Category Archives: Confectionaries

Caramel: A cautionary tale

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Salted caramels make great gifts. You can churn them out fairly easily and they travel well. It was my recipe of choice for Christmas gifts last year as hundreds of cookies are a no go when you live so far away.

Doing a test run I learned that caramels are sticky and will stick to everything. Everything.

Leaving caramel on a cutting board without greasing it made a big sticky mess. Putting caramel aside on an unlined ungreased baking dish for just a few moments? Stuck like glue.

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When you finally remember that this golden substance will glue itself to everything in sight, the process isn’t that bad.

The most time consuming task is wrapping. You’ll want to cut your pieces of wax paper all at once so you can streamline the process.

There is an addictive quality about these, only a slight amount of chewing is necessary before they melt away in your mouth.

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I used the Fleur de Sel recipe from the Sugar Baby cook book. Have you been to Gesine’s Facebook page? When I was having trouble with the recipe, she was quick at responding with some trouble shooting tips.

Notes:

– I took it off the heat a bit earlier (245F) for a softer chew. I found that 257F makes the caramels harder, especially when the temperature continues to rise. An accurate thermometer is a must because it means the difference between “soft” and “syrup”
– I added the salt in with the caramel instead of reserving it for sprinkling on top. I think you can use regular sea salt for the cooking stage and then if you want a little extra, go all out and use the fleur de sel.

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Macarons – Simple, yet tricky

Macarons

After being tortured by beautiful photos of macarons by Tartelette, I finally had a chance to taste them from a place called Moroco. The tops shattered against the teeth and then led to a nice chewy interior. My friend who had tried macarons from Paris noted that these weren’t as sweet. She found the Parisian ones just too sweet for her that she could barely finish one. I sampled a few flavours and found the salted caramel one was my favourite. I really was planning on taking pictures, but I ate them all.

This macaron experience made me want to try making them on my own. I could make hundreds of different flavour combinations and they’re so visually appealing. Dainty and perfect. When I researched more about how to make them, it looked like they were very tricky to make. After looking at a bunch of different sites on the how to make them, I settled on Tartelette’s tutorial. I started off simple and didn’t add any fancy coloured powders or different flavours.

I started the macarons late so I wasn’t the most patient. I don’t have a food processor so I used my hand blender chopper and blended the icing sugar and the ground almonds in batches then whisked it all together. It’s really easy to put together as the ingredients are icing sugar, ground almonds, egg whites, and granulated sugar. It’s the technique that’s the tricky part. You fold the batter and test to see if it’s ready by putting a bit of it on a plate. If it goes flat, it’s good to go. Mine had a bit of a peak, but I couldn’t wait any longer and started piping them. You’re also supposed to wait an hour, but I made them so late in the night I could only wait 30 mins. The first batch turned out lobsided and cracked. My piping job was less than stellar. The second batch where I was more careful I was able to create only a handful of macaron sandwiches. I also let the shells sit overnight which made peeling them off the parchment much easier. If you try and peel away too soon, the macaron crumbles. The shells had the nice crispy shattering effect with a chewy interior and had the “feet” (the rough looking bottom) that people like to see on macarons. I used the leftover neoclassic milk chocolate buttercream as the filling. Straight from the fridge, the shells are a little hard these are best eaten slightly below room temperature so that the buttercream is still firm and tastes kind of like a soft milk chocolate bar. The macarons are also sweet. Movie Man finds them a touch too sweet for him and I can handle 2 at most. They’re best eaten with a strong cup of black tea to temper the sweetness. I think I’ll try reducing the sugar next time and see if that works. I think I read somewhere that increasing the almond flour also reduces the sweetness.

I would definitely try making these again. I think I just need practice to get the desired shape.

Resources:
Tartelette’s step-by-step tutorial from Dessert Magazine
Syrup and Tang’s comprehensive look at macarons. Many pictures in here were very helpful. I learned I had too much air in mine and I’ll try baking at a higher temperature.
David Lebovitz’s chocolate macarons. Probably the next recipe I’ll tackle.

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Slightly burnt

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This is what burnt toffee looks like.

I have a bit of an issue with caramel.  I always seem to burn the first batch…and sometimes the second.  It’s very easy for it to burn in just a blink of an eye.  Trying this toffee recipe I used my newly bought candy thermometer and still managed to burn it.  I won’t even get into the mess of cleaning up the burnt black bottom of my pot.  I think I may have to buy a “crappy pot” just to make tricky candy recipes so it won’t sting as bad if I have to toss it.

This is the Salted  Cashew Toffee from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.  Even though I knew the toffee had burnt slightly, I tossed in the cashews and baking soda anyway.  For me, there are few tastes out there that are more unpleasant than burnt sugar.  Yet I still could not stop myself from eating these.  Maybe I was reinforcing the “don’t burn sugar” message by eating these.  My family loved these, however!  I blame it on their lack of smell.  My mom liked these enough to ask me to make a second batch before packing up all my kitchen books and tools and moving.  The second time I made these, I followed RLB’s instructions for her Buttercrunch Toffee.  I stirred constantly and when it hit 290F (or 295F?) I took it off the stove to add the rest of the ingredients (the temperature will continue to rise and then hit the hard crack stage).   The result?  Yummy toffee that’s not burnt.

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Marshmallow attempt #1

Ever since I saw notmartha make marshmallows I have been wanting to make them, but never could as I didn’t own a standmixer. Now that Tinkerbell is here I’ve been waiting for the time (and the courage) to make marshmallows. The Nervous Chef gets especially nervous when recipe instructions involve pouring 230+ degree hot syrup into a mixer running at full speed.

The recipe then says to pour the mixture into the pan. I couldn’t pour it. It was more of scooping it into the pan. The result:

What could have happened?

  • I didn’t have a candy thermometer, I used a digital meat thermometer
  • I was so scared of accidentally pouring hot syrup on me that I poured it into a pyrex measuring cup and when I was pouring it into the bowl it already cooled down quite a bit.

I read the directions again. Water and gelatin – check:

Sugar, corn syrup, and water – check:

Wait a minute…did I add all the corn syrup? I look at my 1/2 cup measure and it’s bone dry. Apparently it’s best not to try and make marshmallows at 1:30 a.m. While my marshmallows are er…organic looking, they still surprisingly taste like marshmallows. They kind of remind me of the jumbo puff marshmallows I used to eat as a kid.

Making the marshmallows was a bit messy for me. I’m a very messy baker, but after sifting all that rice flour/confectioner’s sugar on the marshmallows, my table looked like Amy Winehouse had been partying here.

I plan on trying to make these again soon. I will not be defeated by this.

I used the smaller version of Brownie Points vanilla marshmallows. I sifted the rice flour/sugar combo on a greased pan and then tapped the excess out. I like the marshmallow recipes that don’t use eggs as those are best eaten within 2-3 days. Frankly, eating an entire pan of marshmallows is pretty disgusting. If I’m sacrificing flavour not including eggs, so be it.

More on marshmallows:
Cooking for Engineers does marshmallows
Alton Brown’s marshmallow recipe
Mama Reiner’s marshmallow cream on marthastewart.com
Mama Reiner’s chocolate fudge on marthastewart.com
Mama Reiner’s chocolate covered marshmallows on marthastewart.com
Martha Stewart’s marshmallows

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