Daring Bakers - All french kisses!

Hazelnut Macarons with Toffee

Lately I've been craving Paris. The symptoms are the usual: I miss walking the Seine and Boulevard Saint Michel, entering the bookshops and buying cookbooks eventually. I badly miss my favourite bistrots and the street vendors. I even miss the parisians! I daydream of crispy croissants, pain au raisins et café au lait, hot chocolate and... macarons. The perfect way to get me to Paris without leaving home is to bring Paris to me, all packed and arranged in a colourful and full flavoured macaron!

Macarons were on my list for quite a while. For some reason, I felt a bit scared every time I'd come across Helen's recipes - bookmarked since always from Tartelette - so I never got to try them. 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. What a wonderful choice! Because I feared disaster (and after reading other fellow Daring Bakers experiences), I've decided to go with Helen's recipe with a few adjustments of my own as I wanted to use hazelnuts and toffee filling.

Hazelnut macarons & Paris

Hazelnut Macaron with Toffee filling

Lightly adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern and Helen's Pecan Pie Macarons

180 grs confectioners’ (icing) sugar
60 grs almond flour
55 grs hazelnut flour
35 grs granulated sugar
3 egg whites (about 90 grs), at room temperature

It's important to use aged egg whites. The day before making the macarons, separate the eggs. Leave the whites on the counter (if planning to use only in 48h or longer, keep in the fridge).

Combine the confectioners’ sugar, hazelnut and almond flour in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are reduced to fine powder. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Add a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. Mix in the remaining almond flour. Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients. [Helen's advice: 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.]
Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip or use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. Pipe small rounds of batter (2.5 cm) onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Let the piped shells rest half an hour to an hour before baking. Bake the macaroon for 15-20 minutes (depending on size). Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly before gently remove the shelld. Cool completely on a rack before filling.

For the filling:

50g salted butter
125 grs light brown sugar
125 grs golden syrup
125 ml double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix all the ingredients. Boil until thickened (5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Let cool before filling the macarons.

Notes: I aged my egg whites for 3 days in the fridge. I should have sifted my hazelnut and almond flour. Unfortunately I haven't and that made the batter look a bit uneven but it didn't really matter in the final result. I let the piped shells rest half an hour to an hour before baking. I think that made all the difference as the second (and final) batch worked even better than the first. I used both a silicon mat and lined baking sheet with parchment paper with good results - nothing to report, the shells lifted easily with the aid of a spatula.

Visit the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all the macarons we baked!


When all else fails...

Hearty Seven-Grain Bread

When all else fails, I cook.

Some people go out after a god-awful day and slam a tennis ball around or jog their joints to pieces on a fitness course. I had a friend in Coral Gables who would escape to the beach with her folding chair and burn off her stress with sun and a slightly pornographic romance she wouldn't have been caught dead reading in her professional world—she was a district court judge. Many of the cops I know wash away their miseries with beer at the FOP lounge.

I've never been particularly athletic, and there wasn't a decent beach within reasonable driving distance. Getting drunk never solved anything. Cooking was an indulgence I didn't have time for most days, and though Italian cuisine isn't my only love, it has always been what I do best.

Even if I identify completely with the idea, these aren't my words. In fact they belong to a literature character, not a real person - although I suspect Patricia Cornwell lends a bit of her soul when she gives voice to Dr. Kay Scarpetta in her first novel, Postmortem. Scarpetta is a Chief Medical Examiner with a great love for food. And believe me, the lady can cook! I became hooked on Scarpetta's series not long ago because of these 6 words - When all else fails, I cook. Rephrasing slightly and it couldn't describe my feelings better - When everything fails, I bake some bread.

Hearty Seven-Grain Bread

Hearty Seven-Grain Bread
Lightly adapted from Patricia Cornwell and Marlene Brown, Food to Die For - Secrets from Kay Scarpetta's Kitchen

Makes 2 loafs

1/2 cup (50 grams) rye flour
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup (40 grams) quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup (15 grams) toasted wheat germ
3 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 1/2 cups (325 grams) bread flour, extra to dust
1 1/2 cup (180 grams) whole wheat flour
2 tsp dry yeast
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) honey
1/4 cup (50 grams) salted butter
2 tsp salt

for the crust:
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp water
Sesame seeds and/or sunflower seeds for sprinkling

In a small bowl, mix together the rye flour, walnuts, oats, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and sesame seeds. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk, butter, and honey until slightly melted and combined. Remove from heat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the bread flour and the whole wheat flour with the yeast. Make a hole in the middle. Add the milk mixture mixing with a fork (if using a stand mixer, pour the milk slowly and steadily while mixing, with the hook attachment). Add the rye flour mixture. Work the dough for 10 minutes or until it's elastic and smooth. Add extra warm milk or water if the dough is too dry (1 tablespoon at a time). Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm, dry place for 1 hour or until not quite doubled in size. Turn the dough onto a lightly dusted surface, and punch it. Set aside for a couple of minutes to rest. Work the dough for another 5 minutes. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape the dough into 2 rounded loafs. Place each ball on a greased baking sheet or a silicone mat. In a small bowl, beat lightly the egg with the water. Brush the loafs, and sprinkle with the seeds. Cover, and let rise again for 35-45 minutes, until not quite doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 180ºC (375ºF). Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve the bread warm or at room temperature with butter or olive oil.

Today is the World Bread Day, a fantastic initiative to celebrate the best food in the entire world - bread! This is my contribute to this lovely day. The World Bread Day 2009 is brilliantly organized by Zorra.

Stay tuned for the roundup, I'll post the link here.


Going Portuguese

Stuffed Squids

The sea. Always the sea. If you look at Portugal's history it's always about the beauty of our surrounding coasts, and all the dreams of faraway lands that come with it. The exhibition “Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries” is about that too. Or as Holland Cotter put it in the NY Times: A version of the Internet was invented in Portugal 500 years ago by a bunch of sailors with names like Pedro, Vasco and Bartolomeu. The technology was crude. Links were unstable. Response time was glacial. (A message sent on their network might take a year to land.) <= It's kinda of faster today.

Portuguese people have historically been influenced by so many cultures that is not surprising our food shows a large variety of flavours, with exotic spices from India or Brazil playing their role, and of course fish being a staple. Although bacalhau (cod fish) and sardines are the most popular choices from the sea, stuffed squid accompanied by boiled potatoes are a very traditional dish in the Portuguese cuisine, both in Lisbon and the Algarve.

Suffed Squids & yellow tomatoes

Stuffed Squid Lisbon-style
Lulas recheadas com Chouriço à Lisbonense

Serves 4

12 large squid (about 600 grs), whole but skin removed and eyes discarded
10-12 slices (about 100 grs) chouriço, finely chopped
1 Tbps olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 small tomatoes (I used yellow tomatoes)
1 small red chili, seeds removed and chopped
2 small carrots
2 Tbsp kalamata olives, chopped
1 Tbps parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper

for the sauce:
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tbps olive oil
1 bay leaf
3 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 glass (100 ml) white wine (dry is best)
salt and black pepper

500 grs new potatoes, boiled in salted water
1 Tbps parsley, chopped

Prepare the squid. Reserve the tubes and chop the tentacles. In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Sautee onion and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the tentacles, carrots, chili and chouriço and stir. Mix in the chopped yellow tomatoes and cook with a lid on for 3 minutes. Add olives and chopped parley. Season with salt and pepper. Cool almost completely. With a coffee spoon, stuff the squid, filling the tubes about 2/3 full. Close with a toothpick.

Boil the potatoes in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve.

For the sauce, place onion, garlic and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add tomatoes and bay leaf. Cook with a lid on for 5 minutes. Put the stuffed squid in the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to boil. Refresh with white wine. Remove the lid and cook until reduced and squid are tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with the potatoes.

Notes: Larger squid are best for stuffing, as it's not so difficult to fill them.


Freud, America & a green salad

Waldorf Salad

Perhaps it was my recent trip to New York that made me grab Jed Rubenfeld's book The interpretation of murder again. The story is based on real facts and takes place across Manhattan in the beginning of the 20th century during Sigmund Freud’s only visit to America with his protégé Carl Yung. The famous analyst is asked to help with a patient to solve a mysterious crime. The Interpretation of Murder leads readers through New York high society, as well a few dark places and some homey ones. At some point, Rose - Brill's wife (Freud's translator in America) - serves an Waldorf salad to her guests without great success...

This salad first appearance was at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1893 and became an american classic, with more versions than chefs. According to some, this apple celery salad with grapes and nuts was created by the well-known French chef Auguste Escoffier as a gift to Oscar Tschirky, the hotel's chef and his good friend.

Waldorf Salad

Waldorf Salad
Lightly adapted from Jamie's America

Serves 2

75 grams (about 4 cups) mixture green salad - watercress, frisée, rocket
1 cup green grapes, deseeded and halved
2 celery sticks, peeled and chopped diagonally
1 red apple, sliced
75 grams soft goats cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, aquecidas na frigideira e grosseiramente partidas

for the dressing:
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
olive oil (about 3 Tbsp)
1/2 - 1 Tbsp yogurt
parsley, finely chopped
'flor de sal' and black pepper

In large bowl, place watercress, frisée, rocket or any greens you're using. Add the grapes and the celery. Use a glass jar with a lid to make the dressing. Place all the ingredients and shake vigorously. Pour over the salad. Add the apple and the cheese and garnish with the nuts. Serve with a drizzle of extra olive oil if desired.