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Showing posts with label Thomas Keller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Keller. Show all posts

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Green Apple Macarons

I am not a classically-trained Pastry Chef. I am a classically-trained Chef. I never wanted to be a Pastry Chef and work with nothing but butter and sugar and chocolate all day. I wanted to get my arms burned by the oven, work on the line, feel the dinner rush, make a billion salads and sear steaks to perfection, all while making that just-right beurre blanc to go with that fish for table 9. I wanted to be a Chef, and that's what I signed up for when I went to school. I am not a classically-trained Pastry Chef, so when I get something right that's difficult for me to get right because I didn't have that pastry fundamental block...I celebrate.

I can think of few things that are more finicky than a macaron, that elusive and heavenly "cookie" of epic skill level. There are so many things that can go wrong so it's hard to land on how you can get it right, but I think I've done it. I think I've gotten my method down, and if I can help you get yours down, I am more than pleased to do it.

Green Apple Macarons
(adapted from Thomas Keller's recipe)

  • 212 grams powdered sugar
  • 212 grams almond flour/meal
  • 92 grams plus 110 grams egg whites
  • 236 grams granulated sugar
  • 8 grams kosher salt
  • Green & yellow food coloring, preferably gel(I had Kelly green and Golden yellow from the Wilton gel dye set)
  • Apple butter, as needed
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F, and turn it to high fan. If you do not have a convection oven, I've found that if you preheat your oven to 350 and then immediately drop the temperature to 300 when the macarons go in the oven, it works quite well. Set yourself up a pot of simmering water, too, that will serve as a sort of double boiler for your eggs.

Whisk/sift together the powdered sugar, salt, and almond meal. With a spatula, stir in the 92 grams of egg whites with the dyes. I used about 3 parts yellow and one part green, just to get the color I wanted...but you can play around. Like I said, use a gel dye if you can at all help it, as the moisture content in this is important. You'll want this to be a nice smooth-ish paste before continuing to the next step.

Combine your granulated sugar and the 110 grams of egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer, and set your bowl over that simmering pot of water. Whisk to combine, and then start whipping by hand while the water simmers. You want the egg whites to warm up enough to sort of dissolve the sugar easily and be warm to the touch. You'll want the egg whites to be shiny, too, before you move them from the double boiler to the standing mixer...and this can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Be patient.

Whip your egg whites until stiff-ish peaks form. This recipe has a lot of sugar in it, so you're going to get a thick, white, almost nougat-like peak out of your whites, and that's a good thing. Fold in a third of your stiff-ish whites to your almond 'paste' and don't worry so much about volume on this one...you just want to lighten the batter. Fold in your next third, scooping and letting it fall on each stroke. On the third and final addition of whipped egg whites, make sure your batter is fully incorporated, a generally uniform color, and has the consistency of hot running lava. Now comes the fun part...

Pop your mixture into a piping bag. You can fit it with a medium-sized round tip, or you can simply have a plastic, disposable piping bag that you've cut the tip out of. I chose the latter, because it's easier to just pitch than fish for a meringue-y tip out of the garbage if you toss the bag on accident. 

If you're not quite the best with a piping bag or uniform cookies, yet, don't be ashamed to break out a pencil and trace uniform circles on your parchment paper for you to fill. And, yes, you'll want to use parchment paper...or a silicone mat, if you have it. Don't bake this straight onto the pan...it'll get sticky.

They're not 100% perfect, but they're generally the same size and shape!
The resting part is crucial, but will vary in time depending on how humid it is where you are. Humidity is such a factor with these stupid things that I won't even bother if it's even a possibly rainy day. The idea of the resting, though, is to allow the cookie to form a sort of "shell" that will stay still when it's baked. The shell should not be sticky when lightly touched with a finger; this takes me anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Be patient. 

Pop the cookies in your oven and bake for precisely 8 minutes at either 300 high fan or started at 350 and then immediately turned down to 300 if working with a conventional oven. Once baked, you'll be able to assess how many made it and how many did not. 

This cookie is incredibly finicky, but here's a troubleshooting guide that encompasses the problems I've had:

  1. The cookies crack
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Over/undermixing
      2. Oven too hot
      3. Opening/closing the oven door to check on it at the wrong time
  2. The cookies don't have "feet"
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Not enough resting time
      2. Improper technique
  3. The cookies have collapsed
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Not enough resting time
      2. Underbaked
      3. Oven too cold
      4. Oven unevenly heated
  4. The cookies are hollow
    1. This could be caused by
      1. Improper mixing
      2. Oven's too hot
      3. Fan's too high
      4. Too long of a baking time

I'm missing a lot of things, but these are the problems and solutions found this far in my journey. 

Make sure you let the cookies cool completely before filling with your favorite apple butter. You can buy this stuff at the grocery store, or make your own. There's nothing wrong with a convenience product here and there, however, so don't be ashamed to fill these painstakingly-made cookies with a shortcut or two.

As for storage, gently wrap in plastic wrap and "buffer" with crumpled up deli papers, newspaper, or even bubblewrap, if it's lasted long enough to be useful to you. Macarons freeze absolutely perfectly, and they even will develop a nicer flavor after about a week in the freezer versus just eaten immediately. This is called "maturation" of flavor, and is oddly important to this magical cookie, that's both crunchy and chewy. 

Don't be afraid to fiddle around, too, with ratios and whatnot. If this recipe isn't working for you, please seek another. If this technique isn't working for you, then please seek another. 

This technique and this recipe work really well for me, but it may not work for you, and I'll respect and accept that. I only ask that you are not too frustrated with your previous failures that you give up entirely on your dreams of making macarons. 

These macarons that I've made are not perfect, but they are successful enough to pass, and are technically correct. While they're not necessarily the prettiest things, they're still great and I'm still proud of them. I hope that you try this recipe and report back with any tips and tricks you may have discovered along the way....I'm still not convinced that mine is the perfect method, and will happily admit that.

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Culinary School: Caramel Corn

Greetings, class!!

Today we'll be covering something not as healthy as a delicious, fresh-from-the-garden, spinach salad.

I know more than anyone that it's more than natural to have a sweet tooth. We, as animals, have evolved to crave things high in fat and high in sugar, to binge on while in feasting times so we can be okay during famine times....but we're not hunter-gatherers anymore, so there's no famine times. This does not mean you should abstain completely from your natural sweet tooth! Want to be healthy? Do the things yourself: i.e., make your own sweets.

When you make your own sweets, you know what's in it--but more importantly, you know what's not. (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, a ridiculous amount of sodium, red dye #40, etc.) Oddly, making your own caramel corn is simple! And, thanks to Chef Thomas Keller and my copy of Bouchon Bakery, I can show you how to make it.

Caramel Corn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels(I like yellow organic)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5(3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, NOT MARGARINE
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Oil, A/N
You're going to need a neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed for this application. I prefer grapeseed for just about everything cooking-wise, but it's pricey, so canola is just fine for the average home cook. Find a heavy-bottomed saucepot and some aluminum foil, the heavier the better.

Measure out your ingredients ahead of time, as these steps will all go quickly. Measuring and gathering your ingredients before you start cooking is known as mise en place, which is French for "things in place." This is more than just words to many Chefs, but a lifestyle, a mantra. Maybe you should learn it, too? Organize yourself. Get yourself ready. Set yourself up for success. If you're unfamiliar with a recipe, but familiar with mise en place, you're a step ahead.
Before you start heating anything, prepare a sheet pan lined with either parchment or aluminum foil, sprayed generously with pan-spray/vegaline/whatever food-safe lubricant you prefer. You could even butter it, but the spray is easier.

Plop your oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter into the saucepot with your popcorn kernels. Give it a little toss to coat, then seal up your pot with the foil. Cook over medium-high heat, shaking the pot back and forth constantly. You'll begin to hear pops. Don't freak out! Just lower the heat a little bit to medium, then continue to move the pot back and forth, back and forth, until the popping ceases to just one or two every second or so. Then, remove from the heat and let steam for a few. This way, you can let the last few kernels in the bottom pop safely without the risk of burning your popcorn.

Once your popcorn is all popped, move to a big bowl and wipe out your pan. Add in the sugar, corn syrup, and water, then bring to a boil. Let the sugar caramelize. Swirl it around a few times once it starts to turn that pretty golden-brown color, to distribute that evenly.

The key to caramel is having the confidence to really let it go to that gorgeous brown color. The range of temperature that I prefer is between 320 and 350 degrees F. Once it hits that gorgeous golden-brown color, that nice dark amber, turn off the heat, hit it with the butter and stir. 

Note: Use a wooden spoon to work with caramels! This does not conduct heat, and is very durable...plus, it's easy to clean and won't melt.

Once the butter is melted, add in your baking soda. This will cause the caramel to fizz up like crazy, and thus coat your popcorn evenly. Add in your popcorn a few handfuls at a time, and stir. You'll want to coat it evenly, and thinly. Add more and more as needed, but don't add all of it at once, as you might have too much popcorn for your caramel.

Once your popcorn is thinly and evenly coated, pour out onto your prepared sheet pan, and spread as evenly as you can. If you have latex gloves lying around, you can now take this opportunity to butter your gloved hands up and spread the confections evenly. I also like to sprinkle a little bit of sea salt over the caramel corn while it's still hot, so it sticks...and you get that awesome salty-sweet action going on.

Let this stuff cool. Seriously, if caramel gets on your skin while it's hot, it's like NAPALM.

Note: If you get hot caramel on your skin, DO NOT rinse with cold water. Rinse with warm water and let it run over your skin(I know, it's really going to suck) until the sugar has dissolved. DO NOT put a paper towel or anything over it, because IT WILL STICK. If you do burn yourself seriously, and peel off some skin, don't be afraid to see a doctor. 

Look at you, now! You have a wonderful batch of caramel corn at your disposal! Once it's cool, it'll be crunchy and candy-like, without all of those crazy processed sugars and high amounts of sodium and Goddess-knows-what-else in it! You know exactly what went into this confection, and now you can have caramel corn any time you want. And let me tell you this: 

If you throw a party and have homemade caramel corn in little cellophane baggies as party favors, you'll go down in history as a host(ess) with the most(ess)!

Happy cooking and happy eating. Class dismissed!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Vanilla/Vanilla Cake

My handwriting isn't the best, but I'm still proud!
Cake! Ohmigoodness, I love cake! I wish I could take back every time in my life that I was offered cake but turned it down, because I love cake. Actually, I don't have to, because I never turned down cake. Who turns down cake???

Diabetics, probably. Or people who don't like cake. But who doesn't like cake?? Cake is delicious, especially when done right. I can't stand the cakes that you get at the grocery store anymore because they so often use that "bettercream" stuff, which is a shelf-stable soy buttercream substitute which is used to frost commercial cakes. You'll see it on most ice cream cakes and supermarket cakes. It has a very distinctive taste, which I have grown to hate, from using it for over a year in a job I had once. I also hate American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar. This is the buttercream you probably learned when you were a kid, while your mom(or dad) made cakes for your birthday. Just butter and powdered sugar. The end. You love it as a kid, but as a grownup you probably scrape it off your cakes because it's just too much. Another thing about powdered sugar is that it has cornstarch in it, which does keep it from clumping and whatnot, but it also leaves a weird, gross kind of film on the top of your mouth when you're done eating it. So, as an adult and as a professional, I tend to shy away for the American buttercreams in lieu of French or Italian buttercreams, which are less sweet and more fabulous, with a much more beautiful sheen than your typical American buttercream, and certainly shinier than your typical fondant.

While we are (sort of) on the subject, I have to say this:<rant>

 I am sick of friends(acquaintances, rather, that sort of only know me by proxy) that find out I'm a Pastry Chef and then send me pictures of crazy fondant-ed towers of confection saying things like "U should maek this for my 4yo's bday party pretty plz??? :):):):):)"

How about "No"?
Just because I'm a Pastry Chef doesn't mean I know how to make those crazy cakes that take literally days of work. Also, "should"? You know what I should do? Shower. Brush my teeth. Up my fiber intake. Take a Spanish class. Those are things that I should do. I can't fucking stand people saying "you should make this" and then show me a picture of something I have literally zero interest in. A giant wedding cake in the shape of the characters of Yo Gabba Gabba? How about no. Go to a fucking bakery and pay someone else to care.


Being a pastry chef nowadays is an interesting task. Being self-taught, I only really learned the things that I was interested in or thought of making for my job. If I wanted to make a pumpkin pie for the new menu, I looked it up and gave myself a little crash course on that. Cakes are a tiny bit of a struggle for me, since I make them so seldom. After tons of youtube videos, though, and several rules in mind, I've found the perfect white cake recipe and the technique to go with it.

For my recipe and technique, I turned to none other than Chef Ron Ben-Israel. This man is a world-renowned cake designer, and master baker. I love his personality on all of the Food Network shows, and I eat up every episode of Sweet Genius like no other. He showed up on an episode of "Worst Cooks in America" in their 4th season to show the cooks how to make cakes. The thing that blew my mind was that he used a food processor to make the batter. It was like a lightbulb: of course!

The enemy of cakes is gluten, which makes a product chewy, and produces odd bubbles called "tunnels", which are air pockets trying to escape their gluten-y trap. Who wants chewy cake? Not me. The perfectly cooked cake has tiny, uniform bubbles, like a teensy little sponge. Anyway, use a food processor for this method. But the original recipe, found here, says you can use a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Another little tip is that, when baking a cake, you want all of your ingredients to be at room temperature. I don't know why this is better, necessarily, but I'm not one to question good results. Thank you, Chef!

White Vanilla Spongecake
yield: 1/2 sheet pan, or 12-16 servings

  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature(don't throw away the yolks! You'll need them!)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 scant Tbsp vanilla paste(recipe calls for 2 tsp vanilla extract, but I prefer the paste)
  • 4 cups cake flour, sifted(to make your own: 1 c AP flour, take out one tablespoon and replace it with cornstarch. So that means 4 cups ap flour, minus 4 Tbsp, plus 4 Tbsp cornstarch)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped up in pieces, at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 350. Grease and parchment-line two cookie sheets, 2 9" cake pans, or 3 6" cake pans. You can also make cupcakes with this recipe. I used a half-sheet pan.

Place all of your dry ingredients in the bowl of your fully assembled and ready-to-go food processor. (Don't put in the stuff without the blade in it and then try to attach it to the machine. You feel like an idiot because you are.) Blitz all of your ingredients for at least 45 seconds to get everything fully incorporated and chopped up tiny. While that's going, mix your vanilla with the egg whites and about 1/4 cup of the milk using a whisk. You'll want your mixture to be smooth. 

Add your butter and blitz for another 30 seconds, at least seven pulses. Add your egg mixture and pulse about seven times. Now add in half the remaining milk, and pulse a few more times, just until it's incorporated. Repeat with the last bit of milk. The result will leave you with a smooth, delightfully shiny cake batter.

Divide your cake batter evenly between whichever pans you decided to use. Use an offset spatula to really get that cake batter spread evenly, and in the corners of your square. An even spread is crucial to an even bake. Even go so far as to give your cakes a few taps from the bottom, just for good measure, to make sure your cake is evenly distributed.

For the sheet pan, it took about 15 minutes to bake. For a round, I would expect it to take at least 20. Check your cakes after the first 20 minutes, and then decide from there whether to go further. You'll want your cake to be golden on the edges, and pull away from the pan just ever-so-slightly. You'll also want it to be firm when shimmied, and dry when pricked with a toothpick in the center. Let cool completely before you assemble your cake.

For this recipe, I used the French Buttercream recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook. If you can't read it, here's the amounts that I used to frost what ended up being a 4-layer cake:

French Buttercream
  • 1 scant cup of egg yolks(about a dozen)
  • 1 1/4 c milk
  • A scant 1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 lb 2 oz butter 
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste**
Bring to boil the milk with half the sugar and whatever flavoring you decided to use. Whisk the remaining sugar with the egg yolks until smooth. When the milk is steaming, remove from heat and splash about half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, then whisk. Combine the now warm yolk mixture into the remaining hot milk and return to the heat. This technique is called tempering, and it's absolutely necessary to create  perfect custard sauces every time. Are you making a custard? Yes, you are! You're making a custard, which is going to be turned into a buttercream. Yum!

Return your custard to the heat and, on a medium flame, whisk until it gets thick. Remove immediately from the heat and pop about 2 oz(4 Tbsp) of the butter into the custard to stop the cooking. Pass the mixture through a sieve and into the bowl of a standing mixer to ensure that you get an uber-creamy and silky texture. You can skip this, but you've already gone this far...why half-ass it at this point? You've already separated those eggs...

Attach the whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until cool, about 4 minutes. Begin adding the butter in small increments, no more than a few ounces at a time. I know that this is a pain, but trust me, your patience will be rewarded. It may not look like much when you start, but by the time you get that last bit of your 2 lbs in, you'll be so happy. This buttercream is delightfully custard-like, and tastes like straight-up creme brulee when you use the vanilla bean. So tasty! And what a beautiful shine... Remember, everything in the pastry world should be shiny

To Assemble

Cut the layers of your cake as desired. If you used the 2 round cake pans, simply slice them in half crosswise to create the layers. You can take this opportunity to use a simple syrup to moisten your layers, if you like. I love having simple syrup on hand, as it's an instant sweetener to iced teas and an instant life saver to your drier cakes. It's just a simple 1:1 ratio of water and sugar, boiled together, but you can infuse flavors into this very easily, and then just go nuts with its many applications(cakes, cocktails, flavored teas, etc). I used a sheet pan for my cake, so I just cut mine into quarters, which then stacked up to be four layers. 

The thing to remember is that you shouldn't over-fill your layers with frosting. No more than half an inch, I'd say, when all spread out. Pick your piece to be the base(the most-level) and then douse with simple syrup, if
See the sheet tray that it's sitting on? That's the size I used!
Layering cakes create exponentially more servings without
having to actually bake MORE CAKE!
you're using it. Pop a dollop of frosting on and spread evenly. Repeat until you get to the top layer, dousing and frosting respectively. You want to make sure your cake is level now, versus later. Trim off any edges that are hanging over, now, too, using a serrated knife. Take your time with this step; look at the cake from all angles and from the top to make sure it's evenly round or square.

Once this step is complete, it's time for the crumb coat, which is just a thin layer of frosting to catch all of the crumbs and to make sure that the cake is nice and uniform. Just grab a fat dollop of your buttercream and schmear all over, evenly, using this coat to cover up any cracks or crags you might have. It's not intended to be pretty, this coating, but it's intended to give you a smooth, uniform level on each side of your cake. Once this is done, pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, so you can go to the bathroom or grab a Coke or something. 
Haha. Kind of looks like a marshmallow wearing a hat...
To finish, dollop a very generous amount of buttercream right smack on the top, and then just distribute it over all sides. Once you have a nice even coating all around, you can play with decorating combs or piping or whatever. This cake is your creation and you gave it life. You made it to share. Or to eat with a fork on your coffee table while you binge watch Parks and Rec on Netflix now that it's gone. *sob* But you should probably share it. You put all of this love and effort into creating this giant thing (baking cakes is a lot of work!) so you may as well share it. Bring it to a friend's house. Give it to a homeless guy. Go into a coffee shop and be like "Hey I made cake but I don't have any friends. Who wants a slice?" Totally do that. There's no way that could end up badly.

Happy Baking and Happy eating! Comment below with any questions or concerns! I am an open forum!

Hopefully your handwriting will be better than mine!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Macarons: A Basic How-to

Okay, so I'm really  sorry about not blogging, like, at all this year. I've had a crazy year so far! But, here we are, now into the first day of February, and I am ready to blog.
No feet in these ones...but they sure did taste great!

My utter lack of subject matter has caused me to have pause. I finally, however, discovered the perfect subject matter in the form of the elusive macaron cookie. These cookies aren't elusive in the form of "OMG where can I buy these???" You can buy them anywhere ever, now. They're ridiculously popular. The thing that makes these "elusive", though, is the amount of work and skill that's needed for this particularly magical cookie. They're hard. They're hard to perfect. They're notoriously finicky. This was something that I saw as a challenge when I decided to make them for the first time.

There's no shortage of pictures on Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. of these glorious little crunchewy little treat. You see them all around, in bright technicolor shades of flavor, with shiny round tops. I thought that they couldn't be so hard, so I would give it a go. I turned to the most-trusted Chef I could think of: Thomas Keller.
Thank you, Lela London.com for the image!
Thomas Keller is arguably the greatest American Chef ever, and he's got this great book out there called Bouchon Bakery, by Sebastien Rouxel, the very talented French Pastry Chef behind it. I love this book because it helps you go step-by-step in great detail of the recipe and what needs to be done. The times and temperatures are precise, and any time a recipe is in grams, you know it's going to be consistent. Look for the book on Amazon.com

This is the recipe for Thomas Keller's Vanilla Macarons, which I used as the base for my own. 

Vanilla Macarons
by Thomas Keller
  • 212 g (1 3/4 C + 2 1/2 Tbsp) Almond Flour/meal
  • 212 g Powdered sugar
  • 82 g and 90 g (roughly 4 medium egg whites) egg whites, in separate containers
  • 1 vanilla bean split and scraped OR 1 Tbsp vanilla paste
  • 236 g (1 c + 3 Tbsp) granulated sugar, plus a pinch or two more for the egg whites
  • 158 g (2/3 c) water
A note: don't even try this on humid days
Blitz the almond meal in a food processor to ensure that it's as finely-ground as possible. Combine the powdered sugar and the almond meal in a sifter and sift into a bowl with a pinch of salt, the vanilla, and the 82 g of egg whites. I used a spatula, and it combined into a nice thick paste. Set aside to let absorb. If you're adding/using a color, add it to this part of the recipe now.

Combine the water and sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepot and bring to a boil, keeping an eye on the temperature using a candy thermometer. You can also do the "water" test in which you drop droplets into a dish of cold water to see what it does. You're looking for a final temperature of 248 F, or the soft ball stage. When the temperature of the sugar syrup reaches about 210, combine the 90 g egg whites and a fat pinch of sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer and begin to whip on medium speed. You want soft peaks, ultimately, but if you get there before the mixture hits your desired 248 degrees, just turn the mixer down to "stir". 
The end meringue should look like this, kinda
Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl in a very thin stream while the mixer is running on medium-high speed until everything is incorporated. You are basically making an Italian meringue, which is ingenious, considering it's the strongest meringue there is, and you need solid bubbles. Turn the speed down to medium and whip for 4 minutes, or until the bowl is still warm-ish but the mixture is basically cooled. Fold the whites in with your almond meal mixture in 3 stages. The final mixture should be quite shiny and gloopy without falling in pieces. It should form a ribbon when dropped from the spoon. 

Scoop into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2" plain tip...or just do what I did and use a disposable plastic piping bag and cut off a round end. Even if you're proficient with a piping bag, it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that these little buggers are the same size, as you're sandwiching them. Use parchment paper and a round ring mould to trace the size you need, for goodness' sake. Once you've piped your macarons, give the sheet tray a few raps from the bottom to let air bubbles escape from the top. This will also help create the signature "feet" that macarons need in order to be considered successful. 

If you want to add color, I recommend using a gel versus a liquid.

The recipe doesn't call for you to let them rest, but you really should let the cookies rest on the sheet for 20-40 minutes, depending on the humidity level of your kitchen. The idea is to create a shell. You'll know the shell is formed when the shine on the top is gone and it's fairly dry to the touch. Bake at 330 for 9 minutes. If you have a convection oven, do 300. These bake much better in a convection oven, but I didn't have one at home. The one at work is a high-powered convection oven that baked some great macarons, but the temperature controls were a little iffy, so my second batch ended up a touch cracked.

The first batch I made had the successful texture, but had no feet. I also was a bit iffy since my oven at home is just a standard oven versus a convection oven, so I know what to do for next time. When I made the macarons at work, I didn't have almond meal, so I ground up sliced almonds in the food processor to as fine as they would go. The result was delicious, although technically flawed. These ones had feet, though, so that's a good thing!

I dyed these ones pink since I was using a raspberry jam to fill the hole!
Let's now talk about filling!

Macarons are filled, traditionally, with a buttercream. Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery uses a French buttercream, so I used that, too. Look up a good French buttercream recipe you'd want to try, or just use your favorite. Ring the buttercream around the edges to leave a hole on the inside for a filling. You can also use ganache to fill these beautiful cookies, if you so desire. Really, the sky's the limit on these ones. On the first attempt, I left my macarons snow white with a pink buttercream filling for Valentine's day, all with a Bull's eye of crunchy chocolate ganache, which is basically just your favorite ganache with crushed up cornflakes and rice krispies in it. On the second attempt I dyed the macarons pink to match the pink buttercream, and filled the bull's eye with raspberry. Again, the sky's the limit. But I do encourage you to think about compatible colors and flavors.

It kinda looks weird when it's open, but sandwiched, it will be amazing!

There are about a million different things that can go wrong with this magical, meringue-like cookie. I went through about four of them, myself, over the last week. I'm sure that I'll continue to struggle, since this is no easy feat. Food Nouveau has the best trouble-shooting guide I've seen thus far, so please bookmark that site, as I have, for your further macaron adventures.

If you try this, please feel free to post your results below! Good luck and happy eating!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 19 - Homemade Marshmallows

Complete with Myspace Angle and all
Happy Saturday, Kansas City! I have to bang this out quickly, since I work at 9am today. 

There's frost on my window this morning, and it reminded me of the (very seldom) cold mornings in Tucson. I know that I keep going on and on about Tucson, reminding you all that I'm "not one of your own", but I would like to continue believing that the Midwesterners are known for hospitality, and really are some of the nicest, friendliest people in America. Certain displays and behaviors I've witnessed here have made me believe that this bipolar weather has made a whole of Kansas City to be unfriendly and miserable and God-awful, but(fortunately) the friends I have made here have proven otherwise. So, in reality, it's just like everywhere else! Some people are miserable and some people are friendly. The friends I have made here are warm and welcoming and hospitable, more than happy to usher in the new, which brings me to my point.

What fights winter/fall weather like hot chocolate? Not a lot.

Thanksgivings at home would usually begin with cooking breakfast together, stuffing our faces, then going over to Grandma's house to help cook and set up. My dad and I would make pancakes, sometimes in the shape of saguaro cacti, and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade together. He wouldn't want to watch it(his thing was football), but he would turn it on for me. Pancakes are a big part of families being together, I think, but the family that you make(your friends) is just as important. If you're hosting an Orphan's Thanksgiving, like me, be hospitable. Make hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows as a breakfast offering for those coming over to help you cook.

With breakfast, Dad would have coffee and I would have hot chocolate. Nothing would sooth a cold morning away quite like hot chocolate would, and it brings back fond memories, indeed. We preferred the Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix with the mini marshmallows, but Dad knew how much I loved marshmallows so he would always have the Jet Puffs at the ready.

This was my dessert, all finished! Not bad for a 1st year
culinary/savory student!
Fast forward to Culinary School and my Baking & Pastry Midterm is coming up. We worked in groups, and each group would reproduce a dessert from our textbook as best we could, following technique and skill, but form and presentation were entirely up to us. The dessert was a brownie, and it had to include mandarin sorbet, ganache, marshmallow, and a chocolate decoration in some form. My love affair with marshmallows had only increased in intensity during my college years, especially since I was so broke that I practically lived off of them. Kansas City was expensive for me at the time, but housing was exponentially cheaper here than it was when I lived in Los Angeles, so that was helpful. The thought that I could make them at home, on my own, without having to buy them was almost too exciting to bear.

The point of this whole introductory spiel into marshmallows is to let you know that if they mean this much to me, they might mean this much to  somebody else, and making some at home for your kids, your family, your friends might be that extra thing that sticks with them. The Jet Puffs stuck with me for years, without my Dad ever knowing how important they were to me. Maybe someone who is coming to your Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks will be touched by this? You could have them for breakfast, or save them for your after dinner/after pie coffee. It's all about making memories and sharing things together, right? The best marshmallow recipe I've come across is from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. I've adapted the method just ever-so-slightly to work for home cooks. Enjoy!

Vanilla Marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup each powdered sugar & cornstarch
  • 2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 4 lg egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp light corn syrup
Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper and/or plastic wrap. Sift half of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture generously in the pan and set the rest aside for later. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of cool water and about 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to allow to “bloom”. Blooming takes three or four minutes, and once it’s bloomed, blast it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Set aside.

Place your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add another 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, if you really like the flavor. Add in a pinch of salt at this point, too. Combine 1 cup of the sugar, the corn syrup, and water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring only once to dissolve the sugar, then continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, until your syrup reaches about 250 degrees F.

When this temperature is reached, turn on your mixer to medium speed. You’d like to have your whites at medium peaks when the syrup reaches somewhere between the 281 – 284 degrees F. When the egg whites start getting foamy, add in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Once everything is at the right stage and your sugar is at the right temperature, slowly-slowly-slowly(and carefully, please) pour in the hot sugar mixture in a thin stream to your egg whites, pouring between the side of the bowl and the moving whisk.

Once everything’s in, pour in the gelatin mixture and increase the speed to medium-high, and continue to mix for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick, glossy,  and warm, but not quite hot.

Spray a spatula with nonstick spray if you have it, or simply butter the sides of it with super-soft butter. Pour out and spread the marshmallow evenly as you can into your prepared pan. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and spray it with pan spray or butter generously. Lay it gently on top of your marshmallow mixture and press to create a uniformly smooth top. I usually like to let mine set for at least an hour before trying to handle, but you can let yours hang out over night at room temperature. You don’t have to worry too much, because the sugar has cooked your eggs, and this is basically a candy now.

In the morning(or in an hour), flip out your marshmallow onto a parchment-lined cutting board. Sprinkle the top of your peeled marshmallow with more cornstarch-powdered sugar if you need to. Fresh marshmallows can be difficult to deal with, so spray your knife with nonstick spray as you cut cubes. You can alternatively put the marshmallow mixture in a piping bag and pipe out little drop shapes and leave to set over night. This is all about the look and which looks you ultimately prefer. I personally prefer rectangles and squares, because they really give a distinct look, and when you plop them into piping hot chocolate, they seem to melt more evenly.
I snagged this picture from UseRealButter.com, another food blogger I love!

 If you make ambrosia or sweet potato pie for your Thanksgiving feast, you can make them ahead of time and use them in your recipe as your topping. If you have brownies, too, you can plop them squarely on top of them to serve them as a dessert. These can keep for quite a while in the fridge, but they probably won’t last too long.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Not to be confused with the Hostess snack, these Snowballs are completely homemade! (Or, rather, Housemade. Because, you know, I made them at work.)

The restaurant industry is a fascinating one, that cannot be contested. There are a million factors as to why a restaurant could fail, and one of these factors as far as losing money goes is over buying. What does that mean? It just means that you didn't quite keep the best track of your inventory, and you bought stuff when you do need to buy stuff. Now it's sitting on the shelf, not being sold, and therefore not making any money. I have a lot of the stuff on my rack at work. Things like almond paste and flaked coconut and ground oats. They're not saying that I can't use, but there's things that aren't on my menu. So, now, in an attempt to help out the restaurant, I have decided to turn to a childhood favorites: snowballs.

(Disclaimer: I have never eaten a hostess snowball in my life. When I was a kid, I pointed at one of the gas station once asked for my dad if I can have it, and he said "no, sweetheart, no food should be that pink." And that was the end of it. I never tried it. But I'm very familiar with them, as I would see them in the lunch pails of my friends at school growing up. And in various gas stations around the country.)

I had initially gotten the idea from Chef Elizabeth Falkner, a very famous pastry chef, whom I admire quite a bit. She's got this shop called Citizen Cake where she makes art out of cake. I don't know why, but it somehow inspired me to make a sexy version of that gas station childhood classic. So I googled what a snowball actually was: chocolate cake, marshmallow like fluffy stuff, pink coconut. Easy! So off I went.

The best ever chocolate cake recipe I have come across has got to be, hands down, the devil's food cake recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. It's a masterpiece. That cake brings me closer to God. (Spend $12 and get a little scale that reads grams. It's worth it.)

Devil's Food Cake
202 g AP flour
62 g cocoa powder (alkalized, please)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
112 g eggs (cracked and strained, about 2)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
172 g mayo
205 g water, at body temperature

Preheat the oven to 325 F, and prepare a sheet pan with parchment and pan spray.
Sift all of your dry ingredients together whisk in the salt. Set this on another sheet of parchment paper for later.

Put your eggs, sugar, and vanilla into the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk to combine, and then for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the bowl, then whip at medium high speed for about 5 minutes. Add the mayo and whisk to combine. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer and fold in the dry ingredients, alternating with the water, with two additions each using a spatula. For the batter into the prepared pan and, using an offset spatula, read it into an even layer making sure that it reaches into the corners. 10 minutes if using a sheet pan. You can also use muffin cups, but I can't give you time for that since every oven works a little differently. 10 minutes. It should be fine. But let cool completely before using/sculpting.

With this cake, cut circles using a cookie cutter and stack, using either marshmallow fluff or just melty, gooey marshmallows that you blitz in the microwave for a few seconds. But I would recommend just getting a big jar of marshmallow fluff and going to town on this, because you're also using it to "frost" the outside of your cakes and get the coconut to stick!

As for dyeing the coconuts flakes, I prefer the Wilton paste eyes. But invest in a pair of gloves. Because that stuff will stay in your hands like no other. I like Wiltons rose color for this particular application. I also use it in other cakes and frosting s. Wilton really does put out a great line of products as far as colors go. They last for a long time, and the colors are always really intense! Look at what they did to these cupcakes.

See? Totally perfect pink color, just in time for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Thanks for reading and happy cooking! Post your results and request for new blog content in the comments below.

posted from Bloggeroid

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Olive Oil Cake, Orange Creme Chiboust, Plum Jam

This blog is a love-letter to two of my favorite Chefs, the kind of upstanding fellas I aspire to be like, Thomas Keller and Joel Robuchon. One would think that, as a budding young Chef, myself, I would have grown up with these names in mind, studied from them, learned from their cookbooks, had posters of their food hanging up on my wall...but I had never even heard of either of them until I got to Culinary school, embarrassingly. Well, that's not entirely true...

Thomas Keller, I had only sort of heard of before through his restaurant, Per Se. When I was attending FIDM to become a Fashion Designer, a friend of mine said that he had spent a summer in NYC, and he was afforded the great pleasure to attend a gathering there with his internship group, where his boss was schmoozing with the NYC Powerhouses of the Fashion Industry. That was years ago, of course, and yet I still remember it. I remember thinking "Well, sure, food is fashion, too." And that was that.

Fast-forward to nearly three years later and I hear about Thomas Keller in the library at the Art Institute of Tucson, in my hometown, where I had just begun my culinary career, where I overheard a group of 4th Years going over their Finals before graduation, and talking all about Thomas Keller. I was still learning about the differences between a hollandaise and a bernaise sauce(which is basically chervil, peppercorns, and tarragon), so I figured I had better concentrate on learning the basics before getting too deep into studying for my new culinary Idols. I was happy with Julia Child as my culinary Idol for the time being, and I would stick with her for another year or so before abandoning her for other ventures. Honestly, with how often I used that copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking next to a pot of boiling stew, I'm shocked that the book is still in tact...

Master Chef Bill Sy was my real ideal of what a real Chef was at that point in my life. The Art Institutes of Tucson was freshly built at that point, but it had still snagged the absolute miracle of having a Master Chef as the Head of the department. I mean, seriously, it's a miracle. You guys get that, right? A Master Chef? They're like Unicorns - there are only, like, sixty of them in the whole wide world! (I don't know the actual number, sorry.)

Chef Sy scared the bejeezus out of me. I knew what a big deal it was to be a Master Chef at that point in my ever-so-tiny school career, and so did all of my classmates. I know we all girded our loins if he was even mentioned, and when he walked by our classes(which were open classes, with glass walls so you could see how clean/dirty the kitchens were), we all made sure we were either working or cleaning like mad. I'll never forget the first time he spoke to me.

It was in American Regional Cuisine, and we were all making chicken wings as our Daily Drill(a thing we did after the lecture and before the practical part of the class), where we were allowed to sort of go our own way for a little, and then kind of show what we were learning. In my group were my two friends Vanessa and Marco(with whom I am still friends to this day), and, as we were plating up, Chef Sy came in. I was so nervous, I thought I was going to throw up, especially because our wings weren't done, so I had thrown them(glazed and pre-baked in the oven and all) in the deep-fryer in a desperate attempt to get them finished in time. I mean desperate, too. I was panicking. I thought I was going to scream when Chef Sy walked by when we plated up. And I thought I was going to have a full-blown heart attack when, as he left, Chef Sy grabbed a wing from each group, including ours.

He had already taken a few bites of the other wings. I then saw him take my wing, my glazed, deep-fried wing, in his Master Chef hands and take a bite. He took three steps(I COUNTED) and then turned around to look at the groups.

"Who made this?" he asked, his voice accented with Mandarin Chinese and authority.

Everyone in the class went silent. My group members(who knew I had been struggling with the doneness of my wings) both looked at me with ghost-white faces. I thought I was going to die. I raised my hand and squeaked "I did, Chef."

He looked at me. He pointed at the group's plate-up that was next to ours. "That one is like 'wing.' This one--" he held up the half-eaten wing "--is like 'wing-wing-wing!'" And he did a little dance when he said it. And he left. I thought I was going to faint, and I might have had Marco not started laughing at me the second Chef Sy left, shaking me by the shoulders from behind.

I told you that story because I want you to understand the reverence I have for Chefs of a certain standing, as well most of us should. There are very few people in this world that can do what they do, and that's why they're so amazing. Chefs like Thomas Keller and Joel Robuchon are two Chefs I hold with that kind of reverence, and not without good reason.

Tart a l'orange, Chocolate Sauce
In Art Culinaire, week 2, we studied Joel Robuchon. I devoted myself to the pastry of the menu that week, his Orange Tart. I fell in love with that custard-y filling, and the thing I loved the most about it was how light it was, compared to the creme patisserie I had been horking down in Baking & Pastry. It was too rich, and I hadn't touched a custard-y dessert since. (Which is sort of funny, because I now keep a stash of the stuff in my fridge, where I dip shortbread cookies into it and watch Netflix.) I loved this dessert, and it gave me a great chance to practice my orange supremes...so it was a win-win! This wasn't the reason I fell in love with Chef Robuchon, though...

The real reason was his sweetbreads dish, with the pan-seared polenta. The polenta was thickened with a liason, which is a mixture of milk/cream and eggs, giving it a fantastic, creamy texture in combination with that glorious pan-sear. And sweetbreads? Get out of here! To this day, sweetbreads are still my favorite food because of that dish.

Group shot of the sweetbread/polenta dish...LIFE-CHANGING STUFF
The thing I loved the most about Joel Robuchon's sweetbreads was the devotion, the love, the attention to detail. Perhaps that's why I loved everything that Thomas Keller did, too, when I learned more in-depth about him, five weeks later.

Keller's philosophy was basically perfect execution/technique + exceptional ingredients = great food. I loved everything we did. I love-love-looooooved all of the dishes, both in concept and in production. It would be another year or two before I actually went out and bought one of his cookbooks for my own, and I honestly have little clue as to why it took me so long. Then again, if I think about it...I think it took so long because I was intimidated.

I would never have dreamt of trying anything Chef Bill Sy did, because I was intimidated, because I knew I bwasn't at that level, yet, and I felt that me trying anything they did would be insulting. I purchased a copy of Thomas Keller's Buchon off of Amazon some months ago, and I only got around to actually trying anything in that book a month and a half ago. Why was this? Because I was afraid. I felt like even touching the book was doing so me kind of wrong thing to a holy relic. But I bit the bullet when my boyfriend told me: "He's(Chef Keller) not here. Bake a damn cake, already."

Ugh. Fine.

Turns out it wasn't scary at all. Most novice cooks and/or home cooks are intimidated by baking because of how precise it has to be when executed correctly. Baking is all about precision, chemistry...you must be exact with your measurements, and measure by weight, please, in order to get the right ratios for everything. Thomas Keller puts exact grams for his recipes, and tells you, in detail, how and what to do everything in that book, right in the front.

In my spare time, I teach privately to home cooks that want to better their diet, their kids' diet, etc, and they're always terrified of cooking and baking because it's so intimidating. I realized, in the moment I opened my copy of Buchon to the Olive Oil Cake recipe, that I was no different from them. But then I remembered that I'm always telling my students: "when you're in the kitchen by yourself, who cares?" The fear of them messing up is only topped with the fear of: 'what if my family/husband/kids doesn't like it?' To that, I tell them: "If they want to cook and see if they can do better, let them fend for themselves." Generally, if you put something in front of someone, they'll eat it, especially if they're hungry. If they don't like it, they can get themselves something else, which is a general rule in my house.

So I made the olive oil cake, precisely following directions, and it turned out(surprise!) exactly how it should have in the book! That light, subtle fruitiness of the olive oil, the delicate crumb and spongey texture... I didn't want to ruin this with a heavy buttercream. In the book, it's presented as a component to the strawberry parfait, which has a filling of pastry cream folded together with an italian meringue buttercream. And then I remembered, I had a few oranges in my fridge...

The finished product.
Well, what else could I do but make that filling, again? What else could I do but bust out my old notebook from Art Culinaire and turn to Week 2, Joel Robuchon, and make my own orange custard filling for that cake? Why couldn't I turn the egg whites I had into a mousse-like Italian meringue by boiling gelatin in with the simple syrup(I didn't have room-temperature butter enough at the time, so I did that instead)? This is America, dag nabbit, and a light creme chiboust was a perfect little filling for that cake! (And for those of you whom are unfamiliar, a creme chiboust is basically a pastry cream lightened with a meringue folded in.) So I made that fantastic orange custard pastry cream, lightened with that mousse-y meringue. And I brushed the bottom layer with a red plum jam I had in my pantry, that was bright and tart and perfect. And dear Goddess it was bliss. My boyfriend even loved it, and he's seldom a cake person.

Alright, alright...here's the recipe for the cake. Just follow the directions!

Olive Oil Cake, a la Thomas Keller
1 cup plus 1 tsp. (145g.) all-purpose flour½ tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. (3g.) baking powder½ tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. (2g.) Kosher salt3 Tbsp. (50g.) eggs¾ cup plus 2 tsp. (158g.) sugar¼ cup plus 3 Tbsp. (113g.) whole milk¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. (79g.) extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F., and prep your pan. The book says to use a sheet pan, but I used a 9" round cake pan, and it turned out fine.

Whisk your eggs and put them through a sieve in order to get the right texture/consistency/best way to measure your amount. Then whip the eggs and sugar in a standing mixer, on low, for one minute. Then turn your speed to high and whip for FIVE minutes. Stop, scrape down your bowl, bottom included, and then whip on medium-high for another five. 

Meanwhile, sift together your dry ingredients, and combine the whole milk and olive oil in a bowl and whisk together. Once your second five-minute whip-session is up, alternate the inclusion of wet and dry ingredients, half at a time, on medium-low. Pour your batter into your pan and spread it evenly, making sure you get it to all the corners, if you decided to use a sheet pan. 

For a sheet pan, it shouldn't take more than 10-12 minutes before it's done. I used a round pan, and in my oven, it took about 19 minutes before it was done. My nonstick pan is pretty awesome, so I was able to pop the cake out safely in ten minutes of in-pan cooling, and another 30 minutes of out-of-pan, on-the-rack cooling before wrapping it and popping it in the freezer. You should also do this if you have a sheet pan cake, and use large rings to cut out your rounds when you're ready to use them. 

Fill with filling if your choice, but try looking up your favorite pastry cream filling recipe and folding in a stabilized Italian meringue! I'll leave it to you. 

What's the lesson to take away from this? Cooking is easy, if you can follow directions. Which I can!