I’m almost all caught up now. But here we have Week 4 of the Baking extravaganza.
Day #22 and #23
This week I was gearing up to make Macarons. I’ve seen people make them on cooking shows, and I’ve seen them wrapped up in pretty pastel bows in pretty colorful boxes. They’re so delicate and dainty. And I’m used to having Macaroons especially on Pesach – the Jewish holiday where you cannot have leavened bread.
Important distinction: Macaroons can trace their story back to Italy, where the flourless and unleavened cookies were originally made with almond paste (in Italian, these cookies are called amaretti). Then two factions developed: some inventive bakers swapped in shredded coconut for the almond paste and others tried making it with ground almonds (finely ground into flour).
The coconut version became really popular with the European Jewish community — the cookie was a perfect treat for Passover because it was unleavened. The version made with ground almonds (spelled macaron in French) was developed in the French court by chefs that the king’s Italian wife, Catherine de Medici, brought from Italy.
I made Macarons. Except I didn’t. My first attempt turned out brown and coarse. They were yummy cookies, but they were NOT Macarons. I was pretty bummed.
The next day I tried again with store bought almond flour. I learned that when you make your own flour out of almonds, you have to start with blanched almonds! Otherwise the brown skins color the flour and create chunks even when you sift the flour over and over again.
So… I followed the recipe to a T and was so proud and pleasantly surprised when I took them out of the oven and … Voila! They were gorgeous. I made Earl Grey Macarons with Honey Buttercream filling that I decided to color pink. I will definitely try other flavor combinations and color pairings when I make them again. I think they’d make great gifts. These get a 5 on the 1 to 5 scale.
After the drama of the Macarons, I was a little sugared out! So I made Braided Basil Pesto Parmesan Bread. The picture on the left is what the recipe should have looked like, and the one on the right is mine. It isn’t really braided, more like twisted. To be honest I cooked it for longer than the recipe called for and it was still paler than I’d have liked, but – it tasted delicious! Savory and fresh, fluffy and pretty. I would make it again, but I would put the cheese IN the bread dough or I’d weave it into the twisting process so the cheese would be more melty and cheesy than crispy like it was when I put it on top. You could make this bread with arugula pesto, sun dried tomatoes, even almond butter or tahini. I was pleased, and I gave it a 4 in taste.
Then my lovely housekeeper Grace who is from Poland was coming over so I looked up Polish baked goods and found the recipe for a Polish Mazurka. It was a very different recipe than anything I’ve made before. It called for hard boiled egg yolks pushed through a sieve. This is where the blind trust comes in. If that what it says, it must be good.
The dough was kind of like shortbread. It was a firm cookie like pastry with the lattice work being put down directly on the bottom of the tart pan (on the tart crust dough). Okie dokie. The ‘color’ goes in after it’s baked. Very different. But the outcome was so pretty kind of like a stained glass window. Grace insisted on cutting into it at my house so I could taste it. She tasted it and said “don’t taste it now”. My heart sank. Then she said “If you taste it now you’re going to want to eat the whole thing it’s sooo good!”. Then my heart sang. I did taste it and I’d give it a 3.75. I was so happy to do something nice for her and have her enjoy it! She does so much for me, she could very well be the nicest person ever!
After that I had lunch with a friend who requested chocolate chip cookies. But of course I’d just made chocolate chip cookies so I made a variation. I’d ordered some 6″ cake pans so I could make smaller cakes. I decided to make a Chocolate Chip Cake in the 6″ cake pan. It was adorable and delicious. It was ooey and gooey and my friend loved it. How can you go wrong with chocolate chip cookies right? They get a 5.
My book group was that Friday night and they’re a vegan group of the most awesome women! I, myself am conflicted about the vegan/non-vegan question. I have moral problems with eating animals, I won’t wear leather, and don’t cook meat at home, I know it’s healthier to skip meat and dairy, but I like them! So for now I’m an omnivore. However, I challenged myself to make a vegan dessert for these gals. I’m so grateful to be a part of this group.
Sometimes I make food that goes along with the theme of our book, which was My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (which I highly recommend), but this time I made Chewy Chai Bars. I used Vegan butter instead of butter, and I used applesauce instead of egg. I learned that you can make Chai (not to be confused with Chai as in L’Chiam) from an assortment of spices. So, I made these bars and they weren’t as gooey as the pictures on the recipe but they came out great. The topping the recipe called for was not a success so I scraped mine off (it was like sugar paste). The ladies loved the bars and they all asked for the recipe! Vegan Success!! I’d give these a 3 – my personal taste. Good for what they are, just not necessarily my cup of tea. (see what I did there… lol).
Finally, I rounded out the week with Orange Butterscotch cookies. These are flavors that would never occur to me. I’d been shopping for some sour cherries for a request I’ll be making next week, and I needed almond extract. While I was in the baking aisle at Treasure Island I saw butterscotch chips and I thought hm… maybe I’ll make something with these some day. And I knew I could have them in the house without being tempted to eat them! I had some oranges on the verge of being done, so easy decision … Orange Butterscotch cookies.
They were easy peasy. 5 minutes to make, 10 minutes to cook and there they were. Done. I packed them up and sent them with Silvina to the hospital for the other doctors. She texted me at 9am to say they loved them! I gave the rest to the garage guys. And I only ate 4! lol.
It was a simple way to finish the week. They were less orangey than I wanted them to be and I’d definitely add more orange next time. I give them a 3.5 (just cuz they’re not chocolate).
And another week of baking comes to a close with big plans for next week! I’m still having fun, and I’m enjoying the blog too. People are very complimentary and I’m making friends left and right lol. Requests are coming in which is great! I love cooking for people. Having never had a big family to cook for I’m finally getting the chance to bake for others and I love it!