27 July 2010

Now that's my kind of Cherry Bombe!

Chocolate Cherry Bombe
The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.  Well, the timing for this recipe challenge could not have been better.  Dad's birthday is in July and, as I mentioned in a previous post, my dad *loves* ice cream.  He loves ice cream the way some people love chocolate.  At any given time, there are probably 4 or 5 containers of ice cream in my parents' freezer, and let's just say they are never in danger of freezer burn.  I've been told that when hubby and I go to Rome, Mom and Dad can give me a map showing where the best gelato can be found.  Seriously, I'm talking ice cream-aholic.  The fact that this recipe did contain a small amount of actual cake was actually a strike against it, but I figured for some homemade ice cream, he'd likely look past that minor flaw.  

The birthday boy's shirt don't lie....
(One thing to note about this cake... this is not a "whip up a quick dessert an hour before company arrive" kind of dessert.  Each layer needs a couple of hours of chill time in the freezer, so it's best to start a day or two before you want to serve it)

Though we have had a solid 10 days of very wet weather here, the grocery stores are still filled with summer's haul of fresh stone fruits.  I picked up a huge bag of dark red cherries for one of the two ice creams called for in this recipe.  Ice cream #2 would be a nice creamy vanilla, because in my opinion, vanilla ice cream is often overlooked.  Years ago, Sis told me that vanilla couldn't be my favourite flavour of ice cream because it's the food equivalent of white in a colour palette - it's a non-flavour.  I disagree.  For me, vanilla ice cream (and I mean really *good* vanilla ice cream) is more like the little black dress in your dessert wardrobe.  Every girl should have a little black dress, and every kitchen should be stocked with a really good quality vanilla ice cream.  After all, when your sweet tooth starts screaming to be appeased, vanilla ice cream can provide the perfect backdrop for a dark rich chocolate ganache, a smooth fleur de sel caramel sauce, fresh fruit, or hubby's favourite: an ice cream float made with orange pop.  

The cherry ice cream layer turned out to be a real labour of love.  It took about 20 minutes just to pit the entire bag, before I quartered them and put them in a saucepan with a bit of sugar and a pinch of salt to bring out the juices and reduce them down to an intense syrup.  When the juices were just starting to boil,  I added a generous splash of Crème de Cassis (our liquor cabinet was all out of Kirsch), and cooked everything for another few minutes before straining out the fruit and pouring the liquid back into the pan for more reduction.  Today's food science tip; when you want to make a fruit-flavoured ice cream but you don't want to break a tooth on an icy chunk of fruit, cook the fruit with a bit of alcohol first - preferably something that compliments the flavour, or vodka.  Alcohol doesn't freeze, so you're essentially infusing the fruit with just enough anti-freeze to keep them a similar consistency as the ice cream itself.  A second food science tip regarding ice cream is that when things are extremely cold or frozen, our taste buds don't register flavour as strongly as when the same food is room-temperature.  So, when adding a flavour component to ice cream, it should be much stronger that you would make it for any other dessert.  Likewise with sweetness and flavours, which is why that last little bit of melted ice cream at the bottom of the bowl always tastes so much sweeter than the first spoonful did.  So, instead of adding just the straight cherry juice to my ice cream base, reducing the juices down until they are thick and syrupy, concentrates the flavour in them, which makes for a tastier ice cream in the end.  When it finally came time to churn everything in the ice cream maker, I added about 1/2 of the cherry reduction to the cream base and, as I transferred the entire batch to a freezer-proof bowl for the final chill, I wove a ribbon of the same syrup through the finished ice cream after the cherries were folded in.  The result was sheer perfection - probably my best batch of fruit ice cream ever (candied ginger holds the top spot for all-time favourite homemade ice cream).  The intense, distinct flavour of dark cherries was unmistakable and impossible to miss.  Now it was time to make the Swiss roll cake.

Cherries, chocolate, ice cream... what's not to like?
A Swiss roll typically uses a classic génoise cake as the sponge.  Perhaps without realizing it, we have all tasted génoise cake at some point in our lives, because it is highly adaptable and can be used in an endless variety of dishes.  However, the process for making a génoise is very unique.  For one thing, the batter contains no chemical leaveners.  That's right, no baking powder, no baking soda.  Instead, it uses a method similar to Swiss meringue, only génoise whips the entire egg into a foam, and cooks it gently over a double boiler to help stabilize the structure of the foam, before the dry ingredients and butter are added and the batter is baked.  The result is a very light, flexible cake that can be rolled up before it cools without breaking apart and crumbling.  Once cool you can gently unroll the cake, spread on a layer of filling, typically either a flavoured whipped cream or fruit preserves, then roll it all back up and serve.  Once the cake was filled with chantilly cream,  I let it firm up in the freezer for about 20 minutes to make for cleaner slices.  That gave me enough time to find the right bowl to use as a mold, and line it with plastic wrap.  I carefully cut the cake into 20 equal slices and arranged them snugly around the bottom and sides of the bowl.  I then scooped the cherry ice cream on top of the cake, and smoothed it out a bit, covered it with plastic wrap and put it back into the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.

Swiss Roll Ice Cream Cake - perfect for a summer birthday!
For the fudge sauce layer, I went simple.  I prefer a nice dark chocolate ganache to most chocolate or fudge sauce recipes that often call for corn syrup or other things that only make the sauce sweeter, taking away from the chocolate.  Ganache stays relatively soft once it's frozen, so it's a fine substitution.  Equal parts heavy cream and dark chocolate, heated up and stirred together... it takes less than 2 minutes to make and is *so* good when it's done.  To eliminate any chance of melting the ice cream layer by adding warm ganache, I left it on the counter overnight to cool to room temperature.  The next morning, I had a fully frozen ice cream mold and a scoop-able truffle layer, which I smoothed over and set back in the freezer while I made the final layer of ice cream.... Vanilla!

Both ice creams for this recipe were made Philadelphia style.  It's a lot faster to make than French style ice cream, because you don't have to cook and then cool the cream.  You can just mix everything together and churn it in your ice cream maker if you have one (If you don't happen to have an ice cream maker, Sunita has also posted a recipe for homemade ice cream that doesn't need any special equipment).  Milk, cream, sugar and a generous amount of vanilla were mixed together, churned and scooped on top of the chocolate layer.   A couple more hours in the freezer to firm up and the cake was finally done.

Dad loved his ice cream cake.  In fact, when Mom tried to send the left-overs home with me after dinner, I insisted it would keep in the freezer and he could enjoy a piece after dinner every night this week if he wanted.  When Mom asked Dad if he would be able to finish it, his reply was a simple "It's ice cream!"  Enough said....

So, if you have a couple of days to prepare in advance, and you want a nice summer treat to cool everyone down, this is a great dessert to make.  The sky's the limit when it comes to flavour combinations - if you can dream it, you can make it in this cake.  I'll definitely be making this dessert again and mixing up the flavours yet again.

Happy Baking!

Chocolate Cherry Swiss Roll Ice Cream Cake
serves 12-14

Chocolate Genoise Cake

60g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
107g (3/4 Cup) all-purpose flour
30g (1/4 Cup) cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 eggs, room temperature
201g (1 Cup) granulated sugar
5ml (1 tsp) vanilla

Preheat  oven to 350˚F and place rack in centre of oven.  Line a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Butter and flour any areas that may not be completely covered by the parchment.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt and set aside.
In a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Continue whisking gently until the mixture reaches 110˚F (check using an instant read thermometer).  Immediately pour the mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a whisk.  Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and whip until the egg mixture has more than doubled in volume.  When the whisk is lifted and held above the bowl, the mixture should fall in a thick ribbon that rests on top of the batter for several seconds.  Whisk in the vanilla.  Gently fold in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Gently fold in the melted butter.
Holding the bowl very close to the sheet pan, and being very careful not to deflate the batter, gently scrape the batter onto the prepared pan.  Carefully smooth the batter with a spatula.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake is springy to the touch.  Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes.
On a flat, clean worksurface, smooth out a clean dishtowel which is larger than the sheet cake.  gently sprinkle cocoa powder onto the towel.  One the cake is just cool enough to handle, invert the cake onto the dusted towel.  Working quickly and using the towel, tightly roll the cake width-wise.  Set aside to cool completely.
Once the cake is fully cool, carefully unwrap the cake just before preparing the cream...

Vanilla Cream Filling
250ml (1 Cup) heavy cream
30g (2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
15ml (1 Tbsp) vanilla

In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks.  Gradually whip in the sugar and vanilla, and continue until the cream holds still peaks.  Spread in an even layer over the top of the cake, leaving a 1/2 of clean border along the outer edge of the cake.

Slice the cake into approximately 20 equal slices, and line the mould tightly with the rolls.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to set while you make the cherry ice cream.

Cherry Ice Cream
2 Cups fresh cherries, pitted and sliced into quarters.
100g (1/2 Cup) granulated sugar
1/2 stp salt
45ml Kirsch liqueur
500ml (2 Cups) heavy cream

Place the cherries, sugar and salt in a large saucepan.  Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the juices have begun to reduce.  Strain the cherries over a bowl, reserving the juices.  Return the juices to the saucepan and stir in the Kirsch.  Continue to simmer for several minutes until the juices are thick and syrupy.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Once cool, combine 1/2 of the syrup with the heavy cream and churn in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer's directions.  Once the ice cream is churned, quickly fold in the cherries and finally, a ribbon of the syrup.  Immediately spread the ice cream into the cake-lined mould.  Cover and place in the freezer to set.

Chocolate Ganache
250ml (1 Cup) heavy bream
250g (1 Cup) dark chocolate, chopped
15ml (1 Tbsp) Kirch

Heat the cream over medium heat, but do not allow it to boil.  Place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl.  Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and whisk gently to combine.  Once the ganache comes together, gently stir in the Kirsch.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool for approximately 1 hour.

Once cooled, pour the ganache on top of the cherry ice cream, but do not spread it to the top of the mould.  Cover and return the cake to the freezer once more.

Vanilla Ice Cream
500ml (2 Cups) heavy cream
100g (1/2 Cup) granulated sugar
30ml (2 Tbsp) vanilla

Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Churn the mixture in the ice cream maker according to directions.  Once fully churned, spread the ice cream over the ganache layer in the mould, and smooth the top.  Cover and return to the freezer and allow to chill completely, approximately 6-8 hours.

Shortly before you are ready to serve, remove the mould from the freezer and carefully run warm water over the outside of the mould to help release the dessert.  Gently invert onto a plate and keep in the freezer until everyone is ready for dessert.  To slice, use a very sharp knife, dipped into very hot water.

18 July 2010

Nutter Butter

Life-saving Almond Cookies... it could happen!

The other day I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store - one of those days where I couldn't seem to remember what the heck it was I needed to get, so I just walked up and down the aisles hoping to jog my memory. And before you recommend I make a list next time, I had.  I forgot it.  Yup, I was totally bringing by A-game that day.... But this story has a happy ending (even though I had to make a second trip to get garbage bags), for when I was wandering past the jams, jellies and Nutella, I spied a nice big jar of Almond Butter.  Don't get me wrong, I've seen almond butter before, but this time I found myself wondering why everyone has a recipe for peanut butter cookies, but I've never seen almond butter cookies.  Nut butters are all fairly similar, so it seems a pretty logical swap.  Of course, as I sat down to write this tonight, I did a Google search for Almond Butter Cookies and found there are several out there.  Huh, who knew?  Probably lots of people, just not me.

Inspiration in the grocery aisle
Anyway, tonight I decided to give my brilliant idea a spin.  Hubby and I had spent a full day working on the yard and doing some gardening, so we deserved a little treat.  Besides, tomorrow is "Baking Monday" at the office and I've got nothing made.  The simplest way to proceed is pretty obvious - take a peanut butter cookie recipe that you already love, and swap out some ingredients, so that's what I did.  I worked great.  I changed out peanut butter for almond butter, chopped roasted peanuts for chopped toasted almonds, and added a little bit of almond extract to the vanilla.  I also added a bit more salt, since the roasted peanuts are normally already salted, where my toasted almonds were not.  I also decided to melt the butter, since I know in my favourite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, the melted butter makes for a chewier cookie.  12 minutes in the oven and a decent amount of time to cool and they were ready for a taste test.  They got the initial seal of approval from hubby, as well as myself, so now it's up to the office tasters tomorrow.  But I'm optimistic; they're chewy, not too sweet and have a decent almond flavour to them.  Besides, maybe this is a decent substitute for all those folks out there who have the misfortune of being deathly allergic to peanuts, but have no problems with almonds.  Oh my god!  I just made cookies that can save lives!  Ok, so I'm not going to cure cancer anytime soon with my baking, but maybe there's some poor peanut-allergic person out there who really misses pb cookies, and I can brighten their day.  Even if it doesn't get me a Nobel Prize, I'm happy to do my part in making the world a little bit sweeter.

Happy Baking!

Almond Butter Cookies
Makes 48 cookies
Adapted form Cook's Illustrated Peanut Butter Cookies

355g (2 1/2 Cups) flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp table salt
226 g (1 Cup) unsalted butter, melted
220g (1 Cup) light brown sugar
201g (1 Cup) granulated sugar
320 g (1 Cup) unsalted almond butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
140g (1 Cup) whole almonds
35g (1/4 Cup) sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 300˚F and place rack in centre of oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a skillet, gently toast the whole almonds, being careful not to burn or scorch them.  
As soon as they are toasted, remove them from the pan and allow them to cool on a plate or wooden cutting board.  
Coarsely chop the almonds, either with a sharp knife, or with a food processor, using short 1-second pulses.  Set aside.
In a medium bow, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together melted butter and both sugars until well combined.   
Beat in the almond butter until fully incorporated.  
Add the eggs, one at a time, along with vanilla and almond extract.  Mix the batter well, scraping down the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is fully incorporated.
Gently mix in the dry ingredients until just a few streaks of flour remain.  
Finally, add the chopped almonds and mix until the nuts are well dispersed.
Using a small scoop (a #70 or 35mm disher is my stand-by for cookies), scoop heaping tablespoonfuls if dough onto prepared cookie sheet, allowing about 1 1/2 inches of space between.  
Gently press a couple of sliced almonds into the top of each cookie, flattening the cookies a bit as you go.
Bake until cookies are puffy and golden around the edges, about 12 minutes.
Cool cookies on cookie sheet until they set up, about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely (about 10 minutes), as these cookies are really soft until the are fully cooled.
Almond butter cookies will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight container.

12 July 2010

With a little help from my friends...

Carrying on a conversation is problematic for me when I'm baking, as inevitably I pay more to attention to one than the other, but I love having music playing when I'm working away in the kitchen.  I don't think I'm alone in this, as this month's MacTweets challenge was Sing-a-Song macarons.  Normally I think I would have chosen one of the songs on my favourite baking playlist - and some french tunes would certainly be fitting for these popular Parisian sweets - but my quest for the perfect macaron recipe meant that a different song was more appropriate.

"What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm,I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends."

                                     John Lennon & Paul McCartney 

"With A Little Help From My Friends"... a classic Beatles tune from 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Without our friends, where would we be?  I was fortunate enough to meet and make some new friends at Food Blogger Connect in London last month, and not just any friends, but fellow food-obsessed friends.  Among the many incredible new friends I made there, was one half of our fabulous MacTweets leadership duo, the lovely and talented Jamie from Life's A Feast, and the sweet and wonderful Cecilia from One Vanilla Bean, who was also my "tube-buddy" while in London.  I would love to have met the darling Deeba, our other head MacTweeter and the blogger behind Passionate About Baking, but she wasn't able to be there this year.

It's a fantastic thing to meet a fellow foodie; there's an immediate connection, a kinship that binds you as soon as you first shake hands.  I tend to be a bit guarded when I first meet people, so I was delighted & surprised when Cecilia and I headed out in search of a great restaurant for dinner one evening, only to find ourselves in a grocery store.... for two hours. Only another foodie can appreciate (or tolerate) spending a solid two hours in a grocery store in a foreign country.

what happens when you let two foodies loose...
Well, Cecilia and I never did make it to a restaurant that night.  Instead we filled our cart and fashioned a bizarre picnic dinner of goodies we couldn't get at home; the best double cream on the planet, tiny scarlet strawberries so flavourful my mouth is watering right now at the memory of them, crunchy coleslaw, jewel-toned root vegetable crisps, a creamy and young Asiago Pressato, some gourmet ice cream, French sparkling lemonade, Poilâne bread from France, a raspberry meringue the size of a dinner plate, and some delicious baked pasta and mushrooms.  I know, it sounds like a disastrous menu, but it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in years.  When we eventually were kicked out of the grocery store at 10pm, we headed back to the hotel and finished up dessert while chatting away till past midnight.  It was just a really great evening with someone I'd only met 36 hours earlier, but we share so much in common that it was as if we'd been friends for years, and I'm sure we will be friends for years to come.

darling Cecilia
But, back to the reason I chose this song... I've been on the hunt for a copy of Pierre Hermé's book Macaron, as well as La Pâtisserie de Pierre Hermé - a book I actually held in my hands a few years ago, only to put it back on the shelf because at the time, I could not justify spending €115 on a cookbook (I can't tell you how hard I've been kicking myself for that decision ever since!).  While I'm still hunting (and getting nowhere), dear Cecilia happens to have a copy of Macaron, and when she heard that I was still not able to get my hands on this book, she came to my rescue and e-mailed me the recipe for Pierre's macaron à l'huile d'olive et vanille, one of the specific reasons I want this book.  So, very literally, this month's MacTweets challenge would not have been the same had it not been for  "a little help from my friends".

Needless to say, after so much fruitless searching for his book, I was anxious to try this recipe from the pâtisserie genius that is Pierre Hermé.  Not only that, but while in London, Jamie, Cecilia and I discussed the pros and cons of macarons made with French meringue method vs Italian meringue method.  Having never tried the Italian meringue, I was curious to see if there would be a noticeable difference.  The verdict?  There absolutely is!  The entire recipe is quite different from the method I normally use;  first of all, only half of the egg whites are actually whipped.  The other half, in their liquid form, are mixed with the food colouring and stirred into the almond and icing sugar mixture.  The other egg whites are whipped into an Italian meringue, which is then folded into the almond-sugar-liquid egg mixture.  The result is a thicker, more stable batter that I found much easier to pipe, and didn't spread as much once it was piped.  When they baked up, these macarons kept that extra height and looked more like the very ones you find in Pierre's shop in Paris - or the one Cecilia and I visited inside Selfridges in London.

Pierre Hermé at Selfridges in London
Now for the sciencey portion of the program... Briefly, for those of you who may know the difference between different meringues, here is a basic overview:  all meringues are made up of whipped egg whites and sugar, but there are three main types of meringues, prepared and cooked in different ways.  In a French meringue, the egg whites are whipped with confectioners sugar or granulated sugar, and then baked as in a topping for lemon meringue pie.  Swiss meringue is made by combining raw egg whites and sugar, and whisking them over a bain marie to cook the eggs, then whipped into glossy stiff peaks off-heat.  To make an Italian meringue, hot sugar syrup is whisked into softly whipped egg whites.  The addition of the hot syrup actually cooks the egg whites, which makes them quite stable and suitable for a glossy icing for a cake, or a wonderful base for delicious almond macarons.

macarons à l'huile d'olive et vanille
As for the olive oil ganache, well that was a bit trickier than your average ganache, which is understandable when you think about the amount of oil that is being incorporated into something that doesn't typically contain oil.  Add to that, the fact that I may have mis-translated the instructions for the ganache, and heated the oil when I should not have.  Next time I make this, I will use the oil at room temperature, and I'm sure the ganache will turn out better.  That said, I am quite happy with the end result here, but when making it, the oil repeatedly separated from the cream and the chocolate, at least until the whole thing cooled down a bit.  I decided the best bet was to just patiently and gently whisk the ganache as it cooled, and I was rewarded with a silky and flavourful filling for my lovely green macarons.  Of course, because it is so silky and 30% olive oil, it becomes very soft at room temp, so keeping the finished macarons in the fridge is a must.  At Pierre's recommendation, remove them from the fridge about 2 hours before you wish to eat them, at which point they are the perfect consistency; crisp outer shell, chewy interior with a creamy filling and just a tiny piece of olive in the centre... sooooooooooooo gooooooooood. *wipe the drool from your chin, silly woman!*

There you have it, the master's method for perfect macarons.  Now that I've tried both recipes, I'll be sticking with Pierre's recipe.  After all, there's a reason he's called the Picasso of Pâtisserie.

Merci bien, M. Hermé....
Gorgeous Green Macarons
PS... a note on my never-ending quest for those two wonderful books.  Yes, I have searched every online vendor of books, and I have seen the €300 used copies of Macaron, but since the original book was only €30, it's more of a last resort.  I have even e-mailed the staff at Pierre's online store, explaining the situation and asking if they could ship books to Canada (I was unbelievably thrilled when I saw the books available on his store, and that Pierre would even pen a dedication in the book if requested!)  Unfortunately, I was told I should contact the publisher's directly and was provided their contact information.  Over a week has gone by and I have had no response from the publishers.  So, if anyone out there reading this happens to have M. Hermé's personal e-mail address, I'd love it if you could pass it along.  It seems that I have two options left: write to Pierre personally or hop a plane to Paris.  While I am always looking for another excuse to head to Paris, the €300 used copy is more in my budget for the time being....

Macaron à l'huile d'olive et vanille
adapted from Pierre Hermé's Macaron
(followed as closely as possible, but listing the ingredients I could get here)

150g almond flour
150g confectioners sugar
55g egg whites

150g granulated sugar
37g water
55g egg whites (yes, another 55g of egg whites in a separate bowl)
5g coffee extract
green food colouring

Olive Oil Ganache
175g white chocolate, chopped
75g heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
113g olive oil
(because the flavour of the olive oil is in the spotlight here, choose a flavourful variety, preferably cold-pressed)
2-3 olives (preferably plain, unstuffed olives), pitted and chopped into small pieces

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar together into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the food colouring with the first 55g of egg whites.  Stir the coloured eggs into the almond sugar mixture until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the second bowl of plain egg whites until they are foamy but do not yet hold a peak.  Turn off the mixer and prepare the syrup:
Pour the water into a small saucepan, and pour the sugar into a mound the centre of the pot, but do not stir.
Place the pan over medium high heat, and keep your thermometer handy.
As the sugar begins to dissolve, gently and carefully swirl the mixture around to distribute any sugar that has not yet melted.
Once the syrup begins to boil, periodically check the temperature until it reaches 115˚C (239˚F).
Remove the pan from heat and check the temperature again - the syrup will continue to cook.
When the mixture reaches 118˚C (244˚F), turn the mixer up to medium speed and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
 Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for another 2 minutes until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
Using your thermometer, check the temperature of the Italian meringue - it should register about 50˚C (122˚F) or slightly cooler.
Fold the meringue into the coloured almond mixture until no white streaks remain, and has a consistency similar to cake batter.
Fill a piping bag with the macaron batter and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place rack in the centre of the oven.
Allow the piped cookies to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to form a dry "skin" while the oven comes to temperature.
To make sure the cookies are ready to bake, gently touch one with your finger, if any batter sticks to your finger, they are still too wet.  You should be able to lightly press your finger to the top and have it come up clean.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes.  You should have nice puffy macaron shells with the loveliest feet you have ever seen.  Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

While the macarons are baking, prepare the olive oil ganache.
In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, gently melt the chocolate.  Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pan.
In a separate small pan, heat the cream until it is hot, but do not allow it to boil.
Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the cream and stir well.
Whisking gently, pour the cream and vanilla into the melted chocolate.
Pour the olive oil into the ganache and continue to stir until everything is well blended.
When you stop stirring, the oil should not separate from the ganache.  If it does, gently continue to stir the mixture as it cools, until the oil is remains emulsified in the ganache.
Fill a piping bag with the finished ganache.

On a clean work surface, turn the macaron shells upside down.
Pipe ganache onto half of the upturned shells and place a small piece of olive in the centre.
Pipe a small dot of ganache on top of he olive, so that the olive is completely covered.
Top each filled shell with an empty cookie shell and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove from the fridge about 2 hours before serving.
Believe me - they are absolutely worth the wait!!

Pierre Hermé inspired Olive Oil Macaron

03 July 2010

I've never thought of myself as "cheap" before

Not that kind of cheap!  I mean cheap as in thrifty, a penny-pincher (or as we say in Canada, one who can "squeeze a nickel 'till the beaver farts").  We're a classy bunch, aren't we? :-)

I've always been cursed with expensive taste, an appreciation for the finer things in life. That said, I was also raised by a veteran bargain hunter, a woman who can spot sale signs anywhere, even in a foreign country in a language she does not speak.  Sis, mom and I often e-mail, text or call one another to brag about our sale finding prowess; "Gorgeous dress, 100%silk, regular $185 on sale for $29 bucks!"  "Oh yeah?  Check out my shoes, Cole Haan's regular $280, I got them for $40."  We boast about bargains the way fishermen brag about their size of catch.  Sometimes though, it's a case of you get what you pay for, and price must be sacrificed for quality.  I choke at the thought of paying more than $50 for a pair of jeans, but I don't even flinch at the $200 price tag on a Kasumi knife.  Maybe it's more about what I'm paying for than how much. After all, I've been known to pay what some consider an obscene amount of money for sugar cubes.  In my defense, these were not just any ordinary sugar cubes - these were sugar works of art I discovered in Paris, the likes of which I had never seen.  Just take a look for yourself, then we'll see;
Oh no, these are not for coffee, silly!
These are saved for special occasions, to put on cakes and such.
So when I see that peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries - all kinds of juicy, fresh orchard fruits, are finally and briefly in season, I gotta say, I wish they weren't quite so expensive.  But when something's only available for a few weeks each year, there are only two options: pay up or go without.  I was eyeing  Ranier cherries at the grocery store recently, the ones that are the exact colour of a tropical sunset.  My mouth watering just looking at them, but I just couldn't justify the $7 per 100g for them.  It would cost me a fortune just to make one pie!  Suddenly, at $2 per 100g, the dark red Bing cherries seem like a steal, as did the apricots.  I loaded up my shopping basket and headed to the checkout before I got buyer's remorse.

It occurred to me when I got home, that I have never had fresh apricots.  How weird is that?  I've had more than my fair share of dried apricots, but not fresh.  Maybe if I had grown up in the Okanagan region of BC, where all of these things are grown, things would be different.  Here in Alberta, our climate's better at producing berries, corn and beef than orchard fruits, kiwis or grapes.  Well, one of the best things about being a foodie is trying new things - letting your taste buds be adventurous and discovering new delights.

I decided that a simple tart would be the best way to showcase these delicate and fuzzy little guys.  I pressed some pâte brisée into a tart pan and slid it into the oven to bake up.  I sliced up the apricots, and threw them in a bowl.  I wanted to do something a little more inspiring that simply tossing them in sugar, when I spied the bottle of ginger syrup mom brought back from Hawaii.  That and a little bit of vanilla was all that was needed to make this tart something special.  And what better to serve it with than ice cream? 

For the past couple of weeks I'd been wanting to make some matcha green tea ice cream, and this seemed like the ideal opportunity. I didn't have time to run down to chinatown for some authentic matcha, but I remembered seeing it sold at the local juice bar.  I no sooner walked into the juice bar and I was walking out empty-handed, however, eyes wide at the $28 price tag on a small tin of tea.  Yikes!  Talk about sticker shock!  I've since learned that this is an average cost for this glorious green powder, especially since the world has learned of it's seemingly endless health benefits.  As luck would have it, I found an inexpensive cheat at the grocery store a few days later: a tetra pack of Tazo Green Tea Latte mix.  I love an ice cold green tea frappucino on a hot day, and the flavour would be perfect for ice cream.  This time I made a simple Philly-style ice cream, combining the sweet green tea mix with a little milk and some cream.  After churning in the ice cream maker, I folded in some sliced cherries and put it into the freezer.  A few hours later, dessert was served.

One thing completely took me by surprise, was discovering that I am not a fan of the smell of fresh baked apricots.  There's just something odd about the fragrance, or perhaps it's the mix of ginger, pastry and apricots... whatever it was, I found it a little confusing to be put off by the smell of such a delightful dessert.  Once the tart was fully cooled, I was able to enjoy it more, just not when it's fresh from the oven.  Weird.  Have you ever encountered something similar?  Or the opposite - do you find the scent of a certain food to be intoxicating, while the actual taste is less than delightful?  

If you want a simple summer dessert, bake up a few empty tart shells on a rainy day.  When inspiration strikes and fresh seasonal fruits beckon to you from the produce section, you can have an elegant and flavourful dessert on the table in about 20 minutes.  Of course, there are lots of other delectable fillings you can have in a tart, but that's another post entirely....

Until then, Happy Baking!

Oh, and as for recipes, this time there really aren't any.  Follow my recipe for Pâte Brisée, then add in some sliced fresh fruit, tossed with just enough flavourful syrup to make them glossy and about 1.2 tsp of vanilla and bake until the fruit is just starting to soften.  As for the ice cream, combine green tea latte mix with some milk and cream to taste and run it through the ice cream maker.  Add some sliced cherries and freeze.  This dessert was all about baking to taste...