Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vanilla Bean French Macarons with Fresh Raspberries

I love French Macarons. They're petite, pretty, and so versatile. For this version, both the cookie and the swiss meringue buttercream the cookies are filled with are made with vanilla bean.

One of my favorite baking items right now is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar vanilla bean paste. Using vanilla bean paste is so much easier and economical than whole vanilla beans.

I also love the look (and taste!) of fresh berries in desserts.

For the Macaron Shells: (For directions, see this post)

3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites, at room temp and aged for at least 24 hours
1 pinch cream of tartar
1/2 tbsp vanilla bean paste, or 1/2 of the seeds from a vanilla bean

*NOTE: For this recipe, I made the cookies a bit larger than a typical French Macaron with a ganache/buttercream/jam filling

For the Swiss Meringue Butter Cream:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Generous 1/2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temp)

Combine egg whites and sugar in heat-safe mixing bowl. Fill a saucepan 1/3 way full of water and bring to a simmer. Make sure that the mixing bowl fits inside the pan nicely because if the pan is too big, water will splash and it could get dangerous! Place mixing bowl into pan and whisk sugar and whites together until sugar is fully dissolved and mixture is slightly frothy. Transfer mixing bowl to stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high until mixture is fully cooled and has a thick, meringue-like texture. Add the butter a piece at a time, mixing well after each addition. Switch to a paddle attachment, add vanilla bean, and beat for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Assembling the Macarons:

Spread a very thin layer of butter cream on one shell. Add four small dollops of butter cream onto four edges of cookie. Place a raspberry on each each of the cookie (you can cut them lengthwise if they look to large or awkward inside the cookie). Sandwich the cookie together and pipe small dollops of frosting in spaces between raspberries. Apply edible gold glimmer dust with a dry paintbrush, lightly covering entire top cookie. Place a small dollop of buttercream on the top of a raspberry and stick on top of cookie. Lastly, dip paintbrush in gold dust again and flick on top of cookie and raspberry.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sparkling Mariposa Alfajores (Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies)

This was my first time making dulce de leche and I must say, it’s pretty amazing that this confection comes out of such simple ingredients as milk, sugar, and a bit of baking soda. While the ingredients and technique are very simple in making this treat, it is time consuming. I suggest making it a couple of days in advance and then making the cookies and putting them together another day.

I chose to make the cookies butterfly or “mariposa” shaped, but you could certainly do any shape such as a flower, heart, or the standard circle.

For the cookies (recipe courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson)

Alfajores (Dulce de Leche Cookie Sandwiches) Recipe
Makes 20 round cookies and 30 butterfly cookies

1⅔ cups cornstarch
1¼ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
⅔ cup sugar
10 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
½ tsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
1 cup chopped milk or dark chocolate, for dipping cookies

Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a cookie cutter of your choice, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper—lined baking sheets, spaced 1″ apart. Reroll scraps and repeat. Bake until golden (about 10 minutes for smaller cookies and 12-15 for larger shaped ones). Let cool.

For the Dulce de Leche (recipe courtesy of Alton Brown)
• 1 quart whole milk
• 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped OR 1-2 tsp vanilla bean paste
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine milk and sugar in a 3-4 qt sauce pan. Simmer over low-medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Switch to low heat and add the baking soda. Mixture will begin to foam. As the mixture slowly caramelizes, it will continue to foam throughout- scrape the foam off of the top of the mixture (DO NOT REINCORPORATE), being careful to not discard any of the liquid with the foam. Stir occasionally as mixture cooks. Continually cook mixture over low heat, following the same process of scraping/removing foam from top and stirring for about 2 hours. Remove mixture from heat once it’s reached a dark caramel color and thick consistency (should be reduced to about a cup- it will thicken slightly more once cooled). Before dulce de leche is cooled, pour through a sieve to ensure smoothness. Allow to cool before filling cookies. Mixture can be stored in fridge for about 2 weeks, however, for best results, use within one week of making (sometimes it can crystallize in the fridge).

To assemble the alfajores:

Put about a teaspoon of dulce de leche between two cookies and sandwich together. Once all of the cookies are assembled, place back onto a baking sheet and place in freezer for about 30 minutes (to ease the dipping process).

Melt 1 cup of semi-sweet or dark chocolate in double boiler. Dip the top and sides of each cookie and place on wax paper lined baking sheet to harden. Once cookies are completely dry (you can put them in the fridge after dipping to speed the process). Decorate as desired.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Andes Mint Chocolate Cupcake

I actually made these Andes Mint Chocolate cupcakes the same day as the Peanut Butter Ball cupcakes. My office mate and friend asked me if I would make cupcakes on Friday, either a peanut butter chocolate cupcake, or a mint chocolate cupcake, so I decided to do half and half. If you want to make a couple of flavors of cupcakes for a party or special event, these are two good recipes to use together to make less work for you, and give your guests two equally delicious, but different options.

These cupcakes are a chocolate cake base, filled with Andes chocolate ganache (made with actual Andes mints) and topped with a white chocolate mint swiss meringue buttercream. I prefer using swiss meringue buttercream when the rest of the cupcake (i.e. ganache) is on the richer side of the spectrum, rather than using a heavier American or French buttercream.

For the cupcakes- refer to chocolate cake recipe used in Peanut Butter Ball Cupcakes.

For the Andes Mint Ganache:

-2 4.67 ounce packages Andes Parfait Thins (56 mints)
-1 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
-1-2 ounces good quality dark, semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate
-1 cup cream
1 tbsp butter

HINT: I used a mixture of chocolate because I didn't want the ganache to be overwhelmingly sweet or minty, but Andes mints are pretty well balanced, so you should be able to simply use 2.5 packages of just the mints if you don't have other chocolate on hand.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan placed on the stove on medium-low heat. When the cream becomes bubbly on the sides of the pan, turn the heat off. Stir in the chocolate. Once totally smooth, add the butter and stir until fully mixed. Set aside to cool.

For the White Chocolate Ganache:

-4 oz good quality white chocolate
-1/2 cup cream
-1 tbsp butter

Follow same process as above, but place in fridge immediately after making so that mixture becomes cold and more solidified.

For the White Chocolate Mint Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

-4 large egg whites
-2/3 cup granulated sugar
-3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
-White Chocolate Ganache
-2 tsp mint extract
-blue and green food coloring (I used one drop teal Americolor and two drops green)

NOTE: If you have or can find creme de menthe extract or liqueur, it would be tasty to use that instead of plain mint extract. Also, in that case, you could probably just leave out the white chocolate and skip a step without skimping on Andes flavor.

Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a light boil. Combine egg whites and sugar in heat proof mixing bowl and place mixing bowl in simmering water. Whisk mixture together over heat until sugar is fully dissolved and it measures 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Place mixing bowl on stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk until mixture forms a fluffy meringue and is fully cooled. Mix in butter a piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Switch to a paddle attachment and mix for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the mint extract, cold white chocolate ganache, and food coloring and mix for another minute.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Core each cooled cupcake with a paring knife. Cut the corner off of a large freezer bag (or use a pastry bag without a tip) and fill bag with ganache. Pipe ganache into the cavity of each cupcake. Pipe frosting onto each cupcake and decorate as desired.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with a "deconstructed" peanut butter ball filling and peanut butter frosting

One of my favorite nostalgic childhood treats is the peanut butter ball. I was originally planning to bake a peanut butter ball inside a chocolate cupcake, but I ended up creating this "deconstructed" filling instead.

It turns out that baking a peanut butter ball inside of a cupcake has already been done and when I saw the picture of how one recipe turned out, I observed that when baked inside a cupcake, the peanut butter ball seemed kind of isolated in the cake, rather than more disbursed throughout the cake and imbuing the whole thing with flavor.

These turned out pretty irresistibly good. Even Mr. Pixie Crust, who is not the biggest fan of dessert or sweets, thoroughly enjoyed them.

For the Cupcakes:
Chocolate Cake Recipe
Yields 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup boiling water

Sift the flour and set aside. Whip the butter in an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment until creamy. Add the brown sugar to the butter and mix for 2-3 minutes. Add in the eggs one at a time. Continue mixing until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and melted baking chocolate. Mix in the baking soda last.

Add the flour in batches, alternating with sour cream. Mix on medium until well combined- do not over mix!

Lastly, remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Add in the boiling water and hand stir until combined.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until cake springs back to the touch and/or an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

For the "deconstructed" Peanut Butter Ball filling:
1 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups Cocoa Krispies cereal
2-3 tbsp milk

Put Cocoa Krispies and powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Set aside. Melt peanut butter and butter over stove pot in pan. When the mixture is completely melted, pour over powdered sugar and cereal. Stir in milk and continue stirring until ingredients are evenly disbursed. Place bowl in fridge or freezer to cool and thicken.

For the chocolate ganache topping (to pipe on top of the peanut butter ball filling):
6 oz dark belgium chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter

Heat cream in pan over stove top until bubbly. Turn off heat and add chocolate, continually stirring until chocolate is fully melted. Add in butter last. Put in fridge to cool.

For the peanut butter frosting:
1 stick butter (room temperature)
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip butter and peanut butter together in stand mixer using paddle attachment until well combined and creamy. Slowly add in powdered sugar and milk. Beat until light and fluffy.

To assemble the cupcakes

Once cupcakes are completely cool, core out the center of each with a paring knife.
Tip: If you refrigerate the cupcakes or pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes, they won't get as crumbly when the core is removed).

Spoon peanut butter ball filling into core of each cupcake. Add ganache topping on the top of each cupcake "hole." Lastly, pipe peanut butter frosting on the top of each cupcake and decorate as desired.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Macarons!

This batch of macarons are vanilla flavored, teal colored cookie shells with chocolate ganache filling. The ganache filling is courtesy of David Lebovitz.

I really like the look of the teal colored cookie with the ganache center- and to be honest, I was looking for an excuse to use my awesome Americolor Teal food coloring. Additionally, I made this batch with Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour, instead of the cheaper almond mill from Trader Joe's. Using the finer almond flour seems to create cookies with more rounded tops and smaller, more delicate feet.

For the Macaron Cookie Shells:

See Macaron Marathon (Part 1)

Chocolate Ganache Filling (from David Lebovitz)
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.