Sunday, June 29, 2014

Red, White And Blue Macarons

Celebrate the 4th of July with these cute and patriotic Red, White and Blue Macarons.

I made the different colored macaron shells from a single recipe and the filling is a lightly sweet Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

The standard way to tint macaron batter is to add the coloring to the meringue before adding the almond meal and powdered sugar. I didn't want to have to make two separate batches of batter, so I instead mixed up one batch completely and then divided it and added the red and blue coloring.

I was a bit nervous about messing around with my tried and true recipe since macarons can be finicky little buggers but thankfully, adding the coloring at a later time worked just fine.

Macarons can be made up to a week in advance so they are a practical choice for entertaining. Just be sure to bring them to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Here's the recipe:

Red, White And Blue Macarons

180g ground almonds, sifted
270g powdered sugar, sifted
150g egg whites, aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge and then brought to room temperature
100g granulated sugar
Blue food coloring
Red food coloring

Line four heavy baking sheets with good quality parchment paper and set aside. Also, set aside two pastry bags for the piping of the macarons.

Sift together your ground almonds with the powdered sugar and set aside.

Whisk the egg whites (at room temperature) to glossy firm peaks adding the granulated sugar gradually in four parts. 

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites using a large rubber scraper.  Mix well. 

Divide the batter in half and tint one half with red coloring and the other half with blue coloring.

Fold each mixture with a rubber scraper by pulling down the sides and flipping the mixture over. Do this until you have a smooth mixture that falls like a “ribbon” off the scraper.

Transfer the mixtures into separate piping bags. Use rubber bands to close the piping bags. Clip the tip of the bags, one at a time, and pipe small quarter sized rounds, leaving 1-inch of space between each because they spread as they set.

Piped red and blue macarons.
Leave to set for about 30 minutes or until the top has formed a crust and is not sticky to the touch.

While they are setting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven is preferable. 

Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes or until the cookie is firm, matte and doesn't wobble when touched.

Leave on the baking tray until cool then lift them all off the parchment carefully. You may need to use a thin knife to help lift them off.

Sort into pairs and fill with Vanilla Swiss meringue Buttercream.

Sorted macaron shells that are ready for filling.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
a pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
a pinch of sea salt

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in the vanilla and salt.  Whip on high speed until fluffy.

Transfer the filling to a pastry bag for filling the macarons.

For a little added interest, I used a Wilton #22 tip, also known as an open star tip for piping the filling.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chocolate Cake Wrap

This was my first attempt at making a chocolate wrap to put around a cake and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  But I know I'll get better with practice.

In all honesty,  I would have had a much easier time if I would have started smaller and then gained experience before attempting a wrap on such large cake.  But as my family would attest to, that's not my style. When I get excited about a project, I tend to jump right in and go for it.

The reason that a smaller cake would have been better to start with is that the chocolate wrap needs to be long enough to go around the circumference of the cake. A smaller wrap would be much easier to manage.

After adding the frosting, my cake measured 9.5-inches in diameter.  It's very important to measure carefully because you don't want to come up short. The circumference is simply the diameter of the cake multiplied by pi (3.14). By doing this, I got 29.83-inches and proof that it's important to pay attention in geometry class. I added 2 plus inches to the circumference to get 32 since it's better to have a bit of extra wrap so that you don't come up short. Excess chocolate can be easily trimmed off.

I also measured the height of my cake which was 5.25 inches and then added an inch so that I could also trim it fit perfectly. On another note, it's essential that your cake be as level and as straight-sided as possible. This means you might have to do a bit of cake shaving before adding the frosting.

So once I had my level iced-cake and measurements, here how I made the chocolate wrap:

A sheet of parchment paper cut to fit the cake with a little extra:  My measurements were 32x6.25-inches, so I used a ruler to mark these on a larger piece of parchment because I needed to leave space at the top where I could grab to lift the template up and get it around the cake. I had to tape two strips of parchment together to make it long enough. Also, tape the template onto a flat surface so that it doesn't shift while you pipe the chocolate.

Melted chocolate:  You can use semi-sweet, milk, or dark chocolate. I used Callebaut dark chocolate and it's important that the chocolate not be tempered or it will set up too fast before you have time to get it around the cake. Just melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring after each until it's thoroughly melted.

Pastry bag or parchment cone for piping: I used a disposable pastry bag and simply clipped a bit off the end for piping. Don't overfill the bag and the chocolate will be easier to control. If you wanted to use a pastry tip for even better control, I would use a #2 tip.

I started off by piping staggered squares and then piped "v" shapes through them for added strength. Be creative with the pattern you choose but be sure it's not too delicate. You need solid connections of chocolate throughout the pattern.

Finishing this took a good 30 minutes so you can see why it's important not to use tempered chocolate. You need the chocolate to set up slowly. Once the wrap is piped you need to be patient and wait until the chocolate is firm but still soft enough to be flexible and bend without breaking. It took another 30 minutes for the chocolate to be ready to go onto the cake. If you are working on a smaller cake and have space in your refrigerator,  you could set the template in it for just a minute or so, watching it carefully,  to speed the firming process.

I quickly found out that picking the template up and getting it onto the cake wasn't a one person job. I could lift the template up and get it into place but I didn't have a third hand to also gently press it to get it to stick onto the cake. My daughter Eleanor came to my rescue and we got the cake wrapped and then put it straight into the refrigerator so the chocolate could completely set up. This takes about 15 minutes. Then you pull the cake out and gently begin pulling off the parchment. In the picture I've pulled off a section of the parchment and you can also see where the chocolate overlaps. After removing all of the parchment you can cut this off. A warm knife does the job nicely.

I also cut off the excess chocolate from the top of the wrap. Cutting it to fit masks any imperfections you might have with the levelness of the cake.

A shell border of frosting around the base and top of the cake looks nice and helps keep the chocolate wrap locked into place.

All done!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Banana Chocolate Chip Birthday Cake

Two Banana Chocolate Chip Cakes just out of the oven.

A Banana Chocolate Chip Birthday Cake is different, delicious and quick to make. I made it recently for a double-birthday celebration at the Wednesday Community Meal and it was a hit. Happy Birthday Jan and Linda!

Here's the recipe:

Banana Chocolate Chip Birthday Cake
(makes 2 9-inch cakes)

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 large over-ripe bananas
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 cups mini-chocolate chips tossed with 2 tablespoons of flour

Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans with at least 2-inch sides by greasing them, lining the bottoms with greased parchment and then flouring them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the peeled over-ripe bananas. Use the beater attachment to mash and break down the bananas. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and butter and mix until well-combined. It will look soupy and the butter will look grainy.

Add 1/2 of the flour mixture and mix until a thick batter forms, scraping down the sides.

Add 1/2 of the buttermilk and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour and buttermilk and mix again until well-combined.

Finally, add the mini-chocolate chips tossed with the flour and stir them into the batter by hand.

Divide the batter among the two prepared cake pans and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack.

Cool the cakes completely before frosting.

Here's the final frosted cake. I used my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe from Julie Richardson of Baker & Spice. I love this frosting because it's easy to make and spread and isn't too sweet. To finish the cake off, I added a dark chocolate wrap around it for a little extra oomph. The chocolate wrap will get a post of its own so stay tuned....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

No Time For Photos

I've never had to worry if I get too busy to take photos at the Wednesday Community Meal because my friends Cheryl and Cindy always snap a few and I just ask them to send them to me. Not today.

It was hands down the busiest day I've ever experienced at our meal and no one had time to even think about taking photos. I attribute the whirlwind day to three things:

 1. It's the last Wednesday of the month when we typically have more guests because their social security is running out.

2. We were short on volunteers. Some of our regular volunteers couldn't come in at all and some had to leave early because of appointments. It just happens sometimes.

3. Our menu was especially labor intensive. We had to use what we had and that meant making spaghetti which is hard to do in large batches. The water takes seemingly forever to come to a boil and the 5 gallon pots are heavy to lift and drain. My friend Bill was a huge huge help in dealing with the pasta. Every time I got a batch (7 lbs. of dry pasta) going, I alerted him and he was on deck to do the draining. I also didn't make things any easier by making homemade French bread so that I could utilize a stash of free flour from The Oregon Food Bank.

On the bright side, the meal was a success. We served everyone who came to our door and the food was loved. I wish I had a picture to show you.

We served 400 meals today and gosh, I'm pretty positive that everyone who helped is ready for a nap.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How To Prepare A Cake Pan

A cake that won't release from its pan is so frustrating and a surefire way to quickly suck all the fun out of baking.

A just-baked cake cleanly released from its pan.
The secret to making a cake that easily plops out is to prepare the pan properly by greasing, lining and flouring it. And, it's important not to skip a step. 

Many recipes just call for greasing and flouring, but also lining the pan with a fitted piece of parchment is insurance that everything will work out, no pun intended.

So here's how to prepare a cake pan and keep smiles in the kitchen where they belong:

With a pencil, trace the bottom of your cake pan onto a piece of parchment and cut it out.

Thoroughly grease the cake pan with butter or vegetable shortening. I prefer shortening.

Line the bottom of the greased pan with the cut piece of parchment.

Now thoroughly grease the pan again with butter or shortening.

Add about 1/4 cup of flour to the pan.

Shake the flour evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Now lift the pan up and tap the flour evenly around the sides of the pan. I'm holding the pan over a second pan that needs to be floured so that the excess flour won't be wasted.

Once the sides are coated with flour, the pan is ready for batter and baking.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Colorful Dot Cookies

These colorful dot cookies are a perfect project for first time cookie decorators. You'll get lots of practice outlining and filling cookies with royal icing and you'll get some cute cookies in the end.

The secret to success is using flood consistency royal icing that isn't too thin. These dot cookies are small at 1.5 inches in diameter, and if your icing is too thin it will be hard to control and want to run down the sides of the cookie. Aim for 15 second icing which is icing that settles into place in 15 seconds after drawing a line through it with the back of a spoon.

Another tip is to take your time choosing colors. These cookies are simple so you want pleasing colors that look good together. I chose complimentary pastel shades of green, blue, yellow and pink mixed using electric colored Americolor gel pastes.

Here's how to decorate them using the 15 second flood icing and a #2 pastry tip:

Outline the cookie.

Immediately fill the cookie.

Use a skewer or scribe tool to help evenly distribute the icing and give the cookie a gentle shake to help the icing settle.

Keep working until you have decorated all of the cookies. Let the cookies dry completely before serving or packaging. This usually takes about 8 hours depending on the humidity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dan's Raisin Pie

Lately there's been a lot of "pie talk" at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. We just held a homemade pie sale to benefit the Wednesday Community Meal and in planning for that, we "talked pie" with a lot of people, asking "what's your favorite kind?"

Cherry, Apple, Chocolate Cream and Strawberry-Rhubarb definitely led the pack, but in asking, I discovered there's quite a few old-fashioned pies I'd never made before like Chess Pie, Shoo-Fly Pie and Raisin Pie.

The latter is a pie that my friend Dan told me he loves but hasn't tasted in 60-years! ... That is until yesterday, when I presented him with one at the Wednesday Community Meal where he volunteers.

You see, Dan, who is in his 70's, told me that his grandmother made the most delicious Raisin Pie and he sure would love to taste one again. It was a fond 60-year-old taste memory that he hadn't forgotten and I knew I had to make him one.

So I researched Raisin Pies online and devised a recipe. I have to admit that I was skeptical about how Raisin Pie would taste but it's very good. You boil the raisins in water so that they soften and break down and the texture becomes more jam-like. And, the filling wasn't too sweet. It is rich though and a small slice is enough to satisfy.

The best part though is that Dan loved his pie. For him, that Raisin Pie was a taste-time-machine.

And, as an added surprise, I found out that Dean, who serves coffee alongside Dan on Wednesdays, also loves Raisin Pie and he got to have a slice. They are both dear to me and it was a joy to see them so happy.
Raisin Pie fans Dean and Dan serving coffee at the Wednesday Community Meal.

Here's the recipe:

Raisin Pie
(makes one 9-inch pie)

2 1/4 cups raisins
2 cups water
1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch double crust pie

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine the raisins and the water and heat until boiling. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring and keeping and eye on them. Reduce the heat to low.

Blend together the dark-brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt and add to the hot raisins. Increase the heat to medium and cook and stir until the syrup is clear.

Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar and butter.

Adding the butter and apple cider vinegar to the cooked raisin filling.
Cool slightly and pour into a pastry lined 9-inch pan. Cover with the top crust and seal the edges and cut slits in the top crust. Or, top with a lattice crust.
Cutting strips for a lattice top-crust.

A Raisin Pie ready for the oven.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is done and golden brown. Let the pie cool before slicing and serving.

A just-baked Raisin Pie.

A slice of Raisin Pie.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Crew

High school students Ava and Sierra helped serve dessert today.
The start of summer is still a few days away but at the Wednesday Community Meal it has officially begun because school's out and our wonderful crew of student volunteers came in today to help, marking the first week of their summer vacation.

We haven't had the help of our student volunteers since Spring Break and it's crazy how fast they are  growing up. They are getting sooo tall!

Sierra started volunteering when she was in the fourth grade, a year before we began offering a sit-down meal and when there was just a small group of us making to-go meals to hand out at the door. It's hard to believe she is now a 10th grader and still a dedicated volunteer who helps whenever she has a break from school.

We served 332 meals today and had a lot of fun catching up with our student volunteers. I know I've said it before but I am so thankful to be able to work with the nicest people every Wednesday. Being with them makes hard work fun.

Thank you Sierra, Ava, Micah, Nicholas and Eleanor for all your help today. It's officially summer at the Wednesday Community Meal!

A to-go meal of turkey, rice, beans and roasted tomatoes for a guest to take home to a sick family member. We served 332 meals today and received this flattering comment from a guest, "I'm going to give this place a good write up! I'm a very influential food critic."

A scene from today's busy kitchen before we began serving. By the time the meal was over, the kitchen cleaned and the dishes washed and put away, there were quite a few volunteers who had put in a solid six hours of work.
Here I am today with two people I look forward to seeing each week - server Frank and guest Louise who is such a kick and fun to visit with.  I loved the shirt she wore today and had to have my daughter Eleanor take a picture.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Baseball Cookies

These baseball cookies are perfect for summer and a fun design for beginning decorators.

You need just two colors of royal icing to decorate them — white for the base and dark red for the stitching. Making them is a two-day project though since it's important to let the white base coat dry completely before adding the stitching details.

Here's how:

Outline the cookies using a #2 tip and flood consistency royal icing. Let the outline dry for at least 15 minutes before filling them.
Fill the cookie using the same white flood icing and #2 tip. Let the cookies dry overnight.
The next day, after the cookie base coats have dried completely, mix and color the red icing for the stitching. I used a baseball as my guide to get the correct color and got it by mixing red with a touch of black.

Make a template to mark where the stitching should go on the cookie. You'll also need a food-safe red pen.

Lay the template on the cookie and mark with small dots using the food-safe pen.

It will look like this.
Then you just start adding stitches using a #1 tip and medium consistency royal icing.

All done.

Let the cookies dry completely before serving or packaging.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chess Pie

My friend Gardner reminisced to me recently about much he loves Chess Pie but said he hasn't had it since college. That was a few decades ago so that must have been a darn good pie.

Gardner attended college in the South and would get to enjoy Chess Pie when he would go home from school with a friend on weekends.

 "His mom made the best Chess Pie," said Gardner who added that there was a bit of cornmeal in it, buttermilk, eggs and lemon, "but just a touch of lemon juice, not enough to make it a lemon pie." I told Gardner I was going to attempt to recreate the pie for him.

I've never eaten or made Chess Pie so I researched it on the internet and discovered that there are a lot of variations. Some had cornmeal and some didn't. Some used buttermilk and some used plain milk. Some used lemon juice and some used vinegar. Some used all white sugar and some used a combination of white and brown.

I was confused by all the recipes and decided I should just go for it and create one with cornmeal, buttermilk and a bit of lemon since that's what Gardner remembered.

There are also a variety of stories as to how Chess Pie got its name. The pie originated in England (my friend Teri told me she's bought mini Chess Pies at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and some say the word "Chess" is an "Americanization" of the English word "Cheese," because it is essentially a "Curd" pie.

My favorite story though is this one: Because the ingredients are so basic, Southern makers of it would say it's "Jes Pie," to those inquiring what it was and over time it became "Chess Pie".

So I got to work and made my first Chess Pie and I do have to say it is one of the easiest pies to put together and delicious. I liked it and so did my family. The texture was nice because of the contrast of the crisp browned-sugared top against the custard center.

The next day I delivered a big slice to Gardner and he tasted it and kindly gave me thumbs-up. When I pressed him for more details as to whether it was what he remembered he said it was "very close".

Oh how I wish I could get my hands on that original recipe. In the meantime, here's mine:

Chess Pie

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 9-inch unbaked deep-dish pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the sugar and cornmeal. Add the eggs and buttermilk and mix well. Finally add the lemon juice, vanilla and sea salt. Whisk until well-blended.

Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust.

A Chess Pie ready to bake.
Bake for 3 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes or until the center of the pie is set and the top is golden brown.

Turn off the oven and leave the pie to cool in the oven for 30 minutes.
The baked pie cooling in the oven.

Remove and let the pie cool completely before serving. Enjoy a slice with a cup of hot coffee.