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 thickening

Apricot pate de fruit

Add apricot juice to the list of things I have pectinified:

  1. Cranberry juice
  2. Blueberries
  3. Riesling wine
  4. Red wine
  5. Honey

In fact, I was planning to make decorated sugar cookies for the Daring Bakers instead, but realized I didn’t have enough time, and knew that I could always fall back on pate de fruit.  Although I guess I should call mine pate de jus, huh?

I got a bottle of apricot juice and did my usual thing – add sugar to taste, bring to a boil, add low-sugar pectin, cook until it’s the firmness you want when you drip a little onto a plate you keep in the freezer. I found that with the amount of juice I used (it was a smaller bottle than what a lot of fruit juice comes in, but still more juice than I’ve used before), I needed a packet and a half instead of just one packet of pectin in order to not have to boil it down too much.

I poured them into everything I had available to pour stuff into – my madeleine pan, my rose molds, and even two little heart-shaped baking pans.  It all worked out really well.  I put sugar on the hearts, but as you can see, the sugar makes them less reflective and pretty, and it draws out water and gets itself dissolved.

I took these (a long time ago) to a department party (the same one I took my key lime mini-pies to last year, and once again, it all got eaten) and one of our visiting students was really happy to have a vegan option for dessert :).

Posted in thickening

Blueberry pate de fruit

The night before the first day of school, I whipped up some blueberry pate de fruit.  Now that I know the secret of low-sugar pectin, I can do stuff like that.  Especially if I’m using whole fruit instead of juice or wine; it already has so much less water than the latter that it hits the right consistency really fast.  I actually added a little water this time to give the pectin time to heat up before the blueberries got too dehydrated.  I want the candy to be thick because of the pectin, not because I boiled the fruit down to nothing.

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • some water – a few tablespoons
  • 1 package low-sugar pectin
  • some sugar – my blueberries were a little tart, so I’m guessing I used about 1/2 cup

Puree blueberries.  Add sugar.  Boil.  Add pectin and water.  Stir.  Test on a plate in the freezer.  Pour into my trusty madeleine pan.  Let set.  Enjoy.

This made just over the amount my little madeleine pan will hold, so I have some scraps in a tupperware.

When I made pate de Riesling, I wondered if greasing the pan was necessary.  It’s not nonstick, but I suspected the shape of the madeleines would let the candies slide right out.  So this time I didn’t grease it.  Before being refrigerated, they absolutely slid right out.  After refrigeration, they slid out but not quite as perfectly as before.  I think this may be because they got below freezing in the fridge, though.  That’s happened to things in certain parts of the fridge before, and these seemed colder than they should have been.  So it seems to be pretty safe – the main thing to watch out for when molding pectin candy is the shape of the mold (you need leverage to get them out), not the nonstick-ness of the surface.

I’ll add pictures when I’m less lazy.

Posted in thickening

Riesling candy

Rose molds
The candy setting in rose-shaped molds.

I have finally played around with pectin enough that I can whip up a batch of gelled candy without worrying about recipes.  They make it seem so hard!  Here’s what works for me.

I visited some good friends in Minneapolis for the Minnesota State Fair, and since they had given me some molds for candy just because they saw them and thought of me, I’d been planning ever since we thought up the trip to bring them candy made in the molds.  One of them loves wine, and I think she’s actually a red wine person, but my red wine candies from Valentine’s Day didn’t taste quite candy-like enough.  I thought a Riesling, a white wine known for being sweet, would make a great candy.  The only ingredients are:

  • a bottle of Riesling
  • a little sugar – I didn’t measure, just poured a little in, but I’d say 3-4 Tbsp is a good guess.  It’ll depend on your wine, anyway.
  • a box of SureJell pectin, the kind that doesn’t require sugar to gel
  1. Put a small plate in your freezer.
  2. If your pectin is powdered like mine was, mix a little of the wine with the pectin in order to make a slurry so the pectin won’t clump as much when you stir it in later.*
  3. Heat the wine and sugar until it comes to a rolling boil.  (To be honest, I didn’t add the sugar until I had started testing it and tasting the test bits and realized it could be a little sweeter.)
  4. Whisk in the pectin.
  5. After a few minutes, start testing small spoonfuls of the mixture by putting them on the freezer plate, putting the plate back in the freezer for a couple of minutes, and then pressing on the cooled gel.  At first, your finger will make an indentation in the gel.  But after a while, the gel will split under the pressure, because it’s more solid.  That’s when it’s ready.
  6. Remove from the heat and pour into your molds.  Alternatively, and more traditionally, pour into a rectangular or square pan and cut into squares when cooled.
  7. It’s also traditional to toss the finished candies in sanding sugar, but I think they’re prettier as they are and find the sugar distracting taste-wise.  Plus I hate to have to worry about whether or not the sugar will draw out the moisture and get itself dissolved.
florida molds
My friend lived in Florida for a while, my home state. Hence these beachy shapes.

*I’m not sure if making the slurry was necessary, because I noticed there were some clumps in the pectin-wine mixture anyway, and yet when the candy was done and I poured it into the molds, I saw no clumps.  So maybe it all works itself out in the intense boiling that goes on.

I also molded some, as with my red wine batch, in a mini madeleine pan.  Works beautifully, and the shell shape makes them easy to slip out of the molds.  I greased all of my molds with a little coconut oil to be on the safe side, but I’m not sure it matters.

I ended up with enough to fill both of the molds my friends gave me (they have 11 spots each, with each spot holding maybe 2 tsp) and my mini madeleine pan, and have a little left on the bottom of my saucepan to try.

madeleine candy
I have actually never used this pan to make madeleines. Only to mold candy.
Posted in candy, thickening

Cranberry Pâtes de Fruit, the easy way

cranberry pate de fruit 1
Aren't they pretty with the light coming through?

When I was studying abroad in France, some family friends took me out to dinner at Apicius, a devastatingly good restaurant. When they brought dessert, there were a few things that they served regardless of what we ordered, and one of those things were these little square raspberry things coated in sugar. They were soooo good. But that’s not all; they were the mysterious puciunin that my then-boyfriend used to tell me about (his Piedmontese grandmother called them that). I had tried to figure out what they were, but try googling puciunin – hardly anything comes up. Sure enough, I saw them again at a store in the airport in France (and bought them, of course!), and that was when I found out what the rest of the world calls them: pâte de fruit. Fruit paste, in other words.

They’re not as schmancy as they sound: they’re just overcooked jam. But try these and you may start calling jam undercooked pâte de fruit, because really, what better way is there to eat your fruit? (I’m just so sad that a lot of the nutrients break down at the temperatures required.)

When I got home I tried making them. Several times. I never got quite the consistency I wanted. Puciunin should be a definite solid, but not rubbery. They’re not like jello, either. They’re just right. I made some apple ones that were a little too firm, some apple ones that were too soft, some strawberry ones that were too firm, some pineapple ones that were too soft.

The problem is that pectin is the gelling agent, and pectin is very finicky. It needs just so much sugar,

cranberry pate de fruit 2
This is the dish held vertically. I'd like to see jam do that.

just so much acid, just so much heat. But the fruit you’re using has an unknown amount of sugar, acid, and even pectin.  I considered buying a refractometer and ordering the brand of fruit puree that you can use to eliminate these unknowns, but eventually it occurred to me that I could (more inexpensively) just buy some low-sugar pectin and see if that helped.  Low-sugar pectin is still kind of finicky, as you can’t use too much sugar with it, but trust me, these things do not suffer from a lack of sweetness.  I’ve also noticed that both kinds of pectin have an acid in their ingredient list, and so I wonder if the acid included in pâte de fruit recipes is actually necessary.

So the other night I found myself with a lot of cranberry juice left over from my cranberry fondant (yes, that’s how long I’ve been sitting on this post), and it was so delicious, except for the fact that the acidity or astringency or both made it undrinkable.  But I could tell that it would be delicious if I could get it under control!  I thought, you normally make pâte de fruit from puree, but juice could work.  It might not have quite the same consistency, and you shouldn’t make this substitution in a recipe you have without taking into account that the juice will have less pectin than the puree, but still…  And so, I gave this a shot:

  1. 2 1/2 cups cranberry juice (not juice cocktail)
  2. 2 cups sugar (Ok, to be totally honest, I didn’t write this down and I’m not sure if I actually used 2 cups.  But it must have been in the ballpark…I know, big mistake.)
  3. a pinch of cream of tartar
  4. a packet of low-sugar pectin

I boiled the juice and sugar for a few minutes and then added the acid and pectin.  Then I boiled more, and more, and more, continually testing it by spooning a little onto a pyrex pan kept in the freezer (my candy thermometer is being shipped to me

sugared cranberry pate de fruit
Here they are after being dipped in sugar. Though it's traditional, it really wasn't necessary.

with a bunch of my other stuff that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase).  In the end I sort of chickened out – it was just shy of perfect, and I knew if I cooked the pectin too far it would break down and not gel at all, so I stopped there, and poured the whole thing into aforementioned pyrex pan.  I let it cool on the counter and then stuck it in the fridge.  The next day, I cut it into squares and spread them out on a plate so the sides could sort of dry.  They don’t end up feeling dry or anything, they just get a little firmer and less sticky.  I think it would have been even better if I had had the patience to flip them over and let the bottoms dry, too.  Finally, I tossed them in sugar (sanding sugar is preferable, but I just used regular granulated).  This was the test: the bottoms ended up, not visibly wet, but wet enough that the sugar didn’t look white anymore.  The other sides stayed dry and white.  So I guess that’s the trick to keeping them from weeping and dissolving the sugar and getting sticky: cook them enough, and let them sort of dry out for a while first.

I wish I had added even less sugar, because the wonderful acidity of the cranberries is a little lost.  I also think I should have cooked them just ever so slightly longer; but still, I think these pass as pâtes de fruit, and that is a triumph!  Who would have thought my most successful try would be the one where I just used juice?

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 candy, thickening, Uncategorized

A different way to enjoy wine

Milk chocolate truffles
Careful with the quality of your chocolate - I thought I was getting good stuff but the ganache had a sticky quality that makes me suspect they added a thickener to it..

I’ve been groaning to myself about the state of the food blogosphere circa Valentine’s Day, but then I realized, I’m doing the same thing.  I made truffles, as I have every Valentine’s Day since my freshman year in college.  I can’t help the fact that they’re the perfect potluck base: I make the centers – a simple ganache (cream + chocolate, melted together, some add butter), this year I took Cooking For Engineers’ advice and used a 2:1 chocolate:cream ratio by weight – and everyone brings a topping.

But I also made something else that is not what you usually see on Valentine’s Day (or ever), although I must admit it is clearly V-Day themed.

Madeleine-shaped gelled wine candies
You have to be careful when you pour them in the molds or you'll get those funny little edges.

I have a thing about pâtes de fruit, which will become clear when I finally get around to posting about my cranberry ones.  This time, I made them with red wine.  I used Juanita’s Allrecipes recipe for wine jelly as a starting point, but it’s a pretty loose interpretation.  Here’s what I did:

          • 1 bottle red wine
          • 1 packet low-sugar pectin (ie, pectin that can be used with low- or no-sugar recipes; not because I’m anti-sugar, but because this pectin can tolerate a wider variety of sugar concentrations, making it harder to screw up)
          • about 3 Tbsp. sugar
          • 1/2 an ice cube of lemon juice – about 1 Tbsp
            1. Make a pectin slurry: I mixed the pectin with some of the wine so the pectin wouldn’t clump when I added it later.  If you’re using liquid pectin, don’t worry about that.
            2. Boil the heck out of everything: I boiled the wine, sugar, and lemon juice, and then added the pectin and kept boiling until 1) a little put on a plate in the freezer solidified to my liking – when I pushed on it, it broke into two pieces on either side of my finger instead of letting me make a finger-shaped hole; 2) the bubbles were small and close together; 3) it was just shy of 220°F – it seemed like it would never get quite there!  The longer you boil, the firmer they will set, unless you go way too long and the pectin breaks down, in which case they won’t set at all (although your syrup will be pretty thick by then anyway).  I would love to tell you the temperature at which this happens but I have been unable to find it myself. If anyone knows, please comment!
            3. Pan and chill: I took it off the heat and poured it into a greased mini-madeleine mold and a greased mini-muffin pan, then refrigerated.  They came out of the molds just fine.  So don’t think your baking pans are unitaskers!
            Wine candies in the mold
            The good thing about my bad molding technique is you can get a better sense of the rich color!

            The verdict: They were quite good, but a little too tart.  I would either increase the sugar, at least for this particular wine (did somebody say Riesling candy? I’ll get right on that), or drop the lemon juice.  I have a sneaking suspicion that since all the pectin I buy has citric acid in the ingredients, we may not really need to add acidic ingredients anymore.  Perhaps lemon juice and such are just still in all the recipes from before someone got the bright idea to add it to the pectin.  Does anyone know for sure?  I’ll have to test it sometime.  Anyway, wine is already acidic so maybe it’s sufficient on its own.  My recommendation is to make this with a fruity wine and no lemon juice – I still like to err on the side of too little sugar because, even as someone with a huge sweet tooth, too much sugar can take some of the complexity out of the flavor.  And these are supposed to be sophisticated candies, after all!