Monday, April 16, 2012

Cooking Challenge: French Macarons

French Macarons! The temperamental, yet adored, cookie is a cooking challenge that many home bakers one day aspire to make. A group of fellow food bloggers decided to conquer this cookie together, so we could share our questions, successes, and tales of woe. See the round-up here!

In my search for macaron recipes, I came across some adorable Easter bunny macarons, and instantly knew that was what I wanted to make. I kept the flavoring simple - vanilla bean, and let the caramel buttercream from my Glee cupcake pull double duty for the filling.


This was definitely a learning experience for me. I was so happy that, by all appearances, everything went well with the macarons: they have feet and for the most part they did not stick to the parchment. Going through the process of making them, I had a few concerns that I will pay more attention to if I make them again.

First, I think I would have benefited from sifting the almond meal/powdered sugar mix. When I added it to the egg whites, the batter was very lumpy. I had to do a lot of folding/mixing to get it smooth, and I think by then I had deflated it too much and the batter was more runny than it should have been (though it wasn't flowing like ribbons, either, so all around it was a little confusing). It probably would have been fine for just piping rounds, but the ears require a thicker batter to stay separate, and clearly my poor bunnies ended up with uni-ears.

I also think that I under baked the bunny faces by maybe a minute. In hindsight, I should have put all the faces on one sheet and the rounds on another. The rounds didn't need as long as the faces and a little extra time in the oven would have helped the faces that were reluctant to release from the parchment.

Sadly, after all that, I was a bit underwhelmed with them. I've never had macarons before, so perhaps I need to taste some made by someone who actually knows what they are doing, but I felt very take-it-or-leave-it. However, my aunt ate three of them at Easter, so I must have done something right.


Vanilla bean bunny macarons with caramel swiss meringue buttercream were a fun addition to our Easter dinner!

Vanilla Bean French Macarons with Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Vanilla Bean French Macarons with Caramel Swiss Meringue ButtercreamSource: Adapted from Annie's Eats and inspired by Raspberri Cupcakes
Yield: About 12 bunnies
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus one hour resting time
Cook time: 12-18 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes


  • 110 grams almonds (blanched or slivered), or almond meal
  • 200 grams powdered sugar
  • 100 grams egg whites (about 3 large eggs), aged at room temperature for 12-24 hours or in the fridge for 3-5 days
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 50 grams granulated sugar
  • 50 grams granulated sugar
  • chocolate sprinkles, sugar pearls, and foodwriter pen for decorating
  • caramel swiss meringue buttercream


  1. Pulse the almonds and powdered sugar in the bowl of a food processor until finely ground and well blended. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the mixing bowl. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating until a smooth, shiny meringue with stiff peaks forms. Blend in the vanilla extract, if using.

  2. Add the ground almond mixture to the bowl with the meringue and quickly but gently fold together using a wide rubber spatula until no streaks remain. You want to achieve a thick batter that ribbons or flows from the spatula when lifted.

  3. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a plain wide round tip. Pipe into small rounds on the prepared baking sheets (each round should be about 1-1½ inches in diameter, with 12 rounds on one sheet and 12 rounds with bunny ears on another), spaced about 1 inch apart. Add sugar pearls for nose and tails (I used a cluster of about 7 to make a tail), and sprinkles for whiskers. Let sit at room temperature for about an hour to develop a hard shell.

  4. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Bake for 12-18 minutes, depending on size. (Baking time can vary widely due to humidity and other factors of your kitchen environment. To test whether or not the cookies are done, let cool for a minute until cool enough to touch. Carefully attempt to remove one shell from the silpat. If it cracks at all or does not remain intact, continue to bake until one is removed intact.) Transfer the pans to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before moving the cookies. Draw eyes on bunnies with foodwriter pen.

  5. Pipe a small dollop of buttercream onto the flat side of one cookie of each pair. Sandwich together with the remaining cookie, pushing the filling to the edges. Store in the fridge overnight in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    Glee! Banana Nut Cheerio Cupcakes

    I am so excited that Glee is returning tonight after the late winter break. Last episode left us hanging on the fate of Quinn after her car accident, so I wanted to make Quinn's cupcake for this week.


    It would be an understatement to say Quinn has had a few ups and downs in her time at McKinley High. Her fall from high atop the Cheerios (and school popularity) pyramid due to her teen pregnancy sent her into a bizarre downward spiral in season 3. An attempt to sabotage the custody rights of her daughter's adoptive mother was definitely b-a-n-a-n-a-s. Inspired by A) Quinn's nutty behavior and B) the many flavors of Cheerios cereal, I created Quinn's cupcake.


    I am definitely glad to see that she was able to come full circle in the last episode and regain the status she has longed for: to once again be a Cheerio.


    Quinn's Banana Nut Cheerio cupcake combines cinnamon banana cake with a Cheerio covered peanut butter center, and is topped with caramel swiss meringue buttercream.
    Banana Nut Cheerio Cupcakes

    Banana Nut Cheerio Cupcakes

    Source: Adapted from Apple a Day
    Yield: Serves 24
    Preparation time: 25 minutes
    Cook time: 20 minutes
    Total time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with cooling time)

      For the cupcakes:
    • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 3 eggs, at room temperature
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/2 mashed overripe banana (1 large)
    • 3/4 cup buttermilk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 scant cup sugar

    • For the filling:
    • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups crushed peanut butter Cheerios cereal

    • For the buttercream:
    • 8 ounces egg whites (from a carton is fine)
    • 12 ounces sugar
    • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3 tablespoons caramel sauce

      For the filling:
    1. In bowl, with mixer on medium speed, mix powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla until blended.
    2. Shape mixture into 24 balls using heaping measuring teaspoons. (Balls will be sticky and don't need to be perfectly shaped.)
    3. Roll in crushed Cheerios cereal. Place balls on waxed paper-lined cookie sheet; set aside.

      For the cupcakes:
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with 24 paper liners.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, 1/4 c. at a time, beating on medium speed until light and fluffy and scraping down sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition.
    3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
    4. In a small bowl, combine banana, buttermilk, and vanilla.
    5. Add in flour and banana mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour, and mix on low speed until just combined.
    6. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Insert a Cheerio covered peanut butter ball into the center of the cupcake and push down to cover with batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
    7. Allow to cool completely, then frost with buttercream.

      For the buttercream:
    1. Add egg whites and sugar to a heat-safe bowl. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk lightly until the mixture reaches 140 degrees F and the sugar is dissolved.
    2. Pour hot whites into a room-temperature bowl and whip with a wire whip until double in volume on medium-high speed. When the mixer stops, the meringue should not move around in the bowl. Meanwhile cut up butter into 2-inch pieces. (The butter should be slightly moist on the outside but cold inside.)
    3. On your mixer, remove the whip and attach the paddle. Add half the butter into the bowl immediately and pulsate the mixer several times until the meringue has covered the butter completely. To pulsate the mixer, turn it on and off in a jerky motion. This forces the butter on the top to the bottom of the bowl. Add the balance of the butter and pulsate mixer several times. Slowly increase the mixer's speed, starting with the lowest speed and increase the speed every 10 seconds until you reach a medium-high speed.
    4. Continue beating until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Reduce speed to low. Add vanilla and caramel and continue to beat on low speed for 45 seconds. Then beat on medium-high speed for an additional 45 to 60 seconds.
    5. Leftover buttercream can be placed in plastic containers with lids and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost completely (several hours) and rewhip before using.

      Thursday, April 5, 2012

      Slow-Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

      I've come to the realization that I don't make enough use of my crockpot. I tend to make the same few easy recipes over and over. Part of the reason, I think, is that I tend to think of the crockpot as something to use during the week to save time. I load it up at night, cook overnight, and then pack the food up for lunch and take it to work. Since I only have the morning to complete the last steps of the meal, I tend to make recipes that go right from crockpot to plate with little other necessary intervention. It's always seemed like cheating to use the crockpot on the weekend, since I actually have time to prepare a "real meal." I'm slowly coming to realize that crockpot meals are real meals, too, and it can be quite freeing to make them on the weekend! This is one recipe that caught my eye recently (along with another I'll be sharing soon - chicken tacos), and helped me reclaim a little time on a busy weekend afternoon.


      Enjoy this sweet and slightly spicy easy slow-cooker meal!
      Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken
      Slow Cooker Honey Sesame ChickenSource: Slightly adapted from The Dainty Chef
      Yield: Serves 4
      Preparation time: 5 minutes
      Cook time: 4 hours
      Total time: 4 hours, 15 minutes

      • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
      • salt and pepper
      • 3/4 cup honey
      • 1/4 cup soy sauce
      • 1/2 cup diced onion
      • 1/4 cup ketchup
      • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
      • 2 cloves garlic, minced, pressed or grated
      • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
      • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
      • sesame seeds
      1. Season both sides of chicken with lightly with salt and pepper, put into crock pot.
      2. In a small bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, onion, ketchup, oil, garlic and pepper flakes. Pour over chicken.
      3. Cook on low for 3-4 hours or on high 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours, or just until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from crock pot, leave sauce.
      4. Dissolve cornstarch in 6 tablespoons of water and pour into crock pot. Stir to combine with sauce. Replace lid and cook sauce on high for ten more minutes or until slightly thickened.
      5. Shred chicken or cut into bite size pieces, then return to pot and toss with sauce. Serve chicken over rice or noodles, garnish with sesame seeds.