Despite the fact that I have posted many a recipe for baking, I suck at baking. S-U-C-K. There’s just something about it… Maybe it’s the precision or patience required. Cooking just seems a lot simpler to me. Not as much measuring and things can be adjusted during the cooking process. It may not seem like I have a lot of trouble with baking, but, trust me, I do. Something always seems to go wrong. My most recent failure was with macarons.
Macarons have become somewhat of a phenomenon lately. Shops have been sprouting up all over the place selling the little French sweets. It was even “International Macaron Day” in Vancouver this past Tuesday. I don’t like to be a bandwagoner but I felt like it would be really cool if I were able to make macarons. Everyone seems to love them and they always seem to look really nice (especially if they are in a rainbow of colours).
I naively thought that if I simply followed a ‘tried and true’ macaron recipe online, my kitchen would be abounding with beautiful perfect macarons. Not the case. An accumulation of several mistakes along the way lead to shaggy, hollow macarons with gummy, sticky bottoms. Definitely a sad face moment. The bright side is that they seem to taste okay (according to some esteemed taste buds) and they look alright. It’s just that they aren’t “right”. After conducting extensive research into the art of macaron-making, I discovered that I messed up my meringue, over-mixed the batter and baked them at too high a temperature. Now that I know what I did wrong, hopefully I will be able to perfect them next time. And there will be a next time. Stay tuned for my next attempt!
Here is my edited recipe, which should work well if you follow the directions carefully:
French Macarons using Italian Meringue (adapted from Syrup and Tang):
- 100 g egg whites (aged at least 24 hours and brought to room temperature)
- 135 g almond meal/powder
- 135 g confectioner’s sugar
- 135 g granulated sugar
- 33 g water
Using ingredients by mass is the only way to get reliable results and the above masses are just to show the ratio. Everything should be based off the mass you measure for the egg whites. You may need a calculator for this. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can use these conversions, just don’t expect perfect results: 1 large egg white is 30-33 g, 1 cup almond meal is about 110 g, 1 cup confectioner’s sugar is about 115 g, 1 cup granulated sugar is 200 g, and 1 mL water is 1 g. Expect 25 macaron shells per 50 grams of egg whites.
1. Prepare baking sheets: Double-stack the baking sheets you’ll need (for even baking) and line with parchment paper.
2. Weigh egg whites and separate into two equal amounts (by mass).
3. Place granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan.
4. Process almond meal and icing sugar in a food processor until they are a uniform, fine powder (scrape down sides occasionally, if necessary). Sift into a large mixing bowl.
5. Heat sugar-water saucepan over low heat until simmering. Begin to measure temperature with a candy thermometer. Brush down sides of saucepan with water occasionally to prevent crystallization. The target temperature is 118°C.
6. Once the syrup temperature reaches about 100°C, start beating one portion of egg whites. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks. Timing is important; the egg whites should reach stiff peaks about the same time the syrup reaches 118°C.
7. While beating at low speed, add the syrup to the egg whites in a thin, steady stream on the sides of the mixing bowl. Then increase to high speed and beat until the meringue is just warm. It should be quite stiff and very shiny.
8. Pour the other portion of egg whites onto the almond meal-sugar mixture but don’t mix it in yet. You can add any colouring in at this point. Scoop the meringue onto the mixture. Fold the meringue in fairly quickly, until just combined. Make every stroke count, scraping the sides and bottom and pressing the batter against the bowl. You do not want to overmix! Many sources say that the consistency of the batter should be “like magma” (i.e. thick and flowing).
9. Anchor the parchment paper with daps of batter at each corner.
10. Scoop the batter into a piping bag fitted with a 1 cm circular nozzle. Pipe the batter evenly into 2-3 cm circles about 4 cm apart. Make sure you hold the piping bag vertically to ensure even and round shells. Tap the baking sheet firmly on the counter to remove any bumps or air bubbles.
13. Let unbaked shells dry for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 320°F.
14. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake the macarons for 12-18 min (it really depends on your oven) on the middle rack. They should cling slightly to the paper if they are done. I recommend erring on the side of over-baking, because you don’t want sticky macarons. The shells will eventually start to brown and then they are definitely done.
15. Allow to cool for a few minutes then transfer the shells to a cooling rack.
16. Once cool you can fill your macaron shells. The most common fillings are ganache, buttercream and jam. I decided to use lemon curd (recipe below). Allow to ‘mature’ for 1-3 days in the fridge if you want to eat them at their best.
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed (room temp.)
1. Whisk egg yolks and sugar together well for a minute, until a smooth, pale mixture is achieved.
2. Heat a saucepan with water until simmering. Add the lemon juice and zest to the egg-sugar mixture and whisk over the simmering water constantly until quite thick (about 7 minutes).
3. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter cubes. Refrigerate until needed.
We got an ice cream maker attachment for our KitchenAid mixer a while back, but have yet to put it to good use. We had some frozen raspberries so sorbet seemed like a good idea. I was looking up recipes to find the correct ratio of sugar and water to use when I stumbled upon something that piqued my interest. It was called invert sugar. It’s made from regular sugar and supposedly it could make desserts sweeter and have a smoother texture. I had never come across it before and, upon further investigation, I discovered that it is created by a very simple chemical reaction. Being a biochemist, I found it quite cool that I could easily understand what’s going on.
*For those of you who aren’t really into chemistry, you can just skip to the recipe below*
Sucrose, or table sugar, is a disaccharide (2 sugar units) composed of glucose and fructose. To produce invert sugar, you dissolve it in water and heat it with some sort of acid. In this case I used cream of tartar (tartaric acid), but you could also use lemon juice (citric acid). The acid (H+ in the diagram below) catalyzes the hydrolysis (‘break up’) of sucrose into its component sugars, glucose and fructose. The resulting syrup is known as invert sugar (glucose and fructose dissolved in water). Fructose is naturally sweeter than glucose and sucrose and the invert sugar also gives a smoother texture to desserts (smaller crystals).
Maybe that was too much explanation…oh well. I am definitely channeling my internal chemistry geek in this post. The science of cooking is some pretty cool stuff. I feel like the more I know about the science behind certain foods, the more interesting it is to eat them. Is it just me?
Anyways, I used invert sugar as the sweetening component of the sorbet and it definitely did result in a ‘creamier’ texture (due to freezing point depression for the chemists out there). It is still winter, but I feel that frozen desserts taste good all year round. Next I’m going to try making some gelato!
Here’s what you’re gonna need:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
- 4 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup water
- 1 recipe invert sugar (above)
- splash of lemon/lime juice
Here’s how to make it:
1. Heat small saucepan over medium heat and add sugar, water and cream of tartar. Allow sugar to dissolve and solution to reach a mild boil. Allow to boil at medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature (syrup can be stored at this point).
1. Heat water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and dissolve invert sugar syrup. Add raspberries. Cook for 15 minutes while maintaining a light boil.
2. Remove from heat. Purée mixture with a blender or immersion blender.
3. Strain mixture with a fine sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. Add lemon juice. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to completely cool.
4. Make sorbet according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Freeze for at least 4 hours to harden. Enjoy!
This dish is inspired by something I had during my trip to Europe in high school (can’t believe it’s almost been 4 years!). Short summary: we started off in Paris, took the train to the beautiful city of Nice, then went to Florence and ended in Rome. This food memory comes from Assisi (as in St. Francis of Assisi), where we stopped briefly on the way to Rome. It was actually very cold that day and, too everyone’s surprise, it started snowing when we got there! (Assisi is sort of at high elevation, though) Anyways, we walked around for a bit, looking at the churches and old buildings, taking pictures (admittedly it was kinda boring there) and then we decided to go to this cozy pasta ‘ristorante’ for some lunch. Looking at the menu, I saw GNOCCHI and I had to order it, fulfilling my need for authentic Italian food. I’ve loved gnocchi ever since I first tried it, there’s just something about it. I mean, what’s not to like?? **Boring educational annotation: Gnocchi is a sort of Italian ‘pasta dumpling’, popularly made with potato, flour and egg, though it has many varieties** My meal arrived and there were these massive balls (excuse my language) covered in tomato sauce and baked with cheese. The best part? They were stuffed with gooey, melty cheese! Definitely worth it.
So that is what I am trying to recreate with this recipe. I’ve actually made gnocchi several times before, so I took my dough recipe and just stuffed it with cheese! I decided to use mozzarella, but you can use any good melting cheese. I’ve even heard of stuffing gnocchi with softer cheeses, like goat cheese and ricotta. As well, any sort of tomato sauce works for this, but I decided to make an Arrabiata sauce. All’arrabbiata literally means ‘angry style’ and is given its name because it is made with red chili.
Here’s what you’re gonna need:
- 2 lbs. potatoes (russet works best)
- 2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Your choice of cheese, cut into half-inch cubes
- Some cheese for topping (grated is best)
- about 200 g pancetta, diced (may substitute with bacon)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced finely
- 1 cup of finely diced onion
- handful of basil, chopped finely
- can of strained/crushed tomatoes
- couple of good pinches of red chili flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
- salt and pepper to taste
Here’s how to make it:
1. Bake the potatoes in a 350°F oven for 1-1.5 hours (depending on size) until cooked all the way through. Baking (as opposed to boiling) helps keep the potato relatively dry and results in fluffier, better-textured gnocchi.
2. Allow the potatoes to cool. Peel off the skins and grate (or use a ricer if you are fortunate enough to have one of those) into a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the egg and mix well to incorporate (I like to use my hands at this point). Gradually mix in the flour to form the dough. Add the flour until the dough is no longer sticky.
4. Dump onto a floured surface and knead well for about 5 minutes (more or less, depending on how chewy you want your gnocchi).
5. Cut dough into 3 pieces (6 for normal gnocchi) and roll each into a log. Cut dough cross-wise and form pieces into roughly 1 to 1.5 inch balls.
6. Flatten each ball into a circle and place a piece of cheese in the centre. Pinch closed to seal the cheese in the gnocchi and roll back into a ball.
7. Cook the pancetta at medium-high heat in a medium saucepan to render most of the fat. Set aside the pancetta and remove most of the fat, leaving some in the pan to cook the other ingredients (add olive oil if you need it).
8. Add the basil and chili flakes and cook at medium-high for a minute or so. Add the garlic and onion and cook until the onion is translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add back the pancetta and add the strained/crushed tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for about 15 minutes.
Back to the gnocchi:
9. *Preheat oven to 375°F* Cook gnocchi in a large pot of salted boiling water until they begin to float (time depends on the size of the gnocchi). Strain gnocchi and mix with your sauce.
10. Transfer gnocchi and sauce into a casserole dish or something similar. Top with cheese at this point (I decided to top it with the same mozzarella I stuffed the gnocchi with, though I should have grated it). Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browning. Alternatively, you may place it under the broiler at the end of the baking to brown the top better. Serve and enjoy!
The gnocchi ended up tasting really good! Next time I’ll use less sauce and stuff more cheese into the gnocchi. Good stuff! I hope I can get into a consistent posting rhythm. No more neglect for you, food blog!
So I haven’t posted here in a while. Guess I lied when I said I would post more. But it’s a new year! I shall find time to write and cook at a consistent basis, especially since I have a day off from school on Thursdays. I love making food, but I just haven’t found the time or motivation recently. Since this year started, though, I have been cooking more and yesterday I made my first post-worthy recipe in a while. Cinnamon buns!
As with many baked goods, cinnamon buns do stink up the house nice and lovely. So you won’t hear anyone complaining when you make these. They don’t taste half bad either. I would actually say they fall into the DELICIOUS category. I’ve never been overly taken with cinnamon buns, but they always seemed like one of those things that if you made it yourself it would taste so much better than say Cinnabon. And that they did. Everything tastes better when you make it yourself!
This is a fairly simple recipe with all of the ingredients being very common and easily accessible. So no complaining that you don’t have the stuff to make this, ’cause everyone should! There is a fair bit of time spent waiting for the dough to rise, but it’s well worth the wait. My dough didn’t rise as much as I had expected it to, but the cinnamon buns ended up just fine once they started baking.
Here’s what you’re going to need (adapted from Bon Appetit):
For the dough:
- 1 cup milk (whole milk is preferred)
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (divided into 1 and 2 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
For the filling:
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
For the frosting:
- 4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
- splash of vanilla extract
- splash of lemon juice
Here’s how to make them:
1. Combine milk and butter in a microwave-safe vessel (such as a glass measuring cup) and microwave on high until milk is just warmed (120 to 130°F) and the butter is mostly melted. Transfer to the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
2. Add the 1 cup of flour, sugar, egg, yeast and salt. Mix on low for about 3 minutes. Add the 2 1/2 cups of flour and mix on low until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough is just slightly sticky and is pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (add more flour if too sticky). Form the dough into a ball.
4. Lightly oil large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm area until doubled in volume (about 2 hours).
5. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and butter together in a bowl until fully combined.
6. Punch down dough. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll out into an approximately 15 x 11-inch rectangle. Spread the butter-sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border.
7. Starting from one of the long sides, roll the dough into a log. Gently pinch while rolling to ensure a tight log is formed.
8. With the seam-side down, cut crosswise with a knife into 1/2-3/4 inch slices.
9. Grease a large square baking dish (you may need another if yours isn’t big enough). Arrange rolls on the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Let rise until almost doubled in volume (about 45 minutes).
10. Preheat oven to 375°F. Once risen, place buns on center rack and bake until the tops are golden (about 25 minutes). Remove from oven and invert onto a cooling rack. Once sufficiently cool, turn the buns right side up.
11. Combine cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a bowl. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Spread the frosting on the buns. Enjoy warm or at room temperature!
I need to keep these posts coming but I also need more ideas! I’ve always wanted to try having repeating segments, such as a cuisine of the month or an exotic fruit of the week. Probably need more time and resources and a larger audience for that…but I hope to be able to do that one day!
Oh I’m so punny……………..
ANYWAYS…for those of you who didn’t get the pun, challah is pronounced “Hollah” (with that gargly, back of the throat sound for the H). Moving on, this post is actually long overdue. I made challah a few weeks ago and I didn’t make any time to write about it. But now here’s my chance. As you can probably see from the picture, challah is bread. Jewish bread in fact. It is a special bread, meant only to be eaten during Sabbath and holidays, but, being not Jewish, I just made it cause it’s delicious and looks great. My main inspiration for making it actually came from my childhood. I already said I’m not Jewish, so that may not make any sense. And, truthfully, I didn’t actually eat any challah when I was little. It was the smell. Oh the smell. Heavenly seems appropriate. You see, my older brother went to preschool at a Jewish community centre and I would always go with my mom to pick him up. Every friday they would make challah. Every friday the sweet smell would encompass the entire classroom and hallway leading to it. My mouth waters thinking about it. I don’t remember even eating any. It’s amazing how such a strong memory can be created from only a smell. So there’s my inspiration. Believe me, the smell does not disappoint.
On to the recipe! This was actually my first time making bread and I got to try out the dough hook on our new mixer, which sure beats hand-kneading for half an hour. Here’s what you’re going to knead (hahaha I’m so funny……):
Six Braided Challah (adapted from Leite’s Culinaria):
- 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm (not hot) water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 egg + 1 tsp sugar for egg wash
Here’s how to make it:
1. Combine yeast and water on low speed with paddle attachment. Mix for a minute or until yeast is dissolved.
2. Add the sugar. Mix again to combine. Add about 1/2 a cup of the flour. Mix some more.
3. Add the eggs. Increase the speed slightly and incorporate well. Add 1 more cup of flour. Mix at medium-low speed, then add the oil and salt.
4. Switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining 4 cups of flour and work into the dough on medium speed. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides, if necessary.
5. Let the mixer knead the dough for 15 minutes, turning of the mixer every few minutes to let the motor rest (it may get quite hot). Add extra flour if the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl. After kneading, the dough should be firm, smooth and elastic.
6. Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, turning it to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise until tripled in volume (1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the weather).
7. Here comes the hard part: the braid. Punch down the dough, then place on a floured board and form it into a long flat loaf. Cut it into 6 equal pieces, and roll them each into a thick strand. The actual braiding process is quite difficult to explain in words, so watch this video instead. Just make sure that your braided dough is symmetrical once you’re done. Cover with a clean towel and let it rise another 30 minutes.
8. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
9. Make an egg wash by beating the egg and sugar together. Brush it onto the dough, making sure to get some in the cracks and crevices.
10. Place dough on a baking sheet and position it on the center rack of your oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If it is becoming too browned, place some foil on top of the bread. To test for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow. Allow to cool before enjoying!
I had a good time making challah and it turned out pretty good! This sweet bread can be eaten plain (my preference), with jam or even be made into some awesome French toast. And if you don’t want to do the braid, you could always do a simple 3-stranded braid (like for girly hair) or bake it in a loaf pan. Don’t worry, it took me three tries to get the braid right. Until next time, happy eating!
I should really post more….
It was lunchtime yesterday and I was faced with a fridge full of leftovers and nothing else to eat. I didn’t want to eat the same stuff over again, so I decided to make something out of it (well only out one thing). Microwaved leftovers just aren’t satisfying. We had a bunch of leftover salmon from two dinners ago and the first thing that popped into my head was salmon cakes (plus salmon dries out a lot when it’s microwaved). Something easy and quick to make. I made up a ‘recipe’ as I went along and ended up with some decent salmon cakes. Maybe I’ll come up with more leftovers recipes and post them here.
Here’s what you’re going to need:
- about half a side of salmon, skin removed (depending on the size)
- 2 spoonfuls of mayonnaise (approximately)
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp of dijon mustard
- about 1/2 cup of crushed crackers (saltine crackers are preferable but I didn’t have any)
- a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 clove of garlic
- juice of half a lemon
- salt and pepper
1. ‘Flake’ the salmon using a fork. Remove any bones that may have been hiding.
2. Add the mayonnaise and mustard. Mix until combined. Add the egg, crushed cracker bits, salt and pepper, then mix until just combined.
3. Form into cakes with your hands. Makes about 4 good-sized cakes.
4. Pan-fry in butter on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.
5. For the lemon aioli, cut the garlic clove in half and sprinkle the cut face with salt. Rub the garlic on the bottom of a bowl to release the juices. Discard the garlic. Add the mayonnaise and lemon juice and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Serve the salmon cakes on a plate and drizzle with the aioli. Enjoy!