March 9, 2011

Labor of Love-Macaron Making

This past Valentine's day I took as an excuse to tackle a long time goal of mine-french macaron making. Michelle got me a detailed book on the subject for my birthday last year that I've been studying intently for the last 6 months. I invested in all the necessary equipment and we also got to use my new Kitchenaid mixer for the first time. A day of firsts indeed. Michelle came over to lend a hand in the kitchen and also for all the adorable crafting we did for our Valentine's gifts that we passed out to our loved ones. This was an all day project, with a couple of fails and do-overs, luckily we were smart enough to fit in pedicures and champagne drinking.

These little cookie monsters are hard to make but I think we had success in the end. They turned out really well, as did the darling packaging we made. We ended up making two different kinds of macarons. The first was a fig cookie with orange liqueur buttercream filling. The second was a pink colored cookie with fresh strawberry buttercream and a sprinkle of Dagoba's spicy chocolate powder on top. We did half of the strawberry batch with coconut on top but unfortunately those didn't turn out because we didn't cook them long enough. In the end we impressed ourselves with pulling off this baking feat. It left me wanting to experiment even more with the french macaron! Here is the detailed process of this labor of love.

Fig Macarons with Orange Liqueur Buttercream or
Pink Macarons with Fresh Strawberry Buttercream and Spicy Cocoa Topping

Macaron batter:
2/3 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) ground almonds
1 1/2 cups (5.25 ounces/150 grams) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons ground dried figs or
red food coloring

Orange Liqueur Buttercream or Fresh Strawberry Buttercream:
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces/100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons (1.4 ounces/40 milliliters) water
3 tablespoons (1.4 ounces/40 grams) granulated sugar
1 egg
vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or
4 tablespoons fresh strawberry puree

shredded unsweetened coconut or
Dagoba's spicy cocoa powder

To make macaron batter:
Cut a sheet of parchment paper (or silpat) to fit your baking sheet. Draw 1 inch circles on paper, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart. This patter will be your guide for squeezing out the macaron batter. In a food processor, grind almonds and powdered sugar together to a fine powder. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve twice. Set aside.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites (in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer) on high speed until they are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Add vanilla and continue to beat the meringue until it is stiff, firm, and has a glossy texture. Make sure this is VERY stiff. Just when you think it's stiff enough, beat a little more. This part is crucial to not ending up with runny macaron circles (we found out later).

Add half of the sifted flour mixture and stir with a spatula while scooping it up from the bottom of the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and mix it lightly in a circular motion. At this point add any flavors, such as the fig bits, or coloring you desire. Feel free to experiment with a variety of dried fruits or coloring, we did! After you run out of flour or have added your flavoring, press and spread out the batter against the bowl's sides. Scoop the batter from the bottom and turn it upside down. This is called making the macaronnage. Repeat this process about 15 times but not more than 20. When the batter becomes nicely firm and drips slowly as you scoop it with a spatula, the mixture is done. This is called the macaronner.. Attach a 0.4 inch tip to a pastry bag. Twist the bag to hold the tip tightly. This prevents the batter from leaking out. Place the pastry bag, tip down, inside a deep measuring cup and pour the macaronner batter into it. After pouring the batter into the bag. clip the bag top to prevent the batter from coming out. You can also use a rubber band. Using the parchment outlined in circles, squeeze small circles of batter onto a cookie sheet, making sure that the batter is firm and does not run. At this point sprinkle any coconut or cocoa or other powdered toppings you may want onto the circles.

Rap the baking sheet firmly against the counter or other flat surface. This helps the macarons hold their rounded shape and helps the pied, or "little foot", to form. Dry the batter at room temperature, uncovered, for 15 minutes. A slight crust should form on top of the macarons. On rainy days, it helps to dehumidify the room. If the batter circles do not stick to your finger when you touch them, the drying process is complete. On a dry and sunny day, the drying process takes approximately 30 minutes.

After the macarons have sufficiently dried you are ready to bake them. Place the oven racks in the center of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees. Stack the baking sheet with the batter circles into an empty baking sheet and slide both into the oven. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until slightly crisp and crackled on top. If the insides of the macarons are still soft after 15 minutes lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees, cover the tray with foil, and bake for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When the macarons are completely cooled, remove them from the baking sheet.

To make buttercream:
Cut butter into small pieces and put in a medium bowl. Stir the butter with a spatula until it becomes smooth and creamy like mayonnaise, set aside. Put water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan and stir well. Heat the mixture over medium low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture begins to become syrupy. Scoop some syrup with a spoon and drop it into a small amount of water. Then try to scoop the syrup out of the water and make a ball with it using your fingers. If you can do this, the syrup is the right density. While heating the syrup, break an egg into a bowl and beat it lightly with a hand mixer. Pour the syrup like a thread into the bowl and beat it at high speed. Reduce the speed to medium and then to slow, and continue beating until the bottom of the bowl is no longer hot and the mixture becomes white and heavy.

Add the creamed butter in 3 batches into the syrup beating with the hand mixture each time you add it. When the mixture is well mixed the process is done. Stir a drop or two of vanilla extract and whatever flavoring you are adding. When the mixture is well stirred it is done. Spread the cream between the macaron puffs and sandwich together. Now they are ready to eat!

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Not runny, very important
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A sprinkle of cocoa
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Little feet
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Getting creamed
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Valentines presents ready to go
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Just a peek at the goods

March 4, 2011

Crack Cake aka Pineapple Upside Down Cake Reinvented

Lately I've got a case of the winter blues. I thought Portland was going to skip over its rainy storm weather since we've had a very mild winter thus far. But after 5 years I should have known better 'cause we've been getting slaughtered lately. It's enough to make a girl start looking at last minute plane tickets outta here and spend long periods of time dreaming of warm sun and fruity drinks. So when I saw a large pineapple display at the store this week I thought, well, it's a start. I got that pineapple home and starting chopping it up only to realize it's not quite pineapple season and that sucker was tart. Like lip puckering, tawlk lawk dis tawt. So I immediately thought what if I made a pineapple upside down cake, not like the ones of olden days with canned pineapple and maraschino cherries, but a really amazing fresh and well done version.

I went in search of a recipe and whaddya know that wonderful blog
Smitten Kitchen had a perfect recipe, yup, of course it did. And it just so happened I had all the ingredients I needed at home. Any recipe that starts with a homemade caramel is aces in my book and this one did NOT disappoint. I took it out of the oven and the smell was intoxicating. I waited until it was just cool enough, slapped some vanilla ice cream on a slice, and immediately proclaimed (to no one at all) "that's some crack cake right there!". This is going to make many a reappearance come pineapple season. Mark my words.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Smitten Kitchen


1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum for sprinkling over cake

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make topping: Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, four minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a 9" cake pan. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.

Make batter: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand for five minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake. Invert a plate over cake pan and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and pan firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of pan. Sprinkle rum over cake and cool on plate on a rack.

Serve cake just warm or at room temperature. And add some vanilla ice cream, you won't regret it.

Do ahead: Cake may be made one day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Caramel making and nesting


Batter making


Some rum for sprinkling on the final cake


Pretty as a picture