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 )

(The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.)

Another fun challenge!  Panna Cotta has been on my list of things to try for a while, so I was excited about making it.  I decided on the vanilla option, with peach gelée on top.

The panna cotta comes together easily – it’s not as complicated and finicky as a custard or pudding.  You start by adding some unflavored gelatin to a cup of milk.  Let it bloom for a few minutes, then warm it up on the stove.  The goal is to get it hot but not boiling – you’re effectively scalding it to break down the proteins a bit and make it thicken up better.  Once it’s hot, add heavy cream, honey, and a bit of sugar.  I also added in some vanilla bean paste, but the vanilla bean particles didn’t stay suspended very well – I’d skip this next time.

After it all warms up again, let it cool, pour into dishes, and let it cool overnight.  Mine came out a bit puckered on top, but set up nicely:

IMG_5655 I wanted something to put on top, and I had some frozen peaches sitting around.  I went looking for a gelée recipe, and didn’t find anything I liked.  I started with an idea from myRecipes and used it as a springboard.  I tossed the (thawed) peaches in the blender to puree them while I bloomed another package of unflavored gelatin in a cup of club soda.  I added half a cup of the peach puree and a box of peach jello, then a cup of boiling water to dissolve it all.  I tried pouring the hot jello on top, but it broke up the panna cotta.  Spooning it carefully on top worked much better.

Next came the cookies.  This was a really quick and easy cookie recipe – add oats, flout, sugar, dark corn syrup (I didn’t have any, so I used half molasses and half light corn syrup), milk, and vanilla to a mixing bowl, melt some butter, and mix it all.  The result is a rather wet and sticky dough, which flattens out very thin when you bake it.

When I went to put the milk back in the fridge after making the cookies, I tipped over one of my panna cotta bowls, and it fell out of the fridge:

IMG_5656 Luckily, the mess took less time to clean up then the cookies took to bake.  The recipe said to let the cookies cool completely, then stick pairs of them together with melted dark chocolate.  I did that, but the cookies were far better warm, just as they were, right out of the oven.  The insides were gooey, the outside was crunchy, and they were rich and oat-y. 

IMG_5663

In the end, it all came together well.  The peach gelée worked well to add some fruitiness. The panna cotta was rich and creamy, and the cookies were crunchy.  I’m looking forward to making it again, with some different flavors – chocolate panna cotta, maybe, with cherry gelée on top?

( see the recipe )

Last weekend, I made cupcakes.  I didn’t make cupcakes because I wanted cupcakes, though – I made cupcakes because I’ve been craving really good frosting.  And as tempting as it was to just make a batch of frosting and eat it with a spoon, I decided I should at least pretend to have some level of decorum.

So, the cupcakes.  I used the first likely-looking vanilla cupcake recipe from Food Network, which turned out to be Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes.  They were perfectly good cupcakes.  Nothing to write home about, but a nice, basic, vanilla cupcake. 

While they were cooling, I started on the frosting.  I’ve been looking for a not-terribly-sweet cooked buttercream, so when I saw this one on Baking Bites, I had to try it.  It wasn’t that hard, really – beat the eggs, and then “cook” them with a simple syrup to stabilize the frosting.  Once all the simple syrup was in, it looked really good and stable – then I started added an entire pound of very soft butter.

I’ll admit, it started looking scary a few times.  It was hard to find the patience to not add more butter until the previous pat was entirely integrated, and a couple time it looked like it was going to break.  After all the butter was in, I watched it nervously for a few minutes, then turned my back for just one minute to finish loading the dishwasher.

And when I looked back, it was perfect

Vanila Bean Buttercream

It was light and fluffy, flecked with vanilla bean bits, and amazingly rich.  It was just sweet enough to be “frosting”, but not that awful cloying sweetness of grocery-store-bakery frosting.  It was exactly the frosting I’d been fantasizing about.

So I put it on the cupcakes.  All the cool kids these days seem to be piping frosting on top of the cupcakes instead of frosting them with a knife, so I did the same thing:

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The only problem was it made 36 cupcakes, and there was no way we could eat them fast enough, so the exposed tops got stale very quickly.  Next time, I’ll spread a thin coat of frosting to just cover and protect the top of the cupcake, then pipe the rest. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a little bit of frosting left in a bowl in the fridge, and I have a spoon…

( see the recipe )