Sunday, November 22

Whipped - {Salted Caramel and Pumpkin Macarons}

A number of weeks ago, I completely lost my "macaron mojo." I turned out batch after batch of failed macs, finding myself more disappointed and discouraged as I scraped the cracked, bubbly and caramelized discs from their sheets. Truthfully, ragged, split and misshapen shells are no different from those that assume the proper rise and form, but these were no ordinary mistakes. What I'd been producing, time and time again, looked more like amaretti cookies than French macarons.

But rather than give up, I kept trying. Surely sick of my whining (I'd been droning on and on about macarons since I first failed), P was at my side in the kitchen and as determined as I was to produce at least one successful batch of macarons.

But that isn't where we started.

You see, P and I had different methods for whipping egg whites.

We talked about our different methods for whipping egg whites.

It turned out that my method was kinda wrong. I added the sugar waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too early, which I learned inhibits the eggs ability to whip fully. So, since P wanted to make some meringues, he took the opportunity to teach me how to whip the whites correctly. From over my shoulder, as we watched the whites beat into a froth, he said that it was time to add in cream of tartar for stability - 1/8 tsp, sifted, per white. Then, as the whites continued to whip, he showed me exactly when the sugar was to be added. As soon as the whites came to soft peaks, he gently dusted it in while explaining the importance of timing and a slow speed. The former was detailed earlier, but as for the latter; adding the sugar too quickly would surely deflate the foam because, surprisingly enough, the sharp geometric shape of granular sugar doesn't mix very well with delicate bubbles!

And, sure enough, P's egg whites whipped up beautifully. Shiny, stiff and definitely to a larger volume than I'd ever seen. After folding the cocoa and chocolate into his meringues and spooning the glossy batter onto a baking sheet, he started helping me with the macarons.

I added the cream of tartar, which is something I've never done before in macarons. Then I waited until P told me exactly when to add the sugar. He may have laughed at me a bit as I worried about over-whipping the whites, but I forgive him.

Maybe. You know, now that I think about it, he laughs at me a lot. Jerk.

On second thought, it's ok; he did fix my macarons, after all!

Needless to say (I sure haven't kept it much of a surprise!), after piping out and baking the shells, they were beautiful! Not perfect, but definitely good enough for me! I made a quick salted caramel on the stove that I melted into some buttercream, and added pumpkin puree to a separate batch. I had difficulties with both though. The caramel was a bit more solid than I would have liked, but that's no surprise considering I just eye-balled it all. As for the pumpkin... Well, water-y things don't really incorporate well into buttercream, do they? The taste was faint - just barely detectable - but not a favorite. We all definitely preferred the salted caramel!

Ok, I'm going to quit rambling, so I'll keep this short, sweet and to the point: I've got my "macaron mojo" back, thanks to P!

Chocolate Meringues with Chocolate Chips
I'd never had a meringue before, and now I'll definitely be making them more often, myself. These are so good!
3 egg whites, room temp
3/8 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 c (149 g) sugar
2-3 Tbls cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c (80 g) chocolate chips/chopped chocolate

Preheat the oven to 300F (150C).

Whip the egg whites to a foam on a medium speed, then sift in the cream of tartar. Continue whipping to soft peaks on medium speed, then increase the speed and begin adding the sugar in a slow, steady speed. After the whites reach stiff peaks, pour in the vanilla and whip just to combine. Now sift the cocoa over the egg whites and sprinkle the chocolate on top. Fold gently to combine then drop in heaping spoonfuls on a lined baking sheet. Bake 35-40 minutes. Store in an air-tight container.

Macaron Shells
7 Tbls (40 g) almond meal
1/3 c + 1 Tbls (65g) powdered sugar
1 egg white, room temp
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbls + 1/2 tsp (15g) granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 280F.

Combine the almond meal and powdered sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, beat the egg to a foam and add the cream of tartar. Continue beating to soft peaks and add the sugar. Beat until completely combined and the mass doesn't shift when the bowl is tipped upside down. Sift the dry ingredients over the top and fold in carefully. Pour the batter into a piping bag, pipe rounds onto a lined baking sheet and let set out until they are no longer sticky to the touch. Bake 10-15 minutes.

Chocolate Macaron Shells
7 Tbls (40 g) almond meal
1/3 c + 1 tsp (62g) powdered sugar
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 egg white, room temp
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbls + 1/2 tsp (15g) granulated sugar

Follow the same method as before, but add the cocoa powder in with the powdered sugar and almond meal.

Salted Caramel
This is what I did off the top of my head and it worked beautifully. However, when P tried to do it again on Thanksgiving for his family, it didn't work for him at all... In all honesty, I would go with a more scientific approach and pick a well-tested recipe. And use a candy thermometer for best results. You really just want a sauce, not a thick caramel.
1/2 c (99 g) sugar
1/2 c (118 ml) water
2 Tbls cream
1/4 tsp salt

Prepare a small oiled bowl and set aside.

Cook the sugar and water over high heat, paying careful attention not to burn it. When it turns a nice amber color, add the cream slowly, then the salt. Stir until completely combined and no longer bubbling, then pour into the prepared bowl to cool. When cooled completely, add to a small amount of buttercream.

Sunday, November 15

Of Friends and Cake - {Lemon Pound Cake}

Four sticks of butter sit dented and disordered on my dashboard, brushed by fading light and soft to the touch. Behind me, a dozen eggs rest snugly in their carton, cradled gently by a hoodie strewn over the backseat. A curious location, perhaps, for such things, but thoughtful, no doubt; my ingredients are sure to be room temperature by the time I arrive home, and then I can bake.

There's music blaring from the ancient speakers in my car as P, K and I sing our hearts out to Queen's "Greatest Hits" album. Freddie's falsetto is difficult to impersonate properly, but that certainly doesn't stop the three of us from doing our best interpretations.

We don't hit all the right notes.

We don't know all the right words.

We don't even come close.

But we don't care.

A swing left and a right turn take the butter on a trip, and P reacts just a bit too slowly to save them from landing roughly on the floor. Over Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" (playing, perhaps, a little to loudly for some), and through a broadening smile, he states, very simply that "one's missing."

I'm almost embarrassed to admit just how comical the three of us considered his declaration of the missing stick of butter to be.

It doesn't take much to make me happy.

At the bakery, just over an hour later, our dented butter lay on the tabletop alongside the eggs, a recently purchased pound of pastry flour and a bowl of sugar. After drooling over a particularly inspiring episode of "Good Eats" earlier in the week, P and I had been looking forward to baking pound cake for a number of days. Watching the show, the two of us were eager and excited over the thought of replicating the perfectly light, fluffy and downright sexy batter we'd seen Alton produce. Not only is the process incredibly satisfying, but watching the batter go through the phases (creamed butter and sugar, added eggs and blended flour) is awesome. Something about the batter is so uncommon... It's just gorgeous!

(Perhaps it's that pound of butter...?)

Dividing the batter between the six small loaf pans was a shared task; I scooped and measured as P used a small, carefully-selected and pink spatula to spread the batter evenly within the tins. P suggested making cookies with the remaining batter, fascinated with the viscosity as he folded the mix in the bowl. He seemed almost surprised when I quickly reached for the flour, but still added a heavy dusting along with a handful of chocolate chips and a sprinkling of chopped roasted hazelnuts leftover from the cake I'd made almost a month earlier. Baked and cooled, we decided that the results were a little more scone-like than cookie-like, but delicious nonetheless. I'm totally going to continue working on them.

The simple ingredients and familiar technique employed by this age-old recipe yield beautifully browned picture-perfect loaves. Lightly flavored by vanilla, the unnecessary but welcome addition of a thin lemon glaze over the moist cakes creates a pleasant texture contrast while introducing a brightly acidic note to the palette. It's simple, it's easy and it's gonna make you smile.

No doubt.

Pound Cake via Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

1 lb (454 g) unsalted butter, room temp
1 lb (454 g) sugar
1 lb (454 g) eggs (about 9), room temp (we blended all the eggs together then added them, bit by bit, to the batter)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb (454 g) cake flour (we used pastry flour because I couldn't find cake flour at the co-op)

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350F (175C).

Grease a 10-inch aluminum tube pan, 2 (9 by 5-inch) loaf pans or 6 mini loaf pans and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer for 5 minutes on medium speed, using the paddle attachment. Stop once to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. With the mixer running at the lowest speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Again, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This will take approximately 3 minutes and the mixture may look curdled. Add the vanilla and salt and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.

With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour in 3 installments, making sure each portion is fully incorporated before adding the next. After the final addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat for 30 seconds on medium speed until almost smooth.

(It killed me to let the mixer go so long. In fact, I couldn't; My incessant whining prompted P to stop the mixer after just 20 seconds. I've spent so long mixing in the flour until "just combined" that going any longer was incredibly difficult for me! The cakes still turned out very well, but if I make them again I definitely won't let it go for so long. Just don't tell P!)

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan(s), dividing evenly if using more than one. Bake for 1 hour (the mini pans took about 30 minutes) or until the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. The crust will be golden brown and will spring back when pressed, but the crack around the center will appear moist.

Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan(s) and cool on the rack. Store the cake on the rack covered with a tea towel for up to 3 days.

Lemon Glaze
The juice of one lemon
Confectionery sugar

To the lemon juice, sift in a small amount of powdered sugar and whisk to combine. Add more until the glaze is the desired thickness, then pour over the cooled loaves (preferably on a rack). Enjoy!

Sunday, November 8

Surprise - {Maple Cake}

I stood, feet comfortably planted at the bakery, watching a glistening thread of real maple syrup weave slowly into a measuring glass. This one cup of liquid gold destined for what was sure to be a delicious - and very fitting - cake.

A slick smile spread across my lips.

Perusing the shelves, I located the standard dry goods along with brown sugar and cinnamon - two very traditional components for any dessert involving maple - and began the mise en place. I carefully measured and gently compacted the sugar, which landed solidly over the softened butter in a large mixing bowl as it is apt to do. I was conversely lax with the measurement of the cinnamon which, after generously scooping out a mound of the powdered comfort, dusted a familiar pattern over the flour in the dry-goods bowl.

Earlier in the week, I had told P - quite definitely, mind you - that I would be baking his birthday cake sometime over the weekend. And now, on a Tuesday, after placing the rounds in the oven and consulting my watch, I knew I would need to formulate some sort of excuse as to why I wasn't around that evening if I planned on keeping the whole "early cake" thing a surprise. I had, of course, gone to the mall to shop for birthday presents. Right? Not exactly smooth, but completely legit, yes?

And on Wednesday evening when I disappeared to frost the cake? Well I'd, of course, gone to Meijer with my brother to search for a better cable converter box for the TV he brought my roommate and I. (As a side note here, I just want to say that my brother drove me to the bakery and sat there, patiently waiting, while I frosted the cake. Isn't that awesome of him?)

Around 10PM on Wednesday, the finished cake was delivered to S's and Z's apartment (Again, thanks to the bro!). Neatly topping it with 21 tall multi-colored candles, S and I discussed the details of the surprise party that she was going to orchestrate the following evening. I explained that I would contact her when P and I were walking home from dinner so they, along with a few other friends, could be ready.

P seemed completely oblivious (I mean that in the nicest way possible!), but apparently I was acting a little strangely on Thursday before dinner and he figured out our little plot! Gr!

This cake has been in the forefront of my mind for weeks. The combination of maple and peanut butter was surprising to a few people, but far from outlandish. I likened it to peanut butter and honey to quell the doubt of the nonbelievers, but there weren't many people that I truly had to convince. But why this combo? Easy; on the days when the cafeteria is serving a particularly crappy meal for breakfast, P sometimes opts for a waffle, which he tops with a combination of maple syrup and peanut butter (microwaved and mixed together, of course). So one morning, when asked which kind of cake he'd like for his birthday, P toyed idly with his mug and said simply, "something with coffee. Or peanut butter." Guess which I chose?

He makes it too easy.

By the way, I wouldn't recommend combining coffee and peanut butter. It's not very tasty.... :P

Maple Cake, adapted from Sky High
Printable Recipe

2 c (250 g) cake flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more!)
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (237 ml) grade A maple syrup
2/3 c (156 ml) milk room temp
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
3/4 c (107 g) brown sugar
1 egg, room temp

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) and grease/line two six inch cake pans.

Sift together the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Combine the maple syrup and milk in another small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg. Add the wet and dry ingredients in two parts each, beginning with the dry. Alternate and scrape the bowl between each addition. Pour into prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Peanut Butter Italian Meringue Buttercream via Martha Stewart
For step-by-step directions for making Italian Meringue Buttercream, please click here!
1 1/4 (248 g) cups sugar
2/3 c (156 ml) water
5 large egg whites, room temp
2 c (236 g) butter, cubed at room temp
Peanut butter, to taste

Bring sugar and 2/3 c (156 ml) water to a boil. Boil until syrup reaches 238F (114C) (soft ball stage).

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy in a stand mixer. and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat! You have to be careful with your timing on this. I usually start beating the eggs when the temp of the sugar is around 228F (109C).

With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream being careful not to hit the beaters or the walls of the bowl. Beat on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter piece by piece, beating until it's fully incorporated. Add the peanut butter and whip 2 minutes more.