Friday, December 31, 2010

champagne macarons

For New Years, I wanted to make something with champagne in it, since champagne is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of celebrating the New Year.  I tossed around ideas for a cupcake with champagne frosting, or adding champagne to the cupcake itself, but in the end I decided to make champagne macarons (since making macarons has been a recent addiction of mine).

I made the macaron shells golden yellow, but plain (I've decided that I don't like to flavor my shells - after tasting the chocolate macarons that I made for Christmas, I realized that the extra flavor drowned out the taste of the almonds in the cookie, which I love).

For the filling, I added some champagne to my standard buttercream, but after whipping it together, I noticed that the it looked slightly foamy.  Did the champagne curdle it?  I almost threw it out and was about to start over, but decided to taste it first.  The buttercream was light, airy, and had the slightest mildest champagne flavor to it.  And the foamy-ness reminded me of champagne bubbles!  So I went with it.

Hope you have a happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

hello kitty mini cupcakes

Last Thursday was my little Melodie's first birthday!  I wanted to make Hello Kitty cupcakes to bring to her little celebration at daycare, so I decided to make mini cupcakes since there would only be babies and toddlers there.  I decided on a fresh strawberry batter from Martha Stewart's "Cupcakes" book for the cake, and cream cheese frosting to go on top.

I used the smallest scooper I had to fill the mini cupcake pan.  Once the mini cupcakes were cooled, I piped Hello Kitty with cream cheese frosting, and gave her a pink nose and bow.

Then I made regular-sized cupcakes for the teachers.  I had found cute Hello Kitty cupcake liners a while ago, and this was the perfect time to use them!

To make them look a little different from the mini cupcakes, I did a basket weave piping with cream cheese frosting, and then piped Hello Kitty on top in pink (the exact opposite from the Hello Kitty birthday cupcakes I did before).

At the party, Melodie was a little confused by the cupcake at first, but once she tasted it there was no stopping her.  She loved it and ate the whole thing!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

strawberry macarons

My friend Helen had us over for dumplings this past weekend, and I wanted to make macarons for dessert since I know that she loves them.  I decided to make pink macarons to match her pink-decorated Christmas tree!

Since I was going with pink, the obvious filling would be my fresh strawberry buttercream!  And I was excited to try making macarons again, as I was disappointed that my first attempt didn't end up with much of the beautiful ruffly bottoms, known as "feet".  This time I reduced the temperature a little bit (from 350 F to 325 F).  The resulting macarons had a little more feet than the first try, but still not what I was looking for.

Also, next time I'd want to make them more pink.  I guess this means there will be many more macaron-making attempts before I'm satisified!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

french macarons

I have been itching to make macarons for some time now.  I've been reading about all the different techniques used in making them - French style, Italian meringue style (also known as the sucre cuit method), aging your egg whites, not folding your batter too much, not folding your batter enough ... I finally decided to try Pierre Herme's recipe since his macarons are legendary, and I even bought his Macaron book, which is completely in French!

I must say, making macarons is quite a process.  First, you have to "age" you egg whites at room temperature for 48 hours (although I only aged mine for a few hours).  Then, you need almond meal, which I decided to make myself (I know it doesn't need to be this complicated, but I had bought a huge bag of almonds from Costco and needed to use them up!)  I blanched the almonds in boiling water for 30 seconds, then rinsed them in cold water so that I could peel/pop them out of their skins.

Then, I pulverized the blanched almonds with a food processor to turn them into a fine almond meal, then added powdered sugar and pulverized them some more.  After sifting the mixture 2-3 times, I was satisfied with the consistency.

Next up was the making of the meringue.  This involves cooking sugar and water on the stove, while using a candy thermometer to ensure that it reaches 245 degrees F.  In the meantime, I started whipping the aged egg whites.  Once they formed soft peaks and the syrup was hot enough, I added the syrup (slowly) to the egg whites and continued whipping until the meringue was stiff and glossy.

After that, I added fresh room temperature egg whites to the almond and powdered sugar mixture, and then folded in the meringue mixture in three batches.  After filling a pastry bag with the batter, then piping out the macaron shells on a silpat-lined baking sheet, I let them sit for 20 minutes before baking.  This is supposed to give them a nice shell, and also help in forming the "feet" (the puffy, frilly bottoms that form while baking).

After the macarons were finally done baking, I was a little disappointed when I pulled them out of the oven.  While the tops were smooth and pretty, the bottoms barely had the "feet" that I was looking for.

But once I tasted them, I didn't care.  The texture of the macarons blew me away!  They had a lightly delicate crisp shell, yet they were super tender and soft on the inside.  My husband pointed out that they were like biting into a toasted marshmallow, similar in that there was a thinly crispy exterior, with a soft and airy interior.

I could have eaten them all plain, but I decided to fill my macarons with chocolate ganache, although next time I might try a flavored buttercream of some sort.  Maybe I'll also try aging my egg whites the full 48 hours, to see if that helps with forming the "feet".  I can't wait to experiment with different colors and flavors too!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

pink hello kitty cake

My friend Hsing asked me to make a Hello Kitty cake for her friend's daughter's birthday.  Since I had made pink strawberry Hello Kitty cupcakes for Hsing's birthday a few months ago, I immediately wanted to make the same pink frosting for this cake!  So I decided on a chocolate layer cake with fresh strawberry buttercream.

After the crumb-coating, I piped a basketweave design along the sides, and then piped a decorative rope border around the top.

Then I piped Hello Kitty in white buttercream, with a red bow and nose.

Right before Hsing came to pick up the cake, I realized that I had forgotten to pipe Hello Kitty's whiskers!  Oops!  I pointed it out to her, and she said she wouldn't have noticed had I not said anything, so hopefully no one else noticed either!

*** Update:
You can now find my recipe for Pink Hello Kitty Cake in my new book, "The Hello Kitty Baking Book"! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

two pumpkin thanksgiving desserts

For Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to try something other than my usual apple pie and pumpkin pie.  So I thought I'd try two different takes on pumpkin pie - a chocolate pumpkin tart, and a pumpkin cheesecake.  Unfortunately, both experiments were not entirely successful. :(

For the chocolate pumpkin tart, I found a recipe at Everyday Food that looked simple and tasty.  It had a chocolate wafer cookie crust (or, Oreos in my case), a layer of melted semi-sweet chocolate spread over that, and then a layer of pumpkin pie.


While the tart tasted good, the crust was way too crumbly and fell apart when serving (perhaps it needed more melted butter to hold it together?)  And the pumpkin pie layer was very thin compared to a regular pumpkin pie.

As for the pumpkin cheesecake, also from Everyday Food, the recipe called for 4 bars of cream cheese, but thinking I'd try to make it lighter, I substituted 2 bars of cream cheese with plain yogurt instead.  (In my defense, my usual cheesecake recipe calls for 2 bars of cream cheese plus 1 1/2 pints of sour cream ... and I've read that you can substitute plain yogurt for sour cream ... thus the yogurt instead of the cream cheese).  Major fail!  While the outermost area of the cheesecake was still tasty, the middle was way too soft - probably because of all the moisture from the yogurt.

In addition, the recipe said to only spread the graham cracker crust on the bottom of the springform pan, but for some reason I decided to pack some onto the sides of the pan too.  I'm not sure why I did it but I regret it, because when I unmolded the cheesecake the sides were really ugly, craggly and uneven.  (I'm not even going to include a picture of the unmolded cheesecake, I'm too embarrassed!)

I think I'll try making the pumpkin cheesecake again for Christmas this year, and this time I'm going to just follow the recipe!