“Mini Chocolate Burgers”

January 13, 2010

I had my first—well, my first dozen—macrons in May and was instantly smitten with their taste and cute little design. Since that fateful encounter, I’ve toyed with the idea of making them, but their fragile nature proved too intimidating—until now. My mom’s book group is reading My Life in France (at my suggestion) and I thought that this Parisian cookie would the perfect little snack.

Before we go any further, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re talking about macarons, not macaroons. The french cousin to the Macaroon, Macarons can have a variety of fillings and can be identified by their domed tops and tutu-esque ruffled circumference, known as the “foot.”

I decided to use David Lebovitz’s recipe for the French Chocolate Macarons, despite his claim that chocolate macarons are the most difficult ones to make. Go big or go home, that’s what I always say.The recipe called for powdered almonds, but there were none to be had in my local grocery store. I could’ve gone to a specialty shop, but collegiate laziness reared its ugly head—forcing me to buy sliced almonds (Diamond sells blanched, sliced almonds). I pulverized them in the food processor for a good minute. Then I added the powdered sugar and the cocoa, blended them for a good thirty seconds. When it came time to add this mixture to the meringue, I carefully sifted it for good measure.

As for the meringue, there’s a fair bit of debate about how long to age the egg whites before whipping them. Some people leave the whites out for a couple of hours while others swear that a full 24 hours is needed. I just left them in a covered bowl for four hours before whipping them. The main point is that the whites have to be at room temperature to achieve their maximum loft. After folding in the chocolate mixture, I just piped them out using a small plastic sandwich baggie. Yea, I could’ve used a pastry bag, but I didn’t have one. This works just as well and is way cheaper. Just snip off a quarter inch of the tip and you’ll be in business.

Either my oven’s on steroids or the cooking time is way off. My macarons were overcooked by at least five minutes. Next time I’ll put them in for 10 minutes and see what happens. Besides that, they turned out beautifully, complete with that distinctive little foot.

Since I made this first batch for a bunch of peers, I decided to go with chocolate ganache rather than the prescribed prune filling. My baking cohort, Jess, thought that the macarons looked exactly like “little chocolate burgers.” Which got me thinking, maybe White Castle should start offering macarons. After all, McDonalds has its signature McFlurries, and Wendy’s sells Shakes—shouldn’t White Castle get in the dessert game? A variety of Macarons would make the perfect companion to a crave case of those mini burgers, affectionately known as sliders. I’ll be sure to get in touch with the suits over there and let you guys know what ends up happening. Until then, bon appétit!

Chocolate Macrons (adapted from David Lebovitz)

Makes about twenty cookies
Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup blanched sliced almonds
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature (set them out in a covered bowl for three or four hours hours)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Chocolate Filling
2/3 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons light corn syrup
3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (chocolate chips are great time saver)
2/3 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

Pulverize the almonds in a food processor for a good minute with the pulse setting. Then add powdered sugar and cocoa and process for another thirty seconds.
Beat the egg whites with a mixer until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.

Sift in the dry ingredients, carefully folding them in with a flexible rubber spatula. Once the mixture in uniform in color and smooth in texture, then place it into a pastry bag or a little sandwich bag. David makes a great disaster-saving suggestion: stand your bag in a tall glass if you’re alone. I used a small bowl and it worked perfectly. With only two hands, we bakers can do only so much…
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch apart. I found that making a swirled shape helped me keep perfect circles when piping out the batter.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten them, then bake them for 10 minutes. Once they’ve fully cooled, detach from baking sheet.
To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.)
I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.
Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.

Peppermint Bark

December 20, 2009

There are certain foods that you only crave around the holidays. For some, that culinary craving might be candy canes in December, cranberry sauce in November, Hot Dogs in July, or Peeps in April. Peppermint bark falls in that category, at least for me. I enjoy peppermint bark a lot, but I associate it so closely with Christmas  that my pepperminty appetite lies dormant for 11 months of the year.

I was at the grocery store stocking up on Clementines when saw candy canes and chocolate/white chocolate chips on sale. So easy! So timely! So tasty! I knew then that I just had to do it.

I went without a recipe, relying on my memory to put the bark together. Luckily, bark is one of the easiest things to make. First you prepare your candy canes by crushing them, making it one of the best stress-relievers out there. I did this by simply bagging the candies in a Ziploc baggie and then hammering away at them with a pot until you get the right size. You don’t want to end up with candy cane powder, but they should be manageable bits.

Some people temper their chocolate, but with this recipe I didn’t bother. Too much work, especially considering the fact that the chocolate gets covered up with other layers. The general rule of thumb is that you stop heating up chips once the majority have melted and to stir constantly (assuming you’re using a double boiler). If you’re using a microwave, do it on a lower heat setting and check it frequently—no one likes his chocolate well done.

I distinctly remember chilling the chocolate layer before adding the white chocolate; however I think I chilled it for too long because the white and dark sections didn’t really stick together. The white part was entirely independent of the darker subterranean layer. That’s what I get for not consulting a recipe.

Not that anyone really cared. People enjoyed it all the same. This was probably my last Tufts cooking gig before I head off campus on Monday. Nothing sounds quite as delicious right now as a well-stocked kitchen. Mmmm…

Peppermint Bark (makes probably 4 servings if you’re planning on gifting it for people. But why give when you could receive?)

8 candy canes, crushed

12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

20 ounces of white chocolate (I cheated and used “Premier White Morsels” from Nestlé)

1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract

1.) Line a 13x5x2 pan with parchment paper.

2.) Melt dark chocolate in double boiler/microwave, then add peppermint extract, stirring until combined. Pour melted chocolate in pan. Place in refridge for 5 or ten minutes. Pull it out a couple minutes before step three is done.

3.) Melt white chocolate chips and place on top of dark chocolate layer. Smooth top with a spatula and then sprinkle that crushed up candy cane mixture on top.

4.) Let set in refridge for half an hour or so.

Midterms, Marathons, and Marshmallows

October 26, 2009

Vanilla Marshmallows


Long time no see! Many apologies for my absence. Between character analyses for theatre rehearsals and Aggregate Demand derivations for Macroeconomics, the flogging has slipped through the cracks. But fear not, I will be updating far more frequently. After all, if Mrs. Smitten Kitchen can have a baby and still make Quiche Lorraine, then surely I can muster up the strength to put out an entry or two.

Homemade marshmallows sounds like a oxymoron, right? Much like Stone Hedge or Spam, only a few people have the slightest idea of how marshmallows are made. This recipe is relatively easy to understand and perform. Makes about 48 1-inch marshmallows.

I was still quite the culinary “noob” when I first came across this recipe in Bon Appetit last summer, proven by confusion over a “candy thermometer.” I had asked my mom why our thermometer only went up to 200ºF. She informed me that I would need a candy—not meat—thermometer. I remember how that sense of accomplishment filled me up after I made my first fluffy batch. With all the stress of classes, I felt the urge to revisit this fail-safe candy on Satuday morning.

Sofa or Prep Station? How about both!

Sofa or Prep Station? How about both!

Our “kitchen” here in Wren Hall has lost its table. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that the table was my only counter space. Now my prepwork has been relegated to the electric stove-tops (not turned on!), the sofa, and the ground (cue Andy Samberg song). Not having gas stove vexed me. Not having a sink angered me. But no countertop? No table? Come on! Hermione of Harry Potter fame would always say that “the wand is only as good its owner.” The same probably applies to kitchens. All it’s gonna take is a little more elbow grease and creativity. And as Kevin Garnett would say, “anything is possible!!!!!” See that—a basketball quote in the same paragraph as a Harry Potter reference!

Please note the missing stove stop to the right of the saucepan

Please note the missing stove stop to the right of the saucepan

Making candy requires precision and attention to detail—marshmallows are no exception. The only difficult part of this is maintaining a boiling temperature of 240ºF. Should the sugar mixture exceed this by too much, the texture will adversely change. Same goes for too low a temp. The higher the temperature, the higher the sugar concentration and the harder the candy. The mixture also will pause at certain temperatures and quickly increase at other points. So don’t freak out when the liquid sits at 180º for a full minute. Similarly, keep an eye out for those quick jumps in temp.
Once you let past the boiling stage, you’ve got some mixing to do. Whipping air into the mixture turns it into what is essentially Marshmallow fluff, only better and ten times as sticky. Just go into this knowing that you’re gonna get fluff on your workspace, which in my case was the sofa. It’s a very tasty but potentially dangerous mess. So if you’re the kind of person that likes to use Internet recipes, please print out a hard copy instead of stationing your laptop near your workspace. Your computer will thank you later

The aftermath

The aftermath

I should mention that this recipe would probably work better with a standing mixer, but it isn’t a necessity. The three or four times I’ve made this I’ve done it with an electric mixer with decent results, but they might be fluffier and airier if you use a mixer with the whisk attachment. The other issue with the hand mixer is that once the fluff-like marshmallow mixture gains a certain loft, it tend to swallow up the beaters. The fluff then creeps up the beaters to the handle mounted motor.

See how the mixture worked its way up the beaters?

See how the mixture worked its way up the beaters?

The flavoring of these guys is totally open. As you can tell from the photos, I made half-batch of plain/vanilla and a half batch of peppermint chocolate chip. I’ve used coconut, peppermint, and vanilla extract, for different varieties. I think around thanksgiving I’ll make an orange flavored batch (using zest or extract) for the sweet potatoes. Putting in mini-chocolate chips is another great option, but they tend to melt quickly, so quickly and carefully incorporate them unless you want chocolate marshmallows (not a bad thing, but the chips have a fat content that negates some of the marshmallows’ loft. Dusting them with something other than the potato starch/confectioner’s sugar mixture can be add some nice depth to them as well. I took the Hostess-snowball route once by using shredded coconut. I cut the traditional dust with cocoa powder to up the chocolate flavor, but to each his own. Coloring them can be a nice touch too. So get creative with these guys. You can always buy the original variety in the store, so if you’re gonna make the effort to make them, you might wanna do some experimenting.

The last 200 meters

The last 200 meters

I also ran the Cape Cod Marathon on Sunday (10/25). I had never run a race before in my life (not even a wee 5K), so this was a pretty big deal for me. Much like my first batch at marshmallows, the race was an emotionally and physically draining. As I crossed that finish line, satisfied tiredness and pride overwhelmed me. I was ready to go to bed the moment I arrived back at campus. But not until I update the flog…

Homemade Peppermint Chocolate Chip Marshmallows
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appetit magazine, July 2008
Peppermint Chocolate Chip
A candy thermometer
13x9x2-inch pan
Aluminum Foil
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water (you use 2 ½-cups at different intervals)
3 ¼-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin (Knox brand or any other really)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
¼ cup potato starch
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 or so cups of bittersweet mini morsels (the tiny chocolate chips)
An electric mixer
OPTIONAL: Green (or red) Food Coloring

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil. Make sure to have the aluminum foil extend beyond the pan itself, so that it will be easy to remove later on. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.

Pour ½ cup of cold water into large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, you should combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the other ½ cup of cold water in medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Make sure to stir the bottom, and brush down the sides to prevent burning the sugar. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240ºF, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to exceed 240ºF, as a higher/lower temperature has an adverse affect on the texture (too hot and it could become more like taffy, not hot enough and it stays as a syrup)

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in (don’t let it splash onto you unless you’re in a particularly masochistic mood). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is thick, about 12 or so minutes. At this point you basically have a big bowl of fluff. Add peppermint extract, chocolate chips, and about 10 drops of food coloring and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer. NOTE: A swirl effect can be nice if you’re using red food coloring, since it gives off the candy cane vibe. If you wanna do this, add the food coloring at the same time as the chips and fold them in.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula (wet with water). Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13×9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Vanilla Marshmallow