Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Little Mermaid Birthday Party

Whew! I just took a recovery nap-- much needed after working all day Saturday and into this morning getting desserts ready for my friend's daughter's 4th birthday party. I sure love dessert catering and I really enjoyed working on this adorable theme.

Read more about it and check out more photos on my Desserts & Events page.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seriously Good Soft Almond Butter Cookies

These almond butter cookies have two parts to their "seriously good" name description.
Part 1: Self-explanatory. Eat one and you'll believe me. 
Part 2: They are made with whole-wheat pastry flour, organic and all natural almond butter, and organic and         
raw sugars. With all the healthiness going on in these-- yes, they still are so delicious you may be tricked into   
feeling guiltier than you should when you take a bite (or eat 4 cookies in a row). Don't believe me? Please refer to the brief instructions in part 1. 

The recipe for these cookies was actually created "on the fly" on this last Sunday evening. My fiancĂ© had a sweet tooth and wanted to go out for ice cream or to the store to hunt for something indulgent. I was feeling lazy and unmotivated to leave the house with him. As a result, I told him I would bake some cookies. Upon exclaiming this, I considered my options based on the ingredients I had at his house, drafted up a recipe and-- viola! Seriously Good Soft Almond Butter Cookies were born. 

Seriously Good Soft Almond Butter Cookies
makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup organic and natural almond butter
1/2 cup organic white cane sugar
1/4 cup organic brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tbsp hazelnut liquor 
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (make sure it is pastry flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
about 1/2 cup raw sugar for rolling cookie dough in

1. Use a mixer to cream the butter, almond butter, white sugar, brown sugar, and honey until smooth. Add the egg and hazelnut liquor and continue to mix on medium speed until the mixture is well combined, smooth, and "fluffy".

2. In another medium sized bowl, sift and mix the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Slowly add these dry ingredients into the butter mixture in thirds. Make sure you add each sequential third just after the former is mixed in and does not appear "dry"-- don't over mix the ingredients. Once finished, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes. 

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven is heating up, prepare 2 baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper. Use a spoon to scoop some cookie dough and roll it into a 1" ball. Place the ball of dough into the raw sugar and gently roll it around to coat all sides. Place the sugar coated dough onto the prepared baking sheet; repeat with the rest of the cookies. Be sure to leave about 1 1/2 inches of space in between each cookie. Use a fork to gently press down on the cookies to lightly flatten and create a criss-cross pattern (it was hardly noticeable on most of my cookies; if you want a strong pattern be sure to press down more). Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the oven for 8-10 minutes or when they are golden brown and slightly darker around the edges.  Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, and transfer to a cooling rack. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Earl Grey Infused Dark Chocolate Macarons

Lately, I've been on a Earl Grey frenzy. I love floral flavors such as jasmine, rose, and lavender; however, it wasn't until recently that I began to experiment with Earl Grey. The warm notes of bergamot in the black tea are so lovely I don't know why I didn't start sooner! Especially since my absolute favorite ice cream shop, Ici, in Berkeley, Ca serves up an amazing Earl Grey flavored scoop. Last week, I made these shortbread turned sandwich cookies and filled them with espresso ganache for a staff potluck. They were an absolute delight! Well, I don't have tea flavored shortbread sandwich treats for you today, but I do have something that may be a little bit better-- Earl Grey Infused Dark Chocolate Macarons.

Oh, hello, sweet tooth!

I made these a few days ago and they were actually a gift for the mother of one of my students in my class. She's an amazing mom who recently went the extra mile to help out in my classroom with something for our school's annual crab feed fundraiser. How do you thank a supportive working mother who has three kids (fabulous kids, by the way) that still finds the energy to put several long hours into work for a project for two fifth grade classes? I thought I would start with a present from my kitchen. That was the cue for these bite size indulgences to enter the picture-- ta da.

Macarons packed gently away in a glass jar and wrapped with a little bit of sparkle, rafia, and a sweet silk ivory flower. This was such an enjoyable "thank you" to make.

Earl Grey Infused Dark Chocolate Macarons
For detailed tips and helpful links see here.

100 g aged egg whites (aged= resting in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-5 days)
1 tsp cream of tartar
28 g white granulated sugar
125 g finely ground almond meal (Bob's Red Mill makes a great one)

3 tbsp dutch processed cocoa powder
contents of 1 Earl Grey tea bag (about 1 tbsp)
225 g powdered sugar*
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 serving of brewed Earl Grey tea

dark chocolate ganache (recipe follows)

Prepare two baking sheets lined with silicone mats (or parchment paper if you don't have these).

1. Combine and whisk together the almond meal, cocoa powder, Earl Grey tea leaves, and powdered sugar. Set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on a low speed with the cream of tartar until the mixture becomes foamy (kind of like a bubble bath). At this point, slowly pour in the white granulated sugar as the mixer is running. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium; continue to beat the mixture until a smooth glossy meringue with soft peaks has formed (kind of like shaving cream). Be careful to NOT over beat and dry out your egg whites. 

3. Remove the bowl from your stand mixer and add 1/3 of the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. Gently fold together just until everything is combined. Repeat with the next 1/3 of the dry ingredients and again with the final 1/3.

4. Prepare a pastry bag with a medium round tip (about 1 cm) and transfer the macaron batter into it. Pipe  straight down to make small circles 
into neat rows onto the prepared baking sheets. Be sure to leave about 1 inche between each macaron. Grab the ends of the baking sheet and, while holding it level, firmly tap it on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles. Allow the macarons to rest on the counter for 30-60 minutes before baking.

5. Preheat the oven to 295 degrees F and make sure the racks are in the middle portion. Bake the macarons for 15-16 minutes, one sheet at a time. Do not open the oven door at all! Once they are finished, allow them to cool for a few minutes; Gently peel away the silicone mat while lightly pushing the macaron cookies off. Repeat with the remaining trays of macarons.

6. Once cooled, lightly brush the back side of each shell with a coating of brewed Earl Grey tea. Fill the macarons with the dark chocolate ganache (recipe as follows) by piping a small dollop onto the back side of one macaron shell and sandwiching it together with another. Repeat with the rest of the macarons. If not consuming right away, store them in an airtight container and keep them in the fridge.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

10 ounces dark chocolate, chopped or chips (60% cocoa content or higher)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Bring the heavy cream to a low boil in a small sauce pot on medium heat-- stir often to avoid cream from burning.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, pour in the chocolate and cream. Use a whisk to mix everything together until the chocolate becomes glossy and smooth.  Stir in the vanilla. Allow the ganache to cool for 6-10 minutes before piping onto the macaron shells. 
*3. If you have leftover ganache, stick it in the refrigerator and make truffles! :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Blueberry & Pear Tart

Simple, beautiful, and delicious with just the right amount of sweetness.

What's better? A slice topped with fresh cinnamon whipped cream...not pictured-- I know, but trust me! My fiance and I added a dollop on after I snapped some shots and it was such a delightful addition.

When I am in a baking mood and happen to have fruit on hand, I like to put together a quick rustic crostata with homemade pie dough. This time, however, my oven was crying out for my tart pan-- it's been awhile since their last play date. For the dough, I followed my favorite pate sucree tart shell recipe from Martha.

Blueberry & Pear Tart
 for one 9" tart

prepared pate sucree
3 cups barlett pears, cut into approx. 1/4 inch slices
1 1/2 cups blueberries
zest and juice of one large lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup corn starch

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
1. Prepare the pate sucree on a 9 inch fluted tart pan. Prick the tart shell several times with a fork before placing it on a baking sheet and then the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, gently toss to combine the pears, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, and corn starch. Allow this fruit mixture to sit for 5-10 minutes before pouring it on top of the tart shell. Bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes-- crust should be golden brown and fruit tender. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve. 

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
makes about 1 cup

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Combine all the ingredients and whip on high speed with a hand or standing mixer until cream becomes thick and moderately stiff.