Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My First Macaron Workshop

A few weeks ago,  one of my dearest friends asked if I would be willing to host a macaron workshop at her apartment. Did I say yes? Um, I sure did!
By no means am I perfect at making macarons or a professional (yet--that's what pastry school is for!). In fact, I still experience the occasional heartbreak and frustration every now and then when I bake them. Truth is, they are very temperamental little things and I have yet to learn the official no-fail method (when my French pastry chef teaches me this, I will be sure to report back!). After doing plenty (and I mean plenty) of research, reading, and recipe testing, I simply know what works for me. Since I adore making them, I thought it would be so much fun to mix and mingle with some fabulous company with the addition of little French friends-- les macarons!
A picture...after most were devoured! Yum!
One of the first things I told the group before demonstrating my method of macaron making was to think of them as either an extremely moody ex-boyfriend/girlfriend-- you just can't always predict how they will react, but you can certainly try to set yourself up for the most situational success! There are so many fantastic blogs and resources on the web that share great troubleshooting tips and different secrets each individual swears by. Two of my favorite articles that provide very helpful information are Food Nouveau and Not So Humble Pie-- I was constantly going back and forth to these resources before I got the hang of things in my kitchen.  However, all the reading in the world can't help unless you throw on your apron and practice making macarons! It can be a little daunting at first (that's how I felt at least) since the cost of good quality ingredients can be expensive, but it's definitely worth the effort. 
After I demonstrated how to make a bright teal batch of Earl Grey macaron shells, some of the group tested out their newly acquired knowledge. Although some thought they would totally mess things up-- they did great! We had so much fun filling the macaron shells with different things such as dark chocolate ganache, orange pastry cream, and salted caramel. However, the real enjoyment came with taste testing the end products!

I had such a wonderful time with this amazing group of people! To be honest, I also enjoyed being able to teach...but this time it was on how to bake! Did I draft a "lesson plan" before hand? I kinda sorta...did (I was trained well, I guess *wink*).

To make the macarons, I followed a basic recipe I use regularly. It is one that can be easily adapted to different flavors by simply modifying the flavor extracts. Some examples of such variations include Apricot & Passion Fruit, Blackberry Custard, and Dark Chocolate Earl Grey.

French Macarons
100 g aged egg whites (aged= resting in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-5 days)
35 g white granulated sugar
125 g finely ground almond meal (Bob's Red Mill makes a great one)
200 g powdered sugar*
1 tsp real vanilla extract
optional: food gel coloring (do not use liquid food coloring)

*I reduced the original amount of 220 to make them just a tad less sweet
**For chocolate: add 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
***For Earl Grey: Add the contents of 2 dried tea packets.
Prepare two (double-stacked) baking sheets lined with silicone mats (or parchment paper if you don't have these).

1. Combine and whisk together the almond meal and powdered sugar (if using chocolate, add in to the mix). If possible, pulse together in a food processor, transfer to the bowl again, and whisk once more. Set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on a low speed  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. If you are coloring your macarons, add a few drops of the gel coloring a little bit before your egg whites have reached their soft and glossy peaks.

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 small circles onto the prepared baking sheets to make neat rows. Be sure to leave about 1 1/2 inches 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 30-45 minutes before baking.

5. Preheat the oven to 305 degrees F and make sure the racks are in the middle portion. Bake the macarons for 27 minutes-- remember that oven temps and times may vary. Once they are finished you will know because the will be firm, won't move around, and should appear matte. 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, fill the macarons with the filling of choice 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.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. chopped dark chocolate
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1.Bring cream to a simmer while heating on low in a heavy bottom sauce pot. Be sure to stir often to prevent burning. Turn off the heat and pour the cream onto the dark chocolate (in a heat safe bowl). Slowly whisk and stir together until the chocolate is melted and everything becomes incorporated. The ganache should be glossy and smooth.

2. As it cools, the ganache will firm and thicken up. To avoid running macaron fillings, wait until you have achieved the desired consistency. You can speed this up by placing in the fridge; if the ganache hardens too much, you can always warm it up for 10 seconds in the microwave.

  • For a thick pastry cream recipe that you can use as a filling, try this one. This King Arthur Recipe has tips on how to change the flavor of the cream.
  • More easy and convenient fillings include chocolate hazelnut spread and jams! Yum!

Here are some tips that I recommend based on my experience:
1. Always use fresh egg whites from the shell.
2. Accurately weigh each ingredient.
3. Invest in high quality almond flour (such as Bob's Red Mill).
4. Test your oven to make sure the temperature is accurate.
5. Use Silipat sheets or good quality parchment paper.
6. Always pipe with a medium rounded tip (straight down, never at an angle).
7. Always use gel or powder food coloring.
8. Stop folding your batter once it has a 3-4 second consistency (if you run your spatula through the batter, it should take 3-4 seconds for it to spread back).
9. Invest in sturdy high quality baking sheets and double stack them.
10. Don't forget to stay clean and organized in the process-- sorry my Type A personality had to put that in. :)
This macaron workshop was so fun-- thanks to everyone who was there! I am considering doing more things like this. Any thoughts? What are some other workshops you would like to see if you could?

Saturday, August 24, 2013


My best friend and I share the same birthday month with just 5 days in between each date. Since college, we've been having celebratory dinners together. It's always a fun evening filled with good company, food, and a few yummy cocktails. When designing the cake for the evening, I wanted to keep it simple, but spunky! A hot pink and dark navy glitter striped cake fit the bill nicely. However, the cake got a little more "oomph" with three little letters placed across the top.

The phrase is a perfect way to sum up all the blessings coming towards us in this next year of life for both of us. To name just a few, she just bought her first house, I am in a new great place in life as I work towards my pastry degree, and we both only have the most wonderful people to call our friends (including each other!).

Sometimes, a little "Yay!" goes a long way!

We ate this delicious cake for dessert at one of our favorite steakhouses last night. Chocolate cake with layers of cookie dough filling (recipe here) and vanilla buttercream? Yes, please! 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Colorful Kitchen

I spend about 80% of my time in the kitchen on a free day. Keeping it organized and clean is very important, but so is having gadgets and tools that make me happy when I use them.

What typically makes kitchenware joyful? They need to be practical, cute, and a little extra color doesn't hurt!

Here are some kitchen accessories I am smitten about.

A Colorful Kitchen

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Attributes of a Textbook

There's a lot to be said, positive and negative, about an E-Book that an art school requires students to purchase for the quarter-- especially when it's a bargain of $50.00. Shall I count the ways?
1.) Positive. It's inexpensive in comparison to the nearly $1,000 semester texts in undergrad and graduate school.
2.) Negative. You're not allowed to print or access any hard copy versions of the text. This makes it frustrating for a student who prefers to mark up and highlight pages.
3.) Negative. The presence of spelling and grammatical errors are embarrassing for any published text. For example, do not be alarmed at "purer" as it simply another version of "pure". The authors just felt like the extra "R" gave the word a bit more personality.

Now, there are some specific excerpts that are pretty amusing-- maybe you can decide if they are positive or negative attributes. 
1.) "Breakfast menus should cover less space than other meal menus and usually should have larger type, because people are not yet awake."

2.) "College and university students often show distinct ties between frustration and food. Arriving at school in the fall, most students' spirits are high and they enjoy their new experiences. At this time, the food is considered good. (This is the time for the foodservice department to save money on its budget.) However, as the newness wears off, students miss home and loved ones more. The rigors of classes, assignments, term papers, and examinations begin to create problems and frustrations, and students begin to take out their frustrations on the food they are getting. Food riots can even result. It is no coincidence that troubles on campus rise with such pressures. Students don't realize that the food they once liked now is cause for great dissatifaction. (This is now the time to put the money previously saved on the budget into better food.)"

No. I didn't make any typos. Those excerpts are copied directly from my textbook (one that will be left annoymous). Should it be positive quality since it entertains me? Or, should I consider these to be more ridiculous writing?

Just keep in mind...the E-Book only cost $50.00...

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Sweet Lil' Cake (and an easy sugar rosette tutorial)

I am excited to share this darling little cake on the blog! I created this 6" sugar baby yesterday; it is covered in homemade fondant and decorated with sugar pearls and handcrafted sugar flowers. 
 The mix of Robin's Egg Blue, dainty pearls, and a mini-bouquet of whimsical white rosettes really enchant me.  I was created the flower (tutorial following the cake photos) after being inspired by this wedding invitation:

I thought the petite blooms on the paper were so sweet. I knew they would be just as precious on a cake. These rosette sugar flowers are very easy to make and truly can add a lovely element to any cake. 

Easy Rosette Sugar Flower Tutorial
sugar gum paste (in color of choice)
fondant (colored green with a gel food coloring)
small rolling pin
fondant embosser wheel
ball tip fondant tool
foam pad
fondant sponge and mat
plastic film pad
circle cutters
tear drop shape cutters 
small pastry brush
sugar glue (I make mine with 2 tbsp corn syrup mixed with 3 tbsp water)
On a side note, these GFPA Pastry cutters are amazing. They are easy to clean and allow you to achieve a really clean cut without any dents (that often appear in metal cutters). For a set, you get several concentric shapes, which is great for decorating needs. I have them in a variety of shapes and they are WONDERFUL. Each set is about $17; you can find them at specialty cake supply stores or online.
Prepping the Rosettes
1.) Roll out a piece of sugar gum paste, onto a clean surface lightly dusted with cornstarch, until it is about 1/8-1/4" thick. Use circle cutters to cut out four concentric sizes of your choice. The larger your circles are, the larger your rosette will be. Be sure to put the unused gum paste back into an airtight container or bag.
2.) Take your largest circle and place it onto the foam and sponge. Be sure to store the rest of the circles in the plastic film board to prevent it from drying out.

Take the ball tip tool and use it to smooth out the edges of the circle-- this will give it a more petal like appearance. Next, use the ball tip to smooth and roll out the middle and sides of the circle. Tracing it around in circles will continue to thin it out and make the sides/edges curl in a bit. Repeat with the remaining circles.
Once you have finished smoothing out each circle, allow it to dry before assembling the rosette. I use a clean egg crate for my blooms-- the structure is great for the petals to hold their round shape. Let them dry for about 15 minutes (if you wait too long they will be too hard and it will be difficult for them to "mold" together).
 3.) Roll out a portion of the green fondant, dust the surface lightly with corn starch again, and use the tear drop cutters make any desired amount of leaves. Use the embosser wheel tool to create lines down the middle of each leaf. Keep these leaves covered in the plastic film board until you are ready to attach them to the flowers or cake.
Assembling the Rosettes
1.) Start with the largest petal and brush on a small amount of sugar glue onto the middle of the circle.
2.) Gently place the next petal down onto the middle of the first one. Use your finger to lightly press down to ensure the sugar glue adheres the petal. Repeat with the rest of the circles.
3.) To finish the rosette, roll a very small piece of gum paste into a ball and add it to the middle of the last petal. 

4.) For the leaves, you can either attach them directly onto the back of the rosette with the sugar glue, or position them onto the surface of your cake (this option will allow your leaves to lay flat as opposed to curling up with the flower).
And, viola! You're done. These little blooms will certainly add a delightful charm to your sweets.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chocolate Soufflé Cake

Today I took a midterm exam, for the first time in about four years, in my Concepts and Theories of Culinary Techniques course. While I was going through the 100 question test, I found myself thinking flashing back to mini-lessons regarding effective test taking skills in the classroom. Oh, if I was a student in my 4th grade class, I would have made my teacher-self proud as I read each question and marked evidence for each response-- I wished I could have told my students, "See! You will really use this skill later on beyond the STAR test!".
Is it kind of nerdy that I enjoyed taking my midterm? Considering that I am leaning towards "yes" being the don't have to answer that question. This return to school has placed such a spark in my thirst for learning as I immerse myself in subjects that I am truly passionate about. As a result, I guess I like taking exams.
Another thing I find myself enjoying since I started pastry school is access to the campus library-- it is stocked with incredible cooking and baking books (plus amazing design and decorating books that I noodle through). After my midterm, I meandered in the library and browsed through a variety of books before bumping into one of my favorite people-- Martha Stewart.

Okay, so I didn't really bump into her (I wish!)...but I suppose you expected that. Instead, I found this great recipe for a flourless chocolate cake in one of her cookbooks that immediately left me with a craving I couldn't erase. So, Martha and her cake followed me home until I could whip up something similar.

And, ladies and gentleman, that's exactly how this cake happened. Inspired by Martha, made and adapted by yours truly. Technically it is a flourless cake, but there are so many recipe components that remind me of a chocolate soufflé that I decided to name my version as such. The chocolate is rich, the texture is smooth and airy, the flavor is deep and perfectly sweet, and a slice totally hits the spot. The beauty of this delectable dessert is it is bound to look imperfect-- no stress at all about a smooth perfect surface. The crispy and dropped surface hides the cloud like interior. No ugly duckling judgements here!

A little bit of orange pastry cream and pistachios? Well, don't mind if I do!
Chocolate Soufflé Cake
makes one 6" cake

3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Prepare a 6" springform pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Moderately rub the paper and insides of the pan with unsalted butter.

1. In a large clean bowl,  use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
2. Melt the dark chocolate and butter together in a microwave safe bowl-- heat for about 1-2 minutes on high until the mixture is smooth. Use a rubber spatula to combine the butter and chocolate well; allow the mixture to cool slightly.
3. Once the chocolate has cooled down, whisk in the egg yolks one and a time. Whisk in the vanilla, espresso powder, salt, and white sugar. Sift in the cocoa powder before whisking it in as well. Use a rubber spatula and gently fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan; place the pan onto a baking sheet. Bake the cake in a 350 degree F. oven, on a middle rack, for 30-33 minutes. Transfer from the oven, allow it to cool for about minutes, and serve (the cake will naturally fall so it is best to serve as soon as possible). If desired, sprinkle powdered sugar, pastry cream, nuts, etc. over servings.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dessert Inspiration: Geometric Cakes

Lately I've been daydreaming, scheming, and drafting up cake designs like mad! I find myself getting inspired by, really, anything-- jewelry, my clothes, stationary, and (of course) other fabulous cake designs. However, geometric designs and cakes have got my mind doing all kinds of twists and turns. Just yesterday, Henry and I were waiting in line to order from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants and I found myself visualizing their southwestern-style tiled wall as a 3-tiered cake. Today, I was working on some assignments in the library and caught myself transferring the wall, painted in colorful blocks, onto the sides of a smooth cake surface. I think my artistic perspective on things catches me at the most random times.  Also, more recently, I feel like my creative goggles are urging me to...create! 

Below are some geometric patterns and elements that I have been inspired by in the sugar department in recent times.

It's obvious I have a huge affinity for color!


Eek! After sharing these geometric inspirations, I can't decide what I want more-- to see these designs on cakes or parts of my house? Personally, I feel like they are just like a big smack of sunshine to the face-- instant smile factor. :)

I can't wait to share some of my cake projects, inspired by similar geometric patterns, on the blog. However, in the mean time, here are some fabulous designs by some amazingly talented pastry chefs and bakers.
by Erica O'Brien Cake Design
via ; cake designer unknown
by Elysia Root Cakes
by Sweet Bee Sweets
by Sweet & Saucy Shop

I love them all for such different reasons. Do you have one you are particularly fond of?