Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macaron - Daring Bakers October

Dear Claudia Fleming,

We've been together for a few years now. I've enjoyed your book, The Last Course, a lot during our time together. Your chocolate caramel tarts, with their final flourish of sea salt, have ended a few of my dinner parties. Lavender lemon pound cake, page 150, got me over my fear of floral notes in baked goods. I created a fig and cornmeal cake recipe that was inspired by your fig cornmeal tart. In totality, before this month's Daring Baker's challenge, I was in awe of The Last Course. Every recipe I made from it sparkled, and seemed to trigger excess inspiration. Thanks for that. It's a lovely book.

I've tried to make this work. After attempting your original macaroon (your spelling, not mine) recipe twice to ill effect, I made a slight alteration by increasing the amount of granulated sugar and left the piped unbaked macaroons to sit outside the oven for an hour before baking according to your directions. The feet on those suckers were so encouraging, but the cracked tops meant there was more work to do. My fourth batch kept the new higher sugar level and counter-drying time, but added a few more strokes of the macronage and a slightly lower end baking temperature. No cracking that time, but no feet either.

As I struggled to get those elusive little feet, the mark of a true macaron, I devoured countless chewy almond cookies. Those were tasty little failures, and I wouldn't change them for anything. But Claudia, life's too short to waste good vanilla beans. I adore your idea for putting real vanilla seeds right into the macronage. The flavor is sensational and those dark speckles would be downright dramatic against the smooth creamy color of a well baked plain macaron. I'll keep that tip, but I'm abandoning the rest of the recipe. It's not you - it's me. My macaron-loving heart belongs to Tartlette. Her basic recipe is foolproof, and she makes me feel like a better baker. I hope you'll understand. I'll always be fond of your book, and we'll still stay friends, right?



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. Thanks for the Great Challenge!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fondant Covered Cupcakes

This is what happens when I decide to have a little extra fun at work...I form a cupcake gang, using the only three colors available. Clockwise, from top left:

Morty, Hans, Sally, Chill Will, Lola, and Herman

Lola is my favorite. She's sleek. She's sassy. She's giving you the side eye, but with that smirk, it's impossible to tell if her intentions are good or evil.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bucktown Apple Pie Contest

The annual Beth gets her ass handed to her, pouts about losing, and eats her own weight in apple pie day Bucktown Apple Pie Contest was today.

So, what did I learn?

1. People love booze. People will buy slices of a pie that is pasty as hell and is swimming in juice if it has bourbon in it.
2. Store-bought refrigerated pie dough is even easier to spot than I thought.
3. Even though it is the Bucktown APPLE Pie Contest, inevitably an old man will ask where the pecan pie can be found. Not joking.
4. The contest is more fun when you have friends (Courtney and Kristal) to commiserate with.

5. Don't judge a pie by it's crust. Sometimes the ugly ones are the tastiest. (Shout out to Kristal and Joel - yours was so good!)
6. I am overly competitive and need to learn to be a graceful loser. I think that I used to be better at this. Perhaps my pride has grown over the years? My pouty face is ugly and shouldn't be shown in public.
7. It's important to write down what kinds of apples are used in your filling, because the farmers market sells about a gazillion different varieties, and you'll never be able to replicate it without detailed notes. Ever.
8. I really, really, really love pie.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chocolate Meringue Birthday Cake

Making cakes for close friends is tough for me, because I want to make the perfect thing, a cake that she will love, even if she never knew she wanted it in the first place. The flavors and the facade have to mirror that person's unique qualities. It usually takes me several brainstorming sessions to come up with a complete idea: cake, filling, frosting, and decoration. Last week I went through this process for my wonderful friend Meghan, who is generosity and beauty personified. She deserves only good things. Meghan's love of baking makes her even more endearing, and it also made her birthday cake a little more challenging.

In the end, I chose a moist, deeply chocolate cake. It was filled with alternating layers of salted caramel buttercream (a fabulous idea from Leena! at Leena Eats ) and vanilla bean buttercream.

I followed Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for (terrifying) Caramel Silk Meringue Buttercream, a recipe that requires no less than 4 saucepans. It was a bit of a nightmare to make, much more difficult than my standard Swiss meringue buttercream. At several points in the process, I thought that I had permanently f'ed up the whole batch; that I'd let the caramel brown too far , that I had curdled the eggs in the creme anglaise, that I'd added the sugar syrup to the egg whites too quickly. Miraculously, I avoided all of those pitfalls and ended up with a really delicious frosting. True to its name, it was smooth as silk, but also firm enough to stand in its place. I added a bit of salt directly into the the sugar as it cooked into amber, and another bit after the butter was fully incorporated into the frosting. It was just barely noticeable, but brought the entire cake up a notch. It's truly remarkable what a little seasoning can do for a dish!

The sides of the cake were studded with chocolate meringues. Aside from looking really crazy, the little round confections finished off the cake with a crisp and chewy texture. The whole thing came together so well. Meghan was pleased, so I was too. After all, that was the ultimate goal.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eat Your Juice

I'm not a big juice drinker, but that doesn't mean that I don't consume juice. I just prefer to eat it. Adding juice to recipes, both sweet and savory, is a surefire way to add flavor. When POM offered to send me a case of their delish Pomegranate Juice, I started brainstorming ways to use it. I didn't have to think long.

I knew that I'd drink some of it straight because POM Wonderful is good stuff. It's not loaded with corn syrup, artificial colors, or preservatives like most juices. The only thing in those bottles is 100% pure pomegranate juice and a whole lot of free radical-fighting antioxidants. Even if it wasn't ultra healthy, I'd be drinking it for the taste. POM Wonderful has an addictive sweet and sour balance.

Here's a quick way to incorporate POM and all those awesome antioxidants into a quick dinner:

Pour an 8 ounce bottle of POM Wonderful into a saucepan. Chop half an onion, smash two cloves of garlic, grate a teaspoon of fresh ginger and dump in the pan with the pomegranate juice. Add a dash of mirin, a dash of soy sauce, and a teaspoon of Sriracha. Stir together and cook over medium heat until the juice reduces enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain, reserving only the liquid. Goes great with chicken or pork, and could easily be doubled and stashed in the fridge for another night.

I spooned this slightly sweet sauce over stir fried pork and vegetables that were seasoned with Chinese five spice. All of the POM glaze was sponged up by a bed of brown rice. Altogether, very colorful, very pretty, and not at all likely to cause your arteries to clog up. All good things!

I think I still have one bottle of POM left, and I'm debating what to do with it. Of course I could just drink it, and I know that I'd enjoy it, but I'm still trying to think of an inventive way to bake with pomegranate juice. Suggestions?