Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Madeleines

Well, several exciting events have happened this week. I received my official membership packet into the Farmgirl Sisterhood! Overwhelmed by excitement at opening the envelope and seeing my badge, I squealed, as I do when terribly excited, and ran to find my needle point hoop to stitch in the logo. Problem? I think I left that particular box at one of my parent's residences after the wedding.

With all of the hullabaloo of planning the wedding in twelve days and packing up everything that would fit into our little apartment, somehow that box did not make the trip, yet one with a bunch of porcelain knick-knacks I could have done without, wormed its way into the moving truck. Regardless, I'll have to get one at an antique store or hobby store. I confess to trying to buy anything possible second-hand. Except shoes. Warts. Ewe.

Speaking of wonderful antique stores (old soul over here, remember?), while browsing a recycled bookstore for Margret Atwood or the Bronte sisters, I stopped by an antique shop next door. I strolled up and down the tower aisles, giggling at army surplus, useless porcelain figures, and restraining myself against buying any more vintage teapots, I came across a stack of old sewing patterns.

I've been wanting to make a new dress, but as I do with recipes, rather than inventing something new, I'll take an already-existing, amazing thing and tweak it to my likes and specifications, in this case, alter the pattern. It's more fun experimenting that way anyway.


I am SUPER excited about making one, I'd like to make all three types, traditional, long, and short, but am trying to decide between fabrics at this point. What are your thoughts on fabric choices? I'll keep you posted, as it will be a work in progress, since school and work take up much of my time.

Sewing and baking help me de-stress. I think possibly because it forces my attentions onto something immediate and meticulous, so my troubles shrink in my neglect and inattention. Plus making something and working with my hands, producing something, has always made me feel more worthwhile.

Aside from those precious tid-bits, as the title of this post suggests, I baked tonight!

There was an overabundance of ganache left in the fridge after the macaron frenzy last week. I would look at it every time the fridge would open and envision something, ANYTHING I could make, other than traditional cake or cupcakes, to employ the rest of the chocolaty goodness.


It hit me yesterday. MADELEINES! I used this recipe and added 2 tsp of organic lemon curd to the batter right after the sugar. I may try another one later, as this recipe is a little dense and they're supposed to be airy and fluffy. Me and airy desserts. I guess I misnamed this blog, it should have been Ashley's Airy Dessert Time or something to that affect.


It turned out deliciously. I reheated the ganache in a jerry-rigged double boiler and added 2 tsp (or what ever size you think the little silver spoon is) of lemon curd to that as well. Once the madeleines had cooled enough, I began dipping there shell-sides in the chocolate liquid and subsequently laid them on parchment and placed them on a plate in the freezer to stiffen the ganache.

I sprinkled some with crystal sugar, because sparkles are always better, a few ended up a little over-board, but oh well. They're puuurrty.


I had some failures too. One of the madeleines was FAR too big and came out in pieces, sticking to the pan, but most turned out well. They're not supposed to be so crispy either, but my oven is temperamental. I'd kill for a wood-burning stove.

Warning! The chocolate-dipped ones I recommend pairing with milk or coffee, as they are intensl sweet, and the others with only the sugar or just plain with tea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Mixer has been Christened

Remember that mixer about which I was SO excited when it finally arrived a few weeks ago? I went on and on my first few blogs, naming off things I would bake and the beauties which I would create. Yadah...that happened, right?

Fact is, at that point, I had no job, nor school to fill my time, I'd just gotten married and back from the trip of a lifetime and then all was suddenly still. I admit I may have come down with some apartment fever. Regardless, life happens, gets busy, and fun things get shifted to the back burner.

This week has been a bit stressful, so I thought I'd whisk away my troubles into a frothy, sweet matter with stiff peaks. Ironically, this morning, I woke up to an email alert from Ladurée informing me that the first Ladurée store has opened in the US, in New York, which is depressing, because I've never been to NYC, let alone go there often, so no Ladurée goodies for me.

Regardless, it rekindled my fervor to make my own sweet concoctions. French macarons have been on my to-do list since I returned to this half of the world and the gorgeous, less than 1000 degree weather prompted me to bake after class today.

Now, a few weeks ago, a friend and I attempted to make macarons. Problem? The recipe was British. Translation? The ingredients were in metric measurements. We attempted to make them anyway, but they were more of a solid meringue than an airy, chewy macaron, without the famously beautiful "feet" every baker tries to achieve.


Today, I found a recipe in standard measurements that seemed to make a decent amount of biscuits. (Concerning the word biscuits, I'd always thought of them as the traditional fluffy bread that accompanies gravy or jam in the morning-again, Southern country girl over here-until I lived with a French family. Cookie has wormed its way into the French language, but it's very specific, like a chocolate chip cookie. Other semi-sweet, dry yummies that are eaten with tea or coffee are called biscuits. It's the same in the UK and Australia, so even when my host mother and I would speak English, this word bled over the language barrier and I've picked it up.)

Now, I followed the directions as closely as possible. On my college student budget (or perhaps out of sheer laziness) I haven't purchased a sifter. My sifting method consisted of me stirring the confectioners' sugar and almond flour together with a traditional spoon and then taking a little bitty sifter/colander thing that came in a wedding gift, and smooshing the dry mixture through the bottom. Smooshing, that's technical baking terminology, right?

Continuing, I broke in the mixer with the egg whites and cream of tater, but then whisked until my arms gave out to achieve the perfect stiff peaks. May I just say that my left arm is completely and utterly uncoordinated? It didn't help the mixture much, and as Husband watched from the dining room table, giggling at my attempt, I was arching my body and contorting my back trying to figure out how to work my useless arm.

He offered to help, which I resisted at first. I'm am GOING to do this myself. Then the burning in my arm continued and began shaking weakly. Man! Fine. "Yes honey, thank you." Stupid T-Rex arms.

Muscles over there went to town and after a few minutes, they were nearly ready. After stealing the bowl back and whisking just a bit more, to make myself feel less insignificant, I continued the recipe. In addition to the original directions, I added a few sprays of rosewater and two drops of pink food coloring. After meticulously placing the first sheet in the oven, I set to work on making ganache.  

After mixing away, I peeked into the oven and squealed when I saw big, beautiful, fluffy, FEET! My other macarons had no feet, they actually didn't change shape at all despite my avail. I slammed the oven door in my excitement, ran to the living room and retrieved my camera.


This made up for the fact that I'd ruined a few of the setting batter rounds on the other baking sheet, due to grabbing it with my oven mit on accident. I have had NO formal training whatsoever in the cooking/baking arts. Everything you will read on this blog, I have figured out as I went along, read out of a book, or off of a website, so fun mishaps are always bound to happen. It's always an adventure!


I placed the ganache in the fridge at this point in order to stiffen it a bit, as it was too hot and runny to put on the brittle biscuits, but after everything was all cooled and hardened, I set to work, putting together the masterpieces.

This is a milestone in baking for me. I have been so afraid to try these, because everyone tells me they're SO difficult to make, or writes that if you don't do ONE step correctly, they'll turn into fire-spitting ants or taste like mud.


My tip to you is to resist the intimidation and approach every recipe the same, with a creative mood and childhood excitement.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Nemesis has been Defeated!

Yes, my nemesis. I have enemies. Enemies in the form of crispy on the outside, doughy and fluffy on the inside, wonderfully airy goodness that is the French Baguette.

Funny story.

I have always been an avid baker. Three tier cakes? No problem. Fondant covered cupcakes? Piece of cake (no pun intended). French macaroons? Maybe a little on the meringue-y side, but still tantalizing. Bread? Serious issues. Every time I've tried to make bread, it ends up being too dense, too sweet, too doughy, just straight tastes like matted flour, or has overly-activated yeast. Regardless of the pains I've taken to ensure these things don't happen, they do.

I still try and try and in turn, fail and fail, but not THIS time!

Wait. I'm not communicating this to you correctly. Perhaps if I explain my last mishap.

It was before I'd left for France, and I wanted desperately to make baguette before I embarked on my journey. I'd also had a burning desire to try out a baguette recipe Shad's mother gave me around Thanksgiving last year. Well, it was more like I stalked her in the kitchen and wrote down her every move.

Now, you must understand, my mother-in-law is a Sage. She can just make things happen, like unforgettable bread or raising eight children. She's Wonder Woman without the annoying headband. Basically, she just waved her wooden spoon around, kneaded some magical dough and Voila! Bread that was smelled by everyone in a 5 mile radius and was in turn, devoured in under 15 minutes.

I tried the recipe I had written down, and my wonder of her grew further, as mine did NOT turn out like hers. It was a horrid, gooey mess that refused to stiffen, regardless of the immense amounts of flour I'd added. Finally, I turned to my then-roommate and decided to just plop the hideous blob on the baking sheet to see what happened.

It was dense. A baguette is supposed to be airy, and fluffy inside, heavy and crunchy outside. This was not the case. It was a slightly sweet brick that tasted more like hardened flour than anything else. We threw it away, and I hung up my apron strings on bread for a while.

Which brings me to today. I woke up to the first full day I've had off Aside from my husband and dog to feed, I had no obligations of any kind. I confess to be a masochistic workaholic at this point in my life. Three places of employment and full-time student. Bah.

In honor of this day, I decided that I needed to bake something. I had found a decent recipe, that did not call for a bread machine or mixer of any kind a few months ago. Legit, handmade bread. The disastrous results of my previous attempts and subsequently wounded ego had left me feeling skittish about trying to make an edible, cereal based fluff ball.

I felt gumption today, though, and tried my hand at it. I measured carefully and followed the directions to a T, praying that it would work. Granted, including all of the rising time, this particular recipe takes about 5 hours to make. It better had been good!

I was terrified that I'd ruined it right at the beginning, as I'd put the yeast mixture in too small a bowl, and ended up transferring it into a larger one. This is almost the same way that I'd over-activated the yeast last time, but I pressed on, setting it to rise and bubble.

Adding the rest of the flour mixture, my hands and fingers became covered in the beer-like smelling goo, as I kneaded and kneaded. It was still fairly sticky when I oiled the bowl and heaped the mass into it. Setting the dishcloth over it, the hour passed by quickly, as I had a friend visiting, and we kneaded it once more and laid the three twists on the baking sheet.

We rigged a tent-like towel structure over the pan to prevent any dive-bombing flies or gnats from tainting the perfection that was the dough thus far. With that, we went grocery shopping and ended up letting the three rise for closer to an hour than 20 minutes. Again, I was terrified that I'd ruin the batch and humiliate myself, yet again.

However, they looked uneven and beautiful when we returned, so I quickly heated the oven and brushed the three with olive oil. Popping the pan in the oven, I filled a bowl with water to provide the moisture. Problem. They wouldn't fit together, I finally shifted the dishes around to make them fit enough for the oven door to shut. The entire first 15 minutes consisted of me pacing and pleading to the Kitchen Goddess to protect my oven and keep the glass bowl from exploding.

The time came to remove the bowl and decide what to make for dinner to accompany the bread, should it turn out well. After wrestling over a decision between pastas, I decided against both, as that would be a LOT of starch all at once.

I decided to just cut up a heap of fresh vegetables I'd had in the fridge and had just bought at the store and serve them up in pesto olive oil. I set to work, flavoring the oil with fresh garlic cloves, heaping the half-wilted spinach leaves into the oil with half a spoonful of my homemade pesto.

A green bell pepper and three medium sized tomatoes with dashes of sea salt, black pepper, oregano, and cucumber slices finished the dish. I poured the concoction in a bowl and pulled the bread out of the oven. It smelled divine, though wasn't much to regard.

"Listen," my friend said tapping the top of one of the baguettes with her fingernail. My heart soared as it sounded nearly hollow. Perfect.

Mouths watering, we all sat around the display. I fetched the beautiful new bottle of Balsamic vinegar, without which I could absolutely not live and a spoon for the veggie concoction. I'm not sure what to call it. Vegetarian's Delight? Italian Hodge-Podge? Wanna Be Bruschetta?

We began heaping the topping in our bowls and breaking the bread. Moment of truth. I soaked a large piece in the oil, without any vegetable topping, as I wanted the bread's taste to be clear. It was delicious. Simply put. Delicious.

I've been on the hunt for good baguette since my return, and I've concluded that I'll just have to do it myself. We ate greedily and afterward, I sat back to digest my triumph.

I've conquered bread. It will never humiliate me again. Muahaha! 


Recipe for Vegetarian's Delight or Italian Hodge-Podge:

You need:

3 medium sized tomatoes
1/2-1 cup of olive oil (depends on whether you want more of a focus on the oil or the vegetables)
1/2 tsp. oregano
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. pesto
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch of pepper
1/2-1 cucumber
1 green bell pepper
3 cups fresh spinach leaves

1.) In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Peel and whack the garlic cloves and brown them in the oil.

2.) Wilt spinach leaves in the oil, reduce heat to medium or medium low and add the pesto. Be careful, as the water in the leaves will cause them to pop and spit in the oil.

3.) Dice and slice the rest of the vegetables and place them in the pan. (I like to do tomatoes last, as they retain their shape better when cooked over a shorter period of time.)

4.) Use tongs or a spatula to rotate the mixture.

5.) Sprinkle the remaining seasonings over the mixture and continue mixing and rotating.

6.) When all looks cooked, remove from heat, and either serve immediately with fresh baguette and optional balsamic vinegar or cover and place in fridge for a tasty cold salad dish.