine instant espresso powder
150g unsalted butter, softened
to decorate:
gold sprinkles (optional)

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, almond meal and instant coffee in a food processor or mini processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of 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, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, 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 almond meal mixture in three 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 one of the tips listed above. Pipe on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. Ina dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes. When the skin forms, top with gold sprinkles, if you so desire.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 330 F (170 C/gas mark 3). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the filling:  Melt the chocolate in the microwave and leave to cool. Place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl, and set aside. Put the sugar, water and espresso powder in a small pan, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Add the mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Set the mixture over a pan of simmering water and continue to whisk gently until the mixture thickens. That should happen in less than 5 minutes, make sure the water is just at a gentle boil. Take the mixture off the heat and continue to whisk. Gradually add the butter, and keep whisking. Fold in the melted chocolate then set the mixture aside to firm up. Do not refrigerate, just keep it at room temperature until it is firm enough to pipe.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of filling to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.  Store in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I wish I could say to you that this was a perfect batch, but it was not. Half of my macarons were “hollows”, which in macaron lingo means they have big air pockets inside, sometimes separating the cookie in two layers, making it impossible to use them.  I guess they could make nice crumbs over ice cream, or a layer for a trifle type dessert, but that’s about it. I don’t think drying the almond flour mixture for a couple of days explains the outcome, though. Macarons are finicky creatures and two batches made exactly the same way a few days apart might behave in completely different ways. Just a little too stiff the meringue, or too much energy in folding the batter, oven too hot, not enough drying time to form the skin.. and you can go from perfect macarons to a full-blown disaster. No feet, cracked, lumpy, hollows, the list of boo-boos can be intimidating. Still, even if I am not quite sure why I had problems this time, half of them were perfect, and I had enough to share with our group in a lab meeting. Not enough to share with the department, which is usually my goal. Oh, well. There is always next time. In fact,  I’ve got not one but two more macaron recipes to share. Told ya. Obsession. Although I prefer the word passion.

The taste was spot on, though. Just that small amount of instant coffee in the shells gave them a subtle coffee flavor, then the filling… oh, the filling… superb! I can see that used to frost cupcakes… maybe not appropriate to offer to that hyper-active 6 year-old… Made me think of this sign we saw hanging in a coffee shop in Frisco, CO.

😉

Pinning is sharing, sharing is loving!

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Blogging Hiatus

TWO YEARS AGO: Tomato Tatin

THREE YEARS AGO: Headed to Colorado!   

FOUR YEARS AGO: Farofa Brasileira

FIVE  YEARS AGO: Thai-Inspired Pork Tenderloin

SIX YEARS AGO: A yummy Brazilian cake: Bolo de Fuba’

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Summer’s Tomatoes

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Leaving on a jet plane… 

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KALEIDOSCOPIC MACARONS

One more take on my ongoing obsession… But first, a relevant question: how far can we stretch the boundaries of these adorable cookies and still be comfortable calling them macarons? Apparently the boundaries are very blurry. From colors, types of fillings, decorations on top of the shells, we see endless variations. I cannot call myself a purist, as I am often taking liberties with classics, but I think my standards would be: macarons must be prepared with almond flour as the main component.  If other ground nuts are added, let them be a very minor player. Must contain a meringue incorporated with the flour by the macaronage method. Must have discernible feet. Other than those three requirements, I’ll accept anything. Savory fillings, neon-like colors, cute alternative shapes. For this batch, I experimented with a color effect. Some newbie errors took place, but I still performed better than I do at the golf course. Much, much better.

KALEIDOSCOPIC MACARONS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, slightly adapted from Craftsy.com

Yield: About 72 shells; 36 assembled macarons

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
113 g almond meal
1/8 teaspoon dried lavender
113 g egg whites (I aged mine for three days)
1 g or a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Purple Gel color from AmeriColor
2 drops vanilla extract
for the filling:
chocolate ganache with finely chopped hazelnuts
recipe in this post

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, almond meal and lavender in a food processor or mini processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of 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, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Bet until firm peaks form. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the almond meal mixture in three 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. Open a plastic wrap on the counter, paint three lines of gel color of your choice separated by one inch. Pour the dough on top, wrap the plastic around, and insert the whole thing in a piping bag, making sure to have an opening in the wrap connected to the piping tip. Pipe shells on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. Ina 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 330 F (170 C/gas mark 3). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of ganache to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.  Ideally, store in the fridge for 24 hours for best texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I know it’s hard to believe but I used three different colors for the shells, the green is barely noticeable, only in a few of them. Many of the shells got zero color. Puzzling? Read on, and the mystery will be solved. There are essentially two types of strategies to get more than one color in the macaron shell. You can make the dough, divide it in two (or three) portions, color each one separately, add them to the piping bag and allow them to mix during piping. I decided not to do it, because I was a bit insecure as to when to divide the dough, and maybe deflate it too much when mixing with the colors. I normally add the color very early in the process.  That brings me to method number two, which gives a very interesting marbled effect, when done correctly. You start by opening a plastic wrap over your counter. Then, you paint two or three solid lines of gel color over the plastic. Pour your dough with the optimal lava consistency over the plastic, wrap it around, and insert the whole thing inside a piping bag. See the photo below.

I realize it’s hard to see the lines of gel color on the first picture, but trust me, they are there. To my disappointment, the first 20 or so shells I piped were totally white! The reason is, when painting the lines they must go all the way to the icing tip, otherwise obviously you’ll get no color until the dough moves through and gets in touch with the gel.  Alternatively, you can use a long brush and paint the inside of the piping bag itself, making sure to reach down all the way to the tip. I must re-visit this technique and get the effect I was hoping for. It was quite frustrating to keep piping shell after shell, with no color, and then a little bit here and there. But hopefully practice makes perfect, and I will succeed next time.

As I mentioned before, the parallels between making macarons and golf are truly amazing! Once you take that golf club back, it’s over. For macarons, a little misjudgment and you don’t get what you want. The Macaron Gods are not very forgiving. And I’ve probably been extra naughty lately. You’d think?

Almond flour: $9.99

12 eggs: $3.50

Powdered sugar: $2.50

Matching outfit to macarons: Priceless!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Zucchini Noodles with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

TWO YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2015

THREE YEARS AGO: Sous-vide Pork Chops with Roasted Poblano Butter

FOUR YEARS AGO: Roasted Strawberry-Buttermilk Sherbet

FIVE YEARS AGO: Amazing Ribs for the 4th of July!

SIX YEARS AGO: Baby Back Ribs on the 4th of July

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Blueberry Muffins

EIGHT YEARS AGO: A Pie for your 4th of July

 

 

 

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LEMON BUTTERCREAM MACARONS

I baked this batch back in February, evidently I took my sweet time (pun intended) to blog about them. The recipe is the same basic one I’ve been using from the Craftsy tutorial. I want to feel totally comfortable with it before moving to the Italian version. To get this color, I used a mixture of green and yellow gel coloring, but it’s hard to be precise about the amounts. I added a little bit of the green, mixed, added a little more, then some yellow, and gave a thorough mix. Crossed my fingers and hoped that the color would stay true during baking. You just never know. Not a single shell cracked, and all formed cute feet. What more can a baker ask to the Macaron Gods? Not much. Maybe uniformity in size? Yeah, that would be nice…

 

LEMON BUTTERCREAM MACARONS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from Crafsy)

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
115 g almond meal
113 g egg whites (aged for three days)
a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Green and Yellow Gel colors from AmeriColor
2 drops vanilla extract

for the filling:
3 eggs
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
grated zest from 2 large lemons
juice of 2 large lemons
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 g) chilled butter, cut in pieces

Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, almond meal and lavender in a food processor or mini processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of 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, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel colors and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, 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 almond meal mixture in three 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 a Wilton #8 tip or another kind of your preference. Pipe rounds of the batter.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. Ina 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 330 F (170 C/gas mark 3). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the filling: Beat together the eggs and the sugar with a Kitchen Aid type mixer on high-speed. Try to get the butter to double in volume by beating. Transfer to a saucepan and add the lemon zest and juice. Stir until it thickens slightly and all liquid is incorporated.  Pour the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool in the fridge.

Once the lemon mixture is cold, put back into the bowl of the mixer, and beat with the wire whisk for a couple of minutes. Start adding the pieces of chilled butter, whipping until incorporated.  The mixture is now ready to be used to fill the shells.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of filling to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.  Ideally, store in the fridge for 24 hours before savoring them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I made this batch before my dear niece Raquel sent me the macaron Silpat that I showcased in the Black Sesame Macarons post. The mat does make it a lot easier to get baking, as there’s no need to draw circles in parchment. Place the silpat over the baking sheet and off you are to a good start.  The lemon buttercream turned out very good to balance the sweetness of the shells. If you’d like to make it even easier, get some lemon curd from the store, but I imagine the texture is not as pleasing as homemade buttercream.

I must say that now I am not sure what I enjoy more, baking bread or macarons. They can easily turn into a bit of an obsession. And when you are obsessed, you tend to order special cookbooks. Such as….

order from amazon with a click here
(side note: I am not affiliated to amazon.com)

This is a more advanced macaron book. Can you imagine little macaron horses? I am not ready to face fancy shapes yet, but it’s fun to dream… It all starts with a dream, you know…

😉

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ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Buckle

TWO YEARS AGO: Seafood Gratin

THREE YEARS AGO: Black Bean and Pepper Jack Burger

FOUR YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sesame Sandwich Loaf

FIVE YEARS AGO: Border Grill Margaritas

SIX YEARS AGO: Goodbye L.A.

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Vermont Sourdough

 

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FIRST MONDAY FAVORITE: MAY 2017

Could someone tell 2017 that it is NOT a race to get to December?
Thanks.

Anyway, today is the First Monday of the month, so it’s time to showcase my favorite post of April. Easy job for me, very very easy, I do have a favorite, and it should not come as a surprise.

BLACK SESAME MACARONS!

Loved to design them, loved to make them, loved to share them with our departmental colleagues.  If you’d like to see the full recipe, click here

Thank you Sid, for organizing the First Monday Favorite!  
If you are a food blogger and would like to participate, drop Sid a line.

To see the contributions from my virtual friends, click on the link below

(comments are shutdown for this post)

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BLACK SESAME MACARONS

My macaron obsession goes on and on. I would love to bake a batch each weekend, but must keep in mind that even the most understanding departmental colleagues might say enough is enough. Plus, if I only make macarons…  brownies, cakes, and cookies will get jealous. So here I am to share with you a batch I am quite proud of: Black Sesame Macarons. Because, although I’m addicted to colors, we all know that black is beautiful…

 

BLACK SESAME MACARONS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for the shells:
198 g powdered sugar
100 g almond meal
15 g black sesame powder (or you can grind black sesame seeds to a powder)
113 g egg whites (aged for three days)
1 g or a pinch of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
Black Gel color  (about 1/2 teaspoon, add 1/4 to start and adjust as you mix)
for the filling:
8oz (227g) cream cheese
⅔ cup (134g) brown sugar
1 tsp (5g) vanilla extract
½ cup (122g) heavy whipping cream

Line 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, almond meal and black sesame powder in a food processor or mini processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 15 seconds. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and pinch of 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, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme. Add the gel color and the vanilla. Staying at medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the almond meal mixture in three 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 one of the tips listed above. Pipe on the prepared baking sheets.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter. Then fist bump each end of the sheet’s underside twice. 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 330 F (170 C). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide, then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. The macarons should release without sticking. Check one or two. If they stick, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Make the filling:Whip the cream in a clean bowl till stiff peaks. In another bowl, whip the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract.   Gently fold in the whipped cream into the bowl until well combined. Reserve.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of filling to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.  Ideally, store in the fridge for 24 hours before digging in…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 

Comments:  I am definitely not the first person to bake black macarons. A quick google expedition will show you a few other examples. Some recipes go to extent of using exclusively powdered sesame seeds as you would use almond meal for the shells. I did not want to do that, fearing that the change would be too much of a departure from the classic. So I used a small amount of black sesame powder (15 g in 115 g total seed/nut component). We could definitely taste it in the final product and I thought it was just right. More could have been overpowering.  My intention was to use a white chocolate filling, but I ran into problems and my filling never set enough to use. White chocolate is a temperamental creature. So I quickly whipped up (literally) a vanilla cream cheese filling and used it instead. It complemented well the sesame flavor of the shells, and the slight hint of caramel color given by the brown sugar looked good with the black surrounding it.

I was very happy with the way these turned out. Not a single shell cracked during baking, and the surface was for the most part pretty smooth. Beautiful, well-formed feet, and the black food coloring rose to the challenge. I am almost to the point of trying the Italian  meringue method, but want to tackle this simpler version a few more times. You know, build confidence first before facing the combination of hot syrup with egg whites.

 

I have yet another macaron post for you, shockingly green…  Stay tuned!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Fine Tuning Thomas Keller

TWO YEARS AGO: Cauliflower Tortillas

THREE YEARS AGO: Majestic Sedona, Take Two

FOUR YEARS AGO: Secret Ingredient Turkey Meatballs

FIVE YEARS AGO: Swedish Meatballs and Egg Noodles

SIX YEARS AGO: Italian Easter Pie

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Black Olive Bialy

DAN LEPARD TIMES THREE

Dan Lepard is the person who many years ago started my bread baking adventures through his fascinating book The Handmade Loaf. I even named my sourdough starter “Dan” and he is now a healthy and bubbly 8-year-old boy. Dan is better known as a bread baker, but his talent goes way beyond that, as you can see in his book Short and Sweet, which I reviewed five years ago. He often writes articles in The Guardian and in Goodfood (an Australian online publication) and I try not to miss anything new coming from him.  Today I share three wonderful recipes, one published in Short and Sweet (but shared by Dan in The Guardian) and two from Goodfood. Dan prefers not to have his recipes published in food blogs, so respecting his wishes, I will only share the links. You can fetch them easily and make them in the comfort of your kitchen…

First, a batch of brownies that could very well be my favorite brownie recipe ever.  Very sophisticated and complex, even those with issues against brownies will be awed by Dan’s take on it.  Figs and chocolate are a great match, but add a little red wine and you’ll hit a jackpot.  Make them. You must.

SHIRAZ FIG BROWNIES

First you reduce Shiraz on the stove top until it is a concentrated purple-reddish beauty that smells wonderful… then you add to it chocolate, butter, walnut halves and dried figs. By the way,  get the best quality figs you can find for these brownies. Also, make sure to keep the walnuts in large pieces, don’t go dicing them.  The texture of the figs, the gooey chocolate and a slight touch of fennel seeds make this recipe shine! A real masterpiece in brownie format.

for the full recipe, click here

 

Tell me, don’t you wish you could have a piece like RIGHT NOW?

 


Next, let’s talk Chestnut Ginger Biscuits. I adore ginger and anything sweet with spices, but normally have a bit of a problem with crispy cookies. I am definitely a soft-baked kind of girl. Sorry, odd phrase. Anyway, these cookies are basically dressed-up gingersnaps. They are crispy, they are hard, but once you bite into them, they melt in your mouth, and your senses are invaded with the warmth of ginger and cloves. Spectacular. Make them. You must. 

CHESTNUT GINGER BISCUITS

The recipe uses chestnut flour, an ingredient that might be a little tricky to find, but you can order it online. Smells amazing, actually. As usual for nut flours, keep it in the freezer. The preparation is actually quite simple, a one-bowl type of thing. Melt the butter, add the spices, get all happy with the intense smell as you mix the dough, that must sit in the fridge for a little while before scooping little balls and rolling in coarse sugar.  They are fun to make, fun to watch as they bake and get all cracked, and fun to share with co-workers. On a side note, I baked mine for only 18 minutes instead of 25 as called for in the recipe, and they turned out perfect.  As soon as they started to collapse a little, I removed them from the oven.

for the full recipe, click here

Finally, let me share a special bread. It is not a Johnny Depp-like loaf. No, definitely not eye-candy. It is black, with a tight crumb, quite humble looking. But when you taste it, you realize you are in front of bread royalty. Believe it or not, I made it in December 2014 and never blogged about it, hoping to make it again and perhaps get better pictures. I have good intentions, but they don’t always materialize. Oh, well. Make this bread. You must.

 

RUSSIAN BLACK BREAD

Very interesting preparation, rye flour is added to boiling water, then allowed to cool to lukewarm.  Yeast and sugar are added.  At that point, I realized I was out of an important ingredient to continue with the recipe (caraway seeds!) so I dashed to the grocery store, and returned to find quite a bit of a mess over my counter.  On the positive side,  at least I could be sure the yeast was alive and kicking.  Or, should I say, bubbling?  Another interesting twist in the recipe is the addition of grated carrots to the dough. All in all, a very straightforward bake, the bread will be ready in less than 3 hours start to finish.

 

 

for the full recipe, click here

As I mentioned, I baked this bread back in December 2014, when two very special friends (Marijo and Vlad) visited us. I knew that Vlad grew up in Russia enjoying dark rye breads, and decided to try and bake one for him.  Of course, I trust any recipe designed by Dan, and this one hit the spot. Vlad said that my bread took him straight to his childhood and teenage days. I cannot think of a better compliment…

Bumper sticker from Penzey’s, a company I’ve been a customer for 15 years. They are taking a firm stance on a message of inclusion, of embracing diversity and refusing hate and division.  On top of it, their spices rock!  Visit and support their online store with a click here.

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Turkey Portobello Burger

TWO YEARS AGO: Raspberry Ricotta Cake

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, April 2014

FOUR YEARS AGO: Whole-Wheat Pasta with Lemony Tomatoes and Spinach

FIVE YEARS AGO: Blood Orange Duck: A work in progress

SIX YEARS AGO: Grilled Mahi-mahi with citrus marinade

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Memories of Pastéis (and my Dad)

THE SIREN’S SONG OF THE ROYAL ICING

Life can take sharp twists. Sometimes you’re sailing smoothly, one careless decision later and hell breaks loose. Last month I watched a youtube of a baker working on Valentine cookies with  royal icing.  Picture beautiful heart-shaped cookies, all pink, decorated with perfectly round white dots, red hearts. red lips. It was amazing, truly awe-inducing. You too can watch it here.  I showed her video to Phil, he got all excited and urged me to do it. C’mon, it’s just some sugar cookies with icing, you can do it!  I was quite insecure about it, but after intense inner deliberations, decided to go for it. Next, I laid a plan of action for the task. Make cookie dough Sunday before noon. Let dough cool in the fridge while having lunch.  Bake cookies.  Do a quick stop by the lab while cookies cool. Come back home, make the icing. Let the artistic vibes flow free. Take perfectly iced cookies to the department next morning.

All steps went according to plan up to the “come back home.”   That innocent video was indeed the perfect example of a siren’s call. A beautiful, irresistible song that you simply must follow. To your demise. Royal icing. Not. For. Sissies.

Valentine Cookies2

HEART-SHAPED SUGAR COOKIES WITH ROYAL ICING
(cookies from Mom Advice …. and icing from Karen’s Kitchen Stories)

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces & softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Whisk the flour, sugar, & salt together in a large bowl. Beat the butter into the flour mixture, one piece at a time using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, then continue to beat until the mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the cream cheese & vanilla until he dough just begins to form large clumps, about thirty seconds.

Knead the dough in the large bowl by hand a few times until it forms a large, cohesive mass. Turn the dough out onto a clean counter, divide it in half, and pat each into a disk shape. Wrap the disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, about 30 minutes.

Work with one disk at a time, roll out the dough to a 1/8″ thickness between two sheets of parchment paper.  Cut out shapes using cookie cutters and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 1″ apart. Bake the cookies until light golden brown, about ten minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely, about thirty minutes. When completely cooled, the cookies will be ready for icing.

Make sure you are well rested. Think happy thoughts before proceeding.

ROYAL ICING

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp meringue powder
5 tbsp water, plus more to thin the icing
Gel food coloring
endless amount of Zen

Call Happy Maids and set an appointment for home cleaning.

Place the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water into a bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment on medium low for about 7 to 10 minutes, until the mixture looks matte. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container.

At this point, the mixture is too thick to pipe. Add more water by tablespoon to the mixture, stirring thoroughly between additions, until it is at a consistency that can be piped. Add any coloring you might be using. If you are using more than one color, divide the mixture among airtight containers before adding the color. In my case, I used some pink gel to turn the mixture pink for piping and flooding, and red gel  for the decorations.

Place the flooding icing into plastic squeeze condiment bottle. Line the outer edge of each cookie with icing, allow it to set for about one hour. One cookie at a time, squeeze some of the icing in the center and spread it with a toothpick to the edges. Dot a contrasting color onto the icing with more icing of the same consistency. Drag a toothpick through the dots to create “artsy” hearts. Let the icing dry for about 3 hours.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Valentine Cookies3

Beware, long saga ahead…

The sugar cookies worked like a charm, I highly recommend the recipe and the method of rolling the dough in between two sheets of parchment paper.  I think I overbaked mine slightly, but other than that, no problems. Best part? Absolutely no mess in the kitchen. Considering the state of my environment once I was done decorating the cookies, it was a blessing to have to wash only once the floor, walls, countertops and a dog.

The Royal Icing. That’s when things got dicey, and they got dicey fast. After sifting the powdered sugar (boy, that thing flies through the air like nobody’s business), adding the meringue powder and the water, I turned the KA on and walked away since it would be doing its magic for several minutes. It did not take long for the machine to make odd noises, as if badly struggling to move the paddle around.  To my horror, I saw this huge white rock inside the bowl, no wonder the poor machine was having a tough time.  I turned it off  to lower the bowl, but the rock was bonded as a single happy entity with the paddle. Hyperventilating, I gave up on the hammer and instead turned the KA back on while drizzling cold water around the bowl. Much to my relief, that worked, and the rock slowly turned into a very thick paste.  It was hard to judge how much water to add for proper consistency, but at least I had averted tragedy number one.  Next, it was time to divide the icing in two batches: a bigger portion to be dyed pink, a smaller for red. I eyeballed the icing into two bowls, added pink gel, mixed very well, then tried to pour it into a squeeze bottle, only to realize that the bottle had a sadistically narrow opening. A funnel was desperately needed. We have many in the lab, none at home. Bummer. I filled the bottle with a small spoon, in a tedious and messy process. Not exactly my idea of fun, but… the afternoon was young, and I had already overcome two tragedies.

The_Mermaid_and_the_Satyr

Ferdinand Leeke, 1917-  via Wikimedia

I proceeded to dye the second batch. adding what seemed like a lot of red gel to get it right. Then I placed the Wilton tip #2 (as recommended in the youtube) inside a disposable plastic pastry bag. Opened the bag around my hand like I see the pros doing, but adding the icing to the bag was a nightmare. It simply would not slip down the bag like it does on TV. I suspect they use special effects, cheaters! At that point I was dealing with a bowl of red icing over the counter, a spoon on my right hand, and a pastry bag in precariously open situation on my left hand.  Some help would have been nice, but the man I married  had decided to go play golf the moment I grabbed the box of powdered sugar. Mind you, it was 50 F outside, with gusty winds. He told me I would need peace and quiet to ice the cookies, and it was best if he left. I married Gandhi. Can you grasp the full irony of it? The golfer was the one cheerleading me into this royal pain!

PicMonkey Collage

But Thelxiepeia was not done singing yet. The pink icing apparently got too hard and refused to flow down the squeeze bottle. Hyperventilation back in full blast, I added water to the bottle and stirred it as well as I could with a wooden chopstick.  Disaster number three averted. Flooded the first cookie with pink icing, completely forgetting Karen’s instruction to pipe a border and let it set. Grabbed the bag with the red icing. I decided to start humble and do just a few round dots. Almost nothing came out from the tip. A lot leaked from the top, and then from the spot between tip and bag, as the bag teared right in front of my eyes. I will now pause and give you a moment to imagine the scene. Christmas Red Icing pretty much all over my hands, sweater sleeves, and the vicinity of the cookie. I concluded that the number 2 tip requires an experienced pair of hands to maneuver it. I had another tip with a slightly larger opening, so all I had to do was to transfer the icing to a new bag with the larger tip. “All I had to do” sounds pretty tame in comparison to what it involved. I make another pause so that you can imagine the process as it developed in the Bewitching Kitchen. One thought briefly crossed my mind… you should be wearing gloves... but that train had long left the station.  It was a royal mess, which probably explains the choice of name for the icing. Some patissier with a sick sense of humor, no doubt. After that disaster was averted (sort of),  I was pretty much spent. Emotionally drained, with shockingly pink-red hands in a kitchen that looked like a crime scene.  I took a deep breath and started the process of icing twenty-seven sugar cookies, one by one. It is a lot harder than the video makes it seem, trust me on that. By cookie number 23 I felt I was getting the hang of it, but lost the touch at cookie 25. Such is life.

icedcookies

Just to illustrate the extent of my saga… my hands four hours later, after a few rounds of soap and hot water (sigh).

stain2

The verdict?  The cookies tasted great, and were well received by our colleagues, even if they would not win prizes in a beauty contest (the cookies, not the colleagues). I was so traumatized by the process that the idea of icing cookies again made me physically ill.  But now that a few days have gone by, I feel the need to re-visit the issue, knowing what to expect.  I won’t overbake the cookies. I will wear gloves. I will stick with squeeze bottles as Karen did, and bag the icing bags (pun intended). I will use the needle tool the way it was meant to be used (enough said on that).  And I will never ever allow a new siren song to work its magic. No doubt in my  mind, that woman is some type of a goddess. My bets are on Aphrodite.

Medusa_head_by_Gianlorenzo_Bernini_in_Musei_capitolini

I thought French macarons were tricky, but icing these cookies was like facing Medusa’s head. It’s a good thing that in the end of that evening, Dionysus came to my rescue…

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Blog-worthy Roasted Butternut Squash

TWO YEARS AGO: Chocolate Currant Sourdough Loaf & Roasted Beet Hummus

THREE YEARS AGO: Sesame and Flax Seed Sourdough

FOUR YEARS AGO: Spanakopita Meatballs

FIVE YEARS AGO: Saturday Morning Scones

SIX YEARS AGO: Pain de Mie au Levain