Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coconut Key Lime Macarons

Sara (Huber) Kutter wanted me to teach her how to make macarons. She wanted to make some for her sweet 1 year old's birthday party. Her colors for the party are green and blue.

We made a traditional blueberry for the blue ones (just blended up freeze-dried blueberries and added to my basic buttercream). I have been wanting to make lime macarons with a lime curd for a while now, so that's what I decided to do with the green ones. But, when I was about to add vanilla to the batter, I thought I'd try coconut extract instead, thinking it would go well with lime. I always have a bottle of Nellie & Joe's key lime juice from Key West, so I used that for the curd. They turned out absolutely amazing, and might even be my new favorite flavor!

Coconut Key Lime Macarons

2/3 c. almond flour (sometimes called meal)
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
5 T. granulated sugar
3/4 t. coconut extract
green gel coloring

Heat oven to 280-300 degrees and place the racks on the two lowest positions. Cut flat pieces of parchment paper (buy online at King Arthur) to fit two cookie sheets perfectly (cut corners too). I no longer draw circles. I found it to be a very time consuming task that I quickly tired of. I learned how to pipe the macarons in a way to keep the perfect shape of a circle (description below).

Place 2/3 c. almond flour (packed tightly) with 1.5 c. powdered sugar in a food processor and process until very smooth and mixed together thoroughly. DO NOT do this in a blender, as it somehow adds moisture. If you don't have a mixer, you can sift your almond flour before measuring, then whisk the flour and powdered sugar together. This avoids little pieces of almond in your cookies.

After separating the egg whites (keep yolks for lime curd), add them to the bowl of a mixer (I love my Kitchenaid). If you're like me, and always forget to set out the eggs so they're at room temperature when you begin, here's a tip. Put the egg whites in the mixer bowl, and swirl around atop of your cooktop's flame (requires a gas stove). Using a clean finger, I will swirl the egg whites around until they are not hot or cold, but room temperature--works like a charm! Add 5 T. of granulated sugar to your egg whites. Using your heavy duty mixer, start with speed 4 and beat for 2 minutes, then go to speed 6 for 2 minutes, and finally at speed 8 for 2 minutes. At this point, add the coconut extract and green coloring, then set the mixer to speed 10 and and continue to beat until stiff peaks appear. You will notice that the egg whites start to gather in the middle, which indicates it's ready. To test it, pick up the whisk and if the egg white's peak at the top doesn't fall, they are ready. If it falls down, keep mixing. Make sure you don't over mix (it will become dry and clumpy--if that happens, start over with new egg whites).

Leaving the beat egg whites in the original mixing bowl, add a third of the dry mixture and fold it about a dozen times until just mixed. Fold with a spatula, going up the sides, pushing down the center. I use a silicone spatula and scrape around the sides of the bowl, then push down the middle twice, and continue that until you can't see the dry ingredients anymore. As soon as they are mixed in, add another 1/3 of the mixture and continue. Finish mixing the rest of the dry ingredients, being careful to fold and not stir. This last step is a little harder and will require you to scrape the sides and then push down in the middle a few times. When it starts to smooth out and thin out, start testing it by lifting your spatula, and dropping the batter into the bowl. The mixture should pour off the spatula like thick molten lava. If it's not flowing when you lift the spatula, it is too thick and needs more mixing. If you Google videos of stirring macaron batter, you can watch the experts do it and see the desired consistency. That helped me a lot when I was learning.

Use a piping bag with a medium-sized round tip (#10 works, but #12 is better). Place it in a large cup and fold over the sides. Pour in half of the mixture and twist the top. Start piping the batter into the circles. The best way to do it is to hold the pastry bag just over the pan (not touching) and squeeze slightly to let the batter come out until a circle is perfectly formed. This takes practice, but you will get it quickly. Make sure your pastry bag is straight up and down, and squeeze just until the batter flows out of the tip. As soon as you have the desired size (about the size of a quarter or half dollar), then stop squeezing. Then quickly turn your wrist as you lift the tip to try and not leave a tail. Once the first pan is filled, hold the pan with both hands and tap hard on the counter 3 times. Turn the pan so your hands are on the opposite ends and tap again 3 times (helps get any air pockets out and flattens the cookies). Continue until both pans are filled and the rest of the batter is used up. Let them sit on the counter for at least an hour, or until the tops are no longer wet when you touch them. (This could take a lot longer in a humid climate.) **If your batter spreads too much when you pipe the cookies, or they spread when you tap the pan, your batter is too thin and next time you need to stir less. If the cookies still have a little bump on the top of them, and it won't go away no matter how many times you tap the pan, you have too thick of a batter and you need to stir a few more strokes next time.

Place the cookie sheets on the two bottom oven racks. You will have to experiment with the cooking times, but this is what worked for me. Set the timer for 2 minutes and when it rings, open the door for about 30 seconds, to let any humidity escape. Then close the door and set the timer for 6 minutes. **This is the BIG moment in macaron making. When you open the oven, you will see if your macarons have the oh so important "feet" at the bottoms. If they have cracked or have a dome, that means you didn't let them dry long enough. Continue to bake and see if you can salvage any.

Once the initial 6 minutes is up, switch the pans so that the top one is now on the bottom, as well as turn around so the back of the pan is now in the front. Bake for 7 more minutes. To test the doneness, lightly press on the top of the cookie. If it is gooey underneath and moves a lot, it needs a couple more minutes. If it feels firm, then carefully try to lift the cookie off the sheet. If it comes off the parchment easily, they are done. If the cookie separates in half, bake one more minute, and so on. Cool the macaroons completely before lifting any off the pans. If they all come off perfectly, pat yourself on the back! If they stick a little, just be careful and try your best. If they stick a lot, use a thin metal spatula and try to scrape underneath them to salvage the cookie's important bottom.

Once all the cookies are off the sheets, you can find each of them a match. If you are the only one who piped them, they should be fairly consistent sizes and you can usually make a perfect match when pairing them up, and then fill them with lime curd (recipe below). You should use a pastry bag with the same size of tip to fill the macarons, and only pipe the filling in the center, filling half of the macaron. Once you put the top on, squish just so you can see the edge of the filling sandwiched between the cookies.

Completed macarons are best if refrigerated (in a tight fitting container) for a couple of hours, or frozen up to 3 months. At least 15 minutes before serving, remove the macarons from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. If frozen, take out of the freezer an hour before serving, and keep sealed in the container, with the lid on, until completely thawed.

Lime Curd

4 egg yolks
1/4 c. Key Lime Juice
1/2 c. sugar
5 T. butter, cold and cut into chunks
green gel coloring

On medium heat, cook egg yolks, lime juice and sugar, stirring constantly. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, or until it reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove saucepan from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time until all the butter is combined, and add coloring to match cookie shells. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and into a medium bowl. Cover the curd with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to avoid causing a skin to form. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

New Orleans Bread Pudding

Yesterday I thought there was a party for some friends of ours who will be leaving to serve a mission in Louisiana. I needed to bring a dessert, so I thought it would be a good excuse to make a New Orleans style bread pudding I've been wanting to recreate. (I've also been practicing some recipes for my upcoming DC Gourmet Club, and bread pudding has been on that list.) Sadly, I got my weeks mixed up and there was no party last night, so I ended up passing out warm bread pudding to my neighbors!

My inspiration came from the amazing bread pudding at Henry's Louisiana Grill in Georgia. I love it so much that my district office even ordered it in to celebrate my last birthday! Henry's bread pudding is really good, but what's amazing is the insane caramel sauce that he ladles over the bread pudding. I tried a few different recipes last night and landed on the sauce below. The actual bread pudding is an adaption from Emeril's recipe, and the sauce takes his Bourbon cream sauce and adds it to a caramel sauce, which ended up close to perfect.

New Orleans Bread Pudding
(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagassee)

8 eggs
2 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg
2 t. vanilla extract
¼ c. Bourbon
4 c. half-and-half
1.5 loaves of French bread
1 c. raisins (optional)

Cut French bread into 1 inch pieces. Line a baking sheet with bread cubes and bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, or just until they are dried out—this is especially important if the bread is fresh (day old bread works best).

Combine eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, Bourbon, and half-and-half together in a large mixing bowl. Add cooled bread cubes and raisins to the mixture, and soak for 2 hours. Stir once in while so everything gets coated and soaked.

Pour the bread mixture into a buttered 9X13” baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes, watching that the sides and bottom don’t get burned, but the center is firm and set. Let cool on the counter for 5-10 minutes before serving. Cut into serving squares and top with creamy caramel sauce.

Creamy Caramel Sauce

1 c. heavy cream
1 c. half-and-half cream
2 t. vanilla
3 T. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
2 T. bourbon

Heat the cream, half-and-half, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan over high heat, whisking for 3 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the Bourbon. As soon as the cream mixture starts to boil, add the Bourbon mixture and whisk vigorously while it boils for one minute. Lower heat so it simmers, and whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and slightly thickened. Set aside and immediately start on caramel sauce.

1 c. sugar
½ c. corn syrup
½ c. butter, room temperature

Combine sugar and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly just until the sugar is dissolved and melted. Stop stirring as soon as that happens and continue to cook (no stirring) until the mixture is a light golden brown. Remove from heat and shock the saucepan in an ice bath quickly to stop the pan from cooking, but remove it instantly so it doesn’t cool too much. Quickly whisk in the butter until combined, and then add the Bourbon cream mixture, whisking over low heat until it is all combined and smooth.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Stacy's Granola

My adorable friend Stacy Hansen moved to New Jersey and she loves to bring her girls to DC for overnight visits and they stay in our guest rooms. One day she brought me a jar full of granola to thank me, and it honestly was the best gift in the world because I've now used this recipe dozens of times over the last couple of years. It's the best granola I've ever had.

My favorite thing to do with it is put it with greek yogurt and fresh berries. Or in the summer time when peaches or blueberries are in season, I just put it with fresh fruit and milk. It's also nice to have in a container at work so you can munch on it here and now to fill your belly. And boy, just a little bit helps to make you full for a really long time!

Stacy Hansen's Granola

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Mix together in a large bowl:

8 cups oats
½ cup UNSWEETENED coconut (flakes or shredded)
2 T. ground flax
T. flax seed 
2 T. chia seeds 
1 cup chopped raw almonds
1 cup chopped raw walnuts or pecans

Set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together:

2/3 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp salt

Pour wet ingredients over dry.  If you want the oat mixture to be coated evenly mix with your hands for 2-3 minutes.  Spread equal parts of the granola onto two jellyroll pans and cook for 15-25 minutes. Depending on how you like your granola (crunchy or sticky).  Stir granola after 10 minutes in the oven.  Cook for 5 more minutes and stir, then cook 5 minutes and stir, then one last time cook for 5 minutes and take out of oven to cool.  I usually stir it in the pan every once in a while as it cools, so it doesn’t cool in one big chunk.  It will still break a part but it can be messy.