Thursday, March 31, 2011

Creme Brulee

My husband and I have always loved creme brulee.  When I first started learning how to cook, we decided to try to make it ourselves, but it proved more difficult than expected.  We probably went through 5 or 6 recipes.  Many of them didn't set up properly, some weren't sweet enough and some were too sweet.  Then my baby's honorary grandparents made us creme brulee that was perfect, and they were sweet enough to share the recipe with us.  We've made it many times and it has always turned out perfectly. And it's actually easier than a lot of the recipes we tried.  You don't have to slowly heat the custard until it's thick enough like many recipes call for.

Anyway, I started aging 5 egg whites to make some more macarons this weekend, and when my husband saw the egg yolks in a container, he had the brilliant idea of making creme brulee, and since I knew it would be a huge deposit in his EBA (emotional bank account, for those of you who haven't been through 7 Habits training), I thought I'd give in.
And I thought I'd share the recipe.  I've altered it a little bit based on little tips I've picked up from the first 5 recipes I tried.

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
1 vanilla bean
2½ cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
¼ cup superfine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for topping

Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and put it in a saucepan.  Pour the cream into the pan, then bring almost to a boil over medium heat.  Take off the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes for the vanilla flavor to develop.

Lift the vanilla bean out of the cream and holding it against the side of the saucepan, scrape the black seeds into the cream.  Discard the bean casing.

Use a whisk to mix together the egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl.  Reheat the cream, then gradually whisk it into the eggs and sugar, whisking constantly.  Strain the mixture through a sieve into a 4-cup measuring cup.

Place a kitchen towel on the bottom of a roasting pan (to keep the ramekins from sliding).  Place 6 ovenproof ramekins or custard cups (the shallow ramekins work best) in the roasting pan and divide the custard evenly between them.  Pour hot water around the dishes to come halfway up the sides, then bake in preheated oven at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until the custards are just set with a slight softness at the center.  (Shake the pan just a little bit, and the centers should just barely wobble.)

Leave the dishes to cool in the water, then lift them out as soon as they’re cool enough to touch without burning yourself.  Chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.  Before serving, sprinkle the tops with remaining sugar.  Caramelize using a blowtorch, then allow to cool for a couple of minutes and serve.

*I used 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste instead of the vanilla bean this time and we couldn't tell a difference.

And I forgot to mention in the macarons post that I had a bit of a difficulty with grinding the almonds because, well, my food processor sucks.  It wouldn't grind the almonds fine enough, and you have to push the button so hard constantly for it to keep running that my fingers hurt and I had to have my husband grind them for a little while.  And they still weren't ground enough, so I had to put the almonds and powdered sugar into my magic bullet in several batches.  In the end, it took me twenty minutes to do something that should have taken me 2 or 3.  I wouldn't say I had a meltdown or anything, but I was extremely frustrated.  So my loving husband not only allowed me to, but told me to order a new food processor.  So I searched for America's Test Kitchen's top rated food processor and now I have an awesome food processor
And my little boy really loves it too.  Well, the box anyway.  He's in a bit of a climbing stage right now.  Anyway, here she is.  Isn't she pretty?
So macarons are going to go much smoother this weekend! 

Now I have to go figure out where to store it.  And my kopykake (which is still hanging out on our kitchen table). 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Easter Cookies (Sanity Sunday)

Yesterday I chose to spend my baking time trying out a lot of the Easter cookie cutters I've bought but never used.  I only started this cookie obsession last Fourth of July, so this was my first shot at Easter cookies.  I found this cute sort of wonky flower shape at Target.  Cute, right?

I cannot for the life of me keep my flower centers from sinking in, even when I use thicker icing.  Oh well.  I think I'm now beyond trying to fix it and calling it intentional. 
And I think I saw this design on Sugarbelle, but I can't remember.  I got lazy with the orange and tried to use a toothpick (I had heard this tip from other cookiers) since I needed so little orange.  So the beaks look awful, but next time, when it's for an order, I'll pipe it on properly.
My animals all have blue eyes because, again, I was lazy and didn't want to make and bag black icing.  It works, right?
And it might surprise some, but I don't think the Easter bunny actually has anything to do with the real reason for Easter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Macarons! (Sanity Sunday)

Ok, so I wasn't originally going to post this, but I changed my mind after tasting them this morning.  Macarons have been very popular in the food blog world for awhile now, but I've never made them before.  Actually, to be honest, I had never actually eaten one.  I even went to Paris for my honeymoon 5 years ago, but back then I didn't really know how to cook, and I had never even heard of macarons. 

Anyway, I bought the book Mad About Macarons and it just came in the mail last week.  So I chose to make a basic macaron with a sort of chocolate-caramel ganache filling.  I was pretty nervous because they have a reputation as being tricky to make, and I also have a fear of overbeating egg whites (I'm scared of whipping cream too).  The macaron itself actually went really well.  They turned out perfectly, with the little feet and everything!  The ganache itself didn't go as well.  It was way too runny, even after refrigerating for several hours, and it just kind of wanted to spill off the sides of the macaron, even when I decreased the amount of filling.  Hence my plan not to post these.  But then I ate one this morning (the recipe says to refrigerate for 24 hours before eating, but I'm a rebel).  And they are really good.  Again, I've never actually had one before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was just as described in the book, soft on the inside with a little bit of a crunch on the outside.  So here they are, ugly, but delicious. 

Try not to look at the ganache remains on the top of the macaron and on the plate.  Like I said, I wasn't planning on posting these, so they all went into the container without much care, and this one was the prettiest one I could find.  But I think it's good to show you guys that it's ok when things don't go perfectly, especially if they're still delicious.  I'm just proud of myself that the macaron part (the tricky part) came out right.  I'll definitely try this again, with a different filling of course.

Even the baby liked them.  Most of the books say to keep babies away from nuts until they turn two.  But my baby came over begging for the deliciousness I was eating and I gave him a bite without thinking about it.  Then my husband brought to my attention the fact that there are nuts in it, but he just turned two, so it's ok, right?   Which is funny because I used to be the one who was on top of all those things and my husband was the laid-back one.  But he didn't have an allergic reaction, so phew!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cookies for My Little Monkey

These cookies are for my little boy, who turns 2 today!  So of course I had to make my precious little monkey some cookies.  But before I show you these cookies, I have to show you pictures from two years ago.  My heart just melted when I went through the pictures on my computer to figure out which ones I wanted to post. 

Let me just tell you that those baggie clothes on him in that last picture, those were preemie clothes.  Next time you pass the baby clothes in a store, look at the preemie outfits.  They're teeny tiny!
Ok, ok.  I know this is a cookie blog and those of you who don't know me and my little guy are ready for the cookies already.  Here you go:
This was my first time using my brand new kopykake, so I think I need to practice with it a bit, but I was happy enough with how they turned out.  I used the image from these napkins.

And this is my sweetest creation yet.
That smile is kind of scary with the blue, no?  And I've titled the next one "Don't touch my cookie."
Happy Birthday, Little Monkey!

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Package Has Arrived!!!

Today I felt like a little kid on Christmas...or Hanukah I guess since I grew up in a Jewish home.  I came home from some errand-running with the baby to find a package on my doorstep. 

Not that it was a surprise since I've been checking the shipping status multiple times a day every once in awhile since I placed the order a week ago.
And here it is!  My very own kopykake!!!! YAY!!!!  I've been wanting one of these ever since I heard that it was the secret behind some of the most gorgeous and creative cookies out there.  And then I saw the tutorial on Sweetopia and all the amazing cookies she's made with it and I wanted it even more.  It took a long time to convince my husband though.  And I think this counts as my Mother's Day, anniversary, and birthday present combined.  (For those of you reading this who aren't cookiers, a kopykake is a projector that allows you to project any image onto a cookie to use as a guide for piping.  It really enables you to do so much more.) 

Whenever I receive an order for something I've never made before (like the camera cookies a few weeks back), I tend to stress out about it until I figure out the perfect way to do it (and even then I usually stress about it until it's completed).  But now with my kopykake, I feel like if I'm not sure I can do a certain design, I must be able to find a way to do it using the kopykake.  It's always nice when life is a little less stressful.

Anyway, I had to wait an entire hour until baby went down for his nap, and then I tore into the package to find...assembly required. 

But it wasn't too bad, and with the exception of getting the lens on (which my husband had to help with), I put it together myself.  And here she is in all her glory.
Let me just say to anyone out there who's thinking about getting one, it's really huge...way bigger than I expected.  I would try to get a picture of my two year old next to it to show you how huge it is, but my two year old is abnormally wee, and I really don't trust him that close to my precious my new kopykake.  Seriously, he's a wrecking ball. 

I only played with it for a few minutes, but without trying to adjust it much at all, it projected a good strong image, even though the room was pretty lit up.  I'm very excited to get to play with my new toy in a few days.  My little monkey turns two on Friday, so I'm going to use this to make some Paul Frank monkey cookies.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Mint Patties (St. Patrick's Day Version)

These were very spur of the moment, which is pretty much a rarity for me.  Since I do most of my baking during my little guy's naps, I usually plan everything out in advance so I can get as much in as I can before he wakes up.  But I guess I was feeling spontaneous yesterday.  And my husband was home, so that makes it easier to make a sweet treat when I get the whim.

Today we're having lunch with my baby's honorary grandparents, and all they wanted us to bring was chips and drinks.  I felt like I needed to bring a little something extra for them, but not something so big that it trumps the dessert they said they'd provide.  And honorary grandma can't eat gluten, which limits the possibilities since, apparently, everything I make has gluten.  Except for these babies:

These are my chocolate-covered mint patties.  I decided to try something new (man, I was spontaneous today!), so instead of the usual peppermint extract, I tried some wintergreen flavoring.  They tasted good, but I think we both prefer the peppermint.   Actually, my favorite version is when I make it with raspberry extract instead of mint...yum!  Anyway, of course I had to make the filling green for Saint Patrick's Day, because as I mentioned last time, they love the holiday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Saint Patrick's Day (Sanity Sunday)

It's been awhile since I've had a Sanity Sunday.  My toddler keeps getting sick, which means I keep getting sick, and then my husband was on a business trip last Sunday.  So finally I got a chance to play in the kitchen and I thought it was time to try out my Saint Patrick's Day cookie cutters.  I didn't really plan these out the way I usually do, so I didn't end up getting creative at all with the clover cookies, but oh well.  It was still fun to play.

For the pots of gold, I couldn't decide if I wanted to use gold luster dust or sanding sugar, so I tried both.  I can't decide which I like more.  It's hard to see in the picture, but the left one has luster dust and the right sanding sugar.  I think it might have been better if I did the luster dust wet.

I love making mini cookies.  I liked how the little round ones with the clovers turned out.
And here is what happens when you give a two-year-old a cookie with green icing that isn't quite dry yet.
Yes, my two-year-old needs a haircut like crazy, but we've been sick practically nonstop the last month, so don't judge.

I'm going to send most of these off to my little guy's preschool, but of course I have to send a little care package to my little guy's Saint Patrick's Day-loving honorary grandparents.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wedding Shower Hearts

Here's the last cookie I made for the wedding shower last week.  I was asked to make hearts with the bride and groom's name, which really stressed me out.  I wasn't so sure I could consistently write the names on that many hearts to my liking.  It's hard to do pretty writing on cookies.  So when she brought me the invitation, I saw a pretty design on the top of the invitation that I thought would work well on the heart.  I was also given some creative license, so I thought that as long as it was pretty, she wouldn't mind.  Here's the design:

I made my own stencil of the pretty curvy design and used a marker to draw it onto the cookie, which I used as a guide to pipe it in brown icing.  I also decided that in order to ensure fancy writing, I would use royal icing transfers.  I made a ton, which was good because a lot of them broke since the lines are very thin.  So in the end, it was still a lot of work, and it may have even been easier to just write the names on a plain brown heart, but I like how they turned out.  And she said she'd order cookies from me again, so she must have liked them, right?
And here's the whole order: