Tag Archives: Almonds

French Macarons (Take #1)

And, so, the year of the French Macaron, as outlined here begins.

I’ll say this much: I might have been a little cocky when I first conceived this project. I knew macarons are notoriously difficult to make, but even so, I had my doubts. I mean, they’re basically sugar, meringue, and almonds. How hard could they be?

Very, as it turns out. At least when you’re talking about getting them just right.

And, it’s safe to say that I’m enough of an over achiever that I’ll settle for nothing less.

The thing is, when you’re baking with so few ingredients, everything has to be done well. Really well.

So, there’s that.

Then, there’s the issue of what to do with all of the egg yolks.

Currently, I have five in my freezer. I can’t bring myself to make ice cream quite yet, not when there’s still slush on the ground and mountains of snow on the street. So, there might be some extra rich egg dishes in my future (take that resolutioners!)

At any rate, since this was my first batch, I thought that a basic recipe was the way to go. I’m on my way—a few trial and error lessons later.

Some important things I’ve learned so far:

  • If you, inadvertently, mess up when you’re separating your eggs, start again. With even the smallest bit of yolk, you won’t be able to get the meringue to the right consistency. And, this should go without saying, but: separate your eggs one at a time and add each one to your mixer individually. That way, if you do get yolk in one of the eggs, you won’t have to replace all of them.

  • Normally, I’m not one for sifting—it hardly seems worth the effort. Here, it is. It’ll help the cookies develop a lighter texture.

  • Let your cookies sit for at least 30 minutes before baking. They should develop a sort of skin where they’re no longer tacky. The rest time helps them better develop proper feet. I’m not sure why. Just go with it.

Stay tuned for the next update. New flavors! New and improved methods!

French Macarons with Blackberry Buttercream

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

To make the macarons:
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 cups almond flour
3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
Food coloring (optional)
Blackberry Buttercream (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.

Sift confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and whisk in the almond flour. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they’re foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar, still whisking, until the whites reach medium soft peaks. Add the vanilla and food coloring, if you’re using it, to the beaten egg whites, combining well.

Sprinkle half of the sugar-almond mixture over the beaten egg whites and fold until just incorporated. Then add the rest of the sugar almond mixture, folding until everything is combined. Tap the bottom of your mixing bowl against the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag and pipe the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Each cookie should be 1.5″ in diameter and at least 1/2″ apart.

Allow the cookies to rest for at least 30 minutes, until they are no longer tacky when touched.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until macarons are slightly firm to the touch and can be lifted from the parchment, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the baking sheets and allow to cool completely.

To make the Blackberry Buttercream:
2 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz blackberries

Puree the blackberries and strain out the seeds. Set aside.

In a heatproof bowl set over simmer water, combine the egg whites and the sugar. Cook, whisking constantly with a handheld electric mixer, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.

Remove the egg-white mixture from the heat and beat it on high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Then, continue beating until the mixture has cooled and is fluffy, about 6 minutes.

At this point, add the butter, several tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, add in the vanilla and blackberry puree, mixing for another 2 minutes. Once all elements are well combined, stir with a rubber spatula until the frosting is smooth.

Makes 2 cups

To assemble to macaroons:
Once the cookies have cooled, spread approximately 2 teaspoons of buttercream on the flatsides of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the other halves, keeping flat sides down.

Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies


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And, so, a project begins

Admittedly, it’s a little late for me to first start talking about new year’s resolutions now that January is halfway through.

And, I’m afraid that I’ve already failed at the first: namely, to be better about blogging here.

But, January’s not over yet, so let’s hope you’ll be hearing more from me soon. If the drafts folder on the backend of this blog is any indication, I would say that it’s a safe bet.

So. The other resolutions.

I’m thinking that 2011 is going to be the year of big changes. It was off to a shaky start, at first, but I think that’s the way that often goes. Frightening at first, yes, but good things often are. The ground work’s in place, so that’s a start, at any rate.

I’m also thinking that 2011 is going to be the year of the macaron.

And, to that end, one of my goals of 2011: to successfully make French style macarons. It turns out I’m not alone in this. After telling a dear friend about this project and feeding him with the first batch of cookies (recipe soon), he sent me this link from the Huffington Post.

I must be on to something.

Naturally this project was borne of a mistake—I was paying a little too little attention when measuring out sugar for some almond cookies. The resulting products were almost macaron-like. They had feet! Or, some of them did, anyway.

Now, when you’re someone who makes graham crakers from scratch for the sake of the challenge, it seems logical that the next step would be to embark on an French Macaron quest. So, get ready for lots and lots of cookies. I’m thinking lemon curd, straightforward almond, blackberry. Maybe even some pistacho based cookies, scented with cardamom and filled with rosewater icing since you all know how much I love that flavor combination.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the cookie that started it all.

Almond Cookies

Some notes before you begin:
I’ve included the recipe with the upped quantity of sugar, which will give the cookies a slightly smoother, more french macaroon-like end result. If you’re worried about the sweetness, cut out a half a cup of the sugar.

Use canned almond paste. Tubes are too crumbly and your cookies won’t hold together well.

1 8 oz. can of almond paste
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites
2 TBS mild honey
1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Using a food processor, pulse the almond paste until its broken up into small pieces. Then, add in the confectioners sugar and continue pulsing until the almond paste and sugar are finely ground.

Beat together almond sugar, egg whites, and honey, using an electric mixer, until the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes.

Spoon cookies into 1 1/2 rounds about 1 inch apart on parchment lined backing sheets, pressing slivered almonds into the tops of the cookies.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until cookies are browned. Then, let them cool and peel them from the parchment.

Makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen cookies


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Sammie Cooks!

When it comes to hosting, my friend Samantha puts me to shame. Where I’ll plan on hosting a simple meal for a group with some snacks, she’s got a 3-course meal, complete with a special punch—her mother’s recipe.

Rather than try to outdo her—since, let’s be honest, it’s no contest—I’ve opted for a far more sensible approach: enlisting her help. To wit, you saw her cheese plates from a recent dinner party in this post.

Things of beauty they are.

Almost too good to eat.

Almost. So, too, was the other trick up her sleeve that night. A round of Camembert covered with puff pastry and baked until it was gooey. I was kicking myself for not thinking of this appetizer myself.

Keep reading for her recipe and variations.

Baked Camembert

This appetizer is a crowd pleaser! It looks sophisticated, yet it’s made with only four ingredients and takes less than five minutes to prepare. The almonds give a bit of a crunch while the honey enhances the flavor of the cheese, filling your mouth an unexpected hint of sweetness.

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
1 round of Camembert cheese (Brie can be substituted)
1 healthy handful of sliced almonds
3-4 tablespoons of honey

Prep-time less than five minutes. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Defrost and unfold pastry dough. Place cheese round in center of dough. Drizzle half the honey over the cheese (don’t be afraid to get it on the dough). Sprinkle almonds and then rest of honey. Taking one corner of the dough, fold into center of cheese round. Then continue to fold the dough into the center of the cheese round in a clockwise fashion. You may find that there is an excess of dough on the top of the cheese depending on how big the round is (too many layers of dough will not cook properly). In this case, trim a bit of the dough off as you fold it over. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, or until pastry dough is cooked through.

Serving: Let stand at least 5 minutes. Serve on a plate with bread or crackers and a serrated knife. Feel free to garnish with a sprinkle of almonds. If you serve after 5 minutes, the cheese will likely ooze out, which is great for dipping. If you want it more controlled, wait 15 minutes.

Variations: Substitute the almonds with chopped pecans or chopped walnuts; substitute the honey with dried cranberries or fruit jelly (raspberry or apricot are my favorite). Experiment with your favorite cheese plate accompaniments.

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