LAVENDER MACARONS WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE GANACHE

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Confession number one:
 I have a macaron obsession. Odd, because when I lived in Paris by myself I never touched a macaron. Then a few years later, when Phil and I went back together for a sabbatical, I got hooked. It is the type of  concoction with just the amount of sweetness I like, the different fillings are a feast for the taste buds, but what really gets me, as you might imagine: the colors. I have a soft spot for colors. All of them. You should see my wardrobe. 😉

Back to macarons. A few months ago our friend Gary – Patissier Extraordinaire –  brought to my attention a book by Pierre Hermé, called quite simply Macarons. Once I got it, I quickly realized that  much like his classic masterpiece Desserts, Macarons is not for the faint of heart. My first adventure with it was almost a complete disaster, save for a few pistachio macarons that would barely qualify as such. In the book he says to use a convection oven at 350F, and I guess that was too high, or my oven misbehaved. Hard to tell. All I know is that my beautiful bright green macarons turned brown in 2.5 seconds right in front of my eyes, as I happened to be staring through the oven door when the metamorphosis took place. You know, the one that took perfect macarons to ruined ones.  Of course, they did not turn homogeneously brown, but all blotchy, really unappetizing. Yes, there was considerable amount of profanity that afternoon, in three languages, although French was first.

After that dreadful weekend, serendipity hit big time. I got an email from Craftsy.com with a special offer for their online classes. One of them was Miniature French Desserts, which included – you guessed it – macarons! I read the reviews and everyone raved about it. I signed up, downloaded the class and here I am to share with you my first real nice experience with these finicky creatures! Plus, Colette Christian, the wonderful instructor, gave me permission to share the recipe with my readers. How cool is that?

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LAVENDER MACARONS WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE GANACHE
(slightly adapted from Craftsy.com, published with permission from Colette Christian)

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:
170 g white chocolate
85 g heavy cream
2 drops lavender extract

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. Check the peak. It should be firm. When you hold the beater up, the meringue should gently fall with and angle supporting the peak at the  with the angle supporting the peak at 11:30hs (easier to understand on the tutorial video). 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.

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: Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a rolling boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let stand for 15 seconds. Stir with a spatula until smooth. If the chocolate has not fully melted, place the bowl in a saucepan of steaming water (the heat should be off), and let stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Stir again until the chocolate is fully melted. Add the lavender extract.

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 before devouring them… or sharing with great friends!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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We’ve got feet!

Comments: I cannot tell you how much I loved this online class! Colette is personable, fun and a natural teacher.  The video perfectly timed so that you can actually make them in real-time together with her, pausing the video during baking, obviously. You can pause it, rewind it, save and watch it again and again. You’ll also get printed material with full recipes and variations.  Now, Colette is one super neat chef, because her kitchen ends up in the exact pristine condition as it was in the beginning. The same applies to her apron. I need to evolve into another type of human being to match her serenity and grace.

Her method is pretty straightforward.  For starters, she skips the sifting – and has a rationale for doing so. And she also prefers the simpler French meringue, again for reasons she states during class. I have to say that visualizing the macaron batter, and following her very careful explanation made all the difference. I concluded that in all my previous attempts I failed to mix the batter enough – that’s why many of my shells would crack and end up with a coarse texture, some hard chunks inside. If you have a deep desire to conquer macarons, her online video is a great option. I haven’t watched the other classes in the same video (Madeleines, Lemon Meringue Tartlets, and Opera Cake), but intend to do so in the near future. Madeleines have been on my list of goodies to make for… ever.  Or so it seems.

layersHer tip to add the dry ingredients in layers inside the food processor makes sure that things are incorporated smoothly. Macaron success is all in the small details and proper technique.  These had a very delicate lavender flavor. When you taste the white chocolate ganache – I know you will do it – try to stop after the second teaspoon, or you might run out of filling. Just saying…

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Colette also gives many tips to create your own flavors, it is amazing how versatile this cookie can be. As long as you respect simple rules to avoid messing up the basic formula, you’ll be fine. I would also like to invite you to take a tour of the blog Pizza Rossa. Rachael is very creative with her macarons, and came up with wonderful variations, including one that uses sesame seeds instead of almonds. She is inspiring me to spread my wings and try to fly a little higher.

I still want to try again the Italian meringue method because I am stubborn. There, I admitted it. And yes, that was confession number two. But Phil doesn’t need to know.

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ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Chocolate Truffles

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THE BEWITCHING KITCHEN TURNS FOUR!

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June 16th, 2013

My beloved blog turns 4  years old today! To celebrate, I assembled all the cake suggestions my readers offered two years ago, assigned numbers to each of them, and drew the winner cake. Celia’s suggestion was the lucky one, so I gathered all ingredients, took a deep breath and made her White Chocolate Bundt Cake to celebrate the occasion…

She wrote a great post about this cake, one that made the process almost pain-free to a person who hyperventilates with just a glimpse of a Bundt pan. Those crevices are evil. To make matters worse, the cake included that dreadful step of creaming sugar with butter.  But, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. I did not run away from it, kicking and screaming. Sometimes it is good to resist a first impulse.

WHITE CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE
(from Celia’s  blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial)

for the cake:
450g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
250g unsalted butter, softened
440g white sugar
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
5 large (59g) eggs, at room temperature
115g white chocolate, melted and still warm
250g thick Greek yoghurt
115g  white chocolate chunks or chips

for the topping (optional):
115g (4oz) white chocolate
65ml (¼ cup) heavy cream
115g (4oz) milk chocolate

Heat oven to 350F.   Spray a 12 cup bundt pan with oil.

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Slowly beat in the melted white chocolate. Scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour mixture to the butter in thirds, alternating with the Greek yoghurt. Beat for 45 seconds after each addition. You want to end with flour rather than yoghurt (improves the final texture of the batter). Place the batter in the pan in three layers, separating each layer with the white chocolate chips.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, but start checking after 45 minutes.   The top will be brown and a sharp thin knife inserted in the center will come out with a few crumbs on it. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then gently loosen around the edges before inverting onto a wire rack to allow the cake to finish cooling at room temperature.

Topping:  In a glass or ceramic bowl, heat the white chocolate with the cream until just melted. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then drizzle over the cake.  In a separate bowl, heat the milk chocolate in the microwave until just melted. Stir until smooth.  Drizzle over the cake.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Things went extremely well with this cake from making the batter to inverting the pan to reveal a perfect cake in all its gorgeous glory!
I was already thrilled because contrary to 99.5% of the cake recipes I’ve tried, this one actually produced enough batter to fill the pan to proper capacity.  Every other recipe leaves me wondering if my kitchen has some type of black hole that sucks cake batters and takes them to another dimension.  Now, this is a nice looking Bundt pan, ready to be baked.

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I baked the cake, allowed it to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, chronometer in hand, heart pounding fast. And voilá, when I inverted the pan, this is the vision I was rewarded with:

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Is this a thing of complete beauty or what?  I BAKED THAT!  I know, I know, unreal…   I did several victory laps around the kitchen island, then a few around the house. Oscar followed me, wagging his tail, Buck got scared and ran away to hide.  Chief?  He slept through the whole celebration, but I won’t take that personally. A 14-year old dog earned his right to sleep through anything!

Time to ice the cake. That’s when the road got a little bumpy.  I should have read Celia’s post more carefully. She added a note to say that the white chocolate ganache is usually too liquid, so she prefers to simply melt the pure white chocolate to drizzle on top.  Well, my ganache was so liquid it disappeared into the cake.  I also did not do a very good job with the dark chocolate drizzle, so in the end I covered the whole cake with powdered sugar on top of the drizzle for cosmetic reasons.  Over-kill? Maybe.  I do agree with Celia, though. This cake is so amazing, a simple dusting with powdered sugar is more than enough.  We took a platter to the department and everyone loved it!

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One thousand four-hundred and sixty-one days blogging.  Food blogging brings many wonderful things with it. First, the virtual connections made with readers and other bloggers. Too special for words.  Second, it provides a journal of our adventures: travels for work and/or pleasure,  a sabbatical with its nano-kitchen challenge, the move of our home and lab to Kansas.  Third, it is a valuable database of recipes we tried and enjoyed. I normally don’t blog on a recipe that didn’t work, unless I feel it’s worth re-visiting it.  Sometimes I like to pick a recipe at random from the index, and read about what was going on with us at the time. Were we in Los Angeles when I baked that? Was that post written during a dreadful ice storm in Oklahoma?  Was Pits, our beautiful dalmatian still hanging around in our kitchen, stealing butter and T-bone steaks from the countertop? Has it really been four years?  😉

A very wise and dear mentor, Leon Rosenberg once told me: “Memory fails. Keep a diary.  You will be glad you did”.  I am sure glad I started this site, the closest thing to a diary I can keep up with…

To my readers, followers, fellow food bloggers, friends in real and virtual life, thanks for stopping by and warming up this place with your presence!
Now, I invite you to join me as I start the fifth year of Bewitching Kitchen!

ONE YEAR AGO: The Bewitching Kitchen Turns Three!

TWO YEARS AGO:  The Bewitching Kitchen turns two!

THREE YEARS AGO:  Bewitching Birthday!

FOUR YEARS AGO: Welcome to my blog!

SECRET RECIPE CLUB: WHITE CHOCOLATE DIPPED COOKIES

My third assignment for the Secret Recipe Club!  When I clicked on my assigned blog – Kudos Kitchen by Renee – I melted on the spot:  the front page was a post composed by her three dogs  (Ivy, Nutmeg and Nell), and they had a lot to bark about!  😉

Renee is an artist (check her store at Etsy), and that alone leaves me in complete awe, because I cannot draw a tree to save my own life! In fact, back in middle school two things terrified me to the point of losing sleep: physical education and art classes.  I was absolutely horrible at both, and wanted to disappear from the planet when it was time to face them. Back to blogging.  I fell in love with Renee’s 4th of July cookies, and adapted them for a Christmas time motif, switching the colors to green and red.  And, since I’ve always wanted to make shortbread cookies, this was a perfect excuse to bake a batch.  Without further ado, and with apologies to Renee, here is my very first attempt at playing Jackson Pollock. You can understand why I was not very popular with the art teachers…   (sigh)

WHITE CHOCOLATE DIPPED COOKIES
(adapted from Kudos Kitchen by Renee)

for cookies
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt

for dipping cookies
1 + 1/2 packages white chocolate morsels
3 tablespoons Crisco, divided
1 tablespoon milk
red and green food coloring

In a large kitchen Aid type bowl, beat together the butter with the brown sugar until creamy. Add the flour, ground hazelnuts, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Beat until smooth.  Remove the dough from the bowl, form it into a log and wrap with plastic.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 325 F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. When the dough is firm enough to handle, remove 1 inch balls and shape as a cookie, flattening the surface. Alternatively, you can slice pieces straight from the log, 1/4 inch thick.   Smooth the surface and edges, and place on prepared cookie sheet.   Bake for 15 minutes on until set and very lightly browned on the bottom.  Remove from pan and place the cookies to cool on a rack. Before icing, place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Dipping the cookies: melt 1 cup of the chocolate chips and the 2 + 1/2 tablespoons of Crisco in your microwave.  Check on it often and stir it occasionally until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

Using a fork and working with one cookie at a time, dip each cookie, turning it over to coat both sides nicely with chocolate.  Place your dipped cookies on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Follow this step until all of the chocolate is used up.  This amount of chocolate will be enough to coat about 12 cookies.

With the remaining 1/2 cup of morsels, melt them in your microwave again, using 1/2 Tbs Crisco and  1 tablespoon of milk to keep the consistency thinner and better for drizzling.

In two separate small bowls, divide the chocolate and color them with the red and green food coloring. Drizzle the cookies with both colors of icing, using the tines of a fork dipped in water, or if you have the right skills, a little improvised piping bag made with parchment paper.

Place the cookies in the fridge until time to serve them.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

A few things I learned from this baking adventure…

1.  Run away from the small tubes of food coloring gel, because even if you squeeze the full tube of green gel in  1/4 cup of melted chocolate, the resulting icing will have a pale lime color. Go for the real McCoy, the type that you need to use a toothpick to grab the tiny amount that gets the job done.

2. White chocolate is not for sissies.   When Renee says to make sure the chocolate is fully melted and smooth, she knows what she’s talking about.  Lumps get together and seem to multiply at a fast rate.  Then, right before your eyes, the whole thing turns into a solid mess.

3. White chocolate is not for sissies. Melted chocolate, when smooth and fluid,  has a remarkable tendency  to splatter.  Certain types of dog fur catch droplets of icing with high efficiency, and don’t wash easily.

4. Have I mentioned that white chocolate is not for sissies?  Buy more than you think you’ll need. Have a cup of chamomile tea before icing your cookies.   You may need three shots of tequila after.

But it will all be worth it, these cookies were amazing!  You can play with the colors to match your favorite football team, or go real artistic and draw something over the white chocolate canvas, like red hearts for Valentine’s Day!  😉

Renee, it was great to get to know your blog, hope you had as much fun as I did with your assignment this month!

ONE YEAR AGO: Sourdough Focaccia, with a Twist

TWO YEARS AGO: Merry Christmas!

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