Star Spangled Apple Pie

Star Spangled Apple Pie

We had a great 4th of July weekend with friends in the woods. We stayed in a tiny town called Dorrington, near Arnold, in a woodsy community that hasn’t changed since 1972. Our friend Keith’s birthday is July 3rd, so I made him a Star Spangled Pie with vanilla ice – his request. The vanilla is my new favorite simple recipe and the pie always changes. It’s not apple season but we have started to see some of the early varieties here at the farmer’s market. I used a combination of  Dorsett Golden and Gala which made for a very juicy pie. Someday I’ll make the perfect apple pie with the perfect amount of bubbling juices but until then, we’ll just keep stuffing our faces with pie and ice cream and watch while the pie attempts to set us on fire.

Old Fashioned Vanilla

keith sparks

You can click on the images above to see the rest of our trip. It was pretty much like adult summer camp with the addition of cute babies and Michael got to take some amazing night photos at Alpine Lake. Oh, and please feel free to comment and send recipes of your favorite apple pie. I need extra practice (and probably extra tasters too).

Advertisements

Granola Eater

I love granola. I love all types of granola, even boring granola – yes there are a lot of boring granolas out there and they usually cost an arm and a leg. Granola can elevate almost any breakfast item (oatmeal topping, muffin crust, as cereal) but my favorite is a yogurt parfait. If you’re a new reader, welcome to my granola obsession! I ran across a recipe in Bon Appetit that used an egg white in the mix, and no flour. This means to all of you gluten-ites, you’re free to eat this (as long as you get oats processed in a facility containing no gluten) and it contains a few less calories. It also has a lot more crunch than the recipes with flour. My mother in law’s recipe is still one of my favorites for a chewy granola. It really depends on my mood when I’m making granola if it will be chewy or crunchy. Lately, I’ve been on a crunchy kick.

This crunchy granola had cranberries, pepitas (green pumpkin seeds), flaked unsweetened coconut, walnuts, and pecans. It’s my favorite combination and I always have these ingredients on hand. Michael would be just as happy without the cranberries, bit I like the texture they add. Experiment until you find your favorite combination. You might be amazed at how satisfied you feel after breakfast.

granola

Crunchy Granola
(altered slightly from Bon Appetit February 2013)

1 egg white
3 C old fashioned oats
1 C nuts
1 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 C honey (or agave)
1/4 C olive oil (or coconut oil)
2 T brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 C dried cranberries (add later)

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silpat or parchment. In a large bowl combine all ingredients except cranberries until evenly coated. Spread onto the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes to cook evenly. It will be done when the oats are golden brown. Let it cool on the baking sheet and store in an airtight container.

Other Granola recipes you might enjoy:
Maple Pecan Granola
Almond Spiced Granola
Chewy Granola

Pretty in Pink – Raspberry French Macarons

Our friends Mel and Keith are about to have a baby! It will be their first and they are having a girl! We are so excited for them and can’t wait to meet the little one – literally any day now. They recently had a baby shower which was no ordinary affair. Maybe it’s a San Francisco thing, but more and more I’m seeing a transition from the traditional shower to something more couple friendly and less pastelly. Maybe it’s like a Baby-Moon (the final vacation possible before baby comes) or the last struggle to hold on to your DINK lifestyle (double-income-no-kids) but I definitely support the non-traditional shower movement, especially when I don’t have to guess the melted candy bar in a diaper….

Mel & Keith

Mel and Keith had their shower in a live/work warehouse in SF. It was an amazing space complete with a pingpong table, darts, and a baby-grand piano. Top this off with adult beverages, 90’s slow jams, and a minimal amount of baby trivia it was a great night. Who doesn’t like dressing up for a party? (Especially Mel and Keith – they are too cute). Definitely more a celebration of Mel and Keith rather than an explosion of pink. There was this one little item I couldn’t let go of being pink (big surprise I’m sure).

Trio

I was asked to make some desserts for the party. Desserts for a cocktail party/ baby shower need to be a little more magical than mini cupcakes and cookies. I decided on mini cream puffs and Raspberry French Macarons. I kept lemon bars in my back pocket just in case the macarons failed. It had been a while since making French Macarons but this wasn’t going to stop me. I did ruin about half of each batch, but practice makes perfect right? I didn’t want to make it seem like these beautiful morsels were easy by any means! I think half of baking success is luck; the other half skill and patience. Macarons are very exact. So specific you need to measure the weight of your egg whites. This is the skill part. The luck part is using the right amount when given a 5 gram window in the recipe (the wetter batter turned out better). Then you need patience when you try baking two sheets at once and the bottom sheet gets too hot resulting in cracked tops. The other lucky part happens when you mix your batter correctly and which yields the perfect consistency for piping without peaks. Over time I’m hoping that there will be less luck and more success based on instinct and feel. Until this moment becomes a realization, I’m going to keep practicing.

IMG_2504sm
(yours shouldn’t have little peaks like the picture above, they should look like the picture below)
line up

One of my new year’s resolutions was to bake things that were difficult. I get in the habit of making the same things because they take minimal effort (even when they look pretty) and I know the end product will not be a waste of time or ingredients. If you have any suggestions I’m all ears (please leave a comment)! If you’re up for a challenge and you want to try French Macarons you definitely should. You might be amazing! You may even make them better than the little french bakery around the corner, but how will you know until you try?

Raspberry Filled French Macarons

Raspberry French Macarons
150g sugar (or 3/4C)
1/4C water
168g powdered sugar (1 1/2C)
168g almond flour (1 1/2 C – use store bought Bob’s Red Mill or Trader Joe’s vs grinding your own)
55-60g egg whites
55-60g egg whites (this is not a repeat – you need 4 egg whites total divided)
gel paste food coloring optional

Getting Started:
Place 2 egg whites measuring 55-60g in the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment.

Line two jelly roll pans with silpat baking mats with circle templates. Alternately you can use parchment paper with circles drawn on the backside of the paper. 1 1/4″ circles work well. I used the lid of a spice jar to trace circles. The circles don’t need to be too far apart because the batter doesn’t spread once it’s piped onto the mat.
Preheat the oven to 275˚F.

Next:
Make your simple syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the granulated sugar and slowly pour in the water, careful not to splatter the water on the edges of the pan. Place the thermometer in the bowl (best is a digital thermometer) and turn up the heat until the flames touch the outer-most edge of the bottom of the pan. (The flames shouldn’t come up the sides.) Once the temperature reaches 226˚F, turn the mixer on medium speed. Continue cooking the simple syrup until it reaches 230˚F. Remove from the heat. At this point the egg whites will look like foamy bubble bath. While the mixer is running, slowly pour the syrup along the side of the pan so it trickles down the bowl and doesn’t splatter onto the whisk. This is really important because you want all of the simple syrup to be incorporated into the egg whites rather than splatter and harden along the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat the meringue until the bowl feels cool to the touch (the bowl will be very hot when you first add the sugar), then turn off the mixer.

Mix your almond flour:
While the egg whites are mixing, measure out your powdered sugar and almond flour. Add your egg whites (when I used 60g my batter turned out better), food coloring, and extracts if using. Mix all of these together with a large spatula.

Fold in the Meringue:
Scoop about half the meringue into the bowl with the almond flour mixture. Fold this in to lighten the batter, then add in the rest of the meringue. Keep folding until the batter looks shiny and has a lava like consistency. You want the batter to flow so it doesn’t have any peaks. Test a couple of spoonfulls on a piece of parchment to see if the batter has peaks. If it does, keep folding until you get a batter that smooths out into a perfect dome when you spoon it out. Transfer the batter to a piping bag with a plain 3/8″ or 1/2″ tip. Pipe little circles following your template and put them immediately into the oven. Some recipes tell you to let them sit to form a crust, but if you’ve made your batter correctly, it doesn’t matter.

Watch the cookies after about 12 minutes. They should have formed feet at this time and you’ll want to start checking them overy two minutes. To test doneness, touch the top of the cookie and wiggle it. The cookies are done when the the top barely moves against the ruffle. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet.

Cool completely or refrigerate overnight before filling. If refrigerated, bring the cookies to room temperature before filling.

finish

Troubleshooting:
If the tops are cracked, your oven is too hot. Try adjusting the racks. If you need to adjust the temperature, try baking at 300˚ or 325˚F. My oven was probably around 270˚ and worked well. Every oven is different though. If its too low, the feet will not develop.

Alfajores need You!

A friend and previous client of mine is an amazing baker with the sweetest personality. She makes the best Alfajores I’ve ever had locally in Oakland, California. If you’ve never had one I suggest you try one soon. Andrea has mastered her Argentinean grandmother’s recipe and has been selling her cookies to local coffee shops and other retail establishments (like Whole Foods!) for the past year and a half. Recently, her company has grown and the demand is so high she needs a chocolate enrober for her Oakland bakery. Currently, she makes all her cookies by hand and coats each Alfajor in chocolate by hand. The chocolate process is quite messy and they loose a lot of good quality chocolate in the process. The chocolate enrober ensures each cookie is coated perfectly and captures the excess to reuse. She created a Kickstarter Campaign and at almost every level of donation, you get Alfajores in return. They are definitely worth the donations. Hand-Made and fabulous, you’ll probably be addicted to these sandwich cookies at first bite. Trust me, you really want Andrea to succeed in this campaign! And I must mention that you can get some of these beauties gluten free!

Here is a little snippet from her Kickstarter site.

What are Alfajores???

Alfajores (pronounced “Al-fah-HOR-es”) are scrumptious traditional Argentinean pastries made of two shortbread-like cookies joined with dulce de leche. Alfajores are a daily treat in South America and introducing this unique flavor to my new home is very exciting!

Buenos Aires Alfajores is a dream come true. We simply love making alfajores. A spoon full of dulce de leche combined with two cookies makes us jump for joy!

Our alfajores are handmade in small batches with lots of love in a commercial kitchen in Oakland, California ~ home. We are committed to using only all-natural, high quality ingredients with no artificial flavors or preservatives: Guittard dark chocolate, Clover cage-free eggs and butter without rBST…We are proud to be part of Oakland’s local food movement and are committed to supporting local vendors.

How you can help us…

Our business is growing and we need to keep up with demand.  Alfajores are very labor intensive. We now hand-coat each alfajor. You should see the chocolate on our faces after a few hours of dipping alfajores in chocolate and using a reverse vacuum to blow off the excess! We end up wasting lots of chocolate  – a tragedy.

We can’t wait to share our wonderful, high quality, home grown, delicious alfajores with the whole world.  However, we can’t meet demand with our current manual processes and we can’t buy the fancy equipment from profits when our production is so low!  We need your help!!!

If’ you’re feeling generous this Holiday Season, I hope you consider donating to Andrea’s Kickstarter Campaign. There are only 16 days left and they are only 27% funded. Check it out and be sure to watch the video. You’ll get to know a little more about Andrea, what Alfajores are, and how you can help make her dreams come true!

Ps. My favorite are the chocolate covered Alfajores. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be ordering mostly chocolate in the three boxes I get if she succeeds! If you’re lucky I’ll share with you, but don’t count on it… go out and get your own!

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I opened my copy of The Perfect Scoop and gasp! What? No pumpkin ice cream recipe? hmmm. Sweet potato ice cream just won’t do. David Lebovitz what were you thinking not including Pumpkin Ice Cream in your book? I’m glad I wasn’t the only one perplexed by this omission since you happened to post one on your blog in response to our madness…

Lebovitz has a magical way of combining cream eggs and sugar into the most delicious creamy treats. I was really happy to find a recipe he only ever so slightly changed from chef Karen DeMasco in her cookbook The Craft of Baking. You should read his blog post. It’s quite witty and apparently he got some stares while walking home with a rather large but thin butternut squash (subbed squash for pumpkins).

The original recipe used canned pumpkin which I adore. I have a plethora of pumpkin recipes using canned pumpkin, and it’s really my favorite. Fresh pumpkins don’t usually give you the thick consistency of the canned version unless you do a lot of straining. I can never tell a difference in the end product from fresh vs canned pumpkin. That said, I decided to stick to good ole Libby’s. She must have been quite the lady.

I have no idea why I never tried pumpkin ice cream until now. It seems to fit well into fall desserts and even though its cold outside, you can cozy up with a blanket and movie and enjoy some delicious spiced ice cream. Michael and I happen to do this often, and the tub of ice cream disappears at an alarming rate.

I absolutely loved this ice cream recipe. I’ll be making it at least once more this winter but next time I’ll have to place it on a warm slab of gingerbread cake topped with candied pecans. Yum. Good thing you can’t see me drooling.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, you should at least try making the candied pecans. They are addictive and delicious and would make a great addition to your holiday cookie trays.

Pumpkin Ice Cream – David Lebovitz

Candied Pecans
1 lb Pecan halves (trader joe’s are great)
1 egg white
1 T water + 1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1 C sugar

Preheat the oven to 250˚F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Whisk egg white until frothy and water and pour into a gallon size ziplock bag. Add in the nuts and shake to coat. In another bowl/bag combine the sugar and cinnamon and add the nuts. Make sure they are evenly coated and spread onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to 60 minutes stirring every 15 minutes. Make sure you taste one or two after 45 minutes because they could be done then. If not, keep cooking another 10-15. Cool on tray and store in an airtight container.

Successful French Macarons!

Last month, I had a Fight with French Macarons. Literally. They stuck to my parchment and the tops cracked a bit. I had no idea why, so I decided to take a class from Richard at Baking Arts here in San Francisco. Richard is pastry genius and a fantastic teacher. His classes range from the most simple biscuit and scones to intricate sugar flowers and souffles. He’s a stickler for his favorite brand of chocolate and makes the most seemingly-difficult macaron easy. So, thanks Richard, a whole new world of baking is in my future. 
The problems I had before were sticky, cracked cookies. This comes from too wet a batter and not enough folding. You want your batter to flow like lava and mine was no lava. You should also just go ahead and buy an instant digital thermometer that can read a temperature while touching the bottom of the pan, and a digital scale is a must. Converting recipes from grams to cups and teaspoons is not very accurate and you may end up with a whole sheet of failed cookies. It’s not fun, it’s sad and depressing and makes you feel like a failure (not good). 
During our class, we watched Richard demonstrate the whole process, then under his supervision made our own batch. It was nice to have someone there to tell you when your batter looked like lava, and give your tips the best piping technique. It’s also good to make a template on the back of some parchment paper. A 1 1/2 inch round makes a good size cookie and the template insures you’ll be able to match your cookies for proper sandwiching. Another good trick to test for doneness is to press down on the center of the cookie and wiggle. If it wiggles a lot, cook it a little longer, if it wiggles very slightly it should be done. Also, you should peel them off the silpat by bending the mat, not attempting to lift the cookie. Fill cookies when cooled completely. 
We made vanilla cookies with a little espresso powder sprinkled on top and filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. Yum! They were so good. I can’t wait to try them again. I’ll be buying pre-made almond flour from here on out. If you’ve tried macarons before without luck, don’t give up, keep trying, it’s all about the proper technique. 

I also mentioned in my last post about macarons that I was headed to NYC and wanted to try some macarons from Bisous Ciao Macarons in the East Village. We happend to stay very near here, so a trip wasn’t too far. They have mixed reviews on yelp, but Michael and I really enjoyed our flavors (blood orange with chocolate ganache and strawberry with basil chocolate ganache). The flavors were intense and the cookie itself was just what you expect from a quality macaron. My next traveling macaron stop will jave to be Pierre Herme in Paris. He’s the godfather of Macarons (and french desserts) and why not travel to Paris for another tasting? Do you have a favorite french macaron shop in your city? 
the following photos from Michael Townsend at Bisous Ciao, NYC 

Feel free to peruse the rest of Michael’s photos on Flickr or follow his Tumblr account! 

a fight with french macarons

I’ve needed a good reason for years to try making macarons, French macarons. They are finicky, crisp-shelled, chewy-centered sandwich cookies, and usually better from a professional. I am no Pierre Herme, and there are bakeries everywhere dedicated solely to making these delicious bites. They are one of the most artistic cookies you can imagine with endless flavor combinations and they scare me.

I’ve been drooling over some of Tartelette’s recipes for a long time and finally decided to use macarons as the recipe of the month for the Easy Bake cOven blog. I hoped two months to try macarons would be enough time, but even I didn’t succeed in my own deadline. Summer scheduling is always difficult, and I’m guessing some people detest the idea of turning on their oven on a blistering summer day (even a mere 280˚F). For me, the oven is always welcome on our cold, depressingly foggy summer nights. I intended to make these on the last day possible (August 31) and post at the last minute, but I didn’t. I came home that night to a messy kitchen and decided I should probably clean instead of make mess upon mess. We are nearing the end of September… and I have nothing to show!

I attempted the macarons on a Sunday hoping to donate them to a bake sale. They looked like they should, feet around the edge and a crisp shell. The problem I had was that they stuck really bad to the parchment. I tried scraping them off gently but most of them mushed into a half moon. I have no clue why this happened – every new recipe is an experiment right? I’m guessing it could be two things: too heavy of a batter or I left them too long to dry before baking. Because I don’t know the answers, I quickly enrolled myself in a class from Baking Arts here is SF. Putting birthday money to good use. I took a class from Richard before and learned to make some of the most delicious chocolate truffles. I trust that this class will cure my horrible first experience and I promise to share everything with you mid October after my class.

I did rescue them somewhat… and turned my crumbs into “pistachio cacao nib balls” dipped in dark chocolate. Not my best by any means but it was good to avoid wasting a tasty cookie.

Now I will keep telling myself, “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently” -Henry Ford. 

image from bisous ciao macarons, pure art
Incredible inspiration! 
I must visit here during my nyc trip in just over a week!