Tag Archives: powdered sugar

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.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

This is an very interesting cookie and recipe; it is sort of a BOGO thing. Mexican Wedding Cookies ((Polvorones) and Russian Tea Cakes are almost the same recipe; the only difference in the way I make them is in the type of nut flour I use and the shape into which I make the cookie. Notice that I said “in the way I make them”; a lot of other peoples’ recipes do not make any difference in the two. My basic recipe is a Short Bread cookie dough, with nut flour added; there is no leavening or egg in the recipe. You will find other recipes that add egg to the basic Short Bread, and do not differentiate on the type of nut flour. In most cases, these are all called Mexican Wedding Cookies. I have seen recipes that use pecans, walnuts or almonds, all calling them Mexican Wedding Cookies.

MWC 001

A Short Bread recipe is fairly simple and short; it contains fat, sugar, flour and flavoring. This recipe adds the nut flour to make the cookies. For Mexican Wedding Cookies, the nut flour is ground pecans, and for the Russian Tea Cakes the nut flour is ground walnuts. The second differentiation I make is in the shape of the cookie; while I leave the Russian Tea Cakes as balls, I roll the Mexican Wedding Cookies into crescents. I have seen Mexican Wedding Cookies that make them as a ball that looks exactly like the Russian Tea Cakes. This picture is my Russian Tea Cakes.

RTC 001

So, with this recipe, you can make either Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Tea Cakes, and if you want to interpret the recipe in your own way, feel free. You may make your cookies with any nut flour you want, and you may shape your cookies any way you want. I am only showing you the way I learned.

The nut flours are easy to make; they do not have to be ground to a powder, but just enough to be easy to handle in the dough. The way I make mine is in a food processor. I have found that it is best to run a knife through the nut halves a couple times before putting them in the food processor so the projectiles the spinning blades throw do not have as much mass; it scares me to hear the nut halves hit the side of the processor bowl. I think once when I did just dump the halves in the processor, I actually cracked a piece of the plastic of the processor bowl. Once in the processor, just pulse it a few times; there will still be a few discernible pieces, but for the most part you will have a fine enough grind to make the nut flour.

Mexican Wedding Cookies and Russian Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup nut flour

Directions

  1. For the nut flour, measure out the desired type of nuts, cut any large pieces, then finely grind in food processor or blender. I use pecans for Mexican Wedding Cookies and walnuts for Russian Tea Cakes.
  2. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. In large bowl with electric mixer beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until blended. On low speed, beat in flour and nut flour just until blended.
  4. Roll Tablespoons of dough into shape; smooth 1-inch balls for Russian Tea Cakes or crescents for Mexican Wedding Cookies. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until firm (cookies may crack slightly).
  6. To Coat: put confectioners’ sugar into a wide bowl. Add hot cookies, a few at a time and toss carefully to coat. Remove with a spoon to wire rack to cool. When cool, roll again in confectioners’ sugar.


There are a couple tricks I should mention when making the crescent Mexican Wedding cookies. To roll out the Tablespoon of dough into a cylinder, I found that the best method was to roll across my bottom hand in a 45 degree direction, with my top hand doing the motion from little finger to first finger and back again. When I rolled at 90 degrees, the ending shape was wider in the middle than at the ends and didn’t make as nice a finished cookie.

Notice that the recipe says to remove with a spoon to the wire rack. If you try to pick the crescent up with your fingers, there is a good chance that it will break into two pieces. The spoon does not put any pressure against the legs and seems to save more cookies that when just using your fingers.

Once when I was making Mexican Wedding Cookies I rolled the unbaked crescents in the confectioners’ sugar before baking, and then again when they came out of the oven and were hot. This worked quite well. After all, the object is to get as much powdered sugar as possible on the cookies, isn’t it?

Lemon Squares

These small nuggets of goodness give your mouth a burst of freshness when your taste buds are starting to complain about all the chocolate you have been eating. There are many recipes for Lemon Squares, but I think you will find this recipe simple and tasty.

lemon squares 001

Lemon Squares

Ingredients:

Crust:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
Filling:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
Topping:
  • Powdered sugar

Directions:

Mix together butter, 1/4 cup sugar and flour for the crust. Press on bottom of an 8 x 8 or 7 x 11 pan and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.

Mix all Filling ingredients together and pour over crust while it is hot and bake the Lemon Squares for an additional 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar Topping. Cut into small squares and serve.

There are many variations of recipes for all cookies, and Lemon Squares or Lemon Bars are not different. I tasted a frosted Lemon Square over the holidays, and it was just as interesting a taste as this recipe. But, I think you will find this recipe as an excellent starting point for any variations you might want to make.