birthday cake macarons

IMG_5455When 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.

IMG_5456When 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?”

IMG_5462Making 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

IMG_5470All packed up and ready to ship out to Boston.

IMG_5478Because 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!

IMG_5480Everybody join in and help me wish my sister a big, Happy 37th Birthday!!!

macarons; another one for the baking bucket list

IMG_0836It seems that to call yourself a pastry chef, one must know how to make macarons.  Well, maybe not but that is the impression I have been given.  A baker’s version of the Holy Grail, your cookies must be perfect little circles with slightly glossy, smooth tops sans cracks, and those famous “feet” and they are also the thing anxiety attacks are made of.  They are fussy, subject to all kinds of results (and not many that you want) and quite capable of intimidating even the most experienced bakers.  Of course I am speaking with experience.  My own efforts landed with mixed results and I was beginning to hate the little things.  This was only aggravated by the plethora of blogposts and pinterest posts from bakers and their dogs bragging about how easy they were to make…It was time to take action and by action, I mean that it was time to get over my fear of failure (again) and to actually try making them.  First I needed to find a better recipe and I did; Joanne Chang has a video tutorial and an article in Fine Cooking that explains making macarons in a way that simplifies the recipe and shows intimidation to the door!

When made properly and that includes the filling, they are wonderful.  Sadly though, most that I have tasted fall squarely into the “meh” category.  Luckily, the recipe for the macarons also comes with recipes for fillings.  To make mine, I added a little pink paste food color, after all, I was making these as Valentine’s Day gifts and then I filled them with raspberry paste and ganache.  To make the cookies, follow the link for the recipe.

Some hints to help!  Do follow the cookie recipe, bring your laptop or tablet to the kitchen with you and watch it as you go; stop and rewind if you have to-I did!  If I can only give you one hint, use a scale to measure.  No arguments, go to the store and buy one if you do not have one.  Seriously, they can be purchased for less than $20 and I know this because I spent about $15 on mine!!!  The filling recipes make more than you need so you can make multiple batches of macarons now, use the fillings in another recipe or freeze them for another day.

Raspberry paste:  Place 6 ounces of raspberries (thawed with the juices if using frozen) into a small sauce pot with 1/3 cup sugar.  Over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer.  Mash the berries and continue to simmer until it thickens up a bit, about 15 minutes-reduce the heat to low if it looks like it is sticking before it thickens.  Pour the mixture into a mesh strainer and press it through to remove the seeds.  Do your best to extract as much of the fruit as possible.  Discard the seeds and chill the paste.  Once chilled, it will be a loose paste, nearly a jam in consistency.

Ganache:  Place 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate into a heat proof bowl and set it over a pot of nearly simmering water to melt.  In a small pot, heat(don’t boil, just heat it to help melt the chocolate) 3 tablespoons of half and half with 2 tablespoons of booze (I used Pennington’s Strawberry Rye but you can use what you like-or just use more half and half).  Add the heated half and half and whisk until smooth.  Let it sit until it has the consistency of mayonnaise.

To assemble the cookies, on one half of the cookies, spread a thin layer of the raspberry paste on the bottoms.  Set each one, paste side up on a clean tray.  On the other half of the cookies, spread about a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of the ganache over the bottom of the cookies.  Pair the cookies together so that each has a raspberry and a chocolate cookie and gently press them together.  Allow them to sit long enough for the ganache to completely set and then you can package them to give as gifts.  Mine are rolled into clear cello with the ends tied shut.