Chocolate Macarons with a Mocha Ganache

Leave a comment

Happy new year! I hope this year brings everyone health, happiness, and delicious treats!
I’m still catching up with my updates from the end of 2011 – and second semester is coming up – so now is the perfect time for me to take a week-long break from the kitchen.

2011 brought many new experiences for me – one of which was making macarons for the first time. In case you don’t know what they are, macarons are a French sandwich cookie: it’s basically two meringues (baked whipped egg whites) made with ground nuts sandwiching some form of filling. For a long time, I had been really excited and curious to try making them myself. So during my mid-semester break in November, I decided on a whim to give it a try. Being pretty much addicted to chocolate, the flavour choice was obvious for me.

After doing some blog-recipe-browsing, I ended up partially following two blogs: Annie’s Eats and David Lebovitz. The ingredient proportions are quite similar, but if you read through the instructions, they each give their own tips.

My baking theory class last semester taught me a lot of very useful (and very detailed) information about working with eggs, so I was thrilled that I could put that knowledge to use so soon. Whipped egg whites are delicate since its volume is created purely from air bubbles incorporating into them. Once you’ve whipped them, use them right away – if you let it sit, the air will escape and the eggs will basically deflate. The same will result if you mix the other ingredients in too roughly (that’s why you’re supposed to gently fold).
Another tip: egg whites whip best at room temperature, but it’s easiest  to separate the yolks when they’re cold – separate and then let the whites come to room temperature.
One more: although some recipes may tell you simply “whip egg whites to a stiff peak,” make sure not to over-whip! There hits a point when the whites cannot handle anymore air, so they collapse. When a recipe tells you to do so, whip them JUST until stiff enough  to stand up straight when you flip your whisk upside down.

Now onto my macarons!

My shells in the photo above are resting before they go into the oven. Trust the instructions when they tell you let them rest! Patience will be rewarded.

I was so happy when I peaked into the oven and saw the shells forming their feet! (try not to open your oven too much – the baking process of meringue is very delicate and allowing heat to escape can make them collapse. Think of a stereotypical collapsing souffle)

For the filling, I loosely followed Annie’s ganache recipe. However since this was an impulse baking project, I didn’t have cream and used 2% milk instead. To compensate for some of the fat, I added extra butter. Also, why use instant espresso when you’re fortunate enough to own an espresso machine? I added extra-strong espresso – the consistency of the ganache was fine even though I added liquid.

These macarons were delicious, and I was ecstatic with how they looked considering it was my first attempt! It just goes to show you that learning a little bit of the theory behind your ingredients and techniques is really worth your while.
Let’s all try to take that thought with us into the new year and apply it to everything: some things in life seem dull or difficult, but in the end, they’re worth it. It’s the effort that you put into something that makes it a true accomplishment.

Good luck in everything you do in 2012! Let’s make this a great year!

 

 

PS: What’s the difference between macarons and macaroons?
Macaroons with two o’s are egg whites (which don’t need to be fully whipped) mixed with coconut and sometimes flour. They are not made into sandwiches and do not have nuts in the structure. Macarons are very delicate whereas macaroons are a little dense. Both are delicious! To see macaroons, visit this link.

Holiday Baking

2 Comments

Happy holidays everyone! I hope everyone has been enjoying the season with friends and family.

This year, I had several holiday dinners to go to – I celebrate Hannukah, as does my boyfriend’s family, and his dad’s family celebrates Christmas. Being a student and a baker, my favourite gift option each year is to make an assortment of treats. Since this year is my first in pastry school, I got really excited and overly ambitious for my holiday baking. I had planned way too many things and quickly realized I would have to save some of them for another time.

So this is what I chose to make this year:

Gingerbread cookies (By Anna Olson on the Food Network Canada site)
Brown sugar and citrus cookies (from Canadian Living magazine)
Peppermint chocolate fudge (adapted from the Carnation site’s recipe)
Pistachio and cacao nib macarons (from the wonderful Tartelette blog; buttercream adapted from her eggnog macaron recipe linked below)
Eggnog macarons (also from Tartelette)

This was my first time decorating cookies by flooding with royal icing, and I didn’t have the right parchment paper to roll piping bags, so please bear with me!  In the beginning of school everyone wondered why we were bothering to learn how to roll our own mini piping bags from parchment paper: this is why! Regular piping tips are not what you want to use for little cookies- as you can see from the gingerbread men, the icing was coming out really thick. I still think they’re adorable though! They’re kind of comical. My dreidel cookies were finished last – by that point, my mom had brought me new, better parchment and I was able to make  the clean, fine lines I had been trying for.

The snowflakes were decorated with the better parchment paper piping bags too. I think they were my favourite to make! After piping the icing, I gently pressed the cookies into a plate of clear sugar sprinkles. Aren’t they so cute? I got the idea from my December issue of Canadian Living magazine. The cookie cutters were bought from Williams-Sonoma – they came with three sizes of snowflakes and two inner cut-outs. I love them so much! They’re not available anymore, but look for them next December!

As for the taste of these cookies: the gingerbread has earned  its title as my new go-to gingerbread recipe! It’s delicious and easy to work with. Personally, I love ginger, so I would add even more fresh ginger into the recipe next time. The brown sugar citrus cookies were great too! Although a little hard to work with as a raw dough (it’s a little crumbly and cracks easily when rolling it), the brown sugar flavour is a nice change in a sugar cookie. Also, I loved the citrus taste even though it was a bit too subtle for my taste. Next time, I would either add more zest or pair it with a citrus icing or glaze.

I made each snowflake a bit different, like real ones 🙂

This easy peppermint chocolate fudge was a substitute for my yearly batch of peppermint bark. I wanted to do something a bit different, even though my boyfriend loves the bark. I took the original recipe and simply added peppermint extract to taste. I think it was about one teaspoon. I finished it by sprinkling crushed up candy canes on top. My boyfriend isn’t a fudge fan, but he still loved it; I take that to mean this fudge was a big success.

For some reason, I have a love for and fascination with macarons! These adorable french pastries are essentially sandwiched meringues (made with ground nuts). This was my second time making them – the first batch will be posted in its own blog entry. Pistachio macarons are absolutely delicious, and this batch was no exception! I love cacao nibs, so I think that they were a great addition.

Finally, these are my eggnog macarons! It’s a basic shell, made with almonds, and it’s filled with the eggnog buttercream from the original recipe. Since the recipe made double the amount of buttercream that I needed, I simply added ground pistachios into the second half of it to fill the pistachio macarons. Both flavours turned out delicious, especially since I used freshly grated nutmeg. My favourite of the two was the pistachio flavour – if I had been baking just for myself, I would have added more cacao nibs since the flavours paired so well and they added a wonderful crunch to each little bite!

It was an exhausting three days of baking, but it was well worth it! I love seeing the enjoyment and happiness on people’s faces when they taste something I put my heart and soul into. I think the most rewarding part was seeing my boyfriend’s young cousins grabbing cookies by the handful on Christmas Eve, even during dinner!

This holiday entry was posted out of order, but I really wanted to post it during the holiday season. The rest of my first semester, as well as more homemade desserts will be posted soon!

Happy holidays everyone! Stay warm!

Pastry School: Cookies

1 Comment

My semester is over and I finally have the time (and energy!) to fill you in on what I’ve been up to! In the past two months, other than my work in class, I have been busy in the kitchen and can’t wait to blog about it!

After the shock and fear that came from racing the clock during our first and (in my opinion) toughest portion of the semester, my classmates and I got to take a break from kneading and proofing with cookies. Although I know my way around a cookie recipe, I didn’t want to jinx myself by expecting it to be easy.
The actual production of the cookie doughs wasn’t difficult, but our theory class was pretty rough! It’s not that it’s so hard to understand why certain ingredients affect doughs in a certain way…but it’s tough to remember everything! This part of the theory class was so jam-packed, I was actually quite stressed when it came down to studying for the cookie exam.

By the end of the cookie section, I felt like I really had learned a lot. My production of the cookies was also much more consistent (in shape, size, and overall look). I also realized outside of the classroom that my new knowledge of cookie theory was really translating into practical results: taking on new recipes, I discovered that technique was easy to pick up because I already knew the theory behind it.

So here are the cookies we baked in class (excluding holiday-related ones which will appear in another post):

Spritz cookies, a piped shortbread

More spritz, finished differently

Sandwich cookies made from lady finger dough (although these spread out way too much in the oven…the school recipe had a few errors which weren’t fixed until after the fact); filled with lemon or raspberry jam

Coconut macaroons (this recipe has flour, unlike the recipes I use for Passover)

Almond cookies and icebox cookies (a type of sugar cookie sliced from a refrigerated log)

A closer look at the icebox cookies. These have candied fruit in them

We had a day dedicated to producing a large quantity of drop cookies. It was so busy that I only had time to take a photo once  they were all boxed up. We made two versions of oatmeal raisin, two versions of chocolate chip, quadruple chocolate chip, peanut butter, and cowboy cookies (oats, walnuts, chocolate chips and coconut)

Assorted sugar cookies: the sandwich cookies have either raspberry jam, apricot jam, or both inside. My favourite of these ones were the chocolate dipped…we learned how to create a marbling effect with melted chocolate, and I think it looks great!

Keep an eye out for more posts! Still to come: banana cake, carrot cake, macarons, pies, and more!

And thank you to everyone who visits my blog. It means the world to me that you’re interested enough to get to the end of a post. I’m going to do my best to update this site consistently!

Pastry School: Breads

2 Comments


Well it’s taken a long time to find the time to do this, but I’m back! I’ve been in school for about 2 full months now, and I’ve finally gotten used to the routine and the format of this type of education.

Having completed a BA with specialized honours in psychology, I went into pastry school with a very academically-oriented mindset. It was a pretty big shock when I started since I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The hands-on aspect of school goes way beyond what I had anticipated: from day one, we were all expected to pick up the skills/habits just from a verbal explanation or watching one demonstration. Class starts at 7:30AM, but we’re expected to be there well in advance to prep our stations. Class ends four hours later, but if the work isn’t complete, we stay until it is, which has meant an extra hour of class sometimes. The stresses of finishing everything in time – and finishing everything WELL – plus the heat of the ovens, running around on your feet for all that time…it really exhausts you. Especially on days where we don’t have much time between classes, by the evening, you can feel completely worn out. And the chefs certainly don’t hold your hand through this process. They’re tough on you so that you learn what the real world kitchen will demand of you. Some students end up reduced to tears by the end of a bad day.

But in the end, at least for me, all the stress and chaos and fear of failure is worth it. I have an end goal, and I want so desperately to succeed. I don’t always do well in class, but that’s okay. I’m in school because I want to learn. If I could already do everything  well, there would be no point in being there. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and truly soak in every ounce of what my teachers have to teach me. This isn’t some fantasy world where “pastry school” equates to stress-free fun; I don’t know why that term always evokes that image. School is hard and to do as well as I hope to, I have to (and do) work my hardest. It’s like the pain and exhaustion I get from being in the gym: it hurts so bad at the time, but it’s a fantastic pain because I know it means I’m improving and my hard work will pay off. I truly can’t wait to see my evolution through this amazing process.

Now onto photos!! I’ve been taking pictures of all of my work at the end of class. The first month of school was all focused on bread. We learned the complexities of mixing, kneading, resting, handling, and shaping the dough. It was an intense and terrifying start to the year. Here is what came of it:

Simple white bread: trying my hand at various loaf styles

A buttery roll called a cloverleaf

Another white bread roll called a pistol roll: the ends were supposed to be a little pointier

Pain rustique

Focaccia with garlic, sage, thyme, olive oil, and a nice sprinkling of coarse salt!

Ciabatta: kind of oddly shaped

Pane di mais: a type of cornbread, nothing like the southern kind

Whole wheat loaves (shaped nicer than my original tries with white bread) and miche (another type made with whole wheat)

Chef let us have a little fun with pizza dough: we could top it with anything we wanted, and we were only graded on our technique in creating the dough.

Fougasse, with olives and caramelized onions: it’s meant to look like a leaf, but my scoring of the dough wasn’t the best

Walnut raisin bread

Sundried tomato and olive bread, with asiago cheese

Sourdough rye

Benoitons, a sort of rye bun with raisins

Grissini torinese, cracker-like bread sticks

Pain meteil, a bread with rye flour and caraway seeds

Challah

Chop suey bread: a sweet bread with chopped cherries, raisins, and walnuts (drizzled with fondant)

Coffee cake dough: with chopped apple and poppy seed filling

Coffee cake dough: rolled as a type of cinnamon buns

Coffee cake dough: a nut filling, brushed with an apricot glaze

 

Mini Mac and Cheese Pies – Not a dessert, but still baked!

2 Comments

Generally I will not be blogging about savoury/non-dessert items (unless posting work from school), but these little macaroni and cheese pies were too amazing not to share!
For my brother’s birthday, we held a small family dinner party. If you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll know I baked his birthday cake. I also made this appetizer…I love to cook as well, but my number one passion lies with baking.
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? In my family, we love it baked as a casserole with a crunchy, salty topping (usually crushed up Corn Flakes). When I found a recipe for mini mac and cheese pies on a blog I just couldn’t pass it up.

 

For my pies, I chose to use mini muffin pans, so my pies are about one third the size of those in the original blog. I also opted to use several different ingredients based on personal taste:
-Corn Flake crumbs instead of Ritz cracker crumbs (I prefer the taste of Corn Flakes with mac and cheese, plus the buttery richness in Ritz crackers seems to me like overkill considering all the oil going into the recipe)
-Old yellow cheddar cheese (the recipe never specified as to old versus mild, but I always prefer old because it has a better flavour)
-No Boursin cheese: instead, I chose to use Gruyere and some Parmesan purely because these are flavours I love.
-onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and some cayenne pepper (to make up for not using the seasoned Boursin)
-red pepper flakes were only sprinkled on top of half of the pies just before baking them (some people don’t like the heat)

Again, I apologize for the quality of my photos, but since my real camera died, I’ve only had my Blackberry camera to work with.
When the pies finished baking, I chose to let them cool down so I could bake them a second time just before serving. I found them extremely oily, so allowing them to bake a second time (out of muffin tins, on a cookie tray) removed some of that excess oil and crisped them up better than they originally had.

 

This is probably the tastiest way I have ever eaten mac and cheese. The recipe made about 30 pies in the mini muffin pans, but they were all gone by the end of the night (there were only 9 of us!). It was loved so much that my mom asked me for the recipe for 3 different people to use. And my younger brother, the pickiest eater in the family, asked that I make them again for his birthday in October (it’s this week, actually).

So delicious, so indulgent. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

 

Coming up: the first month of pastry school has finished and I have a ton of photos to post!

Birthday Cake: Yellow Cake with a Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Leave a comment


Well this post has been a long time coming! When pastry school started three weeks ago, I told myself I wouldn’t fall behind anymore in my blog posts, but I guess I never expected to feel so completely wiped out each week after class. But today is a day off and I allowed myself to sleep as long as my body would let me. So here’s my brother’s 26th birthday cake from the end of August.

I love baking for my family and it’s sort of become a tradition that I will make them any dessert their heart desires for their birthday. So this year, my older brother decided he wanted something traditional, like a yellow cake. In the background of this phone call his girlfriend called out “Boring!!” so he changed his choice to “maybe something with a cream cheese icing. Or chocolate if it’s not too chocolatey.”

To make him happy, I combined it all. I found a delicious yellow cake recipe on Annie’s Eats and a chocolate cream cheese frosting from a blog called Cupcake Project.

Why has it never occurred to me before to make a chocolate cream cheese frosting? I love cream cheese in desserts and chocolate is one of my all-time favourite flavours. Well let me tell you this frosting was absolutely delicious! The chocolate flavour comes from simply using cocoa powder, but it’s somehow enough to create a luxurious fudge taste. The yellow cake itself was a wonderful delicate flavour of vanilla. It’s such a shame that I destroyed the cake’s texture – I overlooked the milk in the recipe and had to add it at the end, which overworked the batter. An overworked batter means that gluten has been overdeveloped, making it a dense cake. I hated myself for making that error, but everyone claimed to enjoy it regardless.


Despite the problems with the cake, I’ll admit that even with its heaviness, this cake still tasted delicious. Vanilla and chocolate is a classic combination for a reason. Even my younger brother, who dislikes cream cheese (except on bagels…he’s weird) enjoyed this cake. I think the true test of a food’s success is when you can make someone like an ingredient they never thought they would.

I also made an appetizer for this birthday party, and I think it was amazing enough that it deserves a blog post. Technically I did bake it, so I guess it still counts!

Aside from birthdays that have already happened and are waiting to be blogged about, my next birthday dessert will be for my younger brother’s 20th! I think this year I owe him something special since last year’s birthday dinner was pretty much ruined because of my developing an anaphylactic allergy. I’ll tell the full story in that blog post in October.

Still to come: Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, Pumpkin Cookies, and updates on what I’ve baked in school!

 

PS: Thanks to my friend Ashley for buying me the cake turntable that helped make this cake’s appearance possible.

Pumpkin Muffins with a Cream Cheese Filling

Leave a comment

This summer while browsing through online recipes, I stumbled across my new favourite blog to follow: Annie’s Eats. This woman does it all! She’s a doctor, a mother, a wife, a party hostess, a great photographer, and an even better cook/baker! She is exactly the type of woman I hope to be in 10 years (assuming my guess on her age is accurate).
It turns out that Annie, like me, loves pumpkin! I just love the flavour of the pumpkin with the mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The smell and taste invoke this warm fuzzy feeling I get about autumn – the air becomes fresh and crisp, the beautiful scarves come out of winter storage, the leaves change colours… Not to mention that it smells just like one of my favourite stores, Williams Sonoma, in October!
So  when I found Annie’s post on pumpkin cream cheese muffins, I jumped at the chance to bring out those fall flavours early this year.

For anyone who loves cream cheese in baked goods -cheesecake, red velvet, carrot cake, etc- this recipe is going to be a hit. Biting into a muffin and getting both the warmth of spice and pumpkin as well as the sweet tang of cream cheese is an amazing food experience. As you’ll see in Annie’s recipe, the cream cheese should be frozen and then sliced. Listen to her instructions!! I got impatient (it was already the evening and I wanted a muffin that night) and ended up spooning it into the batter instead, and trust me it will not turn out the same. The cream cheese will rise out of the middle and migrate anywhere else. Freezing it will keep it in place as the muffins bake.

The three main things (other than that) that I changed were:
1:Instead of using a pumpkin spice mix, I just doubled the amount of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (use fresh nutmeg! The smell and taste are too amazing not to!).
2:Instead of using all that oil, I used a cup of butter and just a tablespoon of oil. Be warned: butter will changed the texture of the muffin to be less fluffy and soft. It wasn’t bad with butter, but I think next time I would use 3/4 – 1 cup of oil instead. I do love that melt-in-your-mouth airiness that oil gives to cakes/cupcakes/muffins, and I totally understand why Annie’s recipe had that much included.
3: I omitted the cinnamon/sugar topping (why? Probably to feel less bad about eating muffins when I’ve been trying to eat much healthier lately)

These muffins are amazing. I absolutely love this recipe. I think that the flavours of pumpkin and spice are perfectly balanced, and that cream cheese filling just perfects it. It’s sweet, it’s satisfying, and it’s everything I look for in an autumn treat! Everyone in my household loved them.
It’s definitely worth giving this recipe a try! If you’re a fan of fall flavours (and who isn’t?!), you will be making these muffins any time of year!

 

Update: Pastry school began this week! I’ve been pretty busy, but I’m so excited to share what I learn in my classes! I’m so thrilled to finally be on my way towards a career I’m passionate about. I can honestly say that I’m following my dreams and doing what makes me happiest.

Coming up soon: vanilla cake with chocolate cream cheese icing, and chocolate peanut butter torte

Older Entries