Saturday, August 28, 2010

Espresso Macarons with Caramel Buttercream Filling

I remember tasting my first French macaron. It was the mid-1980’s, and I was a poor cooking school student attending La Varenne École de Cuisine in Paris. At Christmas I visited the home of some French friends, and after dinner my indulgent host offered a plate of assorted macarons from Fauchon. I chose a hazelnut macaron with a chocolate ganache filling. Never before had I had something so light, yet so satisfyingly rich and flavorful. A crisp, 

slightly chewy shell paired with a creamy, rich filling—genius! Well, it’s taken over twenty years, but macarons have finally begun to catch on here in the U.S. Yesterday I saw a beautiful assortment of extra-large macarons at a pastry shop called Financier in Grand Central station, and there’s a small shop near my office called 

Macaron Café. They have a huge selection of macarons—everything from Caramel Fleur de Sel to Cassis to Raisin Rum (they got that one backwards, but, hey, who’s to quibble).  My friend Florian Bellanger, formerly pastry chef of Fauchon NYC, opened MadMac a few years ago, a business entirely devoted to 

madeleines (Mad) and macarons (Mac). They are excellent, and actually ship well, owing to his strategically designed packaging. Making macarons at home can be a bit tricky, but is relatively easy if you follow the directions to the letter. If you are a fly-by-the-cuff sort of cook, I suggest you stick to something less demanding in the detail department. 

Chocolate chip cookies, for example. Macarons require your complete attention, a dry environment, and a bit of patience. After all, if they were easy to make, everyone would be whipping up batches at home, and they probably wouldn’t taste so heavenly, right?

P.S.: If you want to bump up the espresso flavor, add 1 teaspoon of espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of hot water to the buttercream along with the vanilla.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Banana Walnut Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting

Recently, while at a doctor’s appointment, I made the mistake of stepping onto a scale. It was a watershed moment. Nothing would ever be the same. I think it was Pope who wrote, “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Truer words have never been spoken, 

Mr. Pope. Anyhow, after the initial shock, I regrouped, and came up with a sensible exercise plan (as Browning said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”). Sorry, enough of the English poetry. To be blunt, despite the rush of endorphins, serotonin and all those other happy chemicals that are supposedly 

released during vigorous exercise, I pretty much hate every part of it. Oh, the monotony. Give me a good competitive game of tennis and I’m happy, but that’s not always possible or convenient to arrange. There’s no getting around it: jogging on a treadmill like a hamster on a wheel is just plain boring, even with a TV, iPod and newspaper to sweeten the deal. So now I walk/jog back and forth

across the Brooklyn Bridge every morning, and pick up the occasional weight. Trying to avoid bumping into tourists on the bridge at least keeps my mind off of the exercise. It’s been about a month, and I’m getting sort of used to it. The best part is that now I feel I can eat what I want, within reason. Which brings me to the 

subject of cupcakes, one of my favorite indulgences. I had been wanting to make some for a while, but it’s been too hot to bake. The temperature finally cooperated, so I whipped up a batch of Banana Walnut Cupcakes with a Dark Chocolate Frosting. The recipe is from a 2006 issue of Chocolatier, and was developed by my friend and exceptionally talented baker, Carole Harlam. The cupcakes are moist and very banana-y (as long as you use ripe bananas), and the frosting is intensely chocolate. Two strong flavors that work very well together. A perfect match— just like exercise and indulgence.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rosemary and Black Olive Focaccia

For many years I’ve nurtured a small business fantasy: opening a little brick oven pizza place somewhere. Chances are I’ll never do it — I have no illusions about how hard it is to run a business successfully, and my husband, who once owned a large clothing store in Philadelphia, is adamantly against the idea. He knows too 

much. But I am blissfully idealistic, and it gives me pleasure to think about being an entrepreneur. And I love to make pizza. I like my pizza with a really thin crust, a little sauce, a medley of cheeses and a variety of toppings, some added before baking, some 

after. And a sprinkling of chopped fresh basil before serving. For me, it’s all about the best ingredients, artfully combined and perfectly cooked. I also love to make foccaccia, pizza’s puffier cousin. Focaccia is a great base for a multitude of toppings and add-ins, from cheese to caramelized onions to herbs and olives. A 

wonderful snack, it makes a great sandwich bread—just slice it in half and fill it with something wonderful, like prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and arugula. I’ve added some semolina flour to the dough in this version, but you can make it with 4 cups of all-purpose flour instead, if you like.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Banana + Toffee = Banoffee

Banoffee Pie, which combines bananas with a sticky toffee filling and a cream topping, is an English dessert, and not a very subtle one. I’ve eaten it a few times, and liked it, but had never made it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Turns out, it’s very simple to make. Yes, the dulce de leche takes 2 hours to caramelize, but it’s just 

baking time, not active-kitchen-labor time, so that doesn’t really count. The crust can either be made from cookie crumbs or pastry. I opted for crumbs, because I like the textural contrast between the crumbly crust and the creamy filling. The toffee filling is really a 

dulce de leche, and can either be made by heating the can in water on the stove or by baking it, covered, in a waterbath in the oven. Once that’s done, it’s just a matter of slicing up a couple of bananas and topping the whole thing off with whipped cream.  The finished pie was 

sweet and rich, but in a good way. It’s a messy sort of pie, with cookie crumbs and drippy toffee and cream spilling out all over the place. Next time I would add some coffee flavor to it, probably in the cream, to tone down the overall sweetness and give it an earthy note. 

P.S. I’d like to thank my friend Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice for her lovely post about this blog. For those of you who haven’t visited her own exceptional blog, go there now!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just Peachy: Fresh Peach Cheesecake Tart

Fresh, perfectly ripe peaches, the juice of which dribbles freely down your chin as you eat them, are the ideal summer fruit.  Such perfume and flavor! No embellishment needed. But I couldn’t help

myself, as peaches are also lovely as the star ingredient in many desserts, including tarts. Because they are so flavorful, I like to pair them with a light cheesecake filling, as in this refreshing Peach 

Cheesecake Tart. I have left the peaches unpeeled, but if you prefer, you can peel them first. Just cut a cross in the bottom and blanch them for 30 seconds or so, and the skin will slip off. This tart is also great with a graham cracker crust. Top it off with some softly whipped cream. Just peachy!