Tag Archives: cookies

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Making Macarons: Can it be truly easy?

At last, we’ve gathered up the courage to make macarons, these delightful little meringue-based almond cookies that are currently extremely de rigeur in the classiest of places. Reading up on them, however, may made you a little daunted because of the aura of finickiness that seems to be placed around their construction.

Fear not, for there are a few things you can learn that will make creating macarons much simpler than is usually shown.

This is the third part of a series showing how I made my very first batch of Macarons. Previous entries were:

Making Swiss Meringue Buttercream (great for cookies or cake)
Making Almond Flour

The following pictorial step-by-step is based on the macaron recipe found on the awesome blog BraveTart.com where pastry chef Stella Parks guides you through the process, eliminating much of the hocus-pocus typically associated with making these cookies. Her view, basically, is this: They’re just cookies. Yes, there are steps peculiar to this style of cookies, but there are specific steps for many other cookies too and this doesn’t elevate them to near-ritualistic requirements.

As noted in a prior post, two things you will want to read – and possibly print out – before we get too far ahead are:

  1. The Ten Macaron Commandments
  2. Ten Macaron Myths Busted

Some of the things we’re told we can be less fussy about: perfectly aged egg whites and their temperature, drying the piped cookies, drying the almond flour, using cornstarch-free powdered sugar, being super-duper careful with the meringue. Let’s just follow Stella’s simple recipe and get us some nice macarons, shall we?

You may also want to print out this template I made for piping out macarons in either PDF format or as a PNG image. It will fit a typical (US) home sized baking pan of 16″ x 10″ under a silpat type silicone liner or parchment paper.

Simply print out TWO copies at full (US 8.5″ x 11″) page size, tape the open ends together and trim. Each baking sheet will then give you a total of 32 circles (for 16 finished cookies), optimized for the standard macaron size of 3.5 cm with 2 cm space between each. Just remember to pull it out from under your parchment or silpat before putting your piped macarons in the oven!

Alright, let’s gather our ingredients and make some macarons!

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Whether used for cakes or cookies, this Swiss Meringue Buttercream is light, not too sweet and pretty straight forward to make. Swiss Meringue differs from Italian Meringue by the fact the egg and sugar are heated up together (145ºF minimum) before whipping, where Italian Meringue cooks the beaten eggs whites by adding very hot (245ºF) sugar syrup. Both of these are used to make buttercream frosting. A third type, French Meringue, is simply egg whites beaten with sugar, what most cooks would put on their lemon pies then bake.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream basic recipe

INGREDIENT GRAMS OUNCES One Fifth Baker’s %
Eggs, room temp 290g 10.2 oz 58g 100.0%
Sugar 290g 10.2 oz 58g 100.00%
Salt * 4g 0.1 oz 0.8g 1.38%
Butter * (room temp, 2″ Cubes) 910g 32.1 oz 182g 313.79%
Vanilla extract 4g 0.1 oz 0.8g 1.38%
TOTALS 1,498g 53 oz 300g 516.6%

* 4g is about 1/2 teaspoon. Only add salt if you use unsalted butter (recommended). If you use salted butter, leave the salt out.

You can use either fresh eggs or the pre-packaged carton stuff, both will work just fine.

Equipment: You will need a mixer (or whisk and strong arm) and a thermometer.

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Intro to Macarons (for me, anyway)

Macarons. Little almond/meringue based cookies with creamy fillings that seem to be all the rage these days or for the past several years at least. There are elite shops set up that sell just macarons in all varieties of flavours and colours, the most famous of these being Pierre Hermé (left and center pics below) and Ladurée, both out of Paris, natch.

  

Researching these cookies, one is left with the distinct impression that they require not only skill of the highest degree but intricate steps and rituals known only to the anointed.  Mere mortals can expect endless failure, best to leave it to the pros, kids.

And at prices tipping the $2 – $2.50 mark per cookie, it’s understandable that those who make them want to keep them pretty exclusive. It would, for example, cost you about $700 for the cookies visible in the photo of the display case seen above. Of course, you’re also paying for the high-brow location, the perfectly appointed stylish shop (yes, it is lovely), extra fancy packaging and a fairly large dose of lah-dee-dah.

Inspiration for Macarons

Enter Stella Parks of BraveTart.com and pastry chef at Table 310 in Lexington, KY. Her viewpoint: They’re just cookies, people! There’s nothing magical about them (although they are pretty damn tasty) and you don’t need to set up a sacrificial altar to the macaron gods to make them successfully.

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Professional Baking: Week Four – Pastry!

Another week of Professional Baking School at VIU and this time we turn our focus on pastry with Chef Harper. Again, a bit intense as we’re really just learning the very basics so I have minimal photos. Still, a glimpse of the space and class are available.

Here we are in the Food Lab with individual work stations and (off on the sides) cooking elements, stoves, etc. All very high tech.

The stove top elements in the Lab are induction and are wonderful to work on. Watch a video explaining how they work here. Note how fast the water in the pot boils!  And you can put your hand on the element without burning yourself – the heat is ‘created’ in the pan itself. Amazing. Why these aren’t in every kitchen already, I do not understand. SOOOO much better than annoying ceramic/glass tops that are either on full blast or off.

OK, on to the class itself.

We tackled the following:

  • Choux Paste
  • Crème Anglaise
  • Pastry Crème
  • Diplomat Cème
  • Bavarian Crème
  • Sugar Cookies
  • Icebox Cookies
  • Spritz Cookies
  • Biscotti

Bavarian Crème was used to fill little puff pastry balls we made from the Choux Paste, the latter being an exercise in piping consistent sized balls of the paste.

These were later drizzled with chocolate.

The Diplomat Crème was made using Pastry Cream mixed with whipped cream, gelatin and raspberry purée and poured into small cups. Much like a mousse.

We cooked sugar and water to the point of burning, taking little samples of the syrup as it heated up to see what sugar syrup colour/temp we would want to achieve before it became rather bitter. Surprisingly, it needed to be just light golden yellow to be a nice flavour, and very quickly started to become bitter at the light caramel point. Darker was very bitter and inedible. Clear or nearly so had almost no flavour. Pro Tips: burnt sugar will stink up your house; even very burnt sugar is easily washed off dishes by giving it a long soak in water.

On the cookie side: We made sugar cookie dough which we later rolled out and baked, according to what Chef showed once but without any further instructions (temp, actual thickness, time, etc.). I failed: mine were too thin and not baked long enough. Many folk got it spot on, though.

We made checkered cookies (following about the same process as the Christmas cookies I made last winter) using white and chocolate doughs. Very pretty. Sorry, no pics :(

Spritz Cookies are piped cookies, made in part using almond paste. Again, the goal here was piping technique to emulate the sample shown, as it would be in a “real life” bakery situation: “Here’s the cookie we want, make 500 exactly like it!” In such a situation, you do not want much variance; they all need to be just as tall and wide as the sample. Too big or short means they won’t cook right and the final count will be off.

 

It took several goes – fortunately, you can scrape off the failed ones and re-pipe them – but I eventually got some nice looking ones. Above, a shot of a couple of them. In fact, lots of people’s cookies came out really well. Nice job, everyone!

Back in the bakery for the last day, we baked off some of our goods, packaged and set out for sale the cookies and puff pastry. Lauren and I also got to stack a couple of big cakes for a special order – no pics again. But here we are anyway, just to close out the post.

Next week: Chocolate!

Plus: Mr B asked for a Saturday (Oct 1) volunteer to get some items baked out for a special event. Not sure what we’ll be handling but I stepped up for that. Making dozens and dozens of one thing is excellent practice, since you can improve your technique as you go. So much better than just three at a time like at home.

Checkerboard Cookies (with recipe)

Mark’s mom, a.k.a. “Grandma Chicken” (so nicknamed because her kitchen is festooned in chicken prints, chicken towels, chicken nicknacks, anything chicken themed…) signed up for a cookie exchange this Christmas, which happened to be taking place the next weekend. Everyone should make a large batch of cookies, all gather together, and share the goods with each other.

Grandma Chicken

There’s only one slight problem with this plan: Gran doesn’t actually much care for making cookies at all. Chocolates? You bet! She’ll happily spend days, nay – weeks, making fillings and hand dipping hundreds (yes!) of delicious chocolates. Cookies however… uhhh… not so much. Hearing that I was into baking, she asked me to find a good cookie recipe that would impress the neighbour ladies.

I looked up some festive cookies and found three good potentials for the event. We needed to keep in mind that because this was a cookie exchange, the visual appeal had to be rather high.

Once I presented her with these choices and we zoned in on one, she pondered if I would be interested in making them for her. So that’s how I came to make Checkerboard Cookies.

The original recipe I went with can be found on JoyOfBaking.com although I have (of course) made a few changes along the way. But here is my take on it. Let’s start with the Mis en Place.

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Recipe: Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

HeadCranBiscottiThis is the recipe used in the companion Step-by-Step Biscotti Treats post.

With a festive mix of red cranberries and green pistachios, these make a tasty surprise any time of year but also a lovely winter holiday gift.

This recipe was derived from TheFreshLoaf.com as supplied by member MimiCT. Continue reading

Recipe: Cappuccino Biscotti

Head-CapBiscottiThis is the recipe used in the companion Step-by-Step Biscotti Treats post.

Coffee flavoured with added chocolate chips and spices, they make an interesting accompaniment to your breakfast cup o’ java.

This recipe was derived from TheFreshLoaf.com as supplied by member MimiCT. Continue reading