Wednesday, March 30, 2011

French Macaron Marathon (Part One)

I'm finally writing a post about one of the most coveted cookies in popular baking right now- the French Macaron. They're beautiful, colorful, versatile...and irritatingly hard to make.

The following recipes are for Strawberry Macarons with Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream filling and Apricot Macarons with Peach Champagne Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Apricot Macarons with Peach Champagne Buttercream Filling

Strawberry Macarons with Strawberry Buttercream Filling

There are multiple baking blogs written by talented bakers with really great advice about how to make a successful batch of these delicate cookies. There are SO many details to experiment with and master when making these cookies- how many times to sift the almond flour and confectioner's sugar, how long you age your egg whites, piping techniques, double lining baking pans or not, making sure you don't over mix or under mix the batter. And trust me, the list goes on...

Before attempting these lovelies, be cautioned that you will most likely be frustrated by how they turn out. They may not turn out how a macaron should look- they could crack, not develop a "foot," develop a lopsided "foot," or turn out different sizes and awkwardly shaped circles.

BUT- the good news is, even if your cookies don't turn out on the first or second, or even third or fourth try, you will learn A LOT. If you're the type of baker that feels like the "rules" don't apply to you, you're more likely to mess up the first time. And I can say that because I'll humbly admit that I fall into that category. I tend to arrogantly feel like I can change recipes at my leisure OR, worst, that I can take shortcuts without repercussions.

Here are some tips of my own that I've come to learn purely from past failed macaron attempts. I must say, I've been making some pretty good batches lately (including these that are featured), but I'm still working on my own techniques to improve the aesthetics of my macarons.

My tips:

1. Read some blogs

Sprinkle Bakes

David Lebovitz


2. Follow the Rules of the Almighty Patisserie Gods

Some of the steps sound ridiculous-
*Will aging my egg whites (overnight or for a few nights) really make a difference?
*Do I really need to sift my dry ingredients twice?
*Can I really over mix the batter by adding in one or two folds too many?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES. And I learned it the hard way...

3. Practice baking with the cheap stuff

I've never attempted making my own almond flour, but it's certainly possible. There are multiple cooking/baking blogs with tutorials. However, if you're planning to buy the almond flour, I would recommend starting with a cheaper, coarser brand and then moving on up to the expensive stuff. I used the Trader Joe's almond meal ($3.99/bag) in both of these macarons, which I think causes them to bake a little higher and not quite as elegant as they look when made with finer almond flour. Bob's Red Mill is much finer and higher quality and does not include any small pieces of dark shell. Now that I've baked multiple batches of macarons successfully in a row, I caved and bought the good stuff for my next macarons and post.

4. This is a repeat from #2, but it's so important, I'm repeating it- AGE YOUR EGG WHITES.
You must separate your eggs and place the egg whites in a covered container on your kitchen counterpart at least overnight and for up to a few days. If you don't age your whites, you will not get a foot. If you're still a novice macaron baker, set aside a few batches of egg whites for mess ups, that way you won't have to wait another day to make a second attempt.

5. Don't overmix your batter and don't overbeat your egg whites- you WILL end up with funky misshapen macarons, possibly with lopsided feet (or no feet) too.

6. Find a circular object with a 1.5 inch diameter. Trace Circles 1-inch apart on your parchment paper prior to baking, especially if you're completely spatially challenged like me. It makes for fool-proof same-sized cookies.

7. Make the cookie shells one day and refrigerate overnight. Fill and serve the next day. If you do not finish all of the cookies within a few days, they freeze very well in freezer bags lined with parchment paper.

8. Be patient. It's so rewarding when you're successful at making these cookies. They're NOT like baking other cookies, cupcakes, or cakes. They're far more tricky and technique-based.

For the Macarons (yield-about 32 cookie shells)(Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Online)
3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 tsp flavoring extract (I used 1 tsp apricot extract/1 tsp strawberry extract)
1 tsp food coloring

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Sift almond flour and confectioner's sugar 2 times. Set aside. Whisk egg whites on low-medium until foamy. Add a SMALL pinch of cream of tartar. Whisk on medium-high until whites are whipped and have soft peaks. Slowly add in 1/4 cup sugar and food coloring, continuously whisking until whites form stiff peaks. TIP: Whites should form a peak on the whisk attachment, but should not be whisked to the point that they are too stiff to fall off the whisk when tapped on the mixing bowl. Sift dry ingredients over egg whites in three parts- do not stir, but fold gently with a rubber spatula into egg whites. Continue folding batter until it "ribbons" off rubber spatula.

Scoop batter into a 14-16 inch pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. Pipe circles onto pre-drawn parchment paper lined baking sheets (make sure you're using the heaviest baking sheet possible to prevent cookies from cracking).

After piping, hit baking sheet on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Allow cookies to sit for 15-20 minutes before baking so that they form a protective "skin." This step also helps to avoid cracking.

I start baking my macarons at very low heat about 230 degrees- which I'm also convinced helps to prevent cracking. After they appear to be set and a foot begins forming, I increase the oven temperature to 250-275 degrees. Bake about 12-16 minutes, until you can lightly touch the cookie and it doesn't slide (the foot is stiff and baked through).

Be sure to experiment with temperatures to see what works best with your oven at home.

For the Filling:
Make a batch of vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. Separate in two parts.

For the fruit purees:
Peach puree
2-3 whole ripe peaches (skin removed) OR canned peach halves

Puree the peach using a blender set to "puree." Pour puree through fine mesh sieve into a small pot. Simmer on low heat on stove top until reduced to about half it's original volume. Put in freezer for quick cooling (or fridge overnight).

Strawberry puree
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries, thawed


For the Peach Champagne Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1/2 batch swiss meringue buttercream
3 tbsp peach puree (or more, as long as frosting doesn't become too thin)
1 tbsp reduced champagne (simmer 1/2 cup champagne until reduced to 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp champagne from bottle
Yellow and pink/red food coloring (add and mix in until desired color is reached)

For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1/2 batch swiss meringue buttercream
3 tbsp strawberry puree (or more, as long as frosting doesn't become too thin)
1 tsp strawberry extract
Pink food coloring (and mix until desired color is reached)

Pipe about 1 tsp filling onto a macaron shell. Carefully place another macaron shell onto the filled shell so that the cookie makes a sandwich.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

Ever since I spotted Anne Byrn's (i.e. The Cake Mix Doctor) recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes, I have really wanted to experiment with a homemade version.

My version is a homemade yellow cupcake filled with homemade chocolate chip cookie dough (the Nestle Tollhouse Recipe), topped with an eggless cookie dough swirled vanilla swiss meringue buttercream, a dollop of whipped cream, and a miniature chocolate chip cookie. There are many ways to decorate and present these delicious creations, but I chose to take inspiration from things like a kid's birthday party and ice cream sundaes.

In the spirit of Anne Byrn's wonderful recipes, I'm going to post two versions of the recipe: one, which is the simpler to make "doctored" version and the other which is the made from scratch version. Both are delicious, so take your pick!

For the (homemade) yellow cake cupcakes (makes 24+ cupcakes-you will have leftover batter!):
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

Sift flour, salt, and baking powder/soda together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar together until creamed. Mix in vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in dry ingredients and sour cream and milk in 3 parts, alternating between the wet and dry ingredients. Mix until well combined. Scrape sides of bowl and mix for a few seconds longer, but do not over mix batter. Stir in the chocolate chips last.

Fill each cupcake liner about 2/3 way full with batter. Place a piece of frozen cookie dough (with about 1-inch dimensions) on the top of each cupcake prior to baking. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cupcakes may sink a bit in the middle because of the weight of the cookie dough. Also, some may have cookie dough peek out (see picture) and some may not!

***For (altered) Cake Mix Doctor recipe:
Use 1 box yellow cake mix (without pudding) and DO NOT follow box recipe at all.
Combine cake mix with 1 stick unsalted butter, 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup cold water, 3 eggs, and 1 package dry instant pudding (mix in last).

For the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (for mini cookies and cupcake filling):
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

***I would recommend cutting the recipe in half, or be prepared to bake some extra cookies- you will have a lot of leftover dough.

Put cookie dough in a freezer bag. Shape with hands until it is shaped in a large square or rectangle with about 1/2 inch thickness. After dough has been in the freezer for at least a couple of hours, cut into 1-inch squares and place on each cupcake liner filled with batter.

Cake Mix Doctor Version
***Use your favorite "break and bake" version instead!

For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla

Simmer water in medium sized saucepan. Combine egg whites and sugar in large heat resistant mixing bowl and place mixing bowl inside of saucepan (DO NOT allow water to enter mixing bowl). Whisk continuously until sugar is fully dissolved and mixture is slightly foamy and bubbly (should register 160 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Place mixing bowl on stand mixer with whisk attachment. Beat on high for several minutes until mixture is thick and whipped, like meringue. Once mixture is fully cool, beat in butter one piece at time, mixing well after each addition. After all butter is added, switch to a paddle attachment and beat for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract and beat to combine.

Once frosting is done, create "eggless cookie dough" by using the Tollhouse recipe, sans eggs and WITH miniature chocolate chips. Add in additional flour bit by bit until the mixture is somewhat crumbly and able to clump together. Pour cookie dough pieces in frosting and stir in with rubber spatula or spoon.

Frost cupcakes as desired, once cooled.

TIP Be sure to use miniature chocolate chips in the frosting ESPECIALLY if you plan to pipe the frosting on. I wasn't thinking and used regular sized chips, so I had to spread my frosting on each cupcake instead.

"Doctored" whipped cream frosting:
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
cookie dough pieces (use homemade cookie dough, pre-made dough that uses pasteurized eggs, OR even sprinkle "Cookie Dough" Candy onto the top of each frosted cupcake).

Pour whipping cream into mixing bowl and whip on high with whisk attachment until it is thick and fluffy. While mixer is still running, slowly add in the sugar bit by bit. Lastly, remove bowl from mixer and stir in cookie dough, OR pipe directly on cupcake and top with cookie dough pieces.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Snake Bite" Cupcake with Harp and Wyder's Pear Cider

I consider myself to be somewhat of a wine connoisour, but not at all someone with a refined palate for beer. I pretty much only like lagers and I definitely prefer my beer with some sort of fruit infusion (i.e. Shocktop Tangerine, Pyramid Audacious Apricot, etc). This is exactly the reason why I was inspired to create a "snake bite" cupcake for St. Patrick's Day, inspired by the Yard House version of the drink. While a traditional "snake bite" consists of half Guinness and half Pear Cider, The Yard House version uses Harp (an Irish lager), instead of Guinness, and Pear Cider. Since I wanted to make a yellow cake for the snake bite cupcake, Harp worked well for my purposes. Plus, I figured it was a fun way to pay unique homage to a more traditional Guinness chocolate cupcake.

The entire recipe I used is adapted from a champagne cupcake created by Sprinkle Bakes (my favorite dessert blog to date).

For the cupcakes: (Makes 15-17 cupcakes)

1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Harp
1/4 cup Wydmer's Pear Cider

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside. in a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup champagne and 1/2 cup sour cream (mixture will fizz and bubble a little). Add flour and champagne mixture alternately. Scrape bottom and sides of the bowl and mix until batter is well combined (do not overmix)

"Snake Bite" Pastry Creme Filling:

1/2 cup heavy cream, divided
1/4 cup Harp
1/4 cup Wydmer's Pear Cider
1/4 cup pear puree (to make puree, use canned pears or pears from a jar and blend until pureed, then strain with sieve)
2 tbsp cornstarch
5 tbsp granulated sugar
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk cornstarch in 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Combine the remaining heavy cream, sugar and 1/2 cup beer and cider mixture in a saucepan; bring to a boil then remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg and egg yolks into the cornstarch/heavy cream mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling champagne mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so the eggs do not cook. Return the remaining beer/cider/heavy cream mixture to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Allow mixture to cool fully.

Cut a hole into the top of each cupcake and fill with pastry cream. Trim the cut-out cake pieces flat to make a "lid" and place on top.

Pear Frosting:

1 cup plus 2-3 Tbsp pear cider (depending on consistency)
2 sticks of butter softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup pear puree

Place 1 cup of pear cider in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl or condiment cup and allow to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Once the frosting is thick and fluffy, pour in the reduced 2 tbsp. pear cider plus 2 tbsp from the bottle and mix well. Add a few drops of green and yellow food coloring and decorate as desired.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mud Pie Cupcakes

Last weekend, I participated in a bake sale for charity at a really cool craft store in Silverlake called ReForm School. As part of that, I wanted to think of a couple of new, fun cupcake recipes. Even though people seemed to like the Shirley Temple cupcakes, I felt that they needed to go back into the "think tank" for a while, but the Mud Pie cupcakes turned out great.

The cake part of the cupcake was mocha cake, which was then filled with a chocolate ganache, oreo cookie crumbs, and topped with coffee swiss meringue buttercream. A drizzle of ganache and a mini oreo were added as garnish. My favorite part was the coffee swiss meringue buttercream. Just a couple tablespoons of cold, strong coffee made for a deliciously smooth and creamy (and not too sweet) coffee frosting.

For the Mocha Cupcakes:
Use the same chocolate cupcake recipe from the scotchmallow cupcakes, but substitute the cup of boiling water for 1 cup good, strong coffee.

For the Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat the whipping cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat until simmering and bubbling, but not boiling. Turn the heat off after the cream reaches appropriate heat and stir in chocolate chips until fully melted. Add in the butter. Allow ganache to cool before using.

For the Coffee Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla
2-3 tablespoons cold, strong coffee

Heat sugar and egg whites in a heat safe bowl place inside a pan of boiling water. Do not allow water to enter the mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk until sugar is fully dissolved and mixture reads 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Transfer mixture to stand mixer and beat on medium high using whisk attachment. Continue to whisk until mixture is completely cool and fluffy. Add butter a piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once butter has been added, switch to the paddle attachment and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and coffee last and beat until well mixed.

To assemble the cupcakes:
Core each cupcake with a paring knife. Fill each whole with chocolate ganache, spreading the excess onto the top of the cupcake. Sprinkle a generous heap of Oreo crumbs on the ganache of each cupcake. Pipe coffee swiss meringue buttercream on the top of each cupcake using a pastry bag (or durable plastic bag) and large star pastry tip. Put excess ganache into a plastic bag with the tip cut off and drizzle onto the frosting of each cupcake. Add a mini Oreo topper to each cupcake.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vanilla bean cupcakes with blackberry cream cheese frosting

With Spring in the air and tons of great fruit coming into season, I had been wanting to make a light cake with a fresh fruit frosting. Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to use more unique fruits in baking. I adapted a white cake recipe from Martha Stewart (it is ironically her "Perfect White Cake" recipe, which I then messed with) by replacing 1 cup plain milk with 1 cup of sour cream and 1/2 cup of water to make for a super moist, flavorful cake. It's now my go-to white cake.

The difference between a white cake and a yellow cake is basically the use of the whole eggs in a yellow cake and only the whites in a white cake. Both yellow and white cakes are DELICIOUS, but I prefer white cake in this recipe to really showcase the vanilla bean and blackberry flavors. The delicate taste and light texture of the cake really lend to the rest of its components.

For the vanilla bean cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
6 large egg whites
3 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream (low-fat or regular)
1/2 cup water
1 vanilla bean, scraped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees* (I baked my cupcakes at 325 degrees because my oven gets crazy hot, but just as a tip, I generally find that baking cakes at slightly under 350 degrees makes for better results)

Cream together the sugar and butter, beating with paddle attachment for at least 3-4 minutes.

In the meantime, sift the cake flour with the baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Add in the vanilla bean and mix well.

Add in the egg whites and mix for 1-2 minutes.

Add in the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the sour cream and water. Mix after each addition, but do not over mix. Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl and bottom to be sure that the sugar and butter is all incorporated.

Divide batter evenly into cupcake liners and bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, alternating halfway through. The cupcakes are done when they spring back to the touch.

For the Blackberry Puree:

1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries, washed and dried
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp fresh orange juice

Puree all ingredients together in blender until liquified. Strain mixture through sieve to remove seeds. Place puree in small sauce pan and simmer on low heat until reduced about 1/3-1/2. Allow mixture to fully cool (you can put it in the freezer to expedite the process).

For the Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 block cream cheese (I used only 1/2 block because I wanted to emphasize blackberry flavor and cut the sweetness a bit, so this is not an especially cream cheesy tasting frosting)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup blackberry puree
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Allow the cream cheese and butter to come close to room temperature prior to using. Beat together in mixer. After well combined and fluffy, add 1 tsp vanilla and powdered sugar in increments. Then add in the blackberry puree and mix well.

Pipe frosting onto each cupcake using large star tip and pastry bag. Put one blackberry on each cupcake as garnish.