Posted in baking, candy, dry heat, wet heat

Pear Frangipane Tart

pear tart

I used this recipe to make a Christmas Eve dessert.

I adapted it slightly. I definitely poached my own pears. I’m not snobby about all ingredients, but the difference between fresh and canned pears is huge. I followed David Lebovitz’s recipe for that, and added ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and whole cloves (maybe a tablespoon of each? I didn’t measure) to the syrup, which I made double the amount of.

Double the pear poaching syrup might have been more than I needed, especially since you don’t actually need 4 pears to do this recipe. Only two quartered pears will fit on the top of my tart, although I squeezed in one more quarter.

I also don’t have baking beans or parchment paper handy, so I blind baked the crust without anything on top of it for 15 minutes and that seemed fine. It didn’t brown.

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet but I think the crust might turn out too floury tasting. It’s somewhere in between a cookie crust and a flaky buttery crust. You might want to try a pate sucree recipe instead. But I’ll report back after tonight. Edit: The crust was tender but a little too floury tasting for me. It wasn’t bad but I’d just as soon eat the filling and the pears without the crust. Making it either more buttery or sweeter would probably be better. The almond meal in the crust probably helped keep it tender but I don’t think it added much flavor-wise.

I also added some vanilla to the frangipane, and right now I’m boiling down the syrup I poached the pears in to make a sauce for the tart, especially important if it turns out to be not sweet enough. I also thought a caramel sauce would go well with it, but since I already have this syrup I’ll try that first. Edit: the frangipane was delicious. My sister doesn’t like pears so I just made her try a bite of the frangipane and she said “It’s like a little angel!” She then apologized for not being good at talking about food but I thought that was pretty great! I do think adding spices to it would be good, though. The syrup didn’t pack the punch I had hoped, but the tart didn’t really need it, either.

The whole thing took me two hours. I made the crust, let it rest while I prepped the pears, blind baked, poached, and made frangipane simultaneously, and now I’m baking and boiling down the syrup. You could do the crust ahead of time, of course.

One thing I learned from doing it is that you want to grab the pears out of the syrup either without piercing them, or piercing them from the bottom! When they dry up in the oven the fork marks really show!

Cinnamon and cloves are my obsession this winter since I tried a cocktail with Fernet Branco (but it didn’t taste bitter at all!). I’m thinking about using the syrup in a cocktail, too.

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Posted in foam, thickening

May Flowers Macarons

Baked macarons
When I first read about the importance of the frilly feet, I thought it was nonsense. When I saw these feet, I was ecstatic.

For our last departmental reception of the school year, I finally made macarons de Paris.  I’ve made macarons d’Amiens before, and I long preferred their unassuming deliciousness to the over-celebrated froufrou that is the Parisian macaron.  I actually never ate them in Paris, partially because I misunderstood what they were and didn’t think I’d really like them, and partially because I thought the colors everyone loves so much were a little silly.  But somehow I came around.

Spring makes me deliriously happy after spending my first winter above the Mason-Dixon line, so these macarons were an ode to flowers.  As a Floridian, the flowers were, naturally, orange blossoms.  So: orange blossom flavored macarons filled with orange blossom honey jam.

I used Not So Humble Pie’s French meringue macaron recipe with a capful (probably a little over a teaspoon) of orange blossom water mixed in while I was beating the egg whites.  I knew I could get away with that because Alton Brown taught me that you can add a little water to your egg whites for more volume.  I used an oven temperature of about 300F, and I used Bob’s Red Mill almond meal – please don’t even try to use Trader Joe’s (I’ll have to remake the macarons d’Amiens with the Red Mill meal, so much better).  I piped them with a Ziploc bag and a star tip, because it turns out my random assortment of piping tips does not include a large round one.  So they were not quite perfectly smooth, but they were pretty good.  I also didn’t bother to shield them with a sheet pan from getting browned.  They browned a little, and since I didn’t color them, I thought it was a nice peachy tinge.  I am very proud to say that they had lovely feet.  And great height, which of course came along with air bubbles inside.  Whatever.  You can’t even tell when you eat them.  I was super proud.

Assembled macaron
I ate this one after taking this shot.

Now, I have to confess: I tried to make honey buttercream frosting three times before giving up and making honey jam instead.  I’ll write a full post on that so you can learn from my mistakes.  But the honey jam was super easy: just add some water to the honey, and a little lemon juice (which I still suspect of being unnecessary since pectin comes with acid nowadays, but worst case scenario it freshens up the flavor, right?), boil, add pectin, boil a minute more, and you’re done.  I actually have a lot left over despite making about a third of this recipe.  I am not complaining.

They were loved and every last one was eaten.  Ok, I ate the last one.  What?  It’s important to try your own food, so you know what to improve on.  So even though buttercream kicked my butt, I am really proud that I can make macarons.  I feel like I can just whip them up for anything now.

Oh, and a lesson: it really does help to let your egg whites come to room temperature before beating them.  I was never patient enough before, and they will beat cold, but this time I let the whites age overnight and wow, the beating went a lot faster.  I also wait a little longer than most people to add the sugar in, because I find it really hard to get to stiff peaks if I added the sugar as soon as the eggs get frothy.

Posted in binding

Macarons d’Amiens

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.

Almond Macaroon
Side view

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

200g sugar

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)

  1. Mix the almonds, sugar, vanilla, and honey.
  2. 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?)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.)
  5. Macaroon Log
    Wrapped up like a giant Tootsie Roll.

    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.)

  6. 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.)
  7. 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.)
Macaron d'Amiens
Top view

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).