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.


chocolate chiffon bundt cake with drunken caramel; a tuesdays with dorie post


Winter is once again showing us just who is in control.  Not only is it laughing at us, winter is flipping us the bird, repeatedly.  While I shouldn’t complain too loudly, it’s not like I live in the Boston area (sorry sis!), but as I sit here typing this, the weather forecast is calling for up to 15″ of snow to fall in the next 24 hours.  My complaint isn’t that it will snow but that 15″ is three times our average annual snowfall of 5 inches!

With the temperatures well below freezing with the wind chill, I was glad to be in my kitchen baking a chocolate cake.  And if there is one thing I am sure we can all agree on, chocolate cake fixes just about everything, especially if you serve it with a generous drizzle of drunken caramel sauce!  The cake, as the recipe is written in Baking with Julia, is supposed to be served with fresh raspberries soaked in liqueur and rich creme anglaise sauce that gets bruleed with a torch.  Well, I did not have raspberries or a torch and I did not want to make the creme anglaise sauce because it is just too rich for me.  But I did think a drizzle of caramel sauce would be nice and then I saw the bottle of Pennington’s and I couldn’t help myself…

The cake itself is a typical chiffon cake; spongy and light and completely dependent upon the cocoa powder for flavor.  Because the cocoa powder is practically the sole component of the flavor profile, I suggest you use a high quality cocoa powder, I used Valrhona cocoa powder because I wanted that chocolate punch I knew Valrhona would give to the cake.  If I had used a cocoa powder typically found in the grocery store, I might have gotten decent results but the lack of raspberries and the creme anglaise would have been really obvious and I am not sure that a few dollops of my drunken caramel would have worked as well.  That caramel sauce packs a punch especially with the use of Pennington’s.  If you are not familiar with Pennington’s, let me tell you that you should get your hands on a bottle if you can.  It is distilled in Nashville and they use real strawberry flavor-not the fake stuff so it tastes like ripe juicy berries, the perfect companion for a chocolate cake.
IMG_3069Drunken Caramel Sauce

makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 cinnamon stick

1″ piece of a vanilla bean, split open

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/4 cup booze-dark rum, bourbon, or whiskey (I highly recommend Pennington’s Strawberry Rye Whiskey)

Pour the cream into a small pot with the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean (the seeds scraped out and added to the pot) and the butter and place it over very low heat to warm it.  Place the sugar and corn syrup in a deep, heavy bottom pot with 1/4 cup of water.  Bring the pot to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to melt the sugar.  Wash the sides of the pot with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming.  Allow the sugar to boil until it turns amber in color.  Remove the pot from the heat and carefully pour in the warm cream mixture, stirring to combine.  It will boil up violently so take caution when stirring.  Return the pot to the stove over low heat and stir gently to dissolve the caramelized sugar at the bottom and sides of the pot.  Do not boil the mixture, just stir until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is combined.  Remove from the heat again and carefully stir in the booze.  Pour the caramel through a mesh strainer remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod and into a heat proof serving pitcher or a bowl.  Allow it to cool to about 100 degrees before serving, store in the fridge and reheat as needed.

To see how the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers did with this recipe, check out the “LYL” page on the website.  If you would like to join us as we bake our way through Baking with Julia and Baking Chez Moi, get your hands on the books and get to work-the more the merrier!