Showing posts with label meringue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meringue. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Grilled Peaches with Pecans and Maple Meringue

I have to admit, I’d never thought about how versatile meringues are. When I received a review copy of the book Meringue Girls, I wondered: how many different recipes could there really be? It turns out, there are several. And, all of them are irresistibly pretty. The Meringue Girls, Alex Hoffler and Stacey O’Gorman, created a London-based shop that supplies these lovely treats for special events. Their meringues come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. It’s such a fun book with bright, cheery, pillowy meringues shown on page after page. The photos make you want to jump in and try several options. There’s a base recipe for meringue followed by suggestions for flavors and instructions for adding color and piping shapes. That recipe, in any flavor, can be used for all the various desserts shown in the book. There are filling and flavor options that can be mixed and matched for sandwiched, little meringue kisses like Lemon Curd mixed with poppy seeds and cream cheese placed between kisses that might be tinted yellow or Nutella Buttercream could sandwich chocolate kisses or maybe Green Tea kisses could be filled with chocolate ganache. Among the desserts and puddings, there’s Raspberry Ripple and Meringue Gelato made with broken kisses; a Pistachio and Rose Water Pavlova with Greek Yogurt, Honey, and Figs; and a Pretzel and Chocolate Marshmallow Meringue Tart to name a few. Since our Texas peaches are at the peak of their season, I had to try the Grilled Peaches with Maple Meringues. In the book, the halved, grilled peaches are sprinkled with crushed amaretti cookies before being topped with swirls of maple meringue that are browned. I opted for chopped toasted pecans instead of the cookies. For garnish, the peaches are drizzled with maple syrup. 

The maple meringue is made like an Italian meringue but heated maple syrup is used instead of sugar syrup. Maple syrup was heated to 235 degrees F before it was slowly poured into egg whites that had already been whisked to stiff peaks in a mixer bowl. The mixer was turned up to high, and the eggs and syrup whisked until the mixture was thick and shiny. Next, halved peaches were grilled, and I used a grill pan on the stovetop for these. I scooped the meringue into a piping bag to squeeze dollops onto each peach. I used a kitchen torch to brown the meringue, and I’ve realized the torch is the funnest tool there is in the kitchen. The peaches were transferred to a serving platter, I scattered chopped pecans all around and on top of them, and a little maple syrup was added to finish. 

The browned maple meringue dressed up the peach halves, and the maple flavor was a great match for the sweet fruit and crunchy pecans. This meringue doesn’t have to be baked, or torched, and another use for it is to fill doughnuts which I’d love to try. With all of these delicious ideas I’d never thought of before, I think I’ll be making meringues more often. 

Grilled Peaches With Crushed Amaretti Cookies and Maple Meringue 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Meringue Girls

Our maple meringue has a lovely golden color and is absolutely delicious. Here, we use it dolloped on top of grilled peaches filled with crunchy amaretti cookies. For a super-summery dessert, try cooking the peaches on an outdoor grill. 

Serves 4 

4 peaches, halved and pitted 
8 to 12 amaretti cookies, crushed 
Maple Meringue (see separate recipe) 
Maple syrup for drizzling 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat a large ovenproof grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Place the peach halves cut-side down in the pan and cook without moving them until dark grill lines have formed, about 4 minutes. Turn the peach halves over, slide the pan into the oven, and cook until the peaches are just softened (but not falling apart), about 10 minutes. If you’ll be browning the meringue under the broiler, preheat the broiler. 

Fill the center of each peach half with crushed amaretti cookies and dollop maple meringue on top. Brown the meringue under the broiler or with a kitchen torch until golden. 

Carefully transfer the peaches to a serving platter or individual plates. Drizzle with maple syrup and serve right away. 

Maple Meringue 
This maple meringue uses natural maple syrup instead of refined sugar. It's made like an Italian meringue—you heat the syrup to a high temperature and add it to the stiff egg whites. The earthy and rich maple flavor really comes through. The meringue doesn’t need to be baked, so it's perfect for our Maple Meringue Doughnuts. It also works really well in recipes for baked meringues (you can make kisses with it) or as a topping for waffles. You will need a candy thermometer for cooking the syrup. 

Makes 3 cups 

1⁄2 cup maple syrup 
60 g egg whites (from about 2 eggs) 

Put the maple syrup in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Place over medium heat. 

When the syrup approaches 220°F, begin whisking the egg whites on low speed in a stand mixer. When they’re frothy, increase the speed to high and beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. 

When the syrup has come up to 235°F, turn the mixer speed to medium and slowly stream in the hot maple syrup. Once you’ve added all the syrup, whisk on high speed until the meringue is thick and a little shiny; this will take 5 to 7 minutes. The meringue is now ready to use. 

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Butterscotch Meringue Pie

I am a caramel person and a butterscotch person. They’re different but similar, but caramel is a little more photogenic. I accept that I’m not capable of making a butterscotch filling in its unfortunate color look good in a photo, but I won’t accept anything butterscotch that doesn’t taste great. I have a history with butterscotch puddings and pies. I've tried a few puddings that tasted as bad as they looked. And years ago, I attempted a butterscotch pie that left me completely disappointed. The filling was thin and runny, and once cut, the pie was useless. When I complained about this to my Mom, she mentioned that butterscotch pie was my Grandmother’s favorite. I had no idea. Grandma also loved meringue, and I didn’t previously know that either. Since Mom didn’t have Grandma’s recipe for a meringue-topped butterscotch pie, I became determined to find a good one. At last, that day has arrived. This pie is from Gesine Bullock-Prado’s new book Pie It Forward, and I received a review copy. This book is as fun to read as her last one, and the lighthearted nature of it makes you want to get baking and enjoy the results. It starts with a few different dough recipes and some great tips for working with dough and baking a perfect crust and then moves through sweet and savory pies and tarts. Going through the book, I kept longing for the start of different fruit seasons. There are gorgeous Blueberry Brown-Butter Tartlets, a Schwarzwald Tart that’s like a black forest cake in pie form, a German Apple Custard Tart, and a Buttermilk Peach Pie. One section is devoted to chocolate with a Fleur de Sel Caramel Almond Brownie Pie and Chocolate Orange Souffle Tartlets among others. At the end of the book, there are recipes for more challenging desserts involving multiple layers, fillings, jaconde sponges, and chocolate transfer sheets. They’re beautiful creations, and someday I’d love to try making the tall, striped Bee Sting with flavors of almond, chocolate, and honey.

When I spotted the Butterscotch Meringue Pie in the book, I knew I had to try that first. I have to tell you about the four parts of this pie because they were all fantastic. First, the crust was one of the flakiest I’ve ever made, and interestingly, it included some sweetened condensed milk which gave the dough great flavor. Then, after the crust was blind-baked, it was covered with a layer of caramel. I actually made the caramel twice because the first time I didn’t think it was dark enough. Gesine was kind enough to answer my question about the caramel being light in color on Twitter, and she suggested cooking it longer or to a higher temperature than noted in the recipe. The second time, I melted the sugar first and cooked it until amber in color, then added the butter and cream, and cooked the mixture while stirring until it reached 240 degrees F. That time, it was a good caramel color. After spreading the caramel in the pie crust, I couldn’t control the urge to sprinkle it with sea salt. Next came the butterscotch filling. It was a delicious custard of brown sugary butterscotch, and there’s really nothing you can do about its color. Butterscotch is always an unappealing, dull brown. That doesn’t matter here though considering that the filling was entirely covered by the meringue, and stop everything now if you have never made a brown sugar meringue. You must. It’s a pearly brownish color rather than a bright white, and the flavor is like fluffy, mild butterscotch. I swirled the meringue on top and torched it to a toasted brown. 

This was a decadent pie, and it was heaven for a butterscotch and caramel fan. I’m pretty sure it’s not exactly how my Grandma made her butterscotch pie, but I’m glad I’ve found such a great version to make for myself. And, now that berries and peaches are coming into season, I have more pies to bake. 

Butterscotch Meringue Pie 
Recipe re-printed with publisher’s permission from Pie It Forward
Makes 1 (9-inch, 23-cm pie)

For the crust: 
½ batch Simple Tart Dough (recipe below) 

For the caramel lining: 
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar 
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream 
2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter 
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt 

For the filling: 
3/4 cup (165 g) dark brown sugar, firmly packed 
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vanilla bean paste 
1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch 
4 egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt 
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) whole milk, divided 
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream 

For the assembly: 
1 cup (220 g) dark brown sugar, firmly packed 
4 egg whites 
pinch salt 

Procedure for the crust 
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Roll the dough into a rough 11-inch (28 cm) round. Line a 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate with it and crimp the sides decoratively. Dock the bottom and freeze it for 20 minutes. 
2. Line the crust with parchment, fill it with pie weights or dried beans, and bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and pie weights. Bake the crust for 20 minutes more, or until it is golden brown and baked through. Set it aside to cool completely. 

Procedure for the caramel lining 
1. Combine the granulated sugar, cream, butter, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar has melted. Clip on a candy thermometer and heat until the caramel reaches 240 degrees F (116 C), then allow it to cool completely. 

Procedure for the filling 
1. Whisk together the brown sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, egg yolks, salt, and ½ cup (120 ml) of the milk in a mixing bowl. 
2. Heat the remaining milk and the cream in a saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Slowly pour the milk-cream mixture into the sugar mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. 
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. Transfer the custard to a bowl, and cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap laid directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 

1. Pour the caramel into the cooled crust and smooth it along the bottom and sides, using a small offset spatula. Spoon the custard over the caramel and refrigerate the pie until the filling is cool and set. 
2. Begin making a meringue by combining the brown sugar and ½ cup (75 ml) water in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar has melted. Attach a candy thermometer and heat the sugar mixture until it reaches 234 degrees F (112 C). 
3. While the sugar syrup is cooking, place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk until the egg whites are foamy. 4. Once the sugar syrup has reached temperature, turn the mixer to medium-low and pour the sugar along the inside of the bowl (not directly into the egg whites, to keep from scrambling the eggs). Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk until you achieve stiff peaks. 
5. Top the custard layer with the meringue, creating swirls and peaks with the back of a spoon. Gently brown the meringue with a kitchen torch. Do not use a broiler to brown the meringue, as this will melt the custard. 

Simple Tart Dough 
Makes 2 ½ pounds (1.2 kg) dough, enough for 3 to 4 (8- to 9-inch/20- to 23-cm) tarts or 12 to 16 mini tarts. 
(*Note: only one half batch of this dough is needed for the crust for the Butterscotch Meringue Pie) 

4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, cold 
2 cups (480 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled 
1 teaspoon (6 g) salt 
1/3 cup (75 ml) sweetened condensed milk 
1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten 

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together the flour, butter, and salt until the mixture resembles cornmeal. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the condensed milk and egg. While pulsing, slowly pour this into the flour until the dough just comes together. 
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently turn over a few times until it is smooth, the dry ingredients have been completely integrated, and the dough holds together. Take care not to overwork it. 
4. Shape the dough into a loose circle, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. 

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Espresso and Mascarpone Semifreddo with Homemade Mascarpone

I frequently say things like “homemade is always better,” and I will attempt to make just about anything from scratch at least once. So, I was curious about what made the “make it” rather than “buy it” list in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. I received a review copy of the book, and it’s an entertaining read. It’s not so much a piece on precise calculations of whether it’s less expensive to make things from scratch or buy them; although, there are cost comparisons for each recipe in the book. Instead, it’s an honest and humorous account of what the author did make, whether the process was enjoyable or not, and if she thought the result was worth the trouble. Reese’s experiences included raising chickens, ducks, turkeys, and goats, curing bacon, salmon, and prosciutto, baking hamburger and hot dog buns, and making homemade yogurt and cheeses among many other things. Speaking of those buns, she recommends making hot dog buns because the store-bought variety is so flavorless, and the homemade ones are better-tasting and less expensive. However, with hamburger buns, she found the homemade options she tried to be too firm and not fluffy enough and recommends buying them. I had to disagree with this conclusion because I’m very fond of homemade hamburger buns, but forming your own opinion is part of the fun of this book. The author shares her experiences and her reasons for choosing to make or buy each item. It gets you thinking about your own priorities with things like time versus money and control over ingredients versus convenience.

The cheese chapter was especially interesting to me. I’ve been toying with the idea of attempting cheese making for a while, but so far, I’ve only made ricotta. Mascarpone seemed like a good next step. It’s an easy process, and the cost, even starting with organic cream, is considerably lower than store-bought mascarpone. You heat a quart of cream in a double boiler, and you want the top bowl of the double boiler to be well inside the pan of simmering water. The temperature needs to come up to 196 degrees F, and that will take forever if your bowl is too far from the simmering water. Once it comes to temperature, you add a scant quarter teaspoon of tartaric acid. Now, it’s important that you use exactly tartaric acid and not cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is derived from tartaric acid, but chemically, they are not the same. I found tartaric acid locally at Austin Homebrew Supply, and it’s also available online. After adding the tartaric acid, remove the bowl of cream from the heat, and stir and stir until the cream thickens. Let it sit to come to room temperature, and then line a sieve with fine-weave cheesecloth and place it over a bowl. Pour the thickened cream into the lined sieve, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least twelve hours. Reese notes that sometimes the process just doesn’t work, and the cream doesn’t thicken. You can try adding a tiny pinch more tartaric acid and stirring more, but occasionally it doesn’t become cheese. Thankfully, I had no problems, and like magic, the next day I had a pound of mascarpone which cost about $5.00 for the organic cream plus a few cents for the tartaric acid and natural gas for operating the stove.

Following the recipe for the mascarpone, there’s a semifreddo made with it and flavored with espresso. It’s the kind of dessert that you have to make in advance which would make it perfect for a dinner party. It needs to be chilled in the freezer and then softened in the refrigerator before serving. An espresso-flavored custard was made first, and that was left to chill in the refrigerator. Next, a meringue was whipped in one bowl, and the homemade mascarpone and some cream were combined in a second bowl. The mascarpone and cream mixture was folded into the espresso custard followed by the meringue. I spooned the semifreddo into serving cups before freezing them, and that way, the softening time in the refrigerator was quicker than it would have been with one big bowl. Each serving was garnished with chopped hazelnuts and then quickly disappeared. I’ll definitely be making my own mascarpone from now on, when I have the time to make it. And, I’m going to try making some other cheeses too as well as homemade ginger ale, vermouth, nutella, berry vinegar, and pot stickers to name a few things.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lime Meringue Tartlettes

When a bakery offers a cookbook, it may or may not reveal the secrets of what's found in its display cases. Years ago, I received a cookie cookbook from a well-known bakery, and none of the cookie recipes in the book were in fact the actual cookies sold in the shops. Those classified recipes were not revealed. Instead, the book was full of somewhat similar cookies in quantities appropriate for the home cook. The new book from San Francisco's Miette, however, is quite the opposite. I received a review copy, and in this book, 100 recipes are shared that describe how to create exactly what you'll find in the shops. For instance, all the cakes at Miette are made in a dainty six inch size, and all the cake recipes in the book are written for that size as well despite six inch pans not being very common for home bakers. It is explained that instead of baking two six inch layers, one nine inch cake can be made instead, but the techniques, ingredients, frostings, and embellishments included in the instructions will result in exact replicas of Miette creations. There are stunners like the fondant-covered, whipped cream-filled princess cake and the sleek and glossy bittersweet ganache cake that both have just enough decoration to make them special but the restraint that makes them chic. Beyond the layer cakes and cupcakes, the book also offers simpler afternoon cakes like carrot cake and honey tea cake. Then, there are tarts, cookies and pastries, and candies and creams. I was delighted by, and had to try, the lime meringue tartlettes made with a homemade graham cracker crust, filled with a double-sieved lime cream, and topped with a barely toasted boiled icing.

All of the tarts in the book are made in a seven inch round tart pan, and each recipe includes instructions for individual tartlettes as well. I chose to make tartlettes, and I used straight-sided, three and a half inch, round forms. The crust was a homemade graham cracker dough that was chilled before being rolled out between pieces of parchment paper. The paper made rolling the slightly sticky dough easier. Pieces of the dough were cut and fit into the tartlette forms. Each tartlette shell was topped with a square of parchment paper and filled with pie weights for blind baking. The instructions state to bake the tartlette shells for ten minutes, but I found they needed at least twice that long to become crisp. While the shells cooled, the lime filling was made, and this was possibly the best lime curd ever. In a double boiler, lime juice and zest, sugar, and eggs were cooked over simmering water while whisking occasionally until the mixture reached 172 degrees F. It may seem like it's not going to thicken, but have faith. Keep checking the temperature, and sure enough, at 172 F, it will be thick and lovely. This mixture was strained through a sieve for the first time at this point. Next, cubes of butter were whisked into the mixture, one at a time, whisking until each piece of butter was completely incorporated. It was strained through a sieve for a second time. I did pause and wonder if this was really necessary, but then when I tasted it, all was clear. This was the smoothest, most lush lime curd ever tasted. The curd was chilled, then spooned into the tartlette shells, and the boiled icing was made. After the meringue was swirled onto the tartlettes, I used the broiler to brown the meringue just slightly.

I have to mention one issue with the boiled icing or Italian meringue. I've been involved in an on-going conversation about organic sugar and how it compares to conventional sugar in baking. In this book, it's mentioned that all the items at Miette are made with organic sugar and that the recipes have been calibrated to match results from more refined, conventional ingredients. So, I first made the meringue with organic sugar which is what I usually use in baking. The organic sugar meringue was grainy and not the smooth, perfectly glossy, white concoction as shown in the photos in the book. So, I made it again with conventional sugar and got that glossy, lovely result. The problem seems to be the grain size of organic sugar. I'm wondering if the bakery has access to a different type of organic sugar that has a finer grain than what is available at grocery stores. I'd like to experiment more and try grinding organic sugar in a food processor before using it for a meringue. Has anyone else had success with smooth, glossy meringues made from organic sugar?

Despite the issue with the meringue, this was a star of a dessert. The crispy, graham crust and the perfection of the lime filling with the toasted meringue topping all just belonged together. The entire book is delightful to explore with the beautiful photos of most finished recipes and some instructive, prep photos as well, and the scalloped-cut edges of the pages add to the charm. The gingerbread afternoon cake, the lemon shortbread cookies, and the banana cream tart are all contenders for what to try next.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Peanut Butter Clouds

You might not think there would be much to learn at a cooking class about cookies, but that really depends on who’s teaching the class. I signed up for a cookie class at Central Market Cooking School last December that was taught by Alice Medrich, and I walked away with a few pages of notes. She was demonstrating cookies from her new book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies which combines some of her all-time, favorite recipes with updates for what everyone likes to cook today. I shared some photos from the class on my Facebook page as well. Throughout the class, little, eye-opening details, the kinds of things that don’t always get mentioned, were pointed out and explained. She talked about how a home cook needs to decode a recipe. When a cookie recipe states to whip or cream something “just until,” it’s important to pay close attention and not overdo it. There are times when the butter and sugar should not be creamed to a point where it’s too light and fluffy as that can add too much air to the dough. She continued to talk as she worked, and turned a square baking pan upside down, cut a piece of foil, and wrapped it over the bottom of the pan. Then, she flipped the pan over and placed the foil inside it. I’d never thought of doing that to get the foil to the right size and shape to line the inside of a pan for brownies. Then, she spoke of flavors and adding different spices to brownies or chocolate cookies. Rather than mixing the spice into the batter or dough, it can be sprinkled on top after baking. That way, you have a different flavor experience. You smell the spice as soon as you lift the item toward your mouth, and it’s more pronounced. Also, then you can flavor one batch several different ways. So, the evening progressed with several different cookie recipes being prepped and then tasted. Every cookie we were served was fantastic, but the one I couldn’t stop thinking about over a month later was the peanut butter cloud.

This is in Medrich’s new book, and it’s a simple meringue cookie with a swirl of peanut butter running through it. Ordinarily, a meringue serves as a vehicle for other flavors, but here, the added peanut butter was mixed into the sweet, crisp, light as air cookie and chopped salted peanuts were sprinkled on for added crunch. Egg whites were whisked in a mixer with cream of tartar and eventually, sugar was added. During the class, Medrich pointed out that if you add the sugar too early while whisking the egg whites, you’ll get a glossy but limp meringue. For firmer meringue, add the sugar, after the whites have become opaque, very slowly over a two minute period. Then, dot the top of the meringue with well-stirred, natural peanut butter, and just barely fold it into the egg whites. The peanut butter should be streaked throughout the meringue. I piped the meringue into small cookie-cloud shapes onto baking sheets and topped them with the chopped nuts. The cookies baked at 200 degrees F for one and a half hours, and then they remained in the oven after it was turned off until they were cool.

The crackly texture and the sweetness of the meringue mixed with peanut butter and salted chopped peanuts just worked so well together. Thankfully, my home-baked versions stood up to my memory of them from the class. And, now I need to finish reading through the book to get several new ideas for what to bake next.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mini Cranberry Meringue Pies

I thought this recipe was from last year. The image of these cute, little, mini pies had been on my mind since last winter when I vowed to attempt them when fresh, fall cranberries came around again next time. Actually, this first appeared in Living magazine in November 2006, but it did appear again in a special holidays publication last year. I had the 06 article tucked away in my files, and I pulled it out last week to finally try this. The pasty is a citrus version of a pate sucree I've made before with the addition of lemon and blood orange zest. It occurred to me that I should make a big batch of these mini pastry shells and keep them in the freezer to use as needed. They would come in especially handy when I have some leftover pumpkin puree like I probably will later this afternoon. In this case, those handy pastry cups were filled with thickened cranberry sauce that was made in two stages. First, cranberries were cooked, and the juice was strained from the berries. Second, that juice was combined with whole cranberries to make a sweet, tart, filling with pops of flavor. Fluffy, toasted meringue topped it off.

The pate sucree was cut into four-inch circles which were crimped and fitted into twelve standard muffin cups. Each cup was lined with a small square of parchment paper, filled with weights and baked for fifteen minutes. The weights and parchment were removed, and the cups were baked for another five minutes or so. Once cool, they were ready to be filled. For the filling, first, fresh cranberries were brought to a boil with sugar and water. They were simmered until the cranberries burst and then passed through a sieve to extract the juice. The recipe states the solids should be discarded, but I'm getting more and more militant about not wasting food, so I kept the cranberry solids and enjoyed them on plain yogurt for breakfast. Next, the cranberry juice was returned to a saucepan, and sugar, lemon and blood orange zest, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and more whole cranberries were added. This time, the cranberries were cooked over a lower heat to prevent them from bursting. They should just become soft. Cornstarch was whisked into a mixture of blood orange juice and water, and that was added to the cranberries and juice to thicken it. Once cooked and cooled a bit, the filling was divided among the pastry cups, and they were chilled until set for at least an hour. Last but not least, a meringue was whipped to glossy peaks, spooned onto each mini pie, and the tops were browned under the broiler in about a minute.

While trying to get these pies done in less time than I should have planned to spend on them, the extra step of straining cranberries and then adding more whole cranberries seemed a little fussy. In the end though, I see why it mattered. The thickened juice nicely suspended the softened, whole cranberries in a way that a standard cranberry sauce would not have done. That being said, for a quicker version, a thick, sweet cranberry sauce would work fine here. Also, I'm always up for a meringue topping, but Kurt suggested that whipped cream would have been just as good. Either way, these festive, seasonal treats have earned a trip from my temporary, to-try file to my permanent, keeper file.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Macarons

I am a food geek to the extent that I have cooking and baking goals. There are things I want to try, and I plot and plan for that some day when I'll have the time or the patience or the inclination to tackle them. French macarons were one of those things for many years. When the Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook was published back in 2005, one of the recipes she demonstrated from the book was French macarons. I already had to have the book, but when I saw that demo, I couldn't wait to have a look at that recipe. Then, over four years went by, and I never got around to attempting these little cookies. I've seen lots of other blog posts showing gorgeous examples of macarons, and I eavesdropped, so to speak, on Twitter conversations about baking macarons. Jamie from Lifes a Feast and Deeba from Passionate About Baking have created the MacTweets site that's all about macarons, and they encouraged anyone who hadn't attempted them before to go for it. I finally did it, and what you see here is my first ever effort.

The suggested recipe on the MacTweets site is from Helen at Tartelette, and it is very similar to the recipe in the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. I followed Helen's recipe exactly with Jaimie's suggestion for adding a little cocoa powder and espresso powder. I also heard from Jaimie that she uses pre-ground almonds rather than grinding them in a food processor, and I did that as well. So, the almond meal was whisked with confectioner's sugar, and then cocoa powder and finely ground espresso were added. Egg whites were whipped with granulated sugar, and then the almond meal mixture was folded into the meringue. I saw a useful tip in the Martha recipe for marking circles on a baking sheet by repeatedly dipping a one and half inch round cutter into flour and then pressing it on the silpat. Then, when piping the meringue, you have a guide for making the cookies all the same size. I was sure I owned some large, plain, piping tips, but when I went searching for them I found I only have star tips. I should take an inventory of my kitchen supplies. So, I went the cut a hole in a disposable piping bag route. The first hole I cut was, of course, too big, and the cookies spread a bit after being piped and I had to start over. The second time around, I made them very petite, inside the marked circles, and sprinkled a few bits of sanding sugar on top of each. I baked them at 280 degrees F, as instructed, and couldn't believe it when I saw that pretty, ruffled feet had formed.

I followed Helen's instructions for making a vanilla buttercream, and can I pause for a moment to dwell on the silky deliciousness that was that buttercream? One more moment. After letting the macarons cool, and then ever so gently peeling the silpat from the backs of them, and seeing a few of them crack and shatter, I filled the rest with that buttercream. For a touch of holiday spirit, I rolled the edges of exposed filling in crushed candy cane pieces. These cookies are a fun challenge in the kitchen, and the possible flavor combinations are endless. I don't think they'll ever become my favorite cookie to eat, whether I've made them or purchased them. They are light with a barely there crunch on the surface and a hint of chewiness, and the filling was extremely good, but they're also a little on the sweet side even for a cookie. I am thrilled, though, to have finally made French macarons and the experience has only increased my respect for those bakers who make them look so colorful, delicious, and effortless.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meringue Topped Banana Pudding

About a year ago, I baked the brown sugar pound cake from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories, and I mentioned that there were several other things I wanted to try from that book. One of those other things was the meringue topped banana pudding, and just a short eleven months and twenty-something days later, I did finally try it. I’ve made banana pudding several times before and it’s a favorite of mine and Kurt’s, but this one was different because of the meringue on top. I usually serve it with a topping of whipped cream, and that’s how we see it served at restaurants too. I’d never tasted banana pudding with meringue on top. The pudding itself, as usual, is just a basic, vanilla pudding. Every time I make a pudding or pastry cream, I wonder why I don’t do so more often. I taste it warm from the saucepan just after the vanilla has been added, and every time, I marvel at how good that is. The lovely pudding is layered with sliced bananas and vanilla wafers, and I did not bake homemade vanilla wafers for this. I followed the recipe which suggested using a twelve ounce box. However, I did seek out an organic brand.

The pudding was prepared with four egg yolks, and the four whites from those eggs were used for the meringue. Pudding was poured over a layer of vanilla wafers and sliced bananas in a one and a half quart casserole dish, and then the layers were repeated two more times. This filled the dish to the very top edge, and I should have been smart enough to realize it was a bit too full. The fluffy meringue was spread on top with lots of swirls and curls, and it went into a 350 F oven for about twelve minutes. Luckily, I had placed the casserole dish on a baking sheet, because the pudding bubbled up and spilled over a bit here and there. Next time, I’ll eat a little more pudding right after it’s cooked so as to keep it just below the top edge of the dish. I let it cool on a rack for an hour and then refrigerated it overnight.

I have to say, I didn’t miss the whipped cream. I like it that way too, but the meringue was different and light and just as nice. With meringue, you have the browned, near-crust on top and then the airy, pillowy texture underneath. In the book, there’s a warning that while you can refrigerate leftovers it doesn’t hold up well. I can tell you that’s true. After scooping out two servings for dessert, I placed the dish back in the refrigerator. The next day, it was a little runny and not so attractive. The side opposite of the runny stuff was still delicious, but serving this sooner rather than later is ideal. One thought for next time is to create individual servings which could remain refrigerated for a couple of days with no scooped-out areas for runniness.

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