Monday, May 30, 2011

Truffle Mania Challenge (and Happy Birthday to my Honey)!

When Steve from Weird Combinations put out a call for participants in a truffle challenge, I jumped to sign up. We all started with Ina Garten’s chocolate truffle recipe and everyone put their own spin on it.

Since we were celebrating Eric’s birthday and Memorial Day over the weekend with an indoor cookout for a few friends and neighbors, I used the truffles I made to decorate his birthday cake. Eric is as big of a fan of chocolate as I am so I made Amanda Hesser’s dump cake recipe that was included in the Flour Cookbook and topped it with ganache whipped with butter and confectioners sugar.

For my truffles, I went with a pretty traditional approach and changed up the recipe only minimally. I used all dark chocolate instead of a mix of bitter and semi-sweet and I didn’t add any alcohol.  I doubled the vanilla and coated my truffles in toasted cocoa nibs and Valrhona dark cocoa.

See everyone’s efforts here:

What a fabulously creative group, huh?

Thanks to Stevie and Heavenly for organizing the Truffle Mania challenge! And thanks to a great group of friends for celebrating with us!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Giveaway! Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking

You know those food swaps that I blab about periodically? Well, the lovely lady who organizes the swaps is also an author. Kate Payne's first book, of many to come I hope, is now out! 

Kate wrote the Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking for those of us who are decidedly not Martha acolytes. She offers tips and tricks to make homemaking easy breezy and enjoyable. Who would have thunk doing housework could be fun? (Certainly not me. As I type this, there's a pile of laundry waiting to be folded. It's been sitting on a chair in the living room for going on a week now. Martha, not to mention my Mother, would be scandalized.)

Kate really does make a convincing case that keeping house can, indeed, be a pleasure. Her book is a treasure trove of information on how to make your home an oasis of domestic bliss.

If you’d like to win an autographed copy of the book, courtesy of Harper Design, the publisher, leave a comment telling me your least favorite household chore. 

Here’s hoping that Kate’s book will include a hip trick to help you conquer that pesky task. (If not, at least you’ll have a good book to curl up with while procrastinating doing it.) Check back in on Monday, May 30th after 5pm CST when I'll randomly choose a winner.

Also, be sure to check out Kate's site, Hip Girls Home, for even more tips and tricks to be the best homemaker you can be.

Update!!!! Vion is the lucky winner of the signed copy of Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking! Vion, shoot me your email address at the address listed on my site and I'll get the book in the mail to you ASAP.

Since I didn't hear back from Vion after one week, I decided to redraw for  another winner. This time Renee is the lucky gal!  Renee, I'll contact you for a mailing address.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tart with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Mascarpone Cheese

Status quo over here. Still battling writer's block. 

At least my tendency to bake for stress relief serves my habit of emotional eating well. Here’s what I’ve been munching on lately…

Tart with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Mascarpone Cheese

After reading the umpteenth report of how deliciously divine strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar are, I decided I had to try them. When I came across a Bon Appétit recipe for balsamic marinated strawberries served over heavy cream whipped with mascarpone cheese, I figured it would be a winning combination. Naturally, it was. And wouldn’t it look just adorable in a tart shell? Why, yes- it did.

Tart Shell
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques

*recipe makes enough dough for two 10” tarts
1/4 c heavy cream
 2   extra-large egg yolks
2 3/4 c + 2 T all-purpose flour
1/4 c plus 3 T granulated sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter

adapted from Bon Appétit via Epicurious

1/3 c balsamic vinegar
 2   t plus 4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 t fresh lemon juice

1/2 c chilled mascarpone cheese
1/2 c chilled whipping cream
1/2 t vanilla extract

3 1-pint baskets (about 24 ounces) strawberries, hulled, halved

1. First make the tart shell according to the instructions here.
2. Prepare the balsamic strawberries by combining vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and then boil for 3 minutes until reduced to approximately 1/4 cup of syrup. Set aside to allow to cool. The syrup can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated until ready for use.
3. In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone, cream, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until thick soft peaks form. If not using immediately, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Will keep up to 4 hours.
4. When the syrup has fully cooled, add the berries to a large bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Drizzle with balsamic syrup. Let the fruit stand 30 minutes at room temperature and stir occasionally.
5. Spread the mascarpone and cream mixture over the bottom of the tart shell and use a small offset spatula to smooth to an even thickness. Top with balsamic strawberries and serve.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Death by Chocolate Macarons

So life has intervened as of late and I haven’t much felt like writing. It seems like at the end of the day, I just don’t have any extra brainpower to sift through my thoughts and commit them to a blog post.

I’ve still been baking as I find it therapeutic, especially when stressed, so I now have a logjam of posts prepped with photos just waiting for words to accompany them. I tend to procrastinate when feeling overwhelmed which only compounds the issue.

Lest I have led you to believe that my world is falling apart over here, let me set the record strait.

Yes, I’m stressed, but it’s mostly good stress. I recently started a new job, which I think I’ll really enjoy... eventually. Currently, though, my control freak tendencies are butting up against the reality of having to learn as I go and to ask others for help. Coupled with an impatient streak a mile wide, this is a trying time for me. But there are worse problems to have, no?

Here’s hoping that I’ll break this streak soon and will get back to a more regular posting schedule.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying reading others' blog posts so I appreciate all of you who do this on a much more frequent basis. Your prolific posting and gorgeous creations constantly astound me. Maybe one day I’ll catch up. Thanks for the inspiration.

Death by Chocolate Macarons

I’m always on the lookout for a new macaron recipe to test so I was exceedingly pleased to run across this recipe in Ottolenghi, The Cookbook (adopt affected British accent in your head as you read that last part; as if I would ever actually say exceedingly pleased when speaking). Thanks to Lisa at Lisa is Cooking for turning me on to Ottolenghi. The cookbook is rapidly becoming a favorite and may one day join my personal pantheon of cookbooks, alongside Tartine and Rose Bakery’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. The recipe as written would work like a charm however, I chose to add cocoa nibs as a topping, which complicated matters slightly. The first batch of macarons that I baked were topped with cocoa nibs  and had a few cracked shells. I suspect that this was due to the cocoa nibs not allowing some of the macs to skin over properly but since I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t due to the oven temp being too high, I used a wooden spoon to prop the oven door open slightly when baking the second batch. I didn’t have any cracked shells on the second batch but they weren't topped with cocoa nibs so I’m still not sure what the actual culprit was. For tips on dealing with cracking and other macaron issues, see Jennie over at Miso Hungry’s handy-dandy guide to troubleshooting macarons. I didn’t use the Ottolenghi’s ganache recipe. I opted instead for a simple 1:1 ratio of cream and chocolate, with a little vanilla for extra flavor, that yields a nicely thick, almost fudgy ganache once it sets up. Hence, I named these Death by Chocolate macarons for a reason. The extra dark chocolate cocoa shells, topped with cocoa nibs, and coupled with the fudgy ganache really pack a wallop. 

110g powdered sugar

50g ground almonds or almond meal

12g extra dark cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)

2 (60g) egg whites 

40g granulated sugar
Cocoa nibs for topping, if desired

8 oz dark chocolate, chopped coarsely

8 oz heavy cream

1 t vanilla

1. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment or silpats and set aside.
2. Add the powdered sugar, whole almonds or almond meal, and cocoa to a food processor and process to a fine, even powder. (I recommend processing even if using almond meal as I often find it not finely ground enough for my preference and I don’t like lumpy macarons.) When done, sift the contents of the processor bowl into a large mixing bowl to remove any last lumps. If there is only a small amount of larger particles left in the strainer, I just throw it out; however, if there is a significant quantity, i.e. more than 1-2 tablespoons, return all ingredients back to the processer and continue to grind until fine. 
3. Add the egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

4. Add one half of the meringue to the mixing bowl containing the almond/sugar/cocoa mixture and gently fold in until just barely mixed using a silicon spatula. Add the remaining meringue and continue to gently fold until the batter looks like flowing lava. It should be thick but should still spread. 

5. Fill a gallon sized Ziploc or other plastic bag with the batter and carefully snip off a corner. Pipe out circles of batter on the prepared baking sheets approximately 1.5” wide in diameter. Allow some distance between the piped circles for spreading. When finished piping, rap the baking sheets on the counter firmly to allow any air bubbles to settle. Sprinkle cocoa nibs on half of the shells, if a topping is desired. 
6. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Set the pans aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the macarons to dry and a skin to form on top. Test by gently poking with your finger. The macarons will be ready when dry to the touch and your finger only leaves a slight impression. 

7. When ready, bake for 12-14 minutes and rotate the pans midway through to ensure even baking and coloration. Remove to a rack to cool.
8. While the shells are cooling, prepare the ganache by bringing the cream to a simmer over medium high heat in a small saucepan. Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. When the cream has reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and set aside for a minute or two until the chocolate is mostly melted. Add the vanilla. Use a whisk or spatula to stir the ganache to a smooth consistency. Set aside to allow the ganache to set up or place it in the refrigerator to cool which will hasten the process.
9. When cool, spread your ganache or other filling on the flat side of a shell and sandwich with another, squeezing gently.  Allow the macaron to rest overnight in the refrigerator. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to one week.