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.
I think everyone knows my obsession now with rose flavored desserts, and pistachio and rose are like BFF’s. Since I had some rose buttercream leftover from my macarons it gave me an idea to come up with a recipe for pistachio and rose cake. I still ended up making buttercream since my leftovers weren’t enough but no bother it was a good excuse to make a layer cake. A word to the wise since pistachios are a bit expensive- make sure you buy them from a purveyor who’s supply is quickly turned over and store them if not using right away in the freezer. I had bought some a while back (even stored them right away in the freezer) but when I thawed them they were rancid. It was from a bulk bin of nuts so I think they sat there a while. Anywho…I digress. This cake turned out to be one of my absolute favorites of all time. It kind of reminds me of the preppy pink and green from the 80’s. Muffy and Biff would be proud. I admit I bumped up the color of the cake with a bit of mint green gel food color just because I found it added that extra pretty preppy punch from being nicely dressed to va va voom.
Pistachio Cake, Rose~Pistachio Buttercream
yield: 8 inch 3 layer cake or ~ 24 cupcakes
3 Tbsp. Confectioners sugar
1 C + 2 Tbsp. unshelled pistachio pieces (I get mine from Trader Joes)
3 Cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 C sugar
1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
4 1/2 large eggs
1 Cup + 2 Tbsp. whole milk, room temp
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure almond extract
mint green gel food coloring (optional)
In a food processor place the confectioners sugar and the pistachios and grind/pulse until finely chopped with some nuts being ground into a coarse powder. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare 3 eight inch cake pans with baking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray lightly again. Note: If you only have 2 pans, you may bake the third one separately after allow the pans to cool.
In a separate bowl place the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir to combine well. Set aside.
Cream the sugar and the butter until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed until combined. Note: mixture will look somewhat curdled (don’t worry-mixture will come together). Add in half of the flour mixture on medium speed, stopping to scrape down the mixer bowl as needed. In a glass measuring cup mix the extracts with the milk. With the mixer running, stream in the milk and beat on low speed until combined. Add in the last half of the flour mixture and beat until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl to combine everything well. Add in the ground nut mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until combined. Divide the batter evenly among the 3 pans. Bake in preheated oven for ~ 24 minutes or until the cake has a few moist crumbs when pierced with a wooden skewer, or when pressed lightly the cake springs back. Allow the cakes to cool on a wire rack until cool.
Pistachio Sugar Syrup (optional)
1 Cup water
1 Cup sugar
4 drops Pistachio flavored concentrated essential oil for baking (such as Lorann brand) (found in cake supply stores)
Boil the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves, then allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes and add in the drops of the pistachio flavored oil.
1/2 Cup shelled unsalted & roasted pistachio nuts
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. pistachio oil (or vegetable oil)
1. Prepare a sheet pan with either a Silpat or by lightly greasing with vegetable oil.
2. Pour the water in a saucepan and then add the sugar. With a clean finger mix the sugar and water until it looks like wet sand. Have a cup of water with a clean pastry brush placed in the cup. Bring the sugar to a boil stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once sugar dissolves-stop stirring. If sugar crystals form along the sides of the pan; use the wet pastry brush to let water drip down to dissolve the crystals. Continue to cook until the mixture comes to a light caramel color. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the nuts. Return to the heat and cook until comes to a medium amber color. Working quickly- pour the nut mixture onto prepared pan and with a heat proof spatula do your best to flatten out nuts. Allow the nuts to cool until they become hard.
3. Once mixture is hard and completely cooled- use your hands to break apart any large clumps. Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse several times to initially break up the mixture. Proceed to process the mixture until it starts to form a thick paste. When the blade no longer seems to move add the oil and continue to process until as smooth as possible. Leftover should be stored in an airtight container in the freezer.
5 egg whites
1 1/2 Cups sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter, cool but not cold
2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. pistachio paste
1/4 + 1/8 tsp. Rose water (I like Nielsen Massey brand)
mint green gel food color
deep pink gel food color
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and sugar. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until mixture is hot and sugar is dissolved. Remove bowl and place on mixer and beat until stiff meringue forms and bottom of mixer bowl is cool to touch; about 5 minutes. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Add vanilla, then beat until smooth. Divide buttercream evenly into two bowls.
To one bowl add the pistachio paste and mix well with a spoon or spatula. Add in a tiny bit of mint green gel color using a toothpick, and stir to combine. Add more a little at a time until desired color is achieved.
In the other bowl add the rose water and stir to combine. Add in the deep pink gel color using a toothpick, and stir evenly to combine until desired color is achieved.
If using the simple syrup: brush each cake liberally with the syrup and allow to seep into the cake a while before stacking and assembling the cake.
Fill a piping bag with each pistachio buttercream and rose buttercream side by side. Using a spiral technique pipe a layer of buttercream over the surface of cake round and stack the next round of cake on top. Continue til all three are stacked. Pipe rows of alternating flavored buttercream onto sides and top of cake and smooth as necessary to create a two toned affect.
When I lived in San Francisco we used to frequent the most amazing Greek restaurant called Mykonos. It has just the right amount of atmosphere; it’s cozy, non pretentious, and has great authentic affordable Greek food. They have THE best moussaka I’ve ever had and great baklava. The husband and I always ordered the same exact thing every single time; a family platter that had an assortment of traditional food and it came with coffee and baklava at the end of the meal. We almost never ate the baklava in the restaurant because we always left too full and with leftovers to boot. I would save it for the next day and when I did- I savored it with a good cup of coffee or tea. I always looked forward to that baklava and promised myself that eventually I would take a crack at making my own. Baklava is not hard to make- just a bit time consuming and tedious, but there is something relaxing and almost meditative that happens while you build each layer of love.
At first glance you will be scared when it comes out of the oven, as it looks dry and somewhat of an experimental science project gone wrong, but have no fear. Once you pour over the unctuous sweet syrup is when the magic truly happens. It is not a dessert to make when you are in a rush but rather a treat to build while you have the kitchen to yourself, it’s quiet and you can enjoy the process. You must also reserve some constraint as the whole mass must bathe languidly in that syrup for 6-8 hours or overnight to soak up the sweet love before you can bust into it, so plan accordingly.
I must have researched and read a million recipes before coming up with this combination. Some recipes call for all walnuts while others call for a combination of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios or even all pistachios- it’s really what you prefer just make sure you have a total weight of one pound of nuts.
yield: one 9×13 inch pan (about 24 pieces depending how small you cut them)
one (1 lb.) package of filo dough- thawed in the fridge overnight
1 lb. of nuts (I chose 50% walnuts/50% pistachios) [mixture to equal about 4 cups onced chopped if you don’t have a scale]
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2-3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup honey (I used orange blossom)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 piece orange rind- minus the pith (approx. 1 inch wide by 2 inch long)
3/4 Cup water
1. Make the syrup first and then allow it to cool in the pan to room temperature. Remove the filo dough from the fridge and allow it to come to room temp (in the box) for 1-2 hours.
2. To make the syrup: place all the contents in a saucepan (2-3 quart size is best) and bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring just initially until the sugar is dissolved, then decrease the heat to medium low and boil for 4 minutes (without stirring). Remove from the heat and let cool. Once cool, remove the orange rind.
3. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until nuts are fine, but do not grind to a powder. I pulsed my pistachios and walnuts separately as they are different sizes and this ensures they do not get too small. Place both nuts in a bowl and add the spices and mix to combine.
4. Prepare the filo by placing 2 sheets of plastic wrap side by side and overlapping slightly on the counter top. Carefully lay out the sheets of filo onto the plastic wrap and cut the stack to size to fit your pan. All brands are different- (My filo came in one huge stack that measured 13 x 18 inches so I simply cut it into two stacks each stack measuring 9 x 13) then place another sheet of plastic wrap big enough to cover on top of the filo, followed by a damp tea towel or kitchen towel. Keep the filo dough covered this way as you are working with it to ensure it does not dry out as the dough can easily tear. You may need to check your tea towel and re wet it and squeeze out again to maintain a damp towel.
5. Brush the sides and bottom of a 9×13 inch pan with melted butter. Carefully pick up one sheet of filo dough and place it on the bottom of the pan and brush with melted butter. Continue in this manner; brushing EACH and EVERY sheet carefully with melted butter (I used a silicone brush) until you have built a stack of 10. Sprinkle a generous 3/4 Cup of nut mixture over the stack. Start another stack (this time a stack of 5 layers) (ALWAYS brushing EACH layer with melted butter as you “stack”), then sprinkle 3/4 Cup of nut mixture. Continue this 5 layer stack followed by nut sprinkle until you have used all the nuts, then build a final and top layer of 10 sheets or a minimum of 5-7 if your package does not allow a final layer of 10. Make sure to brush the final top layer with melted butter. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
6. Take a sharp pointed knife and cut 3 vertical lines so you visually have 4 equal portioned vertical rows through the entire built layer spacing your rows about 1.5 inches apart (see the above picture). Now cut diagonal rows through the entire stacked layers (to form diamond shapes) and place the baklava in a 325° F oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until it is light golden brown.
7. Remove the baklava and allow to sit for 5 minutes then pour the cooled syrup over the baklava. You will hear it hiss and crack a bit (that’s normal). Allow to sit a room temperature to soak up the syrup. Once room temp, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 6-8 hours or overnight to ensure the baklava soaks up the syrup. Enjoy at room temperature or warm slightly if you wish by zapping in the microwave.
Cookie bars are probably my favorite type of cookie. They are easy, quick to whip up and once you prepare them to bake, you can “move on” and get about your day-no continuous scooping or baking of more trays. I also love this time of year because nuts are usually on sale and it’s a good time to stock up and squirrel them away in your freezer.
These- tick all the taste buds- they are crunchy, gooey, chewy, caramel like, buttery, and well- just plain divine. They are very rich though, so I cut them into small inch wide bars.
Pecan Pie Bars
(recipe adapted from “Pecan Squares” by Ina Garten)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/4 C)
1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 large eggs (whisk the second egg and measure out and use half)
2 1/4 Cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
Beat butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs slowly and beat to combine. Add in vanilla. Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to mixture on low speed until combined. Press into an ungreased 1/4 sheet pan, (or a 9 x 13 inch pan) making sure to press the crust up the sides of the pan- if using a 9×13 pan press up the sides about one inch. If using a 9×13 inch pan you can line the pan with parchment for easier removal. Chill the crust for 30 minutes before baking. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 15 minutes until crust is set and NOT browned. Allow to cool. Prepare the filling while the crust cools.
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup good quality honey
1 1/2 Cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. orange zest
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 lb. pecans, coarsely chopped
Combine butter, honey, brown sugar and zest in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and pecans. Stir to combine. Pour over the crust, making sure to not allow the filling to seep in between the crust and the pan-this is key as the filling will bubble up and expand. Leave about 1/4 inch of space around the perimeter of the filling to edge of the crust in the pan as the filling will spread while cooking; (you might have about a 1/4 Cup of filling left over). Place the pan on a larger sheet pan while baking to ensure filling does not spill over into oven while baking. Bake at 350° F for 30-34 minutes until the filling is vigorously bubbling. Note- the filling will be very loose and not appear set. The filling will set upon cooling. Once completely cooled, cut into bars using a serrated knife.
Sweet and salty is here to stay. Everyone has heard of the 7 layer or “magic bars”, right? In a way, these remind me of those bars, but they are a bit more modern for today’s taste with the use of caramel and I like them even better. Anything with caramel and I’m automatically along for the ride, and I just realized (after I made these yesterday) that today is National Caramel Day; so there you have it!
This recipe makes a lot so they are perfect for a kids function; as long as no one is allergic to peanuts. The recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens from one of their special addition publications titled “Brownies & Bars”.
Sweet & Salty Caramel Everything Bars
recipe: Better Homes & Gardens special addition: “Bars and Brownies”
yield: 36 bars
3 Cups crushed pretzels
1/3 Cup sugar
1 Cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 Cup unsalted butter
1/2 Cup whipping cream
1/4 Cup packed brown sugar
1 (11 oz.) pkg. caramel baking bits OR one (14 oz.) pkg vanilla caramels, unwrapped
2 Cup salted cocktail peanuts
1 Cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 Cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 Cup peanut butter flavor chips
1 Cup almond toffee bits
1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a 9x13x2 inch pan with double or heavy duty tinfoil. Spray pan with non-stick spray. Set aside. Make the crust: in a medium bowl combine the crushed pretzels, sugar and 1 cup milted butter. Press mixture into bottom of pan. In a medium bowl combine: semisweet chips, milk chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and toffee bits; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup butter, whipping cream and brown sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Stir in the caramel bits. Cook and stir until caramel is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in peanuts.
3. Quickly pour the caramel mixture over the pretzel crust and smooth out caramel to evenly distribute the peanuts. Sprinkle the chocolate chip mixture over the caramel layer and bake in preheated oven at 325° F for 25 minutes or until edges are bubbly and light brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift the entire slab of bars out of the pan. Cut into bars.
To store: Layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.