Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Boule: Another macaron attempt

Working my way through this list of places to get macarons in L.A., I finally made it to Boule. I only purchased three flavors here, after having purchased a whole box at Paulette; I realized that it was a risk to buy macarons at a new place, and at $2 per cookie, I felt it prudent to spend less than $10. Yes, prudence applied to a decadent purchase!

I feel that I was wise to choose just these three; I enjoyed the fresh flavors of the rose, caramel, and pistachio, and the colors were much more natural than Paulette. The rose is topped with a sugared piece of rose petal, the caramel was an interesting burnt sugar flavor, and the pistachio was nice.

The delicate macaron texture, however, was lacking. I'm afraid I'll sound picky and pretentious, but these were disappointing. Not as bad as the super chewy ones I had at Paulette, just a little too stiff. I wish I had taken a picture of one after I had taken a bite of it, because a profile shot would show what exactly was disappointing about it: once bitten, the outer layer of cookie remained firm in shape while the inner portion of the cookie sort of collapsed around the filling - imagine a pocket of air under a thin shell on the outside. I can't help but contrast these to those I purchased at Pierre Hermé; PH's macarons were so tender and delicate that they got crushed just a bit when I carried them in a bag for about 10 minutes, while Boule's were in a bag for even longer but didn't have a single dent in them (see above). To me, that is a sign of an overly stiff macaron. What is the point of buying the most delicate cookie in existence if it's not delicate?

So, my favorite L.A. macaron remains that from Europane, with the macaron ice cream sandwiches at Milk a close second. Then again, I'm no expert, so try it yourself and tell me what you think!

408 La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(alternate location in Beverly Hills)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

I am in love with this bread. I've been meaning to make it for weeks with some leftover beer in the fridge, and finally got it together today. The ingredients are few, it only got one bowl dirty, and the aroma filled the apartment quickly. Once cooled, this slightly sweet, hearty bread had great flavor. I think I would even buy beer for the purpose of making this bread!

Whole Wheat Beer Bread
Based on this white beer bread recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together:
1/2 C all-purpose flour (try subbing whole wheat flour)
2 1/2 C whole wheat flour (King Arthur's White Whole Wheat is a nice, fine flour)

Mix in:
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 C sugar

Once the dry ingredients are well mixed, add:
1 (12-oz.) bottle of beer

Pour batter (should be foamy and thick, but light enough to stir well) into a greased or parchment paper-lined loaf pan.

Pour 3 T melted butter over the batter.
Bake for 1 hour, remove from pan and cool at least 15 minutes. See original recipe for notes on baking with non-alcoholic beer.

I decided to top it with a nutty honey butter, so I tossed some margarine, honey, walnuts, and a teeny touch of brandy into the food processor for a spin. Voilà! So good that I've gotta give half of the loaf to my neighbor...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps Replay

I finally put my NEW Kitchen Aid to its first use this week by making the Chez Panisse Gingersnaps again. I must appreciate the fact of having a Kitchen Aid; I remember realizing in junior high that other people, families even, did not have a Kitchen Aid. This realization shocked me, since I'd so easily made chocolate chip cookies many times in my mother's Kitchen Aid. While I do make things now that necessitate a stand mixer far more than cookies, I still appreciate the wonderful ease of throwing cookie ingredients into the Kitchen Aid and having the batter made up quickly for me in my lovely mixer.

So, my very own Kitchen Aid was broken in with these gingersnaps, to predictably well-mixed results. This time I dipped each cookie in raw sugar on the top side to make it prettier, and it was great with a cup of tea. These are easy to throw together; just make a day ahead and stick the dough in the freezer, ready to bake whenever you're ready. If you prefer them soft, store them with pieces of bread so that they'll take the moisture from the bread; if not, store them airtight. Nothing like a spicy cookie to welcome the fall season!

Kosher Funny

For any of you Hebrew readers out there, I thought this was funny.

(and if you don't read Hebrew, I'll explain that this is funny because the exact words "Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt" are transcribed into Hebrew above the English; with the exception of the word for "kosher," which is written correctly in Hebrew, all the other words could have been written with the Hebrew words that mean "diamond," "crystal," and "salt" but instead they are just written with the Hebrew letters that will cause someone to pronounce the words just as the English words would be pronounced.)

Anyways, I think it's funny.

Notes on Guimauve

My marshmallow-making experiences in the last month have confirmed the, um, resilient nature of my recipe of choice. Not only does it turn out fine (fine = tastes good enough to serve to other people!) if I over whip the egg whites (although it does fall at a certain point and create a more gelatin-y marshmallow) or if the liquid is as much as 1/4 C more than the recipe calls for (although the mallows may need to dry a bit longer once cut), but it also is versatile because it may be formed in interesting ways. So far I have successfully formed them with a cookie cutter, as with the marshmallow baby rattles I made, and now by piping a stiffly whipped guimauve with icing piping bags.

When I piped the mallow with a medium round tip, I was able to create the marshmallow kisses pictured above, pipe cursive letters, and even form simple shapes like little ducklings. I'm thinking these would be fun decorations for cakes and cookies, but for pop-in-the-mouth goodness, the best were the marshmallow kisses dipped entirely in chocolate (in the background below). Yum!

I also tried some new flavors that turned out well:

Butter (salty/sweet):
per whole guimauve recipe:
4 tsp. Wilton butter flavoring
coat marshmallows in a mixture of equal parts confectioner's sugar with granulated sugar, with a few pinches of kosher salt added

per whole guimauve recipe:
3 tsp. fresh coconut water
3 tsp. coconut extract (imitation if necessary)
coat marshmallows in granulated sugar (which will form a nice sugary crust on the outside) or also with shredded or toasted coconut if desired

coat plain marshmallows in graham cracker crumbs and dip in melted chocolate; to improve upon the one pictured below, I would have toasted the crumbs and maybe would have glued a square of graham cracker on the bottom of each with a dollop of melted chocolate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Handmade Marzipan

Introducing the recipe that has won me over to the cause of rose water-flavored sweets: Handmade Marzipan.

These pretty almond goodies are not the über-sweet marzipan you buy in a tube in the baking aisle, used to fashion colorful decorations for Yule logs or rolled out thin to cover Princess cakes - they are a fresh, lightly-flavored delicacy of almonds you grind yourself, and simply mix with sugar, water, and rose water to make a mold-able paste. This is a unique dessert that will add great variety to any dessert platter since it's not a cake, not a cookie, not candy...people may not know what it is, and you'll get to tell them the story of how you made it!

I discovered this recipe while helping friends out with a Syrian seder meal (also the inspiration for my kosher marshmallow attempts), and have since made these pastries several more times. My friends had the cookbook Aromas of Aleppo, which produced fabulous dishes of tamarind meatballs and a very cheesy spinach frittata in addition to this marzipan. I love the simplicity of the ingredients and the physicality of rolling them and pressing them into the mold. The one difficulty in preparing for this recipe was finding a good source for blanched almonds and pistachios, so you'll want to search out a store with good Middle Eastern ingredients in stock, or at least a Whole Foods with a good selection of nuts.

I was lucky enough to have a friend who already had an appropriate wooden mold, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could find similar cookie molds in any cooking store. And if you can't, why not just make the balls and flatten them into shapes, even add your own impression on top?

Here we go:

Handmade Marzipan

2 C almonds, blanched, peeled (and finely ground if possible)
1 C sugar (substitute up to half with Splenda if desired)
1 tsp rose water
1 C pistachios, shelled, blanched, peeled, and finely chopped
powdered sugar to dust cookie mold and surfaces

1. Grind almonds in food processor if not already ground.
2. Stir together the ground almonds, sugar, 1/4 C water, and rose water in a medium bowl. Transfer to a food processor and process until the mixture forms a paste.
3. Take one teaspoon of this paste and form into a walnut-sized ball. Repeat with the remainder of the paste, placing each ball on a sheet of parchment paper dusted well with powdered sugar (the paste will be quite sticky; should make about 25 pastries). Press down on the center of each ball with your finger, making a 1/2 inch indentation. Fill the indentations with a pinch of pistachios. Close the pastries with your thumb and forefinger. Dust a fancy cookie mold liberally with powdered sugar and then press a pastry into the mold. Tap it gently out of the mold and set on a baking sheet sprinkled with powdered sugar to dry.