Last year, someone decided that French macarons were the new “cool kids” in pastry.  I was definitely not this person.  In fact, if given the choice between one of these airy, chewy, colorful, gems, and a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate cookie would always win.

Yet, I have a soft spot for these flashy, expensive, sandwich cookies.  Maybe it’s because they are so eye-catching, or because customers at the bakery always get a big smile on their face when they see them, or maybe it’s because, last year, I had to spend countless hours teaching myself to make them to perfection in the midst of the hottest, most humid, Houston summers ever (to keep up with said trend).

Mostly, I secretly admire macarons because they play hard to get.  Humidity must be low, the egg whites should be aged just long enough, the almonds must be ground to the precise consistency, you mustn’t over-beat the meringue or over-mix the batter, your piping must be exact and consistent, they need their beauty rest, and finally (whew!) your oven has to stay at temperature.  And even if you can get all those things right, for the ten minutes the suckers are in the oven, you anxiously hold your breath hoping that when you open the door you find a batch of cookies equal in size with smooth, shiny, domed tops and delicate airy feet (or pied) circling their base.

I’m no scientist, and despite having taken 5 semesters of chemistry in college, I am still relatively clueless when it comes to why certain reactions happen and the science that makes baking possible (although Alton Brown and this amazing book do help out a lot).  For me, baking is about feeling and gut instinct.  This worried me when beginning my quest for macaron perfection and was the reason I had never bothered making them before.  Over and over I had heard how precise everything had to be (see above) and while that is true, I found that being patient, failing a few times, and becoming familiar with how recipes look and feel (yes…get your hands dirty!) is a science in itself.

So, bear with me on this recipe.  I created it based on flavor, appearance, and feel.  I want you to have fun and enjoy the process (don’t get frustrated if it takes you more than one try, I have ruined an entire speed rack full of these buggers, just brush it off and try again).

Macarons are also exciting because there are endless flavor possibilities.  I have made everything from açaí to pumpkin spice to hatch chili (be creative!).  I thought grapefruit would be great this time of year, when citrus is so bountiful.  I flavored the cookie with grapefruit zest and made a quick buttercream with even more zest and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.  The result, a refreshing, zesty, floral cookie!  Enjoy.

Grapefruit French Macarons

Makes about 30 sandwich cookies

Cookie recipe loosely based on my work at Central Market, but with many adaptations.

Note:  At the bakery, we use almond meal as it makes our lives a lot easier, however when making smaller batches at home, I prefer to grind my own blanched almonds.  This results in a slightly coarser meal which I feel results in more consistently beautiful cookies.  You can buy either at most grocery stores.

As for the egg whites, fresher is not better.  I would recommend using egg whites that have been in your fridge for 3-4 days (I have heard that French bakeries us 7 day old whites that have been at room temp the whole time…not so sure about that), for some reason the older they are the better the cookie.  Bring them to room temperature for a few hours before you make the cookies.

If you want to be super precise with your meringue you can use a food thermometer.  When the egg white/sugar mixture has reached about 250°F, it is ready to whip.  I, however, use my finger.  If the mixture has reached the point where it is too hot to touch for more than a second, its ready (works every time…for me).

Lastly, you will need some special equipment.  A kitchen scale, a stand mixer with whisk attachment, an 18″ pastry bag, #806 round pastry tip, and parchment paper.

Whew!!! Now have fun!

For the cookie:

8 oz granulated sugar

6 oz (liquid) egg whites at room temperature, separated (see note)

8 oz finely ground blanched almonds or almond meal

8 oz confectioner’s sugar (sifted if clumpy)

1 heaping tablespoon grapefruit zest, from 2 large grapefruit

2 very small drops red food coloring (optional)

2 very small drops yellow food coloring (optional)

1-2 tablespoons finely ground, unsalted pistachios for decorating (optional)

For the grapefruit buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons grapefruit zest

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the macaron cookies:

It’s best if you have everything measured and ready to go before starting and have 3 half-sheet baking sheets covered in parchment.  Bring about an inch of water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan.  Combine granulated sugar and 3 oz of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over boiling water.  Whisking constantly, cook egg whites until hot (see note above), sugar is completely dissolved, and mixture is frothy.  Remove from heat and place on stand mixer with whisk attachment.  Whisk for approximately 5 minutes, on high speed, until mixture has cooled and medium-soft peaks have formed (you want them to be more firm that soft peaks, but not extremely stiff as this will result in a cracked/dry cookie).

While meringue is mixing, combine granulated sugar, ground almonds, and grapefruit zest in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with your hands until well combined and any clumps of zest have been evenly distributed.  Add remaining 3 oz egg whites and food coloring (if using) and mix with hands or a spatula until well combined.  Once meringue is finished, add in three additions to almond mixture until combined, but not mixed too much as you do not want to deflate meringue completely.  It typically takes me 2-3 minutes to mix properly.  Mixture should be sticky and loose, but not extremely liquid.

Fill pastry bag with some of the macaron batter.  Piping completely vertically (i.e. bottom of pastry tip should be perpendicular to pan), pipe batter into 1/2-inch rounds (once they spread they will be close to an inch in diameter) leaving about an inch between each cookie (I was able to fit about 20 cookies on each tray).  The cookies should spread and be perfectly smooth on top, if you are left will a little peak, dip your finger in some water and gently tap down peaks.  Sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of ground pistachio, if using.  Allow cookies to rest for about 45 minutes, until they feel tacky and a little dry when touched and they have a slightly matted appearance.  While cookies are resting, heat oven to 350°F and place an oven rack in the center of the oven.

Working with one tray at a time, bake cookies for 10 minutes.  Don’t be tempted to open the oven to take a peak, this will drop the temperature and could deflate the cookie.  Repeat with the remaining cookie sheets.  Allow baked macrons to cool for one hour.

Meanwhile make the buttercream (and wash pastry bag,tip, and mixer bowl as you will need them again):

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high speed for about 1 minute.  Stop mixer and add confectioner’s sugar.  Mix on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy and sugar has dissolved completely.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice, and vanilla extract.  Beat for another minute.  Taste buttercream, if you would like more grapefruit flavor add more zest and/or juice to your taste.

Assemble cookies:

Flip half of the macarons onto their backs and pipe a small dot of buttercream on the center of the cookie (about 1/2-1 tablespoon).  Find a good match (in terms of size) for each cookie and gently sandwich the two cookies together with buttercream in the center.  Repeat with all the macarons (you should end up with about 30 total).  Macarons will keep for about 3 days at room temperature.

Advertisements

Few things excite me more than a crispy, flaky, tender, croissant fresh from the oven.  Whether it is from a great bakery or homemade, croissants may be one of the most beautiful and heartfelt pastries.  They are also the most fleeting in that they loose their magic a few hours after exiting the oven and are almost depressingly lifeless the next day.

So should you somehow have managed to find day-old croissants on your hands, don’t give up on them.  With just a few easy steps, croissants can be revitalized into a scrumptious breakfast that will have your kitchen smelling like a bakery.

At the bakery I work in, we give a second life to leftover croissants by filling them with frangipane (almond cream) and re-baking them until they are golden brown and aromatic.  Of all the croissants and breakfast pastries we sell these almond croissants are by far the most popular.

Get ready to wow a breakfast crowd with this satisfying breakfast treat…if you can keep from eating them all.

Almond Croissants

While almond croissants are easy to assemble and bake, you do need to make the frangipane as well as a simple syrup ahead of time.  If you like, they may both be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to bake your croissants, just heat some of the simple syrup until hot and bring the almond cream to room temperature before using.  You will likely have leftovers of both the syrup and frangipane.  They can both be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

Leftover frangipane is great baked on the bottom of a tart shell then topped with pastry cream and fresh fruit or along with other fruit like pears or peaches when in season.  Or…just make some more croissants!  Leftover simple syrup is great if you are making a layer cake.  Brushing each layer with the syrup before icing will keep your cakes moist and flavorful.

Simple Syrup

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup granulated sugar

1-inch piece of a vanilla bean, split down the center

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil liquid for about five minutes until all the sugar had dissolved and mixture has reduced slightly.  Remove from heat and either use immediately or store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Frangipane

makes about 2 cups

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but still cool

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 8-oz can almond paste

2 large egss

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add the almond paste and mix at high speed until mixture is smooth and well incorporated, about 5 minutes.  Reduce speed to medium and add eggs one at a time until well mixed.  Finally, mix in salt and flour until just combined.

Almond Croissants

4 day-old croissants (more or less depending on how many you have)

Hot Simple syrup (recipe above)

Frangipane (recipe above)

Sliced almonds

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using a serrated knife, make a horizontal slice in the middle of each croissant.  Do not cut all the way through, leave the opposing end of the croissants attached (see pictures above).

Using a pastry brush, brush inside and top of each croissant.  It is okay if croissant seems a little soggy.

With a pastry bag or a thin metal spatula, fill the croissants with about 2 tablespoons each of the frangipane.  Spread another tablespoons of frangipane evenly over the top of each croissant.  Sprinkle the tops of each croissant with 1-2 tablespoons of sliced almonds, gently pressing them into almond cream.

Place the croissants on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden brown, fragrant, and the frangipane in the center has cooked completely (will look cakey vs. liquidy), about 25-30 minutes.  Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes then dust lightly with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Happy New Year!  I hope that the holiday season treated you well and you have begun 2012 with peace, health, and happiness.

I had quite a whirlwind fall full of work, friends, family, and good food.

Two of my very good friends got married this fall carrying me to Missouri and Austin.  I even had the pleasure of making the wedding cake for my friend Tamara, who had a fun, outdoor, Texas-style celebration.  I wish both new couples many years of adventure and happiness.

In October, I had my one-year anniversary working at the bakery.  I have learned so much about pastry, running a food establishment, and hard work.  I cannot adequately describe how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to jump into a new career, meet the wonderful people I work with, and work for a business that may actually love food more that I do (if that is possible)!

As of December 31, I survived my second round of holidays in the food business.  I think knowing what was coming this time around was somewhat daunting and since I was given some extra responsibilities this year, I was extra busy.   I will happily boycott pies for a month or two thank-you-very-much.

Last month my beautiful, intelligent, sister graduated from the University of Houston with top honors (I’m super proud) and is now law school bound.  What better way to celebrate than with fantastic food?  Family and friends gathered at one of Houston’s best restaurants, Brennan’s, and thoroughly indulged in the best grits on the planet and, my favorite, Banana’s Foster.  Cheers to Anna!

Most profound of all, my husband and I found out we are expecting our first baby, a little boy, in May.  We went from trip planning to daycare hunting, now get really excited about things like when we learn the pediatrician we want accepts our insurance, and instead of working hard to maintain a slim figure, I have enjoyed my growing belly.  I feel extremely blessed and love the new path our lives our on.  Unfortunately, I got slammed with horrible morning sickness and just getting through work each day was a feat, but now that I am over half-way through the pregnancy, my taste for food other than crackers and the energy to cook has returned.

I have missed this space and sharing recipes and pictures.  I hope to be here more often, despite the changes in my life.  So here is to fresh starts whether it’s marriage, a new career, a new school, healthy eating, or a brand-new life.

My favorite time of day is the morning.  Talk about a fresh start! There is so much promise, your slate is clean, and best of all, you get to eat breakfast!  This healthy cereal, made from gluten-free amaranth grain, high-protein nuts, and dried fruit chalk-full of antioxidants is a nutritious way to get off to a great start.

Puffed Amaranth Breakfast Cereal

Serves 2

Inspired by an article in Fit Pregnancy (I can’t remember which issue, I just saw it at the doctor’s office)

Note:  Amaranth is an ancient grain with deep roots dating back to the Aztec empire – it was the primary crop for the civilization for thousands of years until the conquistadors destroyed the crop during their conquest of the region.  Luckily the gluten-free grain high in protein, lysine, and fiber survived so we can enjoy it today.  Amaranth is very earthy, almost grassy, and may be an acquired taste.  A touch of sweetness compliments amaranth’s bold flavor – in this application, dried cherries, almond milk, and a touch of maple syrup do just the trick.  Amaranth can be found in most specialty grocery stores, likely in the bulk foods department.

1/4 cup amaranth

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup dried tart cherries

2 tablespoons unsweetened, shaved coconut

Fresh fruit for topping (optional)

Maple syrup for topping (optional)

1 cup almond milk

Heat a small skillet over medium heat.  Working with one tablespoon at a time, drop amaranth into hot skillet, cover with a lid, and let amaranth pop, lightly shaking pan constantly, for about 2o seconds.  Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining amaranth.

Mix in hazelnuts, dried cherries, and coconut.  Divide between two bowls, top with fresh fruit if desired, drizzle with maple syrup and finish with almond milk.