Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Strawberry Green Tea & Chocolate Macarons

Tiramisu Cake

Black Sesame Macarons

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Green Tea White Chocolate Ganache Macarons

No matter what type of kitchen you have, be it a high-tech stadium riddled with standmixers and food processors or a humble college dorm kitchen, you can be a macaron chef. There are countless recipes online with macaron myth busters and intense debates concerning the following:

Egg whites - to age or not to age? 
French vs. Italian meringue - which produces smoother shells and frillier feet?
Egg white powder - to add or not to add?
Silpat vs parchment
Convection vs non convection oven
Color of baking sheets
Type of almond flour
Cornstarch in confectioners' sugar
Copper bowl vs glass bowl for beating egg whites
Temperature of oven
Oven door - to crack open or not?
Humid days - okay to bake or not?
Oven door - to open once, twice, or no times during baking?
Simultaneously baking two sheets of macarons - against the law?

And on and on. We’ve tried them all (almost). These are the tips and tricks distilled down to a single blog post. Here is our no-fail master recipe for macaron shells. (scroll all the way down for green tea ganache recipe) Bon appetit!

food processor or spice grinder
2 large mixing bowls, preferably glass (Pyrex) or stainless steel
hand mixer or whisk
medium-mesh sieve (If you lack  food processor)
rubber spatula
kitchen scale
large piping bag (16 inch)
large round piping tip (about 1/2 inch diameter)
parchment paper or 2 Silpat non-stick baking mats (11.5 x 16.5 inch)
2 aluminum baking sheets (12 x 17 inch)

100g whites (3 large eggs; aged 12-24 hours at cool room temp, covered with plastic wrap poked with holes)
40g granulated white sugar
190g powdered sugar
120g almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill is a reliable brand, although Trader Joe's works fine too)
Up to 5g powdered flavoring (optional; cocoa, green tea, freeze dried fruit, etc)

Directions for the low-tech kitchen
Place sieve over large mixing bowl on top of a kitchen scale. Add 165 grams of almond meal and 190 grams of powdered sugar. Using a rubber spatula, pass the mixture through the sieve (you should have about 120 grams of almond flour after the coarse pieces have been sifted out). If you have a spice grinder, you can sieve 120g of fine almond flour, process the remaining larger pieces of almonds with a few tablespoons of the powdered sugar (to prevent clumping due to moisture), and add it back to your dry mix. Whisk well and set aside.

Measure out 40 grams of granulated sugar into a small bowl. Measure 100g egg whites into a large glass mixing bowl (be careful to make sure the mixing bowl is free of grease/oil). Prepare a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and piping bag fitted with large round tip. Twist the end of the piping bag near the tip and secure with a clip for easy filling later.
Whisk the egg whites until white and foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar while whisking. When all the sugar has been added, whisk as fast as you can until the egg whites form stiff peaks when you lift your whisk, and the entire bowl can be turned upside down without anything sliding out. When you reach this point, stop whisking.
Add almond sugar mixture to the egg whites. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the almond meal mixture. Start slowly and mix just until the two are moistened evenly and flow like lava, not that most of us knows what lava looks like.
Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Being sure not to trap any air, twist the top of the piping bag closed. With tip pointing toward the ceiling, remove paper clip and gently squeeze batter out to the top. Pipe shells 1.5-inches in diameter on your lined sheet, taking care to space shells at least 0.5 inches apart to prevent them from spreading and fusing into each other (unless you want to make macaron snowmen or Mickey’s, which is sometimes the case).
When the shells have been piped, rap the baking sheet several times on the counter to smooth them out and remove air bubbles. Decorate them while they are still sticky and wet (sieve green tea powder on top, sprinkle on chopped nuts, etc). Let the macarons dry before baking. They should feel smooth and not stick to your finger when you touch them (this takes 30 - 60 minutes, depending on the humidity).
Bake one sheet at a time in the center of a convection oven for 15 minutes at 275 F. Or, bake in the bottom third of a non-convection oven for 20 minutes at 300 F. Check on the shells 3 minutes before scheduled done time. They should not look wet, but should not be browning. If they are browning before they are completely set, turn down the heat. Remove Silpat from baking sheet and let macarons cool completely on the counter before removing.

Directions for the high-tech kitchen
With stand mixer or electric beaters, whisk the egg whites until they just turn white and gradually add the granulated sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue.

Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a few quick pulses. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your nuts with it evenly. Add them to the meringue and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. The whole folding process shouldn't be more than 50 strokes.
Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round (about 1.5 inches) onto parchment paper baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shells a bit. Bake one sheet at a time in the center of a convection oven for 15 minutes at 275 F. Let cool completely.

Macarons in 10 steps
1.       Grind almonds and powdered sugar in food processor until very fine.
2.       Whisk egg whites and granulated sugar to make a stiff meringue.
3.       Fold together powdered mix and meringue until mixture resembles slowly flowing lava.
4.       Fill a piping bag and pipe 1.5 diameter evenly spaced blobs onto lined baking sheets.
5.       Decorate the shells when still moist.
6.       Let shells sit out for 30-60 min in a cool dry place until they don’t stick when lightly poked.
7.       Bake one sheet at a time in the center of a convection oven for 15 min at 280 F til just set (doesn’t wobble when nudged) and not brown (turn down heat if browning before set).
8.       Let cool completely, remove shells from sheet, match up the shells according to size and fill them.
9.       Store in the fridge overnight to allow macarons to mature in texture and flavor.
10.    Serve at room temperature for most intense flavor and creamiest texture.

33 Indispensible tips for macarons
1.       Don’t age egg whites too long; if you have to store them for longer than 24 hours before using them, place them in an airtight glass container in the fridge so they don’t dry out too much and produce tough shells.
2.       Make sure almond flour and powdered sugar are finely ground. Large lumps or shards will produce grainy shells.
3.       Weigh ingredients - use an accurate scale on a flat surface; remember if you age the whites they will have lost moisture so whites aged for longer than 24 hours can benefit from some liquid food coloring or vanilla extract to dilute the protein content.
4.       Make a stable meringue – make sure there is no oil or water contaminating your whites, and beat meringue slowly at first and faster toward the end while very gradually adding the granulated sugar.
5.       Room temperature whites beat up faster than cold whites, but cold whites work in a pinch (just be prepared to beat a little longer).
6.       Don't overbeat the meringue past stiff peaks to dryness (this rarely happens, as the sugar in the meringue protects against over beating).
7.       For frilly feet that protrude sideways, add additional powder (such as cocoa powder, green tea powder, freeze dried strawberry powder) but don't exceed 5g for a recipe using 100g whites or your shells will be mealy and squishy inside.
8.       Let the shells rest until they form a dry skin (30 min to 1 hour) that does not stick to your finger when you gently poke it.
9.       The biggest difference between macaron recipes is the ratio of white sugar to powdered sugar: high white sugar content will lead to dull, domed shells with short feet; too low white sugar content will lead to very runny hard to pipe batter and possible air pocket or thin tops (weaker meringue, especially if egg whites are not aged or too much food coloring added). We found the optimal ratio for shiny shells with healthy feet to be 19:4 powdered:granulated (about 5:1).
10.    Decorations – too heavily garnished shells may crack when baked. Ideas for garnishes: freeze dried fruit powder, green tea powder, chopped nuts, tea leaves, patterns painted with food coloring after shells have been baked
11.    We dislike adding colors because they introduce unwanted liquid, but if you want to recreate the pastel colored macarons of Laduree, use only a few drops of concentrated food coloring gel or powdered food coloring, and whisk into the meringue before folding everything together. If you only have the super liquidy stuff, age your whites for 2-5 days to dry them out more and compensate for the added liquid.
12.    Don’t underbake. Soggy shells are really hard to remove and can be too mushy. Don’t lose hope, however; simply use a spatula to carefully scrape off any stuck bits and add them to the shells. Make a drier filling and don’t let the macarons mature too long in the fridge before eating; serve them in Las Vegas or a comparable desert.
13.    Don’t overbake. Hard, overbaked shells are too dry. To remedy this, use a super moist filling and let the macarons mature in the fridge for at least two days to let the shells reabsorb some moisture from the filling. Serve them on a tropical island.
14.    Know your oven. Use an oven thermometer to make sure it is actually heated to the right temperature, and if your oven has hot spots, you can rotate the pan halfway through baking.
15.    Bake one sheet at a time. Overloading your oven may reduce the temperature or impede air flow in a way that leads to poor feet formation or cracked tops.
16.    Baking in a convection oven at 275 F provides the most even heating. A regular oven (no fan to distribute the heat) works too but be sure to increase temperature and timing to suit your needs.
17.    Silpat or parchment: Silpats can produce rounder shells with flatter bottoms, but can cause sticking if used with light colored baking sheets. If using parchment, be sure that the parchment is cut to fit your baking sheet so it lies flat and doesn’t cause warping of the shells.
18.    Type of baking sheet: darker colored sheets have superior heat conduction, producing better feet and reduce stickage. However, using a dark sheet with parchment paper may result in too much bottom heat; to remedy this, use Silpats (good insulators) with darker sheets (good heat conductors) and parchment paper (poor insulators) with lighter baking sheets (poor heat conductors).
19.    Don’t reduce the sugar in the shells. The listed amounts are already at bare minimum and are important for structure. If you are sugar phobic, use unsweetened fillings to temper the sweetness (a good example is black sesame mascarpone, or cashew cream).
20.    Cool the shells completely before removing them from the Silpat or parchment. Attempting to remove them while still hot will result in stickage.
21.    If filling is runny, freeze filled shells immediately, and then transfer them to the fridge.
22.    Serve macarons at room temp for best texture and flavor. For best enjoyment, eat only one at a time and savor it slowly with hot, unsweetened tea.
23.    Let the macarons mature at least overnight, although very moist fillings don't need to mature and should be eaten ASAP because after a night or two they become soggy.
24.    Amount of filling: not too much or little; go with a 2:1 ratio of shell:filling
25.    Size should be not too small or big. 1.5-2 inches in diameter is perfect.
26.    For perfectly round shells, align the piping tip perpendicular to the baking sheet and “cut” away the peak that your piping bag leaves by drawing a quick semicircle with your tip.
27.    What to do with the yolks: ice cream, mousse, scrambled eggs, pasta, truffles, molten cake, Creme brûlée, pastry cream.
28.    Some recipes recommend high heat (375 F) in the beginning for feet formation, then turn down the heat to avoid browning the shells (300 F). We find that this is not necessary and that 280 F convection provides the most even heating, but experiment with your oven to find the best temperature for you.
29.    Experiment with the shapes of the shells to make snowmen, fish, kitties, mickeys; intentionally or unintentionally.
30.    Be creative with flavors. The possibilities are endless! You can flavor the shells by adding up to 5g of coffee, cocoa, green tea, dry fruit powder for 100g of egg whites or substituting 25-50% of the almond flour with hazelnut, pistachio, walnut, sesame, flax seed, pecan, or sunflower seed flour. Be wary of adding extracts or liquid flavorings into the shells. For the filling, low-sugar fillings tend to work well (tea, acidic fruits, citrus, black sesame, olive oil ganache, crème fraiche, chocolate, coffee, burnt caramel). For textural contrast, add a fruit jelly (honey lemon, passionfruit, grape, blackberry, balsamic vinegar).
31.    Too low heat may lead to air pocket and poor feet; high heat is needed to set the meringue and produce the steam needed to rise for good feet. Experiment with your oven to get the right temp; around 280 F convection and 300 F non-convection is usually good.
32.    Too high heat may cause the shells to brown on top before they are completely set. To rescue quickly browning shells, turn down the heat by 25-50 degrees F and take them out when just set. Macaron snobs frown down on browned tops because they are not traditional, but we think they add a nice roasted flavor that could be a welcome contrast to the sweetness.
33.    The macaron standard: shiny, flat, round, smooth, light, no air pocket, nice feet, flat base, not too dry or browned, light delicate shell shatters to reveal sublimely creamy filling, not too tough and chewy, 2:1 shell:filling, not too too sweet

Green Tea (Matcha) Ganache
118 grams white chocolate
1.5 teaspoons quality green tea powder
80 grams creme fraiche
45 grams organic unsalted butter

Melt the white chocolate. Place the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir chocolate with a spoon to distribute the heat. Microwave on high for 20 seconds. Remove and stir. Microwave on high for 15 seconds. The chocolate should be about half melted by now. Continue to microwave on high for 10 second bursts and stir in between until the chocolate is just melted. Be careful not to microwave too long or the chocolate will burn or dry out.

Add the green tea powder. Sift the green tea powder over the melted white chocolate and whisk slowly until smooth.

Heat crème fraiche. Spoon the crème fraiche into a microwave safe bowl and heat until just boiling. Pour it into the white chocolate green tea mixture and whisk carefully to combine; it will look like it won’t want to combine, but don’t worry. Add butter and whisk until smooth. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the ganache to prevent a skin from forming, and store on the counter for 2-3 hours until firm and mashed potato consistency (good for piping). If you’re rushed, you can stash it in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour but remove the ganache before it sets up too firmly and becomes difficult to pipe.

Assemble the macarons, Stack the macaron shells together based on size and line them up in two rows on two clean baking sheets. Remove the top shells to reveal the overturned bottom shell. Using a rubber spatula, fill a round-tip fitted piping bag with the ganache. Pipe a dollop of ganache in the center of each overturned bottom shell. Test the amount of filling by sandwiching the two shells together. Adjust the dollop size as needed to achieve a shell:filling ratio of 2:1 or 3:1.

Store filled macarons in an airtight container in the fridge over night and enjoy the next day. For longer storage, transfer to the freezer and store for up to 2 months. Be sure to defrost at room temperature before savoring.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

French Pear Tart inspired by Dorie Greenspan

What fruits can possibly be in season in the middle of winter? Bosc pears from the Ratty, of course! A lot of us might get turned off by their ugly brown skins and sometimes too-hard-to-bite-into textures (just give them two days by your heater vent or next to that borderline mushy banana), but don't pass up these ugly ducklings just yet! With a rejuvenating skin-peel and a soak in a hot boozy syrup, followed by a nestling in buttery vanilla almond cream, even these eyesores can become magnificent swans of fragrant pear-y goodness.

shhh...they don't know you are conspiring to eat them.

Overall, a lovely tart. 90% based on Dorie's recipe, the booze was my addition. Future endeavors may consider:
-cutting the sugar a bit in the almond cream (maybe to 1/2 cup)
-swapping vanilla for almond extract in the filling
-more pears? perhaps under the almond cream
-more crust on the bottom, less on the sides

French Pear Tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe
Makes 16ish servings, depending on how many request seconds

For the pears:
4 smallish medium bosc pears, firm but ripe
, peeled, stemmed, and sliced in half
2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cups water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup amaretto

For the almond cream:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
scant 2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 large egg

1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract

1 partially-baked 9-inch tart (pie) shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows), at room temp

reduced pear poaching liquid, for glazing (optional, recipe below)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Bring the 4 cups water, 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, and amaretto to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup (I left them overnight on the counter - they were still warm the next morning and the amaretto flavor was nicely infused).

To make the almond cream: Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. Spread the almond cream evenly over cool pie crust with a spatula and refrigerate until chilled (I did 30 min in the freezer).

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Core the pears (pull the stringy part out as you core). Pat the pears very dry with paper towels so that their liquid won't keep the almond cream from baking.

Take the chilled cream and crust out of the refrigerator. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream. The halves will form spokes.

Bake the tart for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

Prepare a glaze by bringing the pear poaching liquid to a boil, reducing it to a syrupy consistency (about 5 min on high, check it periodically to make sure it doesn't start caramelizing too much). Brush the glaze over the surface of the tart. Dust with Confectioners' sugar.

Storing: If it's convenient for you, you can make the almond cream up to 2 days ahead and keep it closely covered in the refrigerator, or you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; defrost before using. You can also poach the pears up to 1 day ahead. Once you've baked the tart, you should be prepared to enjoy it that same day, although chilled leftovers are pretty scrumptious out of the fridge.

Sweet Tart Dough
(also Dorie's)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. (note: I did this by hand with a pastry cutter - getting an even dough was a challenge - the dough was still dry after adding the egg yolk. I ended up adding 1 tablespoon of heavy cream to make it come together)

Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.