Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spiced Macarons with Pumpkin Brown Butter Cream Cheese Buttercream

My affinity for macarons began when I was sixteen. One biteand I was in love. It was like heaven had descended in my mouth—the crackle of the crisp shell, the chewiness of the macaron cookie, held together with the richest, deepest caramel buttercream.

I’ve travelled far and wide in search of delicious macarons. Like croissants, they are of the impossibly-difficult-to-make-at-home variety. I’ve heard the horror stories: the lumps, the oil stains, the flat cookies.

French pastries and desserts, in my opinion, are best enjoyed over a cup of coffee with a friend, sitting on the patio of a bustling bakery in a quaint neighbourhood on a beautiful spring day. That was what I thought, anyways, until I actually tried making macarons at home.

I had avoided the inevitable for as long as possible. I had tried to stop making custards and crème brulee and other egg yolk based desserts. I had eaten rather flavourless egg white omelettes. I had used up leftover egg whites to make Swiss meringue buttercream.

But then then it happened. A couple Fridays ago, my younger brother attempted to make a custard for a chocolate ice cream base. I came home later to Kyle dejectedly standing over the stove, stirring an unsalvageable curdled chocolate custard.

“We can still use it, right?” he asked hopefully, as if the ice cream machine could turn the lumpy mixture into a light, smooth ice cream. I shook my head and told him that I would take care of throwing out the curdled custard if he would separate some more eggs to make a new one. With ten egg whites in my fridge, I knew it was time to attempt the infamous macaron.

My first tray of macarons ended up spreading and cracking, but surprisingly, my second tray of macarons, which had rested an additional twenty minutes on the counter, came out rather well. In the end, I was able to produce eight decent-looking macarons. Beginner’s luck, perhaps...?

Click below for the recipe.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Red Velvet Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I have a problem with punctuality. Time is just such an abstract concept to me. I attempt to devote a certain amount of time to completing a task, but more often than not, I won’t stop until I’m confident that I've completed it to the best of my ability. Eyeliner usually takes me five minutes in the morning, but I would not be hard pressed to spending another ten (rather than eat breakfast) to perfect my cat eye. After all, who wants to face the world with crooked eyeliner?

In the middle of October, two of my friends celebrated their sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays. I promised to make them Red Velvet Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting as birthday presents. I had planned to wake up early Saturday morning, bake and frost the cakes, and then pick my best friend Jenny up for lunch before I dropped her off at work.

Obviously, my time management skills are not up to par. It took a good three hours of measuring, sifting, beating, whipping, and frosting to make the cakes. I ended up driving to Jenny’s house an hour late. It’s a given in our friendship that one of us will be at least twenty minutes late, but an hour is rare. I apologized profusely and mentally abated myself for spending so much time making the cakes.

Of course, all good things take time. A light and fluffy cake requires vigorous beating of the butter and sugar and diligent sifting of the dry ingredients. A light, creamy, and rich frosting requires bringing up the egg whites and sugar to 160F, beating the meringue until cool, and whipping the frosting on high speed until it finally comes together.

The things I learn in the kitchen...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bailey's Chocolate Cheesecake

I guest-posted this Bailey's Chocolate Cheesecake on Elizabeth's blog, Four and Twenty Blackberries, last month.

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Last summer, I did co-op at a bakery. After each work day ended, I headed to the library to enjoy the air conditioning study. On one occasion, Jenny and I met at the library to do math homework together. As I worked through problem sets, she sauntered off to look through the rows and rows of cook books. The cook books are located right beside the math and physics textbooks, as luck would have it, or misfortune (considering how distracted we would be).  

After a little while, Jenny returned with an armful of cookbooks. Among the cook books was Chocolate Cakes, by Elinor Klivans. The book was completely devoted to chocolate cakes—it’s almost unnecessary to say that my math homework was promptly cast aside as I opened flipped through the pristine pages.  

Chocolate Whiskey Cake, Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate Chiffon Cake, and Chocolate Zebra Cake were just some of the recipes that caught my eye. But what I really wanted to try was the Brandied Chocolate Cheesecake. In my mind of course, I would replace the brandy with a healthy splash of my favourite alcohol, Bailey’s Irish Cream.

After all those months of imagining and dreaming of Bailey’s Chocolate Cheesecake, I finally had time to make one last weekend. One morning, I woke up early (9AM on a weekend morning is early), and while the rest of my family was asleep, I opened the cabinets in the kitchen and banged the pots and pans around making a cheesecake.

In an attempt to prevent my cheesecake from cracking like the Lemon Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake had , I underbaked the cheesecake until it was almost set in the center, turned the heat off, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for several hours. I went out for the day; when I came home, I was delighted to find that my cheesecake had a smooth, uniform surface, free of cracks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Sorbet

So, it turns out that Skype requires a lot of bandwidth—so much bandwidth that my older brother, as our family’s unofficial internet scorekeeper, proclaimed that never again could I engage in three hour Skype calls. Ever.

For the record, it was actually a two hour call; during the first hour, I had so many problems connecting the call that I eventually gave up staring at my phone and started cleaning my room. It turns out that my wi-fi sucks and Skype works a whole lot better on my desktop computer.

It’s not my fault that Skype works so well. Maybe if it was as choppy on my desktop as it was on my phone, I would have gone on with life believing that Skype sucked and that there was no way of chatting comfortably online with people who live halfway around the world.

My friend and I skyped again several days later. That night when we were eating dinner, my brother officiously declared that we were dangerously close to going over our internet plan and that we would have to drastically “slow our internet usage”.  

I gave up Skype for a couple weeks and busied myself with other endeavours, like school and homework and making this Vegan Chocolate Sorbet. (My mom bought me an ice cream machine; I think she wants me to return Jenny’s ice cream machine, which I’d been “borrowing” for the better part of three months and is currently still sitting on my counter.)

Considering that this chocolate ice cream is made without dairy or eggs, it’s surprisingly creamy.  It’s deeply chocolate-y and so, so good that you won’t even miss the cream.

Click below for the recipe.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vegan Gluten-Free Upside Down Pineapple Cake

First-World Problems: dilemmas that arise from having too much. 
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As a teenager from a middle class family living in Canada, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t occasionally blurt out a shallow, petty, or insignificant comment about a problem that many people in the world would be glad to have.

The most prominent example that comes to mind is whenever I hang out with my artsy fartsy, yearbook editor friend Tammy. We’re both foodies, so whenever we do something together, it generally involves food. Often times, we’re torn between spending our money at our favourite sushi place or at our favourite burger joint (or on macarons at our favourite macaron bakery).

I don’t mean to come off as petty or superficial. I know that I am incredibly, incredibly lucky to live the life that I do. I am thankful. I am thankful for so much.

I am thankful that I live in Canada. I am thankful that I have basic human rights. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to go to school to educate myself. I am thankful that there are so many books at the library that are free for the borrowing.

I am thankful that I have such awesome friends who have made me into a better person. I am thankful that I have such a great family that supports me (mostly). I am thankful that my mom wholeheartedly backs my baking ventures and doesn’t hesitate when I ask her to buy vodka so I can make my own vanilla extract.

I am thankful that I can try new things, like this Vegan Gluten-Free Upside Down Pineapple Cake. I am doubly thankful that I can attempt the cake, fail, and have the chance to try again.

This is one of those cakes that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating, as it contains no butter, no eggs, and no cream. Don’t be put off by the long ingredient list—stirring together the cake batter is a cinch.

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for?

Click below for the recipe.

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