Matcha Green Tea Macarons

I love green tea, and I love macarons. It was a no-brainer putting the two together.

green tea macarons

Generally, I prefer flavors that help cut the inherent sweetness in macarons. I like dark chocolate because of its slight bitterness and lemon because of its acidity. Green tea, like dark chocolate or coffee, provides that slight bitterness that cuts through the sweetness. I used a white chocolate ganache base, with an adzuki bean (otherwise just known as red beans) center filling. If you head over to some asian bakeries or grocery stores, you’ll often find that green tea and red beans are often paired with each other. That’s because they’re a match made in heaven. I tested this out with the macarons, and the concept absolutely holds true.

green tea macarons

The ratios for the filling for this macaron is quite flexible and up to you. If you prefer a light green tea flavor, add less matcha powder into the ganache. If you dislike red beans, feel free to omit them. The amount also depends on you. If you make just one batch, you won’t really need a lot and if you make your own red beans, you’ll most likely have a bit left over. There are plenty of other delicious ways to eat them. But if you want to save time and don’t want to deal with the leftovers, you can find them in stores.

green tea macarons with red bean

Matcha Green Tea Macarons

50 g sifted almond meal

50 g sifted powdered sugar

40 g egg whites (around 1 egg), room temperature

40 g granulated sugar

5 g matcha green tea powder, sifted (+ a little extra to sprinkle on top)

preheat oven to 325 F

1/ Sift the almond meal, powdered sugar, and green tea powder together into a medium sized bowl

2/ With a Kitchenaid mixer or a handheld mixer, start beating the egg whites with the whisk attachment. Once large bubbles start to form, slowly pour in the granulated sugar

3/ Beat the egg white until their glossy with medium peaks

4/ Using a spatula, fold 1/3 of the meringue into the almond mixture. Continue 1/3 at a time until it’s all mixed in.

5/ Gently folding the macaronage, continue until the mixture forms ribbons and takes around 20 seconds for the ribbons to sink back into the mixture. Click here for a detailed description on how to make macaron shells. 

6/ Pipe the macarons onto a parchment/silpat lined baking sheet. (My temperature here varies from my original recipe, due to the fact that I moved and now my new oven is hotter than my old one. You can make adjustments according to your own oven.)

7/  Let the macarons rest until a skin forms on top. If you want, sprinkle some extra matcha powder on top. Slip an empty pan into the oven a rack below the macarons for a double pan, and bake the macarons for 4-5 minutes (or until the feet just begin to form). Turn the pan around, turn the temperature down to 300 F, and bake for another 8-10 minutes. The macarons will be done once the macarons no longer move when gently nudged. It’s safer to be on the well done side, as once you add the filling, the texture will correct itself.

green tea macarons with red bean

Filling

50 g white chocolate (preferably valrhona)

50 g heavy cream

1 tablespoon matcha green tea powder (this amount is up to you)

1/4 cup adzuki beans/red beans

water

sugar to taste

1/ Pour the beans into a small pot, and add enough water so that it just covers the beans. If the water gets cooked off later, you can add more. Bring the water to a boil, and then keep on cooking it at medium heat. Cook until the beans are tender. They should be a little mashed up but still somewhat hold their shape. Add however much sugar you see fit (I’ve never measured how much I added). Let the water cook off (if the mixture is too wet, it’ll soak the macaron shell) and let it cool.

2/ Melt the white chocolate over a double broiler.

3/ Heat the heavy cream until it’s almost boiling. Pour a little into the green tea, and mix until it forms a paste. Stir in the rest of the heavy cream

4/ Add the heavy cream to the white chocolate and stir. Let it cool until the ganache thickens up to a pipable thickness

5/ Pipe the white chocolate in a circle on one macaron shell leaving the center empty (if you’re using the red beans). Add the other shell, and you’re done!

Seeing Double: tarte tatin and tarte aux pommes

So which one is better? It’s a showdown between tarts and things are about to get ugly (or really really delicious).

Apples

tarte tatin apples

A tarte tatin consists of caramelized apples cut into larger chunks on top of a flaky crust. It’s made in a pan and it’s the rustic (and better tasting in my opinion) cousin of apple pie. On the other hand, tarte aux pommes is the neat polished sibling that comes out of the oven the way it went in – exactly how you meticulously arranged the painstakingly thin slices. It’s got a nicely even crust unlike the somewhat unruly one of the tarte tatin.

tarte aux pommes

Even though both are really good alternatives to traditional apple pie, each brings something unique. I used the same crust for both, which was essentially just pie crust, and I used the same type of apples. The apples I used weren’t the best, but it still turned out wonderfully. Both tarts involve cooking the apples prior to baking. This helps release the juices in the apple first, to avoid soaking the crust while baking. You can roll out the crusts beforehand and keep them in the freezer to save time. If you were, say, having a dinner party, I would suggest making the tarte aux pommes.

The tarte tatin has a somewhat nerve wracking step of flipping the tart over onto a plate. Take care not to send the tart flying (which I’m sure you won’t). Just secretly rearrange the apples back in place while no one is looking and you’ll be all set. On the other hand, rest assured there won’t be any acrobatics involved with tarte aux pommes.

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Serve both warm, and you absolutely must serve with vanilla ice cream or some crème fraîche. It’s a crime to not do so.

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But back to the original issue – which tart will be crowned. In terms of taste, I think I might have to go with the tarte tatin. Caramelizing the apples gives it a wonderful flavor and texture, and having the crust on top while baking gives it maximum flakiness. The tarte aux pommes crust on the bottom isn’t as flaky and even though I enjoy the texture of the differently cooked apples, it didn’t strike me as much as the caramelized apples. Having said all that though, I still strongly encourage you to try both. They use pretty much the same ingredients, and everybody may have their own preferences as to which they prefer.

shell

Crust

Makes two 9″ pie crusts (enough for one pie and two tarts)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), cubed

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons cold water (more if needed)

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and sugar.

2. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or a fork. Sometimes using your hands to rub the butter into the flour helps as well. Continue until there are no more large chunks butter left.

3. Sprinkle the cold water onto the butter/flour mixture and mix. If the dough is not wet enough to ball up, keep adding water one tablespoon at a time. Only add just enough water.

4. Pat the dough into two balls. Do not knead. Cover in seran wrap, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours before using

 

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Tarte Tatin

Makes one 9″ tart

1 pie crust (see recipe above)

6 medium sized apples

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup white sugar

pinch of cinnamon

pinch of vanilla powder

juice from half a lemon

Preheat oven to 400F

1/ Roll out the dough into a 10″ circle. Keep this inside the refrigerator until use.

2/ Peel, core and cut the apples into 1/8 wedges. This is what I did, but if you’d prefer larger chunks, you can keep them in 1/4 wedges. Toss these with lemon juice to prevent browning.

3/ In a 9″ oven safe pan, add the butter and sugar over medium heat. Add the apples.

4/ Cook the apples until the color turns caramel, the apples are soft, and all the extra juice thickens up. This can take up to 20 min.

5/ Arrange the apples so that the round side is facing down and lie the crust on top of the apples. Tuck the dough into the sides of the pan. Poke a few holes on top with a fork.

6/ Bake for 25 min, or until the crust is golden brown.

7/ Let the pan sit for 5 min, to let it cool. Place a large on top the pan, and using oven mitts, flip the pan upside down. Slowly remove the pan. If there are any apples astray, push them back into place.

8/ Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche

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Tarte aux pommes

makes one 9″ tart

1 pie crust

6 medium sized apples

1/4 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar

dash of cinnamon

dash of vanilla

1-2 tablespoons rum + 1 teaspoon rum

2 tablespoons butter

juice of half a lemon

1 scoop of apricot jelly

Preheat oven to 400F

1/ Roll out pie crust into a 9″ tart pan. Refrigerate until use.

2/ Peel, core, and cut up four of the apples into chunks and 2 of the apples into thin slices. Toss the apple slices with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and lemon juice.

3/ In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the apple chunks with 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, 1-2 tablespoons rum (optional), and butter. Cook until juice is reduced and apples are tender. This may take 20 min.

4/ Spread the apple chunks into the prepared tart shell. Neatly place the apple slices on top in circles. Bake for 30 min, until the apples are slightly burnt on top.

5/ Mix the apricot with the rum (which, if you’d rather, you could replace with some water), and brush on top of the apples.

6/ Serve warm with vanilla ice cream

 

Straight out of Provence: Lavender Macarons

When I think of Provence, the delicate scent of lavender immediately comes to mind. Quaint villages seem to sprout from the fields of purple that dominate this beautiful region of southern France. While I was there in late June, I was hoping to catch the lavenders in full bloom. Unfortunately, it was a colder and wetter year this year, and in many place we expected to see purple, we found green instead. It smelled fragrant already, but it wasn’t the shocking sea of purple that I expected to see.

Lavender at l'Abbaye de Senanque

Lavender at l’Abbaye de Senanque

However, never lose hope! While the typical places like Valensole, Sault etc. weren’t in full bloom yet, keep your eyes pealed when driving across the region. As we crisscrossed Provence, visiting the various markets and villages, we’d randomly come across huge chunks of purple over the hill from somewhere that is still mostly green. For example, the lavender field in front of L’Abbaye de Senanque had only a hint of purple, but behind St. Paul de Mausolee (a monastery where Van Gogh stayed for a year and produced many works of art), the lavender field was in full bloom and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Saint Paul de Mausole monastery

Saint Paul de Mausole monastery

While I’m sure Provence is beautiful all year round, I can’t even imagine going any other time in the year. I can’t even fathom Provence in winter. For me, Provence is perpetually sunny and it just doesn’t work under dreary clouds. Go back home clouds.

Another surprise was the amount of lavender in the Drome Valley, the region above Provence. It was remarkably less touristy and more agricultural. The hilltop villages there rivaled those of Provence and while most of Provence’s lavender hadn’t bloomed yet, all of those in Drome already had, and some plots were already harvested in late June.

So it definitely doesn’t come as a surprise that lavender was incorporated into EVERYTHING. I’m talking lavender ice cream, lavender honey, lavender tea, lavender soap, and of course, lavender macarons. The macarons really spoke to my heart. I knew I had to make some as soon as I got home when I got my hands on some lavender for cooking at Les Baux.

The problem with a lot of florally flavored foods (if that’s what you call them…) is that they can easily start to resemble soap more than food when it’s too fragrant, and you definitely have to be careful with lavender. If you’re unsure how strong you prefer the lavender, use less than you think you would need and if the flavor is too light, add more next time. It’s better to end up with macarons with a hint of lavender than lavender soap macarons.

Lavender Macarons

Makes ~15 macarons

1 batch macaron shells, recipe here

purple food coloring (I used gel)

50 g chopped white chocolate, preferably Valrhona

100 g heavy cream, split 50/50

1 teaspoon lavender

1. Follow the instructions to make the macaron shells. When whipping the meringue, add in the purple food coloring until you get a lavender shade of purple.

2. For the filling, bring up 50 g of heavy cream to almost a boil in a saucepan with the lavender flowers. Remove from the heat, cover, and let the cream infuse for 20 minutes.

3. After 20 minutes, strain the lavender out and bring the temperature of the cream back up to almost a boil.

4. Pour the hot cream directly over the white chocolate in a small bowl. Let it sit for thirty seconds. Slowly, mix the the white chocolate and the cream together until it forms a smooth ganache.

5. Cover up the ganache, and let it cool until room temperature.

6. In a separate bowl, start beating the other 50 g of heavy cream. Continue until the heavy cream reaches the same consistency as the room temperature ganache. Slowly pour in the ganache and continue beating until the mixture thickens to the point where the beaters are leaving distinct tracks. Be very careful not to over beat the cream, as it’ll thicken up much faster than meringue. This won’t be as stiff as whipped cream and will still be a little gloopy, but don’t worry. Stick the bowl into the fridge for 3-4 hours until the ganache is thick enough to pipe and hold it’s shape.

7. Be careful to not warm the ganache up too much when piping with your hand. As soon as you’re done, stick the macarons back into the fridge and let it refrigerate at least over night. Keep in mind that because there’s a lot of heavy cream, these macarons will be temperature sensitive.

Poolish Croissants

First off, I’d like to say that it has been an incredibly busy and exciting month, hence the lack of updates. It all ended a few days ago, when I finally graduated from high school (that was pretty exciting…)! Now that it’s summer break, I’m free to bake as much as I want and I am most definitely taking advantage of all the time. I will, however, be heading off to Europe for the next few weeks, and you all will hear everything about it of course.

croissants

Now, I’ll always remember having a cappuccino and croissant for breakfast every single day in Italy, and I still crave that at times. The croissants you find in grocery stores, or often even in cafes, here just don’t compare, and I’d always thought making croissants would be an incredibly difficult and laborious process.

I was totally wrong (thankfully). While you do have to set aside half a day to make this (especially if you’re doing it for the first time), the steps are simple. The results, however, are incredible.

The most important, and main) ingredient is unsurprisingly butter. You basically wrap a piece of dough around a slab of butter, folding and rolling it out until there are too many layers to count, creating a laminated dough. That’s what makes it amazing. And since butter is the star here, the type/quality of butter is also important. Look for a high butterfat/low moisture content butter, like Plugra. Plugra can be found at Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, and Smart & Final (which I have found to be the cheapest).

Having butter as the main ingredient is also a little concerning, since I have no trouble eating three of these flaky and buttery croissants at a time. Every day.

Poolish Croissants, adapted from The Fresh Loaf 

Poolish

160 g all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour)

160 g water

1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Final dough

362 g all-purpose flour

135 g milk

67 g sugar

10 g salt

3.5 g (1+1/8 teaspoon) instant yeast

3.5 g malt (I omitted this, since I didn’t have any)

22 g butter, softened

poolish, all

287 g roll-in butter

1. Combine the poolish ingredients in a bowl, cover and let it ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours until the surface is pebbled with bubbles.

2. In a stand mixer, combine the flour, milk, sugar, salt, yeast, malt and softened butter. Using the dough hook, and if using a KitchenAid mixer, mix on low (speed) 1 for 3 minutes. Then, increase to speed 2 and mix for 3-4 minutes to form a dough. Do not over-mix.

3. Flatten the dough into a disk, cover, and let it refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or over night.

4. Cut the roll-in butter into thinner chunks, and in between two sheets of plastic wrap, tap the butter to soften it, and roll into a 19×19 cm (7.5 x 7.5 inch) square. Return the butter to the fridge for 1-2 hours.

5. Remove the dough from the fridge, and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a 28×28 cm (11×11 inch) square. Place the roll-in butter slab onto the rolled out dough, so that the butter is diagonal from the dough. Fold the triangular edges of the dough over and seal the dough tightly so that no butter is visible and there make sure there aren’t parts of dough that don’t have butter. Try not to trap any air bubbles.

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6. Roll the dough (make sure you’re rolling out the butter as well when rolling the outer dough) out into a 20×60 cm (8×24 inch) rectangle. If you do end up with extra dough on the edges, cut those pieces off. Fold the rolled-out dough into thirds. Wrap up the dough in plastic, and stick it in the fridge for an hour. Repeat this process two more times (rolling it out into the rectangle and folding it up), making sure to refrigerate between each time, as you do NOT want the butter to melt at all.

7. After your final rolling and folding, refrigerate for 90 minutes and roll into a 23×90 cm (9×36 inch) rectangle. If you don’t have the space to roll out such a long rectangle, you may want to split the dough into two pieces, for easier handling. If you do cut it in half, roll each half into 23×45 cm (9×18 inch) pieces. Make sure to properly flour the surface and if you feel like your butter is getting warm, feel free to stick the dough back into the fridge before continuing. The dough should be 1/8 inches thick.

8. Cut the dough into equilateral triangles with a height of 23 cm and a base of 12 cm (4.5 inches). Refrigerate these pieces again.

9. After about 20 minutes, take them out and stretch each triangle so that it’s height is now 26 cm (10 inches). Start rolling the triangles up from the base TIGHTLY. Gently pull the top as you’re rolling from the base. You should be able to create 3 rolls.

10. Now, you are at a checkpoint. You can either proof your croissants now (get ready to bake them), freeze them to bake them at a later time, or you can stick them back into the fridge to proof and bake them the next day.

11. To proof, brush all the croissants with an egg wash and stick them into an oven barely heated at 80 F. Don’t forget to leave a good amount of space between each croissant, as it will grow a lot in the oven while baking. The croissants should somewhat grow and become really soft and jiggly. This process takes around 3-4 hours.

12. Remove the croissants from the oven and brush them with an egg wash again. Bring the oven up to 425 F, and bake the croissants for 10 minutes, and then bring the temperature down to 375 F, and bake for another 15 minutes.

Woohoo! You’re finally done! Let them cool down before digging in, and if you made too much to eat in a few days, freeze them and when you want to eat them, reheat them up at 375 F for 10-15 minutes and they’ll be just like new. Croissants fresh from the oven in the morning – sounds pretty good, eh?

Day One: Avocado Truffles

So I thought I would start off with an easier one. Ease myself into it, you know? I had come across this recipe whilst searching for a recipe on good ol’ chocolate truffles. When I first read the title, I was dubious. Avocado truffles? Err… Keep in mind, however, that I’m a little wary of these kinds of foods.

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However, since I’ve decided to do the Weird Food Challenge (which I actually made up…), I’m going for it.

Despite the fact that they’re called truffles, they are definitely different from the chocolate truffles that we know and love. You basically make guacamole… then start adding cocoa powder to it. The moment when the cocoa powder first hit my previously untouched guacamole, I had a mini crisis. What am I doing with my life? WHY AM I KILLING THIS POOR GUACAMOLE? As I continued to add the cocoa, the avocado started to disappear and it ended up a fudge-y consistency. I threw it into the freezer, rolled it into small balls, and dusted it with a layer of cocoa powder.

First of all – I made a mistake. I didn’t add enough butter, so the “ganache” (can you call it a ganache?) didn’t actually solidify and it would melt at room temperature (and half melted avocado truffles is not pretty, trust me). The one big thing that surprised me was that the avocado taste was not prominent at all. Despite the fact that avocado is the main ingredient, it only gave the truffles a slightly nutty taste that if I were to give someone a truffle without telling them it as made of avocados, they might not even figure it out. However, the fact that I knew these were made of avocados made the avocado taste stand out more. Most people were too afraid to try it, but one of my friends absolutely loved them and probably ate seven.

Ranking: 7/10 (not bad)

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Avocado Truffles Adapted from whatscookingamerica.net

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 avocado, peeled and pit removed

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup powdered sugar

Cocoa powder, for dusting

1. In a large saucepan, on low heat, melt the butter

2. In a blender, blend the avocados until smooth and no lumps. You may need to add a little bit of the melted butter over to loosen the mixture.

3. Add the avocados and the rest of the ingredients into the sauce pan, and mix well.

4. Let the mixture harden in the refrigerator. Roll into balls, and dust with cocoa powder. Firm it up in the fridge again. Serve.

Opera Cake

It was my mom’s birthday this past week and what cake did she request? The one and only Opera Cake of course. I knew that this was a long and laborious cake to make, and I expected to spend around half a day on it. Just bake the Joconde cake, some ganache, buttercream, and ta-da! Except it was not.

It definitely took me a whole day. It was also daylight savings on top of that, so I felt like I was losing an hour every single hour. A large chunk of that time was spent calculating, and figuring out how I would go about things, so hopefully you won’t have to slave away for a whole day since I’m telling you how things are going down.

The first issue I ran into was the size. Most of the recipes I looked at called for 6 whole eggs and 6 egg whites. I wasn’t quite looking forward to using a dozen eggs on one cake so those recipes were out. Turns out, the cake that you make using a dozen eggs is gigantic. It wasn’t practical for a birthday cake, and I found that 3 eggs and 3 egg whites was the perfect amount/size. I have an 11×18 inch baking sheet, so I wanted to make a 11×6 sized cake, after cutting up the cake slab into three pieces (the cake will be a little smaller after the edges are cut off for a neater presentation).

I also realized that regular grounded espresso WON’T dissolve. It’ll stay grainy. Forever. So if a recipe says instant… use instant espresso. I have the nespresso capsules at home, so I broke one open to make the coffee syrup. As a syrup, I just decided to use it (since the nespresso ones are actually incredibly fine), but for the buttercream, I had to strain out the grinds and use the leftover liquid. (which worked surprisingly well)

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So what exactly is an Opera Cake? 

If you love chocolate and coffee, this cake is for you.

Here’s the breakdown, going from bottom to top: chocolate, joconde sponge cake, coffee buttercream, joconde sponge cake, ganache, joconde sponge cake, coffee buttercream and finally a mirror glaze. 8 layers of goodness. But even after slaving away at it for a whole day (don’t even get me started on how I didn’t even get to eat lunch…), I thought it was totally worth it. Keep in mind, though – like most things, the cake tastes better after spending some time in the fridge. The flavors develop better, and yes, I know it’s so hard to wait after watching into come into fruition from nothingness, but do it. Do. It.

Compared to the other recipes, I also reduced the amount of sugar, and the cake still tasted really sweet, so I would recommend doing so as well. I found that it was just easier to make all the component separately, and then just compile all of it together at the end.

Joconde Sponge Cake 

115 g almond meal (alternatively, you can just use 115 g of blanched almonds and grind it up)

80 g powdered sugar

25 g cake flour

3 whole eggs

3 egg whites, room temperature

15 g white sugar

50 g melted dark chocolate, preferably Valrhona

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the 3 whole eggs together well. Really go for it. Sift in the powdered sugar and the almond meal, and continue mixing until mixture is smooth and light. Finally, sift in the cake flour, and stir that into the egg mixture until it is just mixed well. Set aside.

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2. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites. Make sure the bowl is impeccably clean and dry. Start beating the egg whites on high. When the egg whites start foaming, slowly pour in the white sugar. Continue beating (you may want to turn the mixer to a medium once soft-medium peaks are formed) until medium-stiff peaks are formed.

3. Using a spatula, transfer one third of your meringue into your egg-almond mixture. Mix this well, but don’t go too crazy. Now pour your entire egg mixture back into the bowl containing the meringue. At this point, be gentle. You don’t want to deflate the egg whites so much that they won’t rise, since the air is the only leavening agent in the cake. Do, however, mix it well, as you don’t want any chunks of only meringue or chunks without it. When you pour your mixture into the baking pan, you can check as you pour for any missed chunks.

4. Line a 11×18 inch baking sheet with parchment, or just place a silpat on the bottom(as I did). Pour your batter into the baking sheet, and smooth it out. You don’t want to mess with the batter so much that all the air leaves, but you want a smooth cake. I used one of those wooden crepe spreaders, and it worked wonderfully.

5. Tap the baking pan on the counter a few times, and then put it in to the preheated oven.

6. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until the top is a light golden brown color. The edges will brown quicker, but that’s not an issue since you’ll be cutting those pieces off.

7. Let the cake sit for around 10 minutes, or until it somewhat cool, before messing around with it, since it’s more fragile when it’s warm.

8. Once you’ve removed the cake from the parchment, cut the cake up into 3 equal pieces (around 6×11 each).

9. On one of the slices, pour the melted chocolate (you can pour it hot) on only one side of the cake. It should fit perfectly. Smooth out the chocolate, and then throw that slice into the freezer for 5 minutes, to harden the chocolate. This is the chocolate layer that goes on the very bottom of the cake. Cover the rest of the cakes in parchment, to prevent drying.

10. Remove the slice of cake with the hardened chocolate from the freezer, and cover.

Coffee Syrup adapted from The Splendid Table

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

5 grams instant espresso

1. Mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. No need to thicken it, because it will thicken as it cool. Let the syrup cool.

Coffee Buttercream

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) room temperature butter

5 tablespoons sugar

20 g water

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons instant espresso

2 tablespoons boiling water

1. In a separate bowl, beat the butter using a spatula until smooth, and all the chunks are gone. Set aside.

2. Mix the the espresso and boiling water together until espresso dissolves. Set aside and cool.

3. Add the egg yolks into the mixer with a whisk attachment, and start beating at a medium speed. Do this until the yolks are light and creamy.

4. In a small saucepan, add the sugar and remaining water. Cook it until the mixture reaches 115 F. This should be done around the same time the egg yolks are beating.

5. Once the sugar has reached the right temperature, slowly pour it into the egg yolks (with the whisk going at medium) at the edge where the yolk meets the bowl. Once all of it has been poured in, continue beating on medium-high until the yolk has cooled down to room temperature.

6. Once the yolk cools, start beating in the butter a little at a time. Add each new addition after the previously added butter has already been fully incorporated. You should see the mixture thicken and become stiff after a few additions of the butter. Add in the coffee a little at a time, tasting as you go (my favorite part) to determine how strong of coffee you want your buttercream to taste.

7. If your buttercream is not stiff enough, throw it in the fridge for 10 minutes, but if it is already at a good spreadable consistency, just leave it out.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

5 ounces chopped dark chocolate, preferably Valrhona

125 g heavy cream

1. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until the cream is bubbling.

2. Remove the pan off the heat, and add the chocolate. Let it sit for 30 seconds, and then slowly stir until ganache is smooth.

3. Pour ganache into a bowl, and let it cool until a spreadable consistency.

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Mirror Glaze

20 g cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona

30 ml water

25 g heavy cream

30 g sugar

1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Let the glaze cook until it thickens slightly, but keep in mind that the glaze will thicken as it cools.

Assembling the Cake 

For the first slice of cake, place it chocolate side down. Generously brush on the coffee syrup until the entire surface is covered. Add on half of the amount of buttercream and spread it evenly. The thickness of the buttercream should be the same as the cake (around 5 mm). If you look at at it from the side before cutting the sides off, it’ll look thinner than it actually is, but just try and spread it as evenly as possible. Add the second layer of cake, and brush with syrup again. This time, spread the ganache (same thickness as the buttercream/cake) evenly. Add the final slice of cake, and repeat brushing the syrup. Add the rest of the buttercream and once it’s completely flattened, cover and stick it into the freezer for 20 minutes. You need to cool the cake because the glaze will be warm when you pour it on, and you don’t want to melt the buttercream.

Pour the glaze onto the cooled cake, and use a spatula to smooth out the top if need be. Return the cake to the freezer to allow the glaze to settle.

To cut the cake, use a hot serrated knife to cut through the cake. Serve at room temperature. And now, go take a nap.

Pierre Herme’s Ispahan Macarons

I’ve always read about how amazing Pierre Herme’s ispahan macarons are, but unfortunately, I never got to try any when I visited one of his boutiques in Paris. The ispahan macaron is a mix of rose cream, lychee, and fresh raspberries sandwiched between two macaron shells. I can’t comment on how close these macarons taste compared to the real deal, but I thought the tartness from the raspberries balanced very nicely with the sweetness of the cream and macaron shells.

Besides what they taste like, the macarons look fabulous. Even though the macarons look impressive, they are actually quite easy to make, which is a win-win situation for everybody!

It took me a while to figure out the recipe I wanted to use. I’ve seen multiple versions all over the place, and the differences are mostly in the rose cream. I found this one published by Le Figaro, and there was a video accompanying the recipe showing someone from Pierre Herme making it. That one consisted of a Italian meringue buttercream mixed with creme d’anglais. Another version consisted of a whipped white chocolate ganache. I made a batch of both, and found that I preferred the latter since it tasted lighter and I prefer the taste of whipped cream over butter. The first option would probably last longer, but I only made a small batch, so that wasn’t a concern for me. The whipped cream was also much easier to make, and used up a lot less time.

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Ispahan Macarons

makes 7 macarons

100 g almond powder

100 g powdered sugar

80 g room temperature egg whites (~2 egg whites)

80 g white sugar

3 drops red food coloring

Follow the instructions here for how to make the macaron shells. The ingredients listed above are the double the amount in the instructions, since these macaron shells are much larger (7 cm in diameter to be exact). Add the food coloring when beating the egg whites. Also, disregard the template given as you want to pipe 7 cm diameter circles instead. I also found that I had to bake the shells for a few minutes longer (I baked them for 18 minutes). The batter may not fit into one baking pan, depending on how strategic you are with your piping.

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Rose Cream

3-4 canned lychees, sliced, drained and patted dry

~12 ounces fresh raspberries

50 g white chocolate, preferably Valrhona

100 g heavy cream (separated into 50g/50g)

1 teaspoon rose syrup

1. Chop the white chocolate into fine pieces and place into a medium bowl.

2. In a saucepan, heat up 50 g of the heavy cream until it’s almost boiling.

3. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate. Lit it sit for 30 seconds, before stirring from the inside out. Continue until a smooth ganache is formed. Add the rose syrup, mix well, and let it cool to room temperature.

consistency of the rose chocolate ganache

consistency of the rose chocolate ganache

4. In a separate bowl, start beating the other 50 g of heavy cream. Once the heavy cream reaches the same consistency as the ganache, slowly start pouring in the ganache while beating the heavy cream. Once all the ganache has been added, continue beating until the cream starts to thicken. Be careful not to over beat. The mixture should not hold a shape yet, but don’t worry, because the white chocolate will help it solidify in the refrigerator.

5. Cover the cream, and let it refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or if you can stick it in the freezer for 15-20 hours for a faster option).

6. If you’ve washed your raspberries first, make sure the raspberries are completely dry, as even a little bit of moisture can make your macaron shells too soggy.

7. Pipe some of the cream onto the middle of a macaron. Place a ring of raspberries around it. Add some lychee pieces on the cream, and pipe some more cream on top so that it reaches the same height as the raspberries. Place second shell on top, and if you would like, serve with a raspberry and/or rose petal on top.

8. Refrigerate at least overnight before serving.

Ricotta Cheesecake, with homemade ricotta

I know many people who aren’t the biggest cheesecake fans, and personally, I never really fell in love with it either. They (generally New York cheesecakes) were always a little too rich, too dense for my taste. That all changed when in Italy, a waiter highly recommended their cheesecake to us. I originally wanted to go for the tiramisu (it seemed a lot more Italian to me than cheesecake), but thank god I listened to the waiter. The cheesecake was light, with a fluffy but smooth texture, unlike anything I’d had before. I immediately demanded kindly asked our waiter what the cheesecake was made of, and he told me “ricotta”.

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So that was the secret. Ricotta cheese. Here I was, thinking cream cheese was the only way to make cheesecake.

That was two years ago. Up until know, I’d never successfully made a cheesecake (nor had one) like the one in Italy. I had tried making a cheesecake with store-bought ricotta in place of cream cheese – it turned out dense, wet, and grainy. I tried beating the egg whites. Nothing worked and I was still here without my cheesecake. On a trip to New York, I made sure to pay a visit to Veniero’s, whom I heard made a killer ricotta cheesecake. On the day of, I was so excited I got cheesecake for breakfast. Yes, for breakfast. And it was a horrible let down. Like the cheesecakes I made, it was wet and grainy, and had none of the light fluffiness the Italian cheesecake had.

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At this point, I thought my only option was to fly back over to Italy and demand the waiter give me the recipe. Per favore. But before such drastic action was taken, I thought back to the store-bought ricotta. The ricotta itself was grainy. Instead of using store-bought ricotta, I tried the cheesecake again using homemade ricotta (which is incredibly easy) and voila, out of the oven came this large, fluffy, cheesecake. Sure, it shrank a little coming out, and the surface was covered with cracks, but it was glorious in my eyes. And it tasted even fluffier than it looked (if you haven’t noticed, fluffy is the keyword here). Finally, after two long years, I was reunited. And that darn store-bought ricotta has been at fault all along – Veniero’s, take note.

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Ricotta Cheese, adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 cup of ricotta

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar

1. In a saucepan, mix the milk, heavy cream, and salt. While continually stirring, bring the milk up to 185 F. The milk should be almost simmering.

2. Remove the pan off the heat, and add in the lemon juice/vinegar. Stir to mix, then let the mixture sit for a couple minutes. You should be able to see the cheese curds and whey separate (and if this is your first time making cheese – I know, I felt like I belonged in the Swiss Alps, yodeling and herding cows up the mountains, too).

3. Line a colander or bowl with cheesecloth, and pour in the mixture. Strain out the whey by either letting it sit in the colander for about an hour or so (if you’re using a colander), or hang up the cheese curds by the ends of the cheesecloth and let gravity do it’s work. I made a contraption out of a fishing pole and two chairs, with a bowl underneath the cheese to catch the whey. It should be the right consistency in about 1-1.5 hours. Now, you can either eat this ricotta (I wouldn’t blame you if you did), or you can go ahead and make the cheesecake, which I highly recommend. If not using the ricotta immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

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Ricotta Cheesecake

Makes 1 8-inch cheesecake

1 package cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature

8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature

4 eggs, separated and at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the ricotta and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time. After mixing thoroughly, add the yogurt, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Mix well.

2. In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites and vinegar until large bubbles form. Slowly add in 1/2 cup sugar, and continue beating until soft peaks form.

3. Fold in 1/3 of the meringue with the cheese mixture until fully incorporated. Add in the rest of the egg whites, folding gently without deflating the meringue but thoroughly. Pour the batter into an 8-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom completely aluminum.

4. Place a larger baking pan (one that the 8-inch pan can fit into comfortably) that is filled halfway with water into the oven first. Then, place the 8-inch pan into the waterbath, making sure no water can get into the cheesecake. The waterbath helps minimize the cracks on the surface of the cheesecake.

5. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the cheesecake is browning too fast, turn the heat down to 300 F. As another measure to minimize cracking, let the cheesecake cool in the oven, with the door slightly ajar.

6. If everything fails, and the surface of your is covered in rifts and cracks, you may choose to serve your cheesecake, battle scars and all, with a fruit sauce on the side, or you can cover it up with some artfully placed fruit. I went with the former, and decided upon a raspberry coulis. (Which was secretly just raspberry preserves piped onto the plate. Shh)

Classic Italian Pizza, homemade

Gusta Pizza, Florence.

Home to the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

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We happened upon this place while utterly lost in Florence, after having attempted to visit the Pitti Palace, which was closed unfortunately. Gusta Pizza is located in an alleyway two blocks behind the palace and the guys at Gusta Pizza unfortunately spoke absolutely no English. I had my handy dandy Italian phrasebook with me, but it was absolutely useless. I tried my hand at a couple sentences, but they only shook their heads in confusion. We resorted to pointing and gesturing wildly at the menu, which worked out wonderfully. They were extremely patient with us, and my dad was so happy he bought one of the chefs a beer. Now this pizza was a little different from the pizzas you get around here. It was cooked in less than a minute in a stone oven, and it was topped with leafy greens and parmesan before serving. It was beautiful and utterly delicious. And I was determined to make it at home.

The first thing I did when I got back was get a pizza/baking stone. Best investment ever, if you ask me. While it’s no brick oven, the temperature gets much higher than with a regular baking pan and the crust tastes much better as a result.

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For the pizza itself, I decided to just make a simple pizza margherita, and top with arugula, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan, like they did.

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For the dough, I actually doubled the amount given below to make two large pizzas. The size depends on how thin you roll it out, and I prefer it to be on the thin side. First, shape the dough into a round ball (by pushing the edges into the middle of the bottom) so that it is smooth on the surface. Then, on a lightly floured surface, use your fingers to push the dough down into a flat disk. At this point, you can use whatever fancy pizza dough stretching technique you may possess, but I broke out the rolling pin. I lightly rolled out the dough, alternating between stretching it with my hands and rolling it out. No need to squish the thing to death, but go ahead and pop the large air bubbles if there are any. If the dough keeps on going back to its original shape and the darn thing just won’t stay stretched out, let the dough rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten and try again. Patiently.

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I don’t have a pizza peel, so I used the back of baking sheet with some parchment. The pizza goes onto the baking stone with the parchment, and is removed around 5 minutes into baking.

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I often find that the tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes actually doesn’t turn out that great. Instead, I like to use the canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. It can be found at Trader Joe’s for 3.99.

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At first, I used this kosher shredded mozzarella from Costco (called Natural & Kosher) and it did not turn out at all. Somehow, the cheese just separated into a gooey mess under the high temperatures. I now stick with the ball mozzarella, which has more moisture and fares much better in the high temperature.

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Classic Italian Pizza

makes one pizza

pizza dough 

1 1/2 cups bread flour (240 grams)

2/3 cup warm water (157 grams)

1 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar into the water. Set aside.

2. In a larger bowl, or in a mixer, add the flour and salt. Stir in the water and oil a little at a time, and knead until smooth and elastic.

3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

4. Roll out the dough to its proper size and now it’s ready for toppings.

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the rest of the pizza

1 can of tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

pinch of salt and pepper

half a ball of low moisture mozzarella

olive oil to drizzle

tossed arugula

sliced prosciutto

5-6 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

parmesan, shaved or chunks

1.Preheat your oven with the baking stone inside to as high as it will go. Mine went to 550 F.

2.Blend the canned tomatoes until smooth. Squeeze the extra liquid out first, to prevent the sauce from becoming too wet. Add in the salt and pepper to taste. There is no need to make this too salty, since the prosciutto and parmesan to be added later are really salty.

3. Spread the sauce onto the dough evenly. Top with mozzarella. For one pizza, I only used up half a ball.

4. Get the pizza onto the baking stone (I used parchment paper). Bake until the bottom is at least golden brown or even slightly charred, and the cheese is bubbling. At 550 F, it takes me 7-8 minutes.

5. Top pizza with the arugula, tomatoes, prosciutto, and parmesan. Serve immediately. This pizza should be eaten fresh due to the toppings. Take it from me – it’s not very good the next day…

La Maison du Chocolat’s Chocolate Truffles

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I think there’s something about the month of December that makes chocolate even better than it normally is, which is indeed a very difficult feat. Maybe it’s the chocolate advent calendars? I have yet to get one but I need one so badly it’s not even funny. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to eat a truffle a day to make do… I’m definitely not complaining.

It’s easier to make this in larger amounts, but that often isn’t practical. Using high quality chocolate and cocoa powder is also incredibly important. There aren’t many ingredients so use the best if possible. I used both Valrhona chocolate and cocoa powder and I think it turned out great. Obviously, it didn’t compare to the real deal, but it was definitely much better than your average truffle.

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Also, using surgical gloves makes this messy process a lot easier. It’s easier to shape and dip the truffles without covering yourself in chocolate. Chocolate is for eating – not for covering yourself with.

Plain Truffles (Adapted from La Maison du Chocolat by Robert Linxe)

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used 61% Valrhona)

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean (optional)

For the coating

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona 100%)

1. Place the chocolate on a chopping block and chop finely with a knife. Put in a heatproof mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Pour heavy cream into a saucepan and set aside. With a small knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape out the little black seeds. Place the vanilla seeds and bean in the cream, then bring to a boil. As soon as the cream boils, remove from heat, wait 20 seconds, stir, then pour through a strainer into the chopped chocolate. Remove vanilla bean.

3. Let stand for a few seconds. Whisk to combine in a circular motion, starting from the middle and working out. Whisk gently and stop as soon as the mixture is blended.

4. Set aside to cool (do not refrigerate). As soon as the truffle mixture is firm, use an ice cream scoop to scoop out walnut sized balls. Using the gloves, roll them out to a round ball. Refrigerate the truffles again.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the coating. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt over a double boiler. Even though the book did not state to temper the chocolate, I did so and thought the results were great. I followed the instructions here.

6. Remove the chocolate balls from the fridge. Using a fork, drop a ball into the melted chocolate. Coat it (try to keep this as thin as possible) then drop it into a bowl of cocoa. Instead of using another fork to roll the truffle around, try spinning the truffle around in the bowl by shaking the bowl itself. For me, the surface turned out much better when I did it this way.

7. Set aside to harden and repeat. Shake off the excess cocoa powder.

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