Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’
Macarons are something I have mixed feelings about. I first tried to make them when I was about 14 or 15 or so, back when I got my first cookbook and I thought the recipe for macarons looked pretty printed on the pages. I didn’t really understand what they were, and I certainly wasn’t aware of the hype surrounding them—maybe there wasn’t that much hype back then?
As a sort-of side note, that’s also when I didn’t really put food on some sort of complicated and precarious hierarchy; I laminated dough one day while making scalloped potatoes from a box the next night. If something looked good, I made it. I think I’m okay with having a far greater sense of food snobbery now, but I do sometimes miss my non-judgmental days.
Anyway, the first time I made macarons, it was a disaster. I didn’t know what to expect, but even I knew the weepy, flat, and falling-apart cookies that resulted seemed pretty far from success. So I forgot about them, moved on. I made them a couple times following that (somewhat more successfully), only because I knew my mom really loved them. But I never ever got macarons that looked this or this. And after a certain point, I didn’t really care to ever “conquer” them, just because I figured they were fussy, I could never get them as pretty or as good-tasting as from the stores, and they don’t satisfy me like a good plain lemon bar does anyway.
Well, my mind switched completely after spending an extended Memorial Day weekend up in Seattle with Lindsey and my brother, Jimmy. The last morning I was there, Lindsey had work in a company she works for downtown (I know, she is so cool!! and she graduates so soon!!), so I had the morning from about 7:30-10:30 by myself. I walked through Pike Place market—something that is most definitely a huge tourist attraction, but which is actually a really, really nice market on weekday mornings when its not overwhelmingly crowded. Since it was so early, it was calm, with the people setting up the flowers in vases or transferring wheel-barrows full of ice and salmon into their stands. I went to my favorite bakery, Le Panier (at least I think it’s my favorite), ordered a pain au chocolat and a cappuccino, and sat down to read for a good hour or two while looking out over the Sound. It was really nice.
On my way out, I picked up 4 perfect macarons to give to Lindsey and her co-workers before I left to take the bus back home. Although I didn’t eat a macaron that day, I decided that they kind of embody everything I like in the world (just a slightly huge statement): leisure and luxury and aesthetic details and, of course, France. So I went home the next day and bought a bag of hazelnuts to make some hazelnut macarons.
I followed this recipe, from Pierre Hermé, via Katie at Butter Tree. She got the recipe from Hermé’s rare and coveted Macaron, and she translated it herself from its original French. I think this is the recipe that first got me following Katie (I have been wanting to make these for-ever), and she has accumulated quite the impressive collection of macaron recipes and tips since then. In her post, the macarons are called macaron praliné à l’ancienne, which frankly sounds awesome and dreamy, don’t you think? Only thing is I passed on the praline filling due to time and, let’s not kid ourselves, energy, so I don’t think just the hazelnut shells live up the the “praliné à l’ancienne” part. But, I thought the combination of chocolate with hazelnut sounded really good (I still can’t get some baci gelato out of my head 2 years after being in Italy), so I paired the hazelnut shells with some chocolate buttercream.
They were good, in the way that only chewy-airy-light-nutty macaraons sandwiched with creamy-rich buttercream can. 100% tasty (my mom ate 12 of the sandwiches in the span of like 4 hours…), but they’re not really close to being as pretty as I’d like them to be. In most cases, I feel like aesthetics with food should never be as important as taste, but these are French macarons. It wasn’t the taste that drew me into finally attempting to make them again, after all. I haven’t tried out macarons enough to know how to make them more flawless; however, some of my guesses include 1) I didn’t have a candy thermometer so I kind of went by feel when it came to the sugar syrup and meringue, 2) I don’t have a piping bag so I was doing the whole snipped-edge-of-the-ziploc approach, 3) I just need more practice? I could even feel myself pick up things along the way, with each new baking sheet filled with piped shells that went in the oven. It kind of made me want to keep going, to make something of a macaron factory out of my parent’s kitchen, just to see if I could achieve the perfect-looking one.
I’ll probably keep trying to make macarons, if only to re-create the feeling I got as the worker at Le Panier placed the brightly-colored macarons in the square box with the smell of butter and pastry in the air… then again, maybe I could just move to Seattle. Anyway, I’m all ears if you’ve got some tips or links about perfecting le macaron to send my way.
One Year Ago: Salted, Soft & Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies (the best! really)
PS: Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to attach on this song to this post (the longest post ever, gawd). Van Morrison is something I grew up on, and his music always tugs on my heart in a way that only nostalgia can. A cover of the song, by Jeff Buckley, has basically become my favorite song throughout the past half-year, and I spent many a morning in art class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, during my last semester at college, listening to it while painting. I listened to both versions while spending the afternoon making these macarons yesterday. I wouldn’t mind doing that again.
Merry (late) Christmas, everyone. For dessert this year, as the past two years, I’ve made a bûche de Noël—otherwise known as a yule log or a roulade wheel. This is the second time I’ve made this specific recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated), which features a bittersweet chocolate genoise cake, a marscapone-espresso filling, and a rich chocolate ganache to top everything with. I don’t think it’s the traditional flavors of a classic bûche de Noël, but I like them. Rich, intense, perfect with a cup of coffee or tea following a little bit of a feast the night of Christmas.
I wanted to post about a different bûche de Noël last year, when I made a recipe from Alice Medrich that had chocolate-hazelnut flavors. But this is how it went:
And you may take one look at that, and then another look at that front photo displaying the yule log I made last night, and wonder what the difference is. They both look cracked, squat, and nothing like the beautiful multiple rolls of yule log that you might find on google images. And you would be right if you thought that! But there is a difference—the recipe I followed should display a beautifully-rolled cake, were it not for the fact that the largest jelly-roll pan available in my mothers kitchen measures 12 x 8 inches. I may just be a bit biased, but I think this year’s yule log is not quite so flat and squat, despite the fact of how thick and short the genoise cake measured up to be.
The log itself takes some time, but I think its well worth the effort and the process itself is pretty fun. Bowls of varied sizes and varied fillings lie around the kitchen—one filled with thick chocolate ganache, spiked with a touch of cognac, another with the marscapone-espresso filling, still others with whipped egg whites, or glossy ribbons of chocolate and egg yolks. It’s quite the project, which actually may intimidate some. But I promise it makes you feel as if you are single-handily making magic in the kitchen, and there is no better day to do that then on Christmas.
That being said, every single year I tell myself I’m going to make a more extensive, more striking bûche de Noël. Start earlier, prep the filling and ganache, make little meringue mushrooms to attach on, you know. But then I’m busy making thick hot chocolate and cookies the night before, waking early to happily get Christmas breakfast ready, and so on and so on occupying myself with varying food and social opportunities so I can never really focus on this dessert. Every Christmas afternoon, I’m in the kitchen slaving away on this. My French professor, who is born and raised in Belgium, says that every year she buys her bûche de Noël from a local pâtisserie. With all the work and planning that goes into holiday baking and cooking, I can understand those who opt for buying some things already made up. There’s nothing wrong with being selective in what we choose to focus our energies on.
But for those of you who might find it fun to use up every size bowl in your kitchen while making the components to this cake, take to this dessert. The results are beautiful—no matter how much of a flop final product may be. Speaking of that, this yule log may be good for my cooking abilities: it’s the sort of thing that one can’t be apologetic for. Yes, so it falls a bit short of its ideal aesthetics. It put my vanity in check, forcing to me to realize that cracks along the yule log are far less important than serving it in its entirety to grateful guests on a beautiful Christmas night. (However, I am hoping to check in with you in approximately a year, presenting you with yet another bûche de Noël, made properly on a larger sheet pan, with no cracks and with meringue mushrooms on top.)
We ate thick slices of this after a feast of honey-glazed ham (pre-cooked at the store; see wise observation above about focusing one’s energies during the holidays), a most ugly yet still incredibly delicious pommes anna, roasted butternut squash, braised kale, and beautiful gougères from a beautiful new cookbook I got for Christmas. How was your Christmas, readers? What did you serve for sweets? And most importantly, any blunders or setbacks that you had to swallow your vanity on and proudly serve anyway?
Bittersweet Bûche de Noël with Marscapone-Espresso Filling
From Cook’s Illustrated
This is a very bittersweet, rich dessert—substitute semi-sweet chocolate if you think bittersweet chocolate is too intense for you. Also, if you want to plan ahead, the ganache and filling can be made a day before hand and chilled until necessary. Also, I toned down the espresso flavor—up the amount of espresso powder to two teaspoons if you want a more intense flavor. Also, a word of wisdom: read through the whole recipe before you make it to make sure you have your wits about you when dealing with all the components.
Dark Chocolate Ganache:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1t ablespoon Cognac
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon espresso or coffee powder
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ounces (about 2 cups) mascarpone cheese
Chocoalte Genoise Cake:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (3/4 ounce), Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon table salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons water
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8teaspoon cream of tartar
—For the dark chocolate ganache (can be made ahead of time): In a 2-cup measuring cup, microwave the cream and butter on high until the mixture is just bubbling, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (You could alternatively bring this mixture to a bubble in a small saucepan.) Meanwhile, in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the chopped chocolate. Start running the machine, and gradually add the hot cream-butter mixture, followed by the cognac. Continue to process the mixture until thick, smooth, and homogeneous about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the ganache to a medium bowl and set aside for at least an hour to let it thicken while making the rest of the components. When about to be used, whisk to combine and thicken; it should have the final consistency of thick icing.
—For the espresso-marscapone filling (can be made ahead of time): In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring cream to a simmer. Once simmering, remove from heat and whisk in the espresso powder and powdered sugar. Meanwhile, place the marscapone cheese in a medium bowl and stir with a rubber spatula until its softened and smooth. Whisk in the sweetened cream mixture, and continue to whisk until completely combined. Place in the fridge to thicken until needed for use.
—For the chocolate genoise cake: Adjust the oven rack to be in the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 18 x 12-inch rimmed baking sheet, fit the bottom with parchment, and butter the parchment. Dust the baking sheet with flour to coat all its surfaces, tapping out the excess. Set aside. Sift flour, cocoa and salt together in a small bowl; set aside.
Bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Set a small-medium glass bowl over it, containing the chocolate, butter, and water. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it alone for about 10-15 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the chocolate is glossy and submissive to complete smoothness when stirred. (I know this sounds weird, but do it; it works. Leave it alone without stirring or bothering it until its ready to be taken off the heat.) Remove the bowl from heat, unwrap, and stir until smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool slightly.
Separate the egg yolks and whites into separate bowls, with the whites being in a larger, clean bowl. Beat the egg yolks on medium-high speed with an electic mixer until combined, about 15 seconds. Add half the sugar and continue to beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl, for about another 6-8 minutes, or until the mixture is a beautiful pale yellow and it falls from the beaters in thick ribbons. Add the vanilla and combine, beating about another 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the set aside chocolate-butter mixture into the yolks until combined. Set aside while working with the egg whites.
Turning attention to the bowl with egg whites, add the cream of tarter and beat with very clean and dry beaters until the egg whites are foamy, about 30 seconds. Add about a teaspoon of the remaining sugar and continue to beat for a minute more, or until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the sugar (a few tablespoons left at this point), and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and holds stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted, about 2-3 minutes longer. Do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, stir about a quarter of the whipped whites into the yolk-chocolate mixture to lighten it. Continue by folding in the remaining whites gently until no streaks remain. Sprinkle the set aside dry flour-cocoa mixture over the egg-chocolate mixture and fold it all together quickly but gently.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and work quickly to spread it all smoothly and evenly in the pan. Bake in the preheated oven until the middle of the cake if firm and springy when touched with a finger, about 8 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. While the cake is cooling, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder over a spread-out clean kitchen towel. Rub the cocoa into the towel using your hands. Once the cake has cooled for 5 minutes, run a knife along the edge to loosen the cake (it should already be pulling away from the sides.) Invert cake onto the towel and peel off the parchment. Starting at the long side, roll the cake with the towel together in the classic jelly-roll style. Let cool this way for 15 minutes, then unroll the cake.
—To assemble it all: On the just un-rolled cake, immediately spread the the marscapone filling evenly over the surface of the cake, almost reaching its edges. Re-roll the cake snugly around the filling. At this point I would move the cake to a serving platter, “seam-side” down. Spread the set aside chocolate ganache evenly over the log, using an off-set spatula. Use a fork to make wood-like indentations on the surface of the ganache, if you’d like. Refrigerate the cake to set and keep it there until ready to be served.