Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tiramisu Macarons

I am a very happy baker. No, strike that, I'm ecstatic. Pardon me a moment while I toot my own horn: just look at those macarons! Smooth tops, not a crack in sight, and although not visible, deliciously chewy inside. And best yet, this is representative of the whole batch; there wasn't a cracked top among them. I could weep for joy.

"What happened, what changed??" I hear you ask. Well, what happened was I tried a new recipe style as well as a few tricks I'd read about since my last struggle. The difference was astounding, so much so I feared to breathe in case I should break whatever lucky streak I was on. One hundred macarons in (I bake for a hungry crowd) and I finally started to believe that it wasn't luck at all. Remember how I said once I'd found my perfect brownie recipe I saved it in a million places so I'd never lose it? This recipe is now joining the brownie recipe.

The idea (and renewed interest) for a tiramisu variant of macarons came from Losillewen, who made her own beautiful morsels but has been derelict in posting them (graduating and job hunting are no excuse!). Genius, Los, simply genius.

In lieu of ladyfingers, the macaron shells give form to the treat while imparting a mild almond crunch and delicate coffee flavor. The mascarpone filling is lightly spiked with rum and just barely sweetened. The decadent blend of flavors is topped off with a hint of dark chocolate, completing the list of tastes you look for in a dessert you shouldn't have. This is a more subtle dessert with few heavy ingredients, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

Tiramisu Macarons (recipe adapted from L. A. Times)
* 1 c + 3 tbsp almond flour
* 2 c + 3 tbsp powdered sugar
* 4 egg whites
* 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
* 4 scant tbsp sugar
* 1/4 c instant coffee (more if you prefer a stronger flavor)
* Mascarpone Filling (recipe below)
* 6 oz dark chocolate, shaved

Line two 17-by-12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside (you may want to fold over the edges to keep the paper flat). In a food processor or coffee grinder, grind instant coffee granules into powder.

In a food processor, blend the almond flour, powdered sugar and coffee for 1 minute. Sift the blended almond mixture directly into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. (This can be made up to 2 days in advance.)

Fill a small saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Place the bowl over the pot of hot water and whisk quickly until the egg whites reach 100 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the bowl from the pot of water and whisk in the cream of tartar. Place it on a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium speed for 2 minutes, then gradually beat in the sugar. Continue whipping for 6 minutes until the egg whites come to medium stiff peaks (tips droop only very slightly) and are shiny.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add egg whites to the almond mixture by gently bringing the flat side of a rubber spatula through the center of the egg whites and up the opposite side of the bowl, folding the dry ingredients over the egg whites. Repeat the same motion 50 times, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium round tip (No. 4) and fill with the mixture. On the parchment-lined baking sheets, pipe 1.5-inch rounds (the batter will be slightly wet) by holding the bag at a slight angle and releasing small amounts of batter. Allow one-half inch between cookies; they will spread slightly.

Keep the piped cookies at room temperature, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours. (This will help form a skin.) If in a high humidity area, place cookies in oven turned off but with oven light on. Remove cookies from oven and heat to 325 degrees, placing the racks in the center and lower shelves of the oven.

Bake the macarons for 12 minutes, reverse the trays on the racks and rotate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes more, or until firm and not wet. Cool on a rack.

Mascarpone Filling:
* 6 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
* 6 tbsp butter, softened
* 1/2-1 c powdered sugar (as necessary)
* 1/8-1/4 c rum

In a stand mixer, beat the mascarpone cheese until smooth, 1 minute. Add butter and rum and mix until incorporated. Slowly add powdered sugar to mixer, until filling is thick without being stiff. (The mascarpone should outweigh the sugar flavor.)

Update: one reader suggests less rum for a thicker filling - I've modified the recipe slightly to reflect their experience. Go slow and add in parts - you may not need all!

Match up fully-cooled macarons for size and shape. Pipe filling on bottom macaron and sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Place top macaron on chocolate and press lightly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spiced Pecan Cupcakes with Whipped Caramel Filling and White Chocolate Frosting

I wanted to make a dessert without having to run to the store, so I took stock of my kitchen. I had chocolate, nuts (oh goodness, lots of!), various fruits, and a whole lot of sweetened condensed milk. I loved the walnut cupcakes from Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop and wanted to make something similar again.

Glancing back over my list of ingredients, three jumped out at me: pecans, white chocolate, and dulce de leche. Not exactly a spring dessert, but one that brings nothing so much as "golden" to mind for description. The end result was a combination of subtle flavors, gentle enough to savor but light enough that you could enjoy more than one (and the boyo did!)

I don't have a cross-section but the daub in the picture is the caramel filling, with the almond-praline topping from here.

Whipped Caramel (adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe):
* 1 can sweetened condensed milk
* 2 tsp sea salt
* 1 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour sweetened condensed milk and sat into a glass pie pan and stir to combine. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan. Fill roasting pan halfway up pie pan with hot water. Bake for 1-1/2 hours or until caramel is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before continuing.

Whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Add 1/3 of whipped cream to dulce de leche and stir until combined, to lighten. Fold remainder of whipped cream into dulce de leche. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pecan Cupcakes (adapted from
~20 cupcakes / 350 degree oven

* 1-1/2 c flour (cake if you have it, otherwise all-purpose)
* 3/4 c sugar
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 c grape seed oil or vegetable oil
* 4 egg yolks (approximately 3 oz)
* 1/4 c water
* 1/3 c pecan butter
* 7 egg whites (approximately 7 oz)
* 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
* 1/4 c sugar
* 1/2 tsp cardamom
* 1 tsp cinnamon
* zest of one orange

In a food processor, blend 3/4 c sugar with orange zest until finely ground. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices into the bowl of a standing mixer. In a medium bowl, combine oil, egg yolks, water, and pecan butter. Stir to combine.

On a low setting, start to beat the dry mixture and slowly add the wet. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until incorporated. Transfer mixture to another bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl.

Whip egg whites with whip attachment on medium-high speed until foamy. With the mixer on medium speed, add cream of tarter and slowly add sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Scoop about a third of the stiff egg whites into the batter and stir to combine. This should lighten up the batter. Transfer the batter to the egg whites and gently fold until there are no more streaks of egg white.

Scoop into cupcake cups just less than 1/2 full and bake at 350 F for 20-22 minutes.

White Chocolate Frosting (from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible"):
* 9 oz. white chocolate, melted, cooled to room temperature
* 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
* 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

Beat cream cheese in mixing bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in the melted and cooled chocolate until incorporated. Add in the butter and lemon juice last, beating well until smooth.

Once cupcakes have cooled, cut a cone out of the top and dollop enough whipped caramel to put it just below top of cupcake. Cut the tip off the cone and place it back on top of the cupcake. Pipe frosting over cupcake and sprinkle praline over top. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

One-Bowl Brownies

I wrestled with the title for this one. Other options included: "Perfect Brownies," "Oh-Too-Easy Brownies," and "Doesn't-Survive-The-Night Brownies." I also considered "You-Can't-Have-Any-These-Are-Mine Brownies." In the end I choose the name that best personifies the attraction to this recipe: it's chocolate, and it's easy. Oh boy, is it easy. I've made this recipe several times in the past few months, and every time they vanished before I could get a picture. Not that I had anything to do with the vanishing though.... not me!

I am a brownie fiend, but before this recipe I was terrible at making them. They'd always be too dry, too wet, or have the wrong balance of sugar and chocolate. When I finally did find this recipe, I promptly saved it in six different locations for backup, to insure I would never, ever lose it. Unfortunately, since then I've lost track of the original source and have no genius attribute the recipe to. Brownie god, if you're out there, please direct my thanks to your acolyte.

My requisite description of oncoming sugar-coma: I'm a fan of fudgey brownies, and these don't disappoint. A thin, crispy crust on top adds texture to the smooth chocolate beneath. It's a very flexible recipe, tolerating all sorts of additions and swirls. And best of all, from start to finish takes under an hour. My poor waistline.

Fudge Brownies:
* 1 1/2 c butter, melted
* 3 c white sugar
* 3 tsp vanilla extract
* 4 eggs
* 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
* 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 tsp salt
* nuts, chocolate chips, or other additions to mix in (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9"x13" clear glass pan (clear is preferable to keep the edges from burning).

In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan (in California 30 minutes was plenty; in Washington I let them bake for 50. Allow for your climate. Also, if adding chocolate or something that would affect the consistency of the batter, add 5-10 minutes to the baking time). Let brownies cool, then cut into squares. Enjoy!

These are also very good with a ganache topping.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Apple Pie Blondies

Comfort food! I'm generally not a huge fan of white chocolate, but in this combo the overwhelming sweetness of the chocolate is tempered with the flavors of apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. The texture is different from a normal brownie - instead of fudgey cake, it's a moist almost-bread pudding studded with lumps of spiced apples and drizzled with a concentrated white chocolate-apple ganache. It's best cold - the flavors are much more intense and independent than when warm.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention - the recipe is a follow-up to this post, as per request from Losillewen (I got it posted! What's six months between friends? :)

UPDATE 2: Commenter Topher was gracious enough to pass on her recommendations after trying the recipe, so I've incorporated them below. The big change - the ganache recipe has been halved so that even if you love ganache you won't have it coming out your ears for a month!

Apple Pie Blondies (adapted from Tartelette's version):
* 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
* 8 oz white chocolate
* 2 eggs
* 1/4 c sugar
* 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
* 1 cup flour
* 3 medium Granny Smith apples
* 1 Tbsp cinnamon
* 1 tsp nutmeg

* 10 oz white chocolate
* 1/6 c apple juice concentrate
* 2 Tbsp butter
* 1/6 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350.

Peel and core apples; chop into 1/2" cubes. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg over apples and stir to coat.

Grease and flour an 9"x13" inch square baking pan. Melt butter and white chocolate together in top of double boiler over hot water. When melted remove from heat and stir to blend well. Set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Add white chocolate and butter mixture, vanilla and flour. Beat just until smooth. Add apples and mix in by hand, being careful not to overmix.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate for 4 hours then slice into squares.

Heat concentrate until boiling; remove from heat. Pour concentrate over white chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat butter and cream in a separate bowl. Stir concentrate and chocolate until smooth; add butter and cream and mix thoroughly.

Pipe ganache in a lattice pattern on top or spread across cooled blondies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Raspberry-Lime Petit Fours

I've been to tea parties before, but lately I've had a strong craving to host my own. The boyo thinks I'm silly, but I've a tea set that's yet to be used and a desire to bake lots of little edibles. In fact, when I saw Jen's petit four post from Use Real Butter, I couldn't wait any longer. Raspberries were on sale and I had a couple of days off from work -- it was perfect timing. I'm just considering it practice!

Jen's recipe is for higher altitudes, but since I'm at sea level and already having various problems adapting my baking to the climate, I decided to piece together some well-known recipes for my own version.

I was expecting to have ~30 petit fours, but I ended up with over 100. Luckily, the boyo's coworkers were gratifyingly appreciative so there weren't leftovers to worry about, but you should scale the recipe accordingly if you're not feeding a small army.

Raspberry Lime Petit Fours
* 2 recipes Hot Milk Sponge (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Raspberry Jam (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Lime Buttercream (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Lime Syrup (recipe below)
* 2 recipes White Chocolate Fondant (recipe below)
* raspberries for garnish (washed and dried before use)

Hot Milk Sponge (compliments of Our Patisserie)
* 1/4 c milk
* 2 Tbsp butter
* 3/4 c sifted cake flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 3/4 c sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 3 large egg yolks
* 1 Tbsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400F. Line the bottom of a jelly-roll pan (I just used a cookie sheet with sides) with parchment so that the paper overhangs the pan at 2 opposite ends.

Heat milk with butter in small saucepan until butter melts. Reduce heat to low, and keep hot, but do not simmer. Sift flour with baking powder twice. Return to sifter and set aside.

In large heatproof bowl, combine sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Set the bowl in a pan of barely simmering water and whisk occasionally, until lukewarm to the touch. Now take off heat, and beat at high speed until mixture has cooled, tripled in volume, and has the consistency of thick whipped cream.

Sift one-third of flour mixture over batter, and fold in gently by hand, using the largest spatula you have. Fold in half of remaining flour; then fold in the remainder. Pour the hot milk and butter into batter and fold well, scraping the bottom each time and bringing the batter up the sides of the bowl until you can no longer see traces of liquid.

Turn batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 10 minutes. The cake will have browned on top, and started to shrink from the sides of the pan.

Raspberry Jam (compliments of my grandma!)
4 c raspberry (fresh or frozen)
4 c sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the sugar in a oven-safe pan and heat for 15 minutes (heated sugar dissolves more easily.)

In a large saucepan mash the raspberries with a potato masher over high heat. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and strain out seeds.

Return raspberry juice to saucepan and bring back to a boil. Add sugar and boil for 5-7 minutes - remove from heat when thickened.

Let cool before using.

Lime Buttercream (compliments of Use Real Butter)
* 8 oz egg whites
* 15 oz sugar
* 1 lb butter, room temperature
* 1 Tbsp lime zest
* 4 Tbsp lime juice

Combine egg whites and sugar in a stand mixer. Whisk constantly over a bain marie until 140F is reached. Place on mixer witha whisk and whip until stiff. Turn down whip speed to 3rd and whip until cool to the touch -- this will take a while, should be cooler than your hand.

Change to a paddle and gradually add soft butter by tablespoons. Mix to emulsify. Once desired consistency has been reached, add lime juice and zest.

Lime Syrup (compliments of Use Real Butter)
* 1 c sugar
* 1 c water
* 2/3 c lime juice

Heat water and sugar in a pot until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Let cool, then mix in lime juice.

White Chocolate Fondant
* 4 c powdered sugar
* 1/2 c water
* 1/4 c light corn syrup
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1/4 tsp almond extract
* 5 Tbsp butter
* 1/3 c heavy cream
* 12 oz white chocolate
* food coloring (optional)

Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup and flavorings in a double boiler over medium heat. Stir until smooth, then add the cream, butter, and white chocolate. Stir until incorporated, watching that it doesn't burn. Add coloring to preference.

Make the sponge and cool completely. Slice into quarters and freeze, placing wax paper liners between sections. When frozen thoroughly, using a long serrated knife (a bread knife is ideal) slice each quarter horizontally. Return to the freezer until jam, buttercream and syrup are finished.

Heat jam until liquid (I did this in small batches). Using one quarter of the sponge, brush the bottom half with the lime syrup then spread the jam over the syrup. Spread the buttercream on the bottom of the top half of the sponge, and place over the jam (sandwich style). Brush the top of the sponge quarter with the syrup again, and refreeze. Repeat with the rest of the sponge.

Once the sponge sections have been sandwiched and completely refrozen, slice into 1"x1" squares (you may need to clean your knife several times during this process). Return to the freezer while you make the fondant.

Place a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet and arrange the cake cubes about 1 inch apart from each other. The following process works best if the fondant is very warm and liquid. Using a ladle, pour the fondant over each cube, using a toothpick to smooth out any gaps. Garnish with raspberries before fondant cools.

Allow petit fours to sit for a few minutes and fondant to harden. Using a sharp paring knife, free the base of the petit four from the rack and place into a cupcake liner. The leftover fondant from the cookie sheet/rack can be reheated and reused - just make sure it's free of cake crumbs. Keep finished petit fours refrigerated until ready to serve.