BEE HAPPY HONEY MACARONS

The year ended with macarons, the new year starts with them. French macarons launched me on the path of baking, so they will always have a very special place in my heart. But if you are a reader of my blog, you know that already. I wanted my first macarons of 2021 to be happy and uplifting. And sweet. Sweet as honey. Like life should be.

MANUKA HONEY & MASCARPONE MACARONS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, decoration inspired by Sugar and Cloth)

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

For filling:
30 g unsalted butter softened
60 g mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp manuka honey (or another intense honey)
185 g powdered sugar
1/8 tsp lime oil or extract

Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered/icing sugar and ground almonds/almond meal 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 food colors. 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 (round, ¼ or ½ inch in diameter or 6 – 12 mm). If you don’t have a macaron mat, draw circles on baking/parchment paper about 2inches/5cm in diameter & turn the paper over before placing on the baking sheets. 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. If making snowmen, make a template with two circles joined together to form head and body, and pipe each section. 

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 filling, use a hand-held electric mixer and whisk the butter and mascarpone cheese until creamy. Add the honey and lemon extract, whisk a minute longer. Add the powdered sugar, whisk in low-speed at first, the increase speed and whisk until creamy and smooth. If needed, add a very small amount of milk or heavy cream.

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.

Decorate with Royal icing bees if desired.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I must confess something. The filling was going to be slightly different: I wanted to make a buttercream or ganache with burnt honey. Recently one of my tent-baking friends made a cake and used it for the filling. Apparently the flavor is just amazing. But I got lazy. So I decided to part with a tablespoon of my Manuka honey because its flavor is so intense, it could (maybe) compensate for my laziness. And it really did. I love the way these macs turned out. The lemon extract cuts a bit through the sweetness, so don’t omit it.

The decoration requires a little time but is pretty simple. You will need a very small amount of Royal Icing dyed yellow-orange. Pipe small cylinders where you want each little bee to be (ooops, sorry about that). Let it set. Next, make the little dots to represent their flying path with a fine tip food pen. Use the same pen to draw antennas and wings. Please note that the antennas should go opposite to the end of the flying path (after a few bees it is easy to make a mistake). To make the black lines on the body, it is best to use a marker with a soft tip (like these), but if you don’t have one, let the bodies set for at least 4 hours and then go gently with a regular food pen. The surface is obviously very fragile. I am truly in love with these babies!

So there you have it, my first batch of macarons for the year 2021:

BEE HAPPY!

ONE YEAR AGO: Episode 7 of Great American Baking Show, Canapes, Opera Cake and Running out of Gas

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BRAZILIAN PAO DE MEL

In case you’ve missed my big announcement:
12 days to showtime!

Want to say it as a native? Pay attention to the nasal sound of PÃO… and repeat after me…

Pão de mel translates literally as “honey bread.” However, it is definitely not a bread, and honey might not be the first flavor that comes to mind once you take your first bite. I admit the name is misleading, but I am thrilled to share this recipe with you, because it is a real classic in my home country. It has flavors I adore (that ginger, spicy thing), enclosed in a nice chocolate shell. The ones I grew up with were a bit on the dense side. My family had no tradition of baking, so I only had pão de mel that you get in stores, wrapped in plastic for who knows how long. This version is so good, very soft, tender, sweet and spicy. I made two kinds, the traditional, covered with a shell of chocolate, and a little departure from the classic, in bundt shape. You decide which one you like best.

PÃO DE MEL
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from several sources)

1 egg
250mL whole milk
90 g  sugar
270 g honey
30 g butter, melted and cooled
240 g all purpose flour
7 g baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (Dutch process is fine)

for the filling;
dulce de leche (store bought or homemade)

for covering:
tempered bittersweet chocolate, about 500 g

Mix the egg with milk, sugar, honey and butter in a large bowl. Whisk well. In another bowl, stir in the remaining dry ingredients and sift them slowly over the egg mixture in three portions, stirring well after each addition until a smooth, homogeneous mixture is formed.  Place batter in fridge for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, turn the oven on at 360 F. If using non-stick mini cake pans, you don’t need to do anything. Otherwise grease and flour the pans lightly.  Ideally you need a 6 cm round tin (a bit less than 2.5 inches). Pour the batter halfway through the tin, do not fill more than half.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Unmold the still warm rolls and let them cool completely on a rack. Cut them in half and stuff each with the dulce de leche.

Temper chocolate and cover each little pao de mel.

Alternatively, bake the batter in mini bundt pans, fill the central hole with dulce de leche and decorate with a drizzle of tempered chocolate. Mini bundt pans will take slightly longer to bake. Cool them in the mold before unmolding.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you want to make your own dulce de leche, there are many methods to do so. Pressure cooker, slow oven, even the microwave. I opted for sous-vide and must say it was perfect. Simply pour the contents of 1 can of condensed milk into a bag, seal it and cook it at 185F for 12 to 16 hours. When the time is up, simply cut the bag and pour the contents into a container. Into the fridge ready for any dulce de leche emergency.

Homemade dulce de leche is a real treat, I highly recommend you give it a try, but of course, the canned product will work well too. Pão de mel can be frozen for a couple of months without the filling and chocolate covering. You can also simplify the process and skip the filling. The simplified version is actually more common to buy in Brazil. But normally, when people make them at home, they go the extra mile. A very sweet mile, if you ask me.

Which version was better, classic or mini-bundt? I honestly have a hard time deciding. The mini-bundt is a lot easier to make because once you un-mold the little cakes the hard work is done. You can conceivably even get by without tempering chocolate, just melting it gently and drizzling it all over. But of course, the traditional version is the one that brings fond memories of my past. It’s your turn now, make both and let me know what you think…

For those interested:  this is the pan I used to bake the cakes. I love it!

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CHOCOLATE TARTLETS WITH HONEY CARAMEL FILLING

Care to find out what’s my latest obsession? Afternoon Tea Cookbooks. Most are not available as Kindle books, so I tend to be very selective when inviting one into our home. Reviews must be absolutely stellar, and pictures must be included for most (if not all) recipes. One book that made the cut is Afternoon Tea At Home, by Will Torrent. It is absolutely wonderful. As I was browsing through its pages and trying to decide what to make first from it, I had this crazy idea and immediately acted on it. Handed the book to Phil and said “Here, pick a recipe, any recipe, and I’ll make it.”  I call that Self-Inflicted Technical Challenge. He needed less than 2 minutes. Of course, the recipe he chose involved a crust, a caramel filling, tempering chocolate, and using transfer sheets to decorate it. Me and my big mouth. When will I ever learn?

CHOCOLATE TARTLETS WITH HONEY CARAMEL FILLING
(adapted from Afternoon Tea at Home)

for the crust:
200g all-purpose flour
150g butter, cut in pieces, cold
90g powdered sugar
60g almond flour
20g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks

for the filling:
1 cup (320 g) honey
½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream

¼ cup (60 ml) sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup (85 g) corn syrup
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 

for the topping:
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon skimmed dry milk
100g tempered dark chocolate
12 sugar bees

Make the crust: Put the flour and butter in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer and mix until the butter gets into crumbs, coated by the flour. In a separate bowl mix the sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add this mixture to the butter/flour, mix on very low-speed to combine (you want to avoid developing gluten). When it is almost fully combined, add the egg yolks and again mix very gently.  Form a dough, flatten it, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut 12 rounds that will fit a muffin pan, coming all the way to the sides. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before blind-baking at 325 F.  I like to use plastic wrap to enclose rice or pie weights, it is safe to bake at this temperature, as long as the plastic does not touch the metal surface of the tin. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the weight, and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes. The tartlets must be fully baked, as no more cooking will take place.  Cool in the pan.

Make the filling: Combine the honey,  cream, condensed milk, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture reaches 240F. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Divide among fully blind baked shells and allow to cool to room temperature. 

Make the chocolate decoration. Temper the chocolate according to your favorite method. Spread over the transfer sheet (make sure to use the correct side of the sheet!), let it set for a few minutes, then stamp circles the exact size of the top of the tartlets. Once fully set, gently peel the chocolate off the transfer sheet. Marvel at the design, pat yourself on the back.

Make the whipped cream. Beat the heavy cream with sugar and powdered milk until it forms medium peaks, transfer to a piping bag with a simple round piping tip.

Assemble the tartlets. When the crusts are cold, fill them with the caramel, place in the fridge to speed cooling a bit. Once the surface is set, gently place the chocolate decoration on top. Pipe the whipped cream, and set a little sugar bee on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This recipe, originally called Beehive Tarts, comes from David Girard, Head Pastry Chef from The Dorchester. I kept the crust and the chocolate decorations, but changed the filling and the topping. The filling was a honey caramel thickened with gelatin, but I worried that it would not set up enough to be neatly sliced in half. Since I take my bakes to the department, I prefer to offer a larger number of small portions, so more colleagues can enjoy them.  For this reason, I used a caramel adapted from a recipe I made a couple of years ago.  As for the topping, in the book he uses lemon curd (it did give a nice yellow color very cute with the little bee sitting next to it), but I love the combination of chocolate, caramel and whipped cream. I stabilized the whipped cream with powdered milk, a trick I learned from Anna Olson. It does stabilize it very well and is super simple to do, but I prefer the taste of whipped cream stabilized with gelatin (I will talk about it in the very near future).

The chocolate disc decoration… Tempering chocolate is the number one culinary task that gives me hyperventilation. So many failures, it’s not even funny. Somehow this time things worked beautifully in the microwave/seeding method. Two basic changes in my approach: I grated the chocolate finely instead of keeping it in chunks, and used a microwave-safe plastic bowl instead of Pyrex, in very short cycles of heating, not more than 10 seconds at a time. I kept 1/4 of the chocolate grated at room temperature to use as “seed.”  Then I stirred, and stirred, and stirred some more, monitoring the temperature very carefully.  Once the chocolate was tempered, it was spread over the transfer sheet. I tried my best to do it as uniformly as possible.

At that point, I waited for the chocolate to start setting, but did not allow it to fully harden. You have a good window of several minutes to work, no need to panic. You could panic, of course, but it’s not mandatory. Then using a cookie cutter, I pressed into the chocolate, and lifted the disc. That is what I call a rookie’s mistake. If you use this technique, press the cookie cutter, forming the edges as sharply as possible, but do not lift the disc yet. Wait until it is fully set. That will ensure that the pattern will efficiently transfer. My first discs clearly showed some variability in the pattern, weak at some spots, well-defined in others. But for a first time, I am pretty happy with the way it turned out.  The sugar bees? I bought them from amazon.  If you have artistic inclinations, you could make some with fondant, or modeling chocolate. I cringe to imagine what my bees would look like if I attempted to make them from scratch. Rotten mangos? Pineapples after a wild boar stampede?  Neither option would look right.

But the heart of the matter is: can Sally bake without drama? Sometimes yes, but not always. After I took the photos for the post, I placed my cute tartlets in a tray to take them to the fridge, where they would sit until Monday morning. A very unfortunate bump of my hand on the shelf of the fridge, and they slid off the tray, one fell all the way to the floor, some tumbled inside the fridge… Can you feel the pain? At first I thought they were all ruined, but luckily enough most were ok after I shaved off a bit of broken crust  here and there. I had to discard a few bees that were messed up when they got shoved into a puddle of whipped cream. I also had to remove all the cream very carefully, clean the tops and decorate them again. The tartlet that fell to the floor? You can guess who swallowed it before I could do anything to prevent that from happening. Yes, there was chocolate. Yes, he was totally fine and quite pleased with that twist of canine fate.  Never a dull moment, folks. Never a dull moment.

The tartlets are quite decadent, the little bees have a melt in your mouth texture, not hard as rock sugar. I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously you can skip that component, without compromising the dessert. I just felt like going the extra mile, because the person who requested the recipe deserves only the best…

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