A long time ago I randomly found a recipe for kale chips and I thought it was a cool idea. I get kale from my farm share, so I decided to try it. I took three leaves and ripped them into little pieces and put olive oil and fleur de sel (schmancy salt) on them. I added some parmesan cheese after they were cooked. I was looking at this recipe, which suggests 15 minutes at 375°F. I put the kale in when my oven had gotten to 300°F and checked on it at 10 minutes, knowing that my oven is a little overzealous. I still thought it was overdone! Maybe I should have used more oil.
Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with the kale chips, although maybe if I had gotten them out earlier they would have been tastier. They just didn’t have a good flavor, except for the big stems. They tasted really good but weren’t quite cooked enough to be easy to eat. So either the bad taste was from being burnt, and the recipe is salvageable, or chips are not how I like my kale.
I’m really excited because I got a new digital camera for Christmas. I know I like the model because…I picked it out. Now you know what this means…prettier pictures! Not by much, because it’s really my lack of photography skills that makes them bad more than the camera, but I think they’ll be a little prettier, still. I can’t wait to take pictures, I’ll have to make up something to cook.
Also, I got a new candy thermometer (also for Christmas, also explicitly asked for). My first glass one broke after many years of valiant service in fudge making. Then I got one that just has a metal stem, but it needed to be so far into the candy to get an accurate reading that, well, I either used a different thermometer or didn’t get an accurate reading. How much candy do they think I need?! So now I’m back to the glass kind, although even this one says that it works best when it’s submerged two and a half inches. Grumble.
What I really wish people would invent (and what they may have already invented, but probably with that same depth issue) is a candy thermometer analogous to those meat thermometers that you leave in the oven with an alarm on the outside that goes off at the right temperature. For a candy thermometer though, the alarm should be able to go off when it hits the lower limit of the temperature and when it hits the upper limit. When I use my meat thermometer with an alarm for candy (which I have done several times…enough that I seem to have broken it…whoops), I can only use the alarm to get it up to the soft ball stage, but not for when I’m cooling it down before stirring it.
My grandmother gave me a cookie press – I didn’t even have to ask for that one! It’s a nice set from Williams Sonoma, comes in a little tin that holds all the stencil-y things. Just wait until the next departmental Cookie Social. It’s just too bad that most of the fun holidays will be over, because I have a pumpkin shape, a Christmas tree, a candy cane, and so on. There’s probably a heart in there somewhere, though.
Speaking of gadgets, I added a link to this blog’s RSS feed over to the right, and I’m thinking about adding links to social bookmarking sites. Anyone have any suggestions for which one(s)? I’ve decided to buckle down and blog more regularly so I thought I might do something to, you know, actually get readers ;). Coming up I’ll finally post some of my last adventures from last semester, and by the time those are up, I’ll be back at school making a mess of my kitchen again.
I am a Cookie Monster for our department, meaning I make cookies when speakers come (I do also eat a lot of cookies, but that’s coincidental). The night I made these, I had completely forgotten that there was a colloquium the next day, and so I dreamt something up that I had all the ingredients for: sweet potato cookies. I got the sweet potatoes from the farmshare, and I always have the makings for cookies. I even had chocolate chips on hand, so I tried to make the cookies look like jack-o-lanterns, because it was right before Halloween (yes, that’s how far behind I am on posting). It didn’t really work. But they tasted good.
I started with the trusty old recipe on the bag of chocolate chips and tried to change it to accomodate the sweet potatoes, which I microwaved and blended. I used the same amount of butter and sugar as normal, but more brown than white. I used one egg instead of two, thinking the sweet potato would add moisture. I added cinnamon and allspice. Then I figured I would just add flour until I got to the right consistency. I had bread and cake flour but not AP, so I figured I’d try to use half of each and it would all even out. Well, normally you use 2 1/4 cups of flour in a batch of cookies, so I thought I’d add the flours a half a cup at a time. But when I got to a 3/4 cup, it seemed like the right consistency. I mean, ok, sweet potatoes are starchy, and I only used one egg. Now I’ve made a lot of cookies in my life, folks. I know what homemade cookie dough feels like. But somehow, I was very, very wrong. This was what I ended up with (don’t use it):
1 cup butter
1 cup mashed sweet potato
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup bread flour
1/4 cup cake flour
I lovingly scooped them onto a baking sheet and pressed chocolate chips on top as the face of a jack-o-lantern.
Then I baked them. Then I checked how they were doing in the middle. I had a sheet of cookieness. It was delicious. But it was not cookies. So I snacked on cookieness for the next few days, and I added flour like crazy to the next batch. Which did actually turn into cookies. I chilled them overnight and baked them in the morning. They came out sticky and flat, but at least they were separate. I wish I had written down how much flour I added, but I probably didn’t even measure it.
The flavors, however, were quite good. It would not be a waste of time to work on this one. The sweet potatoes didn’t come through as much as I would have liked, though. They weren’t really orange so much as orangey brown and people weren’t quite sure what the flavor was.
My class instituted Cake Friday, which, like the Cookie Social after colloquia, is to be interpreted loosely. At least by me. So instead of making a cake, I made penuche, which is like a brown sugar version of fudge. Fudge is one of my all-time favorite things to make (and to eat, hence to make), but I had never tried penuche, and I decided it was time. I used this recipe from cooks.com. I only had about .7 lbs of brown sugar, so I used white sugar for the rest, and I skipped the nuts.
It turned out fine – I certainly don’t think we lacked for molasses. Unfortunately, I’m posting this waaaay late, and I have since lost the pictures I took. It was brown-sugar colored fudge, what can I say.
The trick to these kinds of things – besides paying attention to temperature – is to start panning them before they completely harden up. You have to stir until they get thick and opaque, and then RUSH to get them in the pan or they will freeze up in a bizarre shape and that’s what you’re stuck with. What’s happening is, your stirring is getting crystals to form and the more crystals that are there, the more crystals will hook on to those crystals, and then all the sudden, it’s all crystallized and it won’t stir anymore. My guess is that if you don’t want it to ever set quite that hard, you shouldn’t cook it quite to the soft ball stage. Then it will have more moisture left in it and I assume, stay softer.
When I studied abroad in France, I went on a day trip with some people in my group to Amiens. It’s a lovely place in the Picardie region of northern France. We went to an amazing little restaurant whose name I sadly don’t remember where they had caprese salads with a scoop of balsamic vinegar ice cream/sorbet (I think it had dairy in it but not too much). We weren’t sure what to expect, but it. was. amazing. A friend and I tried to ask for the recipe but they said they bought it already made. Now, I have my issues with France, but any country that has a company that sells pre-made balsamic vinegar ice cream is ok in my book. We also stopped by a grocery store to talk to the fromagier (guy who sells cheese) and I tried some Comte – also highly recommended. But this post is about one of our shorter stops – our tour guide popped into a candy store and bought macarons d’Amiens for us all to try (so sweet of her!). We were living in Paris, so we thought we knew all about macarons – those multicolored little cookie sandwich type things. I was never terribly impressed by them. But these were totally different. They were little short cylindrical blonde things that looked like they would be dry cookies. That made it so much better when we bit into them and discovered that they were moist patties of almondy goodness.
They immediately went on my mental To Cook list, and after quite a bit of searching, I found some recipes to try. I gave one a shot about a year ago, and it came out very much the wrong texture, although it tasted good. I had tried to grind almonds in my spice grinder because I couldn’t find almond flour. Then I found almond meal at Trader Joe’s. So now I’m trying them again with that.
I’m using this recipe, which I’ll translate below, minus the parts that are too obvious to belong in a recipe anyway (you were planning on letting your macaroons cool after baking them, right? Rather than keeping them perpetually hot? Good) and plus my notes in parentheses.
250g powdered almonds
1 Tbsp honey
2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk (I only used whites, which I had frozen last time I made something that only used yolks. I put them in a plastic bag and ran warm water over it to thaw them.)
1 Tbsp apricot or apple jam (I used apricot)
a few drops vanilla extract
1 tsp bitter almond extract (I didn’t use this)
Mix the almonds, sugar, vanilla, and honey.
Gradually add the egg whites. It should have the consistency of almond paste. (I can only imagine this is more helpful to French cooks than American ones; when’s the last time you tested the consistency of almond paste?)
Add the jam and almond extract. (In the end, mine was of a consistency that would stick together if you pressed it, but could also fall apart if you nudged it.)
Refrigerate 6-8 hours. (I rolled it first and refrigerated it just while the oven preheated. If you want to be safe, refrigerate it for an hour I guess, but I can’t imagine it being any colder or more hydrated in six hours than in one.)
Roll into a log 4 cm in diameter, slice 2 cm thick, and put the slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. (I rolled it by spooning half of it onto each of two sheets of aluminum foil, packing into roughly the shape I wanted, and then getting it just right by tightly rolling the foil around it and rolling that on the counter to smooth out the corners. I arbitrarily cut one slice and then used that as my measuring stick for all the others.)
Brush egg yolk on the tops. (Skipped. I had leftover egg whites and didn’t want to have to use a whole new egg just to get shiny tops.)
Bake at 350F for 20 minutes. (I know my oven runs hot, but I recommend a lower temperature so you can get them to cook through without burning on the edges. But remember: they’re supposed to be moist and kind of just-held-together by that wonderful culinary glue, egg protein.)
I still think a finer grind on the almonds would have been better, but it basically worked. My oven is ridiculous, so I had to take them out at around 15 minutes and then turn off the oven and put them in for a while to let the centers set in the low heat. I love that trick, but this time I found out that if your roommate is baking too, and sees the oven off, she might start preheating it for her cookies, and your macaroons will get a little too hard on the outside. So be smart about it. But no worries – people ate them all :).
Edit: Just after finding a Joe Pastry post that I could have used when I was making petits fours, I found out that recently he’s been blogging about, you guessed it, macaroons. Here’s how to make the Parisian version of almond macaroons, according to him. (If I only had a food processor…). The trick about letting the piped out macarons rest before baking them to keep them from rising normally is cool. But I still don’t really get what all the fuss is about (or perhaps it’s all the fuss that makes me want to not be crazy about macarons parisiens; I’m a contrary person that way).