Training to Live

living and learning, one day at a time

my french macaron experience

macarons are beautiful. they are elegant, fancy, and absolutely delicious. i don’t get to have them very often because they’re not really your every day kind of cookie, and when you can find them, they are usually quite expensive (though quite worth it).

when heather proposed having a macaroon monday, where we could all try something challenging that we’d never done before, i was inspired to attempt the macaron. it was definitely not easy. i had to get almond meal (because i don’t have a food processor to grind my own almonds in), age my egg whites for a few days, and measure out everything extremely precisely on the food scale. i carefully followed helene’s instructions from this article and from her numerous blog posts on macarons (she is the expert)

attempt #1

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clearly a fail!

i didn’t do a good job of taking pictures while making them because i needed to be 100% focused on the task at hand. after the above fiasco (mostly cause by my own ineptness, a) at leaving them in the oven too long and b) mostly because instead of making meringue at the beginning, i sort of started off on the royal icing path when i accidentally mixed all the sugar – powdered and granulated – in with the whipping whites. royal icing =/= macarons. that is why i hardly got any lift), i gathered up my courage to go again.

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that’s more like it! peaks!

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after i mixed in the almonds and powdered sugar (and red food colouring), i had to let the macarons sit for an hour before heading into the oven. this is supposed to help them develop a skin on the outside.

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then they had their trip into the oven (12 minutes, at a low 300°F). you can see little feet. not a whole bunch of lift, but a definite improvement on round #1. muuuuuuch better.

i had trouble filling them. they were fragile and i opted not to pipe my filling on, but rather use a spoon. this resulted in broken cookies. (sorry about the terrible lighting). i used some dulce de leche filling that i had in the fridge because the biscuits that i’d made earlier in the day to go with our supper’s soup used up all my cream for the originally planned ganache. i think i basically got the effect i was going for, though in future, i would coordinate colours with buttercreams and flavours (i just went with pink because that’s what i had).

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i learned a lot from these two attempts. folding powdered almonds and sugar into whipped egg whites is serious stuff. you really really need to sift the almonds extra (and grind them super fine yourself, if possible). next time, i would add the colouring right to the egg whites instead of folding it in with the sugar/nut mix. you’re supposed to use powdered colouring, which may have worked better, but i couldn’t find any of that, so i used gel. this may have had negative impacts on the results, but i quite liked the pink effect. also, parchment paper seemed to work a lot better at having the cookie bottoms not stick than the silpats. you have to wait till they are 100% cool before you try and remove them. a thin metal flat tool is good for this job.

i am definitely glad i took the plunge. macarons are something that i’d always sort of thought about trying but never really had the guts or incentive to just do it. so thanks, heather, for the extra motivation! i will definitely be attempting these again in the future. i’m looking forward to seeing how everyone else’s brand new challenges turned out. maybe i’ll find another exciting thing to try. we certainly have enjoyed eating these. someday, i’ll be able to package up tissue lined boxes of these to give away as presents, like these. for now, they stay in my kitchen.

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November 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm Comments (31)

aaaaaand we’re back

hopefully to regularly scheduled programming. the end of 2009 was a whirlwind, and sadly i guess that sharing some of it now seems pointless (like what i baked for christmas this year) but. maybe not! maybe a picture or two and a list will be helpful, even if just helpful for me for next year! plus christmas cookies are pretty.

baking this year went sort of out of control. i was a madwoman in december. usually when i get an idea into my head, i cannot be stopped. i see an interesting recipe or project on the internet and. i MUST MAKE IT. this is one of the major reasons that i bite off more than i can chew and have problems simplifying. the project did not go without a few lessons though. next year i will make a short list and stick to it as closely as possible. i will try to focus more on taste than on perfect appearance (because really, the gorgeous sugar cookies and gingerbread people that i spent hours decorating were hardly noticed as people were just popping the cookies into their mouths. it wasn’t until december 29 that my mother realized that all my gingerbread girls had a beachy theme!). this is part of my overall goal to reduce stress and become a more easy going, happier person. i also learned that dipping truffles in a chocolate shell, while really yummy, is not worth my time/frustration. next year i will make less fudge and more gingerbread, more shortbread jam cookies and more candied orange peel. i will make fewer sugar cookies and decorate them less crazily (because although the icing is gorgeous, it is a little hard and makes the cookie less enjoyable to eat). i will make molly’s peppermint bark again, because it was beautiful, a bit hit, and not very time consuming. remind me.

here is the final tally:

  • fudge, peanut butter and dark chocolate
  • sugar cookies – christmas trees, santa hats and stockings (which i also personalized with names for my work goodie bags) – martha stewart cookie book
  • gingerbread boys and girls – martha stewart cookie book
  • jam thumbprints (a last minute add on, but a HUGE hit. helped that i used homemade jam) this recipe is awesome
  • peppermint bark (see above)
  • candied orangettes (so good i plan to make more this month) these were a lot of work – many steps and much time but worth every minute
  • mocha truffles (which were not terribly mocha though – my fault – they were delicious. next time i will try for a bigger buzz boost)
  • chocolate sugar cookie stars – martha stewart cookie book

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ok so that was more than just a picture or two! aren’t the gingerbread people cute?

next posts up will feature some travel stories and how i will be spending many sunny winter afternoons.

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January 11, 2010 at 9:07 pm Comments (9)

chewy chocococoa craziness

i learned an important lesson this evening: do not try to do math in your head on the fly as you go between laptop in the living room (where the recipe is) to the kitchen (where the baking happens). this can only result in disaster. today i decided to make up a batch of these chewy double chocolate cookies for snacks and to take to a party we’re going to on saturday. i intended to double the recipe (because it’s pretty small and only yields about 20 cookies. i always double it), but right after the first step of combining the butter with the sugars, i realized i had accidentally quadrupled the amount of butter. so i decided to suck it up and just quadruple the whole thing. i do not recommend this. somewhere the math got fuzzy. when i got to the yogurt, i doubled the amount required. then i doubled that. and then i doubled it again as i was mixing the batter and it seemed too dry.

disaster, right?

wrong. it seems to have actually worked out ok. i baked two cookie sheets worth of cookies (and have at least 4 more in the bowl in the fridge). the cookies look super chocolatey and quite moist. they are soft, but structurally intact. i haven’t tasted yet (since i had more than my fill of tastes from the batter and am quite chocolated out), but this recipe has not failed me yet in over two years of baking it regularly. as you can see, it is quite forgiving. i have made all kinds of variations on it, sometimes putting peppermint extract instead of vanilla, sometimes using white chocolate, sometimes semisweet (tonight i used milk chocolate chips that i got on sale), sometimes i substitute some chocolate for dried cherries or cranberries, sometimes i use chopped up chocolate bar (snickers, mars, etc) after halloween, sometimes i decorate with m&ms. sometimes i don’t. this is the little black dress of cookies, i think. they also require only 1 bowl and 1 wooden spoon. (when you make a quadruple batch, the stirring is a workout for your arms!)

i got this from orangette back in 2007 and i never looked back. i’ve never been disappointed by anything molly makes! i still have her delightful new book, sitting on my shelf, waiting to be devoured, just like my cookies will be when jon gets home tomorrow ;-)

Chewy Cocoa Cookies with Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Alice Medrich

(i’ve gone ahead and doubled the amounts for you. you’ll definitely want more than 20 cookies)

2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 cup. unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably not low- or nonfat
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1cup chocolate chips or other mix in

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (i usually just dump these into a strainer above the bowl with the wet ingredients to cut down on dirty dishes. sifts and mixes in one step)

Place the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl, and microwave briefly, until just melted. Add the sugars, and sift in the cocoa. Stir to blend well. The mixture will be somewhat thick and pasty, like wet sand. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the dry flour mixture, and stir to just combine. Add the chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.

Drop the dough by generous tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. (I use my tablespoon-size measuring spoon to scoop and shape the dough into little domes. Rinsing the spoon regularly helps to keep the dough from sticking, and leaving the spoon slightly wet after each rinsing helps too.) Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack, and cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

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i couldn’t resist tasting! they are super super moist, very brownie like, and extremely chocolatey (i love the milk chocolate chips! will definitely repeat). they are somewhat on the soft/fragile side, so i will have to be careful with transportation, but i am confident that everyone at work will be my friend when i take these in tomorrow.

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November 19, 2009 at 9:33 pm Comments (0)

R&R

for an only 4 day week, this one was intense! just when i thought it was at the peak of insanity, work got just a little crazier. i cry a little* when i think of all i have to do in the next month or so.
i did get an awesome voicemail message on my phone. it went something like this “hi. we need our report from you. we’ve got our contractor and are ready to go. thanks. bye”. it was golden! she didn’t leave her name, her number or give any indication of the title of the project she was referring to. as far as i know, it could be one of at least 10-15 different reports.

in addition to all the work crazy, my week was also pretty exercise-heavy:
monday – 13km long run
tuesday – pyramid speedwork
wednesday – 45 minutes of biking on my new pedals
thursday – bike 16 miles + 8km tempo run
friday – 30 minutes of swimming
saturdays are supposed to be the day for my long run, but i’m giving my muscles a rest. besides, it is COLD. and also very windy. i’ll wait till tomorrow to bang out the next 15km.

swimming was fantastic. i discovered an olympic size swimming pool a 5 minute walk away from work. admission ranges from 2.50-3.00$ which is a whole lot cheaper than for me to pay $52 a month for the gym membership of which i was only interested in the pool (since i loathe working out at the gym on machines. i just can’t make myself do it) which turned out to be silly small (18 metres??) and not that nice. a 50 metre pool is far more awesome AND there is a lovely big hot tub/jacuzzi thing and a sauna (which i didn’t have time to check out). it melted all of the friday morning stress right away. i plan to go at least once a week from now on. this will be good for cross training and also for any potential triathlons i decide on a whim to do.

i am finally happy and safe with the clipless pedals. if you bike a lot, you should really give these serious consideration. it seems scary at first (and you’ll fall off a couple times, like i did) but once you get it, you’ll have twice as much power! thumbs up.

the boy requested coconut sorbet and roasted pineapple for dessert tonight, so that’s what i’m working on, in addition to the weekly batch of cookies (martha oatmeal/chocolate chip/skor bit) and some granola. we got a bunch of not-so-jumbo pineapples on sale for $2 this week, so i’ve got the dehydrator stacked, and the rest in the fridge waiting for roasting time. i piña coladaed-up the sorbet recipe with a little malibu rum.

the recipe made approximately 1 quart

even though we’re going back into negative celsius territory this week, we’ll be able to pretend we’re in the tropics. coconut sorbet is so freaking easy. 3 ingredients! no ice cream maker required (though i will obviously use mine). i have made it no less than 10 times to varying degrees of fancyness/whimsy (like here). when coconut milk was 57 cents a can, it was by far the cheapest, creamiest treat we could have. cans are up to $1, but for at least 5 servings of delicious sorbet, that’s still pretty good.

my grocery challenge is not going so well. it seems like every time i go to the store, things are more expensive than they were the last time. sticking to $30 has been hard! i am keeping it close to 40 though, which i think is not too bad.

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they turned out a little thin this week. maybe i’ll up the flour and dial back on the butter as per these instructions

dried pineapple rings waiting to be used in homemade meusli, coconut rice, more muffins, or just eaten plain!

*it’s not because i don’t love my job, it’s just that there’s only so much one girl can handle. you know?


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April 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm Comments (6)

what's the story, morning glory?

it’s my favorite oasis album AND a really yummy muffin. ever since i saw them on kerf a couple weeks ago, i’ve been wanting a really good morning glory. i’ve never made them myself and i’ve only actually had them on a few occasions so i didn’t have much to work with besides kath’s brief list of ingredients and vague memories. i only consulted one recipe before setting to the kitchen. as i am very loyal to local eats, foodland ontario is a good source of everything for me, so this is what i turned to.
i suspect i had approximately double the amount of shredded carrot and diced apple required, though i followed their instructions for 2 of each. i skipped the cinnamon/sugar topping and made a few other substitutions (skipped the raisins and threw in dried cranberries instead, no pecans, and added diced dried pineapple). the batter was extremely thick. fruit/veg only thinly bound together by the wet flour mixture. i wasn’t banking on success.

as it happened, the muffins turned out extremely delicious and probably super healthy, given all that fibre and fruit/veg. next time i’ll cut back on the oil because i doubt it’s necessary (apple sauce sounds great). they are extremely moist and super flavourful and have been the perfect wake up second breakfast for when i arrive at work. (yes, i did use ontario apples and carrots, as specified). i only ended up making 10 large muffins and i had to cook mine for a lot longer than the 22 minutes suggested, but still. thumbs up, foodland. you win!


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April 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm Comments (9)

on being nice


february is one of my favorite months. it’s all pink and red, sparkly and gives me the excuse to do special things for the special people in my life. apparently, this coming week is not just the week before valentine’s day, it is also random acts of kindness week. i’m trying to think up a list of little things i can do for the people around me. any ideas? my first thoughts take me to the kitchen with baked treats (two valentine’s days ago, i pulled off a spectacular project making edible valentines for everyone i worked with – about 25 – 30 people. it was a huge amount of work, making the fudge, the truffles, the two types of biscotti, and the sandwich heart shaped sugar cookies, but it was so rewarding and everyone loved it. i don’t know if i have the time or energy for something with as big a scope, but i should be able to swing a few small things)

what are your plans for the week?


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February 7, 2009 at 11:44 am Comments (3)