Macarons – the real, French kind – have been on my to-bake list for a long time.  I imagined it would be an all-day process, and I just kept putting it off.

Until I got a dinner invitation, and I offered to bring dessert, and nothing in my recipes looked good.  I did have all day to work on them, so I pulled up the Definitive Macaron Guide and got started.

This will all make sense if you follow along in the guide. 

I started by marking circles on parchment to pipe them into.  I didn’t have a 1.5 inch cookie cutter, and the closest round thing I did have was a give-away champagne glass that lurks in the pack of my cupboard.  So I used it.  The important note here is that you must remember to flip the paper over before you start piping onto and, and also that blue sharpie is a pain to get off your good cookie sheets.  A pen would have been a better choice.

Macarons

Next, the measuring:  4 ounces of almond flour and 8 ounces of powdered sugar.  I actually had almond flour in the fridge from an almond cake recipe I made earlier this year, so that made this part simple.  Macarons

Then the eggs.  I really did weigh the eggs.  It came out to about 5 eggs for me, but I get farm-type eggs which cannot be restricted by labels like "large" or "extra-large".  I followed her instructions exactly – 3 minutes on medium, 3 minutes on medium-high, and 3 minutes on high.  And they looked perfectly meringue-y to me:

Macarons

Then the folding.  All the dry ingredients get folded into the egg whites.  This is where I deviated, and I should not have.  She said about 40 strokes was right – I stopped at 30, because I was afraid they were getting too runny.  The result was that I had an awful lot of big bubbles in my shells, instead of many more little bubbles.  I won’t make that mistake again!

Macarons

Next, piping.  I should have knocked down those little points on top before I baked them, because with the points, they don’t lay flat on the table so you can fill them.

 Macarons Then, off to the oven for 18 minutes.  Mine took closer to 20 minutes, but I suspect my oven thermostat is drifting.  Perhaps the next time I buy an oven thermometer, I’ll actually remember to remove it before I run the self-cleaning cycle?  No, probably not.

Macarons

I was genuinely impressed.  They weren’t perfect, but they were very close, especially for a first try.  While they cooled, I whipped up a batch of vanilla buttercream to fill them with.  I piped in the buttercream…

Macarons

…and then we went out to dinner.  Everyone loved them, even if they could have been a bit flatter and less airy.  My impression was that they weren’t nearly as hard as everyone says they are, and they were well worth the trouble.  I can see myself making a huge batch, with different colors and fillings, for a party.  I’m thinking cherry shells with a chocolate ganache, to start with…

( see the recipe )

It was time to clean out the pantry.  In the pile of leftover-baking-ingredients, there were two half-full bags of Jammy Bits.  One bag was raspberry and one was blueberry, both leftover from fruitcakes this past Christmas.  I didn’t want to make fruitcake in July, but I did have this really good peanut butter cookie recipe from the Fluffernutters. 

 

So I made the cookies, again.  I learned, this time, that an 18oz jar of peanut butter was almost exactly the two cups I needed.  I didn’t mention the oatmeal last time, but it adds some structure and texture that most peanut butter cookies lack.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

And this time, as the very last step, I added in just over a cup of mixed Jammy Bits.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

I was worried they’d break up in the stand mixer, but they held up fine.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

In the oven, the jam bits melted into tiny pockets of jelly.  I was worried that it would overwhelm the peanut butter, but they came out nicely balanced. 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

All in all, one of my more successful pantry-cleaning afternoons!

( see the recipe )

Today’s recipe is from Houston Classic Desserts (Classics Series).  I was having people over on short notice, and I wanted something different.  I’d gotten the book a few days before, and flipped through it, looking for something that didn’t take all day in the kitchen, but was a step up from my usual cookies.

And I can’t ever resist a sandwich cookie, and these looked really, really good. 

The outsides are a particularly peanut butter-y – two whole cups of peanut butter! – and some oatmeal, but they’re otherwise a standard peanut butter cookie recipe.  I really enjoyed them, and I’d make them again just to eat as peanut butter cookies.

They get scooped onto a baking sheet:

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And flattened after they’re baked.  I was tempted to put the traditional fork marks in them, but I didn’t.  Anyone who got within ten feet of them could smell the peanut butter, so I didn’t think it was necessary.

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One side of the filling is marshmallow fluff.  The other side is peanut butter, a bit of butter, and powdered sugar.  I was tempted to use crunchy peanut butter, but I was worried that it would get stuck in the piping bag.  Next time, I might sprinkle a handful of whole nuts in the middle, too.

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Assemble.  Eat.

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They’re good.  I’m not a huge fan of marshmallow fluff, but these were good.  I’m make them again – maybe one of these days, I’ll just throw an entire party based around sandwich cookies!

( see the recipe )

I like sandwich cookies, and I make quite a few of them.  Somehow, they seem a step up from “regular” cookies, but they don’t require painstaking decorations like fancy iced cookies.

I’ve done chocolate sandwich cookies before (using this recipe) but they don’t usually survive long enough to get pictures. 

This recipe is from the Martha Stewart’s Cookiesbook.  Why that one?  Because I was flipping through the book looking for something inspiring, and I hadn’t tried this recipe before.

It’s another standard cookie recipe – beat the butter and sugar, add an egg, add the dry ingredients.  There’s nothing unusual or difficult about it.

The dough gets scooped out onto a baking sheet.  I have a set of cookie scoops, and I used the smallest one here.  It’s easy to end up with monstrously big sandwich cookies, so I start small.  If you don’t have a cookie scoop, you can use a spoon, but make sure you get them close to the same size, or you’ll have to sort them out after they bake.

Cookies!

Once they’re all scooped out, dip the bottom of a glass in sugar, then press them down flat.  If you have a fancy glass with ridges on the bottom, you can use that and transfer the pattern.  I don’t, so I just used a plastic tumbler.  Some of the sugar will transfer, so re-dip the glass for every cookie. 

Cookies!

Bake.  Keep a close eye on them – with chocolate cookies, you can’t see the color change when they’re getting close to done, so it’s easy to burn them. 

Cookies!

Let them cool.  They need to be room temperature before you fill them – if they’re even a little warm, the heat from the cookies will melt the filling and you’ll have a mess.

While they’re cooling, mix up the filling.  The recipe calls for half butter and half shortening.  You can play with that proportion as long as you keep the total to one cup – more butter and it’ll be richer, but less butter and more shortening will make it more authentic.  Same thing with the vanilla – if you used a double-strength vanilla extract or vanilla paste it will be better, if you use less then a teaspoon it will taste more like Oreo filling.

Put the filling in a piping bag, and pipe less then you think it needs onto one cookie.  Press another on top.  It’s easy to over-fill them, so I always err on the side of less filling and add more if I think they need it.  If you don’t want to get out the piping bag, you can use a spoon, but I think piping is actually easier.

Cookies!

You can do all sorts of variations – some people roll them in sprinkles to decorate them, or you can play with different flavors in the filling. 

Personally, I just enjoy them with a cold glass of milk. They don’t need anything else.

( see the recipe )

I decided it was time to upgrade a few things in the kitchen. 

First, I asked my mother for a new collection of plates.  I have plenty of plates, but they’re mostly all white, and none of them ever look very interesting in pictures.  She found all kinds of interesting colors and patterns, and most of them will show up here over the next few months.

Next, I bought myself some new lights for the kitchen as an after-Christmas present.  And Mike got a new camera, so I inherited his old SLR.

Once I had everything assembled and organized, it was time to bake some cookies and take some pictures.

These are cornmeal cookies.  My mother made them all the time when I was growing up.  

Cornmeal Cookies

They’re a very simple cookie – cream some butter and sugar, add an egg and some vanilla, then mix in the flour, baking powder, and cornmeal. 

These come out best if you use a coarse cornmeal, like you’d put in cornbread.  If you use a very finely-ground cornmeal, you’ll lose the texture that makes them unique (it’s hard to describe, but the best word I can find is “rustic”), and you’ll just have a slightly-odd sugar cookie.

They were very good, and the texture made for an interesting picture.  I’m still trying to get everything set up quite right (the background wasn’t really purple!), but I’ll just have to keep baking cookies to take pictures of until I get it right!

( see the recipe )