Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Daring Bakers' Challenge

I'm giving a shout out to my sister-in-law, Marie Agnes, for introducing me to macarons. Naturally I'd seen pictures of fancy French macarons before, and even peered into macaron shops in Paris, but never conceived of making them myself. They're so pretty that they almost look fake and inedible, but the truth is that they make a very tasty treat.

Over the summer I helped Marie Agnes make a batch and she even gave me a macaron cookbook, which inspired my idea for a raspberry version. While I really enjoyed making these unique cookies, I was unable to achieve the signature "foot." It's the part at the bottom of the cookie that spreads out to support the shiny round top. My Dutch friend Katinka, also a Daring Baker, achieved the much sought after feet on her third batch. What's more, the tops of my macarons were dull instead of bright, glossy, and shiny. Maybe that should have stopped me from submitting my results for the challenge, but it didn't. By the way, the photo below is what they should look like.

I filled a portion of my cookies with a mix of raspberry jam and coulis, and the rest with dark chocolate ganache.

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

Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.

Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ 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 a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
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 lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
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.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Danish Organic Market

A couple weeks ago we stopped in at the annual Økologisk Marked here in Hobro. We sampled different artisan cheeses, the most amazing pink apple juice I've ever tasted (but at $7 a quart, not very wallet-friendly), chocolates, yogurt, and more--all organic and made in Denmark. There were meat and fish vendors, companies selling kids clothes made with organic cotton, and a woman selling the most vibrant varieties of wool yarn. We left with two blocks of cheese and a package of smoked sausage links.

In front of the building was an old-fashioned apple press where anybody who brought their own apples could press juice and bottle it in whatever stray plastic or glass bottles they brought along from home.

We were delighted to participate in such a fun, charming, and worthwhile event. Anatole took special interest nearby in the boats being loaded onto big semi trucks to be taken away and stored for the winter.

Chicken Pot Pie

It's been one of those weeks where I'm not motivated to do very much. It doesn't help that it started getting light at 8:00 a.m. here this week. What's more, at 7:30 a.m. it's totally dark and feels like it should be 4:00 a.m. instead. Ugh. Alan reminded me that we'll turn the clocks back next weekend and then it will be lighter in the morning...but dark at 3:30 p.m. Lovely.

But let me tell you about some wonderful pot pies I made last week...when I was more energetic. You can find the recipe here. I've made pot pie from scratch before but always either with leftover rotisserie chicken or cooked pieces of boneless breast to add to the filling. For some reason--and it's worth saying it this way because boy is it a time killer--I decided this time that I would boil a whole chicken, make my own broth, and then de-bone the meat and use it and the broth for the pie.

Honestly, eating a pot pie that is 100 percent made from scratch is just the best. No worries about any fillers, chemicals, or puny vegetables. Having said that, making a pot pie this way is not for the faint of heart. It's not at all difficult, just very time consuming. So, if you have a couple extra hours laying around, please do yourself a favor and make this delicious recipe. It's absolutely perfect for these fall days that just keep getting shorter and shorter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thank you, Denmark

Dear Denmark,

Thank you for the most spectacular fall weather. I am liking you even more during these days of bright sun, fresh cold air, and stunning colors. I've also written a letter to Rain asking him to stay on vacation as long as possible...or just come back next spring if he'd rather.


p.s. I'm in love with this mutant but gorgeous leaf. Front and back, never seen anything like it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Italian Alps

In August when I recapped my summer vacation in France, I mentioned what a treat it was to get away--just Alan and me--for a couple of days. Suddenly, we were a childless couple, free to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. And leaving a two-year old in the capable hands of his grandmother is much easier than leaving a helpless infant. For the first time in ages, I truly relaxed.

We left the Chartreuse Mountains, drove through the Mont Blanc region, and a short drive later ended up in Aosta, Italy. It was my first time in Italy, and I don't care if it's the Italy so close to the French border that both languages are spoken, it was still Italy. The scenery was stunning and the food has been written into my memory with indelible ink. My only regret is that the batteries in my camera died the morning we were getting ready to ascend the Pennine Alps on the boundary of Italy and Switzerland. Therefore, the photos chronicle our trip leading up to the hike--highly annoying since it was an incredibly arduous journey and I have nothing to show for it...except what's in my head. That's okay but it would have been nice to share and, I'll admit it, brag a bit. The next time you climb 4000 feet in a day, please share! I'll be the first one to congratulate you.

In order to reach Italy we took the Mont Blanc Tunnel which runs under Mont Blanc and links France and Italy. It's length is impressive: 7.5 miles. It might not seem that far, but it's a heck of a long time to drive in a dark, dank tunnel. It didn't help that as we were driving through Alan was recounting the tunnel fire of 1999 that killed 39 people. But there is an upside to the tragedy. The tunnel closed for three years following the fire and was outfitted with all sorts of safety measures that should prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. That's not to say that truck fires won't occur, just that the tunnel is better equipped to deal with them. Phew.

I hope you enjoy the photos. There are lots of them, but not enough of the food, darn it...guess I was swept away by other things for a change. The first set of photos are on the drive there, including Mont Blanc and the French-Italian border. Then it's pastries and gelato - the round, yellow cake doesn't look all that impressive but it was at least 20 inches in diameter! The Roman theater was spectacular and even more so with a backdrop of blue sky and mountains. There was an open-air art exhibit that included all sorts of hand crafts from residents of the Aosta Valley. The wood carvings were unbelievably intricate and real-looking.

We enjoyed a photography exhibit and art exhibit at different galleries; and couldn't help but smile when we saw the larger-than-life tribute to Pope John Paul II. I captured the adorable little boy standing next to the priest; situated on the other side of them was a decades old graveyard recently discovered and unearthed for archeology purposes.

p.s. I just read my post to Alan who commented "Sounds good, but what about the pizza?!" He's right. It would be ridiculous to NOT mention the pizza. After our hike down the mountain, we drove to Aosta and enjoyed the most amazing, thin-crust, wood-oven-baked, pizza ever. Did it taste so good because of the hike? Perhaps, but surely there was more to it than that. Mine was topped with mushrooms and some sort of cured meat. I savored each bite with a glass of very cheap but very good red wine.