“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.
Assembly
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.

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Beer + Chocolate = Cake

January 9, 2010

Remember my last post? Of course you do! After all, you check my blog religiously, right? Anways, I wrote about how adding vermouth to gravy took the dish to a whole different level. They say that alcohol makes everything better. While I’m not entirely sure who “they” are, I’m gonna have to agree. At least when it comes to cooking. Whether it’s the theatrics of flambéing a dish or for the purposes of sorbet making, alcohol is an important part of every kitchen. And not just hard liquor like rum or Vodka. I’ve found that stout beer has a magical effect on chocolaty baked goods. Chocolate and Guinness stout beer go together like peanut butter and jelly. Frankly, I don’t like the taste of stout on its own, but when combined with chocolate, it’s truly delightful.

So onto the main course: Chocolate Stout Cake. I’ve made a lot of chocolate cakes in my day, but this one takes the… no, I’m not gonna make that joke. But the cake is really good. I get bored with those super sweet chocolate cakes; this one has an intense bittersweet chocolate flavor. The cake is moist and stays moist for days.

The fudgy ganache frosting is good, but one of these days I might replace it with a fluffy buttercream. The ganache has that same bittersweet chocolate flavor as well, and for some people that’s just too much.

Something to consider about this recipe—it’s huge. It fills three 8-inch cake pans. I’ll often make a dozen mini cupcakes and one (13×9) sheet cake. You could always make all three cake layers and freeze one for later. Cakes do freeze well, but you can’t freeze a frosted cake.

Chocolate Stout Cake (adapted from Barrington Brewery via Bon Appetit, September 2002)

Ingredients for the Cake

2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream

Ingredients for the Ganache

2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips, and that worked fine)

Directions for the cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and then line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Bring 2 cups stout and the 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in a large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Make sure not to overbeat at any point, as overbeating leads to a tougher cake. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. (If you’re doing cupcakes, keep in mind that they take less time, maybe all of 20 minutes) Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

Directions for ganache

Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Putting it all together

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.