Saturday, March 24, 2012

Apricot Mandarin Tea



Well, it looks like winter is behind us and warmer days are here. It's my favorite season of the year. I will savor these warm and pleasant days because the heat of summer is just around the corner. We'll be needing lots of frosty beverages, especially if it's anything like last summer, with 40 consecutive 100-degree days. I'm building up my tea stash in anticipation of this and I've found a keeper with this one from Tazo. I enhanced it with the juice from a mandarin orange and a bit of sugar, of course.

3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tazo Vanilla Apricot White Tea bags
Juice from 1 mandarin orange



Bring 3 cups of water and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil to dissolve the sugar.
Once the water comes to a boil, remove from heat and add 3 tea bags. Allow to steep for 5 minutes and discard tea bags. Add the juice of 1 mandarin orange. Chill and serve over ice. Garnish with orange wedges. Serves 2.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

French Macarons


These little guys have been on my baking bucket list for a while after having seen them on other baking blogs like Bakerella and David Lebovitz. I had put off making them until they made an appearance in my dreams during an afternoon nap. Who else here dreams of making pastries? My dream involved traveling around town searching for almond flour and the perfect Ateco #806 piping tip that Martha Stewart says you need to successfully produce these little gems. Well, the dream turned into reality when I went to Hobby Lobby and Michael's looking for #806 (no luck) and driving to Kroger to find almond flour (score!). You can always make your own flour by grinding up blanched almonds in a food processor, but I found some in the health food section with the rest of Bob's Red Mill products (Thanks, Bob!)

I broke open 3 eggs last night and separated the egg whites to leave out overnight to age. According to several blogs I read, this is an important part of the process. Hopefully, I will not die from Salmonella poisoning.

Today, I whipped up my first batch using this recipe from Martha Stewart and these excellent instructions from the Giverslog blog (the recipe she uses is slightly different, but the instructions are very easy to follow. She also gives troubleshooting tips). This recipe does not require a kitchen scale, which is another reason I avoided making Macarons, until now. The only really time-consuming part of the process is sifting the powdered sugar and almond flour together. The almond flour is a bit more coarse, and needs an extra pass through a sifter. There were a few grains that would not go through the sifter, so I discarded those. The next step of the process is whipping the egg whites. I had read that this is where some bakers fail if there is any sort of grease in the bowl before starting. I wiped down the bowl and beaters with a bit of vinegar to remove any grease and then rinsed with water. I wiped the bowl and beaters dry and began beating the egg whites. After a minute or so of beating, the egg whites began to foam and I added a pinch of salt and began adding sugar a bit at a time. After about 5 or 6 minutes, the mixture began to fluff up into what I assume was the beginning of "soft peak stage". Since I haven't dealt with egg whites that much, I let it beat for a minute longer until the egg whites were stiff and held their shape when the beater was removed from the bowl. At this stage, you can beat a little food coloring in if you want some color; I added a couple of drops of red to get pink).

I added vanilla flavoring and began folding in the almond/confectioners sugar mixture. (basically, turning over the mixture in the bowl with a spatula until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated; I counted around 60 folds). The mixture seemed thick enough to pipe, so I put it into a plastic piping bag fitted with a #12 Wilton piping tip.

I began piping out 3/4" circles of the mixture onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. After piping them, I tapped the baking sheet against the counter a couple of times to remove any air bubbles. Then, I left these sitting and drove to Starbucks to get some Chai Tea. Otherwise, I would not have the patience to wait for these to set up as recommended. Allowing them to set for at least 15 minutes is important; apparently this step allows a skin to form on top and prevents cracking during the baking process. When I got back home, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and lightly touched one of the Macarons to see if it had set and determined that it had, so I put the first batch in the oven. I propped the door open slightly with a wooden spoon to keep it from becoming too hot (this is another common problem that can cause cracking). I should have kept an eye on them because the first batch browned way too quickly. Some of them cracked and some of them had a nice smooth top. I'm assuming they cracked because I did not let them set long enough.

I decided to make a 2nd batch of chocolate ones. I repeated the process, except this time, I did not age my egg whites. I wanted to see if it made a difference, and as it turns out, it did not seem to matter. I sifted in 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder in with the almond/confectioners sugar and mixed that with the beaten egg whites and vanilla. The mixture seemed a bit thicker due to the added cocoa powder, but it still piped without a problem. I let them set for about 30 minutes before baking and that seemed to help the cracking problem. I baked them for around 15 minutes to be sure they did not overbake. The 2nd batch was a success with only 1 cracked cookie and no burned edges!

I filled these with basic buttercream and nutella/buttercream mixture.

Macaron Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill almond meal/flour
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
Whites from 3 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring (optional)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift confectioners' sugar and almond flour into a bowl. Whisk in almonds; set aside. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until foamy, then beat in salt. Beat in granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time, until medium-soft peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, fold half the almond/cocoa mixture into the whipped egg white mixture until just incorporated. Fold in vanilla, food coloring, and remaining almond mixture until just incorporated. Firmly tap bottom of bowl on counter to eliminate air pockets.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a round tip (I used Wilton #12). Pipe mixture into 3/4" to 1" circles on prepared baking sheets. Try to keep them all the same diameter. Bake until macarons are slightly firm and can be gently lifted off parchment (bottoms will be dry), around 15 minutes for me, but time in oven can vary. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes and remove from paper. They should be easy to peel off. Be careful not to crack them because they are fragile.

Make Buttercream by mixing together:
1 stick butter (softened)
1/2 bag powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Pipe buttercream onto one of the cookies and sandwich together with another cookie. Enjoy!