Being a fledgling baker is sort of like being a fledgling tattoo artist. You practice on your closest friends, hoping that they look back fondly on the experience for years to come. Because, while food experiences aren’t permanently imprinted onto the skin, they are etched into the folds of memory.
The memory of the five-course dinner at a chateau in the French countryside – one, after which, I had to nearly be rolled out the door and actually looked like I was pregnant – will always bring a warm smile to my face. As will the first time I saw the enormous fortune cookie at Tao, filled with vanilla mousse on one side, chocolate on the other, and surrounded by berries. Cracking it open with the back of my spoon was a delight. Or, there was my first bite of a truffle from La Maison Du Chocolate on the Upper East Side of New York City.
I’m starting off the weekend right with some fresh baking humor from the blog Not So Humble Pie.
This week, I’ve been working on a variety of desserts. I learned a lot about making miniature apple pies (with lattice tops no less) and also, in honor of fall (my favorite season), created some pumpkin ice cream and ginger ice cream. More on those later because at the moment, I’m very focused on macarons. Though occasionally spelled “macaroon,” these are not the coconutty cookies we know here in the States.
The modern macaron, supposedly invented by Pierre Desfontaines of Laduree, are essentially two meringue shells filled with some sort of cream or ganache. They can be made in almost any flavor you can imagine – my brain has been going wild with ideas – but the basic shell base is composed of aged egg whites, almond meal, confectioners/icing/powdered sugar, and granulated sugar (not turbinado or raw).
The first time I made these, I tried the Italian meringue method which involves a) lots of running around like a maniac in the kitchen and b) pouring boiling sugar into uncooked egg whites. Then, you’re supposed to whip the whites until the temperature is reduced to 122 degrees before folding in the almond mixture. The result? Total macaron fail. They were sorta tasty, but mostly they were chewy, pancake-like globs that clung for dear life to the silpat when I attempted to remove them. Harumph. They sorta looked like this:
Now that my digital scale is arriving in just a few days (thank you AC!), I am taking the time to scour my cookbooks and the series of tubes (also known as the internet) to find the perfect recipe. And, I think I’ve found it via the awesome blog known as Not So Humble Pie.
Dante would be proud.
Tomorrow, for my birthday dinner Friday night, I will be constructing Saveur’s Heaven and Hell Cake. The dessert requires me to bake two cakes – a Devil’s Food cake and a Angel food cake – then slice them in half. Then, I’ll create a peanut butter mousse which I will use to glue the four layers together, top the entire thing in a chocolate ganache, and pipe more peanut butter mouse on the top to decorate it. I didn’t really want to spend my entire birthday shopping for ingredients or in the kitchen, hence why this puppy is being created tomorrow instead.
When it comes to baking, I prefer to stick with the usual staples: butter, eggs, sugar, flour. I don’t cook gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc. In the past, I’ve happily sat sipping a glass of wine while friends concocted cookies with birch sugar, gluten-free flour, etc. If you want to do it, by all means, please do. But those ingredients aren’t coming near my kitchen.
However…there are always exceptions.
Every day, I scan a fair number of food-related blogs to see what might inspire me. Here’s what’s inspiring me today.
- Quick and Homey Oatmeal Raisin Muffins from The Kitchn
- Fig Galletes (I saw it on the Tender Greens specials and was curious what on earth it was) from LOLFoodie
- Raspberry and Key Lime Margaritas from Tokyo Terrace
- Snow Skin Mooncake from A Food Lover’s Journey
- Spicy Chicken with Cashew Nuts from RasaMalaysia
After posting some photos last week, a few friends half-jokingly suggested I should send them a batch. And I would have. Except that I didn’t make enough of those hefty ancho chile truffles to send out. Thus, I was inspired to create a second batch. Not of the same – of course (my brain must have new new new when it comes to current baking projects despite my desire to knit a third pair of the same airy gloves) – so I thought about what was delicious…and chocolate caramel chocolates with sea salt came to mind immediately. Even as a “non chocolate” fan, I can appreciate these.
So, I went to work finding a recipe. Originally, I was going to use Godiva’s recipe for chocolate truffles with caramel centers, except that I was sending some of these to people who had teeth issues and that seemed like cruel torture. Instead, I opted for Bon Appetit‘s recipe then turned to Ghiradelli to assist me with the tempering. Which is really quite something as I can’t stand the way their chocolates taste.
My attempt was not without a mini-disaster. I destroyed my first batch of caramel by letting the cream – or, as I discovered part of the way through, half-and-half – curdle. That flop led me to this helpful video from Fine Cooking. It illustrates the different caramel stages and what you do and don’t want to do. Like, not curdle your dairy. It also outlines the different stages of caramel from light caramel to dark amber so you know what you should be looking for and how to test for it. I recommend watching it before attempting this recipe.
And without further ado…