Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Joys of Baking

It's 6 days until Christmas Day.  I have made, to date, over 500 truffles and molded chocolates and over 5 pounds of English Toffee.  Almost all my deliveries are done and I can now do some Christmas baking for myself.  I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my kitchen activities so will only make one or two kinds of cookies, maybe a cake - but this year, I'm addicted to the cute little French Macaron.  It's not like the North American Macaroon at all.  It's a cute little sandwich cookie made with heaps of sugar, egg whites and ground almonds.  Then it's filled with all sorts of amazing flavours.  This weekend I'm making dulce de leche, pistacho, black sesame, rose water and I hope to have time for passion fruit.  The flavours are endless and I wish I could just make hundreds of different flavours and share them all!

Even though I sell stuff, chocolates, candies, cakes, deep down I wish I could just give it all away, share my passion with others, alas, the ingredients cost money so I share when I can.  Even though I charge for my product I don't make a lot of money, never a profit, my joy is seeing people's happiness when they taste something they have never heard of, taste something new and exotic.  There are very few new flavours I get to enjoy and when I do taste something new, I'm hooked.  Last year I got the opportunity to spend 7 months in Chocolate School and the 3 flavours I will never forget tasting for the first time are Green Tea Ganache, Cardamom and Saffron Ganache and Rose water buttercream!  My fellow classmates wondered why I went on and on about new flavours and my Chef Instructor explained that a lot of chefs don't often have an opportunity to taste new flavours and it's an event.

That's the beauty of pastry for me, new flavours.  I'm a newbie in the pastry world, just 3 years in and still finding new flavour profiles, new ingredients and mixing some flavours with others I never would have thought of. 

But I digress...back to home baking.  Most of us can remember baking alongside their moms or grandmas.  I remember doing both.  My mom liked to keep things clean and tidy, mostly I watched and stuck a little kid finger in the cookie batter when she turned her back (always afraid of the eyes watching me from the back of her head).  My grandma, she let us taste her icing by the spoonful, used to spray whipcream from the can right into our mouths, letting us get flour where ever we wanted, after all "that's what a vacuum cleaner was for!", she would say.

Ever since I was little I loved to bake: chocolate chip cookies mostly, the odd chocolate cake.  Now, although I love the fancy stuff, frangipan, tortes, Bavarians, mont blancs etc., what I love most are the shortbread cookies, the hand rolled truffles, gingerbread and cakes filled with gobs of french buttercream.  That's my comfort food.  And I like to get messy, that flour on my nose, the gob of cake batter down my shirt, the chocolate under my fingernails, the cookie dough stuck on the bottom of my sock.  We can always clean it up later, after sharing all that goodness with our family, friends, neighbours and co-workers.

So here's my French Macaron recipe, it may take a few tries to get it right and to figure out your oven temperatures but once you have the technique down, it's really a lot of fun!

Vanilla Macarons - Yield 80 Twoonie sized cookies or 40 sandwich cookies

300 g     Icing sugar
225 g     Ground Almonds
150 g     Fresh egg whites (4-5 egg whites)
150 g     Sugar
5 ml      Vanilla 
Choice of food colouring

Preheat oven 310 F.
Sift together icing sugar and almonds.
Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites to a stiff peak.
Gradually add sugar.  Whites will become shiny.
Manually fold almond and icing sugar mixture into egg whites.
Add colour.
The most important part:  Work filling with a spatula until the mixture doesn't hold a peak any longer, it should spread very slowly.
Pipe twooney sized rounds onto lined tray and let air dry for 10-20 minutes.
Bake 10-14 minutes (will vary a lot depending on your oven).

Fillings are endless, here's my buttercream recipe that you can flavour with fruit, rose water etc.  You can also use flavoured ganaches like tea, sesame etc. and please colour your macarons to reflect your flavour - makes life more colourful!

Easy Buttercream

450 g    Icing Sugar
680 g    Butter
95 g     Pasturized Egg Whites
15 ml    Vanilla

Using a mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy.
Gradually add the egg whites, whip for another 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
Can add lemon zest, lemon juice or passion fruit compound etc. as required.

I will post more pictures of my macrons later today! 

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