Monday, February 24, 2014

S'mores Brownie

Missing summer? I know I am, if only for the fresh fruit and vegetables. Not the best time of the year to slave over a hot oven, I'll grant you (last summer has us doing a lot of prep and icing in the walk-in refrigerator), but the flavors and variety can't be beat. In the meantime, as March approaches and I'm planning my work vegetable patch already, I fixed to re-create a summer classic from my late night snack college-kid days: the smores brownie.

Dense, fudgy brownie topped with more chocolate and a toasted graham marshmallow "treat." You can leave off the toasted part, I tried it without initially and it's still amazing, but it really adds to the campfire feel, all burnished, burnt, and caramelized. Plus, if you're lucky enough to have a blowtorch like I do, it's just a good time.

Ungh.  When I made then for science the first time at work, several people became angry with me, insisting I am trying to sabotage their diets and actor/model figures.  I can neither confirm nor deny such allegations.  In reality, I always take these protests as a compliment.

This recipe makes a lot, but is easily divided.

S'mores Brownies 
Yield 24 small brownies, a 9x13 pan
The treat
  • 2 (10-1/2 oz) packages of mini marshmallows
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter, more for greasing the pan
  • 6 cups Golden Grahams cereal
The brownie
  • 1/2 lb + 4 TB butter
  • 10 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar (one box)
  • 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2 t salt
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of mini chocolate chips

Grease a 9x13 baking pan well with butter (ideally) or non-stick spray.  Place the Golden Grahams cereal in a large heatproof mixing bowl.

Melt the butter on the stovetop in a large pot on low.  When it is all melted, add one package the mini marshmallows and keep stirring until they too are melted.  Be careful not to scorch the bottom of the pan, keep the heat low and the mixture moving.  

When the mixture is smooth, pour it over the cereal and stir gently with a rubber spatula so you don't break up the shape of the cereal.  The mixture starts to resolidify quickly, so work with speed as well as caution as the mixture can be very hot.  Spread out the mixture into your greased pan and let chill in the fridge until it is firm and cool to the touch.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Line a 9x13 pan with tinfoil and grease well with butter or non-stick spray.  If you like you can line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  

Melt the butter and 10 oz of chocolate together over a double boiler or in the microwave.  Check the progress every 10-15 seconds after the first 30, stirring to bring together.  When melted, pour into a mixing bowl.

With a rubber spatula, mix the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt into the butter/chocolate mixture until combined.  Pour in the beaten eggs and stir to blend into the batter.   You do not want to incorporate air here.  

Fold in the flour, taking care not to overwork the batter or beat in air.  You should not see any floury bits and it should all be smooth. 

Spread the batter evenly into the greased and lined pan with an offset spatula.  Bake 35-45 minutes until the top is glossy and cracking, rotating halfway through.   It should feel firm and not move at all when gently shaken.

Immediately sprinkle the mini chocolate chips on top of the brownie while it is still hot.  Let rest for a minute, then use an offset spatula or knife to gently spread the melted chocolate in a thin, even layer over the brownie.  Set the Golden Graham treat, pretty side up, on top of the chocolate and let the whole thing rest at room temperature until the brownie cools enough to put comfortably in the fridge.  When the chocolate is set, it should not come away on your finger when touched, sprinkle the top of treat with the reserved bag of mini marshmallows and use a blowtorch to toast them.  Alternatively, you can set the pan under the broiler.  Just keep a sharp eye as you brown, it would be a shame to blow it at this point.

When the toasted marshmallow is cool and set, turn the brownies out onto a cutting board lined with a piece of wax paper or parchment so the marshmallow doesn't stick to the board. Peel the tinfoil off form the brownie bottom and flip back to marshmallow-side-up.  

Slice carefully with a serrated knife and serve.  Store airtight in the fridge.  Impress your family, win friends.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Macarons, Just For Kicks

For my inaugural post, I present the macaron recipes that I have been working on the past few weeks.  After reading all the other blogs and information available out there, you'd think that making a macaron is the fussiest, most impossible task in all of baking.  You'd be partially correct.
The trick about these things is that the recipe isn't enough to guarantee success.  For as many bakers, you'll find as many recipes for the perfect cookie and perhaps the same amount of styles.
Chocolate macarons with salted caramel buttercream.

I really hadn't attempted to make macarons for the last few years, ever since a Christmas debacle wherein every one of the damn things exploded or failed to produce feet.  It was the Christmas I was still in culinary school and thought I knew most everything, certainly enough not to screw up a straightforward recipe.  My mom's friend invited a more established pastry chef to dinner that evening and I saw the look in her eyes when I brought out the less offensive specimens for coffee.  The shame.

Well, since then I hadn't cared much to learn the proper way.  A lot of chefs and bloggers I read up on even said it's probably not worth the hassle, especially in the United States.  Like a madeleine, it's the sort of confection best enjoyed in it's native terroir.  Heck, the first macaron I ever had was purchased at the Paul bakery on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  I savored that small, expensive box of cookies for like three days, a feat considering my sweet tooth, taking small bites of all the different flavors (and thus insuring that I would not have to share).

Macarons with raspberry dark chocolate ganache.

With all that considered, I recently decided that I wanted to make some for an almond cake garnish.  I figured that now, several years removed from culinary classes and installed in a proper restaurant kitchen, I'd surely have the aptitude to defeat the beast.  

Six tries.

To my credit, I did not give up, despite the money I spent out of petty cash in almond flour (about that...) and the rise and fall of hope pulling one crappy tray of cookies out of the oven after another. Convection oven, regular oven, double trays, silpats, parchment, toasting the flour, grinding my own... I tried the lot. 

The seventh time though, was a charm!  Dainty and pink, with tutu-frilly feet, I filled them with a raspberry and dark chocolate ganache.  Success was mine!  They weren't perfect, they still had a few with uneven feet and rocky surfaces and the gap between the soft almondy part of the cookie and the top meringue crust was too high.  I had more work to do.

Almond cake with lavender earl grey  buttercream and macarons

Finally, I managed a really nice batch of lavender colored ones for an almond lavender earl grey cake I was working on.  The gap was gone, and despite the death of a few outliers who ended up on wrong portion of a dinged-up sheet tray, they all had developed feet and smooth surfaces.  I made a batch of chocolate ones the next day and they were gorgeous.  I was ready.

Since then, I've been obsessed!  Here are my recipes and the changes I'd made:

French Almond Macarons

yield 16 sandwiched cookies
(adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe here)

  • 1 cup powdered confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (meal)
  • two room temperature egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon meringue powder (optional)
  • ganache (recipe follows)
Pulse the almond flour and confectioner's sugar together in a food processor.  Sift thoroughly, and grind again if necessary.  If you are making your own almond meal from blanched almonds, pulse the almonds separately and toast the meal until it becomes fragrant and on the edge of browning.  Let cool and then pulse with the confectioners' sugar.  Either way, sift at least twice.  If some small pieces of almond are left after sifting, it won't be the death of the recipe to throw them in.

Whip the egg whites in a perfectly clean and fat free bowl, adding the cream of tartar and meringue powder when the whites become just foamy.  When they reach lightly soft peaks, start adding the sugar with the machine running.  Some recipes say not to add it all at once, but I don't think it actually matters so much.  Add your gel or powdered color here (grocery store liquid colors may mess up your texture).  Whip until very glossy and defined firm peaks form.  You should be able to hold the bowl over your head without the stuff falling out.

At this point, sift the almond flour mix over the egg whites and begin folding.  If left too firm, I find that they produce feet but are lumpy as hell.  Too loose, and the feet never form and the tops become wrinkled.  This is the fabled macaronage stage whereby most bakers lose their steam. You want the mixture to be smooth and bubble-free but not too liquid.  Molten lava, is what I read over and over.  I found that my perception of magma was a bit firmer than what makes a good macaron.  Practice makes perfect, but err on the side of slightly too thick.  They'll be lumpier but turn out better than the too thin ones. 

Pipe into 3/4 inch rounds with a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I just use a coupler from my decorating kit) in a rosette pattern on a silpat.  You can use parchment, but I find that if you have old, beat up pans like I do, the parchment does nothing to hide the dents and make nice cookies.  Ultimately, if your pans are flat, you're good to go with parchment.   If you've made the batter correctly, the cookies will spread slightly and the point of the "rosette" will settle into the rest of the batter after 20 seconds.

Gently rap the sheet pan on the countertop to rid the macarons of any excess bubbles and let sit in a warm, dry place to form their shell.  Leave them for at least twenty minutes.  They should be dry and not sticky at all when you poke one gently.  Bake at 350 for around ten minutes, turning once at the six minute mark until they are ever so lightly colored and hesitant to move on their feet when you poke 'em.

The best way to remove them from the pans, I find, is to place the whole pan in the freezer and gently peel back the parchment or silpat when they are cold.

Sandwich same sized cookies together with buttercream, ganache, curd, whatever!

Easy Dark Chocolate Ganache

yield approximately 2 cups

  • 12 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 8 fl. oz heavy cream
  • 1 T corn syrup
  • 1 T soft butter (optional)
In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and corn syrup.

Boil the heavy cream in the microwave or on the stovetop.  Pour over the chocolate and shake the bowl a little bit to distribute the liquid.  Let settle for two minutes undisturbed.

Add the butter and whisk to combine.  

Let chill to desired texture and fill your cookies.

Monday, February 17, 2014

first post

As part of a ongoing effort, I've created this blog to showcase and discuss my baking and culinary endeavors. Creativity happens only after dark for this baker!