Monday, September 15, 2008


I've been making jam for the last two days, and then this afternoon I pulled down all the jars that were up on the top shelf of the pantry. I'd neglected to label some of the jars from the last round of canning, so I figured I'd better get it all done before I forget what's in all those jars. I though there was about half a dozen jars in the front of the shelf, and empty jars waiting to be re-used in the back. I was mistaken. Jam all the way back. Goddamn, we have a lot of jam. And I still have to do do something with the two pounds of raspberries, 6 green bell peppers and a dozen jalapenos in the fridge.

From misc

Back left: Blackberry Lavender - 6 jars
Back center: Peach Pepper - 8 jars
Back right: Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade - 8 jars
Left front: Triple Berry jam with blackberries, blueberries and raspberries - 4 jars
Right front top: Raspberry Jalapeno (really hot - it was going to be plain jalapeno, but it was so hot I couldn't stand to eat it, so I added raspberries and reprocessed. It's still really damn hot). - 3 jars
Right front bottom: Jalapeno jelly (not crazy stupid hot) - 4 jars

There will soon be even more jalapeno jelly and something with raspberries. I have no idea where we'll store it all, much less how we'll ever manage to eat it all. Anyone local want some jam?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cardamom and Rosewater Buttercream Macarons

In spite of my love of all things culinary, I somehow managed to get through my first thirty years or so of life without ever hearing of French macarons. I have never been to France, and certainly not to Laudree. So of course, culinary snob that I am, I had to learn to make them. I take it as a personal affront if someone else knows how to make something better than I do. I realize this makes me just a tiny bit insane. I am quite proud to say that the pictures in this post are of my very first attempt.

Also, more than a tiny bit insane since I decided that I should blanch, peel, and grind 150 g of whole almonds, even though I had a perfectly lovely bag of Trader Joe's Almond Meal sitting right there in my kitchen. I'm not entirely sure why, except that I'd never done it before, and I'd had some whole almonds in my freezer for a while.

After hours of searching online for recipes and techniques, I was determined to come up with a flavor combination that hadn't already been done to death, so I decided on cardamom with rosewater buttercream filling.

The recipe:
3 egg whites (should be around 100 g)
50 grams granulated sugar
200 grams confectioners sugar
110 grams blanched, ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Your egg whites need to be aged, so the night before, separate your whites and leave them sitting out. Aging for a full 24 hours would probably be even better, but I didn't plan that far ahead.

First, whip your egg whites to a glossy, stiff meringue, adding sugar slowly after the whites have turned foamy.

In a food processor, pulse the ground almonds and cardamom with the confectioners sugar until the almond meal is very fine and everything is evenly incorporated with no lumps of almond or sugar.

Next, add the almond mixture to the meringue and begin to stir it in. Since you whipped your meringue into nice, stiff peaks earlier, you've given yourself some extra wiggle room and you can start out stirring rather vigorously to get all the dry ingredients incorporated into the eggs. Once the meringue has begun to deflate, begin folding more gently. Making proper macarons with that lovely little ruffle is all about technique. Not enough folding, and you won't get the nice, smooth top. Too much and you'd just wind up with thin little puddles of batter. You're looking for your batter to fall from a spoon in a thick ribbon, and for the top to flatten on its own when you drop a bit onto a plate. Once you get there, transfer the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large, round tip and pipe onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.

I'm afraid mine got one or two extra turns, and flattened a bit more than I would have liked. I was a bit afraid of it being too thick and not smoothing out, and I wound up a tad too far to the other side. I suspect that's why they turned out more flat that domed. None of the recipes I read could seem to agree on whether you can just pop them directly in the oven or let them sit out to form a skin first. I let mine sit for two hours. Either way, 300 F for 10-12 minutes.

I got the ruffle on the first try! I was so proud.
Here's what they look like when they come out of the oven if you've done it right (or right enough):

Let them cool completely before you fill them. There are any number of things that will make a lovely filling. In this case, rosewater buttercream.

1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup butter
2-2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon rosewater
1/4 cup heavy cream

Cream butter and shortening until blended and fluffy. Beat in sugar, then add salt and rosewater. Beat in heavy cream in increments until you get the proper consistency.

After the buttercream is ready, all that's left is matching up shells of the same size and making little sandwiches.

Definitely something to go into the regular rotation. This batch went to an Independence Day barbeque, and they were gone before the steaks came off the grill. I've already got a dozen ideas for flavor combinations and improvements.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Strawberry Marshmallows

One of the quirks of my love of cooking is my absolute obsession with learning to make things from scratch that most of the people I know don't even realize can be made in a tiny apartment kitchen. I started canning fruit jam while living in an apartment with literally 18 square inches of usable counter space. I make hand-dipped truffles that rival (in taste, though I'm still working on appearance) the candies you'd pay obscene amounts of money for in a boutique chocolate shop. If something is supposed to be far too much trouble or too difficult to make at home, then I want to make it.

My latest obsession? Marshmallows.

That's right. Homemade marshmallows. Light, fluffy, wonderful marshmallows. Marshmallows so good you'll wonder why you ever ate those boring, flavorless lumps of stale fluff from the grocery store.

They're nowhere near as difficult as you think. As a matter of fact, with a few tools, a decent stand mixer, and a little patience; you could whip up a batch in the afternoon and have fresh marshmallows after dinner.

The flavor possibilities are nearly endless. My first batch was simple vanilla. Vanilla doesn't get nearly the credit it deserves. I've already promised my darling wife mango and peach marshmallows for my next two batches. This time, however, I'm going with strawberry.

The ingredients are rather simple.

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 C strawberry puree
1 1/4 C water
3 C sugar
1 1/4 C light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp orange blossom water
1/2 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 C cornstarch

For marshmallows, frozen strawberries actually work better than fresh. I've got a big bag of frozen, whole strawberries in the freezer for smoothies. Because they've been frozen and thus had some of their cell walls punctured by ice crystals, they puree much more quickly and evenly than fresh fruit would. Also, it's January and I'm in Oregon. Fresh strawberries are hard to get, and not very good even if you do manage it.

First, get your hardware ready. Theoretically, it's possible to make marshmallows with an old-style mixer with two beaters (I don't recommend it. If you try it, you'll likely have to double your beating time), but a single whisk attachment will do a much better job. A Kitchenaid would be best, but I don't have one. I have a Hamilton Beach Eclectrics mixer, which I adore.

She's a little beat up from years of hard use, but she's never let me down. All the power of a Kitchenaid Classic for half the price. One day I'll upgrade to a Kitchenaid Pro and pass her along to someone who can appreciate her. Until then, she's my little workhorse.

See the splatter guard and pour shield on the bowl? You want one of those on your mixer for this recipe. Trust me.

This is also a good time to prep your pans. Line a half-sheet pan with tin foil, and give it a light coating of oil or non-stick spray. Then mix together the confectioner's sugar and cornstarch and sift an even coating over the bottom and sides of your pan. I find that metal pans do best with the foil lining, but glass pans don't need it at all. I wound up putting the last bit that wouldn't fit in my half sheet pan in a hastily prepared (spray and powder, but no foil) 8x8 Pyrex cake pan, and the slab came out beautifully with nothing more than a slight tug to loosen one side.

Next, it's time to puree the strawberries. I used a mini food processor, and it's much easier to get them nice and smooth if you puree the berries with 1/2 cup of the water and the orange blossom water. The orange blossom water is optional, and your marshmallows will turn out just fine without it, though it's not hard to find if you live in a city large enough to have a middle eastern market. If you can get it, the slight floral note on top of the berries adds quite a bit to the flavor.

In the mixer bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the liquids and gently mix. Let the gelatin bloom while you make the sugar syrup.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, the remaining 3/4 cup of water, and the salt. My kitchen is short on saucepans that are large enough for this, so I used a dutch oven. You don't need a pot quite this large, but a little too big is far better than a little too small. The sugar will expand quite a bit while it's boiling, and the last thing you want is sugar napalm all over your feet because your pan was too small and boiled over.

Bring the sugar mixture to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, clip on a candy thermometer. The sugar needs to reach the soft ball stage (237 F). As soon as it gets there, get the sugar off the heat.

By this time, your gelatin should be finished blooming. If you pick up your mixer bowl and swirl it around, the gelatin won't move. At all. In fact, to demonstrate this fact, I held the bowl up perpendicular to the floor to take a picture.

With your pour shield in place, turn your mixer on the lowest speed and slowly pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Once the sugar syrup is all incorporated into the gelatin, crank the speed up to high, and let it go. You're going to be mixing on high speed for around 10 minutes.

Please, for the love of all that's holy, use your splatter guard!

After a few minutes, you'll see that the color is quite a bit lighter, and it's starting to thicken. You're not done mixing yet.

At around 9 minutes (give or take), you'll need to start watching pretty closely. There's not much danger in over beating the marshmallow fluff, there is a danger of burning out your mixer's motor or making a very large mess. My girl was generating some heat by the end, and the bowl was about ready to overflow. The fluff will continue to expand as you continue to whip it. Eventually, it would reach the limit of the amount of air it could incorporate, but my mixer bowl isn't anywhere near large enough to take it to that point. More whipping means softer, fluffier marshmallows. If you get too much air in the fluff, you'll lose some of that nice, pillowy marshmallow texture.

When you're all done whipping your fluff, it will look something like this:

Oiling a spatula will make the pouring and spreading easier. Pour the fluff into your prepared pan(s) and spread it out as smoothly as possible. Then, sift a layer of your sugar/cornstarch mixture over the top.

Let the marshmallows cool and set for at least ten hours. A few extra hours certainly won't hurt them. I left these until the next evening.

When you're ready to cut, figure out where you're going to put the cut marshmallows, and get your sugar/cornstarch mixture ready. I like to use a big plastic mixing bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Cover the bottom of the bowl with your cornstarch mixture, and just toss the marshmallows in the bowl as you cut. When you get enough in the bowl that they start to stick together, put the lid on and give it a shake. Sift on more of the cornstarch mixture as needed.

Turn your marshmallow slab out onto a safe cutting surface and dust with a bit more of the cornstarch mix if there are any sticky spots.

Cut into small squares with a pizza wheel or whatever works best for you. If your pizza wheel is too small to go all the way through the slab, a bench scraper works well, too.

Once the marshmallows are all cut and coated in the the sugar/cornstarch, shake off the excess powder and store in an airtight container. They also freeze very well.

Of course you can serve these with hot chocolate, but I like mine with a nice shot of espresso.

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