Monday, May 30, 2011

Macaron Monday

One of my friends, and reader of the blog (hi Pam!), suggested I should  try making some French macarons. As it happens, I already have so in honor of her request, I thought I’d share the process with you. In North America, most of us think of macaroons as a pile of coconut, sometimes covered in chocolate. In France, the macaron is a very different thing. While we may pronounce them the same way, there's really nothing similar about them.
What a macaron should look like
Back in November I decided to take on the challenge of making macarons for a friend’s birthday. As far as I can remember she has loved these things since living in the UK. This same friend was the recipient of the chocolate-covered sponge toffee I posted about way back when.
If you’re ever planning on making macarons, I beg you, don’t spend too much time searching the internet. While I managed to find myself a good recipe to work from, I also freaked myself out big time. Some say the eggs need to rest at room temperature for days. Apparently, the older the egg white, the better the macaron. The batter must sit at room temperature for an hour before baking to ensure the proper “foot”, etc, etc. The information all started to seem so daunting that I almost didn’t do it. I’m glad I did.
I ended up using David Lebovitz’s chocolate macaron recipe. Somehow it seemed slightly less scary than the others I found. I also improvised the chocolate ganache filling I used. I melted together some semi-sweet chocolate chips, leftover dark chocolate, and the extra whipping cream I had left from a batch of salted caramel. I wish I had a picture of the final product with the filling. I thought they turned out quite well. While they didn’t look exactly like the ones from the bakeries, my friend seemed more than pleased with her gift. I had never tried a macaron before, so I had nothing to compare them to, but I thought they were pretty tasty.
Not quite as smooth as the "real thing"

Before adding the filling
While I wouldn’t go out making these every day, I definitely suggest you give them a try. There was quite a sense of satisfaction when they came out of the oven looking something like the pictures I’d seen. Also, in doing more reading after the fact, I came across the blog BraveTart. She makes these things every single day and has put together a list of the top 10 macaron myths and has also kindly provided her recipe. If you’re going to try them out check out her site.
Have you ever tried baking or cooking something that scared the bejeezus out of you for fear it was going to fail?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cookies for Breakfast

I am lazy in the mornings. I don't want to get up any earlier than I have to. This means that I routinely eat my breakfast once I get to the office. It seems more efficient to eat while catching up on my emails instead of taking away from my precious time in bed. A few years ago, Kristen sent me a link to a recipe for breakfast cookies and my life was forever changed. I tried out the recipe right away and fell in love. For quite awhile, these were my go-to option for our "second breakfast". For close to 3 years, Kristen and I would take a mid-morning break and head to the kitchen for a snack. Most often she would have peanut butter and toast and, for a long while, I had a slightly warmed breakfast cookie. 

Delicious goodies

I wouldn't exactly call these things healthy but they are certainly a better option than some. They're full of oats, nuts, and dried fruit and actually have some good staying power in the belly. The recipe came from a interview with a chef from Vancouver. The recipe is great as is, but here are the changes I make...
  • reduce the sugar to a total of 1 cup - with all of the dried fruit, the cookies are more than sweet enough with less sugar
  • mix up the dried fruit - I usually use a dried fruit mix made up of dates, prunes, apricots, apples, peaches, and pears and use a total of 1.5 cups of the assortment. This time I got it at Bulk Barn but they also sell a similar mix at Costco
  • add more healthy stuff - I usually add ground flax, use some whole wheat flour, or make some other healthy addition. This time I didn't have any of the good stuff on hand.
  • make the cookies smaller - in the past I've always formed the cookies with a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop. This time I decided to make them half the size and they still seem like they'll make a good snack. 
  • freeze them - I make a batch of these (38 at the smaller size), wrap them up in plastic wrap and throw them in the freezer. They keep really well. About 15 seconds in the microwave and you're ready to eat. 
It's all about the prep work

Ready for the oven
The finished product
I think they cookies turned out great. A good recipe to use as a starting point is as important as the skill (or patience) to execute it. I'm very much looking forward to breakfast tomorrow!

What are your favorite options for a portable breakfast? Do you have any breakfast rituals?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Think I Have a Problem...

Hi, my name is Michelle and I'm addicted to collecting cupcake liners. 

Since I started baking on a more regular basis, I've taken to collecting these things. They're so easy to just pick up here and there...too easy in fact. I can't help myself. When I see a cute or different pattern, I have to have it. I love having so many options when I'm baking! It's especially important now that I'm photographing everything I make. A variety of wrappers and backgrounds increases the chances of getting a great shot. Here's a glimpse at my collection.

Do you have any hobby-related items you collect?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Butter Tart Squares

Butter tarts are a bit of a Canadian classic. Sort of like the Nanaimo bar, they are considered to be a quintessential Canadian dessert. According to Wikipedia they originate from Quebec in the 1600s. Who knew? I've never been too clear on what sets the butter tart apart from pecan pie. All I know is that I love me a good butter tart. Pastry or shortbread crust, gooey sugar filling, and, sometimes, pecans/raisins/chocolate chips/dried cranberries mixed in with the filling.

Gooey deliciousness
While I was in Australia for a semester abroad during university, I made these squares for my roommates on numerous occasions. It was my way of sharing some Canadian culture with my new Aussie mates. They were a huge hit. Appropriately, the recipe is from Canadian Living magazine.

Pastry has never been my forte. My few attempts have been fantastic failures. That's why I like this particular recipe so much. Instead of the traditional tart form, the butter tart filling is baked on top of a shortbread crust in a 9x9 pan. The result is a delicious square. The edges are nice and chewy and caramelized and the middle stays gooey.

Today's attempt at the recipe involved a couple of improvisations. I don't own a pastry blender so, while trying to cut the butter into the flour for the crust with two butter knives, I saw my whisk out of the corner of my eye and thought it might be more efficient. Low and behold, it worked perfectly! I also realized I had no brown sugar in the house. This is sort of a crucial ingredient. Luckily I learned a substitution awhile cup of white sugar + one tablespoon of molasses = one cup of brown sugar.

When in doubt, use a whisk

Molasses + sugar = success

Double batch - pecans and pecans & cranberries

The squares turned out really well. I doubled the recipe but used two slightly different sized pans so the pecan and cranberry squares came out a bit softer than the plain pecan ones. The softer texture is what I prefer. My own fault for trying to cook dinner while they were in the oven : )

My fellow Canadians - are there any recipes that you consider to be truly Canadian? Everyone else - same question for you. Are there any recipes you really connect to your native land?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Has Sprung: Strawberry Rhubarb Cupcakes

There are two flavor combinations in this world that I love - chocolate & peanut butter and strawberry & rhubarb. Nothing tastes more like Spring to me than strawberry and rhubarb. I've had these cupcakes on my mind for weeks. The problem I've had getting them made was finding rhubarb. I was determined to make these this weekend so I went searching high and low. After checking every grocery store chain I could think of, and the newly opened for the season Parkdale Farmer's Market, it finally clicked and I knew where I'd be most likely to find what I needed. Herb and Spice in Wellington Village did not let me down. I was set!

I started off with this recipe for rhubarb cupcakes from Martha Stewart. I opted to add the seeds of a vanilla bean to the cake batter to kick things up a notch. I finally broke down and got some at Costco and now I feel like I need to use them in everything possible.

I wanted to get strawberries in the mix somehow so I went with strawberry rhubarb frosting instead of the whipped cream and rhubarb compote suggested in the recipe. I used the same cooked flour frosting I used for the Peeps cupcakes but decided to put my own spin on them. I added a couple of table spoons of strawberry rhubarb puree to the mixture before cooking it and added a couple more tablespoons after I whipped in the butter. It tasted delicious but something went wrong. I'm not sure what happened but it sort of looked like the butter separated. I tried adding some icing sugar to stabilize it a bit but no dice. 

Rhubarb and vanilla: together at last

The elusive 'barb

Looks good enough to eat

I had no idea how visible the vanilla beans would be

The finished product

Even though they didn't look as perfect as I'd like them to, I thought these cupcakes were delicious. Good strawberry and rhubarb flavor and not too sweet. The texture of the cake was exactly how I like it. Moist but not gummy and tender but not crumbly. I would definitely make these again but would probably go with a different frosting.

Are there flavors that make you think of Spring?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

C is for Cookie

By the end of the work day today I had a hankering for cookies. Peanut butter cookies to be exact. For some reason, I've been thinking about these cookies for a few weeks. I last made them a couple of years ago for a birthday celebration at the office. It must have been in one of my daily Martha Stewart emails where I first saw this recipe for Peanut Butter Toffee cookies. How could they be bad? It's a really easy recipe to pull together. I made these tonight in under an hour even accounting for all the pauses for picture taking. A simple peanut butter base with added toffee bits and chocolate chips for good measure. The recipe calls for Skor bars (Heath for any Americans out there) but the chips were a more less expensive option.

First things first...peanut butter

Cookie dough sans goodies


The finished product

Looks good enough to eat!
I think they turned out quite well. Hopefully my co-workers are ready for some sugar tomorrow.

Do you have any favorite, easy cookie recipes you're willing to pull together on a weeknight?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Media Monday: Inspiration

There are a lot of serious issues being discussed in the world today - the take-down of Osama, the Canadian Federal election, etc, etc. In an effort to lighten the mood just a bit I thought I'd share my favorite things I saw on the internet today.

While checking up on my regular blogs I was reading Lulumum, a blog mostly about Lululemon yoga wear, and she was recapping her experience in the BMO Vancouver Marathon over the weekend where she ran her first half with great success. My favorite part of the post was the pictures she included of educators from the Coquitlam Lululemon cheering on the marathon participants. They immediately reminded me of my friend, Kristen. She is a serious runner herself and is always spouting out "You can DO it!" type encouragement. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I'm able to share them with you. If you'd like to check out their full album it can be found here.

A little bit of fluff to lighten a heavy day.

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