Macarons: Perfect Springtime Cookies

Macarons: Perfect Springtime Cookies

If ever there was a dessert that opens itself up to eye popping color, it’s the macaron. Cafe windows this April are no doubt displaying plates full of the cute little cookies, usually stacked in towers. They’ve been popular ever since Catherine de Medici became Queen of France in 1547.

The Italian noblewoman brought all of her Italian chefs to court, and the petite pastry was born. It’s meant to be no more than 2 bites per macaron – gobbled in an instant, yet each batch takes many hours to make.

Not to be confused with macaroons, which are small coconut biscuit cookies, the macaron is a gluten-free/almond flour based recipe. You make it by folding pre-sifted confectioners’ sugar and almond flour with a painstakingly beaten meringue. And COLOR ALERT, it’s to the meringue that cooks add any shade of food coloring they wish.

Many pastry chefs use almond paste as a shortcut, rather than “tant pour tant”, a primary step in making macarons, illustrated in this video. The blending of almond flour and sugar is tant pour taunt, which translates into “so much for so much”. Getting your tant pour tant just right is an art known as macaronage. Do it just right, and pied, or “feet” form at the bottom of each macaron once baked.

If your macaronage is over zealous or not enough, the cookies suffer. It’s a delicate art that probably burns a lot of calories, and takes a million practice batches before you’re an old hand.

Is it worth it? I think so. Although, most people prefer to simply buy macarons at 2 to 4 dollars each. For spring, you can do yellow, robin’s egg blue and pastel pink macarons. It’s a 3 layer affair, with a ganache or butter cream frosting constituting the middle layer.

The sandwich top and bottom of the cookie are really just sugar in a more pleasing form. Here’s a stand by recipe for macarons that beginners can start with – but before you roll up your sleeves and begin speaking French, make sure you have plenty of pastry (piping) bags to handle the job. Oh…and parchment paper & Siplat liners.

Bonne chance!

Jorj’s Simple Springtime Macarons

For Macaron shells

3 egg whites

1/3 cup white sugar

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon salt

Green food coloring, 4 to 5 drops (use toothpicks to transfer food dye to meringue mixture)

For Chocolate ganache filling:

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper OR Silplat liner.

Beat egg whites in bowl or mixer, until foamy. Add sugar and continue to beat until peaks are stiff, about 5 minutes. In between pulses of your mixer, use a toothpick to add green coloring to the meringue. You can do this by withdrawing the toothpick when the food coloring comes off it. It should take 3 to 4 applications for a nice green color.

Sift 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and salt together. Repeat process once more.  Fold into the egg whites until batter is creamy and falls slowly off the lifted spatula, about 50 turns with a spatula. Transfer batter to a piping bag.

Pipe macaron batter onto the Silpat liner, using a circular motion to make macarons approximately 1-inch in diameter. Tap the baking sheet against the counter about 8 times to release air bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 9 to 10 minutes. Rotate baking sheet and continue baking until macarons are shiny and rise slightly to form pieds, about 10 minutes more.

Use a spatula to lift macarons from Silpat liner and let them cool for about half an hour before adding the filling.

For an easy filling, simply microwave chocolate chips and whipping cream for about 2 minutes or until melted enough to spread between macaron layers with a knife. You can fit the macarons you have just backed together like a sandwich when one side is spread with chocolate.

Cookies Made for Dippin’

Cookies Made for Dippin’

I’m a few weeks early for a Fall vibe, but I’m ready for autumn already 🙂

You’re craving a cookie. You run to the panty, mix up a batter, add in all the chocolate pieces and nuts you can find. Next, you scoop them onto a baking sheet and voila… you have a cookie!

Hold your horses! What if you bake the cookie two times? Whaaat!? But why? I’ll tell you why. These cookies get a crispy outer crust (with a chewy center!), and hold up to a swim in a deep, dark cup o’Joe! I’m talking about biscotti.

Italian biscotti is a twice baked crisp biscuit, designed to be served for dunking – in coffee or your favorite dessert wine.  When I’ve got a friends coming over, I love to “roll out the welcome”, as you can see in the photos below – check out the ingredients going into this light and fun dessert. It’s a little different than your traditional Italian recipe.

Traditional biscotti is flavored with anise seeds and hazelnuts.  You can make your biscotti even more exotic by dipping the ends into melted chocolate.  Here’s one of my favorite recipes from my book Fresh Traditions: Classic Dishes for a Contemporary Lifestyle. I broke it down into numbered steps this time.

Macadamia and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Use this recipe as a guide to create your own favorite biscotti.  Substitute your favor nut, white or milk chocolate – or eliminate both and add a tablespoon of your favorite liquor, or a touch of almond extract.  It’s all good!

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup butter, room temperature (1 stick)

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt
  2. Use an electric mixer to combine the sugar and butter until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Stir in the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Stir in the vanilla.
  5. Stir in the flour mixture.
  6. Stir in the macadamia nuts and chocolate chips.
  7. Divide the dough in half.  Wrap each half in plastic wrap and freeze for 20 minutes.
  8. Remove the dough from the freezer.  Use your hands to form each piece into a log, about 12 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Place both logs on a Silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven.
  9. Reduce the oven temperature to 300.  Cool the logs for 15 minutes.  Use a serrated knife to cut each log into diagonal ½-inch slices.  Lay the slices onto the baking sheet.  Bake until the biscotti is golden and dry to the touch, about 30 more minutes.

Yield:  3 dozen

Preparation Time:  20 minutes, plus refrigerating the dough and 1 hour total baking time

Knead to Feed

Knead to Feed

Many of us love to cook for children, for friends, and if you are like me just for fun! Our kids grow into adults with fast and furious schedules that lead to fast and furious meals. Dinner parties for friends evolve into, “let’s get together for cocktails and then go out to a restaurant.” Even cooking for hubby has its drawbacks – it’s hard to splurge on a rich red wine sauce and add in a decadent dessert on a Tuesday night!

Still, the need to feed exists and the hunger must be satisfied.

The statistics are staggering: millions of children go to bed hungry. Millions of seniors do not get enough nutrition in their meals. Many more millions of parents cannot feed their families. Yet there are cooks like you and me that have the means, the skills, and the passion to fill this need. All we have to do is bring together the cooks and the hungry to achieve lots of smiling faces and full tummies.

Let’s start with the basics, cookie baking. Home-baked cookies fill empty tummies with wholesome ingredients. It only takes a minute to think of someone who would love to eat a cookie or two with a glass of chilled milk or a cup of hot tea. The best part about baking and sharing cookies is that you can do it in minutes and it provides an abundance of smiling memories. Share with a friend whose family is coming for the weekend, or as a take-home thank you for a repairman that’s been in your home. How about dropping a batch to a busy mom, or a friend that’s by themselves? Cookies are perfect for everywhere you go and everyone you see.

I’ll start with an easy recipe for Ginger Cookies that I adapted from Chef Mary at Frederica Resort in Sea Island, GA. These cookies are wonderful to stack and pack, and nothing says comfort like a home-baked cookie.


Ginger Cookies

Yields 3 dozen cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, 1 ½ sticks
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • Granulated sugar

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Use an electric mixer to whip the butter until creamy. Mix in the brown sugar, molasses, and egg. Add the flour in three additions until just combined. The batter will be sticky.

Use a tablespoon to scoop the batter into 1 ½-inch balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar and place onto a parchment-lined baking dish. Bake until the tops of the cookies are golden and firm to the touch, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.