Wednesday, October 03, 2012


I swore off ever writing about macarons, but I've had so many customers come to discuss the making of them, that I thought I'd share my experience and advice.  I, myself, have struggled with them on and off, and just when I think I've worked out all the kinks, disaster unfolds!  They have definitely been the most puzzling and often irritating products I've ever made.  We had another humid summer here this here, which wreaks havoc with anything meringue - there was a point when I even questioned whether I knew how to make them at all, after nearly two years of producing them for sale. So why do I keep making the little devils?  Well, I still smile at the sheer beauty of the finished beauties, and of course, to the delight of my ever-appreciative customers. 

It all began with looking over the class offerings at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for an upcoming trip - this was in 2010.  One of the classes that fit in with my schedule was Sweet & Savoury Macarons.  I'd seen them, of course, who hadn't, by that point?  They were already en vogue in major cities across North America, reported to be 'the new cupcake'.  I had never had one, yet I instinctly knew this would be a great new product for my booth at the Saskatoon Farmer's Market.  They were not really yet being done in Saskatoon and they just seemed like a great fit.  So, take the class I did.

In the class, everything was premeasured out for us, but I found out a little about the ingredients.  The almonds are from Spain, whereas ours are from California, and California almonds are known to be more oily.  I put this in my memory bank for later when I would be experimenting with macarons at home.  The egg whites, as it turns out, are aged for several days at room temperature (!).  I immediately knew I wouldn't be following this step - I could see public health being all over that one. 

My first batch turned out great - I see now that one of the insurances we were given was making very tiny macarons.  One of the first secrets - the smaller the macaron, the greater your chances at success.  It's just physics, with the strength of the batter vs. the diameter of the shell the legs have to support.  Legs are the ruffly part of the macaron on the bottom - an essential characteristic of a good macaron.  When I came home, I tried making them bigger, and soon found out that I was going to have to play with the recipe/technique.  I ended up settling on a recipe that seems to work well for my climate and the materials available to me (ie. California almonds).   The recipe, which should yield approximately 40 complete macarons, is: (and yes, you do really need to go by weight)

~215 grams of egg whites (the whites from 6 large/extra large eggs should yield this)
250 grams of almond flakes (flakes are 'drier' than whole almonds, so best to use them)
400 grams of icing sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (this is to help stabilize the egg whites)
30 grams white sugar
*Note - I have made chocolate here - decrease the icing sugar amount by 30 grams and replace it with cocoa.  I have also used brown colouring.

As far as aging, I have altered my technique several times.  Currently, I place the egg whites in an uncovered container and set in the freezer.  I've been letting them sit there for a day or so, then thawing out at room temperature.  With my routine, I then place them in the refrigerator and take them out a couple hours before using.  This seems to age them enough.  The freezing helps remove moisture from the egg whites, which is essentially what you want to do in the aging process.

To make my almond flour, I use a food processor.  If you don't have one, you can buy almond meal already prepared, but it will cost you a bit more.  I place the almonds with approx. half of the icing sugar, then process until it starts to stick on the bottom (the flour).  I take a large serving spoon and scrape the mixture up from the bottom, then repeat.  I do this approx. 7 times.    Add the remaining icing sugar, then pass through a sieve.  There should be very few almond pieces that are too big to pass through.  If you find you do have a lot, then reprocess the remainder and re-sieve.  Toss what doesn't go through the sieve.

Now, the eggs.  They should be at room temperature - if not, place in a microwave on defrost for 15 seconds and test with your finger.  Repeat, if needed.  Place in the mixture bowl and start on about medium.  You want to do a gradual increasing of speed to allow for maximum volume.  When the whites are frothy, add the cream of tartar. 

Once the whites are, well, 'white', and showing the beginning of shallow peaks, add the sugar in three increments.  Increase the speed to med/high.  Once you have soft peaks (the 'beak' of the whites will droop, these are very soft whites shown here), increase the speed to high.  Beat until the whites are a strong-looking white colour and the sides almost start to 'slide' on the bowl.  Test by stopping the beater and checking that the beak of the whites stay completely upright when the beater is held upside down.  The whites should also stay in the bowl if the bowl is inverted. 
This is the point where you add colouring - there is such a thing as powdered colour, which I have never seen around, so I use gel paste.  You want to add the least liquid to the whites as possible.  I add anywhere from 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon, depending on the intensity you want.  Beat until the colour is mostly incorportaed  - you will finish mixing it in in the next step.  You are now ready for the crucial step of mixing the almond flour with the whites!

Transfer the whites to a very large bowl.  Sprinkle over about 1/2 of the almond flour.  With a large spatula, gently fold the mixture.  When it looks like the almond flour has been pretty much incorporated, add the rest of the flour.  Continue to fold; once the flour is incorporated, use a spoon and scrape off the spatula.  Using the back of the spatula (you are simulating a large bowl scraper), continue folding, working your way along the sides of the bowl.  Once the mixture looks cohesive and not streaky with egg white, do a 'flow' test.  The mixture should flow like lava, as it is traditionally described.  It should also begin to fall off the spatula in ribbons.  This is the point where you can overbeat the batter by even a couple of strokes and have your macarons not turn out.  If they are flowing off the spatula in a quickly falling ribbon, you've gone too far.  If this has happened, take my advice and make very tiny macarons.  It's your best chance at success.

Scrape the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a 1 cm tip.  I use silpat baking liners because I get a near perfectly round macaron.  I have yet to get roundness when using parchment - I think the parchment I have access to is very thin.  The parchment we used in Paris was quite thick and very waxy.  Pipe out small circles (about and inch to an inch and a half), allowing enough room between for spreading.  I get rows of five across.

You now need to let them sit and develop a bit of a skin.  I use the aid of a fan to speed this up because I make several batches at once, which only takes about 20 min per batch for the skin to form.  Without a fan, it will take roughly 45 minutes.  You should be able to lightly touch the surface of a macaron and not be sticky.

Oven temperature - this depends on your oven entirely.  I use a commercial convection oven at 250F, which translates to 300F for regular ovens.  I bake 9 minutes, then turn the pans (you may not need to do this in a regular oven) about bake another 9 minutes.  At the end of the 18 minutes, I gently try to move the top of one of the macarons.  If it gives, I bake another minute, then test again.  If it is giving, they are not cooked all the way through and you will struggle to get them off the liners/parchment.  Plus, the texture will be too wet for the final macaron.

When cool, remove them from the parchment/silpat, peeling from underneath if necessary (you place your index finger under the siplat/parchment and push along the surface of the macaron - the cookie should pop off.  They are ready to ice now, or you can store them in the freezer until you're ready for that step.  I fill them from frozen, they are less fragile and easier to deal with.

Honey Buttercream:
Now you can fill them with whatever you like, but I use a honey butter cream.  The beauty is I get to use up the 6 egg yolks from a batch of macarons!
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup honey, divided
1 pound butter, softened

Beat the egg yolks in a mixer until light and thickened.  Add 1/3 cup boiling honey, pouring slowly down the side on medium speed.  Beat until the bowl has cooled completely.  Add the butter in 1/8th of a pound increments.  When combined, add the remaining 1/3 cup honey (room temperature).  Beat until combined.  Flavour as desired.

Place the macaron shells in pairs of similar size/shapes.  Fill with the buttercream and gently sandwich together.  Store in the refrigerator overnight to achieve the best flavour/texture, allowing to come to room temperature before eating.  You can also store in the freezer (let the icing set up in the freezer first before stacking them sideways).  From frozen, allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, allowing to come to room temperature before eating.  The proper texture of a good macaron is a crisp outer shell and a soft, velvety interior.......overall, a little bit cloud-like.

There are many steps when, if not done quite correctly, can greatly affect the outcome of the macarons.  It could be a combination of mis-steps, or just one.  I am finally to the point where I have success almost all of the time, but there are still batches where half will come out funny (cracked, or the tops are 'tilted' with no foot on one side).  Sometimes it's just one or two in a single row that don't turn out - pure mystery.  They are the quintessential diva of the pastry world.  Even the instructor in Paris said as much, which I found amazing.  So Bonne Chance, if you attempt to take on the marvelous Macaron!  Please feel free to comment on your experiments :)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cinnamon & Apple Baked French Toast - for Mother's Day

As seen on Global Morning Show:
A quick, make-ahead breakfast that's sure to please any mother (or anyone, for that matter)! This recipe feeds approx 8 people. For 4 to 5 portions, simply half the recipe and use and 8x8 inch baking dish.

1 loaf day-old french bread
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 TSP vanilla
6 eggs
6 granny smith apples
2 TBSP butter
2 TSP cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
 1 TBSP cinnamon

 Cut bread into one inch slices. Arrange, tightly, in a greased 9x13 inch baking dish (it may not all fit). Set aside.

Mix together the milk, sugar, vanilla & eggs. Set aside.

Peel, core & slice the apples. In a large pan (or two batches), saute the apples in the 2 TBSP butter until softened - approx. 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

Pour half of the custard mixture evenly over the bread. Top with the apples, spreading evenly. Pour over the remaining custard mixture. Wrap in plastic and place in refrigerator overnight.

Next Morning: Preheat oven to 350F. Sprinkle the dish with the 1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with the 1 TBSP cinnamon. Bake for one hour. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with maple syrup.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Guinness Fudge Brownies for St. Patrick's Day

Guinness creates a dense, but somehow light, fudgy brownie - perfect for any day of the year, but most especially on St. Patrick's Day. There is no 'beer' flavour that you can detect, but it somehow intensifies the chocolate and creates the most interesting texture I've ever tasted in a brownie. Give them a try, you'll love them!
Preheat oven to 375F.

6 TBSP butter (85 grams), cut in cubes & softened

8 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate (~ 1 1/2 cups)

4 oz white chocolate (~3/4 cup)

Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler, or in the microwave checking at 30 second intervals - be careful not to burn it. Set aside to cool.

1 1/4 cups Guinness
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1/4 TSP salt
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 TSP vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa & salt; set aside. Using a mixer, or a bowl and whisk, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar until light and frothy. Add the chocolate mixture in three additions. Add the flour/cocoa mixture in two additions. Finally, add the Guinness in three additions.

Pour into a parchment-lined/greased 9x13 pan. Sprinkle evenly with the 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (there may be moist crumbs).

Allow to cool completely, then cut into squares . Garnish with icing sugar, if desired.

Friday, February 10, 2012

SHAWTV Recipe - Wild Rice Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette

This is a great, hearty salad which can also double as a side dish - either cold, or warmed up slightly. Saskatoon berries can be used in place of the blueberries.


1 cup wild rice
1/2 TSP salt
1/2 cup cranraisins (or fresh blueberries/saskatoon berries, if in season)
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup pan-toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup pan-toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup chopped snap peas
1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley

2 TBSP balsamic vinaigrette (can use the raspberry flavoured variety)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~2 TSP honey
1/3 cup blueberries or Saskatoon berries (frozen is fine, thaw first)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic (small), minced
salt (~1/4 TSP to 1/2 TSP), freshly-ground pepper, to taste

To Cook Wild Rice:

Rinse the rice in cold water, then drain in a sieve. Combine the rice, 4 cups water and 1/2 TSP salt. Bring to a boil; cover, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat. Fluff, then allow to rest 5 minutes. In a sieve, drain excess water, then run cold water over to cool completely. All to continue draining in sieve while you prepare vinaigrette and remaining ingredients.

Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor or blender. If you don't have a processor or blender, mash the berries into a paste and push through a coarse sieve. Taste, and adjust for seasoning if need be.

In a large bowl, place the cooled rice, cranraisins, nuts, peas and parsley. Toss to combine. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top, tossing to combine. Garnish with additional fruite and/or parsley, if desired.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dutch Baby for a Leisurely Sunday Breakfast

Today was one of those Sundays where there was time for breakfast consisting of something more satisfying than cereal or toast (we're a soccer family). Flipping through my many 'must try' recipes in the Brunch folder, I had wanted to try Oatmeal Pancakes, then realized I had no old-fashioned oats - they all get used up for my granola at the Market. So, back to an oldie but a goodie: Dutch Baby, which is a cute name for a puffed apple pancake that gets baked in the oven.

The apples I used were Pink Lady, by default, as that's all that was in my fridge. Granny Smith is another great choice, always the go-to apple for baking since they don't fall to pieces.

Most recipes will talk about using an oven-proof skillet (such as cast iron) - I don't have an appropriate pan in my home kitchen, that one resides in the commercial kitchen where I teach classes. Don't despair, you can just as easily cook the apple mixture separately in a regular pan, preferably non-stick pan (to make sure you get all the gooey goodness in the baking dish).

I used a V-slicer to slice my apples to about 1/4 inch thickness, just 'cuz I felt like it. This is definitely not required - just cut them into thin slices. If you cut them a little thicker, just cook them a bit longer in the pan before transferring them to the baking dish.

The baking dish - I have a lovely ceramic pie plate that's quite deep that is perfect for this. I have also used a rectangular glass dish, it is not required that the dish be round. For a little added decadence, I also added about a tablespoon-ish of Canadian Maple Liqueur to the apples while they were cooking. What's not to love about that?!


4 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 TSP baking powder
dash salt
1 TSP vanilla
1/2 TSP cinnamon
pinch freshly-grated nutmeg
1 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 cup milk

2 apples, peeled, cored & thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
1 TSP (or more) cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
optional - splash of your favourite liqueur

In a large bowl or 8-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg & sugar. Whisk until no lumps remain. Gradually whisk in the melted butter & mix until completely smooth. Allow the batter to stand for at least 20 minutes, as long as overnight if you want to get a jump start on this the night before (keep in fridge).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Melt the 1/4 cup butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle half the sugar and half the cinnamon over, swirling the pan to combine. Place the apples over the sugar/butter mixture. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and cinnamon. Over medium heat, cook apples until softened a bit - they will finish cooking in the oven. Either with a flipper, or just doing that little tilt& jerk motion with the pan, get the apples covered evenly in the mixture. Add the liqueur, if using, stirring to combine. Cook another minute or so.

Pour the apple mixture in a lightly-greased 9" deep pie plate or any other appropriately-sized vessel. Carefully pour the pancake mixture over top. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 375F and bake another 10 minutes.

Serve immediately (it will begin to deflate as soon as you take it out of the oven). Serve with warm m-m-m-maple syrup!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Scotch Eggs - Kicked up!

I've been wanting to try baked Scotch eggs for some time. If you're not familiar with these little delights, a Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg, encased in sausage meat. Usually they are deep-fried, which I never do. A couple years ago I googled baked Scotch eggs, and sure enough, there were baked versions.

At the Farmer's Market in Saskatoon, the annual WinterShines festival, a celebration/embracing of winter is coming up and the Market vendors are being encouraged to remain open a little longer. People coming to WinterShines will presumably be looking for items to buy that can be carried about and eaten while mulling about. The Scotch eggs came to mind, and the chance to finally try them out was here!

I opted to use a mild Italian sausage (hence, the 'kicked up' Scotch eggs) and seasoned breadcrumbs to coat, thinking the flavour would be excellent. Be daring & use hot Italian, if you prefer! I was right - they are like the regular Scotch eggs, only better. If you tend to get grey rings around your hard-boiled eggs, follow my recipe, you'll always get perfectly-done eggs with no rings.

Here's the recipe:

8 eggs
1 pkg (454 g) mild Italian sausage
1 egg, beaten with 1 TBSP milk
seasoned breadcrumbs, to coat (~ 1 cup)

Place the eggs in a pot large enough to hold them in a single layer. Fill with cold water, up to an inch above the eggs. Bring to a boil over high heat; once they come to a boil, removed from heat immediately, cover, and allow to sit for 12 to 17 minutes (12 for smaller eggs, up to 17 for extra-large eggs). Drain pot and rinse eggs with cold water until they remain cool. Note: to make an egg white congeal should an egg crack while cooking, add a tablespoon of vinegar to the water prior to boiling.

Divide the sausage into 6 portions - I was lucky, the package of sausage I used came with 4 sausages, so I just halved them, squeezing the meat out of the casing. In either the palm of your hand or a cutting board, press out the meat into a small patty, making it as flat as you can. Place an egg in the center and carefully wrap/press the meat around the egg, making sure no egg white is peaking through. Roll in the egg wash, then roll in breadcrumbs. Repeat with remaining eggs, then place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to allow the meat to set up and the crumb mixture to dry a bit.

Preheat oven to 400F. Baking on a parchment-lined sheet for 30 minutes, making sure meat is cooked through. Allow to cool, then serve. These are often served cold, making a great snack or a small lunch. Scotch eggs are eaten alone, or with a variety of sauces, often mustard-based.

If you'd like to try them with a sauce: mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 3 TBSP of a fine-grained mustard, 2 TSP honey and 2 TSP lemon juice (or to taste). Or, just plain mustard will do the trick, as well.

As for a candidate for WinterShines, I've decided against it. I will make them for my family, but they are a bit too labour-intensive for what I would be able to charge for them. I am glad I finally tried them - they'll be making frequent appearances in our kitchen :)