Random thoughts about macarons and other sweet stuff

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Chocolate Macarons with Raspberries

Just finished making my macarons for this weekend’s Farmer’s market. While making my crunchy chocolate souffle flavor, I had some leftover macaron batter that wouldn’t exactly fit on a full tray so I decided to experiment with bigger macarons.

The above macaron is about 7cm and made with the Italian Meringue. Normally, for this method, you just put the macarons straight into the oven without drying the tops, but for this size I dried it for about 20 minutes and baked it at 310F convection for about 20 minutes. I piped chocolate ganache in the middle, and I do wish now that I put some raspberries in the middle too, because that was a whole lot of ganache.

Now to answer some of your questions that I’ve received from emails and comments on my Macaron Chronicles.

When you live in a humid country like Singapore, Philippines or Malaysia

Macarons do have a difficult time drying in humid conditions. Air conditioning helps but most households do not have this. You can try using an electric fan but that is not always the solution. I tried making macarons in Baguio and had the weirdest experience with the macaron shells never really drying even if they were under a ceiling fan. And Baguio is hardly a humid city,but sometimes cold and wet is worse than hot and humid. When I notice too much moisture in my macaron batter I extend the cooking time by 1 minute. Sometimes it is also the eggs. If the chicken is free-range and eats grass there tend to be more moisture in its albumen.

Air-pockets

If overmixing is ruled out, this is usually undercooked macarons or sometimes the nut particles may not be fine enough. If you cannot grind your almonds finely you can probably increase your nuts. But really, even the best of us gets this sometimes and as long as they’re not too big and your macaron doesn’t look hollow, they should be fine.

Wrinkly tops

Nuts are too oily or the egg-whites are too wet. Not everyone has a commercial nut grinder. What you can do is break up the nuts part-way, add your confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar) and continue grinding. I usually get the wrinkled top with my chocolate macarons that uses cocoa powder because of the oil content in the cocoa. Chocolate macarons made with cocoa powder taste more like a brownie than a macaron.

Baking multiple-trays in the oven

I bake a maximum of three trays in the oven without changing the temperature. I use convection. Remember the more trays you bake the more humid it gets in the oven.

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Big Mac

Pocket Pies

Since I started baking professionally, I’ve stopped buying every kitchen gadget I see, however when I spotted a picture of a miniature pie on twitter made with this pie-cutter from William’s Sonoma, I couldn’t help myself.

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Pocket Apple Pie

What do you all think?

I was dubious at first if I was even going to get enough filling in  it, but I did and it was the perfect size. In the future though, I don’t think I’ll use the lattice-cut for fruit pies. As pretty as it may look, it’s hard keeping the juices in.

One note about the cutter. The lattice was hard to cut out directly. I used the regular cutter and then took the dough and pressed it on the lattice-cutter to get the pretty design out.

A Pumpkin Dessert

Made this yummy and healthy sweet dessert yesterday. My friend’s Aunt brought an asian pumpkin, I think it’s a kabocha squash.

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Pumpkin and Coconut Milk

 

Wash the pumpkin, cut it into pieces and remove the hard knots that stick out from the skin. Lay it on a pot, pour a can of coconut milk {around 14 oz}, 130 grams of palm sugar, 2 tablespoons white sugar. Really you can just sugar to taste. Add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer undisturbed until soft, around 15 minutes. I prefer my pumpkin with a little bite and not too soft. You can substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar.

This is absolutely delicious and healthy too! 🙂

 

 

 

The French Housewife’s Chocolate Mousse

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French dinner-party chocolate mousse

According to Dorie Greenspan, this is one dessert that each Parisian dinner-party giver does really well but none were willing to share the secret recipe. Eventually, one of her friends revealed the recipe and it was the one that was on the back of a Nestle chocolate bar.

Surprising? Not really. Years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law about a chocolate cake recipe I liked, she told me to look at the back of a Hershey cocoa box…

*This recipe uses raw eggs.

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I love using different jars to put the mousse in!

Top-secret Chocolate Mousse

From: Dorie Greenspan’s around my french table

3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
pinch of salt
1.5 teaspoons sugar

Whipped cream or creme fraiche, for serving (optional)

Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water or in a microwave oven over medium power.
If necessary, transfer the chocolate to a bowl that can hold all of the ingredients. Using a whisk, stir the egg yolks into the chocolate one at a time.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl wit a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until they start to form peaks. Beating all the while, gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat until the whites are shiny and hold medium-firm peaks.
Spoon about 1-quarter of the whites over the melted chocolate and stir with the whisk until the mixture is almost smooth. (Stirring in a bit of the whites lightens the chocoalte and makes the next step easier.) Spoon the rest of the whites over the chocolate and using the whisk or a large rubber spatula, very carefully fold them in. Be as thorough as you can without overworking the mixture – it’s better to have a few white streaks than to beat the bubbles out of the mousse by overmixing.
Spoon the mousse into a serving bowl or individual bowls and serve it now or cover it and keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready for dessert. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche if you like.

Notes:

When the recipe says stir in the egg yolks, stir it in, do not whisk. I made that mistake the first time and my chocolate seized and stuck to my whisk in an ugly glob. My egg whites also broke the first time when I used salt. I think with just 1.5 teaspoons of sugar the tendency of the egg whites to break is greater. The second time around, I skipped the salt and used cream of tartar. I watched my egg whites like a hawk and once medium stiff peaks were reached, I stopped the mixer.
With so little ingredients, the flavor of your mousse depends on your chocolate, so use the best you can afford. The texture of mousse is best within a few hours of refrigeration. If it is refrigerated too long it becomes really dense.

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These little clothespins come in handy holding the little spoons in place

 

Macaron Chronicles VII: And the saga continues

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Macaron Chocolate Amer

It’s funny how my macaron obsession has taken a life of its own. Little did I know that when I started my Macaron Chronicles, I would still be adding to this saga three years later.

Let me refresh your memory. Remember my flat-assed macarons – my first attempt making these little confections?

Then after a trip to San Francisco where I loved the taste of Miette’s macarons, I baked my first successful batch.

My real obsession took hold when I did different tests with Macaron Chronicles II. (This post, by the way, remains to be the most popular on this blog.)

Even when I had my bad days when the macaron Gods mocked me – like when I tried the Italian Meringue the first time and ended up with wrinkled marshmallows – I did not waver in my quest.

After I had met pastry God, Pierre Hermé, I continued to strive to understand his way of making macarons – Italian Meringue – with Macaron Chronicle V.

It wasn’t until I attended his class in Paris that I began to see the complex structure of the Italian meringue, almond and confectioner’s sugar – pretty much the same way Neo saw the Matrix and so this rematch ,which turned out really good.

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Chocolate macaron with Bitter Chocolate Ganache

I immediately hailed the success of this macaron recipe by tweeting that the shell tasted like a “crunchy chocolate souffle”. YUM!

I couldn’t count how many shells I had eaten even before filling the macarons. They were that good and infinitely addictive.

Without much further ado, I now present you, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron au chocolat Amer from his book: Macaron.
 

Continue reading

What to do with cake wrecks

It’s interesting how camera phones can capture some of life’s greatest moments. Like when you drop a cake on the grate while taking it out of the oven.

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sunk cake

Okay, I may have underbaked it a little, but letting it slip from my fingers back into the depths of the oven did nothing for its survival.

Anyway, I was determined to make the best out of this episode and with nothing to lose, started experimenting with pastry cream to mix with the chocolate cake chunks. Plus, I had some fresh strawberries to throw into it. This is the end result.

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Chocolate chunks with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream…oh and strawberries 🙂

Needless to say it was delicious.

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decadence in a glass

No recipe here. This whole process is part of my experiment on getting big chocolate flavor from cakes made mainly from cocoa powder. This one is close, but I want to try it next time with natural cocoa rather than the dutched-process variety because the latter tend to lose most of its flavor from the removal of its acidity.

Ad hoc Brownies

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Thomas Keller makes brownies?

I love chocolate. Who doesn’t? My craving goes into overdrive in the colder weather but I am guessing I’m not the only one. I am, however, very picky with what type of chocolate dessert I put into my mouth. I am not a chocolate snob, I’ll have a Kit Kat as the next person, but if it is homemade might as well make the best, right? I’m not talking about plated desserts with intricate designs and complicated sauces. My chocolate incarnation of choice is much simpler than that. I’ve been hoodwinked before by this dessert called “Death by Chocolate” hyped as a seven layer extravaganza, well it was more like a seven-layer flop. No, I prefer my chocolate simpler but full-strength. I prefer it in brownie doses.
I believe Alice Medrich has the best brownie recipes and it’s hard to fathom even trying anyone else’s. Except, of course if that someone is Thomas Keller. He has come out with a new book, “Ad hoc at home” and it is full of interesting and accessible recipes for the serious food enthusiast. I haven’t read this book in-depth yet, but I am loving those light-bulb moments where he gives you cooking tips and techniques.

The taste of this brownie reminds me of the flavor of Keller’s bouchons. It is intensely chocolatey, but I still prefer my brownies with more chew which is what I get when I make Medrich’s version. The “Hungry” Hubby though, loves this brownie version and that is saying a lot since he is not a dessert person.

Sorry for the short post, but I think I’ve said enough about my love of brownies here and here.

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Yummy gooey chips

 

Brownies

Thomas Keller "Ad hoc at home"

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces ( about 1 1/2 cups)

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F. We use a 9-inch square silicone mold, because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a metal or glass baking pan, butter and flour it. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside
Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few more minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature.
Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the tops with powdered sugar just before serving. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
 

A Cake on a Whim

Chocolatecake  

I had been baking non-stop since Thursday afternoon and must have used up 6 lbs. of butter just for buttercream. The last thing that should be on my mind was baking something that needed more buttercream. 

However I was searching for a new chocolate cake recipe. I could not use my beloved chocolate cupcake recipe for layered cakes because it has very little flour in it and lacks the structure to carry 800 grams of frosting.

So I found myself pulling out flour, butter, eggs, more butter and sugar. Most cake recipes use cake flour and I simply do not like the crumb of cakes made with this – too crumbly. Anyway, I had been drawn to Warren Brown’s Cake Love book because he does not use cake flour in any of his baked sweets. He substitutes potato starch when he could to losen the gluten but retain moisture in the cakes.

His recipe for chocolate cake is different than most in that he does not dissolve the cocoa in hot water first, instead he combines this with the rest of the dry ingredients; the simpler the recipe…the better.

I also have been planning to create a Passion Fruit Buttercream for a while now, and I thought what better cake to frost it with.

Chococlose 

Chocolate Butter Cake

from Warren Brown’s Cake Love

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients

Unbleached all-purpose flour                7 ounces (1 ¼ cups + 2 tbs)

Unsweetened cocoa powder                 2 ounces

Baking powder                                     1 ½ tsp

Salt                                                     1 tsp

Liquid

Half-and-half,                                      1 cup

Vanilla extract                                     1 tbs

Brandy                                                2 tablespoons (I omitted)

Creaming

Unsalted butter, at room temp.   6 ounces

Extra-fine granulated sugar                14 ounces (1 ¾ cup)

Eggs (large)                                         4

Preheat oven to 350F, or 335F convection. Set the rack in the middle of the oven, for cupcakes set racks in the upper-middle and lower middle positions.

Set out the ingredients and equipments.

Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring.

Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bow, add the flour, whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.

Measure the liquid ingredients into separate bowls and set aside.

Measure the butter and sugar into separate bowls and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.

In a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on lowest speed for 3 to 5 minutes.

With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry of liquid ingredients to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.

Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.

Prepare the pans. For 9-inch round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment. Do not spray the sides. For cupcakes, lightly spray with nonstick spray to help release any overflowing crowns. Line the pan with paper liners.

For 9-inch round cakes, deposit the batter in three separate areas of each pan and smooth out with the rubber spatula, making sure the pans are two-thirds full.

For cupcakes, use 2-ounce trigger-release, ice cream scoop to deposit batter into the lined pans so they’re two-thirds full.

The 9-inch cake takes about 28 minutes to bake, cupcakes around 22 minutes.

Once the top of the cake does not jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer. The cake is done when the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs or comes out clean.

For 9-inch round cakes cool in pan for 20-30 minutes. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert each pan onto a flat surface and remove the layers. Remove parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the cake tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the layers for up to 5 days before frosting.

For cupcakes, cool t room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before carefully lifting each cupcake from the pan. Proceed with frosting or store for later use.

Passion Fruit ButterCream

1 recipe Italian Buttercream from here

Add 4 ounces Passion Fruit puree reduced to 2 ounces

2 tsp. rum

Soaking syrup

½ cup water

5.5 ounces of sugar

1 tbs. rum

Combine the sugar and water and heat over medium heat until the sugar crystals are dissolved. Add the rum. (I made the syrup in the same pot where I heated the Passion fruit puree so it gave a very nice passion fruit essence to the syrup)

Cooking Notes

            What is it with rum and me? This seems to be my preferred liqueur to use in buttercream and other baked products. It has a way of rounding out the flavor.

The batter of the chocolate cake appeared broken a bit but rather than overmix it I gave it a few turns with the spatula and proceeded immediately to fill 2 8-inch cake pans (not the 9-inch ones specified in the recipe). My cake rose almost the whole 2-inch height of my cake pan and took about 33 minutes to bake on 325F convection. When I released the cake from the pan I could see that it was moist and had a very promising crumb.

            While the cake cooled I made my buttercream and the soaking syrup. The Passion Fruit buttercream, as expected, was to die for. The tartness cut into the butter and the rum – well… the rum balanced everything out as it always does.

            I decided to go the rustic route when I assembled this cake. It was easy to level horizontally and the wayward crumbs were due to the fact that I did not crumb coat. I used the bottom of a tart pan to slip the layers around after cutting, and the size of my cake made it easy to center. I used about a cup of buttercream for each tier of the cake. Hubby said he actually found it more appealing decorated this way with some cake exposed rather than having the whole cake covered in buttercream. Because of its exposed layers, it is important to brush some soaking syrup on each level as you frost because it will tend to dry up, once refrigerated.

            Honestly, I am not a big fan of this type of cake cakes because I don’t taste big chocolate flavor – I much prefer chocolate tortes made with some melted chocolate, ground nuts and very little flour that does not need buttercream. But I might as well find a chocolate layered-cake recipe that I would like to eat, and I have a feeling this is it.

*update 05/05/09

This recipe did not use potato starch because it had cocoa powder. To make a yellow butter cake version, simply substitute the exact amount of cocoa powder with potato starch.

Is my food blog turning me into a fashion victim?

Chocfriands 

I’ve been in a fashion funk lately. Ill-fitting clothes grace my closet – either the hubby shrank them in the dryer or they’ve seen better days or something more sinister is in play and I simply refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

Since I spend most of my weekends in the kitchen, I am most comfortable in sweat pants and sensible shoes. And when I’m baking for the business – I wear the most unflattering hairnet – thankfully my hair has grown long enough that I can collect it in a ponytail.

This has not always been so. I used to be up to date with the latest fashion, buying Instyle magazine faithfully every month, keeping an eye out for the cutest outfit and snatching it up quickly when I could. And though I don’t own a pair of Manolos, I have ogled them enviously and wished I could walk in them (my feet can never take such torture). I don’t remember shopping for clothes since last spring – didn’t feel inclined to  – I was more interested in kitchen stuff.

Last Friday though, when my sister-in-law asked us to dinner at this swanky new place, I, in my usual lazy dress-up mode, just pulled whatever was in the closet. It was warm that day, so I reached for a worn-out brown tee and matched it with a pair of equally worn out jeans.

When I strode into the restaurant, it was like transporting myself to a fashion palace. The bar was hopping with well-dressed urbanites. Women were in their snazzy spring attires sporting dainty sandals and freshly pedicured toes.

I was in my elf-shoes. And I think the last time I had a pedicure at a salon was a year ago.

I wanted to turn around and flee, especially when I thought the hostess was eyeing my outfit (or non-outfit) disdainfully – ok I’m pretty sure I imagined that part – but I squared my shoulders and bravely marched on to the waiting table.

Oh and it gets better … my sister-in-law, fresh from a vacation from Puerto Rico, waltzes in in an adorable black and white dress that gloriously accentuates her newly acquired golden tan.

Do I feel frumpier than ever? Did I mention my roots were showing too?

It was then and there that I decided enough was enough. Time to get out of the kitchen and have a  “me” day. So I ended up in the mall (hallelujah!) last Saturday afternoon and what perfect timing too – Ann Taylor was having a 60% off sale! I must have bought out the entire store…okay I didn’t – it felt like I did but only because I tried on so many clothes. I was pretty pleased with the good deals on the ones I ended up buying. I also visited Nordstrom’s Laura Mercier counter to pick up my spring/summer foundation and decided to treat myself to a new lipstick! Girls – Laura Mercier Discretion – awesome lip color! Very natural looking but adds that hint of color to your lips in a flattering way. Of course the effect might depend on your skin tone.
            He..he..no this has not turned into a fashion blog so…

Sunday , I was back in the kitchen. I had a couple of cupcake orders but wanted to make the chocolate friands I have been eyeing from Tartine’s book. I wanted a chocolate fix with the least amount of effort and let me tell you this recipe fits the bill perfectly!

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Chocolate Friands

Adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Batter

Bittersweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped                    6oz/170g

Unsalted Butter                                                      8oz/225g

Sugar                                                                   11oz/310g

All-purpose Flour                                                    3 3/4oz/105g

Cornstarch                                                            2 tbs/30ml

Salt                                                                      ¼ tsp

Large eggs                                                            4

Ganache

Bittersweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped                     4oz/115 g

Heavy cream                                                             5-½ oz/150ml

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line up 24 mini-muffin-cups on a baking sheet or butter and flour a mini-muffin tin well, knocking out the excess flour.

To make the butter, place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter over medium heat until very hot. Pour of the chocolate and stir until smooth. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition. Add 2 of the eggs and whisk until just combined and then add the remaining eggs and whisk until just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cups and fill the cups ¾ full. Bake until the top of the cakes is crack on top 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in heat proof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute or two. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Make sure the friands are cool before dipping them into the ganache. Holding each friend by its sides, dip the top into the ganache and shake gently to let the excess run of the sides. Let the ganache set up in a cool place for an hour.

Serve the friands within a day of making, or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Cooking Notes:

As I’ve stated above, this recipe was very easy. It was quick to put together with plenty of time to devote to other things (like a pedicure). As I have baked them in cups without the support of a cupcake tin, the friands started pushing out and looked a bit distorted. Even so, they were the chocolatiest dessert I have made in a while. The flavor of this dessert hinges mainly on the chocolate you use so make sure to pick good brands such as Valrhona or Callebaut.

 

Oh and this cupcake stand needs some cupcakes, don't ya think?

 

Cakestandsh