WE'VE MOVED

Hello!

Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!

Sincerely,
Syl

Friday, September 28, 2012

Macarons

What are we supposed to do with all these egg whites?! Since we only needed egg yolks for the chocolate crème, we had some leftover ingredients. The next logical step was to buy almond flour and attempt making macarons!

This was our first macaron-making experience. It was one of our most asked question throughout the years: Have you made macarons? The answer was always no, we were a little bit nervous and scared to! We had heard about horror stories and read about the high failure rates. Macarons are fickle. You have to be precise. Any one thing could go wrong and upset a macaron. If you're confused about the name, please note that macaroons are sweet, chewy coconut mounds.

We did do some research first. Let's start off with some background information from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops:
"The French macaron is a light, elegant confection, a sandwich cookie.... The cookie part of a French macaron is slightly domed, with a whisper-thin top crust that is as fragile as an eggshell and an interior that is a cross between meringue and the world's lightest cake. The base of the cookie is a bumpy little circlet referred to as 'the foot,' and it, along with the thin, smooth top crust, is a signature of a well-made macaron. Classic macarons are made with a base of ground almonds and whipped egg whites and, depending on the flavor, sandwiched with buttercream, ganache, curd, or thick preserves."
We found it amusing to note that she writes how "real French macarons are hard to find in America and difficult to make at home." Oh, how times have changed! (The book was published in 2002!)

Then, we spent the night re-reading Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the Macaron Cafe. (Thank you to my Secret Santa last year for surprising me with this book and click here to see our trip to the shop in NYC.) It seemed pretty straight forward. It looked doable. By golly we were going to do this!

The ingredient list didn't look too daunting, all we needed were:

French Meringue Macarons
Recipe from Macarons
(Makes about 50-60 shells for 25-30 filled macarons)

2 3/4 cups of almond flour
2 3/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 cup of egg whites (from 7-8 eggs)
A pinch of salt
3/4 cups of granulated sugar.
Gel paste food colouring is optional - we didn't use any!

So, the book tells us that the first step in making successful macarons is to age your egg whites. Yes, we know, this sounds odd, but we followed these strict instructions! So separate your egg whites 2-3 days before baking. Store them in the refrigerator - covered. Two hours before you start making your macarons, take the egg whites out of the refrigerator, uncover them, and let them come to room temperature. That's not too difficult! Just keep this in mind during your planning stage. One cannot make macarons on a whim - the very thought of this makes us kind of sad.

The next key step. Sift! If you want to, blend the almond flour and powered sugar in a food processor to make an even finer powder. The finer, the smoother your macaron shells well be. We sifted half of our almond flours, this took forever. Just look at the size of the almond flour before (third photo in this post) and after it is sifted (second photo in this post). At one point, we did grind it down, but then gave up and tossed it with the powdered sugar. Yup, this is where it could have gone down hill. But it didn't and we learned a valuable lesson. Lumpy shells means no sifting occurred! So take the time and sift if if you want smooth macarons. Set this aside.

Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt. Start slow and then increase the speed as the whites start to foam. Add the granulated sugar and food colouring (if using).

Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. You can use this waiting time to line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Test the egg whites by taking the whisk attachment off and scoop out some of the meringue. See that curved tip there? If you rotate it, the tip is still firm and shiny, it doesn't droop to the other side! That's when you know you're ready.

Fold the egg whites into your almond flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula (do NOT use your mixer) and be careful not to deflate the egg whites all at once. Fold and mix until you don't see any dry spots or crumbs. This part is called macaronner - the action of mixing all the macaron ingredients! The mixture should be shiny and have a consistency of Greek yogurt. Try to keep the number of folds under 45-50. Someone had told us that we should only do 4 folds - impossible! (And see? Scary stories about macaron making, no wonder we never attempted it.)

Fill your pastry bag with a large-round tip and fill it with the macaron batter. Squeeze small amounts onto your parchment paper to form 2 1/2 inch circles. You can also make them slightly smaller or larger, it's up to you! Just be consistent so you have pairs with the same size. And leave at least 1 inch of space between the piped macarons.

Our macarons still had peaks on top from piping. If this happens, that means the batter could have been mixed a little bit more. But no fear, dab your fingers with water and gently press the peaks down. The water prevents the macaron from sticking to your finger and causing more peaks! One more step, tap the baking sheet on the tabletop to eliminate any air bubbles.

Now, preheat the oven to 300°F (325°F for non-convection oven, the cookbook recommends using a convection oven because of the even distribution of heat. Score!!) and let the macarons rest. Yup. Go wash the dishes or read a book. The batter needs to sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Apparently this ensures that your macarons will have feet!

After 15 to 30 minutes, bake the macarons for 14 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, open the oven door for 10 seconds to let out excess steam.

LOOK!! Our macarons have "feet" or "pied." Just like Dorie Greenspan's description of a macaron above!

We made a chocolate and peanut butter ganache for our filling. Melted a total of 7 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips and REESE'S Minis over a double boiler. Then mixed in 1 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Once this was all combined, we removed it from the heat and stirred in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Smooth, glossy chocolate. Let this cool completely before using it to fill. Refrigerate if you need to. If you find the consistency too runny, add 1/4 to 1 cup of icing sugar. The ganache should be thick enough to spread or pipe.

When everything has cooled, pipe or dollop the filling onto a macaron shell.

Then, with another shell, gently squeeze to sandwich the filling between the macaron! Try not to have the filling spill out. Keep it nice and tidy.

Oh the joys! The macarons turned out so well! Not perfect - we'll need to be more patient with the sifting next time - but texture and flavour wise, they were amazing! We hit almost everything in Dorie Greenspan's description. Slightly domed with thin top crust that is fragile? Check. An interior that was like the world's lightest cake? Check. Bumpy little feet around the base? YES!

Both our parents liked the macarons and requested more. Howard's parents received them enthusiastically and asked for another batch to take to a dinner party. My parents were content with stealing the shells to snack on, but also asked for a batch to bring to the community centre where they exercise with their friends. Oh and our colleagues, we brought the extras to work and they were highly praised (unless people were being polite).

We were left with a lot of chocolate ganache, the recipe makes too much, so try and half it if you want to use it. Next time, we're going to play with flavours! Maybe green tea? Lemon? Or a simple jam filling for my parents. We're just ecstatic that these turned out - why were we so worried in the first place? Needless to say, we highly recommend reading Macarons for all the tips and recipes!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pots de Crème

Last weekend, we were invited to a dinner party (in which the hosts didn't have to do any of the cooking - now that's my kind of magical, we'll leave you to figure it out) and we called dibs on bringing dessert. We always try not to show up empty handed!

So some ideas were milling about, we really wanted to do something with our jars again, since they would be perfect individual portions and easy to bring over to their house. No amount of rocking will smudge or ruin these desserts. Our hosts like the chocolate and peanut butter combination, so we were thinking of chocolate pots de crème and adding some peanut butter element into it.

During the week, we happened upon the blog, Tar-Tryin', where Emily blogs through the Tartine cookbook. An amazing feat no doubt, but it was a sign. She's made the chocolate pots de crème recipe from the book! Next thing you know, we're pulling out our Tartine cookbook off the shelf and going on a grocery trip.

Minor variations in our recipe - just a swap of chocolate type. We melted 5 ounces of semisweet chocolate and 1 ounce of REESE'S Minis over a double boiler. Next, we combined 2 3/4 cups of heavy cream, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt in a sauce pan and whisked until it was blended. Once it started to boil, we took it off the heat and whisked in the chocolate.

We preheated the oven to 175°C (350°F). Now, using our stand mixer, we whisked 8 large egg yolks until combined (save the egg whites - you'll need them for our next post). Then slowly poured in the chocolate mixture as the machine continued to whisk. Once it was all blended together, poured the mixture through a fine sieve into a container with a spout.

Next, we divided the chocolate mixture among 8 oven-proof jars. Placed them in an oven-proof pan and popped it into our oven. Using a kettle or container with a spout, we poured water into the pan so that it came up 3/4 of the way up the sides of the jars.

Baked for about 20-25 minutes. The sides and top were set, but the middle of the crème was still jiggly.

We carefully removed our jars from the oven. If you can carry the whole water bath out - we give you thumbs up! We were cautious and took the jars out individually (chicken!), since we couldn't guarantee that we would carry it out without any hot water sloshing onto the floor!

While the chocolate pots de crème are cooling, we worked on garnishing. From our bag of leftover REESE'S Minis, we quartered each piece. There's something fun about chopping up peanut butter cups....

Once our desserts are completely cooled, we garnished the top with the chopped peanut butter cups and added some Callebaut Crispearls for a crunchy texture. Or, whatever chocolate and peanut butter goodness you like!

Mmm, can't wait to dig in!

Now, to store them for safe travels. If you have seals and lids for your jars, put them on!

Clamp them down!

Ready to go! They're very cute in presentation and great for placing out in a potluck or buffet style dinner party. Just place a spoon on the top of the jar and guests can grab one whenever they feel like it.

First bite, managed to get two out of three! No Crispearls here, but the top crust of the crème will provide texture.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Installing a new faucet

A publicity representative for Delta Faucet contacted us about testing and reviewing their kitchen faucets with Touch2O technology. By simply touching the faucet, water will begin to flow! The thinking behind this is meant to be out of convenience when your hands are messy from prepping and cooking.

We thought this was pretty neat and agreed to give it a try (our previous faucet was getting old and leaky anyways). Looking through the choices - Delta Trinsic, Delta Pilar, and Delta Addison) - we decided on the Trinsic model in an Arctic Stainless finish. Because of where our kitchen sink is located, we have cabinets above. This posed a problem as the faucet reached fifteen inches high, meaning it would barely fit without hitting our cabinets, we didn't have enough clearance! Kindly, Delta agreed to send us the Trinsic Bar/Prep model for review since it was only thirteen inches tall.

I never knew there were so many factors in picking out a faucet! There are 1 to 4 hole installations and you have to take into consideration if your sink is top mount or under mount. Then of course there are the many features of the faucet itself, like flow rate and if you want a pull-down hose. You can probably tell by reading this that this was our first faucet upgrade experience!

The Trinsic faucet came neatly packaged, all the pieces we needed were supplied. The only things we did need (and luckily had) were a flashlight, adjustable wrenches, and a Phillips screwdriver. Oh, there was one other crucial thing I needed - my dad!

My dad and I both read the instructions, he was probably more excited than I was and had started to piece some of the equipments together. When we were pretty confident that we knew what we had to do, we tackled our first step.

Uninstalling the old faucet.

This was probably the most challenging part. We cleared the storage area under the sink, gave it a good wipe down, and turned off the water in the house. We waited a few minutes for all the water to drain out and my dad crawled under the sink to take a look. With a few twists and pulls, we managed to disengage the old faucet.

We have an under mount sink, but don't worry, the instruction booklet was very clear and gave instructions for both types of sink.

Ta-dah! We touched the faucet to turn on the water and tested for leaks - none! The installation was a success and technically took us under an hour. Well it would have been, it actually took two, but only because the phone rang and hour-long phone conversations ensued. (Live tweets: 1, 2, 3, and 4.) My dad said that it was really easy and told me to make sure I include that in my post. So here it is, the installation was really easy!

Check out the two water streams! There's a little black switch on the pull-down hose that allows you to switch to an aerated mode. I'm calling it the shower mode.

So now we've had over a week of getting used to the Touch20 technology. We have to pull the handle on the right to unlock the water. Leaving the handle in that position allows us to touch the spout or the handle to activate the water flow. It is also indicated by the blue light at the base. At night or in between meals, we lock it at "off" so that nothing (like a fly) will come by and turn on our water!

My mom did have to troubleshoot when she wore rubber gloves - it's not as sensitive, but she claims that it works if you tap the faucet a little harder.

Overall, I have found that it is helpful when you've got your hands full. A quick touch with the wrist or arm and I've got water! The only thing to note, and it could be that we have older pipes, is that I can now hear a jolt when water is activated.

Disclaimer: A publicity representative for Delta Faucet contacted us about their kitchen faucets with Touch2O technology. No incentives were used to produce a positive review. No monetary exchange took place. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sunsets over Manhattan

Okay, this is our last post from our New York trip this year. We stayed over at my aunt and uncle's apartment (and literally slept at the foot of their bed). While their place was tiny, they have an amazing view of Manhattan. We couldn't help pausing in the middle of dinner just to take photos of the sunsets. Funnily enough, my uncle pulled out his D-SLR and joined in too. But here's a few that we took on our camera, enjoy!





Monday, September 24, 2012

Sights of NYC

Here are just some of the sights of busy New York City from our trip:

Can't miss them, the yellow taxi cabs are everywhere.

The streets are an extension of everyone's drains.

Tiffany and Co. preparing for Fashion's Night Out - what treats did they end up serving? We don't know!

We really love the architecture in this city!

Cruise?

Nice boots.

Ferrara, Little Italy.

Oh, so this is where you see the Statue of Liberty!

Everyone's fighting for your attention in Times Square.

Work Less.

More fire escapes.

When will the construction finish?

Out of service.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

BaoHaus

238 E 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
(646) 669-8889

Eddie and Evan Huang opened Baohaus on Christmas Eve 2009. Come 2012, Sylvia and Howard watched an episode of The Layover where Anthony Bourdain visits Baohaus. Taiwanese-style steam bun sandwiches? Yes, please!

This is a great little place if you're feeling peckish. The last place we ate at in New York City during this trip. It was such a trip down memory lane for Howard. His eyes just lit up seeing all the Taiwanese sodas on the menu. While my eyes were bigger than my stomach as I wanted to try every sing bao they offered.

Don't worry, we were very reasonable and picked two:
Left: Chairman Bao - Braised All Natural Berkshire Pork Belly. Served with crushed peanut, cilantro, Haus Relish, and Taiwanese red sugar.

Right: Jeremy Lin Bao - Fried Curry Pork Chop. Served with lemon aioli, pickled radish / carrot, cilantro, and jalapeño.

Both were delicious in their own right, but I think I favour the Jeremy Lin Bao! A slam dunk. Yes, I just said that.
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