Almond Meringues

Last night I had three leftover egg whites, but not the energy to make macarons. So I made meringues instead, and now I wish I’d just gone ahead and made macarons because, truth be told…I’m not that big a fan of meringues.

Yes, yes, I totally need meringue practice. It’s good to work with things that aren’t as familiar, and I admit that the combination of egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, flavoring, and sugar that becomes an ethereal cloud of meringue-ness is something with which I need much more experience. But flavor and texture-wise, they’re not something I’d necessarily choose if there were other treats nearby.

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • dash of salt
  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites, almond extract, cream of tartar, and salt on low, then medium speed, until foamy. Slowly add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping on medium-high speed between each addition. Continue adding the sugar slowly and whipping until meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks; this can take about 7-10 minutes.

Fit a large piping bag with a star tip and carefully spoon meringue into the bag; you don’t want to knock all the air out of it. Pipe meringue onto parchment in 2-inch blobs, leaving about 1 to 1 1/2 inches between each cookie. They won’t spread, but you want enough room for the heat and air to circulate around them.

Bake meringues for 40-45 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them inside for another hour. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

 

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Clover Bites

Once again, shortbread comes through as a versatile treat. One of the things I like most about my shortbread recipe, which is based on one from King Arthur Flour, is that it’s delicious on its own but also so easy to dress up. Add extract of nearly any flavor, toss in some citrus extract, tint your dough a fun color, add sprinkles, drizzle it with chocolate; no matter what you do, you really can’t go wrong.

These clover bites – flavored with almond, tinted green, and sprinkled with green sugar – are on their way to Maryland for my favorite little leprechauns as part of their (slightly belated) St. Patrick’s Day package. Shortbread ships very well because it’s fairy sturdy, but I strongly recommend padding your container with some waxed paper, or even bubble wrap, to prevent breakage.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) flour
  • Green gel food coloring
  • Green sugar sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and almond extract. Add flour and beat to combine completely, then add enough food coloring to reach your desired shade of green. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl, but you may need to knead it a bit with your hands to make sure the food coloring gets distributed evenly.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on your baking sheets. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand and sprinkle with green sugar.

Bake for 25-27 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool for about 3 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 16 cookies.

Princess Shortbread

Princess shortbread sounds like a character from a children’s story, right? Perhaps she’s a plucky royal who prefers spending her time baking than learning to knit or play the harp and would pacify a dragon by baking him a fancy cake rather than getting some prince to slay him. Then the dragon could help provide the fire for her ovens, and they’d be lifelong friends.

Anyway…this princess shortbread is named because of the princess cake and cookie flavor I used in it, a lovely combination of vanilla and citrus available from King Arthur Flour. I tinted it pink for Valentine’s Day, and it is now on the way to my favorite little Maryland girls along with some other Valentine gifts, including Captain America and Aquaman dolls (because they only have one Ken for their Barbies, and the Ken selection at my local target was quite lacking). I like to think perhaps Princess Shortbread would hang out with Captain America and Aquaman, but that’ll have to be a story for another day.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 5 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) flour
  • Pink gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and princess cake and cookie flavor. Add flour and beat to combine completely, then add enough food coloring to reach your desired shade of pink. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl, but you may need to knead it a bit with your hands to make sure the food coloring gets distributed evenly.

Press the dough into the bottom of the cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Earl Grey Macarons

I’ve truly lost my mind down the macaron rabbit hole. This is batch number three in less than one week, but I simply cannot help myself. And again, I’ve got store-bought egg whites (not recommended for macarons, but I’m using them anyway) to use up before they expire.

These definitely need more tea flavor, so I think next time I’ll add two full bags – or possibly even three – of the tea. I chose to leave these macarons natural, without any color tint, so you can really see the flecks of tea. Lemon goes very well with Earl Grey, so it’s a great fit for the macaron shells; you could also use a lemon buttercream if you wanted more sweetness, but I like the sharpness of the curd against the mellow flavor of the shell.

Ingredients

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 bags Earl Gray tea
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Lemon curd, for filling

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar, almond flour, and tea and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla extract and whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and spread lemon curd on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving.

Orange Cream Macarons

No one told me baking macarons would be so addictive. Now that I’ve cracked the formula, I’m obsessed with the notion of making more. Flavors swirl in my mind: raspberry, key lime, blueberry lemon, chocolate orange, salted caramel…the list stretches out to infinity. Plus – and this may sound shocking, but it’s true – I bought a carton of egg whites to experiment with last weekend and I really need to use them before they go bad.

Strictly speaking, store-bought whites aren’t recommended for macarons, because they don’t whip up as fluffily (look at that, I made a new word!) as regular egg whites do. But when you’re practicing a new recipe and don’t have time to make pastry cream or fruit curd with your leftover yolks, you sometimes resort to such things. Anyway, last night I arrived home from work with a great flavor in mind: orange cream. I used fiori di sicilia, one of my favorite flavorings, in both the shells and filling. Fiori di sicilia is a great combination of vanilla and citrus, and a little goes a long way. I’m happy to report that these were a big hit in Mike’s office today.

Ingredients

For the shells

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • Orange gel food coloring

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 3 teaspoons milk
  • Orange gel food coloring

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add fiori di sicilia, vanilla extract, and a small amount of your desired food coloring; I used just two drops of orange. Whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

While the shells cool, prepare the filling. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium-high speed for 5-7 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and extracts, then whip to combine, slowly adding 1 teaspoon of milk at a time; you want a consistency that will be easy to pipe.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and pipe filling on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving. You’ll have some filling left over, so you can save it for something else (or just spread it on graham crackers, which is what I usually do with leftover frostings/fillings).

 

Vanilla Macarons with Lemon Curd

Apparently, the third time really is the charm. This was my third attempt at macarons, and they finally turned out the way I had hoped, with feet and crunch tops and all.

I’ve spent literal months thinking about macarons. Readers of this blog will know that’s not hyperbole; after all, I spent years perfecting honey cake and honing my go-to buttercream. Macaron attempt 1 yielded batter that was far too stiff; the cookies tasted great, but looked nothing like the elegant cookies you see in bakery windows.  Attempt 2 got closer, but the macarons were underbaked, though they had great flavor. Attempt 3, after watching this incredibly helpful video from Tasty, yielded the best results.

Note: I measured most of the ingredients for this recipe by weight, rather than volume, which I highly recommend. The recipe below is a hybrid of a few I found online, including Tasty via Buzzfeed and Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Ingredients

  • 120 grams egg whites, at room temperature (about 3 large eggs)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 40 grams superfine sugar, sifted (about 3 tablespoons)*
  • 200 grams powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
  • 100 grams almond flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Gel food coloring, if desired
  • Lemon curd, for filling

*You can make superfine sugar by placing granulated sugar in your food processor and pulsing it until it becomes like sand. 

Preparation

Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine powdered sugar and almond flour and pulse for about 30-45 seconds. Sift into a large bowl, discarding any large bits, and set aside.

Place egg whites and salt in clean, dry, grease-free bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed, then increase to medium/medium-high speed and whip until egg whites are foamy and no longer translucent. Slowly add superfine sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla extract and a small amount of your desired food coloring; I used red for a light pink color. Whip again to combine, but be careful not to over-whip; you still want stiff peaks but don’t want to take the meringue too far and have it become grainy.

Add 1/3 of your dry ingredients at a time and fold in with a spatula, turning the mixture about 15 times with each addition, being very careful not to over-mix. The batter is mixed enough when it is sticky and smooth, and you can make an unbroken figure 8 with the batter as it drips off your spatula.

Place batter into a large piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Holding the bag upright, pipe rounds of batter about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the parchment, leaving about 2 inches between each circle. Gently tap or drop your baking sheets onto a counter top or table to release any air bubbles.

Let batter sit for about 30-60 minutes; the tops will form a skin that becomes dry to the touch.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake macarons, one sheet at a time, for about 17 minutes, checking halfway; the macarons should form “feet” on the bottoms, but have smooth tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Once macarons are cool, flip half the macarons onto their tops and spread lemon curd on the bottom, then top with another macaron. Store in an airtight container at least overnight before serving. Full disclosure, though: Mike and I both at a macaron as soon as they were cool and they were quite tasty.

Makes about 36 macarons.

 

Christmas Sugar Cut-Outs

Per usual, I went a bit overboard with Christmas baking. Gingerbread and shortbread for colleagues, pear tart and spice cake for Christmas day dessert, and these sugar cut-outs and some Russian tea cakes for my trip to Deep Creek to see my cousin Barb and her family this past weekend. I’ve eaten an inordinate amount of sugar in the past few weeks, even for me.

These Christmas sugar cut-outs may be a bit over the top, but seriously, how can you resist a cookie that looks like this? I also made some trees and stars, but the houses pictured here were my best creations. I used a gingerbread house cookie cutter and decorated them to look like little village houses, complete with snow-covered rooftops and evergreens.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla

For the frosting

  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • Red, green, yellow, and black food coloring (gel coloring is best)

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I made stars, trees, and houses. Place same-shape cookies on each baking sheet to ensure even baking. For example, make all the stars on one sheet and all the houses on another so you don’t burn the stars while the houses are still baking.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, in a mixing bowl, combine shortening, vanilla extract, water, and 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix on low speed, then increase to medium-high and beat for 10 minutes, until smooth. Add remaining powdered sugar and additional teaspoon of vanilla extract, beating until smooth.

Reserve a portion of untinted frosting for snow, windows, and doors of houses. Divide remaining frosting into small portions for your other colors; I used yellow for my stars, green, yellow, and red for my trees (which featured stars and garland), and red, white, green, and black for my houses. Fill piping bags and decorate as you like; I used a star tip to make the snow and evergreens on my houses above and plain tips to pipe the windows, doors, and window/door outlines.

Allow frosting to set before storing cookies between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers at room temperature. Makes about 2 dozen, depending on cutter sizes.