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Macarons7

Sammiches!

 

Okay, I know. Go ahead and say it. I’ve been a BAD BLOGGER. Bad bad bad. When was my last update? MONTHS ago? Um… yeah… so… like… I moved, and then my new kitchen wasn’t done, and then…. um, yeah, I suck. But I’m back now and ready to rumble. Srsly. Ya rly. Gonna do it this time.

Once again, it’s time for the Daring Bakers Challenge. Your blurb of the month: The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Okay, so if you look at any other food blogs than this one (and why would you, really? I mean, this one is so awesome and stuff…) you may have noticed a strange cookie trend sweeping the intarnets. A wave of cookies sweeping the nation, crispy bottomed, brightly colored, flipped “foot” to “foot” and joined together in a holy matrimony of sweet fillings and buttercreams and curds… oh my! These funny, footsy little cookies are called Macarons (if you’re french, or suitably pretentious, which I am). Not to be confused with the humble american Macaroon (oh, how that extra O just goes and changes everything), which I also dearly lurve, the macaron is a frothy mix of egg whites, sugars, and finely ground nutmeats (hehehe… I just love saying the word “nutmeats” – it just sounds so dirty!), baked into little crispy-puffy dollops and eaten slathered-together with just about anything under the sun.

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I call this one "vanilla bean meets grisly death at the hands of fluffy meringue"

I’ve been watching these little buggers for months now, taking over the food blogs, yet never quite having the excuse to give them a try. “Gosh darnit they’re PURTY,” I’d say, and then forget all about them until the next bit of macaron food-porn launched itself across my computer screen. Well here was my excuse! Daring Bakers picks a winner yet again! Woot!

Little did I know just how tricky these darn things are to get just right. Every one of those pictures I see of perfect, poofy macarons, now that I’ve tried to make them myself, I definitely think should have a bit fat warning label stating “YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY”. Not that my results weren’t delicious, scrumptious even. But not so pretty. And we all know how much I like to make my food pretty. Apparently there are fanatics out there that have dissected the concept of macaron-making nearly to death, spouting all sorts of arcane knowledge about “aging” one’s egg whites, resting pre-baked cookies, not cooking on a dry/humid/cloudy/sunny/rainy/insert-weather-here day. There are pages and pages dedicated to the magical incantations required to create the perfect “foot” on the bottom of the cookie (look at a proper picture and you’ll see what I mean). It’s nutty, I tell ya.

Whatever, I just wanna bake some cookies. So I threw myself into the recipe with enthusiasm, putting my own flavor twist to the buttercream center (caramelized pears with port!). Were they pretty to look at? Not so much. Were they yummy? Yes. Will I make them again? Maybe… who knows. Only time will tell. I packed up half of this batch and brought them over to the house of a couple of sick friends (for the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Joe and Jen). I am firmly convinced that my cookies completely cured them of all their ills. Seriously.

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Care package is caring. And packagey. AND DELICIOUS!

Anyway, you can expect to hear from me again soon because I have some cool posts saved up, and in the next year will also be tackling baking my first and second wedding cakes! Always wanted to do that… Meanwhile, please accept this post as my humble offering back to the world of food-blogging. Forgive me for my absence. I promise to be better from now on. Pinkie swear and everything!

Macarons

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time [I added the guts of a vanilla bean – save the husk, we’ll use it later]. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.

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Little blorps of "cookie dough"

 

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Alas, my macarons are "foot"less (and fancy free?)

Abbey’s Caramelized Pears with Port Buttercream

(based on Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen – this was the perfect amount for my half-batch of macarons, but YMMV)

2 pears, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 empty vanilla bean pod
cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons Port

1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg white
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the 2 tbsp. of butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean pod to the butter and sugar so it can flavor the caramel. Once the sugar & butter are bubbly, add in the chopped pears. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmet to taste, then saute in the caramel for 10-20 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your pears. Once the pears are good and soft, add the Port and let cook for 2-3 minutes more. Take off the heat and let cool thoroughly. Once cooled, prepare the buttercream:

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Add the vanilla, then add the 6 tbsp. of butter a bit at a time and whip until smooth and luscious. Set aside.

Get your cooled pear mixture and drain off as much of the syrupy moisture as possible, then mash the pears until you get a nice chunky texture. fold into the buttercream, then do with it what you will.

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How can you go wrong when you start with butter, brown sugar, and a vanilla bean?

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Pears enter stage left. And I swear, the "A" made out of vanilla bean parts was entirely accidental!

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My buttercreams, let me show you them

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It’s Daring Bakers time again! The July 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole of Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

First of all, let me apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. I did take them, I promise, but at the moment they are living peacefully and undisturbed in a camera that is about 1800 miles away. Alas. I hope to upload them later, upon returning home from a brief 2-day stint in Los Angeles. Yes, my friends, this post comes to you direct from sunny Southern California! I can see the Shrine Auditorium from my hotel window, which is pretty darn cool. But I know you’re not here for that, you’re here for THE COOKIES!

This month’s challenge consists of two cookie recipes, but despite my best intentions, I was only able to make one – a lovely home-made rendering of the popular Milano cookies by a company I shall refrain from naming here. Though the cookies were delicious, I could definitely tell the difference between them and the original, and I must admit that the dough was not easy to work with. Granted, if I’d used a proper pastry bag and not a ziplock bag I probably would have had more control. As it was, getting any kind of even, uniform shape out of the stuff was difficult. After batch number one, I gave up entirely on the classic oblong shape and went for easier circles. Because of my less-than-ideal oven, they baked unevenly and it was hard to get them to that perfect slightly-crisp but not too brown state. And to add insult to injury, when making the chocolate filling, the chocolate seized on me! A hasty addition of some butter and more heavy cream brought it back into a sort of submission, but my overall impression of the recipe was this: FUSSY.

Regardless, they were REALLY DAMN DELICIOUS and were devoured eagerly by my friends before the night was through, so I must have done something right, right?

This is probably the lamest post I’ve done so far, but I blame Los Angeles and the rigors of air travel. I’m tired, dammit.

Here’s the recipe!

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.