Adventures in Healthy Baking

Ironic that I am posting this on Halloween, the one day of the year when kids are usually permitted to eat candy with utter abandon. And I must admit, I do have mixed feelings about the term ‘healthy baking’. It implies that you’re doing something wrong when baking – and eating – homemade cookies, cakes and other treats. Perhaps it’s simply a byproduct of my general disdain for societal conformity, or maybe my tendency to disagree with what would constitute today’s cultural norms – because, really, what is normal? If it’s  something like Honey Boo-Boo or MTV’s Jersey Shore then thanks but no. I will have no part of that, thank you very much.

Well, that went off the rails rather quickly, didn’t it? That sociology major in me will still rear her obstinate head from time to time.

To get back on point, when it comes to food, I am usually of the opinion that one can enjoy everything in moderation – especially moderation. It’s an opinion that’s served me well up until recently, when as my body continues to betray me as it ages I have begun to notice that six months of almost daily baking (and, of course, quality assurance testing) is starting to takes its toll. The first sign was in the making of that video for the chocolate contest, and the chins. But when I went to slip into my favourite skinny jeans, the JBrands that act as a barometer for any weight gain as well as turn my ass into something that appears to have been sculpted by an Italian Renaissance master, I found it slightly more…challenging…than usual. Oh, I can still get into them all right – it hasn’t gotten that far yet – but it was a struggle not seen since the days of Eighties hair bands when acid wash reigned supreme: I had to employ the old lie-down-on-the-bed-take-a-deep-breath-then-zip trick. That was enough  to send me to the Internet in search of ways to cut extra calories and fat without sacrificing the flavour of my beloved baked goods. Another reason for this change of heart is not so vain or selfish: since my mother passed away last year, I’ve been doing more baking for my father whose sweet tooth I must have inherited. And while my sister stocks his freezer with practical, ultra-heart healthy fare like salmon loaves and low sodium soups, I have made it my mission to provide him with some of the sweeter things I know he enjoys. He’s 82 now, and while yes we would like to keep him around and as healthy as possible, the man has worked hard all his life. He deserves a treat every now and again. Which is where I had to set aside my own beliefs about moderation and provide him with goodies that are only half as indulgent as I’d usually make. And maybe even a little bit – dare I say – healthy.

It started with flour substitution. It’s something I had been doing for awhile, usually in breads where it can be compensated for with other flavours or the additional leavening powers of yeast. Whole wheatflour, I’ve noticed, has the tendency to make things far more dense and unpleasantly chewy when you substitute too much of it. After doing a bit more reading on the subject I decided to branch out with spelt flour, an ancient whole grain that behaves more like wheat than other alternatives yet contains about half the gluten content of regular all purpose flour. My first experiment, in the pumpkin muffins I mentioned in this post didn’t go so well, but a simple adjustment in technique yielded a much more positive result: a higher, fluffier rise as a result of a lighter hand. According to  the latest issue of Inspired Magazine, a free publication produced by Sobey’s grocery stores, the secret to getting a good rise lies in lightly mixing the wet and dry ingredients together until

just incorporated, and apparently with a wooden spoon. I’ve started using this technique in all my baking – not just muffins – and have noticed a difference. I used it in the muffins picture here as well as the individual sticky toffee puddings pictured just to the left. I baked these in portions for freezing, using greased muffin tins . After baking and cooling on a rack I spooned the toffee sauce into the empty muffin trays, put the puddings back in place then spooned a little more sauce over top. Apparently, as reported yesterday, my father is making his way through them and they are ‘very good’. From a man of few words, this is high praise indeed.

Another area of concern is the amount of sugar used in conventional baking. I usually replace the white sugar with brown or yellow sugar wherever I can, which may not nutritionally be that much better but I find it improves the texture and flavour. Apparently, my research tells me that you can cut the sugar content in baking recipes by anywhere between 1/4 to 2/3 of a cup depending on taste without sacrificing structure or flavour. It’s mostly used to aide the browning, shelf-life preservation and tenderizing – which explains why brown sugar makes things so soft and lovely – of the end result, as well its obvious flavour. However, any compensations for sugar can be made up for calorie-free with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. I’m a huge fan of mixed spice, myself, which is a combination of the two as well as ginger and cloves. Like Thanksgiving or Christmas in a jar. In cookies in particular, which are made up predominantly of sugar and butter, it can quite simple to cut the sugar content by at least 25 percent if you don’t mind a softer, less crispy brown result – which I absolutely don’t. I cut the sugar down to half in these chocolate-date pinwheels, which didn’t seem to affect them negatively at all. I find that dates are quite sweet on their own, so perhaps that’s why the sugar wasn’t missed as much.

The most important point I’m trying to make here is that healthy needn’t be all about denial and sacrifice. As long as you do your research into how any adjustments made will affect your product, you can make almost any baking into a healthy, wholesome treat. It’s all about ratios and proportions, which is usually the stuff of scientists or mathematicians – two areas I was never very good at. However, had my science or math classes taken a slightly different route to teaching and used baking or makeup examples as formulas, I could well have been the next Einstein.

Who knew science and math could be so delicious?

Ginger Spice is Everything Nice. This is what Fall is Made Of

To be clear, although she is my favourite Spice Girl, this post is not about Geri Halliwell. My devotion to her would require much more than a mere post to summarize, or even justify. No, this post is all about that spice that seems to act as the harbinger of cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers and evenings spent nestled in pink Snuggies sipping hot spiced cocoa. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, all I know is that once the cooler weather hit, all I wanted to do was break out the ginger and spices.

Tell me what you want, what you really really want— sorry, now I’m done.

It started with the macaron. One night, the first one where I had to turn the heat on in months, I was lying in bed thinking about baking. Sadly, yes, this is me most nights. But it’s often where I come up with some of my best ideas, so I’ve learned not to question and just go with it. On that particular night I wanted to make macarons, but this time with a decidedly autumnal flavour. That’s when it hit me – gingerbread macarons. Rather than troll through FoodGawker again – another bedtime ritual – I decided to make up my own recipe for it. The next morning found me pouring over my trusty Women’s Institute cookbooks n search of that perfect combination of spices to add in to my basic macaron batter. The winners were ginger, clove and mixed spice – one teaspoon of the former plus a half teaspoon each of the other two. I also replaced half of the granulated sugar with brown sugar in the macaron batter – I wanted to replace all of it, but because macarons can be so fussy I was reluctant to risk it. Brown sugar has a higher moisture content than granulated white, and in my admittedly limited experience moisture tends to mean death to a well-risen macaron shell.

The result was a lovely beige-hued macaron, nicely balanced in both flavour and rise (avec pied). As you can imagine, I was well pleased.

Then came the task of deciding what to use as filling. To further expand on the gingerbread theme, I went with another of my favourite fall flavours and made a molasses buttercream. Truthfully, I could’ve just eaten it straight from the bowl – and don’t judge, but maybe I did a little bit – it was so good. But this is coming from one who used to get in trouble as a child for trying to spoon molasses straight from the carton into my mouth whilst my mother was attempting to use it for baking. She kept saying it was for baking not eating, that I would make myself sick . But I never did. No idea why, but I just loved the stuff. And evidently, I still do, because it took everything in my power not to take a swig of the carton contents.

But I did lick the spoon. Willpower has its limits.

Another ubiquitous fall flavour I experimented with was pumpkin. Ginger is a major flavour component here, but where the experimenting came into play was with a relatively new concept for me. It’s something called ‘healthy baking’. Now, as one who advocates the use of butter, whipping cream and double cream, and lard where necessary, this is entirely foreign territory for me. Cutting fat and sugar? You may as well cut off your tongue since your taste buds won’t really notice either way…is how I used to look at things. But sadly, as one ages, one’s system can no longer handle the steady onslaught of fat and empty carbs that my favourite recipes tend to carry. And to be clear, when I say system, what I really mean is waistline. Someone has gained a little weight what with their non-stop baking the past few months.

My first attempt came after much research into alternative flours. Spelt flour, apparently, closely resembles regular flour but contains much lower levels of gluten. I thought that would be a good place to start because gluten is largely responsible for the texture of baked goods, and also I know a couple of people who have intolerances to it. And truthfully, I’m beginning to suspect that I may have an issue with the substance myself. But then again, it could also be the lack of willpower that is more of a problem than gluten.

Anyway, so I found a recipe for muffins using spelt flour. I then also baked the same recipe again using regular all purpose flour, because I was initially disappointed with the outcome and I wanted to see if it was just my imagination. For a second I thought that my standards were too high, or my memories of muffins unrealistic.

Here is the picture that will give you an idea as to why I might have been a little disappointed. And also why that feeling was justified, at least in my mind.

The muffin on the right is the re-bake. Take notice of its height and fluffy texture. Then take a look at the one on the left, how flat and dense it seems. Guess which one was baked with spelt flour? If you said the flatty on the left, you would be correct. It tasted fine, but the texture left much to be desired. And it was a good thing that the recipe yield was small at only a dozen muffins, because the next day you could almost use them as a weapon – they were hard as a rock.

But, that was only a first attempt. And I’m happy to report that I have used spelt flour since to far greater success, to the point were it’s becoming almost a staple of my baking repertoire. But that’s another post for another time, one that I will hopefully get to sooner rather than later.

What about you – any good healthy baking stories to share? How about epic failures? And what of fall baking? Can you believe it’s October 12th already? How many more questions can I ask here?

I’m off to grab some fuzzy slippers, slip into a cozy sweater and make myself some more coffee. Cocoa comes later, after noon. It’s all about willpower.

I Dream in Coconut Cream

Have I ever mentioned that my ten year old son is odd? I mean, he has the usual quirks of kids his age – not wanting to take a bath regularly, forgetting to do his homework, wanting to stay out playing with his friends when he should be getting ready for bed – but there are some things that I just have to shake my head at. His undying devotion to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, for starters. Neither the husband nor myself listen to either of them with any regularity, but for some reason my son is completely obsessed with them – and the Millionaire Quartet in general. How many other kids can tell you who Carl Perkins was, or can rhyme off the names of the members of Johnny Cash’s band? Then there’s the World War II fixation, which has him lugging home books the size of small countries so he can find out more. I swear, he’s got the soul of a crusty octogenarian. He tells us to turn our music down.

Those things aside, he’s a pretty good kid. Except for his bizarre dislike for certain foods. Not olives or capers, which he gobbles down by the handful, but coconut. How can you hate something so tasty?! I, on the other hand, love coconut . All things coconut – coconut milk, coconut candy, coconut shrimp. It’s the flavour of my all-time favourite pie. But pie, as you may know, can be a hella lot of work. And sometimes, you just need a quick hit of that coconut cream pie flavour without all the hassle

That’s where these cupcakes come in.

I found the recipe on A Delightfully Sweet Life and knew it was the answer to my prayers. All the flavour of my favourite pie in the convenient form of a cupcake. And trust me – the flavour is there. The cake is light and sweet but not overpoweringly so – I would almost say that in a way I actually prefer it to the pie. But please don’t tell the pie that – don’t want any hurt feelings.

As good as the white chocolate frosting sounded, I wanted something a little more…tropical to accompany my cupcakes. So I did like the song says and put the lime in the coconut. However, there was no need to call a doctor – no bellyache came from this heavenly pairing. Just pure coconut perfection. I included the recipe for you so you can have the option too.

Coconut-Lime Frosting 

 1 1/2 cups icing sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter 

1/4 cup coconut milk

1/4 lime, squeezed for juice 

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sweetened coconut flakes (more to garnish as desired)

up to 2 tbsp corn starch to thicken 

Stir ingredients together in large bowl until smooth, then frost cakes. Use additional coconut flakes to decorate.

Red Velvet Redux

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This is my version of the glorious red velvet brownie I reblogged on Friday. Now I should really know better than to mess with what is clearly already perfection, but obviously I couldn’t help myself.

I started with the basics: swapping the granulated sugar for golden brown instead. This is something I tend to do with every recipe if I can get away with it – I prefer the overall flavour and texture it lends to the finished product, although when it comes to red velvet it means that you won’t get quite as vibrant a result. Speaking of vibrant, I couldn’t bring myself to use as much red food colouring as the original recipe calls for, which is another reason my version is not as brilliantly red.

But I didn’t stop there. I thought to myself now how could I possibly make this red velvet brownie smothered in white chocolate and cream cheese buttercream any better than it is now?

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By swirling the buttercream into the red velvet brownie batter, that’s how. To fo that, I only used 1/4 cup of icing sugar with the specified quantities of cream cheese and chocolate, then added the half teaspoon of vanilla. I was afraid it would melt too much if I were to include the butter, and likewise be too sweet if I were to use all the icing sugar.

The result? An incredibly rich, intensely flavoured brownie that is the optimal texture. Chewy and dense, not cake like or crumbly. Almost like fudge. You may want more than one piece, but you don’t really need it. Or you can try to convince yourself of that anyway – I know I’m having a bit of an internal struggle over that issue now.

The original recipe can be found here at Party of Two. With or without my amendments, do something nice for yourself and bake these bitches up pronto.

C is for Cookie. Malted Chocolate Chip Monster cookies

So despite the backlog of baking posts I’ve neglected to write, for some reason the chocolate-dipped potato chip and this one seem to have a sense of urgency to them that the other baked goods – although delicious – just don’t seem to possess. Perhaps it’s just been that kind of week, very much a chocolate and comfort food week. As if to punctuate the emotional rollercoaster ride I’ve been on lately, today it’s been just pissing down with rain. A good thing, because the grass certainly is in need of it, but perhaps not the most effective of mood elevators.

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You can’t see it very well here, but the rain is pouring off the back veranda. And when I stepped outside to take this picture, the air has that damp chill to it that tells you Fall is in the air. Thank heavens for that. However, it also makes you want to curl up in a blankie with some hot cocoa. And some cookies. But not just any cookie.

Malted chocolate chip cookies. A classic, with an elegant old school flavour twist. What could be more comforting?

I stumbled upon this recipe at Portuguese Girl Cooks while looking for the proper ratios when adding malt powder or extract with the intention of using a recipe I had here. But this one just looked so good, I decided to just go with it.

Of course, I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to tweak it in some way to put my own spin on things. But how could you improve upon something so perfect?

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You Super Size it – that’s how. Now, just to give you a little perspective as to the size of this cookie, do you see that plate there? That’s an 8 inch dinner side plate. And on a cookie sheet that can accommodate roughly two dozen normal size cookies, of these I could only fit five. FIVE.

Monster malted chocolate chip cookies, that’s good enough for me!

Back Again… This Time with Blondies!

No, not the pop icon from the Eighties otherwise known as Debbie Harry…although she is pretty fabulous in her own right. ‘Dreamin’ is one of my all-time favourite songs. But no, that’s not why we’re here. 

This is  supposed to be a food blog, after all. So let’s get on with the food!

 

I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to the blondie; that is , the lighter-coloured version of the chocolate brownie. Not in enjoying them, just in making them. But then all of a sudden, as so often happens  with these things,  the craving snuck up on me and it soon became all I could think about. So off to the Internet I went in search of the perfect recipe. As it turned out, however, I had already had one in my possession all along.

This recipe came from a cookbook I found somewhere on the bargain table for less than a fiver.

 

Now usually I’m of the opinion that you get what you pay for, but not so in this case. I’ve used it as a basis for a number of goodies I’ve baked up in the past, before I started this blog so before I started taking pictures and writing about the things I was making. But never mind that – let’s just focus on the here and now. And here and now I give you the ultimate butterscotch blondie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How tasty does that look? I’m not a fan of adding nuts to things, and for some insane reason I’m constantly running across recipes that call for them. Usually, it’s walnuts which is the nut I’m least fond of. I normally just substitute with pecans or leave them out altogether and compensate with adding more chocolate or whatever other chopped ingredient happens to be going in. In this case, though, I had some little chocolate covered toffee candies from IKEA kicking around, so I thought I’d try smashing those up and tossing them in in lieu of nuts.

And man, let me just tell you how glad I am that I did!

The toffee and chocolate melted into the batter during the baking process in such a perfect way so as to lend it even more of the soft, chewy and slightly fudge-y texture that is one of the hallmarks of The Brownie. It was also intensely flavoured, not only from the candies but also the abundance of the butterscotch and chocolate chips. The only possible complaint I could possibly have had was with how little the recipe yielded having been baked in an 8 X 8 glass dish. But in restrospect perhaps that was a good thing. They didn’t last long, and wouldn’t have done much for the ever-expanding state of my ass if there were any more of them. My husband, who devoured more than half of them, has begun to complain that I’m trying to make him fat. Like I hold a gun to his head or something to get him to eat all the things I make. But despite how phenomenally good these blondies were, the craving wasn’t quite as sated as it should have been. I wondered what else could be made that was ‘blonde’.

I was on FoodGawker when I found it. I’m so addicted to that site that I’ve got the iPhone app AND follow the Twitter feed that alerts you to new recipes. So sad, isn’t it? Actually, not really when you get results like this

Remember when I just typed that I’m not a fan of adding nuts to things? Yeah – this would be the exception to that rule. Blonde Rocky Road Fudge.

This is a heavenly concoction comprised of yet more butterscotch chips, peanut butter and marshmallows. There is no bad here, unless of course you happen to be anaphylactic or diabetic. But if neither of these apply to you, then I would strongly recommend you make up a batch as soon as possible. The recipe can be found here – I left it well enough alone. Because, really, how could one improve upon such perfection?

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Flavour of Choice: Lemon-Blueberry Cake

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Well, I did start out well with some semi-consistent blogging. But for the month of August? Not so much. I suppose I could apologize again, but it’s probably sounding a bit like a broken record. And I’ve been busy doing other things, most important and surprising of which is working on The Novel. Lots of changes on the horizon, both in fiction and in my real life. Hopefully.

But as much as I’ve been neglecting my blogging, I’m happy to report that I haven’t been so lax when it comes to baking. Take this luscious lemon blueberry concoction, for example, which started out as two loaves of quick bread. I decided to make more use of my Bundt pan. The result? Lovely and light, with a nice moist crumb. I covered it in a quick glaze of lemon juice and confectioners sugar, which I admit may have been overkill. I just got a little excited about the flavour of the moment, is all. I ended up being able to chip it off – that doesn’t sound good, does it? – without destroying the cake entirely.

The best part of all is that I was able to extend its life thanks to a recipe I found in 1940s cookbook I picked up at an antique market. It featured a great little section on how to use various leftovers to create completely new dishes – something that would be of particular interest for the budding Post-war housewife. I had half the cake left, so sliced it up and layered the pieces in a foul-lined loaf pan alternating with some French vanilla ice cream thinned with almond milk. After an hour in the freezer, I ended up with my first ever icebox cake!

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You can find the original recipe for the lemon blueberry loaf here.

Companion to Monthworth Medley: Women’s Institute Recipes

As mentioned in my previous post, I wasn’t able to provide links to some recipes as they were taken from my small treasury of cookbooks. Some of those are more current published works so therefore subject to current copyright laws, so to reproduce them here even with credits attached could be considered infringement.

However, what of the Women’s Institute cookbooks with their wellworn pages that are getting to the point where they are falling loose of their binding? When the paper finally fades and crumbles, what then? Therefore, with no copyright infringement intended, I’ve decided to preserve these pieces of rural baking history by posting them here wherever possible.

The recipe for the rhubarb pie, originally named Sour Cream Rhubarb Pie, comes from a compilation of favourite recipes of the Bruce County Women’s Institute. The pastry recipe I used came from my beloved Dublin’s Women’s Institute cookbook, and was contributed by my grandmother.

Any debate between lard vs butter when it comes to pie pastry has now been put to rest: although its not a terribly popular ingredient these days, lard wins hands-down if you’re looking to make the fluffiest, melt-in-your-mouthiest pie crust ever. Butter is good, but lard is infinitely better.

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Monthworth of Baking – A Photographic Medley

Okay, maybe it’s not an entire month, but it certainly feels that way. All I know for sure is that it’s been a damn long time since I posted anything about the baking I’ve been doing, so much so that I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up if devote a post to each one. So I’m going to have to cheat a little and post ’em all in one shot.

At least you’ll get pictures and the links to the recipes that inspired them. Hopefully I will be able to go back to my regular bake-then-post model soon, but it just seems like life has had a habit of getting away from me. For example, can you believe it’s already the middle of August?? That just seems so crazy to me!

Anyway, enough stalling – here we go.

The Quest for that perfect French Vanilla Ice Cream, inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe. Of course. Although, sadly, I’m still in search of that deceptively simple yet elusive flavour. This was a great ice cream, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit too close to frozen custard.

The Quest continues. Anyone have any tried-and-true recipes they care to point me in the direction of, feel free!

Pink Popcorn Candy Balls, made as party favours for a three year old’s birthday party.

Recipe inspired in part by Making Great Candy and also from popcorn machine manual that included a couple of suggested recipes.

Here’s a tip: don’t overlook these  manuals. What you may think is just some instructions for use and warranty limitations could be a goldmine of classic recipe inspiration.

 

Rhubarb Custard Pie with Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream

I’ve begun a whole new love affair with rhubarb. I don’t put any extra sugar on it which allows for that natural tartness to come through.

My mouth is kind of starting to water just thinking about it. The recipe for the pie came from a Women’s Institute cookbook (home of all great pie recipes) while the ice cream – which might just be the very best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted – came from here. I feel it’s important to note that the blogger was inspired by Lebovitz’s book,The Perfect Scoop.

Pate de Choux. My first attempt at making choux pastry. 

I have never in my life turned an oven up so high, plus I have the horrible habit of not being able to keep the door closed because I want to see what’s going on (and the inside light doesn’t work right now on my antique Eaton Viking), so not being able to do that for the first ten minutes was agony. But, I suppose, we have to suffer for our art. Sigh… 

This recipe comes from a book that has become my kitchen sidekick, The Baking Answer Book.

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to…well, a lot of things, but I was constantly Googling random things like why the butter and water has to be so cold when using it for pastry (so that it will create pockets of steam that lead to a flakier crust), so this book has saved me from hours of wasted time that would have been better used baking as well as excess data usage on my iPhone!

 

Blueberry Quinoa Muffins came out of two things: a general curiosity and the lack of oatmeal for Sunday morning breakfast. I have been wanting to experiment with sweeter dishes using quinoa, so I swapped out the water you would normally boil the quinoa in for soy milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The result was somewhere between an oatmeal and a rice pudding consistency – it was quite tasty, but thick enough to grout your tile if you let it stand too long.

I noticed that there was quite a bit left over, so not wanting to waste any of it I set about finding something to use the remaining quinoa. Although I look all over the Web for alternatives,  I should really know by now that there are generally two sites I can count on for most things: David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart. But I don’t mind – most of the thrill is in the chase, isn’t it?

I used Martha’s  recipe for the muffins, swapping out the vegetable oil for butter and the raisins for frozen blueberries. I did have to Google whether it was better to use frozen or fresh blueberries in baking – as it turns out frozen is the better choice as they hold their shape during the baking process and lend a nice extra bit of moisture to the overall texture of the finished product. This is probably common knowledge for most of you, but keep in mind – I’m new to this. Forgive me?

Macarons, since I’ve discovered how to do them, are my new obsession. It seemed only natural to pair it with another one of my latest obsessions: lemon.

The result? A macaron that tastes  almost exactly like lemon meringue pie. The ones pictured here deviate somewhat from the typical rounds, but take note: they do indeed have pied and therefore qualifies them as actual macarons. Siames twins and heart-shaped, but macarons nonetheless.

Recipe for both macaron shells and lemon curd filling from another kitchen sidekick of mine, I Love Macarons

 

Phew… I think that should just about do it. I may have almost got caught up here. I’m sure there’s something missing here, but these are the highlights that have come out of my sweet little kitchen over the past few weeks. I used more of my cookbooks than usual, which is good since that means they aren’t sitting around collecting dust.

Enjoy!

Mental for Macarons, Messing with Tradition

I went with this title because it reminded me of Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and that’s kind of where I find myself with the macaron right now. Now that it appears we’ve reached some sort of understanding and mutual cooperation, it’s all I can think about making. But that’s not the point of this blog – the point is to experiment with all manner of baked goods, wherever my whims or fancies might take me. But I do find it interesting – almost empowering, in a bizarre way – that the one confection that had eluded me for so long, to the point where I had become almost terrified of it, is now the bakery version of my BFF.

Take a good look at these macaron pictures side by side. One batch is baked in the Parisian tradition, with ground almonds and icing sugar sifted twice through etc. The other, however, is an experimental batch made with rice flour and dried lavender, adapted from this recipe by a New York City chef. And as a complete aside, isn’t there something extremely attractive about a young man who obsesses over making macarons? Or is that just me?

Anyways – I think it’s fairly obvious which ones are made with the lavender and rice flour combination. In hindsight I think that the texture would have come out much better had I just stuck faithfully to the recipe. But no. That’s just not the way I roll, it would seem. In fact, it would seem that once I managed to get my first ever batch of chocolate macarons to come out with the properly domed, uncracked shell and the all-important pied, that I started looking for other ways to create something that had been nothing but another failed dream for so long. To put it another, much more succinct way: once I did something right the first time, rather than continue to do it that way so as to become a master of it and then moving on to finding other options, I jump straight into looking for other options. So really, macarons are like a metaphor for my life. That might explain why they remained such a struggle for me for so long. It seemed that the harder I worked, the more painstakingly I followed the directions to the letter, the result was always the same: failure. I felt like I was going in circles and gave up on them altogether for quite awhile. Until I moved into my wonderful new house with my ancient yet insanely reliable Eaton Viking oven (that I am never, ever getting rid of for as long as I can help it) that I decided to give them another go with that David Lebovitz recipe. And the rest is blog history, really.

Wow…that got unintentionally deep there for a moment. But it’s true – as soon as I’d read about his own macaron attempts and his research from actual Parisian chefs who created them daily, I relaxed a little. Lebovitz is a world-renowned pastry chef, who has written a number of books on the subject of baking . If he had trouble baking macarons for the first time, then obviously someone like myself – with no formal training in pastry arts whatsoever and not nearly as much baking experience as him – would hit  few snags in the quest for almond-meringue perfection. And I think therein lies my problems in general: that I am my own worst enemy and that I have insanely high expectations of myself. I seek instant perfection, and if I don’t attain it then it’s automatically ‘my fault’ for whatever reason. Because I’m not smart enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty or thin enough…the list could go on and on. Never does it occur to me that I may need some time to learn whatever skill or technique it is that I’m attempting to master. If I were good enough, it would just happen naturally. And when it doesn’t, it’s obviously because there is something wrong with me.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yeah…when you type it all out like that it really is quite ridiculous to have such unrealistic demands of oneself. You wouldn’t expect that of your friends, your children, husband or wife. But I’m curious, how many of you out there feel kind of the same way? Because I know I can’t be alone in this.

Okay, so that concludes the impromptu therapy portion of our post today, and now back to the subject at hand: macarons. Part of me – the practical, non-crazy part – went looking for ways to create macarons with something other than almond flour, since that effectively denies most nut allergy sufferers of the joys of these little domes of heaven. A quick search in Google proved that I wasn’t the only one. I discovered that people were making their macarons, and achieving proper domage and pied, with such ingredients as coconut flour, ground pumpkin seeds and just straight up meringue bolstered with a bit of corn starch. But the main comment that links them all is that macaron purists would not consider these creations worthy of bearing the name since they have not been made in ‘the proper tradition’ .

To which I reply: You make your own traditions  as you roll along.