Daring Bakers October: A tale of two macaron recipes

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
We have made macarons quite a few times before, but were nevertheless excited when learning about this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. I mean, a) macarons are delicious; b) the possibilities for creativity are endless; and c) it's always fun to try out a new recipe.

The first time we made macarons, we used a recipe from Tartelette. The result wasn't bad for first-timers, but they weren't perfect. The next time, we tried the recipe from our guru for all things sweet, Jan Hedh in his book Passion för Desserter (Passion for Desserts). That's the recipe we have used since, and it has yielded some really good results, and we have even been a bit daring with it.

But what's a good macaron like? Before starting to make them ourselves, we had never had a macaron, so in reality we didn't really know how they're supposed to be in order to be perfect. But a few weeks ago, we got the answer, and it was given to us by no other than the famed Pierre Hermé. Markus went to Paris for a work conference, and "skipped class" to go to Hermé's store and pick up a box of assorted macarons. Unfortunately they got a bit compromised by traveling, so they didn't look perfect, but the taste... oh dear god, how delicious! There was 12 different flavors (two of each!), all delicious. Markus liked the champagne one best, I fell in love with the olive oil and vanilla (sounds weird, but the flavor was so delicate), and we both let out a big sigh of pleasure when biting into the fleur de sel caramel. We didn't take any pictures, but if you want to see what Pierre Hermé's macarons are like you can take a look at this post on Nook & Pantry. We had quite a few of the flavors described there.

So now we know what a perfect macaron is like. Would Claudia Fleming's recipe lead us to that holy grail of pastry making?

It's sometimes hard to stop yourself when coming up with macaron flavors but we limited ourselves to two, probably quite original, flavors: Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons and Tiramisu macarons.

By coincidence, we started with the gingerbread macarons. We could tell that there was trouble afoot when we were making them - the proportions seemed kind of odd, and the macaronage (the batter) did not behave the expected way when Markus piped it. Also, the temperatures and baking times seemed a bit strange. In the private forum of the Daring Bakers, I found that Clumbsy Cookie shared my apprehensions about temperatures and timings. As Clumbsy is a lady who knows her way around the sweet stuff, I followed her adjustment of times and temp's, and baked for 6-7 minutes at 170°C and then for three more minutes at 150°C.

Aaaaaand... fail!

These aren't macarons, people. They were, however, very tasty - kind of a chewy meringue cookie. Actually, they were so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of them with the filling before eating them all!

We still had the batch of tiramisu macarons to make, and we agreed that we didn't want to waste more ingredients and time on a recipe that could fail us again. You see, we make our own almond flour for macarons, a time-consuming process which involves:
  1. blanching almonds
  2. peeling them
  3. drying the peeled almonds in the oven for about 1 hour at low temperature (100°C)
  4. letting them cool
  5. grinding them in our very efficient but kind of small almond mill
  6. sifting the almond meal to make sure it's very fine

Our awesome almond mill. Thanks grandma!

Yes, I realize the truly daring thing would have been to give Claudia Fleming's recipe another go, but instead we decided to use Jan Hedh's recipe for the second kind of macarons, and figure out what the differences between them are.

So, here's the macarons we made using Jan Hedh's recipe. They're not perfect (we think the most perfect macarons we've made are the lavender ones which can be found in this post), but they're like a 1000 percent better than the above pictured fiasco!

So, what's the differences between the two recipes?
  1. Proportions of ingredients: See the interactive recipe scaler below. In short, the largest difference is the amount of sugar, where Jan Hedh's recipe calls for much more per egg.
  2. Drying before baking: Hedh's recipe calls for drying the piped out shells at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before baking them.
  3. Baking time and temperature: The official recipe called for 93°C for 5 minutes, followed by 190°C for 7–8 minutes while Jan Hedh called for 7–8 minutes in 170°C.
To make the ingredient comparison more clear, Markus made an interactive ingredient scaling Javascripty thingy (fingers crossed, and hope it's working).

The official recipe
Egg Whites
225gConfectioner's Sugar
190gAlmond Flour

Jan Hedh's recipe
100gEgg White
200gConfectioner's Sugar
100gAlmond Flour
5gLemon Juice

Now, let's talk about flavors!

Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons
Gingerbread and blue cheese may sound like a weird combination, but a slice of blue cheese on top of a Swedish gingerbread cookie (pepparkaka) is a very popular treat in Sweden during advent and Christmas, often served with a glass of hot glögg. We flavored the shells with four teaspoons gingerbread spice mix (ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom), which gave a perfect gingerbread taste to the shells, and made a blue cheese cream for filling. These were really tasty, and we'll definitely make them again for the holiday season - actually they were so good that we made a second batch, using the Jan Hedh recipe. After all, we still had some filling left.

Blue cheese filling

140 g firm blue cheese (we use Swedish Kvibille Ädel, similar to Danish blue cheese)
75 g whipped cream

Mix the cheese and the whipped cream. The way to get a uniform, smooth cheese cream is to cut the cheese into smaller pieces and chuck them in the freezer the day before. Then you give the frozen cheese a good whirl in a food processor until you have very fine cheese crumbles. Mix them with the whipped cream. Smear between two gingerbread macaron shells.

Tiramisu macarons
Tiramisu is one of our favorite desserts: savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits dipped in coffee and layered with an Amaretto flavored mascarpone zabayone. We made coffee flavored macaron shells, and used the mascarpone zabayone for filling. We were out of Amaretto, but since macarons already are almond flavored, it didn't really matter. However, we added a bit too much coffee powder to the macaron shells - we used 1½ teaspoon, but really one teaspoon would have been enough. Apart from that, these were good. We had planned to dust the shells with some cacao powder before baking them (tiramisu is decorated with a dusting of cacao), but we forgot. Instead, we dusted some cacao over the filling before sandwiching the cookies together.

Mascarpone zabayone
1 egg, divided
2½ tbsp sugar
100 g mascarpone cheese

Whip the egg white to stiff peaks. Whip the sugar and egg yolk until the mixture is light and airy. Stir in the mascarpone. Fold in the egg whites carefully. Place in the fridge so that the mixture sets before filling the macaron shells. If you like, you can dust a little bit of cacao powder over the filling.

Thank you Ami for this challenge! Even though we didn't succeed with the Claudia Fleming recipe, we had fun making this. Make sure to visit the Daring Kitchen for recipes, pictures and lots of other good stuff, and pay a visit to other Daring Bakers through the blogroll!



I know: that's a lot of weird looking characters in the title... must be something Swedish. Why, yes it is! There are a few modern Swedish loan words in the English language, ombudsman is one of them, and smorgasbord is another. The “Smörgåstårta” is closely related to the smörgåsbord (as we write it, since we have three more letters than you do). It's basically a cake topped with a smorgasbord!

Naturally you don't want to make it a regular cake (spongecake and whipped cream/fondant), since you're topping it with savory stuff, so the base takes some creativity to work.

Looking back at the word “smörgåsbord” it's actually a compound consisting of “smörgås” (open top sandwich), and “bord” (table). I guess the original meaning is a large variety of toppings for an open top sandwich served on a separate table. The word “smörgåstårta” is also a compound consisting of “smörgås” (again) and “tårta” (cake, etymologically the same word as tort). This holds the key to making the cake base: bread!

Rather than baking the bread ourselves, we brought two large loves of toast bread, cut them down to even squares, and assembled them to form a large sheet cake. To “glue” the layers of bread together we used a filling made of spiced cheese and crayfish. The spiced cheese is a bit of a specialty (I doubt you can find anything similar if you don't know where Boxholm is located), but it's basically regular cheese that has been aged with caraway and cloves.

The sheet cake (we ended up with three layers) is covered in a mix of mayonnaise and crème fraîche, and then decorated with whatever you want on it.

A lot of sliced toast bread
Crème Fraîche

Spiced cheese and crayfish filling
150 g crayfish tails
50 g aged spiced cheese, grated
1 tbsp dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp crème fraîche
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp caraway seeds, ground (use a mortar and pestle)

Ham (rolls)
Smoked salmon
Lemon slices
... you can basically have whatever you like/think looks tasty.

This post is horribly late, I had some trouble finding the recipe for this write-up. We enjoyed it on Jenny's birthday more than a month ago... If you ever have the chance to try this Swedish delicacy, do not hesitate, it is truly delicious!


Phở Ga 2.0

Some week or so ago, we made Vietnamese chicken noodle soup - Phở Ga - with the Daring Cooks. We were disappointed with the results, but saved the leftover broth in the freezer to try to improve it at some point in the future. Turns out the future was today, mainly due to a whole bunch of fresh cilantro that we forgot to use in yesterday's dinner.

We added more toasted spices - maybe 6 whole cloves, 3 whole star anise and 2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds. We also charred a large onion and a big chunk of ginger and added those, together with a large bunch of stems from the fresh cilantro. We brought the broth to a healthy boil, added chicken breast and thighs, boiled those for about 15-20 minutes, and then boiled the soup for another 20 minutes or so.

And guess what! It was delicious! More flavorful and complex; you could definitely taste the warm fragrant spices, the ginger and the onion. So, the key to making a nice Phở Ga was: more vigorous boiling for a longer time plus extra spices and more ginger and onion. A lot of Daring Cooks were very happy with the original recipe, but next time we're making
Phở, we'll make sure to up the amounts of flavoring and increase the cooking time.

I'm so happy that the challenge turned out satisfying in the end. Thanks to our fellow Daring Cooks for their encouragement in comments on the original post, and to Jaden of the Steamy Kitchen for sharing her recipes!


The best cheese and cracker!

You know those flavor combinations that are totally unexpected but just knocks you off your feet? This is one of those. I even had to make a new label category for this: perfect pairings. We can't take credit for it though; it comes from the Swedish food magazine Allt Om Mat (we've subscribed for something like five years, and keep every issue. Nothing we've ever made from it has turned out bad).

So, what's this perfect pairing then? It's a biscotti-like biscuit with almonds, vanilla, sesame seeds and anise, that you serve with strawberry-apple jam and a slice of chèvre (goat's cheese). The combination of flavors and textures is spot on. The biscuit is crunchy and sweet, but not overly so, and you can definitely taste both the sesame seeds, the anise and the vanilla. Together with the salty, creamy chèvre and the sweet strawberry jam with a slight tang from the apples, this is perfect matchmaking of flavors.

Markus made a batch of the strawberry-apple jam this summer when fresh strawberries were cheap and in abundance. I never got around to making the biscuits then, but I decided that it was time now, before we run out of jam (it's also great with freshly baked scones).

Like most biscotti recipes I have come across, the dough has a tendency to crumble and fall apart (I remember being nearly in tears trying to make lavender biscotti with a particularly unccoperative dough). Instead of rolling the dough out, you might find it easier to sort of squeeze-shape it into long sausage-shaped rolls.

Sesame biscuits with chèvre and strawberry-apple jam

Sesame Biscuits

makes about 40

1 dl almonds
100 g butter, at room temperature
½ dl sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar
2 tsp ground anise
2 eggs
5 dl flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ dl sesame seeds (black or white)

Set the oven to 175°C.
Chop the almonds.
Mix butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and anise. Add the eggs, one at the time, and mix them in well.
Mix the flour and the baking powder and add to the batter.
Last, add the sesame seeds and chopped almonds.
Shape the dough into two rolls, about 40 cm long. Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet and flat them out slightly with your hand.
Bake for 20 minutes, remove them from the oven and let cool. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C. Cut the rolls, slightly diagonal to make the biscuits larger, into slices about 1½ cm thick. Lay them down so that the cut surface is up. Put them back in the oven and let them dry for about 25 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack.

Strawberry-Apple Jam

makes about 4 dl

1 apple
200 g fresh strawberries
1 tbsp water
½ tbsp lemon juice
3 dl jelling sugar*

Peel and core the apple and cut it into small cubes. Cut the strawberries into smaller pieces.
Put apple, strawberries, water and lemon juice in a pan, bring to a boil and let it boil for five minutes. Add the jelling sugar, bring to a boil again and boil for three more minutes.
Pour the jam into a clean jar, let it cool and store in the fridge.

*jelling sugar (syltsocker in Swedish) is sugar with added pectine, citric acid and potassium sorbate.

To assemble: Put a slice of chèvre on a biscuit, and top with a spoonful of jam. Devour!


Daring Cooks October: Phở Ga (and a little extra something)

Fall is here: the days are getting shorter, the temperature is creeping towards zero, and the trees are showing off their new colors of orange, red and yellow. It's the perfect season to escape to the kitchen and make stews and casseroles, apple pie and hot chocolate. Or as in this month's Daring Cooks challenge: a flavorful, warm soup.

The Daring Cooks had a special guest host this month, Jaden Hair of the blog Steamy Kitchen, who just published her first cookbook: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. As the challenge, she graciously shared her recipe for a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, Phở Ga.

We had great expectations for this challenge. I love noodle soups, and Vietnamese food has never disappointed me. I remember the Phở Ga I had at a small Vietnamese place in a back road in Jordan, Hong Kong. It was packed with flavor of warm, fragrant spices, the noodles were perfectly cooked and the chicken oh so tender.

I was very excited about getting to recreate something so yummy in my own kitchen. We could either do a quick version of Phở, using store-bought chicken stock, or a longer version, where you make the chicken stock yourself. We of course opted for the longer version - making the broth from scratch would surely mean that the soup would be super delicious!

Meet the meat, up close and personal.

We followed the recipe perfectly, and even threw in an extra chicken carcass that we had laying in the freezer, to get some extra bone and marrow in there. We took great care to toast the spices and char the ginger and onion - these are steps that both Jaden and other Daring Cooks said were essential in creating a rich, flavorful broth. Judging from the smell coming from the oven and the stove, it would indeed be lovely.

We had started cooking kind of late, so the clook was approaching 9pm when I finally dipped a spoon into the broth in anticipation of what was to follow: the taste of a rich broth with layers of flavor from the spices.

Total anticlimax.

The broth was watery, and didn't taste much else than chicken fat. We were so disappointed. We really don't know what went wrong. We both went back and re-read the recipe, but no, we hadn't missed anything. The only reasons we could come up with as to why the broth was so flavorless were:
1. We couldn't find whole coriander seeds, only ground. We used the same amount, they were fresh and had a lot of aroma, so I can't imagine that this would have done that much for the end result.
2. It hadn't been simmering enough. The recipe said to simmer for 1½ hours on "low". We did exactly that - we even let it simmer for closer to two hours, but maybe we should have cranked up the heat a little bit to get some more bubbles going. We think this was problem.

We ate the soup with all the sides: rice noodles, the cooked chicken breast, bean sprouts, red onions, red chilies, freshly squeezed lime and fresh cilantro. We had also found sriracha sauce in the store (another bottle of strange condiments for the fridge), and we found ourselves pouring a lot of sriracha into the soup to make it taste something.

While we were eating, we had turned up the heat on the stove so that the broth was simmering more vigorously. The recipe yielded a lot of broth, and the idea was to freeze the remainder, so that we can make more Phở in the future. I want to say that the broth tasted more after it had boiled for another hour or so, but I couldn't really tell, so maybe that's just me wanting to like this recipe. Because I really want it to be great. It has potential, definitely. But in this version, I'm sorry to say, it was only... meh.

Anyway, the remainder of the broth is now in the freezer, and I hope that when I thaw it, heat it and add those lovely Phở ingredients, I will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe the extra boiling was the secret key to a flavorful, rich Phở. I will report back when we have tried it.

The recipe for the long version of Phở Ga can be found on the Steamy Kitchen blog. Jaden also has a recipe for a beef Phở (the challenge said that we could do chicken, beef, seafood or vegetarian/vegan). The recipe for the quick version of Phở Ga can be found on the Daring Kitchen website, where you also can see the other Daring Cooks' creations.

The fine print:
The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

But wait, there's more!

As a bonus, Jaden gave us her recipe for deep fried chocolate wontons (you'll find the recipe in the Daring Kitchen). This optional challenge was to make a creative wonton dessert. Sadly there were no wonton wrappers in our grocery store, and it was way too cold to bike across town to the Chinese shop (we got our first snowfall yesterday; it didn't stay on the ground, but still kind of early in the year), so I had to use phyllo dough instead. I hope this will count as "in the spirit of the challenge"! Voilà, my dessert:

Ganache filled banana in a wrapper

Bananas (the thicker and straighter, the better)
Dark chocolate ganache (I used this recipe)
Phyllo dough
Melted butter
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Vanilla ice cream
Caramel sauce (I used this recipe, scroll down for caramel sauce)

Peel the bananas and cut them in smaller sections of about 5 cm. Use an apple corer to make a hole through the banana (this is why you want straight and thick bananas).

Bananas with holes, ready to be filled with ganache.

Make sure your ganache is soft but not runny. Use a pastry bag to fill the banana with ganache (this didn't work for me so I had to use my fingers, which was messy but got the job done). Place the chocolate filled bananas (standing up) in the freezer for about one hour.

Things to remember about phyllo dough: the sheets are very delicate and need to be stored under a wet cloth, otherwise they'll dry out and break apart!

Cut the phyllo dough into squares of about 15×17 cm. Take a sheet of phyllo, brush it with some melted butter, and put another sheet on top. Place a chocolate-filled banana piece on the short end of the square, roll it up and twist the ends (carefully!) to make it look like wrapped candy.

Place your little packages in the freezer for at least twenty minutes. Heat the oil for deep frying. Deep fry two rolls at the time for 2-3 minutes, turning them halfway through. Place on a paper towel to get rid of excess oil before plating. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

Needless to say, this was incredibly yummy!


Carrot soup

No creativity for smalltalk (smallblogging?) today, I'll just get straight to the recipe. This soup, with its vibrant color, creamyness and subtle heat, was the perfect lunch for a gray October Monday. If you want something more substantial with it, I recommend Indian nan bread, especially the cheese variety.

Carrot-Coconut soup

2 large portions

250 g carrots
½ large red onion
A chunk of fresh ginger (about 2 cm)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ancho chili powder
½ tsp turmeric
4 dl coconut milk
1 dl water
Sesame oil

For serving: fresh cilantro, sour cream, coconut flakes

Peel and slice the carrots, onion and ginger. Heat the oil in a pot, add the vegetables, cumin and ancho chili, and fry, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add turmeric, coconut milk and water, and let the soup boil on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Mix the soup until smooth (I use an immersion blender). Add salt and pepper to taste, and also a few drops of sesame oil (I find the flavor and smell of sesame oil to be overpowering, so it's usually just a drop or two for me). Garnish with a sprinkling of coconut flakes, some fresh cilantro and a small dollop of sour cream.


Last rhubarb of the season

Sorry about the scarce posting lately, I guess we haven't been in a blogging mood. While we wait for inspiration to return, I'll give you the recipe for a delicious rhubarb cake. I made it from the last fresh rhubarb of the season that dad brought me from his garden. I decided to make a rhubarb cake with some lovely oriental flavors: pistachios, cardamom and rose. A final taste of summer while rain beats on the windows and the days are shrinking away...

Oriental rhubarb cake
(adapted from Allt Om Mat)

For the crumble:

1½ dl pistachios
1 dl flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ dl sugar
100 g cold butter

For the cake:
2 large rhubarb stalks
½ tbsp rose water
175 g butter
2½ dl sugar
2 eggs
2½ dl sour cream
5 dl flour
2 tsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Set the oven to 175°C.
Make the crumble: in a mixer, combine flour, sugar and cardamom. Add the pistachios and mix until the nuts are coarsly chopped. Add the cold butter in small cubes and run the mixer until you have a crumble. Cover and place in the fridge until later.
Peel the rhubarb and cut the stalks into pieces of about 2 cm. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with rose water and set aside while you make the cake batter.
Mix butter and sugar until the mixture is light and airy. Add the eggs and mix them in. Add the sour cream. Mix the dry ingredients and add them to the batter. Do not overmix!
Spread the batter into a buttered and breaded springform pan with a diameter of about 25 cm. Poke the rhubarb pieces down into the batter.
Place in the lower part of the oven about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the crumble over the cake and bake for another 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry.