Macaron Chronicles VII: And the saga continues

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Macaron Chocolate Amer

It’s funny how my macaron obsession has taken a life of its own. Little did I know that when I started my Macaron Chronicles, I would still be adding to this saga three years later.

Let me refresh your memory. Remember my flat-assed macarons – my first attempt making these little confections?

Then after a trip to San Francisco where I loved the taste of Miette’s macarons, I baked my first successful batch.

My real obsession took hold when I did different tests with Macaron Chronicles II. (This post, by the way, remains to be the most popular on this blog.)

Even when I had my bad days when the macaron Gods mocked me – like when I tried the Italian Meringue the first time and ended up with wrinkled marshmallows – I did not waver in my quest.

After I had met pastry God, Pierre Hermé, I continued to strive to understand his way of making macarons – Italian Meringue – with Macaron Chronicle V.

It wasn’t until I attended his class in Paris that I began to see the complex structure of the Italian meringue, almond and confectioner’s sugar – pretty much the same way Neo saw the Matrix and so this rematch ,which turned out really good.

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Chocolate macaron with Bitter Chocolate Ganache

I immediately hailed the success of this macaron recipe by tweeting that the shell tasted like a “crunchy chocolate souffle”. YUM!

I couldn’t count how many shells I had eaten even before filling the macarons. They were that good and infinitely addictive.

Without much further ado, I now present you, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron au chocolat Amer from his book: Macaron.
 

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What to do with cake wrecks

It’s interesting how camera phones can capture some of life’s greatest moments. Like when you drop a cake on the grate while taking it out of the oven.

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sunk cake

Okay, I may have underbaked it a little, but letting it slip from my fingers back into the depths of the oven did nothing for its survival.

Anyway, I was determined to make the best out of this episode and with nothing to lose, started experimenting with pastry cream to mix with the chocolate cake chunks. Plus, I had some fresh strawberries to throw into it. This is the end result.

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Chocolate chunks with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream…oh and strawberries :)

Needless to say it was delicious.

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decadence in a glass

No recipe here. This whole process is part of my experiment on getting big chocolate flavor from cakes made mainly from cocoa powder. This one is close, but I want to try it next time with natural cocoa rather than the dutched-process variety because the latter tend to lose most of its flavor from the removal of its acidity.

Ad hoc Brownies

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Thomas Keller makes brownies?

I love chocolate. Who doesn’t? My craving goes into overdrive in the colder weather but I am guessing I’m not the only one. I am, however, very picky with what type of chocolate dessert I put into my mouth. I am not a chocolate snob, I’ll have a Kit Kat as the next person, but if it is homemade might as well make the best, right? I’m not talking about plated desserts with intricate designs and complicated sauces. My chocolate incarnation of choice is much simpler than that. I’ve been hoodwinked before by this dessert called “Death by Chocolate” hyped as a seven layer extravaganza, well it was more like a seven-layer flop. No, I prefer my chocolate simpler but full-strength. I prefer it in brownie doses.
I believe Alice Medrich has the best brownie recipes and it’s hard to fathom even trying anyone else’s. Except, of course if that someone is Thomas Keller. He has come out with a new book, “Ad hoc at home” and it is full of interesting and accessible recipes for the serious food enthusiast. I haven’t read this book in-depth yet, but I am loving those light-bulb moments where he gives you cooking tips and techniques.

The taste of this brownie reminds me of the flavor of Keller’s bouchons. It is intensely chocolatey, but I still prefer my brownies with more chew which is what I get when I make Medrich’s version. The “Hungry” Hubby though, loves this brownie version and that is saying a lot since he is not a dessert person.

Sorry for the short post, but I think I’ve said enough about my love of brownies here and here.

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Yummy gooey chips

 

Brownies

Thomas Keller "Ad hoc at home"

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces ( about 1 1/2 cups)

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F. We use a 9-inch square silicone mold, because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a metal or glass baking pan, butter and flour it. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside
Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few more minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature.
Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the tops with powdered sugar just before serving. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
 

An Army of Chocolate Biscotti …

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At least that’s what Dorie calls the biscotti as you lay them out on the pan for their second baking. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Biscotti were not my favorite things to eat, that is until a good friend of mine, L, made some and they were nothing like the store bought or coffee shop ones that I have had. All I remember is her saying that most biscotti recipes don’t have enough eggs in it. Her biscotti were chunky and chock full of flavor but not too much to overpower the coffee that it was meant to be dunked in. We were going to get together for her to teach me that recipe but our schedules seemed out of sync lately; in the meantime the “hungry” hubby was pestering me to make them. Just earlier this week, Nick Malgieri was at our local Sur La Table to teach “Perfect Chocolate Desserts” and I was one of the lucky ones to register early and snag a seat in the class. He was so much fun and the class was lively. Unfortunately, some of his recipes were the low fat version and I could definitely taste the difference. He did teach a chocolate biscotti recipe and I was able to see how he made them which gave me the confidence to attempt it.

            I think the alignment of the stars could not have been more perfect for making biscotti. Just this week a couple of bloggers got together to make the biscotti from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to Yours”. Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas, Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice, Peabody from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, Lis from La Mia Cucina and Helene from Tartlette, all conspired to bake the biscotti and post on the same day of the week. How cool is that! And to top it off, Dorie’s book was one of my cookbook purchase last month so I do not have any excuse not to make it. The recipe below is what is directly from the book. The asterisk (*) on the eggs is what I have changed and can be referenced in the Cooking Notes section of this post.

2 cups all-purpose flour  (220g)

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (60g)

2 tbs     instant espresso powder (28.5g)

¾ tsp baking soda     (3.6g)

½ tsp baking powder (2.3g)

1 tsp salt (4.75g)

¾ stick unsalted butter (6 tbs) at room temperature   (85g)

1 cup sugar (225g)

* 2 large eggs, lightly beaten   

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (5ml)

1 cup chopped almonds, blanched or unblanched     (230g)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped   (113.5g)

Sugar for dusting

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

            Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes; the mixture may be crumbly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until a dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate, then turn the dough out onto a work surface and kneed in any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

            Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into 12-inch long logs. Flatten both logs with the palm of your hand, so that they are about ½  to 1 inch high, about 2 inches across and sort of rectangular, then carefully lift the logs onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle each log with a little sugar.

            Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are just slightly firm. The logs will spread and crack – and that’s just fine. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, put it on a cooling rack and cool the logs for about 10 minutes. (Leave the oven on).

            Working with one log at a time, using a long serrated knife, cut each log into slices between ½ and ¾ inch thick. Stand the slices up on the baking sheet – you will have an army of biscotti and bake the cookies again, this time for just 10 minutes.

            Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool.

COOKING NOTES:

            The only change I made to the recipe is using three eggs instead of the two it called for.  Also, I weighed the divided dough to make sure my logs are approximately the same size so they would cook evenly. From Nick Malgieri’s class I learned that letting the biscotti cool down enough will prevent crumbs when slicing it; also starting to cut from the middle of the log and cutting on the diagonal yields a better looking biscotti.  I think I will try and go with 4 eggs next time to see how far I can take it. I would also make the chunks of almonds bigger and use more of it. This biscotti turned out better than I ever imagined (“hungry” hubby nods in approval) and I’m sure it is the traditional way this cookie should look and taste but my friend L’s biscotti is still in the back of my mind and hopefully that is the next recipe for biscotti that I am going to try.

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Hail to the Queen

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One of the difficulties when you are taking pictures of food with an eager horde waiting to eat the preparation is that you are under pressure to take the picture and get it over with. So notice in the shot above, the torte was slightly imprinted with my brother-in-law’s fingerprint since we needed to put streaks of chocolate cream at the bottom of a plate and he just lifted it with his finger (he ate the same piece after the shoot). The shot looked good on the camera’s LCD display but upon looking at it on the computer I was aghast to see the imprint.

            Anyway, on about the Queen! I cannot seem to stop baking from Alice Medrich book, “Bittersweet”. Her recipes are easy and always unfailingly scrumptious. This recipe is actually called “The Queen of Sheba”. Whenever you need a prescription chocolate fix, this is it. It is extremely rich and definitely full strength chocolate. The almonds give it a nice texture and the brandy gives it a nice bite that cuts through the decadence of the chocolate to give it a more complex finish.

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The torte, unadorned, is delicious by itself. I did not get to try sifting some powdered sugar on it since everyone wanted their dessert pronto and they all wanted the whipped cream and raspberries. My one rant of the day was accidentally overcooking it a little in that I failed the skewer test in the center because it came out dry. The time between moist and gooey and completely dry with the toothpick test is a very thin line and it could be a matter of 2 minutes. So I was all out sorts all day thinking I will be serving a dry torte, but it turns out that this chocolate dessert is very forgiving and we still ended up with a very moist fudgy torte.

So as I say, Hail to the Queen!

6 ounces bittersweet 66% to 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped

10 tbsp. butter (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tbsp. brandy

1/8 tsp. pure almond extract

1/8 tsp. salt

½ cup unbalanced whole almonds

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Powdered sugar for dusting

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 °F. Unless you are planning to serve the cake on the pan bottom, line the cake pan with a circle of parchment paper.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in brandy, almond extract, if using, and salt. Set aside.

Meanwhile, pulse the nuts and flour in a food processor until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar until well blended. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Set aside.

In a clean dry bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat at high speed (or medium-high speed in a heavy duty mixer) until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Scoop one-quarter of the egg whites and all of the nut mixture on top of the chocolate batter, and, using a large rubber spatula, fold them in. Scrape the remaining egg whites onto the batter and fold together. Turn the batter in the prepared pan, spreading it level if necessary.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted about 1 ½ inches from the edge emerges almost clean but a toothpick inserted in the center is still moist and gooey. Set the pan on a rack to cool. (The cooled torte can be covered tightly with plastic wrap, or removed from the pan and wrapped well, and stored at room temperature up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

To serve, slide a slim knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, on the pan bottom, to a platter, or invert the cake onto a rack or tray, remove the paper liner, and invert onto a platter. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before serving if desired. Serve each slice with a little whipped cream.

My Test Kitchen Homework:

            I’ll admit that since I started baking I have never established a confident marker on beating egg whites to its various peak levels. I realized this when I was making the soufflé, I kept on asking myself if this was enough or should I beat it some more. I guess I’ve never really beaten an egg white till it was dry and ruined. So, like the roux I will make several sacrificial beaten egg whites so I can visually ascertain with confidence, what foamy, soft peaks, stiff peaks not dry and over beaten egg whites look like. A good reference of this actually is in “Baking Illustrated”. Also “Cookwise” by Shirley Corriher has an excellent topic for discerning the chemistry on beating egg whites.

A Soufflé pretending to be a Mousse

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I have had this fascination with soufflés ever since I’ve seen a superbly towering one at a French restaurant whose name I will not mention here since they have changed owners and the great French chef-proprietor has since retired. I have examined recipes from different books and tested them but my soufflés would only come up ½ an inch.  I’ve also had soufflés at other esteemed restaurants and even theirs would come up only an inch at the most. When I think of that first fateful soufflé, I begin to think more and more that it was an aberration in my memory and it did not come up four inches as I thought it did. In my research, I’ve read beating egg whites in a copper bowl would do wonders for it since the egg whites reacts with the copper in a way that will give this prestigious dessert of every fine dining restaurant, heights that one could only imagine. One question that stopped me from buying that copper bowl is this; could I still prepare it ahead of time so when dessert time comes during a hosted dinner party I would not be like a crazed woman ignoring my guests just to make the soufflé? I am awfully slow in the kitchen so I know I am going to mess things up. I wanted to make something that I could just pop into the oven, set the timer and continue to mingle with my guests until I hear that timer go off.

            So, I’ve decided to let go of the myth of the towering 4 inch soufflé for now and experiment with a recipe that I’ve come across in Alice Medrich’s book “Bittersweet” (notice how this has become my favorite chocolate book) . In this book it was called “Intensely Bittersweet Soufflé” and indeed it was. This dessert you can make a day ahead and even refrigerate. The beauty of this is, you can take it straight from refrigerator to oven and just add a minute or two to the cooking time. It looks like a mousse more than a soufflé and it will not rise that much at all, but what it lacks in height it makes up in an astonishingly decadent taste. Again, the chocolate takes center stage here so pick the best chocolate that you can get that is 70% or so.

          Soufflé:

            About 2 tablespoons sugar for the ramekins

            8 ounces 70 % bittersweet chocolate finely chopped

            1 Tbs. unsalted butter

            1/3 cup of milk

            3 large eggs, separated at room temperature

            1 egg white , at room temperature

            1/3 cup sugar

            1/8 tsp cream of tartar

          If you are baking the soufflés right away, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 °F. Butter the ramekins and sprinkle with sugar.

            Place the chocolate, butter, and milk in a large heatproof bowl in a large skillet of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the water bath and whisk in the egg yolks. (Don’t worry if the mixture stiffens slightly or is less than perfectly smooth at this point.) Set aside.

            In a medium, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff but not dry. Fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it ,then fold in the remaining egg whites.

            Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins, filling each three-quarters full. (The soufflés can be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days.  Bake directly from the refrigerator.)

Place the soufflés on a cookie sheet. Bake until they rise and crack on top and a wooden skewer plunged into the center emerges very moist and gooey (but the centers should not be completely liquid), 14 to 16 minutes, perhaps a minute or so longer if the soufflés have been refrigerated.

            If you wish to use a topping (see cocoa bean cream below), although the soufflés are perfect on their own, you can prepare it at this point.

            When they are done, remove the soufflés from the oven, and serve immediately with a little powdered sugar sifted over the top, if you like. Pass the whipped topping separately.

           Cocoa Bean Cream

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You can choose to add any sweetened whipped cream. But I decided to go with this elegant and subtle alteration to your regular cream.

            1 cup of cream

            2 Tbs. cocoa nibs chopped into smaller bites

            Sugar to taste

            Bring cream and nibs to a boil. Off the heat and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain the cream into a bowl, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the nibs. Chill the cream for at least 6 hours ; it must be thoroughly cold so it can be whipped properly.

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