Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Macaron vs Macaroon

Perfect French Macarons ... just out of the oven
So what's the difference? 
The French Macaron (mack-a-ROHN) is one of the most delicate petits fours both to make and eat. They are characterized by a shiny and smooth top, a ruffled circumference (referred to as a 'foot') and a flat base. Once baked and cooled they are 'filled' with ganache, buttercream, jam or curd for an endless array of flavor combinations. Above all a French Macaron is very moist in the center and easily melts in your mouth. Don't be daunted by the list of steps. Although they can be finicky and delicate to prepare they can be made at home. 
The related Macaroon (mack-a-ROON) is often confused with the Macaron. The Coconut Macaroon is a mounded cookie made of shredded coconut and condensed milk and is often dipped in chocolate.

FRENCH MACARONS                   Yield: about 45 cookies
French Macarons are a light, airy, meringue based sandwich cookie that is gluten free, elegant and delicious. When packed in an airtight container, they freeze very well.

'AmeriColor' -soft gel paste food color

1 3/4 cups confectioners' (icing) sugar
1 cup almond flour
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup berry sugar (superfine)
2-3 drops soft gel paste food coloring ~ see below
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla, almond or mint extract ~ see below
*Assorted Fillings ~ see below
**for Chocolate Macarons ~ see the special note below

Assorted Fillings:
Three flavors of delicate, elegant French Macarons
   *Raspberry ~Tint the batter with 2 drops neon pink gel food coloring, flavor with almond or pure vanilla extract. Fill with seedless raspberry jam (you'll need about 3/4 cup)
   *Chocolate Mint ~Tint the batter with 2 drops mint green gel food coloring, flavor with mint extract. For the dark chocolate mint ganache filling; in a bowl set over warm water; melt 4 oz. finely chopped high quality dark chocolate, stir in 2 tablespoons whipping cream and 1 tablespoon butter, stir until smooth. Stir in 1/4 tsp mint extract. Cool slightly, until it is thick but not hard, before filling.
   *Lemon ~Tint the batter with 2 drops lemon yellow gel food coloring, flavor with lemon extract. Fill with lemon curd (you'll need about 3/4 cup), you can add 1 drop of lemon yellow gel food coloring to the curd if you wish.
   *Blackberry Cheesecake ~Tint the batter with 2 drops royal blue plus 2 drops violet gel food coloring, flavor with pure vanilla extract. For the filling; mix 3/4 cup Mascarpone cheese with 3 tablespoons seedless blackberry jam.
   *Coconut ~Do not tint the batter, flavor with pure vanilla extract. For the white chocolate/coconut ganache filling; in a bowl set over warm water; melt 4 oz. finely chopped high quality white chocolate, stir in 2 tablespoons whipping cream, 1 tablespoon coconut powder and 1 tablespoon butter, stir until smooth. Stir in 2-3 teaspoons of medium shredded coconut. Cool slightly, until it is thick but not hard, before filling. 
  **Chocolate Macarons ~Add 3 tablespoons of sifted cocoa powder to the icing sugar and almond flour mixture, proceed with the recipe. Fill with dark chocolate ganache; in a bowl set over warm water; melt 4 oz. finely chopped high quality dark chocolate, stir in 2 tablespoons whipping cream and 1 tablespoon butter, stir until smooth. Cool slightly, until it is thick but not hard, before filling.  

Preheat oven to 300°F using the convection setting. Line 3 bake sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add almond flour and confectioners' sugar (add cocoa if using). Run until you have a fine powder. Sift this mixture at least two times. The more you sift, the smoother the tops. Press through with a rubber spatula to pass through as much as possible. Discard any lumps between sifting then set sifted mixture aside.

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy. With the machine running, add the berry sugar one tablespoon at a time. Turn off and scrape the sides. Increase speed to high, beat until stiff and shiny, about 1-2 more minutes. To test the mixture; turn off the mixer and lift the whisk attachment. The mixture should hold its form at the tip of the whisk and not drip.

Remove bowl from mixer and set on the counter. Add 1/3 of the sifted almond flour mixture. Draw a rubber spatula halfway through the mixture and fold gently to combine, giving the bowl a quarter turn with each fold. Add another third of the almond flour mixture, fold again. Add the final third and fold until incorporated. The batter should now be firm with a glossy shine. Add the desired food coloring and extract. Continue folding and turning, scraping down the bowl until the batter is smooth and falls off the spatula in a thin, flat ribbon, 2 to 3 minutes. 

Hold the piping bag vertically and close to the bakesheet
Piping the macarons ~ Place a pastry bag fitted with a #12 (1/4") plain round tip in a tall water glass, fill the bag 3/4 with batter. Holding the bag vertically and close to the bake sheet, pipe into small, even rounds about 3/4 to 1-inch in diameter. Pipe in staggered rows about one inch apart. After piping the circle of batter, quickly flick your wrist to the side so a point doesn't form. If a point forms, just smooth it with a small spatula later. Firmly tap the baking sheet twice against the counter to release any air bubbles.
Allow cookies to 'dry' before baking

Let the cookies sit at room temperature until a dry shell forms on the tops. Touch the batter with your fingertip. When they are no longer sticky to the touch they are ready for the oven. The resting time can take 15 minutes to an hour depending on the humidity. It's important that the tops dry out, otherwise they will crack while baking.

When  the tops are dry, slip another baking sheet under the first batch, a double baking sheet protects the cookies from the heat. Bake one sheet at a time in the lower third of the oven. If you don't have a convection setting, rotate the bake sheet half way through baking. Bake until the cookies are shiny and rise 1/8 inch to form a 'foot', 15-20 minutes. When done, the tops will be firm to the touch and the center won't 'jiggle'. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes. If the macarons are too hot, they will come apart. Gently peel cookies off the parchment paper and transfer to a cooling rack.

Pipe filling and gently press sandwich together

When all are baked and completely cooled; arrange the cookies by twos top side down, matching sizes. Pipe a dime to a nickel size of filling onto the bottom cookie. Alternately, you can use a palette knife to smear on the filling before sticking them together. Lay the second macaron on top. Gently press together so the filling expands but does not come out of the sides. Repeat for all remaining macarons. 

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. When packed in an airtight container, they also freeze very well.

These delightful, elegant, gluten free confections make a wonderful gift for Valentine's Day, Easter, Birthdays or any special occasion!

The perfect gift ... handmade with Love!

Till next time ... Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae
Recipe adapted by Sally Rae

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Chicken

About 15 years ago near Aldergrove BC, I was served the most incredible 'Vietnamese Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Broken Rice'. The tiny restaurant, at a gas station on the Fraser Highway, was run by a mother and daughter. I have searched for years to find a reasonable facsimile to their incredible recipe with no success and much disappointment. 
Four years ago I decided to try my hand at replicating their flavors and method. My version below is very close but not the perfection that I remember.

Grill over medium-high heat
Pork can be used as a substitute but my preference is boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat. If you are not familiar with Lemongrass, review my previous post 'Lemongrass Questions Answered'. I would suggest using only fresh lemongrass for this recipe. 

Another ingredient that may need clarifying is 'Ponzu Sauce'. I was introduced to this incredible sauce in Hawaii and it has been a staple in my house ever since. Ponzu Sauce is a classic Japanese citrus sauce most commonly served with soy included. It can be purchased in most grocery stores, found in the same aisle as soy sauce or there are recipes on line to make your own.

Chicken thighs are the perfect protein for this dish as they remain moist when grilled, pork can be used as a substitute. This recipe can easily be doubled.

1 lb. (6-8 pieces) boneless, skinless chicken thighs 

Serve over steamed rice


2 Tbsp. golden sugar 
2 Tbsp. diced onion
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh lemongrass (1 stalk)
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic  
1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Ponzu Sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. grape seed oil
With a meat mallet, pound the chicken until thin but not falling apart. Set aside.
Put the sugar, onion, garlic and lemongrass into an electric mini chopper and process to a fine texture. (Or, mince the garlic, shallot, and lemongrass individually, put them into a bowl, and add the sugar.) Add the pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, and oil and process to combine well. Aim for a relatively smooth texture. The marinade will be chocolate brown. Transfer to a bowl. 

Into an 8x8" glass dish, spread a small amount of the marinade to coat the bottom. Lay a single layer of pounded chicken pieces, spoon marinade on the chicken and keep layering chicken and marinade to cover all sides of the meat well. Cover the dish and refrigerate to marinate at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Let the meat sit out at room temperature for 30-45 minutes to remove some of the chill before grilling. 

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Grill for 5 to 8 minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Keep a close watch, it will burn easily. Transfer to a plate, loosely cover with foil before serving. If serving with chop sticks, the chicken can be sliced into strips.
Serve with rice and stir-fried or grilled vegetables. 

Traditionally, this meal is served with steamed rice, fresh shredded lettuce, fresh cucumber, tomato and beansprouts.

Till next time ... Bon Appétit!

Recipe by Sally Rae
Photos by Sally Rae