Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pistachio Macarons

Sometimes procrastination serves me well. I've had the recipe and pictures for this post sitting in my editing queue for a few weeks now. I had been avoiding putting words to the pictures.

That's a dreary opener but this isn't going to be a sob story. (Spoiler alert: it ends well.)

What I dreaded telling you was that I wasn't pleased with the outcome when I first made this macaron recipe. This is Miette's macaron recipe from the recently published cookbook. Miette being the first place I ever tasted the delightful macaron. And Miette's macarons really are delightful. Whenever I visit San Francisco, I never miss them. I anxiously awaited the release of this cookbook and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of the adorable book.

Having made many different versions of macaron recipes, some to more success than others, I think I have a pretty decent handle on making these cookies. I've made the classic mistake of over- or under- turning the batter and now know how the macaronage should look and feel.  And when I first made this recipe, the batter just seemed off. It was thick and sticky and did not pipe out well at all. I soldiered on, though.  When I put the pans in the oven to bake, I held my breath and crossed my fingers.

My worry seemed for naught. The cookies baked up with proper feet and there was little cracking of shells. As soon as they cooled, I sandwiched a cookie with pistachio buttercream and popped it in my mouth. And then I chewed... and chewed... and chewed some more. Finally, I succeeded in breaking the cookie down enough to swallow it. And then came the fun task of extracting sticky cookie bits from my molars.

To say the macs were chewy would be a bit of an understatement. Most macarons are usually a little chewy when first made. When I toured Angelina, the famed Parisian patisserie, the pastry chef counseled that he let baked macaron shells rest for a couple of days in the refrigerator before putting them in the case for sale. Even so, these macarons were more than a few standard deviation points from the chewiness mean. This was no regular chewiness.

Now, I don't mind sharing that a recipe didn't work out if I feel confident that it was indeed the recipe and not the baker. I just wasn't sure exactly which was the problem- me or the recipe. Hence my procrastination in writing as I puzzled over the issue.

Shortly after the mac fiasco, I tried making a meringue with organic sugar. No go. Not only did the meringue not fluff up as it should have, the sugar granules never fully dissolved. I recently made the switch to using only organic sugars after being a bit reticent to take the plunge due to worries about baking issues. After a couple months of using organic sugars when baking, I hadn't run into any problems so I was just starting to feel comfortable. Still, the meringue flop made me suspect that organic sugar was the issue. But when I re-read Miette's macaron recipe, I realized it doesn't call for adding sugar when making the meringue base for the cookies. Since I followed the recipe, I had to rule out the meringue as the culprit. Then I remembered I used organic powdered sugar in the dry ingredients called for in making the cookies.

While mulling over the mysteries of baking with organic sugars with Lisa, she pointed out that the Miette cookbook specifically states that the bakery uses only organic sugars. This fact intrigued me so I decided to re-make the cookies and again use organic powdered sugar to see if there was some trick in folding the macaronage that could compensate for the sticky, chewiness in the first batch of cookies. Most mac recipes will tell you to very carefully fold in the dry and wet ingredients to ensure that you don't deflate the meringue which allows macarons to rise and creates the coveted feet. I threw that advice right out the window and folded the batter like hell. I mean it. I folded and folded until my arm ached and the batter thinned out somewhat in consistency.

Between my (wo)manhandling the batter and then squeezing unmercifully to pipe out the still relatively thick batter, I broke every macaron making rule I've learned. But I'm happy to report that the second time was the charm. Despite being sure the cookies would come out of the oven as flat as pancakes, the macs rose like champs and pushed out pretty little feet. And! They passed a chew test. Whew!

Pistachio Macarons
adapted from Miette by Meg Ray

I adapted the recipes in Miette as follows: I doubled the macaron ingredient quantities to make a larger batch of cookies- the recipe below should yield approximately 32 sandwiched cookies. I halved the pistachio buttercream ingredient quantities since I didn't need 6 cups of buttercream. (Even so, I still wound up with leftover buttercream.) Also, I increased the amount of pistachio paste added to the buttercream to kick the flavor up a bit. I've never been able to find pistachio paste in a local store so I made my own using the recipe I found on fxcuisine. According to the site, the recipe is Pierre Herme's. Pistachio paste freezes well so now I have a stash in case I get around to making a bûche de noël this holiday season. 

2 cup (10 ounces) almond flour or whole, raw almonds with skins
2/3 cup (3 ounces) whole, raw pistachios
4 1/2 cup (20 ounces) powdered sugar
6 large egg whites
1 tablespoon cream of tarter

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons water
3 medium egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons pistachio paste, purchased or homemade

1. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment or silpats and set aside.
2. Add the powdered sugar, whole almonds or almond meal, and pistachios 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.) 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 to a finer texture. 
3. Add the egg whites and cream of tarter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frothy. Turn the mixer speed to high and continue beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

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

5. Add the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a tip or a gallon sized plastic bag with the corner snipped off. 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 chopped pistachios on half of the shells, if a topping is desired. 
6. Set the pans aside for 2 hrs 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. While the shells are drying, prepare the buttercream. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature and cook the sugar syrup for 5-10 minutes until it reaches 248° Fahrenheit. While the syrup is cooking, add the egg whites and cream of tarter to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. When the syrup is close to the desired temperature, whisk the egg whites and cream of tarter on medium-low speed until soft peaks form. Once the syrup reaches 248° Fahrenheit, lower the mixer speed and begin to slowly add the hot syrup taking care not to splatter and burn yourself. 
8. When all of the syrup has been poured into the mixing bowl, crank the speed back up to high and whip the meringue for 5-10 minutes until the bottom of the mixing bowl is cool to the touch. Once cool, begin to add the butter a tablespoon at a time with the mixer on medium speed. Allow each addition to be incorporated before adding more butter. Don't worry if the buttercream breaks, just turn the mixer speed to high and keep adding butter by the tablespoon. The mixture should come back together and smooth out. Mix in the pistachio paste at the end. 
9. Approximately 30 minutes before the shells finish drying, preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Bake for 10-12 minutes and rotate the pans midway through to ensure even baking and to prevent browning. Remove to a rack to cool.
10. When cool, pipe buttercream on the flat side of a cookie shell and sandwich with another, squeezing gently.  Allow the macarons to rest overnight in the refrigerator. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to one week.

(homemade pistachio paste)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Banana Ice Cream with Toasted Pistachios

My husband, whom I affectionately refer to as Le Chef when he gets doctrinaire about culinary conventions, is a classicist when it comes to ice cream. No such thing as froyo will ever cross his lips. By his way of thinking, if it doesn’t contain eggs and wasn’t made from a custard base, then it ain’t ice cream.

Me, I don’t share his reservations about eggless ice cream. The only principal I stand on is taste. And let me tell you, this eggless ice cream tastes divine. Even better- it’s best made with bananas just on the brink of going bad. Scrumptious and I can use up food that would otherwise go to waste? Sign me up. 

After making this ice cream for a few summers now and always having it all to myself, Le Chef has now deigned it worthy of his spoon. Dammit if I didn’t go to get a scoop the other night only to find that he had already polished it off.

So consider that a stamp of approval. This ice cream is so good my stubborn husband made an eggsception for it.

Banana Ice Cream with Toasted Pistachios
adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

When I say ripe bananas, I mean just before they turn bad. You want the banana flesh to be really soft but without brown spots. The sugar measurement below is a guide- add a tablespoon or two and taste your base to check for sweetness. Sometimes I add 2 tablespoons, sometimes 4 tablespoons- it just depends on how sweet and ripe the bananas were to begin with. Once frozen, the flavor of the ice cream will be blunted a bit so don’t be conservative. (Can I tell you how hard I had to struggle to not follow that statement up with a political jab?) I really like pistachios with my banana ice cream but it’s still delicious on its on if you decide to skip the nuts. If you do add nuts, don’t buy roasted, salted pistachios at the store. Their flavor is dulled once they’ve been sitting in a store bin or bag for a few months. Buy raw pistachios and toast and salt them yourself.

2 cups banana puree, from 4-5 medium sized, very ripe bananas
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pistachios, toasted and salted, for topping

1. Pour pureed bananas into a medium sized bowl and add cream, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Allow the ice cream base to chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours or put in the freezer for approximately 20-30 minutes.
3. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the machine’s directions.
4. Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for 3-4 hours.
5. While the ice cream is setting up in the freezer, toast the pistachios by spreading the nuts out on a baking sheet and baking in a 325º Fahrenheit oven for approximately 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt while still warm.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Peach Clafoutis for a Pie-luck

I recently attended a pot luck pie social, dubbed a pie-luck, hosted by the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. Aside from getting together to eat pie, which is a perfectly fine reason in its own right, the pie-luck included a contest to determine the featured pie at a upcoming fundraiser for SafePlace, a local organization dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence. The fundraiser, on August 21st at the Alamo Drafthouse, will involve more pie eating and a screening of the movie Waitress, which, coincidentally, features a lot of pie. Props to Micheal, over at Cooking for Engineers on his winning pecan pie. The fundraiser is a public event so if you're in the Austin area come out and join us and be sure to eat some of his delicious pie.

So what does clafoutis have to do with a pie-luck, you ask? Good question. The answer is not much, really. Basically, I didn't get it together in time to come up with a pie recipe for the contest but I wanted to attend the pie-luck and I didn't want to show up empty handed. Clafoutis was an easy choice.

One might say, easy as pie. I'd say easier.

Peach Clafoutis
adapted from Tartine 

Clafoutis is a great last minute dessert- it requires only a handful of ingredients, all staples, and it works well with a variety of fruit. I initially planned to make a blackberry clafoutis but when I didn't get to the store, the peaches I already had on hand served me well. I used the same recipe I've used previously, and subbed slices from 3 medium sized peaches for the cherries. I would also recommend subbing almond extract for the vanilla bean in this peach version. I discovered I was out of almond extract while making my clafoutis so I went with a vanilla bean but almond would be a better complement to the peaches. Also, although it is traditional to caramelize the crust on a cherry clafoutis, I skipped that step as I thought it would mask the flavor of the fresh peaches.