Maple Macarons

Nothing was more exciting to me than the day that I realized I could make these exquisite little beauties in my own kitchen. I mean, why wouldn’t I when a single macaron is like $4 otherwise…it’s ROBBERY I tell you. The wonderful thing about macarons is that basically any flavor combination you can think of- it works! Peanut Butter and Jelly? Heck yeah! Toasted marshmallow? SO good. Or literally any fruit- my favorites tend to be raspberry and passion fruit.

A word of caution, the first time I made macarons, it did NOT go well. Not having any reference to measure my success, I didn’t know what the consistency of the batter should be, how much they would spread, etc. BUT, the more I made them, the easier it became, and now I’m here to make sure you don’t have the same troubles that I did. The key is actually piping out your meringue circles, and then letting them sit for at least 20 minutes until they form a “skin” of sorts on the outside, which allows them to bake properly.

Today’s batch of macarons were filled with maple buttercream; now I know ~technically~ the season for maple treats is over, but is it ever really over? I certainly don’t think so. This filling is rich and buttery, the cookies are crisp on the outside and chewy inside, and together, it’s like eating a stack of pancakes in a single cookie, so really, this is me giving you permission to have cookies for breakfast. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

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Makes: around 2 dozen macarons
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 10-12 minutes
Total: 50 minutes to 1 hour

Ingredients:

Macarons:
2¾ cups ground almonds
2 cups powdered sugar
6 egg whites (+ 1 extra egg white)
1 cup granulated sugar

Maple Buttercream:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Steps:

1. Sift together the ground almonds and powdered sugar, making sure there are no lumps.

2. Clean a mixing bowl, making sure there is no trace of grease (a greasy bowl will keep your egg whites from whipping), and beat egg whites until they’re frothy, about 2 minutes. Add in a third of the granulated sugar, and beat until the sugar is dissolved. Repeat until all the sugar has been added, and continue to mix until soft peaks form.

3. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the sifted flour and powdered sugar into the meringue until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture isn’t thin enough, beat the extra egg white until frothy and add sparingly until the desired consistency is achieved. It should be thick enough that a piped circle retains its shape, but thin enough that you can smooth out the top.

4. Pipe the macarons into 2-inch circles with about an inch in between them on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Tap the sheets on the counter several times to pop any air bubbles, and then let the cookies sit on the counter for 20 minutes, or until you can touch the tops and the batter stays put. Preheat your oven to 325ºF while the cookies are sitting.

5. Bake the macarons for 15 minutes, until a crust forms. Allow the cookies to mostly cool on the sheets, and then peel away from the parchment paper gently. *If you pull away a cookie and the bottom remains stuck to the paper, it means they haven’t dried out enough, try putting them back in the oven for a minute and then pull away when they have cooled again.*

6. To make the frosting, cream the softened butter and sugar together until smooth, then add in maple syrup, vanilla, and salt, beating until the frosting is thick and spreadable.

7. Match up the cookies so that they are paired with a cookie of the same size. Pipe a small amount of frosting onto one cookie, then sandwich with the second cookie.

Enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee, preferably on a fancy plate because you deserve it! xoxoxD

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Forget-About-Cinnamon-Rolls Cinnamon-Cardamom Buns

Okay I’ll be the first person to profess my love for cinnamon rolls. Homemade or from the Pillsbury tube, they’re like a warm hug and a fuzzy blanket on a snowy day- but in food form. That makes sense sort of, right? Cool. Back to my point, I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Bake-Off and was inspired by Bread Week to make these beautiful Swedish buns flavored with cinnamon and cardamom. I never thought I’d see the day where something would replace my cinnamon rolls, but these soft, knotted buns have definitely earned a spot in my snow day baking lineup. As a side note, who knew that it would be SO hard to find cardamom at a normal grocery store, is it just me? I spent at least an hour and a half at two different grocery stores and found not a trace, only to return home and find two full jars hidden in the back of my spice cabinet. I think the universe wanted me to try these too.

Bread dough is something that has continuously mystified me. I made it a New Years Resolution of mine to try more bread recipes because I will NOT let it get the best of me, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. As I understand it, there are several ways to start your bread dough, and I was originally nervous that the recipe I was following didn’t require you to bloom the yeast at all first, but it turned out just beautifully without that step so don’t be worried!

If you’re looking to shake up your routine without straying too far from the classic cinnamon roll, the flavor of cardamom is truly under-appreciated, and brings a wonderfully spicy-sweetness to these rolls that will instantly make them a cold-weather classic.

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Adapted from Food52’s Classic Swedish Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns.

Makes: around 18 buns
Prep Time: 1 hr.
Inactive Time: ~2hrs.
Total: about 4 hrs.

Ingredients:

For dough:
1 tbs cardamom
1 cup milk
135 grams (about ½ cup) superfine sugar
1 packet fast-action dried yeast
150 grams unsalted butter, softened (about 1½ sticks)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg
660 to 720 grams bread flour (roughly 2¾ to 3 cups)

For filling:
200 grams unsalted butter, softened (or 2 sticks)
90 grams superfine sugar (a little more than a quarter cup)

Beaten egg, for brushing
1 tbs honey + 1 tbs corn syrup, for brushing
Superfine sugar, for sprinking
Ground cardamom, for sprinkling

Steps:

1. Add milk and cardamom to a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Heat until it reaches around 115ºF. Make sure not to overheat, if the milk is too hot it could kill the yeast and your dough won’t rise!

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugar, yeast, salt, butter, and egg. Add the cardamom-infused milk and stir briefly, then add in most of the flour- this is by judgment really, but less is always more! Remember, you can always add more flour if the dough is too sticky, but you can’t take it out!

3. To knead, either attach the dough hook to your stand mixer and let mix for about 5 minutes, or turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand until its soft and smooth.

4. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place, until doubled in size. Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon, sugar and butter to make a smooth paste for your filling.

5. Once the dough has sufficiently risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Roll the dough into a wide rectangle (measuring off my Silpat, mine was around 9″ x 13″, but don’t stretch too thin), and spread half of your filling over the entire area.

6. Fold the dough in thirds long-ways (or “hot-dog style” like in elementary school) like you would fold a letter, taking the top third down to the middle, and then fold the bottom long side over the top. It should now be a third of the width, but the same length.

7. Cut the dough into 2 inch wide strips (you can estimate this part), and then cut every strip down the middle but not all the way, so that each strip looks like a pair of pants. Also if that’s not the cutest line in a recipe I don’t know WHAT is.

8. Take the cut strips and tie them into a rough knotted shape, feel free to experiment, their perfection lies in their imperfection. Place the knotted buns onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rise again, until doubled in size (around 40 minutes or so).

9. Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Brush each bun with beaten egg. Bake for around 10 minutes or until golden brown. The key is to underbake them just slightly so that they remain soft.

10. Brush the still warm buns with the glaze of honey and corn syrup mixed with a little water (unless you can find golden syrup, in which case, use that!), and sprinkle with sugar + cardamom. Best eaten warm!

xoxoD

 

Tea Time Madeleines

Anyone who knows me at all knows that tea time is the most important time of day. Also, tea time usually happens around once every hour, I really LOVE tea. The thing is, it doesn’t really feel like tea time unless its accompanied by a sweet treat, so I always try to have something in the cookie jar. Enter these lil guys. Madeleines are a sweet french baked treat that’s half cookie-half cake, and can be flavored to your hearts desire, (plus they bake in 8-10 minutes, so it’s a win-win). They are traditionally baked in a special madeleine pan, which is delicately scalloped and makes each one look like a golden brown seashell. This recipe borrowed from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect base recipe to which you can add citrus, extracts, chocolate chips, dips, and what have you, but I have found that its light, vanilla flavor is well complimented by some lemon zest or almond extract. Also I apologize for the lack of photographic evidence here, its virtually impossible to take things out of the oven without my family descending and eating everything while it’s still piping hot, but you get the idea. Anyway, here goes!

Makes: around 12 Madeleines
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Time: 3 hours
Total: 3.5 hours

Ingredients:

¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp double-acting baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon (if desired)
1 tsp almond extract (if desired)
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Steps:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer and large mixing bowl), beat together the eggs and sugar until they lighten to a pale yellow and thicken, it should take between 2 and 4 minutes.

2. Beat in vanilla extract, and at this point you can add some flavoring, I used the grated zest of one lemon in one batch, and 1 teaspoon of almond extract (in addition to the vanilla) in my second batch.

3. Sift the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture, and gently fold together using a rubber spatula, then add the melted butter and mix until smooth.

4. Cover the batter and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours (or overnight).

5. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and butter and flour your madeleine pans. Divide the batter into your pans, filling each cup almost to the top, but not all the way full or they will bake over the sides (a lesson I learned the hard way).

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and spring back into shape when poked. Turn them out onto a cooling rack, and they can be eaten warm or at room temperature, preferably with a steaming cup of tea!

Enjoy!! xoxoD

Classic Cream Puffs

On this week’s episode of “My Adventures with Pâte à Choux”,  I conquered an old childhood favorite. I have vivid memories of Friday night pizza dinners where my dad, who drove to New Jersey every day for work, would bring home pizza from the special pizza place with the triangle windows, and a box of cream puffs for dessert. While I was perusing the unofficial baking bible, Erin McDowell’s The Fearless Baker, I came across this recipe and the memories flooded back, and suddenly eating a dozen cream puffs single-handedly was all I could think about. These can be done in so many ways, changing the glaze on top and the filling inside are definitely encouraged (TFB ones are topped with a beautiful berry glaze), but for today I went with a classic vanilla cream filling and a chocolate top.

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This recipe is broken down into a few parts, the pastry, the filling, and the glaze. Pâte à Choux, a light french pastry dough, can be a little tricky, so I would recommend reading the directions all the way through (something I’m notoriously guilty of not doing), and set out all your ingredients in the correct forms, since once it gets going, there isn’t much downtime. These puffs are filled with vanilla diplomat cream, which sounds fancy, because it IS. But it’s also really just a mix of pastry cream and whipped cream together and wow is it good. At several times during the process I found myself standing over the bowl of it, “taste-testing” by the spoonful, we all know how that goes, right? ANYWAY, without further ado, happy baking!

Pastry Dough

½ cup water
½ cup milk
4 tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1½ cups bread flour
5 large eggs, beaten (plus 1 or 2 extra if needed)
1 large egg, beaten + 1 tbs water (for egg wash)

Steps:

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, add water, milk, butter, and salt, and bring to a boil on medium-low heat. Add flour all at once, and immediately begin to stir. Reduce heat to low and stir constantly, until the mixture becomes sticky and forms a ball when moved around with the spoon. There should be a film of starch on the bottom of the pan.

2. Transfer this mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or to a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Mix briefly on low so that the mixture is slightly cooled before you add in the eggs.

3. Drizzle in beaten eggs in a steady stream with the mixer on medium, and mix until it is fully incorporated into the batter. It should be about 5 minutes.

4. To test the consistency of the batter, dip the paddle (or whisk) into the batter, and lift. The batter should form a V shape that slowly separates from the batter remaining in the bowl. If this doesn’t happen or it breaks away too quickly, it means that the dough is too stiff, in which case, repeat step 3 with another beaten egg and test again. Add a final egg if necessary to reach the right consistency. At this point, add the batter to a piping bag or ziploc bag, fitted with a large circular tip or cut to about a ¾ inch opening.

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5. Pipe small circular mounds of batter onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, like above. If the tops are too pointy, dip your finger in water and gently flatten the tops so that they bake evenly. Let the piped puffs rest for 20 to 30 minutes until the batter forms a “skin” on the outside.

6. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and position your oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Brush each puff with the egg wash and bake until they are golden brown and crisp, about 24-26 minutes. If you’re unsure of their done-ness, tap the puff with your fingertip, it should sound hollow. Allow them to cool completely.

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Sometimes the puffs will bake into some funky shapes, but I promise they will taste just as great.

Diplomat Cream:

3 cups whole milk
¼ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Steps:

1. Combine milk, salt, and ¼ cup sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them, along with the pod, to the milk mixture. If you’re using vanilla extract instead, do NOT add now because it will just boil off. Save the extract for the end, don’t worry, I’ll remind you!

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This was my first time EVER baking with real vanilla beans, look how professional the little specks look!!

2. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ½ cup sugar and the cornstarch in a medium bowl and set aside. When the milk has reached a simmer, remove the vanilla bean pod and turn the heat down to medium-low.

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One of the yolks broke but lets pretend it didn’t, they look so perfect otherwise!

3. Whisk the egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture, and then carefully (and slowly!!) drizzle in one third of the hot milk mixture, whisking the whole time to keep the eggs from scrambling. This process is called tempering, and it helps raise the overall temperature of the egg mixture so that it doesn’t immediately cook when added to the hot milk.

4. Add this tempered mixture back to the rest of the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula and making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot as you go. Cook this mixture for three to four minutes, until it becomes very thick. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract if you’re using it.

5. Push this mixture through a sieve (just in case there are lumps or accidental pieces of egg) into a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap by pressing it directly to the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until completely cooled.

6. Right before filling the cream puffs, fold in the whipped cream to the chilled pastry cream gently until combined.

7. To fill the cream puffs, you can go one of two ways: 1) slice each puff completely in half and fill the bottom half of each puff with cream before replacing the top, OR 2) using a pairing knife, cut an x into the bottom of each puff. Using a piping bag, fill each puff from the bottom until they feel full- I like to overstuff mine but it’s totally your preference.

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One of these guys didn’t get the memo about the picture.

Chocolate Glaze:

4 ounces bittersweet (or dark) chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
Drizzle of light corn syrup (optional)

Steps:

1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a separate pot.

2. Once boiled, add the heavy cream to the chocolate and let stand for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. If you want the glaze to stay shinier, add a drizzle of light corn syrup and whisk until smooth.

3. If you cut your cream puffs in half, spoon the chocolate glaze over the tops, the more chocolate the better! If you filled them from the bottom, dip the tops of the puffs into the bowl of chocolate and let the excess drip off.

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Look at these beautiful bbs ready for eating!!

At this point, do what I do, which is try not to eat all of them before anyone else in your family even makes it to the kitchen. I hope you enjoy!! xoxoD

 

 

The Best Minestrone Ever.

This is probably one of my most important recipes, adapted from a Food52 article titled “How To Make Vegetarian Minestrone Soup without a Recipe”, which can be read here. I realize that it seems odd to create a recipe based off an article telling you you don’t need a recipe, but hear me out. While studying abroad in Florence during my junior year of college, my roommate and I ran out of money within the first 5 minutes (Italian leather and cornettos with crema, I literally couldn’t STOP myself), and realized that we were going to have to be able to cook more of our own meals if we were going to make it out of the country without being completely broke. Not wanting to venture too far away from the Italian flavors we were coming to know and love, I came across this article and got to work.

The basic beauty of this soup is that you can basically just use whatever you have around the house, which makes it incredibly versatile. However, after one try, the following combination became such a staple to our friend group that, 2 years later, I still make it the exact same way at every reunion. A classic minestrone includes all the good stuff- veggies, pasta, lots of cheese (the best part really), and takes on a slightly different flavor with each adjustment. Soup can sometimes seem daunting, but it’s SO satisfying to watch it come together, and this is a great recipe for a beginner to start with, or for a more experienced cook to mess around with. A word of advice? If the whole quantity of soup is not being eaten in one sitting, you may want to cook the pasta in a separate pot and add it into the soup before serving, or else be prepared to add more chicken broth/ water the next time you heat it, as the pasta absorbs most of the broth overnight, making it much thicker and less of a soup consistency. P.S. If you do make changes/ adjustments, I would LOVE to hear how they turn out. Enjoy!! xoxoD

Ingredients:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized yellow onions; diced
5 (or 6) carrots; peeled and diced
4 stalks celery; diced
4 cloves garlic; minced
3 red bell peppers; diced
3 leek stalks; thoroughly cleaned and sliced into thin half-moons
4-5 yukon gold potatoes; peeled and diced into chunks
2 cans crushed tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth if you’re going vegetarian)
2 cans white beans; drained and rinsed
1 box dried pasta (Any short pasta will work, I like rigatoni or large shells)
A few handfuls fresh spinach leaves; washed
Salt & Pepper to taste
Wedge of parmesan cheese; freshly grated (for serving)

Steps:

1. Add olive oil to a heavy-bottomed soup pot and heat on medium. Add onions, carrots, celery, leeks, and peppers, and cook until they soften and the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute, until the garlic is fragrant but not brown. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Next, add potatoes and stir briefly to incorporate with the rest of the veggies. Pour in both cans of crushed tomatoes, the chicken broth, and cover the pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (low heat), cooking until the potatoes are tender when tested with a fork, 20-30 minutes.

3. Add the drained, rinsed beans, and heat through, about 5 minutes. If using uncooked pasta, toss in towards the end, until the pasta is al dente. Toss in spinach leaves and mix until they begin to wilt (the measurement is general because it’s totally up to you, and spinach shrinks up so a few handfuls always ends up being less than you’d think).

4. Serve with a generous grating of parmesan cheese, and a large piece of crusty bread. Then lie on the floor for a while and wonder if you’ll ever not be full again!

This recipe is dedicated to my Firenze family who I hope still want me around now that I have revealed this secret recipe.

TO START.

First things first, time to introduce myself. My name is Deirdre, I’m 22 (almost 23) years old, and not even a year out of college yet. I work at a job in marketing but let’s be honest here, all I really care about is food. From my first box of Annie’s mac and cheese, to my first bread dough, all my cooking has been taught to me by me, my mom, and Ina Garten. Okay, and some other people too. As one of six children, I always cook for 8 even if it’s just me eating, and I never say no to late night brownies.

I like to take recipes from people or books that inspire me, and then make them my own. Sprinkled in are some family recipes, as well as some stuff I make up, tested by the toughest critics, aka my family and friends. Thanks for reading and I hope you stick around!!   xoxoD