Macaron

Macaron

I think baking should be relatively hard. Well, maybe not hard, but good baking should be a skill. Something that you’ve practiced and tried to perfect. Something that’s taken time and you’ve put love into. But y’all, baking shouldn’t be THIS hard. Macarons are a bitch.

Here’s the rub. I’ve made these before. I would even go as far to say that I’ve made them well. There is a woman at my husbands office that always asks him to NOT give her a Christmas gift…just bring some Macarons. To make matters worse, these are my daughters favorite cookie. She’s been asking for weeks if I could throw a batch together.

Sure, no problem! “Throw a batch together” she says.
Stupid stupid cookie.

Let’s Bake

For reasons that escape me now, I decided to try a different recipe. I had bookmarked a macaron recipe on Allrecipes some time ago that was different than the one I usually use and the comments seemed quite positive. Not being one to assume I’ve got everything figured out – I decided to try it out. Rookie Mistake. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The recipe:

3 egg whites
50g caster sugar
200g icing sugar
110g ground almonds

The process, on paper, is simple enough. Sift the powdered sugar and almond flour into a bowl. You want this mixture to be as fine as possible. Set that aside. In a mixing bowl, mix the room temperature egg whites to a soft peak stage, once there, start adding the sugar slowly until you’ve reached glossy stiff peaks.

Now comes the hard part. You have to put those two things together. Take the egg whites and mix them into the sugar/almond mixture. It’s a delicate balance. This is called ‘macaronage’. Which I personally think is a snooty word.

You don’t want to under mix – it’ll be too thick and lumpy. But for the love of God – don’t over mix either! It’ll sort of ooze into each other. How do you learn the correct consistency? Screw it up A LOT of times until you get it right. Might I suggest you take a good six months of your life and practice every weekend until you’ve cleaned out the local grocery store of almond flour and when your husband walks into the kitchen and sees you crying on the floor he simply shakes his head and walks out.

Once the correct consistency has been achieved, pipe onto a silpat or parchment paper, bang the cookie sheet onto the counter a few times to push out any air on pockets and then leave on the counter to form a skin. This can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Once the skin has been formed, bake at 285 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Final Result

Oh for the love of everything that is good and holy….What a trainwreck! The consistency was WAY too thin and despite my efforts to fix it…It all went to pot.

I mean, seriously, it was an unmitigated disaster. I couldn’t even pull the ol “well they look like hell, but taste fine” trick. Straight to the trash.

Not willing to accept defeat, I went back and DID IT AGAIN with the recipe that I’ve used before, and while not terrific, and sort of ended up looking like nipple cookies…They were salvageable.

Here’s an interesting thing I learned. Trying to make macarons during high humidity is never a good idea. Well then it’s a good thing I live in Virginia and it’s freakin’ July!

Any cookie that has feelings about the current season is an asshole.

Ca-Ca Balls

Ca-Ca Balls

Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. This is truly what the recipe is called. Naturally I had to make it.

You get a couple chances in your life to name something. Children, Pets, plants – or maybe even a recipe. There is quite a bit of thought that can go into picking the perfect name. This is, after all, the name that it will have forever. Personally, I think it’s a big responsibility to make sure it’s a good, strong name – something you know they can live with. The other side of the coin, you can go full tilt-balls to wall and name your newborn X Æ A-12.

Or title your recipe Ca Ca Balls.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cube butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1 8 oz coconut
  • 2 cups nuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla

There was some research that I needed to put into this before I got going. A “cube” of butter isn’t something I’m familiar with. Annoyingly, Google gave me two different answers. A “cube” of butter is either a tablespoon OR a whole stick. Huge difference there – certainly something that can make or break my balls. I went over Google’s head and texted Mom directly. Logic leaned us towards using a tablespoon. Easier to add butter later, rather than take butter away.

Let’s Cook

There aren’t too many steps here. Mix the liquids, and then add all the dry. After it’s all mixed well, chill for two hours. It was here that I realized that maybe the full stick of butter is what I should have done. It’s very thick and it would be just as easy to roll into balls – so why chill for two hours? But is adding the butter now a mistake? After chilling for two hours this stuff was like spackle. I got it all rolled out and tucked into the freezer for the night.

This morning I tackled the second part- the chocolate coating! I assume this is what puts the “Ca Ca” into the balls! However, I am sure as hell not going to melt chocolate with 1/3 block of paraffin! I had no idea this was something people did. And I certainly didn’t realize that this is something that people STILL do. Is the paraffin used to make the chocolate harden and create a shell? A present day substitute would be those candy melts, don’t you think? Either way – I don’t have candy melts in stock and I certainly don’t have paraffin!

I heated heavy cream on the stove and added it to bittersweet chocolate and a touch of corn syrup. It’s a very thin glaze, so I ended up having to coat these bastards twice. Good Lord what a big honkin’ mess. I put them in the fridge to set as best as possible.

End Result

I give you – – crap on a plate. If there was anything named literally – it’s this. I’m quite sure that the look of them is entirely my fault. Choosing to go with a thin glaze instead of candle wax takes away from the professional finish I guess.

They taste sickeningly sweet. If you’ve got a sweet tooth – and like coconut – this ball of ca-ca is for you! It’s like an almond joy and macaroon pooped out a baby. Oddly enough, my daughter has had two…So not a total failure?

I would love to say I’ve closed the book on this – – but I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to until I try again with a stick of butter and a better chocolate shell. Damnit.

Baguette

Baguette

Last year, when I started this website, I was in a soul sucking job that provided so much down time during the day that each hour seemed like two. I started this project as something to lift my spirits and give me purpose, which it truly did. Then as luck would have it, I found my dream job, and eventually stopped working on the website, my soul no longer crushed.

Then the world tipped on it’s axis with Covid-19 and I was laid off of my dream job. It made sense, and I’m not (too) bitter. I was the last person hired, and they certainly weren’t going to let go of the veteran staff that had been there for years. Now I’m home with my high school age kid, trying to ‘home school’ and keep my family sane until the crisis is over.

All that leads me back to here.

I had to think of how I could proceed with the original idea of this website – but with limited funds and a deep desire to not need to go to the grocery store every day for odd ingredients. I’ll refocus the website on things I’m trying to cook and bake for us while we self isolate. I promise as many failures as before.

Which leads me to attempting home made baguettes.

Bread has, and always will be (along with boxed wine), my weakness. There really is nothing better than soft warm bread right out of the oven. Today I tried Paul Hollywood’s baguette recipe. Seems simple enough and I have all the ingredients on hand.

Let me just say that I consider myself a fair to decent home baker. I’ve made some damn delicious things in the past. Truth be told – being a pastry chef/baker for an actual career has always been the dream. My bread making abilities would probably get me fired from that job though.

First, the recipe says specifically to use a square plastic container – and that it’s important to shaping of the baguettes. Only square plastic container I had was the dispenser I use for my awesome Sangria. We’re aren’t going for ascetics here people.

Up to the proofing, everything had moved smoothly enough. Once I got to tipping the dough out, shaping it and getting it onto a baking trays the whole adventure was an unmitigated disaster.

It was impossible to handle – being careful to not knock any of the air out – it’s sticky and uncooperative. This dough does NOT want to be a baguette. It wants to stay where it is – in a large Sangria Dispenser. Transferring from container, to floured surface, to linen cloth, to baking sheet – these things were trashed by the time I got them to their final resting place.

Now, I imagine you being the smart home baker that you are, you KNOW when a recipe says to use a roasting pan in the oven to create steam – it means use a roasting pan…..Not a glass casserole dish.

Now I need to buy a roasting pan as well as a replacement glass casserole dish because it exploded all over my kitchen.

In the confusion of the explosion, I forgot to slash my bread. But at that point I just said screw it and put it in the oven.

End Results:

If someone had tried to break into my house I have no doubt I could inflict serious injury with one of these bastards. They were hard, ugly and burnt on the bottom.

There is a possibility that my ‘crumb’ was acceptable. And after cutting off the bottom burnt bit, my husband and I agreed that it was….fine. Cause in the ends, that’s really what you want to hear from your family. “It’s fine”.

Oh and also, the square plastic container didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

When everything was done and all the glass was cleaned up, I decided to sit down and watch the episode of Great British Bake Show that dealt with Paul’s baguette recipe. Only thing I have to say is- Bite me, Paul.

Apple Crisp – Take 1

Apple Crisp – Take 1

Seems only logical that this whole process start with my Grandmother’s Apple Crisp. From what I can remember – this thing was next level. A wonderful layer of warm and gooey sweet apples, with a layer of sweet crisp on top. And it’s important to note – the top layer was actually CRISP. Problem is – NO ONE can recreate it. There was serious Gandolf / Dumbledore sorcery going on here.

The biggest problem comes that there are no instructions; no cooking times or temperatures – no instructions at all. Just the list of ingredients. I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing this quite often in my new adventure.

That’s all we have to work with. No pastry, no crust. Just apples and some other stuff in an baking dish. Hence the title of this post : ‘Apple Crisp – Take 1’. We’ll be re-visiting this one from time to time.

My gut tells me to make some sort of crumble with the flour, sugar and butter. However, when I tried to get my Mom to remember as much as she could about Grandmommy making this – the one thing she could remember is her just plopping big blobs of butter on the top before she baked it.

This was the chain of events that lead to our first Apple Mush.

Peeled and sliced six apples and then I cooked them on the stove top for a short period of time with the sugar and cinnamon. Mistake #1

I poured everything in an 8×8 casserole dish with the water. (What the hell is the water for???) Then I proceeded to unceremoniously dump the flour and big bits of butter right on top. It just felt wrong to tell you the truth!

Unsure of what temperature I should use, I went with the classic 350 and went from there. 20 minutes later it was just a buttery uncooked flour mess.

Another 20 minutes later it was still buttery uncooked flour – but after pre-cooking on the stove, and then cooking in the oven for 40 minutes, the apples were starting to disintegrate. Best at this point to cut my losses and mark this one up as a Baking Fail.

It didn’t taste HORRIBLE. It definitely had a slight uncooked flour taste – but the apples themselves were tasty; albeit super mushy. My husband, who is a huge apple pie fan, scraped some of the top off and had some apple mush with ice cream later that evening and lives to tell the tale.

Couple thoughts for next time: I won’t be pre-cooking anything. That didn’t help or achieve anything. I also won’t cut the apples as thinly. Lastly, I’ll go with my gut and maybe use the flour, sugar and butter to make a crumble of sorts to go on top and see how that goes. If you have any ideas, please feel free to let me know!

I’m sure my Grandmother is having a good laugh in Heaven right now.