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 )

When I was a kid, we always had rhubarb around.  My mother had a huge garden in the back yard, and about a third of it was full of rhubarb.  There was always pie, and strudel, and stewed rhubarb, and rhubarb jelly.

But it doesn’t seem to grow in Texas – the internet says it can be done, but I’ve never seen it.  Every once in a while, I see some in the grocery store, but it’s always expensive and sort of sad looking.

But this weekend I was at Randall’s, and they had a whole pile that didn’t look too bad, and wasn’t terribly expensive.  I picked out a generous handful, thinking I’d make a pie.

When I got it home and started chopping, I realized I’d sadly miscalculated.  I had about twice as much as I needed for a pie. So I started by cutting up the first half.

I cheated and used a refrigerated pie crust.  I’m terrible at them – sometimes I try one just to see if I’ve gotten any better, but I rarely have, and I didn’t have the patience to mess with one. 

RhubarbThe whole thing is very easy – put a pie crust in the pan, put some sugar and flour on top, then add three cups of rhubarb.  Bake for about an hour, or until done.

Rhubarb

It was a very good pie.  But it left me with half the rhubarb still in my fridge.

So, the next day, I made a strudel.  I actually had enough for two, but I just doubled the recipe and put it in a 13×9 instead of an 8-inch square.

Another simple recipe – a basic crust, 3 more cups of rhubarb, and a package of cherry jello sprinkled on top.  Then a streusel made from flour, sugar, and some melted butter. Rhubarb

Rhubarb

The pie was perfect – exactly like I remembered it.  My mother’s was always redder, but that’s because her rhubarb was better.  The strudel came out a bit less-sweet then I remembered it, but it was still good.

It felt like spring, even if it is August!

( see the pie recipe )

( see the strudel recipe )

There’s an ice cream social in my future, and I thought it would be fun to make my own waffle cones.  I decided that it would be best if I made a batch far in advance, so I could figure out the process without the stress of doing it on party day.

I wandered around Amazon, and found one that was reasonably priced and got good reviews – Chef’s Choice Waffle Cone Maker.  While I waited for it to show up, I went looking for a recipe.  I found a wonderful tutorial and recipe on Cupcake Project.  She had a smaller waffle maker then the one I got, but I figured it would work just fine.

The recipe was easy enough – whisk some cream and sugar, then sift in flour, cinnamon, and some cornstarch.  I was expecting something more like waffle batter, but it pretty much matched her pictures, so I figured I must have done it right.

 Waffle Cones

It looked like cookie batter, so I used my cookie scoop to drop it on the waffle iron.

Waffle Cones

Centering it didn’t work very well – because of the hinge, it squished out the front.

Waffle Cones

So for the rest of them, I put the dough near the back, and that worked much better.

Waffle Cones

Once it’s at the doneness, you want, the waffle gets lifted off the iron and onto a clean towel.  At this point you have to work fast, because it will harden quickly.

Waffle Cones

It’s really hot, so use the towel to form it around the cone mold.  I found it was easiest to wrap it, then flip it seam down and hold pressure on the seam for 15 seconds or so to make sure it joins properly.  The instruction manual just says to pinch off the bottom to get the point to seal, but I had mixed results with that.  I’ll probably just cheat and do what the Drumstick people do and drizzle a "plug" of chocolate in to seal it.

Waffle Cones

Besides cones, I also tried bowls.  I put the waffle in the bowl, then pushed a second bowl on top to form it.  This bowl came out a little shallow.

Waffle Cones

I had better luck with a more straight-sided bowl (this one was Pyrex). You can’t use the two-bowl trick here, though, since a second bowl won’t fit inside.

Waffle Cones

Overall, it was fun, and a great excuse to polish off some ice cream later in the evening.  I’m looking forward to making a few batches for the party – I think I’ll dip a few in chocolate, maybe roll them in sprinkles….

( see the recipe )

(Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.)

This month was definitely a challenge.  I’ve never made baklava before, and it certainly never occurred to me to roll out my own phyllo dough.  Like so many of the challenges, it wasn’t so much "difficult" as it was "time-consuming". 

Start with a basic dough of water, flour, salt, oil, and a bit of vinegar (to adjust the PH).  I mixed it up in my stand mixer, then kneaded it (in the stand mixer!), then wrapped it in saran wrap for just over two hours to relax.  It didn’t rise, because it has no leavening, but if the gluten doesn’t relax after kneading, it can be nearly impossible to roll out.

I was supposed to end up with 20 layers, but I miscounted somewhere and only ended up with 18.  Even 18 was a lot of rolling – it took me close to an hour to do them all. I couldn’t take pictures while holding them up, but every layer came out nearly thin enough to read through.  I use a silicone map with ruler markings, so I could be sure to get the size close to right.

I never understood how to roll things out square – the closest I can ever get is "rounded rectangles".  But it was close enough.Baklava

One they were all rolled out, I trimmed them to fit my pan.  I tossed the scraps in a bag in the fridge – I haven’t ruled out doing something with them.   Baklava Then they got layered in the pan.  Every sheet of dough gets brushed with butter before laying down the next one.  I ended up with 4 sheets on the bottom two layers, and 5 on the top two.

Baklava In between each set of layers, I put a layer of nuts and spices. The recipe called for almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. But I had a big bag of pecans, and it is Texas, so I used the pecans. Because doesn’t everyone love Texas-Greek fusion?

The recipe also called for whole allspice, but my food processor destroyed the nuts before it even touched the allspice, so I picked out all the remaining berries and sprinkled in some ground allspice.

Baklava

One it was assembled, it went in the oven for an hour, with a quick check at 30 minutes to make sure I’d sliced all the way through the layers.  While it was baking, I made the sauce from honey, water, sugar, and a cinnamon stick.

Baklava

The sauce smelled amazing.  One they came out of the oven, I poured the sauce over the top, and let the pan sit in the fridge overnight.  I have about half the sauce left – it would be amazing over vanilla ice cream!

Baklava

Next time, I’d be tempted to add some flavoring to the dough.  Phyllo is usually just structural, but if I’m going to make it from scratch, I’d like to try adding flavors to it.  Maybe some sort of pocket pie, with spicy phyllo on the outside and ground meat inside?

All in all, a fun challenge!  I look forward to next month!

( see the recipe )

After the maple mousse, I was in the mood to make another kind of mousse.  I’ve been looking at this peanut butter mousse recipe for a while, and I was invited to a brunch. 

I liked the idea of the edible cups, so I started with those. I had small plastic molds that I use for peanut butter cups, so I painted the inside of the molds with a thin layer of chocolate, and put them in the fridge to harden.  The first batch had to be re-melted, after they stuck to the just-out-of-the-dishwasher Pyrex bowl.  For the next batch, I pre-chilled the bowl, and lined it with Saran Wrap just in case, and they were fine.

Once the shells were done, I made the mousse.  It’s very simple – beat 2/3rds of a cup of whipping cream until it makes soft peaks.  Then beat a cup of peanut butter and 8 ounces of softened cream cheese until smooth.  Sift in a cut of powdered sugar, add a teaspoon of vanilla, and beat until smooth.  Then fold into the whipped cream carefully.

I chilled it for a few hours, then piped it into the cups.  I wanted to use a star tip, but I forgot that mine had had an unfortunate encounter with the garbage disposal a few months ago, so I settled for a plain tip.  They would have been prettier with the star, but…

Peanut Butter Mousse

They were perfect.  The mousse was very, very rich, and would have been too much in a bigger serving.  These were just one bite – the perfect mix of peanut butter and chocolate.

( see the recipe )