Monday, March 18, 2013

Classic Guacamole

   As you've probably noticed, I almost never post savory food on here. That's mostly because I don't make a whole lot of it - I like to help out when my parents are cooking, but I usually don't feel like the dishes are really mine. I've been doing a lot more cooking lately, and would love to start sharing that on here, too, so I decided to start with one of my favorite recipes, one that I have come back to over and over again.
   This is a classic guacamole - simple ingredients, not too fussy, with a great flavor. I love to use perfectly ripe avocados for this when I can find them, but this has enough flavor that imperfect ones can still make for a great dip. I also love this because it's easily adaptable - I like to put in less jalapeño than the recipe calls for, or throw in some chopped tomatoes. I usually leave out the canola oil in the recipe, just because I've never found a need for it, but some people like it. Any way you do it, it's delicious.

Classic Guacamole

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
Few tablespoons canola oil, optional
3 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
Juice of 2 limes
1 or 2 jalapenos, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mash the cilantro, onions, canola oil, if using, avocados, lime juice and jalapenos together in a bowl, using a fork; guacamole should be chunky. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ladurée Chocolate Macarons

    I've been wanting the Ladurée sweets cookbook for a long time. It's beautiful and, honestly, I'm pretty sure Ladurée's macarons are absolutely perfect. A few weeks ago, my mom surprised me with the book (thank you mom!), and I got to work on some macarons right away. I decided to start with chocolate, a classic. After my last macaron success, I was confident and jumped right in. Fast forward three or so hours, and you would find me sitting on my kitchen floor, staring into the oven with despair. The macarons spread and cracked and were just a fail - I was able to salvage enough to slap together a few sandwiches and leave them in the fridge overnight like the recipe says to, just to see what would happen.
     From the ingredients (and tasting the batter), I could tell that these were going to be good. Tasting one as soon as it was spread with filling, I thought it was tasty. But the next morning, eating one straight out of the fridge for the healthiest of breakfasts, I realized that these were really, really good. They were almost Ladurée.
    So this weekend, I started again. I measured more carefully, sifted more thoroughly and piped more quickly. The first two trays were just like the last batch - the macarons crumbled and cracked. After reading several "trouble-shooting macarons" blog posts (seriously, what is with these little cookies?!) and trying out a few different things, I realized that while Ladurée calls for leaving the piped batter on the counter for 10 minutes, it actually needs more like an hour. After that, everything went smoothly, and after their rest in the fridge, these were even more delicious than last time (and perfectly smooth on top).
   These are absolutely my new favorite recipe, and I can't wait to adapt it to make all of my favorite macaron flavors. Enjoy!
Chocolate Macarons (Macarons Chocolat)

Chocolate Ganache
10 oz / 290 g chocolate (minimum 70% cacao solids)
1 cup + 2 tbsp / 270 ml heavy (double) cream
4 tbsp / 60 g butter

Macaron Shells
2 3/4 cups / 260 g ground almonds (almond flour)
2 cups + 1 tbsp / 250 g confectioners' (icing) sugar
2 3/4 tbsp (15 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz / 65 g chocolate (minimum 70% cacao solids)
6 egg whites + 1/2 egg white
1 cup + 1 tbsp / 210 g granulated sugar 

Piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch / 10-mm plain tip

Chocolate Ganache
1. Prepare the ganache. Using a knife, finely chop the chocolate on a cutting board and place in a large bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream in 3 parts over the chopped chocolate, mixing with a wooden spatula between each addition to homogenize the preparation.
Cut the butter into small pieces and stir into the ganache until very smooth. Transfer to a baking dish and cover with plastic wrap, so that the plastic is in contact with the ganache. Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature and then refrigerate for 1 hour until it has a thick, creamy consistency.
Macaron Shells
2. Combine the ground almonds, confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor and pulse to obtain a fine powder. Sift or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water or in the microwave oven until it is lukewarm (approx. 95 F / 35 C).
3. In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the 6 egg whites to a foam. Once they are frothy, add a third of the granulated sugar and whip until sugar is dissolved; add another third of the granulated sugar and whip for another minute; finally add the remaining granulated sugar and whip for 1 more minute. Pour the melted chocolate over the whipped egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, roughly incorporate the chocolate, and then immediately and delicately fold the sifted mixture of ground almonds, confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder into the chocolate and egg white mixture. In a separate small bowl, beat the remaining 1/2 egg white until just frothy. Then add to the final mixture, folding gently to slightly loosen the batter.
4. Transfer mixture to the piping bag fitted with a plain tip. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe small macaron rounds 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 inches / 3-4 cm in diameter. Lightly tap the sheet so the macarons spread fully.
Preheat the oven to 300 F / 150 C / gas mark 2.
Allow the macarons to sit uncovered for 10 minutes and then place in the oven. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until they form a slight crust.
5. Remove baking sheet from the oven, and with a small glass, carefully pour a tiny amount of water in between the sheet and the parchment paper (lift the paper ever so slightly corner by corner). The moisture and steam that result from the water on the hot baking sheet will allow the macarons to peel off more easily once they are cool. Do not pour too much water as this could cause the macarons to become soggy. Allow to cool completely. Remove half of the macaron shells and place them upside down on a plate.
6. When the ganache has a creamy consistency, pour into a clean piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe a coin of ganache onto the macaron shells resting upside down. Top each with the remaining macaron shells. Keep macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 12 hours before tasting.

My notes:
-My biggest issue with this recipe is the 10 minutes of resting time - I had to increase this to an hour.
-I found that the step of pouring water onto the baking sheet to create steam was unnecessary - the macarons came right off the paper without a problem.
-Be sure to keep these in the fridge overnight - it makes a huge difference.
-Don't worry if your macarons crack or don't form feet on the first try (or, like me, the second or third try) - they might not look great, but they will taste almost the same!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bakery-Style Blueberry Muffins

     There are some foods that people seem to think can only be made perfectly in restaurants and cafés. Until this weekend, I thought that muffins were one of them. I mean, I've made some great muffins, but they've never been incredible. I woke up on Sunday wanting a muffin like those you get in the best bakeries: soft, tender, and with a big, crunchy top. That's exactly what I got with this recipe. The perfect tops come from the large amount of baking powder in the recipe, and from the baking method: these are baked at an unusually high temperature for 5 minutes before lowering the heat to a normal level for the rest of the baking time.
     These are, in my opinion, the perfect blueberry muffin to have for breakfast. They aren't like the muffins you get in cellophane packages at the grocery store; those are more like really sweet cake with some blueberries thrown in. These are less cakey, a little bit chewier; they are the perfect brunch food or afternoon snack. The soft, tasty interior make them delicious; the big, crunchy tops make them unforgettable. I didn't have coarse sugar for topping them, so I used pearl sugar; it ended up being a great idea, because it added an extra crunch. This is a great base for variations - you can expect more muffins in the near future!
Bakery-Style Blueberry Muffins
(slightly adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
pearl sugar for sprinkling (or you can use coarse sugar)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray your muffin tin of choice with non-stick spray or line with muffin liners. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon until all dry ingredients are combined. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Mix in milk, oil, and vanilla. Mixture will be pale and yellow. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand. Avoid overmixing. Gently mix until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and no big pockets of flour remain. The batter will be very thick and somewhat lumpy. Fold in the blueberries.
Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Top with a sprinkle course sugar, if preferred. Bake at 425 degrees F for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake for 25-26 minutes until tops are lightly golden and a skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack.
Muffins taste best fresh the same day. Store muffins at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Muffins freeze well for up to 3 months.