Macarons are always fun to make, almost as much fun as it is to eat them. The texture of a great macaron shell is delicately crisp on the outside, and soft and almost gooey on the inside, and the delicate flavor of almonds is hard to resist. Besides, everyone knows they are not easy to make and they’re a real crowd-pleaser.
For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers’ deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.
For this batch, I used Trader Joe’s almond flour (which explains the speckled appearance of the shells), just a bit of red dye (giving it a pinkish color), and dulce de leche as the filling. As always, I used the Italian (cooked sugar) meringue method, as it’s almost failsafe. And, as always, they were absolutely delectable.
This month’s challenge was to make Irish soda bread, or a bread leavened with baking soda, baking powder, and buttermilk instead of yeast. It was very easy to put together, but the resulting bread was very much similar to Southern buttermilk biscuits, but without the buttery flakiness since the dough wasn’t cut with nearly as much fat. It honestly wasn’t my favorite challenge–I guess I like the taste of yeast in my breads–but it was a nice, simple challenge and my daughter definitely liked it.
For the month of September Meredith from the Poco Loco Olsons challenged us to experiment with soda bread.
This month’s challenge was delightfully simple: gluten-free nut bread. Toss a bunch of dry grains, nuts and seeds together, add salt, water, and coconut oil, wait a couple of hours, bake, cool, and eat. Fortunately it was that easy, because this bread was a huge hit with the family.
For the August challenge Susan from The Kiwi Cook dared us to make Seed & Nut Loaf – a super-healthy and gluten-free alternative to standard wheat-based bread.
I do not avoid gluten or think that most people who obsess about it should either, but this bread was delicious in its own right. It was best with ripe avocado smushed on top, and a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked pepper.
This month, we made a treat from Down Under: lamingtons. Made of yellow sponge cake cubes rolled around in a chocolate sauce and then desiccated coconut, they’re both simple and really delicious. I made them for a recent brunch and they were a hit among both adults and children.
A couple of our guests avoid gluten and dairy products, so I also made a variant using Pamela’s gluten-free all-purpose flour and Earth Balance buttery sticks (instead of the conventional AP flour and butter in the normal lamingtons I made). They tasted excellent. The gluten-free cake was considerably more fragile than the conventional cake, but still very delicious. It just made the dipping in chocolate sauce and rolling in coconut a more tentative affair.
For the May challenge Marcellina from Marcellina in Cucina dared us to make Lamingtons, an Australian delicacy that is as tasty as it is elegant.
Would I make them again? In a heartbeat.
Photos after the jump.
This month we made a popular Italian yeast bread: focaccia. It wasn’t too difficult to make and it came out mouth-wateringly delicious. I mean, I have the other half of the round I made earlier today sitting on my counter, salty, greasy (in a good way), crunchy and chewy, tempting me to finish it off before I check out for the night.
We had a choice of variants to try out, and I went with a sourdough version. I didn’t have enough time to make a true sourdough (a pity considering I live in San Francisco and the right mix of yeasts and bacteria is apparently just waiting in the air), but I did make a starter that got a good 14 hours of fermentation before I officially began the process of making the focaccia and I think it did make a difference in terms of the taste.
For the month of April Rachael of pizzarossa and Sawsan of Chef in Disguise took us on a trip to Italy. They challenged us to try our hands at making focaccia from scratch
I didn’t add anything in terms of toppings except a lot of coarse salt, and having tried the finished product, I can’t say this is a decision I regret. If I were to make this again (and why wouldn’t I?), I might give some rosemary or olives a shot. Or I might just add some za’atar and make some manaeesh. Yummmm. I also cut the recipe into a quarter, and it still yielded a nicely-sized round. The full recipe could probably have fit on a couple of large cookie sheets.
Photos after the jump.
This was a relatively easy challenge, and the output was so incredibly delicious. (I love apples, but standard apple pies aren’t close to this delicious) You create a caramel, layer in sliced apples, let them cook together, throw on a layer of pastry dough, toss it into the oven to bake, then invert onto a plate and…voila! It’s really difficult to stop yourself from eating it when you begin…
For the March Daring Bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.
Pics after the jump.
This month’s challenge was a nice one. Instead of indulging my sweet tooth, we were instructed to make something that could be savory: siopao (in Filipino), or filled buns. Most people know the Chinese pork variety (um, pork buns), but since I’m a vegetarian (who will, like the caricature that you know all too well even though it barely exists in the real world, guilt-trip you about eating meat until you succumb to my intense pressure and swear off carne forever), I went with two meatless variations:
- a “Chinese” bun, filled with Napa cabbage, tofu, ginger, sesame oil and scallions
- a “Thai” bun, filled with roasted kabocha squash, scrambled eggs, basil and jalapenos (aka pad faktong)
The February Daring Bakers’ challenge is hosted by Julie of One-Wall Kitchen. She challenged us to an easy, simple filled bun using no-knead dough.
They turned out pretty damn good. I preferred the Chinese-style bun, although I wish I had seasoned it a bit more with some salt and white pepper, or maybe something spicy. The Thai-style bun was too dry. I had oven-roasted the kabocha for the first time, and it really desiccated the squash; dousing it in lime juice and soy sauce was really too-little, too-late. I’d probably just make pad faktong the traditional way (basically braising the squash) next time.
Anyway, here are the pics (after the jump):
Another challenging Central European dessert, and another time that I failed at the glaze-over-apricot-jam layer on top of the multilayer cake. The icing might have been a touch too runny (and a touch is just far too much), so it kind of slowly slid off the torte. *sigh* Oh well, hopefully it will taste good. (I just finished in order to glide in before the deadline, and it’s supposed to sit in the fridge for at least a day before you cut into it, so I’ll have to update the post tomorrow with what the insides look like)
For the month of January Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake invited us to start this year with a dreamy celebration cake. She challenged us to make the Esterhazy cake a.k.a the Hungarian dream. What better way to start the year than with a sweet dream?
However it looks on the top, I’m sure the taste will be fantastic: how could toasted hazelnuts, both in meringue and cream layers, with lemon and a touch of chocolate go wrong? It can’t. EDIT: We had a slice. Then two. It is absolutely delicious. If you like hazelnuts, you’ll love this.
Pics after the jump.
December’s Daring Bakers challenge was Dutch ontbijtkoek which means “breakfast cake.” Considering how busy December was, I’m really glad this was not a terribly difficult thing to bake.
For the month of December, Andrea from 4pure took us on a trip to the Netherlands. She challenged us to take our taste buds on a joyride through the land of sugar and spice by baking three different types of Dutch sweet bread
I went with Andrea’s kruidkoek (“spice cake”) recipe, mostly because I had plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg on hand. I have to say it was delicious, a bit dry (but from what I remember from my time in the Netherlands, the store-bought version was considerably more dry, so this was downright moist by comparison) but aromatic and just the right level of sweetness. It made breakfast fun for a few days.
Pics after the jump.
This month’s challenge was a French pastry. At first I thought “oh, great” – French pastry is incredibly time-consuming, and if you cut corners in any way, everything falls apart. Just like your typical Parisian when you speak broken French to them: very unforgiving. But this is supposed to be a challenge, right?
It turned out to be a lot of fun to make. I’ve never made a choux pastry dessert before, and as it turns out, with the exception of the fact that my pastry shells deflated a bit after taking them out of the oven (I probably should have let them bake a good five minutes longer), they came out great. The mousseline cream, based on a hazelnut and almond praliné, was really delicious. And, dusted with some powdered sugar and accompanied with Vietnamese coffee ice cream, it got the “oohs” and “ahhhs” that made it all worth it.
The November Daring Baker’s challenge took us for a ride! Luisa from Rise of the Sourdough Preacher challenged us to make Paris-Brest, a beautiful pastry celebrating the Paris-Brest bicycle race.
For the recipe, I ended up using Entertaining with Beth’s, but using Luisa’s hazelnut and almond praliné instead of the Nutella that Beth used.
UPDATE: The underbaked, collapsed pastry shells were really bugging me a day later. So since we were going to a friend’s post-Thanksgiving brunch, I decided to redo the recipe, allowing the pastry shells to bake quite a bit longer. I made a few other changes, too, but was overall very pleased with the outcome.
Pics and details after the jump.