Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Unless you’ve been frozen in permafrost for the past five years, you’ve likely noticed that cupcake bakeries have popped up all over like iced mushrooms. Knock one down, and three take its place. Much has been made about not only the cupcake’s popularity, but also its incipient demise as the sweet du jour. Since we seem to be a culture intent on the next sensation, pundits, food enthusiasts and bloggers have all wondered what this sensation might be. More than a few have suggested that French-style macaroons (called macarons in France) might supplant the cupcake. This may or may not come to pass, but the basic premise of the French macaroon is pretty tasty.

In the United States, the term “macaroon” generally refers to a cookie made primarily of coconut. But European macaroons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Frequently, two macaroons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy. The flavor possibilities and combinations are nigh endless, allowing infinitely customizable permutations.

Why did I procrastinate this challenge until 10pm yesterday? Lack of planning or a very busy month, or perhaps a combination of both. I was excited about making these and hoped to spend the month figuring out how to make them best in my house. But I have attempted them, and here they are:
In case you don't already know from the picture, I did not succeed at making beautiful perfect French macarons. They did rise some, but not much. They did not obtain a lovely foot. Part of it could be my oven which is 60 years old and super special. But I'm sure if I put in the time I might be able to figure out how to make them work appropriately in my oven.
I need to work on folding in the flour even more gently. I also think I needed a longer time at the lower temperature to set the shape. Plus I tried to do multiple sheets at a time which didn't work and burnt the bottom of one set, and caused others to spread while waiting so I really think this is a recipe you need to make more than once to figure out.
Taste wise, they are yummy. Making my own almond flour was fun! I have plenty of almonds on hand anyway and I aged some egg whites that were left from another recipe. Honestly I just wish I had made them multiple times before the due date.
I also ended up making a toffee ganache filling because that's what I had on hand and it was super sweet with it, too much for my taste. A good dark chocolate ganache would be preferable.
I'm not great at choosing options and making variations like a lot of the daring bakers so choosing a filling is more about what I have on hand than anything. I encourage you to try macarons. (And yes, that is how it is spelt for the French version. :D ) They are a lovely little sandwich cookie and I will be trying them again in the future.
My sad little cookies waiting for fillings.
French Macarons


Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spicy Braised Peanut Chicken

Another tasty recipe from this friend. I loved how easy this was to get into the slow-cooker and how I had everything on hand. It is North African in style, and is delicious with the chicken thighs and couscous, but you could easily substitute chicken breasts and rice if that's what you have on hand.

It is really tasty comfort food. It is also cheap if you get a good price on chicken thighs! I got a package of 10 thighs for $3.50, add the tomatoes ($0.60) & rotel ($0.80 for 2 cans) being on sale and its about $5 for this dinner.

Spicy Braised Peanut Chicken
1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs, skins removed
1 large onion, chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (RoTel)
1 can (14.5 oz) crushed or diced tomatoes, undrained
2 Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups hot cooked couscous

Heat oil in 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Cook chicken in oil about 4 minutes, turning once, until brown.

Mix onion, diced and crushed tomatoes, honey, cumin and cinnamon in 4-5qt slow cooker.Place chicken in slow cooker. Spoon tomato mixture over chicken.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 7 to 8 hours or until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut.

Stir in peanut butter until melted and well blended. Serve chicken and sauce over couscous.

Serves 4

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thai Chicken

This recipe from Taste of Home was recommended by a friend when I was looking for recipes that have peanut butter in them. It is quick and easy to make and includes all things I keep on hand.

Yes, I keep red bell pepper on hand - in the freezer in julienned strips in fact. When bell peppers are cheap I buy a bunch and freeze them. You can blanch them for a few seconds first but I don't bother.

No picture, sorry, but I wanted to remember this recipe for future dinners.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Waffles

I have been given a bunch of eating pumpkins and now am searching out tasty pumpkin recipes. Today we had pumpkin waffles for breakfast and they were delicious. I recommend you go try them!

Ultimate Pumpkin Waffles


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