December 9: Deconstructed Cherry Macarons

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French Macarons

(from The Tasty)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar, almond flour, and ½ teaspoon of salt, and process on low speed, until extra fine. Sift the almond flour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.
  2. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the granulated sugar until fully incorporated. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without anything falling out).
  3. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the food coloring and beat until just combined.
  4. Add about ⅓ of the sifted almond flour mixture at a time to the beaten egg whites and use a spatula to gently fold until combined. After the last addition of almond flour, continue to fold slowly until the batter falls into ribbons and you can make a figure 8 while holding the spatula up.
  5. Transfer the macaron batter into a piping bag fitted with a round tip.
  6. Place 4 dots of the batter in each corner of a rimmed baking sheet, and place a piece of parchment paper over it, using the batter to help adhere the parchment to the baking sheet.
  7. Pipe the macarons onto the parchment paper in 1½-inch (3-cm) circles, spacing at least 1-inch (2-cm) apart.
  8. Tap the baking sheet on a flat surface 5 times to release any air bubbles.
  9. Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until dry to the touch.
  10. Preheat the oven to 300˚F (150˚C).
  11. Bake the macarons for 17 minutes, until the feet are well-risen and the macarons don’t stick to the parchment paper.
  12. Transfer the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

So I like to keep it real with all of you. I’m not a professional baker. I’m a writer. And since I’m not a professional baker, sometimes, a little batter must fall.

Yes, there was a baking fail. And that’s okay. Because one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And a variety of other cliches about things not going right.

I made the exact same recipe from last year, the exact same way, and the results were not the same. Here’s a pictorial account of my cookie for the day:

And after doing everything right, this is what I got:

Macarons with feet that were too big. They still tasted great, but looked hideous.

Which is when I invented the Deconstructed Macaron. I tell ya, if this was a real thing before I coined it, you’d be paying double for one at your local bakery. It’s like when the Cronut was invented. Or penicillin.

Instead of going into the center of my misshaped macarons, the buttercream I made (butter, powdered sugar, cherry juice, cherry butter) got ladled (yes, ladled) on top.

And though they are ugly–and they are–they are still delicious. But make no mistake; they are ugly. Not even this Spode Christmas plate could pretty them up.

But that’s okay. You heard it here first. Deconstructed Macarons were invented in 2019 by a writer in Chicagoland!

December 8: J-Dub’s Toffee Grahams

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J-Dub’s Toffee Grahams

(from Gooseberry Patch’s Old Fashioned Country Cookies)

  • 24 square graham crackers
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange cracker squares on a lightly greased cookie sheet with edges around it. In a saucepan, bring the butter and sugar to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour over crackers, covering them well. Sprinkle with nuts and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into 24 squares or 48 “fingers.”

If there’s an easier cookie out there, I don’t know what it is. Aside from buying a pre-made roll of cookie dough or the individual raw sugar cookies with pictures on them, there probably isn’t one. If there is, let me know! I want to see!

If you’re one of my regulars, you know I make this every year. Seriously, every year. Why? Because it’s easy and I can be unbelievably lazy for someone that runs a crazy cookie endeavor each year. But also because these are always popular with my cookie-eaters. Young and old alike love these. I make enough cookies that are weird and specialized as it is; it’s good to have an old standard that I know will please most people.

Today, I’m at Man Friend’s while he watches sportsball on TV. We ran to Trader Joe’s (I love you TJ’s) and I asked if he minded if I made cookies here. He did not, and I came back with the ingredients for today’s cookie.

Now, Man Friend is a man living by himself. While he’s a neat freak (more on this later) and a great cook, my kitchen has more general stuff in it than his. I attribute that to me living with three growing kids, and also, you know, running this cookie blog. He doesn’t have a cookie sheet, so we made do.

He’s Italian and he calls this a lasagna dish. Because I’m a little bit of everything and nothing all at once, I call this a 9×13 pan. I like his name for it better.

Him being a neat freak is something that scares me, mostly because I’m…not. Scroll back through the pictures of my kitchen during cookie season for evidence of this. I knew I couldn’t make his kitchen look like this. At all. Not even a little.

I asked for a sauce pan and he hands me a small saucepan. I flip it over to see how big it is.

Okay, 1 quart. With two cups of butter and 1 cup of brown sugar, that’s three cups. This should work.

Or not.

Right after I took this last picture, I said, “Honey, how many cups are in a quart?” He answered “Four,” which is right, so now I have a beef with Circulon and will be writing them next, asking how long it’s been since their cookware has been regulated by the Department of Weights and Measures. But I digress.

The last thing I wanted in my neat freak’s kitchen was a mess. And unfortunately, thanks to Circulon’s version of a quart, I had one.

This is once we poured it into a different–and bigger–sauce pan.

That’s a small spillover mess there. But in the terms of my baking messes, we all know this is minor.

I tetrissed the graham crackers in the lasagna pan, as well as in another smaller square pan and poured the toffee mixture on top of it.

Added the nuts and put it in the oven for 10 minutes. Actually, because I wasn’t using cookie sheets, I left them in the oven for 15 minutes.

December 22: Sugar Cookies

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I had some special guest stars helping me today: my three kids, and our friend Todd and his son Emmett. Emmett is 3 and embodies all the things I remember fondly about my children when they were that age. Somehow, Christmas with teenagers and a pre-teen doesn’t have the same magic and mystery that it did when they were little. Enter Emmett.

I invited Todd and Emmett over to help make and decorate cookies today, something I used to do with my kids every year, but only one day in December. It’s exhausting. It’s messy. It’s absolutely nutty. And I miss it. Sure, the kids will help me with cookies and maybe decorate a few, but it’s not the same as when it was when they were little, and I could create magic for them with some powdered sugar, food coloring, and sprinkles.

My little ones a few years ago, decorating to their hearts’ content!

I made the dough before our friends arrived and it chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours. Once they got here, we got to work rolling and cutting cookies. Emmett said he had never cut out cookies before. Even if it’s not true (not that I’m doubting a three-year-old), I’m choosing to believe that his first adventure into Christmas cookies happened with me.

We used two mixing bowls of frosting–one royal and one butter cream–and I think it was 8 different colors I mixed up. I brought the sprinkles to the table, and there we sat for about 90 minutes, frosting and laughing and watching Emmett’s eyes dance as he chose sprinkles for his creations.

When Emmett and Todd come over, suddenly my children leave their rooms to play with our favorite 3 year-old.

There’s nothing like letting kids frost cookies. It’s the wonder of childhood in its purest form.

We sent father and son home with all they made, ready for Santa to eat on Christmas Eve.

And about 30 minutes after they left, I crawled into bed, where I’m writing this from, and will shortly fall asleep. Little kids are amazing and funny and so damn cute. But they are exhausting. It was all worth it though.

Sugar Cookies
(from Gooseberry Patch’s Old Fashioned Country Cookies)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 c. butter
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar

Directions:

1. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg and extracts. Blend dry ingredients and stir in.
2. Refrigerate 2-3 hours. Divide dough in half and roll out. Cut out desired shapes.
3. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes.