Macarons

I felt challenged to make macarons for my friend. A lot of people call these macaroons, or French macaroons, but they are distinct and very different from the macaroon cookie. I tell people that they are a take-off of the Oreo cookie, but of course, they came first so maybe the take-off is in the other direction.

The recipe seems simple enough- only 4 ingredients in the basic recipe, and then you add food coloring and extract flavoring. The basic recipe is to make an meringue, and then fold it into a mix of almond flour and powdered sugar to create the dough. The dough is piped onto baking sheets, and cooked. These finished ‘cookies’ or shells are coupled together and filled- as I say, like Oreo cookies.

But, although the recipe is fairly straight forward, it has a lot of subjective decision points, and those make it difficult to learn. I made the recipe 5 times and threw it all in the trash before I got a handle on all the issues.

Macarons

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour

Directions

  1. Mix the almond flour and powdered sugar and sift them into a 2-quart bowl.
  2. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they are starting to foam. Add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until there are stiff peaks.
  3. Fold the egg white meringue into the sifted flour/sugar mixture to create the dough. Continue to fold the dough until the dough is smooth enough to flow.
  4. Fill a piping bag with a ½ inch opening with the dough, and pipe the shells onto a lined cookie sheet. Let the piped shells stand at room temperature until a hard skin is formed on top; about 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  6. Bake the shells until they are set, but not browned- about 10 – 15 minutes.
  7. Let the shells cool completely with the baking sheets on the cooling rack before trying to remove them and filling them.

In the photo, the darker macarons were from the first batch that I felt was anywhere near a success. I got 6 shells from that batch which was only about a 20% yield. However, I then was able to correct the last couple parameters and start getting 90% yields from a recipe that made 40 shells. If you look closely at the photo, you will see a fringe-like layer at the bottom of the shell; this is know as feet. A proper shell has feet. These shells were filled with nutella, and you can see it showing with some of the macarons.

Starting at the first of the recipe, these are the issues I found, and the way I finally set the parameters.
1)Sifting the flour/sugar mixture can be difficult in high humid weather. As a starting point, I would suggest waiting for drier weather to learn how to make the shells.
2)I decided that the meringue was complete when the peaks made by lifting the whip stood straight up, and the tips of the peaks did not bend over. Don’t go much beyond this stage as it will dry the meringue and it will not incorporate with the flour/sugar mixture properly.
3)When the folding has gotten to the point that all of the flour/sugar mixture is wet, you can add flavoring and color to the shells. For color, use 2 – 3 drops of a gel food coloring, and for flavor, add 1/2 teaspoon of an extract. There seems to be some agreement on when the folding is complete: it is called the figure 8 test. The dough should be liquid enough to flow off the spatula as a continuous ribbon with which you can make a figure 8, but not so liquid as the start of the 8 disappears before the full figure is formed.
4)Most of us have 12 inch piping bags; these are a problem in that they do not hold all of the dough and so they need to be refilled. I finally went to the Decorette Shop and bought some 18 inch bags and so had much less fuss piping.
5)I did not use any special piping tips with the piping bag, but just cut the tip of the bag off. To get the 1/2 inch diameter opening, I measured up to the point where the distance between the two sides of the flattened bag was 1 inch and cut. If I remember my math, the 1 inch is half the circumference and the circumference is Pi * diameter meaning the diameter is 2 / pi, or about 2/3 inch- slightly larger than the 1/2 specified in the recipe, but it works.
6)In order to get constant size shells, you need a guide. I drew circles with a compass on a separate couple sheets of paper as that guide. Then I placed the guide under my silicon mats to do the piping, and pulled the guide papers out once I had the shells piped. My circles are 1.5 inches in diameter and placed so that their centers are 3 inches apart. Once they were drawn, I inked the circles and their centers with a black marker pen.
7)Another test that the dough is soft enough is that the nipple from piping disappears; the top of the shell should be smooth. I had a few nipples but most of the shells were smooth.
8)If you don’t wait long enough for the skin of the shell to form, the shell will not have feet. It is the rise of the dough in the oven locked in by the skin that causes the feet to form.
9)After having too many shells that were starting to brown, I decided to shield the baking sheet completely from the upper element of the oven. I put a piece of foil on a rack leaving only the side edges uncovered, weighted it down with an empty baking sheet, and put the rack on the position just above where the shells are cooking.
10)If the shells are not cooked long enough, or not completely cooled they will separate when they are removed from the silicon mat or parchment paper. The bottom of the shell will stick to the lining of the cookie sheet.

Now that you have the macaron shells, you can consider how to fill them to complete the cookies. I found that flavored ganaches seemed to work best. I also tried jams with cream cheese as a binder; I had a mess with that in that I used too much jam and it didn’t all harden. And as I show in the photo, you can use things like Nutella.

For cream cheese based fillings use 4 ounces of softened cream cheese with 3 Tablespoons of jam.

For ganache based fillings use 3 ounces of chocolate to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. Add 1/4 teaspoon of extract flavoring and 1 drop of gel food coloring if desired.

Macaroons

Recently, I was asked to make some macaroons; I think they really wanted me to make macarons, but I looked for a macaroon recipe and made these little cookies. They are really quite siimple. A couple years ago I made Coconut Macaroons and wrote an article then. That recipe used sweetened condensed milk as the binding agent, whereas this recipe uses meringue. Otherwise, the recipes are very similar

The recipe comes from Alton Brown and the Food Network.

Toasty Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

  • one 14-ounce package sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spread the coconut out in a single layer on a half sheet pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until the coconut is golden. Set on a cooling rack to cool.
  3. Whip the egg whites and sugar in a large bowl with a hand mixer on high for 8 to 10 minutes until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla and salt. The egg whites and sugar can also be whipped in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the toasted coconut
  5. Drop by the tablespoon onto a parchment paper-lined half sheet pan, leaving 1 to 2 inches around each cookie. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown


That is the recipe, and now I need to explain how I actually made the cookies.

In my old oven, the coconut did not evenly cook, and so even with stirring, there were pieces that were much darker than others. I used my stand mixer to whip the egg white. I used my #60 scoop to measure and drop the cookies onto my cookie sheets covered with silicone pads.

I got 3 1/2 dozen cookies. I found the best cooking time was just over 15 minutes, but short of 17 minutes. The old oven is funny that it seems to cook a second pan faster than the first pan, so I have to generally reduce the time by about a minute after the first batch is cooked.

Epicurean Tours and back to cooking

It has been too long since I have added an article to this web site, so I am covering a couple things all at once. One item is the good restaurants at which my Seattle muse and I have eaten over the last year, and the second item is the recipes on which I have been working.

Let me explain that I had to stop some of my cooking experiments for a long while since I injured a leg and had a hard time standing for more than a few minutes at a time. Actually, before that, I had a scare with my blood glucose level while I was working on the Kouign Aman recipes and eating too many of the mistakes. So I really shut down for most of a year without baking.

This last month my Seattle muse gave me a few ideas for cookies and I know she likes Morning Buns so since I was standing better-(without a cane)- I decided to make her the Morning Buns and some of the cookies she had mentioned to me. The cookies were Kookie Brittle, the Ron Paul Black Angus and the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies. Neither of those latter two cookie recipes are on this web site just yet; I am having trouble with down loading my camera to the computer and want to get pictures to go with the recipes.

And when we were enjoying the Morning Buns, it occurred to us both that they seemed tight and we would like them to be softer and larger. So I am also experimenting with that idea. My first attempts have proved to be failures. But I have to eat my mistakes before I try again.

Taking my baked goods to Seattle to share with my muse is only the start of our fun when I am there. We also like to eat at different restaurants to see what they are like. I just looked back, and it has been 2 years since I mentioned the restaurants to which we went. I will try to capture some of what I should have mentioned a year ago or so. In general, we are trying to eat at the restaurants of Tom Douglas or of Ethan Stowell. Both these restauranteurs have proven to have multiple, excellent places. We started with Tom Douglas’s places and many are still our favorites. This recent trip had us going back to Catina Lena and Seatown.

Since we eat out every day, we limit ourselves to breakfast and supper, with a few snacks. Most recently for breakfast, I tried to see if any place could do better Eggs Benedict than our favorite Fat Hen. I think a close second would be Petit Toulouse. I also tried them at Salmon Bay and felt it was a good place to repeat for breakfast. I have to admit that at some place where I had eggs benedict, the eggs were over cooked and not runny. I do not remember at this time where that was- maybe Seatown? After a few mornings of eggs benedict, they all start to seem the same. However, we both decided that Fat Hen was the best, but you want to go on a week day and within the first hour after their opening at 8AM or you are going to wait for a table.

For our supper tour, I need to mention only a few places that are worth your time. First, if you want a hamburger, go to a place with the simple name of 8 oz. It beats all of the pub hamburgers we have tried hands down. Most of the places we try are okay, but not home runs. We always seem to get back to Catina Lena for at least one meal; that is a Tom Douglas place. Another Tom Douglas place we totally enjoyed and surprisingly was not overly expensive is The Carlile Room. And a couple Eathan Stowell restaurants we recommend would include Red Cow and Staple & Fancy. Mindy thinks we have never had steak as good as that at Red Cow and we go back there often. Staple & Fancy was a new experience for us and was very interesting. They ave a Chef’s Tasting Menu, which we tried and it must have had a dozen items before it was time to order Pasta and Secundo. It was truly an enjoyable experience.

I think that terminates the epicurean tour of Seattle for this time. I will try to keep better track of the places worth visiting the next time I take the tour which should be in December. Meanwhile, when I solve the camera /computer failure, I will start putting the new cookie recipes, and corrections to old recipes up on the web site.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

It seems like there are at least two ways to make Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers. I got interested in doing the bacon wrapped version this summer when I was trying to cut down on carbs; the crusted versions of Jalapeno Poppers that I worked on two years ago are good, but a friend said they liked bacon wrapped better, so I decided to investigate that direction both for the lower carbs and for the “liked better” bit.

On the internet, the method for making bacon wrapped poppers gives half peppers; my friend Bill showed me the method for making whole peppers. I will try to show you both ways in this article. A quick summary is shown in this set of images.

To make the half pepper version, we start by cutting the pepper’s stem down the middle such that each half pepper will have a stem. Then we cut the rest of the pepper in half and clean it of seeds and membranes. The filling is as made for the crusted poppers and made ahead of time. A little is put into each half of the pepper, and then the pepper is wrapped with a half slice of bacon.

In making the full pepper version, we start by slicing the pepper in half as close to the stem as possible. Keep the two halves together so they can fit back to make the pepper whole again. Now the filling is cream cheese in one half of the pepper and a hard cheese like cheddar in the other half. You will need to trim the cheese so it doesn’t hang over the edges of the pepper and keep it from closing. I found that the hard cheese would push into the soft cream cheese and absorb much of the difference in size.

While I prefer Cheddar as the hard cheese, I have made these with Pepper Jack, and Monterey Jack; They are all good.

To close the whole pepper, it is wrapped in a strip of bacon; ideally, it would be about 3/4 of a strip but I have no reason to save bacon bits, so mostly use a whole piece. (The half piece in the photos is a little short). A tooth pick holds everything together.

The bacon wrapped poppers can be cooked on a grill like Bill does, but I decided to bake them in my oven. I lined a pan with parchment paper, set a rack in the pan, and the peppers on the rack. For the half pepper version, keep the open side up. For the whole pepper version, I tried to keep the hard cheese on the top. I baked the poppers at 350 degrees for over 30 minutes- until the bacon looked brown; it takes quite a while for the bacon to render all its fat and crisp up.

Kouign Amann

kouign amann 2 001Kouign Amann

In February, 2016, I started to learn to make Kouign Amann. It has been a long road with many missteps in getting to this recipe and set of notes.

Kouign Amann comes from the Brittany region of France. The words mean ‘Butter Cake’ in the Breton language. It seems to be a somewhat catch-all name for a type of dough which people make into many different types of pastry; on the Internet, I find images that show it as bun shaped pastry as I will give herein, as a large pie shaped pastry from which individual pieces are served like pizza slices, and as rolls much on the order of cinnamon rolls. The bun-shaped pastry can be various sizes; the two most common are a 2 inch base, made in muffin pans, or a 4 inch base made in larger muffin/pastry rings.

In Seattle, we had tried Kouign Amann at two bakeries- Bakery Nouveau and Le Reve. The former made their Kouign Amann in the larger 4 inch rings, while the latter had the 2 inch muffin pan form. We decided that we liked the larger pastry better and that was the experience I have tried to create in this recipe. The only difference is the container in which the pastry is cooked; a muffin pan or a 4 inch pastry ring.

After early research into the Kouign Amann, it is basically a puff pastry product and I wanted to use my Croissant Dough recipe. And I wanted to make the Kouign Amann in 4 inch pastry rings, I didn’t have those and so I made my first attempt in muffin pans.

kouign amshn 1 001First Attempt with Muffin Pans

If you use muffin pans to form the Kouign Amann, dump them out of the pans as soon as you take them out of the oven! If they aren’t removed from the tins while they are still very hot, the sugar will harden and they can not be taken out in a single piece.

In my research, I found one chef who indicated that the dough for the Kouign Amann should not be milk based as milk (and egg used in Danish pastry) promote browning and there is already enough sugar and butter in the dough to cause browning. That means I shouldn’t use the Croissant Dough recipe directly, but should switch to a different ingredient list. It also appears that unlike most pastries, the Brittany pastries are made with salted butter. Interesting.

One of the characteristics of the dough in the final recipe is it is a very moist dough. I ran into problems with other doughs in that the sugar would pull the moisture out of the dough leaving it dry, and it didn’t want to rise during proofing.

Since the dough is a version of puff pastry, it is layered with butter and sugar, and folded around the additions. Like most puff pastry recipes, after rolling the dough out, it is folded into thirds- the bottom third up over the middle third, and then the top third down over the middle.

It is also very difficult to make the additions as we would normally do in making puff pastry. Normally, the addition is made to the top 2/3 of the rolled out dough before it is folded. With this dough, I had trouble doing it that way- the dough is too moist to allow spreading the butter, and the sugar addition would fall off down to the fold when the top was brought down over the middle. I changed the method slightly. I add the layer in two parts; the first part is after the dough is rolled out, and goes on the middle third of the dough. Then the bottom is folded up over the middle, and the second part of the addition is placed on the bottom third (now in the middle) before the top third is folded down.

Finally, I experimented with making disposable pastry rings with aluminum foil and found they work without any problem. I will give directions for making the rings at the end of this post. (Because I was making so many Kouign Amann, I decided to buy some 4 inch muffin rings. I have made a half recipe- 3 pieces- a week for about the last 8 weeks trying to get the bugs out of the recipe and notes. If you are interested, 4 rings for less than $10.00 on Amazon- by Fox Run. [Actually, they are 3.5 inch rings.]).

Below are two recipes; the full size recipe and a half size recipe. Because I was making the Kouign Amann so often, I needed to create the half recipe for testing my changes; you may want to make a half recipe just to experiment with the dough and techniques before going for a full recipe

Kouign Amann (full recipe- )

Ingredients

Kouign Amann (half recipe- )

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup water (not over 100 degrees)
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbs) cold salted butter (leave in the refrigerator until needed)
  • 1 cups sugar (plus more for non-stick rolling)
  • 2/3 cup water (not over 100 degrees)
  • 1/2 packet yeast (1 1/8 tsp)
  • 1 3/8 cups AP flour (1 cup + 1/4 c + 2 Tbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tbs cold salted butter (leave in the refrigerator until needed)
  • 1/2 cups sugar (plus more for non-stick rolling)

Directions

Differences Full Recipe Half Recipe
Size for adding butter/sugar 10 x 18 7.5 x 12
Goal for flattened butter 10 x 9 7.5 x 8
Sugar per third of dough 1/4 cup 2 Tbs
Final rectangle for 4 inch rings 11 x 16 6 x 16
Final rectangle for 2 inch rings 8 x 22 8 x 11.5
Squares and size for 4 inch rings six 5 x 5 three 5 x 5
Squares and size for 2 inch rings twelve 3.5 x 3.5 six 3.5 x 3.5

  1. Prepare the dough. Mix the first four ingredients in a mixer bowl, and let the mixer run for 3-4 minutes to knead the dough
  2. Let the dough rise. Put the kneaded dough into the bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in an area with a temperature in the 70-72 degree range. Let the dough rise to double in size; this might take a couple hours.
  3. Prepare the butter packet. Refrigerate the dough in its covered bowl for 1 hour. Meanwhile, place the cold butter on a piece of parchment paper. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the butter. With a rolling pin, beat the butter to flatten it. Between beating and rolling, try to get the butter to be 2/3 the size to which the dough will be rolled. This will make it easier to put the butter on the dough. Place the flattened softened butter on the parchment paper in the refrigerator.
  4. Prepare the dough packet Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured rolling surface, flour the top, and roll it into a rectangle for addition of the butter. Place half of the softened flattened butter on the middle 1/3 of the dough. Now fold the bottom not buttered piece up over the middle buttered third and and place the other half of the butter on the folded up piece of dough. Now fold the top third of the dough down. Pinch all the edges together. This completes the first turn. The dough is three layers with butter between each layer.
  5. Complete turn 2. Rotate the dough so it is like a book ready to be opened with its spine to the left. (Each turn will start with the dough in this position- a book with its spine on the left). Roll the dough into a rectangle the same size for additions, although nothing is added this time. Again fold the bottom third up and then the top third down completing the second turn. Wrap this dough package in plastic and place it in a baggy in the refrigerator over night. (I always leave the dough in the refrigerator over night, but I suspect that you could continue with the following steps after cooling the dough for 2-3 hours. Since we will not use flour any more, the rolling surface needs to be cleaned at this point)
  6. Turn the dough 2 more times and while adding sugar Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a sugared rolling surface (about 2 Tbs) in the position of a book ready to be opened. Sprinkle the top of the dough with another couple tablespoons of sugar to keep it from sticking. Roll the dough out into a rectangle for addition of the first sugar. Sprinkle the middle third of the dough with its sugar; fold the dough bottom third up. Now sprinkle the addition sugar over the bottom third and fold the top third down. Rotate the packet into book position and reapply sugar to the rolling surface and the top of the dough. Again, roll the dough into the addition size rectangle and sprinkle the middle 1/3 with an addition of sugar and fold the dough bottom third up. Sprinkle it with another addition of sugar and fold the top third down. Refrigerate the dough while preparing for cooking. (the four additions of sugar in this step adds up to the amount of sugar given in the ingredient list [4 Tbs = 1/4 cup])
  7. Prepare the Pastry Rings This step assumes that if you are using temporary foil rings, they have already been made. Place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of a sheet pan. Spray the inside of the pastry rings with cooking spray and place them on the parchment paper, opening the rings to as round as possible.
  8. Form the Kouign Amann. Sprinkle the rolling surface with sugar and place a packet of dough on the surface. Sprinkle additional sugar on top of the dough. Roll the dough out into its final rectangle. Trim a 1/2 inch off all sides of the rectangle so that the layers of dough are visible. Cut the rectangle into its squares. Sprinkle each square with about 2 tsp of sugar, then pick up the square by its 4 corners flipping it upside down so that this latest sugar is on the bottom. Place the square in a pastry ring. Put about 1/2 tsp of sugar in the center of the square and tuck the corners over onto the center of the pastry so they do not hang over the edges of the ring.
  9. Proof the Kouign Amann.Let the pastry rise until slightly puffy- 40 to 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. (while recipes seem to all say the oven rack in the middle, I found I needed to move the rack down one notch, and then place the sheet pan inside a secnd nesting sheet pan to insulate the bottom from being closer to the bottom heat).
  10. Bake the Kouign Amann. Place the sheet pan in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes; after 15 minutes, tent the Kouign Amann to keep the tops from browning too fast. The pastry is done when the tops are deep golden and the tips look like they might just be starting to burn. It takes this last almost burned state to get the caramel at its peak.
  11. Remove from pan and cool. After removing the pan from the oven, use a pancake turner and tongs to remove the Kouign Amann to a cooling rack without their pastry rings. Cool the Kouign Amann upside down.


rings 001

Making Disposable Pastry Rings

From my experience, these rings work as well as hard metal rings. The length of the foil should be 12 inches for 4 inch rings and 7.5 inches for 2 inch rings. The overlap point is 11 inches for the 4 inch rings (actually 3.5 inches) and 6.25 inches for 2 inch rings.

  1. For each ring, cut a piece of aluminum foil that is 4 inches wide by the suggested length.
  2. Fold the 4 inch dimension in half twice, resulting in a 1 inch strip that is 4 layers of foil.
  3. Mark the overlap point from one end (End A).
  4. Loop the foil strip, bringing End A to the marked overlap point.
  5. Staple the overlapped part of the ring twice to hold the rings shape. When the ring is used, its shape can be straightened to more closely resemble a ring.

It is interesting that the softness of the ring doesn’t seem to be a problem. I think that is because a circle is a very stable figure, and as the pastry rises and expands, it pushes fairly evenly all around the ring bringing it back into a circular shape. And, when the baking is finished, there is no washing of the rings; they are tossed in the trash.

So, why are the sizes for the half recipe not closer related to the full recipe sizes? For example, the size for adding ingredients for the full recipe is 10 x 18; why not either 5 x 18 or 10 x 9 for the half recipe? I don’t like the 18 inch height for my rolling surface, and I don’t like the ending shape for a 10 inch wide since that would be longer when turned to roll out again than that goal which would be 9 inches. It all has to do with the area of the surface of the dough. For the full recipe, the area (in this case) is 180 square inches; half recipe would be 90 square inches. And 7.5 x 12 is 90 square inches.

Searching for Kouign Amann

About a month ago, I saw a rerun of a Julia Child Baking show in which the guest made a Danish Pastry Braid. That looked interesting, and I thought it would be fun to learn Danish Pastry, and how it differs from what I have been making.

Nouveau 001aBakery Nouveau Kouign Amann

As I started talking about it, my neighbor suggested I try a Challah bread which is also braided. And then my Seattle Muse said that rather than Danish Pastry I should learn to make the Kouign Amann (pronounced Queen Amahn). So I had another three projects ahead of me in almost no time. I was already trying new recipes for Chai Chocolate Truffles and Indian Butternut Squash Soup.

Kouign Amann comes from the Brittany region of France. The words mean ‘Butter Cake’ in the Breton language. It seems to be a somewhat catch-all name for a type of dough which people make into many different types of pastry; on the Internet, I find images that show it as flat pastry as I want to make, as taller pastry made in a muffin tin, as a large pie shaped pastry from which individual pieces are served like pizza slices, and as rolls much on the order of morning buns.

In Seattle, we had tried Kouign Amann at two bakeries- Bakery Nouveau and Le Reve. The former made their Kouign Amann in the form of the flat pastry, while the latter had the taller form. We decided that we liked the flatter pastry better and it is that experience I am trying to create. The only difference seems to be the container in which the pastry is cooked; a muffin tin or a pastry ring.

After researching the Kouign Amann, it appeared that I could use my Croissant Dough recipe, but stop at the third turn and switch to the Kouign Amann recipe. It is at the third turn that the Kouign Amann starts adding sugar to the dough. And while I wanted to make the Kouign Amann in pastry rings, I didn’t have those and most of the recipes said you could also make it in muffin tins. So to get started with the learning experience, I used my muffin pans. Finally, some of the recipes said to put the muffin tins on a sheet pan to catch the melted butter and caramel drips.

So that was what I did for the first iteration. And many things were not right. I didn’t like the squashed look that the muffin tins gave the Kouign Amann; they looked like poorly constructed buns. I did more research, and started looking for something to use as a pastry ring; most of the research I did implied that the 4 inch pastry ring was the standard.

Using the muffin tins created a couple other problems besides just looks. If the Kouign Amann aren’t removed from the tins while they are still very hot, the sugar will harden and they can not be taken out in a single piece. And by putting the muffin tins on a sheet pan to catch the drips, the bottom of the Kouign Amann are insulated from the heat and do not cook as fast as the tops, so when the tops start to burn, the bottoms are still doughy.

Also in my research, I found one chef who indicated that the dough for the Kouign Amann should not be milk based as milk (and egg used in Danish pastry) promote browning and there is already enough sugar and butter in the dough to cause browning. That means I shouldn’t use the Croissant Dough recipe directly, but should switch to a different ingredient list. It also appears that unlike most pastries, the Brittany pastries are made with salted butter. Interesting.

Finally, I experimented with making disposable pastry rings with aluminum foil and found they work without any problem. I will give directions for making the rings when I post the recipe. (It appears that commercial pastry rings are a little more expensive than I wanted to invest; they are multiple dollars each. So foil rings are the way to go!)

But, using 4 inch pastry rings raises a different problem. It is easy to fit 12 muffin tins in the oven, but I can only get 6 of the larger pastry rings in the oven, so I needed to create a way to make the 12 Kouign Amann in two baking cycles.

After making my second batch of Kouign Amann with foil pastry rings- they worked great- I shipped a couple pastries to my Seattle Muse and got taste-test criticism back. She suggested that I find a local bakery making the pastries and see where the best were. So I located three Portland bakeries that make Kouign Amann, visited them, and bought some product. With the photo of Bakery Nouveau’s product above this article examines those other three versions of Kouign Amann; I am sorry to say up front that I was disappointed in all of them. I then asked my Muse to stop by Bakery Nouveau and buy a Kouign Amann and examine it carefully so I had a better understanding of what I was trying to accomplish.

St. Honore Bakery.
StHonore 001Saint Honore

While I said that Kouign Amann seems to be a dough that is shaped in many ways, this one really surprised me; I can’t quite see what the shape is. I almost appears to be a roll that has had the center poked down to make a nice soft spot. The pastry is made with a 3 inch base, and then is sprinkled with salt. In the words of the bakery, “Buttery and flaky pastry, caramelized and finished with a touch of French sea salt.” I feel that there has been too much heat, and so the whole pastry is caramelized to the point of being uninviting; very crunchy! There is only a small amount of sticky caramel on the top of the pastry.

I think the dough is a good puff pastry that has only been cut into a cake-like piece, and then sprinkled with sugar and salt. The only sweetness in the pastry is in the caramel crust; there is none in the dough, and the dough is cooked very evenly except for the crusting on the exterior.

Little t Bakery.
Little t 001Little t

This is an interesting version of the Kouign Amann. It shows the corners of the pastry, but doesn’t have the soft center spot. It was made in a 4 inch ring. The top -corners- are caramelized nicely, but they are flat against the pastry. And the bottom is rounded. It appears to me that it was baked upside down and the bottom rose like a roll would when baked, thus the round bottom and flat top. The bottom is very dry, and there is a small amount of sticky caramel on the top of the pastry.

Roman Candle Bakery.
RomanCandle 003Roman Candle

This pastry comes the closest to what I am looking for, but has been ruined by having a lot of salt sprinkled on the caramel. The salt is overpowering. It is a 4 inch base, and the corners do stick up. I don’t totally understand the cooking as the bottom has a very deep concave shape that also shows the soft center spot. The bun is very sticky on the bottom but dry on top. The sticky bottom is different from what I am trying to produce

Reexamination of the Bakery Nouveau Kouign Amann
The photo at the top of this article shows the pastry in the same type of view as the other three bakeries’ products. More interesting is that the base of this pastry only measures 3.5 inches. There is a puddle of sweetness in the center of the pastry. My Muse reports that the outer layer of pastry is not overly sweet, but tastes more strongly of butter. The pastry is not sticky from caramel either on top or bottom. The crust pulls away easily and as you work your way into the pastry, it appears more moist in the center.

My Current State.
kouign amann 4 003Errol’s Third Attempt

At this point, I have got a very sweet taste with the soft center. It appears that I need to increase the rise during the proofing of the pastry, and then cook at a hotter temperature to more quickly caramelize the outside without overdoing the center. What is still an issue is the need to get the corners of the pastry to stick up and show off more. Perhaps the smaller pastry rings (3.5 inches) and the greater rise in proofing will eliminate that problem.

My next report on Kouign Amann will hopefully be a recipe with directions for making the Bakery Nouveau experience.

Valentine Day 2016

plate 004

At Christmas, I received cookies from several people, and was struck by the fact that other people make smaller cookies than I do. I mean the recipes call for ‘walnut-size’ or tablespoon size balls of dough, and that seems to define the cookie size. But, when I go to give cookies away, I can only get a few of that size cookie on a paper plate; other people seem to make smaller cookies and get more on a gift plate.

So I decided that for Valentine Day, I would make smaller cookies. My final plate of cookies that I gave away contained:
Ethel’s Sugar Cookies cutout as hearts and decorated with Royal Icing,
Russian Tea Cakes,
Rocky Road Cookies,
Chocolate filled Bon Bon Cookies,
Snickerdoodles,
Two-tone Brownies,
Magic Cookies,
Lemon Squares, and
Fudge.

If you are interested in the recipes for the various cookies, just click and the recipe should come up in a separate tab for review. Below is a photo of how I decorated the cutout cookies.

cutouts 003

The list of cookies (and candy) can be broken into three parts when it comes to making smaller items; the cutout cookies, the drop and molded cookies, and the pan baked cookies (and candy). Each category is a different problem.

For cutout cookies, you are at the mercy of the cookie cutter. Mine was slightly larger than I would have liked. I have some smaller cutters, but I wanted the heart shape and was too impatient to go looking in stores for a smaller one.

For the pan baked cookies, making the smaller size is only a matter of cutting the cookies smaller. I made cuts between 3/4 inches and 1.5 inches, but think probably 1 inch square is the best goal. I do have some thoughts about pan bake cookies; most important is to NOT cut them in the baking pan. That damages the knife blade- dulls it- and scratches the baking pan! I do all my pan baked goods in pans that I have lined with foil with overhang; when they are done cooking and cooled, the foil lifts out easily and you can work on a proper cutting board.

However, where the foil is fitted into the corners of the baking pan, it gets wrinkled, and many times the raw cookie batter will seep into the corner folds and make it very difficult to peel the foil from the cookies. This is especially true with the Magic Cookies; in the future, I would spray the foil to ensure it comes off the cookies easier.

Finally, there are the drop and molded cookies. These are where the work is. I started with the concept that the ‘walnut-size’ or Tablespoon size cookie was the amount of dough I scooped with my #60 scoop- it actually should be a #64, but that is a very small difference. I have a smaller, unmarked scoop, which I have calculated to be about a #120 to #128; that should be 1/2 Tablespoon. I tried using that as a starting point, but felt it was still too big. So I formed into balls the cookie dough using the smaller scoop, and then cut the balls in half. This gave me the size I wanted. That would be about 1.5 teaspoons.

Now I had to do some things to make the cookies right. First, the Bon Bon cookies are normally formed around a chocolate Kiss. I weighed a Kiss, and then chocolate chips and discovered that a Kiss was about equivalent to 11 chips. Since the dough was now about 1/4th of the normal amount of dough, I chose to wrap the Bon Bon around 2 chocolate chips-(maybe I should have used 3). And cooking time with experimentation and errors turns out to be about 2/3 the suggested time for the normal cookie.

For the Rocky Road cookies, I ended up cutting the mini marshmallows in half. All the other drop cookies just needed an adjustment in the cooking time, and all were good using 1/2 the dough from the small scoop.

Now, if you are making smaller cookies, you soon learn that the normal recipe which makes 3 – 4 dozen cookies will make 6 to 8 dozen small cookies. So the second area in which you want to do some changes is probably with the ingredient list of the recipe. In most cases, you will want to cut the amounts in half. If the recipe calls for a single egg, then the trick is to break the egg into a separate bowl and whip it to a scramble, then measure out 2 Tablespoons of the scrambled egg as equivalent to 1/2 an egg.

Holiday Sweets

snickerdoodle 001Snickerdoodles

No matter which holiday you celebrate in December, I am certain there is a place for sweet food. This year, I am making some of my favorites again, and the recipes are already on this blog. I am going to call your attention to some of the many sweet eats that we have already.

Sweet eats come in many forms, although I suspect that many of us think first of cookies and candy. But, there are also dessert breads. And if you are having a party, perhaps a pie or cake will show at your table. If I don’t suggest enough ideas, then I would invite you to click on the “Index of Articles” at the top of the page and see if you can find something that will fill the bill.

Morning BunsMorning Buns

Before I get to the candy and cookies, let me call your attention to a couple bread items. Of course, in the breads there are the standard breakfast fair like Cinnamon Rolls (I actually have two recipes for these) or Cinnamon Bread. I will be making Morning Buns, myself. And then there are dessert breads such as Banana Tea Bread and my favorite- Steamed Bread Pudding!

If you are looking for something real different as a dessert, look at the Paska recipe. It is a winter treat, with candied fruit and all, but not a dense fruit cake.

Chocolate Bark with PeanutsChocolate Bark with Peanuts

In the area of candy, Fudge is always good start. If you want something very simple, I would suggest making a Chocolate Bark with nuts. I will be making Rum Balls because son-in-law James is looking forward to them. To fill out the candy possibilities, there is English Toffee, and Truffles; they both go over very well and make good gifts if you need to take one to someone that is hosting a party.

Cookies are another area where you can go simple, or do something special. Perhaps the easiest cookie I make is the Snickerdoodle; it is the first baking I ever did, and it is still one of my favorite cookies. Daughter Jenn has asked for Karo Lace cookies, and I will make those for her. I will also make a batch of Bon Bon cookies to test making them with almond flour instead of chopping the almonds.

kookie brittleKookie Brittle

Daughter Mindy likes to do her own baking, and she specializes in pan cookies. I will be visiting her and she has promised to make Lemon Squares and Kookie Brittle. Last year, I got the recipe for Slutty Brownies from her when I visited. She also mentioned Magic Cookies, she remembers those as the second kind that Marlys and the girls made each year, because the girls could do most of the work and participate in the cookie making.

Pub CookieGelato di Superior Pub Cookie

You will notice I haven’t mentioned the old standby of chocolate chip cookies. There are many recipes for those, although I only go with the Original Toll House cookie. However, if you would really like to blow someone’ mind with a giant cookie, there are a couple I can suggest. One is the Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie, and the other is the original recipe for the Gelato di Superior Pub Cookie; your recipient will be chewing on one of those cookies for some time!

cutoutsCutout Cookies

And I nearly forgot the cutout cookies; again, these are something you can make with the kids letting them decorate the cookies after they have cooled. I have found the best recipe for making the cutout cookies is Ethel’s Sugar Cookies although the Kammerjunkere cookies also make good cutouts. For the decorating where you want icing, I would go with Royal Icing as it hardens nicely. If you are new to using Icing to decorate your cutout cookies, look at the article I wrote after taking the Cookie Decorating Class. About half way down the article you will find me talking about piping dams with the Royal Icing, and then flooding the area with thinned Royal Icing. I also talk about adding texture using sugars and candy pieces. I think if you make the Royal Icing, your young adult can learn to use it to decorate the cookies.

So, Have a sweet holiday, and we will find something new next year.

Errol

Swiss Vegetable Medley

Swiss Medley 002

While considering various vegetable side dishes for our Thanksgiving pot luck, I pulled out the recipe for this dish – Swiss Vegetable Medley. It is an interesting recipe in that it is simple, but very tasty. It reminds me very much of the “Semi Home Made” style recipe in that all the work seems to be measuring, and there is no processing other than cooking.

I have updated the recipe slightly since inflation has again changed the packaging sizes of some of the ingredients. But it is still the same good side dish. And if you have problems serving broccoli or cauliflower to your troops, those are almost completely hidden in this dish.

Swiss Vegetable Medley

Ingredients

  • 14 oz package frozen broccoli-carrot-cauliflower combo
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) grated swiss cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 oz French fried onions, divided

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Thaw and drain the frozen vegetable combo.
  2. Mix together the soup, 1/2 cup (2 ox.) swiss cheese, sour cream, pepper and 1/2 (1.5 oz.) of the French fried onions. Ad the thawed and drained vegetables.
  3. Put into a 1.5 quart sprayed casserole and bake, covered for 30 minutes.
  4. Top with the leftover onions and cheese and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes, uncovered.


Swiss Medley 003

I was pleasantly surprised to find the frozen vegetable combo still available at my store; so many of the old combos have disappeared from the market. I even found the swiss cheese already grated, and the French’s onion rings are now in a 6 oz package. Everything came together when I shopped.

I tried making the casserole in a 1 quart dish, but it was just too full; thus I am suggesting a larger casserole dish.

Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

Mac Salad 004

This year, for our Thanksgiving pot luck, I made two dishes. The first was a repeat of the Sweet Potatoes and Marshmallows. I made a couple changes to the recipe to try to fix the problems I noted last year. I added a note to the recipe to say what I did, and so would direct you there if you are interested. (It should be Yams and Marshmallows).

Then, while I was considering different vegetable side dishes, it occurred to me that the meat was to be Kalua Pork; our theme was Hawaiian! So I decided that with the pork we should have sticky rice and macaroni salad. After trying to understand what sticky rice was, I decided to do the salad, and that is the recipe I am giving you here.

This salad has a slightly acidic taste from the vinegar rinse. The sauce keeps the macaroni loose; it doesn’t clump up badly. And it has plenty of vegetables.

Mac Salad 001

Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups mayonnaise, divided
  • 2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced thin (5-7 scallions)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups minced celery

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the macaroni and cook until soft; about 10 minutes. Drain, and immediately return the macaroni to the cooking pot and toss with the vinegar. Let cool ten minutes.
  2. In a very large bowl, whisk together half the mayonnaise (1 cup) 1 1/2 cups of the milk, the brown sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Toss the cooled macaroni with the mixed sauce and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Whisk together the remaining mayonnaise (1 cup), milk (1/2 cup).
  5. Once the macaroni and sauce has cooled, fold in the scallions, carrots and celery. Pour the whisked mayo / milk over the salad; toss to coat. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed.
  6. Chill in the refrigerator until cold.


First, when I say to make the sauce in a very large bowl, I mean more than a 4 quart bowl. I started with my 4 quart mixer bowl and it was full when I added the cooked macaroni. I luckily have a 10 quart bowl and so I switched to that to finish the salad. If the macaroni and sauce fill a 4 quart bowl, you still have to add over a quart of vegetables and thicker sauce.

I decided to let the food processor grate my carrots; I don’t like to use the hand grater and spoil my fingers. Anyway, as I got ready, I chopped the carrots so that I could place them in a 1 cup and a 1/2 cup dry measuring cups; they stuck out the top. But the interesting thing is, (and I have found this to be true with other ingredients that need chopping, etc) is that the processed / grated carrots take up almost the same amount of space as the chopped carrots. And because I had the food processor out, I decided to “mince” the celery using the same grater blade and technique of chopping the stalks to fill the cups. It works! The scallions I did do by hand.

I looked at more traditional macaroni salads, and they all seem similar with just a different cast of vegetables. Some use roasted peppers, or ripe olives. Most seem to use scallions. But not many seem to use carrots or celery, things that might be in your vegetable crisper and not need a special trip to the grocery store. I hope you try this version of a macaroni salad and enjoy.