Friday, February 26, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 3

[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

Part three!

Everyone is now wondering if a single cookie really warrants a three-post discussion, right?

Well if you've ever had trouble baking these cookies you'll understand why this is getting long. There are forums with huge bloated threads devoted to discussing macarons (B%&*&ing too, naturally). Don't worry though, this will be the last full post I devote to rambling on about Italian Meringue.

Besides my kitchen is an utter disaster today and I need to spend time restoring order, not adding to the disorder by baking.

So, I'm just going to write today. That's right, I'm going to blog on my blog (heaven forbid!). For the macaron non-fanatics, feel free to disregard this post. I'll get back to the normal routine on Monday.

To start I'm going to take a moment to ask a question that hounded me when I first started baking macarons:

Why can't I find photos of the interiors of macarons online?!

You can fine page after page of gorgeous macarons online, yet rarely do you see photos of the cookies interior. At best you get a single half-nom'd shell.

Of course now that I've been baking these cookies for a while I'm beginning to understand why this is.

Posting photos of the inside of your macarons
is a little like removing your perfect black dress.

You might end up revealing your Spanx.

You can make macarons that look perfect in every way, with the exception of the interior. They can have lovely feet, rounded domes that disguise the horror on the inside.

I really feel this is the hardest thing to master when executing the Italian meringue macarons. All else considered they are pretty forgiving. You can do everything else with precision only to have your results blighted by your oven. As another blogger put it: "My oven is where macarons come to die."

Attaining the correct texture and interior requires getting a really good feel for your oven. Every oven is a little different, they all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. That is why it can be very tough to advise others on how to properly bake a macaron, since you don't share the same oven.

Now you're probably thinking to yourself, 'Ms. Humble, you don't post the insides of your cookies either!" This is correct, I don't often post the shells cut in half or bit into, simply because it isn't all that attractive to photograph (look there is a smear of Ms. Humble's drool! Lovely!). However, I've realized that I am now part of the problem. Don't worry, I'm not going to try to hide behind spanx for this post.

So I threw a couple of my cassis-fail mac's into the freezer last night, so I could cut them without squishing them. You see, biting into the mac, or cutting it while it is soft will hide most minor air pockets. Also, maturing the macarons also improves the interior and can make the pockets less obvious.

However I, for the sake of full macaron disclosure, am going to freeze and then splay them open. No crushing, no maturation (butter cream needs ~72 hours) nothing that might help obscure any flaws.

There you have it.

Yes, there are some small pockets of air in them. I even placed the biggest offender smack dab in the center of the shot. BAM!

I've never seen another macaron shot like this online and I would love to.

The stark, unforgiving nakedness of this cut lets you know a lot about the cookie. In the quest for the perfect Italian meringue macaron, I want to know what works and what doesn't. However it is pretty hard to determine if a recipe works if the baker is bashful about the interiors of their cookies.

And no, those bitten into cookies don't tell me much either.

This mac had a good sized bubble, but you can't tell after it has been bitten into crushing the air pocket.

I'd love, love, love to see some of the macaron pros out there take their cookies and LET ME SEE INSIDE! Please! I've never been disciplined enough to actually buy macarons from a good bakery, bring them home, freeze them and then cut into them.


Know what, when I am in London in a few weeks, I'm going to buy some of Pierre Hermé's Macarons at Selfridges and take them home and dissect them. It is my scientific baker duty.

To folks who produce Italian meringue macarons with the height of mine and no air bubbles: Please tell me, what are you doing?

I can make air pocket-devoid macs if I lean towards over mixing the batter and cook them at a relatively high temperature. However it is basically a cheat, as I'm using the density of the over mixed batter. I want tight feet, high profiles and moist fluffy insides.

To those who have achieved good results but have not quite gotten the right interior this is my amateur advice to you:

Learn your oven.

You can do this with as little as one batch of good macaron batter.

This is where Italian Meringue is great for beginners. The batter once inside the piping bag is fairly stable. You can pipe a small set of shells. Bake them, test them and repeat. Increasing or decreasing your oven temperature and baking times as needed until you find that sweet spot. I've done this for two hours without my batter suffering.

Practice does make perfect.

I'm going to go restore order to my kitchen now. Hope everyone out there has a great weekend.


Ms. H

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 2

[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

So I baked up a new batch of mac's today just because including photos of old macarons with yesterday's post felt like cheating.

I wanted to make a cassis macaron today since I love the flavor of black currant. However, my butter cream wasn't taking on the flavor of the cassis liqueur and I was just dumping it into the mixing bowl. It just tasted like plain ol' butter cream. Well good, vaguely fruity butter cream, but not certainly cassis butter cream.

So yea, I fail.

Anyway, I was also played around a bit with my recipe ratios today. Baking up the following:

Macarons That Were Supposed To Taste Like Cassis But In Reality Do Not:
150g confectioners sugar
150g almond meal
150g granulated sugar for syrup (plus one tablespoon for the meringue)
110g egg whites (divided)
50g water
violet food gel coloring

Cassis Butter cream:
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
cassis liqueur

Beat together the butter and sugar, add several tablespoons cassis liqueur to taste. If your liqueur is like mine, it won't taste like cassis. /sigh

Okay, so lets pick up with the Macaron 101 again, shall we.


Egg Whites:
To age or not to age, that is the question. I've made Italian meringue macarons with egg whites of various ages. The oldest were whites aged in an open bowl on my counter for four days. It did liquefy the egg whites (ew) and gave my meringue an edge. However, I've also made perfectly fine macarons with freshly cracked eggs. For example, the macarons pictured above were made this morning with non-aged whites, though the eggs themselves where roughly 2 weeks old.

So don't worry about how old your whites are. Older whites do whip up a little better than fresh whites and will give you an edge in your baking, but I still don't feel this will make or break your macarons.

Things that you should be concerned about regarding your eggs:

Oil/yolk in your eggs, or in any bowl/instrument that will come in contact with your eggs. Oil, grease, yolk etc, mean limp, pathetic meringue (if it comes together at all). Separate your eggs carefully to a different bowl than the one you will be using for mixing, just in case you have any rogue yolk issues.

Temperature: Make sure your whites are at room temperature before beating. If it is cold at my house (which it often is) I will place the bowl over a pan of very warm tap water. This helps the whites beat up lighter and fluffier.

Mixing Bowl: Use copper or stainless steel. Copper ions strengthen the egg proteins giving you a nice airy meringue. Stainless is non-reactive and also works well. Plastic (plastic is difficult to clean and can hold onto oils. Say it with me "Oil bad!"), aluminum (gray meringue, ewwww), glass (slippery sides, meringue and egg whites tend to slide down and pool in the bottom of the bowl) are not not ideal mixing bowls for meringue.

Almond Meal: My preferred brand is Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal. It is finely ground and neither too moist nor too dry.

Some folks do grind their own blanched almonds to make almond meal. I've never done so at home because, well... I'm just too busy to bother.

If you do decided to grind your own at home, blanch the almonds and remove the seed coat. Let the almonds dry overnight before attempting to grind them. Try not to over grind as it will turn into almond paste. There is a thin line between a fine meal and the makings of marzipan.

Pinch the almond meal between your fingers. If it turns into a solid lump it is too moist and will need to be dried in your oven (preheated to about 170°F and then turn it off) spread the almond meal out onto a baking sheet and allow it to sit in the warm oven until it has dried out. A good meal will cling together when pinched but will easily crumble back into a fine meal.

An easier method is to weight out the blanched almonds and the powdered sugar needed for a recipe and then grind them together in the food processor. The sugar helps absorb some of the moisture from the almonds and keeps the mixture light and easy to process (read: doesn't turn into a paste).

I've gotten good results with this method using store bought slivered blanched almonds. If you're going to do this, you will need to sift/grind/repeat a few times until the mixture is fine and uniform.

Confectioners Sugar: Or powdered sugar as it is called here in the States. Opt for brands that contain only 100% sugar, as some confectioners sugar has starch added to prevent clumping. I've read that the starch in your batter can contribute to cracked shells. [Edit: I've realized that I may very well be using 3% starched sugar in my own baking. I can't tell because I buy my sugar in 50lb bags, dump it into a large bin and then toss the bag. I'll double check the sugar's ingredient list next time I am at the store.][UPDATE: Checked the 50lb bag! I AM using starched sugar and I never get cracked macarons. I can't even make them crack when I try. I'm narrowing down cracked shell mac problems to: strong heat from the bottom of your oven and not resting shells long enough]

Granulated Sugar: Not much to note here, other than that I prefer to use pure cane sugar over beet sugar when making candy or cooked sugar syrups.

Extras: Many macaron recipes call for a little something extra to boost your meringue. There are several things that will help increase the volume of your eggs and stabilize the egg proteins. You're welcome to use a pinch of cream of tartar, salt or a couple drops of lemon juice in your egg whites to boost them. Just don't use these if you're beating in a copper bowl.

Okay all that ingredient stuff aside, lets get to the macs from yesterday.

So I filled three piping bags, if you recall with a good batter, a slightly over mixed batter and a over mixed batter.

I piped rows of each onto a baking sheet and then baked them at various temperatures.

These are the shells resting, after being tapped on the counter. They look deceptively similar, don't they. The one difference is that you can tell a slight difference in color between the good batter and the over mixed batter.

All of these batters had the "nipple" that remains when pipped onto the sheet, one that eventually sinks back into the little piped round. The good batter lost its nipple slower than the bad batter. So just having a nipple does not mean you've made the batter correctly. If you've really stiff nippl... GAH. Why isn't there a better term for this... if they're stiff on your macarons and you need to tap them down or bang the pan thoroughly on the counter to get them to sink you DO very likely have a good batter.


(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Non-rested shells - Baked 300°F - 15 min - double pan)

This was the first round of baking. Now you can see the clear difference between a good batter and a bad batter.

I had hollow shells in both the good macaron (GM) and the slightly over mixed macaron (SOM), the over mixed batter (OM) was a chewy disk.

The foot formation was also not great. The GM had a short foot. The SOM macaron barely had a foot at all and the OM macaron had a projecting frilly foot.

The bottoms were good on the GM and SOM macarons, the OM mac was sticky.

(Over Mixed)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
(Good Mix)

(Rested shells (15 min) - Baked 300°F - 15 min - double pan)

This round is the same as the above, only it was rested before baking.

The rested macarons developed better feet all around. Even the SOM macaron had a foot this time. That was the only difference, they were still not great macs.

Cooking at 300°F for 15 minutes is clearly too low and too long, it results in hollow shells that are a little crunchy.

(Over Mixed)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
(Good Mix)
(Rested Shells (15min) - 325°F - 12min - double pan)

Much nicer feet on these. Non sticky bottoms on all accept the OM macaron. There are some scattered air pockets in these, so this temperature is probably not ideal.

The over mixed macaron is looking less pathetic this time. The shell is now smooth and looks fairly decent, the cookie still has little height and the feet project awkwardly.

(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Rested Shells (nearly 20min) - 345°F : 10 min - double pan)

Wonderful high feet on these, particularly the GM. Possibly too high a profile, as there is an air pocket between the interior and the shell. Non sticky bottoms on the GM macaron, the SOM and OM macs were both sticky.

(I did another pan with similar results in the 335°F range and found it was the best for these cookies. I baked the cassis macarons today at this temperature for 12-13 minutes with lovely results.)

(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)

(Rested Shells (15min) - 370°F - 10min - double pan)

EW! Clearly this is too hot. The interior of the cookies tried to escape out the foot, creating lopsided shells and projecting feet. I imagine had I not rested the shells and formed a dry outer layer, the cookies would have likely cracked too.

(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)
(Rested Shells (10min) - 345°F - 10 minutes - old cookie sheet with parchment)

To demonstrate the importance of having nice flat pans I'm going to bake a batch at nearly the right temperature. Look at this... UGH! This is what my first macarons looked like. I couldn't figure out why they were so ugly, I followed the instructions exactly and yet my cookies were hideous little beasts.

It took three attempts before I tossed a level onto my pan and discovered that my old thin cookie sheets were bowed. Also, note how the foot projects from these cookies. This is likely because of the lack of insulation from the bottom of the pan. The interior of the cookie is cooking quickly and it tries to escape the confines of its little shell.

Also, I piped the rounds exactly the same as I do on the good pans. The mutant shapes are all due to the wonky pan.

Then I ran out of batter.

Which was a good thing, because I was sick of running back and forth between batches of macarons, taking notes, sampling cookies and snapping really bad photos (sorry for that). It was an absolutely crazy morning.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to create a cookie with no feet or cracked shells. I feel that not resting your cookies before baking, using a single baking sheet and cooking in an oven with strong heat from the bottom is a primary culprit for cracked shells but I wasn't able to recreate this.

Nor was I able to get a totally footless mac. Perhaps if I cooked them at below 300°F this would happen. For yesterday's experiment though, I just wasn't able to mess up bad enough. Truly sorry.

So that's it for today.

I'm going to go lay on the couch and eat my cassis fail-macs.

Also, check out some of the science cookie buzz at HuffPo and Smithsonian Blog. I'm just loving it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Macaron 101: Italian Meringue Part 1

[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]

It feels really wrong writing this, after all I've only been making macarons for a few months. People have been asking for tips though, in the comments and via email so I'm going to make a How-To guide of sorts.

I do have some tips and I'm going to share them with the humility of someone who only barely knows what they are talking about. I'm still learning every time I make a new batch. Like today, where I learned that putting almond praline crunch on top of a mac shell was a really, really dumb idea.

So with that in mind, let us get down to it.


For many home bakers these are a challenging cookie. Particularly so in the United States, where many have never had a true Parisian macaron.

How do you bake something that you've never seen in person or even eaten? Well, it certainly doesn't make it easy, but I'll do my best to describe what you're aiming for in terms of looks and taste:

Now, Italian meringue macs don't have quite the same taste and texture of the French meringue macs. Both are delicate and very sweet. Just for looks, I prefer the Italian meringue method as it produces those lovely smooth shells. For taste and texture I like the standard French meringue's airy, cookie-like result.

Of course, Italian meringue macs do have a firmer shell (particularly if the cookies have rested for extended period prior to baking), but ideally it should still give way easily with just a delicate crackle.

The cookies should have a nice compact foot (French meringue tends to have a higher foot than Italian meringue, well at least for me) and a meringue like interior. Hollow, cracked shells and protruding feet (or no feet at all) are not ideal and are among the many ways this cookie can drive you to madness.


I find that macarons taste the best after they've rested in an air tight container in the fridge overnight, like the cookie above. The filling has time to flavor the shell slightly and the slight humidity improves the overall texture of the cookie. This is called maturing. The higher the moisture content of the filling, the faster the shell will mature. Ganache filled macs will mature faster than butter cream macs, etc.

Of course, overly high moisture fillings do not lend themselves to maturing as they will reduce your macarons to a blob of goo.


The following are the three things that I find are vital to making good macs. Everything else is flexible. You can whisk the meringue with a $500 stand mixter or a bundle of birch branches, doesn't matter so long as it works for you. You can even pipe the batter with those dang cut-corner ziplock baggies.

1. Kitchen Scale
Why don't you own one of these? Really. They're inexpensive and open up a whole new wonderful world of baking! That is, baking by weight rather than volume (which is totally unreliable). The scale I personally use is (here). It is roughly $25, very accurate (I've tested) and allows you to be precise with your measurements. Trust me, eventually you'll wish you could just weigh out all your ingredients in your mixing bowl and never deal with the tedium of scooping, tapping and leveling measuring cups ever again.

2. Oven Thermometer
Turn that dial to 350°F on your oven and let it heat up. Once that pre-heating indicator light goes off, what temperature is it? 350°F? Probably not. These are not precision dials. I have two very nice ovens and mine are never accurate.

Invest in a oven thermometer and I use the word 'invest' loosely as they cost almost nothing ($3-$25). A small price to pay compared to the cost of tossing out batches of bad macarons. All that almond meal gets expensive, trust me. If you're curious, the type I use in my ovens is the following: Taylor Oven Thermometer

3. Good pans
Good quality, heavy guage aluminum sheet pans. Again, compared to the macaron ingredients, they're really not all that expensive. My first three Mac attempts were mired by lopsided feet. Why? Lack of insulation from the bottom and my ancient cookie sheets were no longer perfectly level (not that I could tell just by looking at them).

So much frustration could have been avoided had I figured out early on that it was my pans not my technique.

Seattle area folks, hit up the Business Center Costco in Lynnwood. Look for the restaurant supply goods, you'll be in inexpensive pan paradise.


A key step in the macaron making, where the wet ingredients are added to the dry. The French meringue method is less forgiving than the Italian meringue for this step. This is why newbie macaron bakers tend to have more success with the Italian meringue method.

I've taken some shots of me getting my macaronage on to illustrate what a good batter should look like. I apologize for the poor quality photos, but I'm using my Macbook's camera to snap these.

Here I'm adding the food coloring (we're using brown today just for contrast) and the 60g of egg whites to the tant pour tant (half and half almond sugar mixture). You can mix this to your heart's content, no worries. It will start off crumbly and then it gets thick and fluid like molasses full of sand.

Please ignore my cave salamander pale hands (I live in Seattle, remember) and frightening double jointed thumbs.

Molasses full of sand! See, I told ya!

Now you're ready to add the meringue. Dump it into the bowl and begin folding.

As you fold the meringue the mixture will become a little more fluid with each stroke. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with your spatula as the almond mixture likes to cling to the bowl. Continue to fold until the streaks in the mixture become thinner and less apparent.

Okay, the mixture is barely uniform now. See how it flows thickly off the end of my spatula in a fat ribbon? Notice how thick the coating of the batter is on the spatula? This is a good batter. I'm going to dump half of this into a piping bag and continue mixing the remaining batter! That's right, I'm going to ruin my macarons. Just for you.

This mixture is slightly over mixed. Notice how the thick coating of batter on the spatula is gone? Note the thiner ribbon of batter flowing off the end? The batter is also slightly darker and glossier. The good batter above was lighter and more matte than this batter.

I'm going to divide this batter and place half into a pastry bag. The rest, well I'm going to mix it to the point of macaron death.

Over mixed batter. Oh this is so sad... just look at it. Fluid, overly glossy and thin. Pours quickly off the end of my spatula. The batter is clearly darker now. It took a surprising amount of mixing to get it to this state, but there it is... bad macaron batter. Of course, I'm going to bake this mess too.

So, I took my three batters and baked small batches of each under different conditions today. I took lots of notes and photos of my results.

I was aiming to recreate some common problems, like no feet and cracked shells. I wasn't able to recreate all the fail states, but I did document the conditions under which certain problems can arise.

Until tomorrow!

Ms. H

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

Last weekend I found the most adorable cupcake liners! The sweet little, fluted orange cups caught my eye immediately.

So I'm standing there in the baking store, holding paper liners and slipping quickly into the food blogger trance of doom... must... make... orange creamsicle cupcakes.

Oh yes.

So I baked them last weekend and they lasted roughly 5 minutes. I admit to eating way more than reasonable. It was a total slip in my generally reserved approach to baked goodies. Now I have to go work out to make up for the extra calories. By my calculations I need to spend roughly a month on the treadmill to break even.

So, for these cupcakes I used an orange bakery emulsion. Generally, this isn't something you can find at your local grocery store, but you can order them online and find them in specialty baking shops. You use them like extracts, but unlike the alcohol based extracts, the flavor they impart will not bake out.

They are absolutely wonderful, I reach for my emulsions far more often than I do my extracts. They make an almond emulsion that makes my pound cake bliss...


Darn that trance!

Anyway, before I ramble further on about individual ingredients, let's get to the cupcakes.

Not So Humble Orange Creamsicle Cake
yields 24 standard cup cakes, a 9x13" cake or 2 8" rounds
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon orange gel coloring
1 1/2 teaspoon orange emulsion
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200 grams all purpose flour
200 grams granulated sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (58 grams) canola oil
1/4 cup (57 grams) (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream

Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack placed in the lower third of the oven.

Prep your pans with cupcakes liners (or if baking a cake, use parchment and nonstick spray).

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a second bowl gently mix the egg whites, orange gel coloring, orange emulsion and vanilla. You don't want to over beat the eggs, just make the mixture uniform.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the butter and oil with the paddle attachment for about a minute on medium speed. The mixture won't be completely smooth, so don't worry about little bits of butter suspended in oil.

Add the sour cream and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the ingredients are moistened and crumbly. Add half of the egg mixture to the flour and beat on low for 20 seconds until moistened and then beat on medium high speed for 40 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the remaining egg mixture and beat on medium high speed for 40 seconds.

Divide the batter into your cupcakes (or pans if using), filling each cup halfway.

Bake for 20-25 minutes for standard cupcakes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

If you're baking the 9x13" or the 8" rounds, allow 5-10 more minutes. Also
this is very moist, delicate cake, so be careful when checking on the cakes. I usually don't pull my cakes out on the oven rack, as too much jostling of the pan before the center has set could cause the cake to fall. I just stick my hand into the oven and touch the center of the cake. If it springs back, it is done and you can pull the cake out carefully.

Frosting is flexible. For the layer cake I made today I used a regular vanilla butter cream. On the cupcakes I used a white chocolate cream cheese frosting. Feel free to use your favorite creamy vanilla frosting, I can't think of a single type that wouldn't pair well with this cake.

If you want the frosting shown above, no worries I'll post it.

Rose's White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes
yields 2 cups frosting, you'll need to double this if you're planning on loading on the frosting or doing a layer cake.
6 ounces white chocolate
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the white chocolate, either in the microwave or over a double boiler. Set aside until no longer warm to the touch.

In your food processor, beat the cream cheese, butter and sour cream until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add the cooled white chocolate. Blend until the chocolate until incorporated and then pulse in the vanilla.

For a firmer frosting place in the refrigerator for roughly 30 minutes, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Oh and if you like the mini cupcake liners too, I'm so sorry but I wasn't able to find them online. I did find the standard-sized version of the cupcake liner here though: Pastel Fluted Baking Cups

@ Mr. Humble: So, how about a nice four layer orange cream cake for dinner? Or are you going to insist on 'real food' again?

You know, there is a pound of butter in that photo, seems pretty 'real' to me.

Busy busy busy!

Decided to hold off on this morning's post for a while. I want to kitchen test the recipe for my orange creamsicle cupcakes one more time. Just to make sure the batter works well for layer cakes as well as cupcakes.

This has nothing to do with me wanting to eat it a second time.

Not at all... nope...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pistachio Macarons With Kirsch

Happy Monday everyone!

After a visit to my father's yesterday, I found myself toting home a bundle of 'borrowed' movies. Now normally I'm suspicious of the movies my father presses upon me, as he tends to delight in disturbing my sister and I with strange foreign films.

How old was I when I saw Baxter for the first time... eleven maybe? I'm still freaked out by bull terriers.

Anyway, this time he gave me a film called Julie & Julia telling me that it was about a food blogger, like me. Okay so this film had pretty much flown under my radar. Everyone is now wondering if I live under a rock, right? '

Well yes, I do.

Watching TV or a movie is a pretty rare occurrence around here. It just isn't part of my little family's normal leisure routine. I know, I know, the Humbles are strange.

So I see this movie and now I feel so unbelievably... normal. Very satisfying, actually. I've not read Julie Powell's blog and as I understand it, we don't have a lot in common but the experience of starting a food blog resonated. Good too see I'm not the only one dealing with the insanity of food-blogger-dom. Baking and blogging isn't always pretty. You have those days where you're splattered with batter, overwhelmed by dishes, your child is coloring on the sofa with a bic pen and your annoyed husband comes home to find out that the only thing ready for dinner is cake. Again.

It does happen.

So, more macarons today. Yes, I know I'm obsessed.

This is the second of Friday's Macaronathon, pairing the flavors of pistachio with cherry brandy.

The macaron recipe is the same as friday's Blueberry Macarons minus blueberries and adding sprinkling of pistachios.

After piping the shells, sprinkle half the shells with chopped pistachios and bake. Once cool, assemble with kirsch butter cream.

Have you had cherry brandy paired with pistachio yet? It's lovely, trust me.

Kirsch Butter Cream
460 grams (4 cups) confectioners sugar, sifted
226 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoons milk or cream
1 tablespoon Kirsch
pink food coloring (optional)

Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Gradually add the sifted sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the cream and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the kirsch, adding a little more or a little less depending on your own taste.

Add a little more cream or confectioners sugar to reach the desired consistency.

Fill a piping bag with an Ateco #11 tip, or even a sandwich baggy with the corner cut off (yes, this is one of the rare occasions I use them like this) and pipe a swirl onto the cookies. Sandwich with a second cookie.


Oh and for the record, in the 'Ms Humble & Julia' movie, the lobster survives.

We named him Tiberius.

Blueberry Macarons with Orange Blossom Water

Spent another morning experimenting with macarons.

It is an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day in Seattle so I am going to wrap up in the kitchen early and go spend some time at the park with the little Humble.

I created three different types of macarons today and I will start with my hands down favorite: Blueberry Macarons with Orange Blossom Water Butter cream.

(To my No Blue Food follower: please don't hate me, they're actually violet. Besides they match my blog layout beautifully...)

Not So Humble Blueberry Macarons
130 grams almond meal
150 grams confectioners sugar
20 grams of freeze-dried, unsweetened blueberries
120 grams egg whites, room temperature. (I'm using 12hr, counter aged whites today)
185 grams granulated sugar
50 grams water
gel food coloring (violet/navy)
buttercup petal dust (optional)

Preheat your oven to 335°F and line 2 thick aluminum pans with parchment/or silicone baking mats. Stack each of those pans on top of another pan and set aside.

(The purpose of stacking the pans is to insulate the top pan and reduce the heat applied directly to the bottom of the cookie. The necessity of this depends on your oven, mine has a strong heat from the bottom. Without the second pan the cookie's interior can rise very quickly, creating awkward feet and cracked bodies.)

Prep a large pastry bag with a #11 Ateco tip (or a similar medium sized round tip, little under 1cm) and set aside.

Place the freeze-dried blueberries in your food processor and grind them until they are very fine.

Weigh out your confectioners sugar and almond meal and add them to the food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds. Pour this mixture into a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.

Weigh out 60 grams of egg whites into the bowl of your stand mixer (make sure the whites are yolk free and your mixer's bowl and whisk attachment are very clean and free of any traces of oil). Also measure out 35 grams of granulated sugar into a small bowl and set it near the mixer.

Weigh out another 60 grams of egg whites into a small bowl and set aside.

Weigh out 150 grams of the granulated sugar into a small sauce pan. Add 50 grams of water to the sugar, attach your candy thermometer and place it over medium heat.

(Note: Even in my smallest sauce pan this mixture is only about 1/2 an inch deep, which was/is difficult for my candy thermometer to read accurately (we're talking -50°F!). I had to gently wash the sugar syrup up a little higher (about the 1" mark) on the thermometer using a spoon to get an accurate reading. Some really cheap candy thermometers don't read well unless submerged at least two inches. So, keep that in mind if you have a similar candy thermometer)

Okay, now you're ready to rock and roll.

When the sugar hits 210°F, start beating the egg whites in your mixer on medium low speed until foamy, while keeping a close eye on the sugar syrup. No need to stir the syrup, just let it come to a boil over medium heat (you're aiming for 245°F). Once the eggs are foamy, slowly add the 35g of sugar and beat until the meringue is barely forming soft peaks.

When your sugar mixture hits 245°F pull it off the heat, increase the speed of your mixer to high, and slowly pour in the syrup. You want to let the mixture trickle down the side of the bowl, so it doesn't splatter and get tossed onto the sides of the bowl. You want the sugar in your meringue, not a candy coated bowl.

Now you can relax, the hard part is over. Allow the mixer to beat the meringue for about 5 minutes to let the mixture cool.

While waiting on the meringue, combine the remaining 60g of egg whites with the sugar/almond mixture and mix until well combined. Add 2 drops of violet and 2 drops of navy coloring gel.

Once the meringue is ready, add it to the almond/sugar mixture and quickly fold it together. You should fold until it is just barely uniform, using as few strokes as possible. It is very, very important you don't over mix as the batter will thin considerably with each stroke of the spatula. Your batter is perfect when you lift your spatula and a thick ribbon slowly cascades off, back into the bowl. Though I tend to err on the plop/thick ribbon side of things. If that makes any sense... which I'm sure it doesn't.

Now you're ready to fill your piping bag. If the mixture is just right, it will ooze from the tip slowly under its own weight. (If it oozes out quickly, something went horribly wrong and you'll need to start over.)

Resting before baking.
My piping was over the place today, I know. Please don't judge me.

Pipe 2.5cm macarons onto your baking sheets, spacing them a few centimeters apart.

Once you complete a full pan, knock it on the counter gently, to bring up any bubbles and quickly pop them with toothpick.

Allow the macarons to rest like this for 15 minutes. (They can sit longer if you want to bake one or two sheets at a time, but will develop slightly thicker shells.)

Bake at 335°F for 10-12 minutes.

Now you stare at the macarons in your oven like a crazy person. Let me see those feet!

Allow them to cool for at least 30 minutes before attempting to remove them from the baking mat.

Good bottom!

After they cool they should pop off easily. If you have sticky bottoms then you might want to double check your oven temperature. Even 10 degrees too cool gives me sticky bottoms and 10 degrees too hot gives me hollow shells. Such a temperamental cookie.

Orange Blossom Butter Cream
460 grams (4 cups) confectioners sugar, sifted
226 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk or cream
orange blossom water

Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Gradually add the sifted sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the cream and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the orange water, just a drop or two at a time until you reach a the desired flavor (I only needed a few drops). This is strong stuff, so be careful or your butter cream will taste like laundry detergent.

Add a little more cream or confectioners sugar to reach the desired consistency.

Fill a piping bag with an Ateco #11 tip, or even a sandwich baggy with the corner cut off (yes, this is one of the rare occasions I use them like this) and pipe a swirl onto the cookies. Sandwich with a second cookie.

If using the petal dust, grab a soft paintbrush (one you reserve for cooking), dip it into the dust and brush a little onto the cookie. To add the flecks, flick it off the brush onto the top of the shell.

This recipe yields roughly 2 dozen completed cookies. With a few extra for noshing or mistakes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Arancini tonight.

If you're unfamiliar with them, don't worry. I'm here to help.

Once long ago, I too was one of those poor, unfortunate arancini-less schlubs. Wandering though life without the deep fried carbohydrate bomb that would someday complete me.

Oh yes.

Then, while waiting for a connecting train somewhere in the hill towns of Italy, I came face to face with the golden blob of deliciousness.

I had no idea what it was, but it didn't matter. It was so perfectly golden and so obviously deep fried that had to be good. (I'm of the opinion that deep fried always equals good. You could deep fry a cockroach, or even a Hot Pocket, and it has the potential to be delicious.) I quickly purchased two and brought them back to Mr. Humble, who I had abandoned earlier with my bags to explore the station.

Hold on, I need to nom on these while taking photos...

Okay, so the train station arancini were not all that good. They were cold and gluey. They were... well, train station food.

Still, I adore risotto and I knew that deep frying it was going to take my love of the starchy rice to the next level.

This recipe calls for leftovers, preferably risotto that has been allowed to sit in the fridge overnight. Feel free to use any risotto recipe you like. You can also toy with the fillings, as this is a very flexible appetizer. I enjoy a fresh basil pesto risotto, filled with buffalo mozzarella. Or saffron risotto filled with shrimp. Just use your imagination.

Technically, since this is deep fried, you might even be able to involve Hot Pockets.


Not So Humble Arancini
yields roughly 1 dozen
2 cups cold, leftover risotto
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Heat your oven to 300°F

Cut the mozzarella into a dozen 1cm cubes.

Grab a golf ball sized hunk of the cold risotto and press the cube into the center and mush the risotto around it. Roll it into a ball and set aside. Repeat until you've formed all the risotto balls.

Then take the balls and coat them in the egg and then the bread crumbs, shaking off any excess.

Heat several inches of oil over medium heat (350°F) and fry the risotto balls in batches, drain briefly on paper towels and then transfer to the oven to hold.

Serve warm.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fleur de Sel Peanut Brittle

Peanut Brittle!

Best made when having a bad, bad day.

Physically smashing something with a mallet and eating candy afterward will cure what ails you.

Like when you're loading your daughter into her car seat and some guy who decides that the parking spot next to you, the one your open door is crowding, is where he needs to park his SUV. Despite the wide open parking lot, he wants that particular spot next to you bad enough to honk at you, while you're wrestling with buckles half hanging out of your car.

Oh yes folks, Ms. Humble was not pleased.

Of course I closed my door on myself as far as I could while buckling in the little one and he then whips into the stall, bumping my car door. I kid you not. Luckily not hard, since I do prefer my legs in their current non-crushed state.

So I was livid, finished buckling my daughter in and duck out to yell at this jerk who had the gall to honk at me and then hit my car. Too late, he has already descended upon me, angry that I so cavalierly placed my car door in a parking spot he wanted.

What on earth is wrong with some people? I asked him this and he just stormed off into the...

Local organic, whole foods store?!

I thought people who shopped at this place were all nice folks, prone to wearing mocknecks and Birkenstocks. Lovers of soy dogs and whole grains. Not leather jacket wearing, SUV drivers who go all road rage on a mother trying to buckle in her daughter.

So yes, Peanut brittle today.

One pot. Heat. Stir. Pour. SMASH. Eat.

Fleur de Sel Peanut Brittle
adapted from Brittles, Barks & Bonbons
yields 1 1/2 lbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus some for buttering the pan)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts

fleur de sel

Lightly butter a large jelly roll pan and set aside.

In a high sided sauce pan over medium heat melt the butter and then add the sugar, corn syrup and water. Bring to a boil stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling clip on your candy thermometer and then allow to boil, only occasionally with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.

Bring the mixture to 335-340°F on your candy thermometer and remove from the heat. Add the vanilla and baking soda and mix well. Stir in the peanuts and immediately pour into your prepared pan.

Quickly spread the mixture to achieve the desired thickness, sprinkle with the fleur de sel and allow to sit at room temperature until cool. Pop out of the pan and break into pieces or just smash it with a wooden mallet.

Feel free to imagine it being the hood of a certain man's SUV.

Oh and to you Mr. SUV, should you ever stumble across my blog, perhaps looking for a recipe for organic tempeh stir fry: You look like a molting elephant seal in that old leather jacket.

Just a heads up.

Ms. Humble

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Misfortune Cookies

I have always wanted to do a dark humored twist on the standard fortune cookie. I had long assumed that fortune cookies were a pain to make, so I had been putting them off for months. Finally, I made them and learned that yes, I was correct in my assumption.

They are an absolute chore to bake.

The recipe makes almost 50 cookies and I don't think I made it past 20. I was baking them 2-3 at a time and at 6 minutes a batch it adds up to roughly two hours of baking. Never mind how long it takes to create the batter circles and then form the cookies! Even as fussy as I can be about baking, I really don't have that kind of stamina.

Still learning the new lens, so bear with me.

Regardless of all the effort involved, they were just crying out to be created. I had to make my misfortune cookies.

You can too, of course. Provided you have the patience for these pesky cookies and a family who understands how weird you are.

Misfortune Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon almond extract (I used an almond emulsion)

nonstick cooking spray
paper strips of doom

Pre-heat your oven to 400°F

Prep two cookie sheets with a generous amount of nonstick spray.

Since I do not have superfine sugar on hand, I made my own by assaulting granulated sugar in the food processor (a blender will also do the job) for roughly a minute. Feel free to do the same, just be aware that doing this often will dull your blades.

Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the egg whites and sugar on medium speed until foamy (roughly 30 seconds). Add the salt and flour and blend for 30 more seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and mix to form a batter.

Space three single teaspoons of batter onto your prepared pan and spread each into a 4-5 inch circle using the back of a spoon. This is easier said than done, you'll understand when you try.

Bake the cookies for 5-8 minutes until golden brown.

Pull the out and working quickly, lift a cookie off the sheet with an offset spatula and onto a stack of paper towels (a cold counter top would set the cookie instantly). Curve the cookie into a loose tube slip in the paper fortune and fold the ends together to form the fortune cookie shape.

It may take some practice to get it just right, so practice on a circle of paper before baking the cookies. You will need master your cookie forming skills to turn them out before they harden (which is in seconds).

They were a lot of work, but the reward of fresh, crisp fortune cookies with wry messages was worth the hassle and burnt fingers... well almost.

The doom is best served hot, since these cookies go stale quickly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Luscious Lemon Mousse

While my Valentine's day gift was being unleashed in a cooking store, Mr. Humble's was a camera store. After a decade together, this is how gift giving works between us. We get to buy something with the guarantee of no grief from the other, well... within reason of course. Mr. Humble cannot go out and just buy himself a llama.

All livestock purchases must be discussed in advance.

So Mr. Humble picked up a new lens for his dSLR and of course, I get to play with it today while he is at the laboratory! (Yay for Valentine's day gifts that benefit yourself too, right?)

Since starting the blog, I've learned that my biggest challenge was staging and photographing the food I make. Making food taste good isn't much trouble, making it look good on the computer well, lets just say I had--and still have--a lot to learn.

So this new lens in Mr. Humble's camera bag has a nice wide aperture that lets in tons of light. I shot all of my tart photos with it last night, lit only by ceiling lights! Generally I get awful photos at night, but the photos with this new lens didn't come out too bad.

Apparently this lens (for the camera nerds who actually care it's a Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8) also gives good bokeh (a funny term to describe the background blur). So armed with his new lens and a bowl of lemon mousse I attempted a daylight shoot.

It has a razor thin plane of focus when I am shooting up close (with moderate light) and everything else becomes fuzzy, in an attractive sort of way. When I can't get the focus in just the right spot, everything ends up looking out of focus (I think I caught the edge of the glass in this one. Yup, that's me the total amateur). Still, this lens is very cool. I just need to learn how to use it properly.

Alright, enough with the camera talk, time to get to the food...

By now everyone has figured out I have a thing for lemon desserts.

It is one of my favorite flavors (up there with marzipan and chocolate). So when I stumbled across Luscious Lemon Desserts this weekend and saw it was well under $20 and packed with recipes, it was impossible not to impulse buy a copy.

(Not livestock, so Mr. Humble can't say a thing!)

This was so good. I'm sure this mousse will find its way into many other dessert creations...

Luscious Lemon Mousse
from Luscious Lemon Desserts
serves 4-6
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon plain gelatin
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks (save the whites for macarons, of course)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

In a small bowl add the water and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Allow it to bloom for 10 minutes and then set the bowl into a dish of hot water and whisk until dissolved.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the sugar, salt, lemon juice and zest. Whisk together and then add the egg yolks. Place over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon (this should take roughly 8-10 minutes). Do not allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle, if it begins to steam remove it from the heat for 20 seconds to allow it to cool then return it to the heat.

Once it has thickened, whisk in the gelatin and then immediately pour through a fine mesh strainer into a second bowl.

Allow this mixture to cool too temperature, stirring occasionally.

Once the lemon curd has cooled, beat the whip cream to stiff peaks. Adding the cream in thirds, gently fold it into the lemon curd.

Divide the lemon mousse between 4-6 bowls and chill for a minimum of two hours before serving.

Top with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a candied violet.

All in all, I'm loving my mousse and Mr. Humble's new toy. More than I love this shot, since my candied violet looks like a dead insect...
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