When I was 15, my sister Kristen was born. Needless to say, we haven’t had much of a chance to spend time together; she lived with my father and stepmother, I lived with my mother. Did I mention that I was 15 at the time? You know, a teenager? Before I knew it, I was shipping off to the Culinary Institute of America. Then suddenly, I was married-Kristen was our flower girl, and Darry and I started our migration. We had moved away by the time she was seven and now that we are back on the east coast, we are still pretty far apart; we are in Southern Virginia and she is near Boston. We rarely find ourselves in the same location.
As a result, I communicate through cookies. When I send boxes of sweets to my girls, I generally pack one for Kristen too. Not this time. Today is Kristen’s 37th birthday. Yes, it hurts a little to say that out loud. Surely, that much time cannot have passed… Apparently, it has and luckily for me, she and I are both the same age now. Yes, you read that correctly; we are the same age because I stopped having birthdays when I turned 37. It is a long standing family tradition and we have the portraits in the attic to prove this.
When I was growing up, my mother would always say she was 27. Year after year, she was 27, again and again. Not surprising since her father, my grandfather, had stopped having birthdays after his 39th. Then when our first daughter Alix was born, on my father’s birthday, he made the decision to hand over the reins to her and he has been 46 ever since. As it stands, I am 10 years older than my mother, 2 years younger than my grandfather was when he passed away, 9 years younger than my father and exactly the same age as my sister. Gotta love math…
Since it is also a family tradition to make a cake for a family member, I did the next best thing I could think of; I made birthday cake flavored macarons. Please do not ask me why. Obviously, I couldn’t mail her a cake, at least not one she would want to eat, so macarons seemed like a fancy alternative. And everything is better with sprinkles on top. Although, Darry did look at me kind of strangely when he found the box of cake mix in the pantry-with one eyebrow raised he asked, “you bought cake mix?”
Making macarons is a new thing for me. They just seemed too fussy and annoying to make. Too many rules. Then I found an article from Fine Cooking Magazine written by Joanne Chang and it includes a wonderful video. Rather than post that recipe, I suggest you click on the link-if you follow her instructions, you will be turning out dozens of perfect little macarons!
To make these macarons, I made one single batch of the batter from the recipe I linked to above. If you are wondering why my macarons look speckled (and not from the sprinkles) it is because the almond flour I had was made from almonds that had their skins on. When I sifted the almond flour and powdered sugar, some of the skins stayed in the strainer and I threw those out but plenty of little bits went through, we are going to call that adorable and move on. After piping them out, I sprinkled a few nonpareils on top of each macaron and the batch yielded 70 pieces, enough for 35 macaron sandwiches.
The filling was made by creaming 3 ounces of cream cheese with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter (both at room temperature) until it was fluffy. 1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar and 1/4 cup of white cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Classic White cake mix) are sifted together and then added to the cream cheese mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix in 1/2 cup, scrape the bowl and then add the next 1/2 cup, repeat the process and so on. It is important that you scrape the bowl well to be certain that it is evenly incorporated. Then let it cream a 2-3 minutes until it is fluffy. Finally, stir in 1 tablespoon of nonpareils by hand-the mixer would smash them and color the filling. If you want more sprinkles, add 2 tablespoons. Just be sure to mix only to incorporate (excessive stirring will cause them to make streaks of color) and do it by hand! Using a small spatula, spread 1 teaspoon onto the bottom of 35 cookies, top them with the remaining cookies
All packed up and ready to ship out to Boston.
Because macarons are delicate, I knitted a scarf/wrap to keep them safe on the trip. It seems that I have been doing a lot of knitting in recent months-it keeps idle hands busy. This yarn is so soft too, found it one day while wandering through Tuesday Morning and could not resist. When I walked out of the store that day, every skein of this yarn went with me!
Everybody join in and help me wish my sister a big, Happy 37th Birthday!!!