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Un Petit Trésor: Les Macarons

The time has come. What a lovely night: I’m sitting in my little white desk chair, burning my raspberry scented candle, and weaving together a story I’ve been itching to tell you for ages. Why haven’t I told it sooner? It’s about an endeavor that until this month, I simply haven’t had the nerve to attempt. In keeping with their character and mission, however, the Daring Bakers have once again pushed me out of my comfortable nest. For weeks now I’ve been flapping my wings in a frenzy, uncertain as to whether I’d fly through this challenge like a graceful (albeit nonexistent) Willow Bird, or fall to my (melodramatic) doom. Well, here I am telling you the story I’ve longed to tell you, so it must be good news, right? Let me tell you a tale of magnificence, of magic, of madness, of . . . feet?

Of feet.

Don’t be grossed out, podophobics — these aren’t the sort of feet with heels, arches, and toes. These are the sort of feet that bakers across the world have been dreaming of long before this month’s challenge rolled around. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m referring to the sweet little feet on a lovely French macaron.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons are unique, delicate sandwich cookies with a crisp shell, soft innards, and a variety of different fillings. They’ve been called “the new cupcakes” because of their petite portion sizes, their diverse flavorings, and their meteoric increase in popularity in recent years. While I don’t think they’ll be replacing cupcakes anytime soon, macarons are infinitely versatile. The shells can be flavored with cocoa, powdered fruits, and teas; colored with bright powdered food coloring; and filled with any one of myriad ganaches, frostings, creams, nut butters, or jams.

The recipe for macarons is deceptively short and (forgive my beloved puns) sweet. The plethora of nit-picky addendums to said recipe, however, expose the truth: macarons are difficult to perfect. They’re finicky about ingredient ratios, oven temperatures, folding intensity and duration, your kitchen decor . . . you get the idea. I was nervous but determined as I set my first batch of egg whites out on the counter to age. To be honest, the aforementioned nit-picky how-tos probably added to my anxiety more than they aided my technique. My obsessive compulsive nature was on overdrive trying to compile the 847,948 macaron tips I had read, some of which conflicted and some of which were insanely detailed. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find someone prescribing optimal wrist angles for folding batter or proper macaron-making hairstyles.

At some point, you have to stop reading the mountain of macaron manuals and just jump on in. In that spirit, I picked up some cardamom in the bulk spice section of my local grocer and set to work on Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons.

Macaron recipes all typically follow a basic pattern: beat egg whites and sugar to a stiff meringue, process almonds and powdered sugar together until fine, sift to remove lumps, fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients to form the macaronage, pipe out into circles, and bake. I added the cardamom into my macaron shells and whipped up Tartelette’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling to sandwich between them. I sprinkled some roasted, salted pumpkin seeds in the center of some of these macarons for good measure.

When I knelt to peer into my oven window and saw feet on my macarons, I grabbed my phone and my camera. The former was to call Mike and share my elation, while the latter provided a video memento of my victorious achievement. I love knowing that so many fellow bakers (daring or otherwise) have felt the joy of this very moment while sitting in front of their own ovens.

Despite my elation, my first batch of macarons certainly wasn’t perfect. They were delicious, but the shells were a bit flat. After reflecting and reading, I decided the flatness of the shells was probably due to overfolding my macaronage, and that the Daring Bakers recipe was a risk, seeing as it used a different ratio of ingredients than the accomplished Tartelette. Thus I made the following changes: I would count my strokes as I folded in my dry ingredients, ensuring that they were under 50, and I would use Tartelette’s recipe.

Batch #2 was comprised of plain macaron shells with two fillings: Cream Cheese Buttercream with Strawberry Jam, or David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Filling. And finally, using only 45 folding strokes, egg whites aged for 48 hours, and Tartelette’s careful ratio, I achieved a magnificent macaron!

While both fillings were good, we strongly preferred the chocolate filling to the somewhat overly tangy cream cheese buttercream. Y’all know I love cream cheese, but the taste of this recipe struck me as a bit odd (maybe I did something wrong). I do love the idea of cold, fruity jam on top of cream, but next time I’ll use a regular vanilla buttercream.

These gorgeous bites would be perfect with tea or coffee (I have to admit, though, I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact, that’s Coke Zero in the mug up there — go ahead and laugh). Because of their flexible flavoring, macarons are also ideal for any time of day. Eat a light jam macaron on the patio for breakfast, a buttercream macaron for a late morning brunch, or a ganache-filled macaron for a decadent dessert. Don’t be discouraged if your first try doesn’t yield perfection; the eventual success and satisfaction is worth the wait!

Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons


Recipe By:

-Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern (adapted by me)
Tartelette (pumpkin cream cheese filling)

Yields: around 2 dozen macarons (48 shells)


Macaron Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) icing sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) almond flour
2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.) granulated sugar
1/2 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
5 (Have at room temperature) egg whites, at room temperature (I followed the popular recommendation and aged my egg whites for 24-48 hours on a counter top, covered with a paper towel)


Pumpkin Cream Cheese Ingredients:
2 oz (60gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz (60gr) freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp ground cloves


Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the icing sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift half of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold to combine. Fold quickly at first and then gently. Add cardamom to your batter. Sift in the remaining almond flour and continue to fold, but be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients. Note: Count your strokes and try to stay under 50. The macaronnage should “flow like magma,” whatever that means, when it’s ready.)
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets (double up on baking sheets if they aren’t professional grade) lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper). Note: I piped mine too close together. Be careful.
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored. Note: Don’t get so excited about their feet that you yank them out too soon; if you do, the feet will collapse into a sad ruffle. Don’t ask me how I know this.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

For filling: In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, pumpkin and cloves until completely incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe onto half the shells and top with another shell.

Note: If I had this to do over again, I’d use Tartelette’s recipe (below) with cardamom added for the macarons.

Plain Macarons with Two Fillings: Cream Cheese Buttercream with Strawberry Jam and Chocolate Ganache


Recipe By:

Tartelette (macarons, cream cheese buttercream, adapted by me)
David Lebovitz (chocolate filling)

Yields: around 15-17 dozen macarons (30-34 shells)


Macaron Ingredients:
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds


Cream Cheese Buttercream Filling Ingredients: Note: I would have preferred regular buttercream. This filling had an odd flavor.
1 1/2 sticks (170 gr) butter at room temperature
4 oz (120gr) cream cheese, softened
3 egg whites
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 Tb water
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean split open and seeded.
Strawberry jam (or flavor of your choice)


Chocolate Filling Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 gr) butter, cut into small pieces


Directions:
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won’t work. Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve. Add them to the meringue,with the coloring and give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets (double up on baking sheets if they aren’t professional grade). Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Note: Don’t get so excited about their feet that you yank them out too soon; if you do, the feet will collapse into a sad ruffle. Don’t ask me how I know this. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don’t let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

For strawberry cream cheese filling: In the bowl of stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine 2 Tb water with the sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan and bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curdle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the cream cheese, the same way, a little at a time until everything is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, or paste or bean. Keep it to spreadable consistency for the macarons and refrigerate the leftover for cupcakes or mini toast in the fridge up to 3 days or in the freezer.

To assemble macarons, pipe cream cheese buttercream onto one side topped with a dollop of jam. Sandwich the other shell on top. Refrigerate to set.

For chocolate filling: Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using. When cool, I whipped the chocolate with a handmixer to achieve a good spreading consistency. I then piped a large dollop in the middle of shells and sandwiched other shells on top. Refrigerate.


Piping batter onto a macaron template and then the cookies fresh out of the oven (and a little wonky).



Blurry proof of feet for batches 1 and 2!





I hope you enjoyed this post! Don’t forget to cruise the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all of the creative French macarons.


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Homemade Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents

Have you ever pulled something out of the oven and felt like a rock star? Felt giddy and awed at the first bite? Been so incredibly proud of a recipe you were inexplicably able to complete that you thought about framing the resulting photos for your desk at work? Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little much. But all silliness aside, there are turning points in my life as a baker where I feel like I “level up,” or gain a skill or technique that previously seemed too daunting for me to contemplate. This past Daring Bakers challenge was one of those turning points.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.


New baking supplies for the challenge.

Vol-au vents are simply cups of puff pastry stuffed with delicious savory or sweet fillings. That part sounds easy. But homemade puff pastry? I have to admit, I was very nervous. The recipe looked especially daunting considering my love-hate relationship with my rolling pin. I think we’ve smoothed things out, but every now and then I still feel like giving him a good whomp against the counter to adjust his attitude. And even apart from rolling pin troubles, puff pastry is just a fickle, time consuming creation. It’s made by enveloping an entire pound of butter (Heyyy, Paula Deen!) in the dough (called a détrempe). Once the butter is wrapped up like a present, you make a series of six “turns” (tri-folds) in the dough, rolling it out between each (and refrigerating often to maintain workability). This website has a useful pictorial of the turning process, but I bet you’d love to see Julia Child and Michel Richard making it in real-time, wouldn’t you? Your wish is my command! Here’s the fun part: once you have all those lovely layers of butter and dough in the oven, the water content of the butter turns into steam, inflating your pastry. If all goes well, you end up with a fluffy, buttery bit of heaven.

After watching the video above several times over, I dragged my load of doubts and worries into the kitchen and set to work with a furrowed brow. My dough seemed too sticky, my butter pounding scared little Byrd to death, and my envelope kept threatening to break and expose my butter. Nevertheless, I trudged on, hoping that somehow, my little pastries would puff their hearts out in the oven. And guess what?

It worked! It worked! It worked! It’s unfortunate (or maybe not, since Mike’s eardrums are probably sore) that you couldn’t hear me shouting those two little words as I leapt around my apartment after taking these out of the oven. It was like magic! Little disks of dough turning into lovely, sophisticated pastries via unseen processes within their layers. And not only were the pastries puffy, they were out of this world delicious. I burned each one of my little fingertips to bits (not to mention my tongue) eating them straight out of the oven. Mike liked them too! Byrd was indifferent.

I chose to stuff my vol-au-vents with both savory and sweet fillings. My savory vol-au-vent was filled with smooth goat cheese mousse with a drizzle of fresh, homemade pesto on top. The pesto was gorgeous — made with toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil (including some huge sprigs from the garden beside my classroom — did I mention that I love my school?) The tangy goat cheese and rich pesto were such a delicious combination.

Goat Cheese Mousse and Basil Pesto


Recipe By:

Shirl on RecipeZaar (goat cheese mousse)
Elise on Simply Recipes

Yields: About 1/2 cup mousse and 1/2 cup pesto

Goat Cheese Mousse Ingredients:
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, lightly whipped

Basil Pesto Ingredients:
1 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/6 cup pine nuts, toasted
1.5 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
To make the mousse, process the goat cheese in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the whipped cream and blend just until incorporated.

To make the pesto, combine the basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Pulse a few times. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on low (if storing, reserve half the oil — see note below). Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Note: If storing and not using immediately, reserve half the oil. Place pesto in airtight container and drizzle reserved oil over top. Freeze or refrigerate.

My dessert plate was designed as a walk through the seasons. Spring was represented by Smitten Kitchen’s tangy mango curd, a sweet raspberry, and a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Summer was simple: homemade whipped cream and berries.

Finally, autumn was one of my favorites (in fact, you’ve seen it a few times here recently!): baked peach crisp. I baked some peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, oats, and toasted pecans in a dish before spooning the hot mixture into my puff pastry and (you know what’s coming, right?) topped it with a dollop of whipped cream! Next time I think I’ll add the toasted pecans over top of the peach mixture at the end. All of these dessert vol-au-vents were incredible in their buttery pastry cups, but our favorite by far was the Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent!


Peach Crisp Vol-au-vent



Raspberries and Cream Vol-au-vent



Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent

Mango Curd


Recipe By: Smitten Kitchen (mango curd)
Yields: About 1 to 1.5 cups

Ingredients:
1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar (might reduce this to 1/3 cup next time, to keep the curd more tart)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:
Puree mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve.

Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover (place plastic wrap on surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate overnight. Can freeze for up to 2 months.

I’m grateful for the Daring Bakers for many reasons: the exciting recipes shared, the fantastic friendships made, the gorgeous blogs to visit. For this challenge, though, I especially want to thank Steph and the Daring Bakers for a huge confidence boost! I hope you’ll decide to give puff pastry a try. It’s a manageable beast, and the resulting dough freezes well to use for months to come. Even besides those practicalities, though, it feels like such a satisfying kitchen accomplishment!

Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents


Recipe By: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yields: Using 1/3 of the dough yields about 9 2-inch vol-au-vents

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Directions:

Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:

  • While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.
  • Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.
  • Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don’t want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the dough…you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
  • Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don’t roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.
  • Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.
  • Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
  • Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.
  • When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.
  • Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.
  • You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.
  • Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).


Vol-au-vents ready to go into the oven, and then baking under a silicon mat.



Pesto fixings.

Don’t forget to cruise the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all of the creative vol-au-vents fillings other chefs chose.

Now I want to hear from you: what was your proudest culinary achievement?

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Milan Cookies

Saying that I love to try new recipes and techniques is an understatement. Even when I’m making a tried and true dessert that I’ve made repeatedly, I always have a crazy urge to try a new decorating technique or another twist. It was a wonderful decision, therefore, to join The Daring Bakers.

Each month, one of the Daring Bakers is responsible for hosting a challenge that they issue to all of the others. Bakers complete the challenge and everyone posts their results on the 27th of the month. This is my first month in the group, and I can already tell I’m going to love it.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network (to see my Mallows, go to this post).

First and foremost, I think the Daring Bakers will encourage me to try recipes I might not otherwise consider. These Milan Cookies, for example, aren’t something I would have decided to try on my own, but they are delicious and sophisticated. I can picture them being served at tea; they’re so prim in their little paper bowls! The cookie filling is a thick ganache with a hint of orange zest that complements the slightly citrus flavor of the cookie itself. Everyone who tried these loved them!

Just a hint: I had some lemon curd frozen from my Lemon Burst Fairycakes, so I spread it on a cookie and gave it a taste. It was heavenly! You could even sandwich some lemon curd between two cookies and dip them in ganache! Clearly, these cookies have inspired me.


Milan Cookie with lemon curd filling in the place of ganache.

This recipe is from Gale Gand and Food Network, but of course, I tweaked some things. Changes to the recipe are marked in italics below. I hope you enjoy these cookies, and be sure to send me a photo and/or leave me a comment if you make them! I’d love to see your results!

Milan Cookies


Recipe By: Gale Gand (slightly tweaked — changes in italics)
Yields: about 50 sandwich cookies

Ingredients:
12 tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups flour
Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling ingredients:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 orange, zested

Directions:

Cream the butter with a paddle attachment then mix in the sugar. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe thick 2-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan (note: it’s easier to pipe onto parchment if you “glue” it to the pan using some nonstick cooking spray), spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 7-8 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.

Cookie Filling: In a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl. Whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools). Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

NOTES on storage from Audax Artifex: Let cookies cool completely before storing them, or the residual heat will produce steam that will soften the cookies and accelerate spoilage. Separate layers of cookie with wax paper or foil.

In a dry climate, keep unfilled cookies crisp by storing them in a loosely covered container, such as a cookie jar without a snug lid. In a damp, humid climate, store in a tightly covered container.

Also keeping the unfilled cookies in an air tight container with a muslin bag of salt or bicarbonate of soda – this will absorb the dampness keeping your cookies crisp.

All of that said, I will tell you, my cookies got soft. We actually enjoyed them that way, so don’t fret if yours aren’t as crisp on day 2. Many of the Daring Bakers also tried fun combinations — chocolate Milan cookies with chocolate mint ganache, plain Milan cookies with no citrus, etc. So do some experimenting!

Process Photos:


Baking in the oven.



Cooling off (here you can see that a few were quite
wonky! To reduce the number of crooked cookies,
quickly and confidently pipe a thick, straight line.)



Mixing cookie filling.



The sandwich construction station!



LOTS of cookies!






Enjoy!

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Since I mentioned challenges, what’s the most challenging recipe you’ve tried?

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