Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mastering the French Macaron - Part 1

Hello all!

You will never guess what I got for Christmas...

a macaron kit!

You're incredibly jealous; I know. But don't despair, because I plan on sharing with you all of the wonderful mishaps I encountered - kit or no kit.

For anyone out there who has not been fortunate enough to experience a macaron (not to be confused with a coconut macaroon - note the double oo) it is a wonderfully delicious French cookie sandwich that I have become quite addicted to after having tried at a French Patisserie near my parents' house.

So I found that mastering the art of the macaron is not a feat easily accomplished. Even after this post I have yet to do so, but the key is to be patient. Oh, and to question ambiguity in a recipe when it's appropriate.

The kit I received came with this adorable Macaron Recipe Book, and what I thought would be a fool-proof recipe. Think again. Sounding simple enough, I jumped right in. I aged my egg whites over three days; I ground my almonds as finely as I possibly could (only to realize that it's just easier and more efficient to buy Almond Flour) and got to work.

Now riddle me this Batman...if I buy a Macaron Kit it would suggest that I do not know anything about making the delicious petite French cookie, correct? Therefore the recipe should be detailed and quite explanatory so that I can learn, correct?

Not so my friends. Let's see...Recipe Oddity Number One: "add two unbeaten egg whites to the dry ingredient mixture"....and do what? Stir to combine? Leave it just plopped on top? Why am I doing that? It looks strange and wrong, but okay book. You know best. Recipe Oddity Number 2: "Whisk egg whites to a foam, add granulated sugar, then complete whisking." What on earth does complete whisking mean?

Thank goodness I have read other recipes on macarons to know you need to get the egg whites to stiff peaks, otherwise I'd have been totally in the dark here. How am I (a macaron novice) supposed to know what "complete" whisking should look like? If I just stopped after the granulated sugar was incorporated, I'd still have a runny egg white foam - which is definitely not desirable for macarons.

So - as my first attempt came out like so (note that there are no photos of these off of the silicone mat because they would not come off until I scraped them off):

and made me very sad, I decided to take a few, shall we say, liberties, with the recipe.

Look how much smoother they are! Who knew! True, the amond powder made a huge difference and that I do not pretend to blame on the recipe. But I omitted that weird thought of just adding egg whites to the dry mixture (maybe if I knew what they wanted me to do after's like someone fell asleep while writing these recipe instructions).

Did they come out perfect? Sadly no; they were no cute macaron "feet" to be seen and they were quite thin.

Was there improvement? Yes; they taste great and the consistency (although they are super thin) is there.

And frankly, that's all I can hope for. If French Macarons were easy to make, we would see them much more often like we do chocolate chip cookies or brownies. The difficulty is half the intrigue; the other half is that I can never get enough of them.

I will be attempting this once again in the near future, hopefully with positive results. In the meantime, I have recently acquired an Artisan Bread Book that has recipes for ciabatta, bagels, croissants and more. Perhaps we will encounter a few of these On Sugar Mountain in the New Year? We will have to wait and see. :)

As always, Happy Baking!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake Muffins

Muffins Again?!
Yes. I know. I have a problem, but after you try this recipe you too will share in my obsession with the so-called "ugly cupcake".
I apologize for the lack of posting, but with the end of the semester and flying down to Florida to visit the parents, I didn't have as much time as I would've liked to whip up more sweet treats. Though, now that I'm settled in and my papers are done, I can finally share this amazing recipe with you all.

Strawberries are not quite in season just yet, but for some reason I had a really strong craving for them. One could blame it on this strangely beautiful Florida weather, or as I'd like to think the over abundance of holiday recipes on FoodGawker has got me searching for goodies that don't involve peppermint or eggnog. Tis The Season to be sure - but strawberries can be festive Florida anyway.

Oh and for that saying "muffins are just ugly cupcakes" ? I present these lovely beauties as evidence that muffins are downright awesome in their own right - and don't need to "lower" themselves to cupcake level by being smothered with frosting.

Note: I do love cupcakes, and I'm not suggesting that it's wrong to enjoy frosting, since I can pretty much polish off a can of Duncan Hines on my own. I'm just suggesting that muffins and cupcakes are completely different baked goods and are both awesome in their own ways. And there you have it - political correctness and equality for all even in the world of baking, who knew.

These are absolutely fabulous. The muffin itself is dense and holds up well with the fruit juices that come oozing out of the ripe berries, and is truly reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake. I think this recipe could be great with any fruit actually, and I plan on testing it out with blueberries or perhaps adding kiwis along with the strawberries. Hmm...I feel the beginnings of some wonderful fruit focused baking in the future!

I hope you all are having a splendid holiday season and spending plenty of time in the kitchen, whipping up delicious eats with loved ones. Maybe you will even give this one a try. Happy Baking!

Strawberry Shortcake Muffins via SeasonsandSuppers
yield: 12 muffins

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1 1/2 cups strawberries, quartered

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line/spray a 12-cup muffin pan
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Whisk together the milk, egg and vanilla in a medium bowl.
4. Cut butter into small pats. Drop into the flour mixture and then using a pastry cutter (I used my whisk) cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles small- pea sized balls.
5. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in strawberries.
6. Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full and bake at 350 for roughly 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
7. Be sure to let them cool completely in the pan before removing to a wire rack.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Gift Giving for Foodies Pt 3

This will be for all you last-minute Holiday Shoppers out there who plan on securing the rest of your needs via the internet. I don't blame you - the mall has become a madhouse and I'd avoid it at all costs if I could. Here are some of my favorite picks from various Etsy Sellers this week:

1. Cake Guitar By celentanowoodworks

I have to admit, I am not musically inclined whatsoever. I can't even hum a song correctly much less play a guitar, but if I could this would be the guitar I'd play. Adorable, musical, functional, what more could you want? Yes it's a bit pricey, but if you have a little musician in your life who also likes sweets, this might just make her holiday.

2. Mini Cupcake Soap Sampler By SundayMorning Soaps

I know I've done soap before on these posts, but look at those cute little cups of cake and tell me you're not interested! A sampler set is a really ingenious way to customize this present for anyone, and SundayMorningSoaps is home to a multitude of awesome scents for your cupcakes, including (but most definitely not limited to) Toasted Marshmallow, Eggnog, Birthday Cake, and Creme Brulee. Plus, these are so cute and tiny that they would make a fabulous stocking stuffer.

3. Gourmet Spice Rub Gift Set By GustoSpice

I thought it might be best to appeal to the crowd of potential readers who may not be as obsessed with cupcakes as I am, and for all of you I have the best BBQ Spice Set I've ever imagined. You receive rubs highlighting the best BBQ blends across the US, including Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, Californian and North Carolinian style spice rubs. They come in 5 reusable tins and are sure to please any Dad or just anybody out there who loves to grill 24/7.

4. Everday Magnetic Spice Kit By PurposeDesign

Finally, for the aspiring chef in your family or circle of friends, I give you a magnetic spice kit with all the essentials. Staple spices like basil, chili powder, cumin, coriander, rosemary and more, all in wonderful little magnetic glass top containers. All the spices you need, readily at your disposal on the side of your fridge. I know how messy my spice cabinet gets, and this would be a life-saver when I'm in the middle of cooking. 

I hope this inspires any of you last-minute shoppers out there, and I wish you luck amidst the crazed holiday world to find what you need to make your fellow foodies holiday extra special this year.

Disclaimer: I do not profess to own any of these photos; they have been linked directly and cited directly to their original sources.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cookies 'n Cream Muffins

I mentioned that I love any excuse to bake right? So it's only fitting that during the holidays I try to churn out as many awesome baked goods as possible. I know that Cookies 'n Cream Muffins do not sound overtly festive, but that can easily be fixed by these:

They're adorable, festive, and uber cheap at my favorite store to pick up baking supplies: Aldi.

Now that we have that squared away, can I tell you how long I've waited to test out this recipe? It's been sitting on my iPhone just begging to be baked for almost two months now. Two months.

Ladies and gentlemaen: the Cookies 'n Cream Muffin

Inside Bowl Number 1: Our Dry Ingredient Mixture (Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, Salt and Cocoa)

Inside Bowl Number 2: Our Wet Ingredient Mixture (Milk, Oil, and Eggs)

Inside Bowl Number 3: Our AWESOME Ingredient Mixture (White Chocolate Chips, Milk Chocolate Chips, and Crushed Oreos)

Add Bowl #2 to Bowl #1 and Mix until Just Combined. Gently Stir in Bowl #3 and then fill each cup in the muffin pan 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for 14-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Then proceed to dig in!

How can I best describe these to you my lovely readers? Let's pretend chocolate chip cookies can go on steroids, become the size of muffins, and do so by ingesting a diet of white and milk chocolate chips and Oreos. Sound enticing?

I thought so.

Oh, and the original recipe only yielded 9 muffins (how can you be content with only 9?) so I've included the recipe in its original ratios but multiplied by 4 in order to yield 3 dozen, a number I myself find much more saisfying.

Cookies 'N Cream Muffins via PassthePlate

yields approx 3 dozen muffins

4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup + 8 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups white chocolate chips
16 Oreos, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners
2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.
3. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined
5. Gently fold in chips and crushed oreos.
6. Bake at 400 for 14-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
7. Dig in!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

End of the Semester Holiday Donuts

The holiday season also brings with it my favorite kind of season at college - end of the semester. I am one of the few, fortunate souls who just have a million papers dues instead of a million finals. Because of this, I figured I'd surprise my 18th Century Women Writers Class with some End of the Semester Surprise Donuts!

We've been pretty much beating Pride and Prejudice to death so I thought we could all use a little something to keep us going.

I also had the perk of not having class until 2:50 today (seriously, isn't the end of the semester insane? My work day doesn't start today until 3pm. Who would've thought I could get away with that?) so I had the entire morning to test out my adorable, new Wilton Donut Pan. This was one of my Black Thursday steals from Michaels: the last one in the store for about $7.

I went ahead and used the Father's Day Donuts Recipe from awhile back, but with a little twist. I made an eggnog frosting instead of just plain ol' vanilla. I did mention that I love eggnog right?

Of course, for those who don't share my well-founded passion for eggnog, I frosted a few with chocolate as well. I topped them all off with some holiday sprinkles and ta-da! Holiday Donuts.

Again, the recipe for the donuts is here, (with the switch that you bake them at 400 for 7 minutes in the pan) but I've included the recipe for the Eggnog frosting/glaze below. I know the season is a busy one for most of us, but if you have the time to spare, these are definitely worth it.

Happy Baking!

Eggnog Frosting/Donut Glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp eggnog

1. Measure out powdered sugar, then stir in eggnog until combined. Add more eggnog to smooth out consistency if needed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eggnog Cookies

Happy Holidays everyone!

So I have to tell you, there is a particular holiday tradition that I uphold with the greatest obsession sincerity, and it comes to us all from the neighborhood grocery dairy aisle...eggnog.

I am pretty sure my dad and I can polish off a carton of the stuff in a few minutes (if we were allowed the chance) but in the interest of health, we choose to limit our intake...until now that is!

Why the sudden change, you may ask? Because my friends, I have found a recipe that will simply blow. you. away.

Eggnog Cookies. That's right - all the wonderful flavor of the magical Christmas drink contained in this petite, scrumptious treat. Yes, I said scrumptious - they are that good.

They are SO good, that I had to post about them even without the wonderful aid of my Canon Camera (which I unceremoniously forgot at my parents' place over Thanksgiving). But my little friend the iPhone was able to help me out. I apologize in advance for the lower quality, but I could not let you go another minute without knowing about these cookies!

When I first saw the recipe I had my doubts; how could you make it taste just like eggnog? Well, obviously use eggnog in the recipe, but the combination of real eggnog with cinnamon and nutmeg makes the flavor burst in these cookies in a way I never thought possible. Ladies and gentlemen, I could go off the real stuff if I have a batch of these within arm's reach.

It comes with a recipe for an eggnog glaze, which sounds amazing. But, I will admit to having a case of college student-itis and once I tasted how strong the eggnog flavor was, I thought I/they wouldn't suffer too much without it.

And they didn't. I doubled the recipe to yield 6 dozen, half for my friends at work and half for my boyfriend and his friends at the studio. They were gone in hours. Not even days, hours.

I plan on surprising my Dad with these once I go back to visit for Christmas (if you're reading this Dad - don't worry, it'll still be a surprise when you realize how awesome they are).

Enjoy my friends! Oh, and in case this isn't enough eggnog for you, I found another recipe courtesy of BrownEyedBaker for Eggnog Cheesecake Bars! Tis the Season to be Jolly Indeed!

Eggnog Cookies Via YourCupofCake
yields 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup eggnog
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks
1 tsp nutmeg
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp eggnog

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add in eggnog, egg yolks, and vanilla and beat until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and baking powder
4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until it comes together as a sticky dough (don't overmix - using your hands might be easier!)
5. Make small balls of dough (they spread!) and place one inch apart on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with nutmeg.
6. Bake 15-20 minutes or until just browning on the edges.
7. For the glaze, mix together powdered sugar and eggnog. Drizzle over cookies and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.