Macarons with almond praline crunch vanilla buttercream.
I’ve been making this buttercream forever. One day when I was first out of pastry school I was playing around in the kitchen and decided to throw some of this into a vanilla buttercream and it quickly became my favorite flavor. I have used this flavor a lot in chocolate layer cakes when I want to break up all the flavors and not have everything chocolate chocolate. The praline once you grind it up in the processor; lasts- dare I say almost forever; but as food safety I guess I should really say less; but being honest I’ve had it stored well over a couple months as long as its kept in an airtight container. You can vary the nuts- using pecans, peanuts etc- but almond is still my favorite.
1/2 Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
3/4 Cup whole almonds
Prepare a 1/2 sheet lined with a Silpat liner or similar silicon liner. In a small saucepan place the water, then add the sugar and stir with a clean finger until mixture is like wet sand. Place over medium heat and allow to come to a boil and heat until it is medium-dark amber color, stopping occasionally to swirl the pan above off the heat to distribute an even color. Once desired color is reached; take off the heat and stir in the almonds moving quickly to ensure they are coated completely, then turn out onto the sheet pan and distribute in an even layer by pushing gently with a heat proof spatula, and allow to cool completely. Once cooked break apart into about 2 inch pieces and place in a food processor and pulse until you get small pieces; similar size pieces you’d find in a chunky peanut butter as well as a large portion pulsed to very fine. Store in an airtight container. I like to keep some of it in a more coarse texture too to roll the finished macs in. I love to have extra on hand for other uses in baked goods.
Praline Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(Makes 2 Cups buttercream )
3 egg whites
3/4 Cup sugar,
small pinch of salt
2 sticks (1 Cup) unsalted butter, softened, but still slightly cool to touch
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 Cup of the prepared praline crunch from above. (You will have some leftover)
Prepare a bain marie and place the sugar, salt, and egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer (I have a Kitchen Aide); so if your bowl doesn’t fit over a saucepan place a metal or glass bowl over your pan that allows it to fit without touching the water in the pot. Place the mixer bowl over the bain marie and heat the mixture until it reaches 160° F. Take off the heat place on the mixer with whisk attachment until you reach a stiff meringue. Add in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Change to a paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Stir in the praline crunch by hand. Add more if you like a more pronounced flavor. Note you will have leftover praline- keep in an airtight container- it will keep for several weeks.
124 g confectioners sugar
140 g almond flour
108 g fresh egg whites (I don’t age mine)
110 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
- In a food processor place the almond flour and confectioners sugar and run for 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides so the mixture settles into the processor bowl. Repeat this 2 more times, then sift mixture through a strainer (it doesn’t have to be fine) over a large bowl (I use a 5 quart size stainless steel bowl). Preheat the oven to 300° F convection, 325° F for non convection setting. (If you want to try a different drying technique and/temperature see below about drying). Prepare two baking sheets with Silpat mats. I use these mats by Velesco (you can get 2 for 13 dollars on Amazon).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer place the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar and whisk by hand to combine. Place over a ban marie and stir gently for about 5 minutes until the mixture reaches about 130 F or when you touch the mixture with your index and thumb fingers you don’t feel any sugar crystals. Remove from the heat and place on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and start the meringue by running mixer on power level 4 (Kitchen Aide) and run for about 3 minutes. Stop once to scrape the sides of the bowl to push down the mixture that appears on the sides.
- Increase mixer then to power level 6 and run for 3 minutes.~ 3 minutes.
- Stop mixer and with a bamboo skewer or toothpick add in a bit of desired gel food color (optional).
- Increase mixer to power level high (10) and run until the meringue is stiff peaks and it has started leaving tracks in the meringue and a good portion has collected inside the whisk . A sign that meringue is ready is there will be a good amount collected within the whisk and if you turn the bowl upside down the meringue will not slip or move. If you stop the mixer and tap the whisk gently on the side of the mixer bowl it will look like a bird beak; the meringue is stiff but it has a slight hooked curve when holding the whisk horizontally. If the color does not appear to be mixer to your liking at this point I add in any color and mix gently by; being careful not to overmix.
- Add one half of almond flour/sugar mix and start folding with a rubber spatula until mixture starts to look cohesive. Add in the remaining half and continue to gently fold, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. After the almond/sugar mixture is all added, I do about 4 reps of where I smash the mixture against the walls of the bowl with either my spatula or bowl scraper, stopping after each time to test the “flow” of the batter.. The batter is perfect when you lift up the spatula and tip the pointed end of the spatula down and ribbons of batter fall smoothly back into the bowl. I like to gauge its ready when I can count 6-7 ribbons falling without breaking and I can “draw” a figure 8 with the batter when lifting the spatula and letting it fall into the bowl. Fill your pastry bag by using a heavy tall cup or mason jar to hold your pastry bag with the top folded over the glass. When preparing your bag after you drop in your round tip (I use Ateco 804), twist the bag right above the larger end of the tip and push it down into tip. Fold the top 4 inches of the bag over the jar or glass.
- Let the batter fall right into the bottom of the bag and continue filling to ensure you don’t get air bubbles. When ready to pipe and all of the batter is in the bag, twist the top of the bag and when ready to pipe, push down with your dominant hand to force the bottom of the tip to open.
- Pipe the batter onto prepared baking sheet with 30 macarons per sheet. Six across the long side, and five rows perpendicular. Take the sheet pan and let it drop onto the counter about 5-7 times, then look for any visible air bubbles and pop with a toothpick or bamboo skewer.
- I bake the macarons one tray at a time in a preheated (convection oven ) for NON convection oven* you’ll want to play around and determine what the perfect temp for you is; generally it would be 20 degrees hotter than convection) for about 15 minutes or until the cookie does not wiggle when attempting to check by carefully grabbing both sides of a cookie and gently testing. Let the tray rest on a wire rack and then bake the second tray. Cool the cookies completely and pipe the buttercream between two cookies and sandwich together.
- I recently started drying my macs in a different way using the technique known by “Sugarbean” on Youtube. She has a technique whereby she dries her macs in lower degree oven for 2-3 minutes with the door ajar and then she increases the temp and bakes at the higher temperature. After a few thousand trials #kiddingnotkidding I finally (for me) arrived at the perfect temp for my oven at a convection temp of 248° F for drying and then 293° F for baking and here is the process I use.
Drying macs w/ oven method: (known as the Sugar Bean method). She has videos on you tube if you search for her.
I preheat my oven to 248° degrees F before I have piped my macs. I place one tray in the oven and immediately turn off the oven, then open the oven and place something like an oven mitt or something to keep it ajar a couple inches. Then I immediately turn back on the oven at 248° F again, and time for 2-3 minutes. After 3 minutes I close the oven door and turn up the oven to 293° F. Once the oven temp comes up to 293° F, I then start timing my bake time for 15 minutes. After the bake time I open the door and check a macaron; if it’s super wiggly still I bake for another minute. If it barely wiggles or not at all, I turn off the oven and open the oven door ajar and time for another 2-3 minutes; “Sugar bean” calls this the “oven shower”. After the 3 minutes, I remove the tray and then let them cool over a wire rack. Now; since the second tray has already been drying at room temperature; I usually only oven dry for 1.5 minutes and repeat the bake as I did for the first tray.
*A word about oven temperatures: EVERY one’s oven is different and after painstaking doing several batches of macarons I determined that in MY oven 293 F convection setting is best for me. Check your oven temperature against a thermometer placed in the middle of your oven. Some people bake there’s at 285, 290, 310 etc. unfortunately it’s something that you have to play around with and determine what is best for you and your oven.
Who loves a good dip. I’d be happy just dipping my pretzel into mustard truth be told, but I was thinking of a beer cheese dip a local restaurant near me serves; but it’s almost impossible to get a table there without waiting for an hour. It had me reminiscing the last time I’d had it, so decided to just whip one up. The pretzel recipe is one I’ve made before but this time I tweaked it a bit by baking the baking soda ahead of time. Yes, that’s right- you heard me right. I’d seen this trick posted several times on Pinterest and decided to give it a try and it did not disappoint. The reason for “baking” the baking soda [haha] is that it draws out some of the moisture and makes your pretzels darker like those of the German style that uses actual lye. Another trick is to use barley malt syrup-but if you’re like me I don’t particularly like to buy an ingredient I most likely won’t use again for something else and it will just take up space in the cupboard.
Cheesy Beer Dip
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
5 Tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. onion powder
3/4 Cup milk, room temp or warmed slightly
2 1/2 tsp. spicy brown mustard (I used Guldens brand)
1 Cup lager beer, room temp (measure w/no foam) *[I used Four Peaks Kilt lifter Octoberfest] a local beer]
1 1/4 Cups pepper jack cheese shredded (use from a block and not pre-shredded)
1 1/4 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (use from a block and not pre-shredded)
Serve warm or at room temperature with soft pretzels.
In a medium saucepan melt the butter and then add the flour and the seasonings. Heat over medium-low heat to cook the flour mixture for about 5 minutes whisking the entire time. Add in the milk slowly whisking to avoid lumps until smooth, then whisk in the mustard. Slowly and gradually add in the beer whisking entire time and cook for about 3 minutes until appears thickened. Slowly stir in the cheeses with the whisk until combined and melted. Taste for seasoning; if you like your dip more zingy you could add in the finely diced jalapenos or hatch green chilis if you like.
For the pretzel bites; I used the same recipe as my soft buttered pretzels (click on my link below) but prepared the baking soda by laying out on a tinfoil lined sheet tray a cup of baking soda and “baked” that at 250 degrees F for one hour and then allowed the baking soda to cool. Use the same amount of baking soda that is called for in the recipe to ‘dip’ into the boiled water for prepping the pretzels and bake as directed. I simply portioned the dough and rolled into logs and cut off about 1 inch pieces. I used the same dipping method. For pretzel nibs I found it took me about 14 1/2 to 15 minutes to get my pretzel bites cooked thoroughly inside. Pull out your tray and sacrifice one to check for doneness.
I’m gonna make this post brief, cuz it’s Sunday night and I have a massive laundry pile to fold. I’m a recipe hoarder. Magazine hoarder. I hang onto recipes knowing at some point I will get around to it and tuck it away somewhere in a safe space. I’ve been know to loiter in the grocery store and screen shot a recipe out of magazine after finding some obsolete quiet corner to do the dirty deed. I’m not proud of it. I know more than a few of you have done the same, so don’t judge me. In this case I’m proud to admit I actually bought the magazine when thumbing through I saw this and a few others that looked like keepers. Spicy Cheese bread. You had me about spicy, but then you taunt me with cheesy and I’m all in.
This a an afternoon lazy day, weekend sort of recipe. You quick whip it together, let it rise, shape it and rises again (as you fold your laundry) and then you bake that big ol cheesy nugget of spicy goodness off.
Oh the smells coming out of the oven as it bakes. Heaven.
Spicy Cheese Bread
(recipe slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated) “All time best Winter recipes 2020”
3 /14 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1 Tbsp. instant rise (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes + more for sprinkling on top
1 1/4 tsp. salt (calls for table salt; I used Kosher) + more for sprinkling on top
2 large eggs + one yolk
1/2 C warm water (110 degrees) F
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted
6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes, room temp
6 oz. Provolone cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes, room temp
Additional for topping
1 egg lightly beaten for “egg wash”
2 pinches kosher salt
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. soft butter
In a bowl of a stand mixer place the flour and the next 4 ingredients and whisk to combine, set aside.
Whisk eggs and yolk, warm water, and melted butter together in a liquid measuring cup. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and knead on medium speed about 8-10 minutes or until the dough clears the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Grease a large bowl with some vegetable oil. Remove the dough and shape on the counter (un floured) into a ball.
Transfer the ball to the greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap to rise for 1 1/2 -2 hours until it is doubled in size.
Grease a 9 inch round cake pan. Remove the dough to an un-floured counter and deflate the dough. Roll the dough into a 18 x 12 inch long rectangle with the long edge paralell to the counters edge. Distribute the cheese cubes evenly over the dough leaving a 1 inch edge border on all sides. Starting with the edge closest to you roll the dough tightly as you can into a log. Pinch the seam and edges to seal. Roll the log gently on the counter back and forth until it reaches 30 inches in length.
Starting at one end, wind the log into a coil (like a snail) and place in the prepared cake pan and cover with plastic wrap or tea towel to let rise until doubled in size; about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Brush the top of the bread with the beaten egg; just enough to cover the bread and sprinkle with the red pepper flakes and kosher salt (about 2 pinches of salt and 3/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes).
Bake the bread in the preheated over for 25 minutes, then turn the tray around and cover with aluminum foil and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until an internal temperature check reads 190 degrees F.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and brush with the 1 tablespoon of soft butter. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool for 30 minutes until slicing. Serve warm.
I made a white bean, chicken and green chili yesterday and tearing off pieces of this dipped into warm soup is scrumptious.
I have a friend who admittedly has a key lime tree for the sole purpose that “They fit perfectly inside a Corona bottle” and here in Arizona they produce limes for longer. Ha! That sounds like a good reason albeit, but I can think of many many more, like this cake. If you’re team cake vs. team pie, then this cake is for you. It’s perfect for potluck or family gathering. You can make it the day before even. This cake is loaded with lime flavor. There is the super moist cake bursting with plenty of lime flavor but then there is the lime cream cheese swirl (you can see it near the top of the slice) that is crazy delish, finished off with a sweet tangy key lime glaze. This is one of those cakes that actually tastes better the second day.
Key Lime Bundt Cake
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
3 Cups plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1/3 Cup plus 2 Tbsp. key lime juice, divided (I used bottled Nellie & Joes)
5 large eggs, room temp, divided
1 Cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 Cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 Cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. (regular lime) zest; about 5 medium limes
2 Tbsp. graham cracker crumbs, plus a little more for garnish on top of cake
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 Cups buttermilk, room temp (or alternatively you can use 1 1/4 Cup milk mixed with 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. white vinegar and allow to sit for 15 minutes).
Preheat oven to 325 F. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat the cream cheese, 2 Tbsp. of the flour, condensed milk, and 2 Tbsp. of the key lime juice on medium speed until smooth. Add in the egg and mix until combined. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl with a paper towel to clean.
In the clean mixer bowl beat the butter (no need to clean the paddle) along with 1 1/2 cups sugar, brown sugar, and lime zest on medium low speed until just combined. increase to medium speed and beat until fluffy and light; about 3-4 minutes. Add remaining 4 eggs one at a time and mix until combined. The mixture will look curdled, but it will come together once the flour is added. In a separate bowl whisk together the rest of the flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk (or milk/vinegar) mixture starting and ending with the flour mixture; beating just until combined.
Spray a 15 cup bundt pan with baking spray that has flour in it. Spread 3 1/2 cups of the cake batter into the bundt pan and spread evenly. Tap pan on counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Add the cream cheese lime filling on top of the batter gently being careful to keep a 1/4 inch edge free border as much as possible. Drag a knife through gently in a snake motion to swirl the filling a bit. Repeat with gently layering the rest of the cake batter on top of the filling and smooth on top. Bake in the preheated oven 55-65 minutes or until a few moist crumbs return when poked with a wooden skewer. Cover the cake with tinfoil as needed partially through the baking time to avoid excess browning. Let cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes while you prepare the lime syrup.
Key Lime Syrup
Place wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. In a small cereal size bowl mix the remaining 1/3 cup key lime juice and the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Microwave for 1-2 minutes. Remove and with a long wooden skewer poke the top of the cake while it is still in the pan all over and spoon over 1/2 of the lime syrup. Place a long strip of parchment paper over the top of the cake about 4 inches wide. This will help you flip over the cake onto the wire rack more easily. Carefully pull out the parchment paper and spoon the rest of the lime syrup over the cake while the cake is still warm. Allow the cake to cool before applying the glaze.
Key Lime Glaze
In a small bowl combine 1 1/2 Cups confectioners sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. warm water, and 2 tsp. of key lime juice and whisk to combine. Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake and sprinkle some extra graham cracker crumbs over the glaze quickly before it sets.
Keep the cake covered at room temperature in either a cake dome or with plastic wrap to avoid drying out.
The cake keeps nicely and tastes even better the second day!
The dark sweet cherries this week were everywhere in the stores and just begging me to bring some home. Mind you, I had no idea what I wanted to make with them; the possibilities of what to bake were swarming around in my little brain for days before I was prompted to finally dig them out of the fridge. I was in the mood for nothing too fussy, (decorating wise) so a cake was out as I just wanted to whip something together for a friendly potluck get together with my friends and neighbors. It bears repeating the the freshest ingredients and a simple bake can create something spectacular. It’s all about the wonderful fresh sweet cherries. It does take some time to pit and slice the cherries; but with a couple bowls on the table while watching TV; and a cloth to wipe my hands frequently, (it did look like a bit of a horror show with my red stained hands) they were pitted in no time. These were a huge hit and will definitely be a yearly favorite. The Husband who rarely comments on my sweets said he thought this one was a “keeper”.
5 Cups (615 gm) fresh dark sweet cherries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
1 Cup sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 Cup all purpose flour
Prepare the cherries: Wash, remove stems and pit the cherries. Then cut the cherries in half and place in a large bowl. Toss with the lemon juice and extracts. Combine the dry ingredients and add to the bowl and mix gently to coat the cherries. Set aside while you prepare the crust; which is also the topping.
Crumb base and topping
3 Cups all purpose flour
1 Cup + 3 Tbsp sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 Cup unsalted butter, cubed and kept cold
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x13 inch pan; spray with non-stick spray and then line with a parchment sling, so you have an overhang on the long sides of the baking pan. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add in the cold cubed butter and with a pastry blender combine the ingredients until the mixture is coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl whisk the egg and extracts with a fork to combine. Add into the flour mixture and stir to combine.
Divide the mixture in half. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Pour the cherry filling over the mixture; spread gently so it is even. Toss the remaining mixture of crumbs over the filling; leaving some larger clumps/crumbs and smaller crumbs so you have a variety of sized crumbs. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar on top of the crumbs. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake at 375 F for about 50-55 mins. Check the bake around the 40 min. mark and if necessary cover the pan with tinfoil if the crumbs are getting too dark. Bake until the top is golden brown and the mixture just starts to bubble up around the sides of the pan. Remove and allow to cool over a wire rack.
When the bars are cool, lift out the parchment sling and cut into desired size. If you want cleaner less crumbly cut; you can chill the bars in the fridge before cutting.