Friday, April 29, 2011

Macarons and my French Baking Class

As I told y'all my husband and I went to Europe last month, while in Paris I talked him into taking a French Macaron Class. It was amazing, we went through the company La Cuisine, which is located right near Notre Dame and the classes are in French or English! Next time we are back in Paris, I absolutely plan to take another class here.

I had been wanting to make French macarons since I first spotted them on Tartelette, but was of course intimidated by the precise measurements and perfection that the little cookie called for. After taking this class, I feel like a pro already and my first batch at home came out amazing, all thanks to the wonderful tips from the class!

In the class we made chocolate and pistachio macarons, each have their own cookie recipe and garnish recipe. At home, I made a plain cookie with a chocolate ganache center.

So first off I want to share the recipe, then I'll go over all the tips needed throughout the recipe to make that perfect French macaron!

French Macarons

300 grams ground almonds or almond flour, sifted
300 grams confectioners' sugar, sifted
110 grams egg whites, few days old and room temperature
food coloring
300 grams granulated sugar
75 grams water
110 grams egg whites, few days old and room temperature

150 grams heavy whipping cream
150 grams bittersweet chocolate (64% cocoa), chopped
53 grams butter, cubed and at room temperature

Preheat oven to 330 degrees F (between 160 and 170 degrees C). Line a few baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper, set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the sifted ground almonds and confectioners sugar. Add in 110 grams of egg whites and food coloring, mixture will be paste-like, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, fitted with the whisk attachment pour the remaining 110 grams of egg whites, do not mix yet, but set aside. In a medium saucepan combine water and granulated sugar over medium heat. You will want to bring the sugar-water mixture to boiling, but when the mixture reaches 110 degrees C, start whisking the eggs whites you set aside earlier. Once the mixture reaches 118 degrees C slowly pour the mixture into the bowl of whisking egg whites, do not stop whisking during this time. Continue whisking the meringue till the mixture is no longer hot, about 50 degrees C, and forms a shiny white stiff peak. Begin folding a small amount of the meringue mixture into the almond-sugar mixture set aside previously. Blend only until all white streaks have disappeared. Pour the mixture into a large pastry bag fitted with a 10mm tip, I used a Wilton 1A tip.

Using the filled pastry bag, form 3 cm diameter circles ( a little larger than an inch) on the prepared pans. Do not make too large, as the mixture will spread. Once each pan is filled with cookies, let rest for at least 30 minutes prior to baking. Bake each tray for 12-15 minutes, rotating in the oven half way through if baking multiple trays at a time. The cookies will be done if you touch the top of the cookie and it gentles wiggles. Let cookies cool completely on sheet and remove, cookies will come off easily if they have been cooked long enough.

For the ganache, in a medium bowl pour chopped chocolate and set aside. Bring the whipping cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once whipping cream is boiling, in a small amount pour over chopped chocolate. After each addition, whisk the chocolate starting in the center of the bowl until completely incorporated. Once all whipping cream is incorporated into the mixture, add in the chopped butter and whisk till smooth. Let ganache cool and pour into pastry bag fitted with a 10mm tip. Set bag aside or chill until the ganache is workable.

Pair cookies based on size and squeeze a good amount of ganache onto one cookie. Gently press cookies together till ganache moves to the edge of the cookie, do not twist.

For the food coloring addition, you can use either dry or liquid. I used 10 drops of red liquid food coloring to obtain this pastel pink color. You do not want to use more than one tablespoon of coloring total.

An absolute must to make this cookie, is a food scale. There is no way around getting the precise measurements without it.

Sifting is key, you want to make sure and sift the confectioners' sugar AND the almond flour. Our instructor told us that some double or triple sift their sugar.

The egg whites can go either way, extremely fresh (like you live on a farm) or a few days old. As most of you probably don't live on a farm, crack your eggs a few days in advance and chill the egg whites together. When you are ready to make your macarons, bring the egg whites to room temperature before using. It is estimated that a large egg white is equal to 30 grams. So for 220 grams of egg whites, I separated eight eggs earlier in the week, which was a good estimate as I only had a little leftover after measuring. Think that's a lot of yolks to waste? Nope, I used the yolks to make a custard!

In this recipe you prepare what is called an Italian meringue, made by boiling sugar water and whipping it into egg whites. Although this cookie is french, the Italian meringue is preferred over the French version, simply whisking sugar into egg whites, as it can often leave a grainy sugar taste in the cookie.

If you live in a humid location, as I do in Houston, you can remove a small amount of water from the sugar water mixture. I removed one tablespoon prior to boiling.

For the ganache, you want to use a heavy cream that is at least 30% milk fat, the higher the better. When pouring the simmering heavy cream into chopped bittersweet chocolate, you want to use a fast whisking motion in the center of bowl. As you pour more heavy cream in, continue stirring in the center of the bowl, slowly working your way out and scrapping the sides of the bowl. This motion of stirring in the center of the bowl gives your ganache that beautiful shine.

Here is a picture of two cookies, the one of the right was baked on a silicone mat, while the left cookie was baked on parchment paper. The cookies taste the exact same, but if you want to make it easy to get the cookies off the pan and if you are a slight perfectionist... then use a silicone mat!

Also, if you haven't checked out Baking and Cooking, A Tale of Two Loves I will be participating in her online Bake Sale on May 2nd benefiting the American Cancer Society, so go make a bid!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Crab Cake Sliders

I know by now everyone is done with the fish is something to spruce up your next Friday night...or any night!

Crab cakes have been on my kitchen to-do list for quite some time and I finally made it happen and these were delicious! I paired them with a lemon-dill mayonnaise sauce and some sweet Hawaiian rolls and it was a delicious dinner.

Crab Cake Sliders

Crab Cakes:
1 pound crab meat, free of shells
2/3 cup crushed ritz crackers
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
flour for coating
extra-virgin olive oil for frying

Lemon-Dill Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp dill leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
Lettuce, Tomato, Onion...

To prepare the crab cakes, line a flat surface (baking sheet) with paper towels and set aside. in a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the crab meat, flour, and olive oil. Gently mix in the crab meat and form mixture into small patties. Place formed patties onto prepared surface and chill for one hour. In a large saucepan over medium heat, line the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of olive oil. Once patties have been chilled, coat both sides of patty with flour and place into hot oil. Cook crab cake for 4 minutes on each side or until slightly browned.

To prepare the sauce, combine all ingredients and chill for one hour or until serving. Sauce will thicken as it chills.

Cut Hawaiian sweet rolls and fill with warm crab cake, lemon-dill sauce, and any additional toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion).

This recipe was adapted from the queen of butter, Ms Paula Deen.

If you are wondering what type of crab meat to buy, I read this great article that explained the grades of crab meats. For crab cakes, it is recommended to buy Special or Super Lump, which is the white meat of the crab's body. Another helpful hint, always add you crab meat last in a recipe as it is rather fragile.

Just to share, my puppy was being extra cute during my photo can you resist those beautiful brown eyes?!

Happy Baking!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boston Irish Cream Pie

Inspired by Bobby Flay's recent Boston Cream Pie Throwdown I decided to make a Boston "Irish Cream" Pie for my hubby's birthday this weekend.

He asked for the same thing that I made last year, Chocolate Stout and Irish Cream Cupcakes, but how could I do the SAME thing again?!

Now, if you are wondering why the cake is all lumpy...well the inspiration was from Bobby Flay's competitor, Eunice Feller of Bread and Chocolate in Boston, MA. Instead of layering her Boston Cream Pie, she carves out the center of the cake and fills it with pastry cream, then tops it with the squared pieces of the hollowed out portion of cake. Pic here.

So, this was my attempt and it was most successful until the ganache set too much and it didn't exactly flow over the cake pieces, but more globbed everywhere.

Well they can't all look perfect, but they sure can taste like it!

Boston "Irish Cream" Pie

1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp whole milk
2 tbsp butter, softened
5 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pastry Cream:
1 and 1/4 cup half and half
3/4 cup irish cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp butter, cold and cut into pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup irish cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

To prepare the cake,  preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8x3 inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper. In a small bowl sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the butter and milk. Stir occasionally till the butter is melted and set aside.  Separate three egg whites into a large mixing bowl and combine the three egg yolks with the remaining two eggs in a separate small bowl, set aside. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low until foamy. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add 6 tablespoons of sugar, one at a time. Continue mixing till shiny, soft peaks form. Move the egg white/sugar mixture to a new bowl. Now beat the egg yolks using the whisk attachment on medium speed adding the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, one at a time. Beat until the egg yolk mixture is very thick and a pale yellow color, about five minutes.

Combine the beaten egg whites with the beaten egg yolks, gently fold in the flour mixture. Once flour is no longer visible, pour melted butter mixture down one side of the bowl. Gently mix the batter till all butter is incorporated. Pour batter into prepared 8x3 pan and bake till cake is springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Immediately upon removing pan from oven, run a knife along the sides to loosen the cake. Let cool in pan for five minutes, then flip cake rounded side up onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

To prepare the pastry cream, combine the half and half with the irish cream, 6 tablespoons of sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Over medium heat bring mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. In the mean time, combine egg yolks with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and whisk till sugar has dissolved, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch, just until incorporated and mixture is a pale yellow, about 30 seconds. Return to cream mixture, once it has reached a simmer, slowly add to the prepared egg yolk mixture while whisking. Return entire mixture to saucepan over medium heat, while constantly whisking until it begins to simmer and mixture is thick and glossy. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve, pushing with a spatula moves it along faster, into a medium bowl. Cover pastry cream on surface and the bowl rim with plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of three hours, preferable overnight.

To prepare the ganache, combine heavy cream, irish cream, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, stirring occasionally, bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour the cream mixture over a bowl of the chopped chocolate, whisking constantly until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream mixture. Let ganache cool slightly, stirring occasionally.

To prepare the cake, using a small knife, hollow out the top of the cake leaving a one-inch thick rim. Cut the trimmed cake into big chunks and set aside. Spoon the prepared pastry cream into the hollowed out cake and pile the chunked pieces on top. While the ganache is still warm, pour over the top of the cake and let pour down the sides. Let the cake rest for a few hours prior to serving.

As you can see, this cake is not a one day event. I split my preparations over three days not to overload myself and it worked out great. I was so excited when the pastry cream set properly! The first time I tried to make it, I wasn't watching the stove properly and my irish cream boiled over the top making a mess all over the kitchen. A trip to the liquor store later, I tried again following BrownEyedBaker's tutorial on how to make pastry cream and it worked!

I adapted the recipe from Annie's version of the Boston Creme Pie.

Also, I don't know how many urban adventure racers are out there, but for my hubbie's birthday we participated in the Great Urban Race in Houston and it was a total blast. The race goes to cities all across the US and offers some friendly family competition, so if you haven't heard about it yet, check it out! You can read all about it on my family blog:

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Where have I been?!

I feel like I need to completely re-introduce myself I have been gone so long!

So what's been keeping me so busy?

If you all remember the last Shuttle flight I told you about, well it is finally over and I got my real life back! It was such an amazing experience to be a lead planner for the flight, but I am so glad to move onto the next big project at work...and home.

I made some treats for my busy co-workers, including these super-cute mini Fluffernutter cupcakes...

I also made the hubbie some of Julia Child's famous Beef Bourguignon, he love love loved it!

After I got my life back from work, the hubby and I went to Europe for a few weeks on vacation! We had an amazing time eating and drinking all over Belgium, Germany, and France.

I also talked the hubbie into taking a macaron class with me in Paris, it was one of the best experiences on the entire trip and I cannot wait to share my real french pastry chef tips!

Right after I got back from Europe I headed home to St. Louis for a much needed visit with my mom and grandma!

While I was gone I missed my blog anniversary :-( We will just have to celebrate later! I also received a few awards from some of my favorite fellow bloggers. The Stylish Blogger Award from Becky at Baking and Cooking, A Tale of Two Loves who will be holding an online Bake Sale for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, go check her out! 

The One Lovely Blog Award and Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award from Toni at Boulder Locavore, who just posted on how to bake and assemble a real smoking volcano cake, go Toni!

Now I am back and in action. Lots of stuff going on at home this week...the Astros home opener AND my hubbie's birthday this weekend!

I also have my very first giveaway coming soon, something I cannot wait to share with you!
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