Posted in baking

Liege Waffles, Quicker

making the waffles
It’s important to dress for the occasion when you make Liege waffles.

Years ago I started making Liege waffles and blogged about it. I’ve made that recipe several times, and it’s always gone well, but recently I wanted to make Liege waffles and I didn’t have time to start the dough the night before. So I tried keeping the ingredients the same but changing the method.

I also multiplied the recipe by 7 because I was serving them at a party. That didn’t pose any problems, but it did require me to divide the dough into two large mixing bowls. It would’ve been smarter for me to make it in two separate bowls from the beginning, rather than guessing on how to halve it in the middle of adding ingredients. I ended up with 38 waffles.

Another change I’ve made since my first couple times making these waffles is that I ran out of imported pearl sugar and switched to bashing sugar cubes in a ziploc bag with the end of the handle of my chef’s knife. They still caramelize, so it seems like a fine compromise to me. This post suggests making pearl sugar by mixing sugar with maple syrup and letting it dry. I don’t know how real pearl sugar is made but that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all since we know maple syrup tastes great with waffles.

Ok, so the quicker method:

1. Wake up your yeast.

Mix water, milk, yeast, egg, and half the flour in a bowl. Let sit for a few minutes.

2. Let the flour absorb the water.

Add the rest of the flour, mix well. Let sit for 20 minutes.

3. Make gluten.

Knead until the dough is elastic.

4. Add all remaining ingredients except pearl sugar (or sugar cube pieces).

This is where you put in the salt, which makes kneading difficult, as well as the brown sugar, honey, and butter, which make gluten formation difficult. It’s also when you add the vanilla extract, but I don’t think it really matters when you do that.

Getting the butter incorporated is hard if you’re mixing by hand. I recommend microwaving it until it’s melty but not liquid.

I got worried at this point, since I usually mix it in a machine but this time did it by hand, and the texture looked awful. But during the rise it rallied.

5. Let rise.

Let it sit for an hour.

6. Redistribute bubbles and yeast, divide into servings.

Punch it down, fold it a few times, and then shape it into a bunch of balls that are a bit smaller than each section of your waffle maker (because they’re going to rise).

7. Let rise.

Let it sit for another hour.

8. Cook.

Put them in your waffle maker. Mine does best on level 4 out of 5 for less time than my waffle maker thinks is necessary – I go by smell and intuition, and checking on them doesn’t really hurt.

finished waffles
No one knows how long Liege waffles keep for.

Cleaning your waffle maker is interesting after making Liege waffles. The trick is to let the caramel harden and then break it out with a fork. Then eat whatever caramel isn’t burnt as your prize for having to clean this thing.

Do you lose anything by speeding up the process? Possibly. I haven’t compared them side by side and these were perfectly delicious, but it is true that letting yeast work slowly at a cool temperature produces better flavors than having them work fast at room temperature. But I think there’s so much else going on in the flavor of a Liege waffle that it probably doesn’t matter.

Posted in baking, foam

Middle Eastern Macarons

I didn't dye them, so they're just a faint green from the pistachios.

My first attempt at macarons went pretty well, and I had been excited to try them again ever since.  So when a professor who works in France came to visit our department, you know what I made.  But I didn’t go with French flavors.  Instead, I

  • swapped out the almond meal for pistachio meal (you can’t find that in stores, I just threw some pistachios in my magic bullet),
  • added a scant Tbsp rose water to the egg whites before beating them (remember, you can add some water-based liquid to your egg whites without hurting the meringue),
  • and filled them with honey jam (like I did with my May Flowers Macarons).
  • Besides these changes, I followed the exact same recipe as last time – Not So Humble Pie’s recipe – and I had the same weak point as last time – air pockets in the macarons.  But I don’t really mind them.  As soon as you bite it’s all the same anyway.

These are common flavors in Middle Eastern cuisine, so I told my friends they were Middle Eastern flavored.  One person replied “I don’t think I know what the Middle East tastes like,” but when she tried one she said “These are Middle Eastern flavored!”

And it turns out, the Middle East tastes good.  This is one of those rare dishes that I plan to make again without needing someone to specially request it.  I’ll probably try a honey buttercream instead of honey jam next time (honey jam is so sweet and sticky) but the combination of flavors with the texture of the macarons was heavenly.

A tale of warning: I wanted to make these again for some especially helpful professors as a holiday gift, but I made two different batches using defrosted frozen egg whites, which normally work fine in meringues, and they just were not right.  The first batch was too sticky, and the second batch never dried on the top, so neither came out very macaron-like.  They tasted good, but I think they taste better in macaron form.  So it looks like you should use never-frozen whites for your macarons.

 

Posted in dry heat

I’m now that person who makes her own granola

homemade granola
After I threw away the burnt part and ate a bowl of it, this much was left.

I never thought I’d make my own granola.  I’m a cereal for breakfast except on special occasions kind of person, and I didn’t want to have to do any work for breakfast.  But lately I’ve been paying more attention to eating healthy, and I found myself wanting to decide what was in my granola.  Or maybe it’s just the hippieness of Western Massachusetts rubbing off on me.  I’m going to a yoga class this weekend, too.

I estimated that I eat 3/4 cup of cereal in the morning.  So, per bowl, the recipe (made up by yours truly) is:

1/2 cup oats

2 Tbsp flaxseeds, ground

2 Tbsp almonds, blanched and chopped

2 Tbsp sweetener (I used a ratio of half honey, one fourth agave maple syrup blend, and one fourth sugar, simply because that was how much I had left of the honey and the syrup)

1/2 Tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch salt

to be added after baking:

1 tsp candied ginger

Mix the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and mix them in, spread onto a baking sheet in a thin layer, and bake for 20 minutes at 325F, moving stuff around halfway through.  Cool and add the ginger.

I made four bowls’ worth, which seemed like the perfect amount for one baking sheet.  I did have one snag: it got a little too brown.  One edge got downright burnt, so I threw a little of it away, but the rest is ok…but just barely.  I don’t know if this is because 20 minutes at 325F is too much, or because my oven wasn’t really at 325F, but I suspect the latter.  I use an oven thermometer, but lately it says that the oven is at a lower temperature than it’s supposed to be at.  Maybe both my oven and my oven thermometer are off.  Alas.  I’ll check it again at 15 minutes next time.

Posted in baking

The Other Belgian Waffle

Liege waffles
I had to resist eating them because the recipe makes so few.

To Americans, Belgian waffles mean fluffy waffles with big pockets.  But Belgium has two famous kinds of waffles, even if one of them failed to become famous over here.  There are Brussels waffles, which are more or less like what we think of, though they’re yeast-risen, and then there are Liège waffles, which are rich, dense, and dotted with chunks of sugar.  In Belgium, waffles are a snack food, served with whipped cream, fruit, chocolate, you name it.  I even got waffles from a vending machine once in France.  And Liège waffles live up to that calling, even without any toppings.  They’re essentially brioche with pearl sugar mixed in, cooked in a waffle iron instead of in an oven.

Brioche: yeast-risen bread with butter, eggs, and sugar.  About as rich as kneaded bread can get.

Pearl sugar: lumps of sugar made under intense pressure that hold their shape in heat.  I ordered some online, but in my experience half-crushed sugar cubes do just fine.

I used this recipe, and man, did it serve me well.  They all but canonized me when I brought these into the department for a colloquium reception along with some jersey whipped cream.  (Jersey refers to the kind of cow – it makes a higher-fat milk than our (Americans’) usual Holsteins. It also made a denser, less smooth whipped cream.)  It was definitely the most loved contribution I’ve made to the department, and most of the desserts I post here end up eaten by people in the department.  A gay man proposed to me so I could make them for him all the time.

liege waffle label
I put this out at the reception. Luikse wafels is their name in Dutch, gaufres liègeois is the name in French.

The recipe requires very little work but quite a bit of time and careful scheduling.  I find the instructions a little hard to follow, so I’ve gone through it again here.

Method:

1. Mix the flour, water, milk, yeast, and egg, and let it hydrate and develop some gluten and rise a bit before you add all the stuff that will make gluten development difficult (that is, sugar and fat – I supposed the egg goes in early because of its water content and in spite of its fat).

2. Wait 1-1.5 hours.  Put the butter out during this wait so it’ll be soft.

3. Then add everything else, except the pearl sugar.  (The recipe breaks this into a few steps, which I find unnecessary – and I’m stirring by hand!)  Mix well, knead a little.

4. Wait 4 hours.

4.5. Then the recipe says to put it in the fridge for half an hour before stirring it down, folding it a few times, and refrigerating overnight.  It says the preliminary refrigeration is critical, so I haven’t been gutsy enough to test it, but it baffles me why you would need to refrigerate it before refrigerating it.  The stirring down part just knocks out some air and redistributes the yeast – I can imagine, if I squint, that the yeast need to slow down before being introduced to new food sources, but no other bread recipes I know of require you to refrigerate before the punch-down.  Anybody have any clues?  Anyway, I add the pearl sugar at this point because it’s easier than when the dough is cold.  I haven’t had any problems because of it.

5. So, stir the pearl sugar in, refrigerate overnight (or whenever), and then take the dough out, divide it into waffle-sized pieces (the recipe is for five waffles, but I make about 8 small ones, and I usually double the recipe for a total of 16), and let rise at room temperature for 1.5 hours.

6. I have a Cuisinart Belgian waffle iron that I use normally (not the way the recipe says) at about level 3 or 4, out of 5, in terms of the heat.  I usually let them cook for a little longer than one cycle.  They’ll get pretty dark because they have sugar and protein, which brown well.  You’re aiming for the pearl sugar to caramelize but not burn, but even if it doesn’t caramelize, it will be de-freaking-licious.

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 custard, thickening

I’m a Daring Baker!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

This is the point when I came around to making graham crackers - it looks like cookie dough!

In December I found out about the Daring Bakers, and I really wanted to join but I thought, I’m probably not up to speed with them.  But they have deadlines for getting in each month due to the way they all reveal the challenge on the same day, and the thought of missing the deadline and having to wait a long time gave me that extra push.  So I dove in, and here I am doing a Daring Bakers’ Challenge!

Unfortunately I missed the month they did cannoli only to come in right on time for the graham cracker month.  Graham crackers.  I won’t even eat the things if they aren’t in s’mores or pie crusts.  But ok.  I wanted to be a Daring Baker, I’ll do it.

At least there is also a recipe for the graham crackers to go in – Nanaimo Bars.  This is cool because it’s a Canadian recipe I had never heard of, so I’m learning.

A sheet of graham crackerness coming out of the oven.

I’ll be learning about gluten-free cooking, too.  I of course wanted a deeper understanding of the chemistry of gluten-free baking, so I read up on the different kinds of flours at Gluten Free Mommy.  I soon realized these flours replace the starch of wheat flour; the binding action of the gluten is left up to other ingredients, like xanthan gum.  Gluten-free Lifestyle gets a little more into the nitty gritty of it – you need less xanthan gum for products that would otherwise rely less on gluten than yeast breads.  Guar gum is another possible binder.  And adding protein, such as milk powder or gelatin, can be helpful, I suppose because protein strengthens the structure of the baked good.  Apparently, graham crackers don’t really need a binder, because there is no egg or gum in them at all.  I guess they don’t have to support much!

I couldn’t find glutinous rice flour anywhere, so I used white rice flour.  It seemed to work fine.  One of my flours seemed not to be milled quite fine enough, though, and left a grainy mouthfeel that kept me

Some was sacrificed to the Nanaimo bars.

from enjoying them too much, although the flavor was good otherwise.  I don’t know which it was but for some reason I suspect the sorghum.  I also substituted a little 1% milk and a little cream for the whole milk I was supposed to use.   I forgot to make my graham crackers look like crackers, but that didn’t matter for crushing them up for the Nanaimo bars.

It seems kind of a shame to forfeit the lovely texture of a custard, yummy as the mix-ins were.

The bottom layer is a chocolate custard with stuff mixed in – graham crackers, coconut, and almonds.  This is the part I would do differently the next time around.  1) The custard curdled on my first try.  I redid it a little differently: I melted the butter halfway, so it wasn’t too hot, then took it off the heat and added the rest of the ingredients, then put it back on the heat and let it thicken.  If you don’t mind dirtying up another bowl, mixing the egg with the sugar first would be extra protection.  Alternatively, you could cream the butter and sugar and then add the egg, like you’re making cookies.  The point is, if you have fat and/or sugar mixed with the egg, the proteins will be protected somewhat from curdling.  If you add the egg to already hot ingredients, you should remember, unlike me, to temper them first by adding a small amount to

Middle Layer
Yum.

the egg and then adding the egg to the rest. 2) I think the flavor would be better with melted chocolate than

cocoa powder.  I think this about most chocolate flavored things.

The middle layer is mostly butter and powdered sugar.  Gross to think about, delicious to eat.  The top layer is mostly chocolate.  Delicious again.

I served these at a party I threw recently and they got great reviews.  I happened to have a guest who eats gluten-free, so she was pleasantly surprised!

The finished bars
Ta-daaa!

PS: Apologies for the bizarre look of this page.  I wrestled with WordPress to get my pictures displayed nicely and WordPress won.  Kind of took the fun out of my first Daring Baker post, to be honest.

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).