Friday, November 11, 2016

Macaron Quest - Yummo Trial and Error

I love love love Macarons. French Macaron not to be mistaken for the north american Coconut Macaroons.  I do like those too but I wouldn't get on a subway to cross the city because I read somewhere that someone has awesome Macaroons.  But for a Macaron.  Yeah.  Unfortunately, they are quite an expensive obsession.  Typically, a French Macarons will run you a good 2 bucks minimum to up to 3 bucks for the twoonie sized ones.  I love the Toronto Chowhound article outlining where to find the best priced yet still awesome.  Even on that article, you're looking at 2 bucks minimum.  Therefore, I decided I would learn to make awesome macarons on my own.  To avoid any excuse not to make them, I bought a gigantic bag of Almond meal at Costco because when I saw a Canadian Living test kitchen episode on Macarons, they used fresh Almonds and ground them.  Yeah, not gonna do it.

Trial 1 - Martha Stewart

I have, to date, done three trials and used 3 very different recipes.  I was going to use the Canadian Living recipe but theirs required Meringue powder and I wasn't confident enough to assume that you could leave that out.  So for my first trial, I used Martha Stewarts French Macarons.   I was only really testing for the shell so I didn't used some home made jam for the filling.  I used pink solid food colouring since I recalled from the Canadian Living show that using liquid drops, you risk messing up the composition.  The oven was for a blistering 375.  I rushed the reading of the recipe and made the following errors:

  1. I used Granulated Sugar (aka regular sugar) instead of powder sugar.  I misunderstood what Confectioner Sugar was.  It is powdered sugar.  I did however process it briefly in a food processor.  
  2. I did not sift the Almond Meal/Flour.  Meal is more grainy than Flour.  
  3. I completely forgot to bang/tap the baking sheet after I had piped them to release any air bubbles.
  4. Worst of all, I did not let them stand at room temperature for the prescribed 15 minutes.
They tasted great.  The graininess did not come across but they were quite misshapen.  

French Macarons using Martha Stewarts recipe.
However they lifted well with that typical sort of pulling away puffed up rough look along the side.  They did not store well.  They went slightly chewy and overly fragile after 1.5 days.  They are however, in my view, the best of the 3 trials.  I will try to use 375 for the Birthday Sprinkle recipe next time.  I think their temp was too low.  

Trial 2 Chow Hound

I wanted to push myself to try again so I volunteered to make Macarons for a charity bake sale.  I had even bought a carton of Egg Whites a few weeks earlier to avoid making excuses.  However, I was worried that they'd go bad so I portioned them out (30g of white per Large Egg) and froze them.  I thought great.  I'll use some of my Egg Whites.  I decided to make a double batch but since I randomly decided to freeze my Egg Whites in 3's I needed a recipe that used 3 because I did not want to make a triple batch.  I found the Chowhound Chocolate Macarons recipe. Perfect!  I thought because that way I won't colour them and the Chocolate will help hide possible flaws.  

I was careful to allow for time to sift and to let stand.  I wouldn't make those mistakes again.  I need them to be pretty to sell.  I even remembered to use Powered Sugar and ground the dry ingredients in the food processor to ensure they were fine. I even drew out all the circles to pipe into on the parchment paper then turned over the paper so I didn't freehand.  I banged the sheets on the counter though they were quite solid so it was pointless.  I let them stand 30 minutes as I was told.  These are the errors I committed this time.  Interesting though.  

This recipe required a medium hot oven of 350 instead of 375 as Martha's

  1. I doubled the batch.  This is always risky.  First time using a recipe.  I really should have done a single batch.  But I had wanted enough to sell.  Even though measured everything carefully, The batter was obviously too dry.  To be fair, maybe it was the Chowhound recipe.  It was the texture of cookie batter rather than toothpaste, like it should be.  I should have stopped adding the dry goods.  
  2. I used frozen Egg Whites.  They instantly showed that weren't lifting very well.  I had to beat for a long time and they did eventually lift but it looked more like a marshmallow base than the puffy Meringue I needed.  I should have started the egg whites again.
  3. I did deviate the recipe slightly.  I added 1/2 t of Cinnamon and 1 t of Cayenne for each batter, so double that.  I don't know for certain if that impacted it but I thought I'd give them some character.  Why that matters? I once added dry Mustard to a tried and tested white bread recipe that I can make in my sleep and it rose only 2/3 what it normally does.  I did it 3 separate times and each time the same thing happened.  Different jars of yeast too so it wasn't that.  I can only assume that sometimes the more volatile spices sometimes throw certain chemical reactions into play.  Also, it meant that the mistakes couldn't be eaten by the kids because they hate spicy food.
THEY DIDN'T RISE AT ALL.  I'm guessing it was due to how dry the recipe was and the Egg Whites.  I had decided that I was not going to bring them in and apologize.  But then I tasted them.  They were delicious, chewy yet crispy crust, spicy kick, and nicely chocolatey.  I decided to label them as Gluten Free Almond Chocolate Cookies and I had nearly a 100 and they sold out!!!

Chow Hound's failed Chocolate Macarons turned Gluten Free Almond Chocolate Chili Cookies.
Trial 3 Sprinkles for Breakfast Birthday Macarons

I came across this recipe for what they called Birthday Macarons while I was searching for an answer.  I wanted to use Red Sugar sprinkles to top my Chocolate Chili Cookies to give a hint to the chili. But I didn't know when you add sprinkles to a Macaron without risking the lift.  I saved it because I thought they looked so cute.  I followed this recipe almost to the letter.  I bought brand new Eggs and I banged the trays a few times and let them stand.  I set the oven for the rather low 325.  

So texture wise, they turned out ok while piping but they didn't lift where it looks like a cap is pulling away from the base.  They were rounded like a puffy cookie.  They quantity for all 3 was accurate and that's while not trying to kill yourself trying to drain every drop out of the piping bag like a tube of toothpaste.  I think next time.  I'll use this one in a 375 oven and see what happens.  I like this recipe because it uses 3 Egg Whites and uses a decent amount of Almond Flour.  Martha's only uses less than a cup.  How am I supposed to get through my Costco bag of Almond meal?  I think I can work with this recipe.  Now my kids will have to eat quite a few of my trials. Birthday Macarons in second place
My next trial will involve Sesame sprinkles, Yellow food colouring and Chocolate Ganache filling to make moque-Hamburger Macarons :D

#Macarons, #FrenchMacarons, #Baking, #Dessert

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Kale and Swiss Quiche - Nutty Goodness

We make a quiche every Sunday afternoon to keep in the Fridge for kiddie dinners and lunches for work.  It's a great way to use the veg in your fridge at the end of the week.  We had some Kale leftover in the fridge from making Kale Chips for the kids so we used it instead of Spinach this time.  The combo added a lovely nuttiness and fullness that Spinach doesn't give.

Kale and Swiss Quiche

Follow the basic Quiche technique described here except for the veg changes I will explain

Spinach Quiche recipe

1 Yellow Bell Pepper diced into 1 cm pieces
1 1/2 c Kale, finely chopped instead of the Spinach
plus 1 pint of Cremini or Button Mushrooms, by pint I mean those small boxes they come in market.  I bought pre sliced cuz that just how I roll when I'm lazy.

Saute all the veg in a large non stick skillet to give room, on medium high heat until throughly soft and 'dry' looking.  i.e. no liquid in the pan.

Spread in the pre baked shell and follow the recipe above as regular.

Very very good.  It was a bit more gooey that the spinach which was weird because we cooked the kale through.  But it tasted awesome.



Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas British-ish Fish Pie

British-ish Fish Pie

Christmas was a bit turned about this year.  One of my sisters is in Louisville with the in-laws this year.   Since it was going to be a smaller gathering the day off, my mom was hosting but agreed to let me do the main.  Usually when it's a crowd, D will do a large roast beast of some sort.  Since it's me, I decided to do a dish I miss from my UK days and can't easily find outside the coziness of someone's home outside the UK.  I did 'fancy' it up a bit by adding Lobster since my uncle gives us a case of Lobster tails every year for Christmas.  By the look of the baking dish and how we usually eat other casseroles, I thought this would be good enough for 6 adults but really this could feed 10 since I did it in the deeper Creuset instead of a standard 12x9 pan.

British-ish Fish Pie

2 cup Vegetable or Fish Stock
3 cup Milk
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Flour
(If you are using a standard 'Lasagna' baking dish that is about 2inches deep, you can half the first four ingredients above.  I used a large Creuset baking dish that is the same size as a standard Lasagna pan but twice as deep. MORE room for Mash and goodness.)

400ml Heavy Cream (35%) (I bought a 500 ml carton and the rest is for the Mash)

2 Medium Lobster tails, uncooked
300-400 g Salmon
300-400 g Smoked Haddock or any white fish (no herbed or candied)
8-10 large Shrimp

1 small Onion
7 cloves
8 Black Peppercorns
3 sprigs of Thyme
1 T of Pernod (optional)
2 stalks Celery, minced (1/2 cup)
1medium Carrot, minced (1/2 cup)
1 medium Shallot, minced (1/4 cup)
Nutmeg, fresh

1 packet of frozen Spinach (1 lb), defrosted and drained in a sieve
3 - 4 Eggs, medium boiled (5 minutes), peeled, cooled and halved.

8 Potatoes (mashing, i.e. Russet), peeled and cubed
(The best way to estimate is to take the baking dish you plan to use and lay out the potatoes until full in one layer.  That should do for the amount of Mash you'll need with a little extra.)
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup Cream
1- 1.5 tsp Salt
White Pepper to taste.
1/4 cup fresh chopped Parsley
Zest of 1 lemon.

You should start about 2-3 hours ahead minimum.  You can start 4-5 ahead if you want to take a pause.  You can make the Mash, Poach the fish and take a pause.

I don't like the taste of cooled off Mash so I don't start the Potatoes until an hour out.  But if you are trying to arrange the timing, the Potatoes need to boil covered in salted water in a large stock pot for at least half an hour until a fork goes easily through any piece.).  Drain the potatoes but leave in the pot.  Save some of the Potato water, about half a cup.  Throw in the Butter in chunks and the Cream and mash thoroughly with a Masher.  I try to mash until fluffy.  Season to taste with Salt and White Pepper. Add the potato water or more cream if they seem dry.  Set aside covered.

In a Braiser or large Pot, add the Milk and the Stock and bring to a simmer.   Pierce the Onion with the cloves and place in the braiser.  Leave the skin and shells on all fish and shellfish.  Place the Lobster, Smoked Haddock (remove the string) and the Salmon.  I place the Salmon on top and make sure the Lobster is in the liquid.  You may have to turn the lobster but it doesn't matter as the steam should cook it through.  Bring to a boil but immediately turn back down to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes until the shell is bright red.  Add the Shrimp for the last minute to just turn pink.  Turn off and set aside for at least half an hour.  Or right away if you want but the fish will be pretty hot to handle.

When the fish is cook enough to the touch, lift all the seafood out into a large bowl.  Strain the liquid and set aside.   Have a dish ready on the side to set the seafood you cut aside in 'groups'.  Remove the skin and the shells.  Cut all the fish into bite sized pieces.  I like it chunky so it doesn't end up tasting like tinned fish.  Take the leaves off another 3 sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over the fish and zest 1 lemon over top too. Set aside.

In the same braiser,  add the Butter on low heat.  Add the Celery, Carrot and the Shallot and sauté until slightly softened but not browned.  Sprinkle the flour over and mix constantly to prevent burning.  Lower the heat as needed.  You want to cook the flour through but you don't need to brown it like you're making a roux.  Just mix for about 5 minutes.  Grate some fresh Nutmeg over, like 1/4 tsp-1/2 tsp depending on if you're doing the bigger sauce recipe, 5-6 passes on a rasp per 1/4 tsp ish.  And add some White Pepper to taste.  The only reason not to use black pepper is not to speckle the dish.  It will look lumpy and oatmealy.  That's fine.  Add the reserved braising liquid gradually while stirring with a whisk.  Add the Cream.  You can turn the heat up to medium as you're doing this.  Let it BRIEFLY come to a bubble/boil and immediately turn down and take off the heat completely if your burner stays hot longer.  It will thicken the instant it bubbles.  Whisk briefly, fast then set aside to cool.  You can let this cool completely if you want and set aside covered if you want to assemble at the very end.

Preheat the Oven to 400F or convection to 375.

In the baking dish, spread out the drained Spinach on the bottom.  You don't have to be too fussy about it.  Just spread out loosely with your fingers.  You can use fresh Spinach that you wilt in a pan with some oil or water if you prefer.  Spread out the fish evenly over the Spinach so that each type of seafood is equally positioned throughout, particularly the Lobster :D.  I hope you remembered to peel and take the tails off the Shrimp.  Sprinkle Parsley over top.

Dollop the sauce over top covering most of it before you start spreading.  Actually, I tried to just drop instead of disturbing the fish layer.  Once it's covered you can gently spread with a rubber spatula.  Place the halved boiled Eggs evenly throughout.  I like to put the cut side down.

Dollop big scoops of the Mash on top in positions like in a muffin tin so you don't disturb the lower layers.  Keep doing that with a spoon until it's all covered.  then you can try to even out.  If you like your Potatoes crispy, you can run over the top with a large serving fork to make furrows.

Place a liner under neath in the oven or place the dish on a tray in the oven.  Place small pats of butter over the Potatoes if you want.  I did.

Place in the oven covered for 20 minutes and uncovered for 10.  If you're not baking in a convect oven, covered for 30, uncovered for 10.

Serve warm with wedges of Lemon.