Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Daring Bakers - Pecan Crostata

My original plan for the challenge this month was some sort of a caramel and chocolate ganache crostata. Sounds good, huh? Some day it will be but instead I decided to make a crostata for the husband's birthday. Since his birthday falls around Thanksgiving, it usually got lumped in with the family Thanksgiving celebration and his birthday "cake" was always a pecan pie, his favorite. With a candle, of course. I, on the other hand, do NOT like pecan pies. I try to like them, but the goopy sweet snot in the middle always ruins it for me. I usually end up eating the pecan topping and sadly throwing the rest away.

I decided that it was perfect for this month's Daring Bakers challenge. Since the tart pan is so shallow, it would have a better goop to pecan ratio. Awwwww yeah. But please don't tell my husband that I sacrificed his beloved pecan pie with something that would suit my tastes better. On his birthday. Whoops.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I used the crostata recipe provided by Simona and it came out perfectly! Since I am a bit of the lazy side, I made the dough in my food processor. Here's how it goes:

  • 1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl.

  • Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
  • Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
  • Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface
  • Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it
  • Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
  • Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
  • Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

    *Superfine sugar is also referred to as baker's sugar, caster sugar or ultrafine. I found it at my local supermarket but it cost $5 for a small 1 lb bag. Instead, you can just put regular granulated sugar in a food processor and let it run until it's very fine.

    **The vanilla sugar idea sounded delicious but I didn't have any vanilla beans on hand, nor have I ever stored the beans in sugar so I added about a 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract to the sugar before  running it through the processor. Turned out really well and smelled divine!

    I blind baked the crostata at 350 degrees for 20 minutes before I filled it.

    Now, for the filling I used a recipe from Bon Vivant, but adapted it to my crostata.

    ½ cup light corn syrup
    ½ cup packed brown sugar
    3 tablespoons/ 45 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    3 large eggs
    2 teaspoons espresso powder
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    7 ounces/ 200 grams pecan halves or pieces
    (I also used a handful of bittersweet chocolate chips but would not add them next time)

    Preheat the oven to 425F/ 220C.
    In a large bowl, whisk the corn syrup and brown sugar until smooth, then add the melted butter, whisking as you do so. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each egg into the mixture before adding the next.
    Whisk everything until you get a smooth foamy mixture, then add the espresso powder, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and beat everything in. Rap the bowl against the counter a few times to remove any bubbles from the batter, then stir in the pecans and chocolate. Pour the filling into the crust.
    Place the baking pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. In the meantime, get your crust shield ready, or prepare one by cutting a 9-inch circle out of an 11-inch square of aluminium foil. When the 15 minutes are over, lower the heat to 325F/ 170C, place the foil shield over the crust and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pie has puffed, is brown and doesn’t jiggle when tapped.
    Remove the foil shield, leave to cool to temperature before cutting and serving.

    Yum. Minimal goop.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010


    Well, today was the big bake sale! I made 4 dozen cupcakes and about 30 bags of macarons (3 in each bag). The cupcakes were dark chocolate (using my favorite, Hershey's Black Magic) with salted caramel buttercream, and also vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream. The flavors of macarons were similar, pecan pie and dark chocolate ganache filled.

    The sale went really really well, I'm happy to report! By 3pm I was sold out of all goodies and we made ... $195 for Team Hudson!!! As exhausted as I am, it's a really amazing feeling. Since it went so well, I'm thinking that I'll hold another one in December! If so, I'm thinking of dark chocolate whoopie pies with a peppermint cream, more macarons, maybe egg nog? The pecan pie macs are such a huge hit, it would be a shame to not involve them as well... and one more... maybe a mexican hot chocolate macaron? I'll have to work on it and see what I can come up with!

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Pecan Pie Macarons and Fundraising

    For a while there, I could have sworn that I lost my macaron mojo. Really, all of a sudden they would not work for me! There's a good chance that I've gotten that mojo back! Yahoo!

    In February, I will be walking with Team Hudson in the Christopher's Heart Energy for Life walkathon, benefiting the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. I figured that since I love to bake, I may as well sell some goodies to help raise money. Instead of chasing my crazed children around a random parking lot, I am going to be holding a "mobile" bake sale. I'll be traveling to different offices around the Austin area to sell the goods. If it works out well, I'll do it again in December, and then in January!

    This month I am selling pecan pie macarons, pumpkin rice krispie treats with dark chocolate and dark chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream. Sounds pretty delicious, huh?

    Pecan Pie macarons are definitely my favorites to make. I typically use macaron recipes from Tartelette's site, which I have had moderate success with. (Obviously not the recipe but the novice macaron maker in me) I have, however, followed a tip from the wise Ms. Humble Pie and add about 1/2 tsp of dried egg whites with the granulated sugar that goes into the meringue. It produces a beautiful, thick (and stable) meringue for me to fold the almond/sugar mixture into. It produces a batter that is much like the italian meringue version, but not as sweet since there is no added sugar syrup.

    Here is the recipe for pecan pie macarons, adapted from Tartelette's recipe:

    For the shells:
    90 grams aged egg whites*
    40 gr granulated sugar mixed with about 1/2 tsp dried egg whites**
    200 gr powdered sugar
    55 gr almonds
    55 gr pecans

    * I usually age my egg whites in the refrigerator for about 5-6 days in a bowl lightly covered with a paper towel.
    **NOT meringue powder, as it has added sugar and other... stuff. I usually find dried egg whites at my local grocery store right next to the meringue powder, though, in the baking aisle.

    In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Combine the almonds,pecans and half of the powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Sift this mixture with the other half of the powdered sugar. You may have a few pieces of nut that are too large to fit through the strainer. Use your best judgement on whether they need another round in the processor or if you can just chunk them. If it's just a gram or two I just chunk them) Add about 1/3 to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then add another 1/3 and fold carefully, then the last 1/3 until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down.The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
    Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (I use the Wilton 2A) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or Silpat) lined baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

    Typically 1 batch of batter, for me, makes about 56 macaron halves. I use half sheet pans, doubled up to provide a little insulation, with Silpats.

    For the filling for my pecan pie macarons, I use a recipe The Cookbook Chronicles.

    Here you go:
    Salted creme fraiche caramel
    1 ¼ cup sugar
    1/3 cup water
    ½ cup heavy cream
    1 stick unsalted butter
    2/3 cup crème fraiche
    1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)

    1 tsp kosher salt (or ½ tsp table salt, to taste)

    First, have all your ingredients pre-measured and close at hand.

    In a skillet, combine the water and sugar over high heat. Cook until the sugar has liquefied, and turned a dark amber color. You can give the sugar one initial stir to mix the water and sugar but do not touch it afterwards or else sugar crystals will form. (This will take about 10-12 minutes.) Immediately, stir in the butter. Turn off the heat. Stir in the heavy cream–it will bubble up, and then subside.

    Finally, stir in the creme fraiche, scraped vanilla bean, and kosher salt. Let it cool to room temperature. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. (You can warm it up in the microwave before using if you would like it runnier.)

    Wait until the ganache is thoroughly chilled, fill with about 1- 1.5 tsp caramel and top with other half. Macarons need about 24-48 hours to "mature" before they're ready to eat. The macaron shells need to absorb a bit of the moisture from the filling to get that tender, beautiful macaron bite to them.

    I hope you enjoy!!!