Saturday, December 26, 2015

Macaron Madness: A Berry Merry Christmas

It wasn't all that long ago when I had no idea what a French macaron was. My friend Lisa brought me what looked like a chocolate cookie sandwich, but one bite of that decadent goodness changed my world. Crunchy on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside and filled with a chocolate raspberry ganache, that was one cookie (based on a David Lebovitz recipe) I would never forget. It left me dying for another and another, haunting my thoughts about how such a perfect cookie could come to be. The baker in me decided to take up the challenge to recreate that unforgettably delicious cookie and to create the perfect macaron, a journey that has left me wanting to pull out my hair on more occasions than I would like to admit. There is so much technique and perfection that goes into making these cookies--a few strokes too many and you lose those perfect little "feet," but too few and you will end up with cracked shells; temperatures too high and they will crack, but too low and they will not cook through, leaving you with hollow shells. After years of practice and fiddling with different temperatures, flavorings, and fillings, I am getting closer to my end goal, but still have a few tweaks to make here or there to create "the perfect macaron." It has become somewhat of an addiction: batch after batch, one trial after another, playing with endless flavor combinations. 

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Buttercream is so incredibly versatile, one of the reasons why I love it so much. It can be used to frost cakes or cupcakes or to fill macarons. It is also very easy to mix different flavors into the buttercream to create a whole new frosting. Buttercream is my go-to stop for macaron filling. I specifically like using swiss meringue buttercream rather than regular buttercream. By using egg whites, you can decrease the amount of sugar you use, thereby enhancing the structure and the butter flavor and decreasing the sweetness compared to regular buttercream. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cranberry Brie Cups

Fresh cranberries scream out "Holidays" whenever I see them, bringing me back to memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wonderful as a jam, a sauce, or even in sangria, this versatile berry adds a tarty touch to every recipe and a colorful pop to every dish. This appetizer is a miniature version of a holiday favorite - baked brie wrapped in pastry dough. Savory, yet tart, these bite-sized pieces are wonderful as a pass-around party appetizer. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

S'more laughs, s'more hugs, s'more fun!

Who says s'mores are a campfire treat you can enjoy only in the Summer? Why not bring them indoors to have them year-round? For our annual ugly sweater party last weekend, I put together a s'more's bar to bring some warmth and fire to the table and some yummy marshmallow goodness to all our bellies. It was the perfect warm snack for a cold winter night, and especially festive with the twinkle lights to accompany--yes I am a sucker for twinkle lights. It also provided a great excuse to use a few of my dozen or so cake stands :)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's About to Get Nutty

As soon as Halloween ended this year, LA's KOST 103.5 started early on their glorious 2 month stint of Christmas songs on the radio--something I look forward to every year. Prancing around the hospital with Christmas jingles in my head gives me a major itch for holiday baking. To me, turning on the oven is like a cozy blanket filling the house with warm aromas of baked goods and sprinkling a bit of holiday cheer on everybody. While russian tea cakes are one of the classic Christmas go-to cookies I make, banana nut bread probably ties for first in the baked goods category. My aunt, without fail, will ask me for this recipe in addition to her own loaf every single year at our family Christmas gathering (I have no idea what she does with the recipe). Fluffy yet moist, and loaded with chocolate chips and walnuts galore, this banana bread is definitely a family favorite.  Now the only thing left is to decorate the house!