Monday, April 22, 2013

Peanut Butter M&M Cookies

So we took my son (2 1/2 years old) to an Easter egg hunt this year at our church. I'd like to say that he enjoyed it, although I think that he was mostly just overwhelmed. We're still working on the social interaction with other kids your age thing. For some reason he prefers to converse with adults or much older kids, and gets a little panicky about interacting with other kids his age. When it was time to actually hunt for the Easter eggs, which were just spread out on the lawn for his age group, he approached it like he does with most things--very methodical and one at a time. Honestly, I kind of appreciate his approach to things like presents, etc-- he wants to enjoy each one before moving on to the next.  Of course all the other kids had the idea of picking up as many eggs as you could (my husband coined the term "swarm of locusts") as quickly as you could, and there was Ryan picking up one, shaking it, and wondering what was in it. I think he managed to get 4 on his own in his basket, with much encouragement on my part to just go ahead and pick up some more and we could open them later. Poor little guy--we got a picture of him with a very stressed out look on his face. Maybe next year will go a bit better.

Anyway, they also had games at this event including guessing how many pieces of candy were in various containers. My husband helped him come up with some guesses for the ones with candy in it that we thought he would actually eat, and he managed to win a bottle full of M&M's. There were 700 some in there if I remember right. Of course, being a typical 2 year old he subsequently decided that he didn't want to eat said M&M's because he discovered that he really loves Jelly Beans instead.  So I felt at liberty to commandeer his M&M's and bake with them!

My Mom is a good cookie baker, and one of my favorites that she would make when I was growing up was peanut butter M&M cookies. For some reason having that bottle full of M&M's sitting around made me really hungry for those cookies. The only problem though is that her recipe makes a crunchy cookie, and my husband has a strong preference for soft cookies. (Ok, I'll admit it's my preference now too).   So I did some searching on blogs to see if I could find a soft peanut butter M&M cookie, and I did!  I found this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction (along with some other delicious looking recipes that I will probably be making in the future!). 

I followed the recipe exactly, and they turned out soft and delicious.  I showed my son the finished product thinking I might be able to tempt him into trying one... "No, M&M's on cookies are yuck." Sigh. Some day maybe he will appreciate my baking efforts--until then, more for my husband and me!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kitchen Challenge: Lemon Macarons with Lemon Curd Buttercream

One of my favorite food blogs  Love and Olive Oil started a monthly kitchen challenge recently. Last month was croissants, and I wanted to do it but totally chickened out after reading the process of making them. I was delighted to see that this month was macarons, because I had just been telling my husband that I was thinking of trying to make them, and this would give me the motivation to do it.

So I started doing some research about macarons. I have a lot of down time at work currently, so I will admit that I spent hours reading about macarons and becoming quite intimidated by them in the process. There are numerous blogs out there to tell you about how fickle they are, and about all the crucial steps to producing the extremely important, highly elusive feet on macarons. (For those of you who might not know, the feet are the frilly edges that develop at the bottom of the macarons when they are baking.) I pretty much read everything I could find about them until I had the process of macaronage (yes that's a word!) memorized, and was thoroughly versed in all the tips and tricks to successfully obtain feet. From reading some of these blogs, it sounded like in addition to following the steps just right you had to make sure the stars were all aligned, all your hairs were perfectly in place, and you were holding your breath the whole time they were in the oven in order to be successful.

Next I had to decide on a flavor, because one of the neat things about macarons is that the flavor options are pretty much limitless. The meringue shell is like a blank slate, just waiting for beautiful coloring and a flavorful filling to be added to it. I always seem to get a lemon craving in the spring, so I decided to go with lemon, and spent the next few hours reading any recipes for lemon macarons that I could find.

When this weekend rolled around I decided I was as ready as I would ever be. I anxiously looked at the forecast for the weekend-- rain. Perfect.  Everyone says that macarons should be made in a perfectly temperature controlled kitchen with no humidity. Oh well, it was now or never.  When it came down to finally picking a recipe to use, I did it in a very scientific manner. I dug out my baking cook books and looked at the pictures. The Bouchon Bakery book was eliminated because he uses the Italian method and I don't have a candy thermometer. Another book was eliminated because the macarons in the picture didn't have any feet. Finally I decided on the SprinkleBakes recipe because they were the prettiest. The only thing I decided to change was adding half a lemon's worth of lemon zest to the almond flour mixture, and adding lemon yellow gel food coloring.

I prepped everything first: drew circles on my parchment paper, sifted my almond flour and powdered sugar,  made sure my egg whites were room temperature, etc.  Finally I was ready for putting everything together. I whipped my egg whites into a nice meringue, and then was ready to add the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture. My husband happened to be in the kitchen at that moment and was highly amused as I muttered to myself about how crucial the process of macaronage is.  Pretty soon he's looking at me strangely as I'm holding my spatula up every few stirs to see how the batter is falling off of it.
"It's supposed to look like flowing lava," I explained.
"Have you ever seen flowing lava to know what it looks like?"
"Ummm no, I have no idea what I'm looking for..."

Eventually we decided that it might resemble flowing lava, and into the piping bag the batter went. I piped out my circles, tapped the pans, let them sit for 20-30 minutes, and them put them in the oven.  The oven in my apartment is a beauty.  One of the burners is broken, I'm quite certain the oven temperature is not accurate, and it does not have a window in the door or an oven light.  So I had convinced myself that even if I had managed to reach flowing lava consistency, my downfall was going to be the baking. With that said, I may or may not have clapped my hands and done a little happy dance when I peeked in the oven towards the end of the baking time and discovered beautiful macarons with feet.

For the filling I decided to make this lemon curd recipe, minus one egg and a few tablespoons of butter, and using regular lemons.  I used the American buttercream recipe by Sprinklebakes and then mixed the two together to make my lemon curd buttercream filling, which was quite delicious if I have to say so myself.

Finally, my husband I tested the finished product after a few hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld. We found them to be absolutely delicious! I had never had a macaron before, but based on everything I read and all the pictures I have looked at, I think these ones turned out perfectly with a crispy outer shell, and soft, melt-in-your-mouth middle.  The lemon curd buttercream in the middle is tart and creamy. We declared them a definite success.

My only disappointment is that my batch of macaron batter only made enough for 8 macarons!  I double-checked the recipe which said that it should make 18 sandwich cookies.  I know I disclosed my love of cookie dough in my last post, and I will admit that I taste-tested the batter, but I swear that I did not eat 10 sandwich-cookies worth of it!  I had to make a second batch of macarons later in the evening, because they were too good to only have 8 of.  My second batch turned out almost as perfectly as the first. I blame the slight decrease in quality due to the fact that I think they were stressed and sad about listening to my 2 month old who had her first set of vaccines that day wail inconsolably in the background. But despite that, they managed to pull themselves together and still had some lovely feet.

I had a very happy sense of accomplishment that I was successful in my macaron endeavors.  I am definitely planning on re-entering "Macaron Land" (as my husband dubbed it) sometime soon, and am excited about the limitless flavor options.  So many delicious possibilities!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Peanut Butter and ChocolateThumbprint Cookies

I don't know about you, but I have noticed that I when I bake I never seem to get as many cookies as the recipe says it should make. I blame this largely on the fact that I probably eat enough cookie dough to make up most of the difference...  Eating cookie dough is one of those guilty pleasures-- I know I shouldn't be eating it because of the raw eggs, but it's just so good I can't seem to help myself from taking a finger lick here, a pinch of dough there, etc. I don't really want to know how many cookies worth of cookie dough I usually eat while making cookies!

So imagine my delight at discovering a cookbook put out by one of my favorite food bloggers (Love and Olive Oil) featuring nothing but recipes to make with cookie dough--and it is guilt-free because she came up with delicious tasting dough that is egg-free! Seriously, if you are a secret cookie dough lover like I am you need to check this book out: The Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook. You're probably going to be seeing a lot of cookie dough goodies on my blog in the near future, because I want to try out just about every recipe in this book!  Out of respect for copyright laws and the hard work that Lindsay put into her book I won't be sharing the recipes here, if you think it looks and sounds delicious you just might have to get the book for yourself!

The first recipe I tried are the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Thumbprint cookies. It just really tickled my fancy to be making a cookie dough cookie! This is a peanut butter thumbprint cookie with peanut butter chocolate cookie dough in the center and a drizzle of melted chocolate over the top. Yum.  The chocolate cookie dough in the middle was absolutely rich and delicious. My husband laughed at me when I told him that eating these cookies made me feel like I was being naughty, but it was fun flagrantly indulging in the guilty pleasure of eating cookie dough. Clearly I don't get out much.

I have to say, I had a little bit of trouble with the cookie part of it, which may have been due to an error on my part, I'm not sure. I ended up needing to add a good amount of extra flour to prevent the cookies from flattening too much to be able to even create a little divot for the cookie dough part to sit in. It also turned out a bit crunchier than I was hoping for, but that is probably just a personal preference on my part. Next time (and yes, there most certainly will be a next time!) I make these I might experiment a bit to see if I could make the cookie part more similar to the texture of a Peanut Butter Blossom cookie, although looking at the picture in the book, that is what her cookies look I'm not quite sure what happened to mine. Anyway, stay tuned for more cookie dough goodness in the near future!