Friday, February 26, 2010

Turning 21...

My 21st birthday was just over a week ago, and despite opposition from friends, I didn't want to celebrate in the usual 21st way. (Yeah, I realize that I'm not a normal college student). Anyways, since I've started the habit of baking something new for my birthday each year, I compromised and used alcohol in my birthday dessert. Plus, creme de menthe squares seem twice as fitting for my birthday as I often paired chocolate and mint for my birthday cakes growing up.

Creme de Menthe Squares
adapted from:

1 1/4 cups butter or margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar -- sifted
1 egg, beaten *
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup creme de menthe
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Base Layer: In a sauce pan, combine 1/2 cup of the butter and the cocoa powder. Heat and stir until well blended. Remove from heat; add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar, the egg and vanilla. Stir in graham cracker crumbs. After mixing thoroughly, press into bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2" baking pan. Bake at 350F for 8 minutes.

Middle Layer: Melt another 1/2 cup of the butter. In small bowl, combine the melted butter and creme de menthe. Gradually beat in the remaining 3 cups powdered sugar until smooth. Spread evenly over the chocolate layer. Chill 1 hour.

Top Layer: In small sauce pan combine the remaining 1/4 cup butter and chocolate chips. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Spread over middle layer. Chill for 1 to 2 more hours. Cut into small squares. May be stored in refrigerator.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Foodgawker Obsession: Macarons

In summer 2008, I began to notice Parisian macarons all over the internet. Foodgawker supplied me with gorgeous photos but also tales of how finicky these cookies could be. Still, I decided that I wanted a decadent challenge for my last birthday and attempted a batch of macarons. They ended up with feet, just like they were supposed to! I enjoyed them but didn't make another batch for almost a year.

This weekend, we had Monday off of school, and snow was continuously falling outside, so I decided that spending a whole day baking was a good plan, and remaking macarons sounded like a great idea. I decided to make some plain ones again, but also experimented with some chocolate ones. Both were filled with chocolate ganache.

I must admit that I was lazier this time around. I didn't worry too much about piping them into nice circles, and nearly had a fiasco when the parchment slide off one tray and flipped upside down as I was placing it in the oven. Miraculously, only some of the macarons were messed up and all of them stuck to the parchment paper. Despite all of my carelessness, they formed feet, looked cute, and most importantly, tasted delicious. (The day after I had baked them, I walked into my room and one of my roommates greeted by saying, "Hi! Can I welcome you back to the room by asking if I can have another macaron?" I took that as meaning they're the most delicious thing I've baked all term.)

*Notes: Although I was careless on some things, I do have a couple of suggestions of things not to slide on. First, the eggs work better if they are a few days old and left to sit at room temperature for at least one night. (Or at least, so I'm told. I've never tried with fresh egg whites.) Second, coffee grinders work marvelously for grinding almonds into flour. I buy sliced almonds and then borrow a coffee grinder from a friend. I also tried a food processor but could not get the almonds fine enough.

Macarons (adapted from

4 egg whites
2 ¼ c powdered sugar
1 ¼ cup almonds
2.5 Tb. Granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2.5 Tb. Cocoa powder

1. Prepare sheets and parchment. You may choose to trace circles on the parchment to help with piping.
2. Sift almonds and powdered sugar together.
3. Whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase to high and gradually add sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.
4. Split the egg whites in two. Fold egg whites in one bowl and half of the almond mixture together carefully. At the desired consistency, soft peaks should dissolve to flat surface.
5. Pipe batter onto parchment. Tap underside of baking sheet to remove air bubbles.
6. In the other bowl, fold in the rest of the almond mixture plus the cocoa powder.
7. Let dry for at least an hour so that the crust will form and you’ll get feet.
8. Bake between 325-350F with the oven door ajar for 10 to 11 minutes. Remember to rotate sheet halfway through.
9. Let cool to room temp. Pair the macarons based on shape and size. Then, prepare ganache and sandwich the macarons.

1. Boil 1 cup cream in saucepan and ½ stick soften butter.
2. Stir cream into 8 oz. chocolate. Let cool for a couple of minutes.
3. Add butter in 2 additions always working from center out.
(As you may guess, this ganache recipe makes way more than you need. However, truffles are always a good option.)