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Macarons

Macarons are a tasty sandwich cookie that can be customized in many ways. It’s also a very finicky treat to make. There are many ways these cookies can go wrong, but that’s no reason to avoid trying to bake them. Whether you over mix, under mix, end up with hollows, or little nipples on top of your cookies, your oven may be too hot or cold, the non-slip mats may be better for your oven than parchment paper…you’ll still end up with a tasty cookie and a fancy new recipe under your belt!

Rested and baked macarons
Macaron shells after resting and baking. The tops are not flat but the feet are looking good!

There are several different methods to try, too, so if you don’t succeed at first, check out another method that might be easier for you. For my first and second go, I used King Arthur Flour’s recipe. This recipe gives you a nice plain macaron shell to work with. The base recipe is easy to add color and other details to (I added some cinnamon on top of some of mine the second go-round). This ended up being a great first recipe for me, though I do recommend checking out a video or two on YouTube to see someone go through the process. The first time I pipped macarons, I did a swirl instead of a flat pipe and ended up with plenty of air pockets resulting in a hollow cookie (still yummy).

Macaron inside
Inside a macaron. The top shell has an air pocket toward the top. The bottom shell is full. Both are very tasty!

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Plain Macaron Shells (via King Arthur Flour)

1 1/2 cups almond flour (sprinkle lightly into a dry measuring cup and level with a straight edge)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
3 large egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp water

Process the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor for about 20 seconds (I skip this step). Sift to remove any large pieces and to aerate the mixture (don’t skip this step).

Separate the eggs and put the whites in the bowl you will use to whip them (use whisk attachment). Don’t start whipping yet, but add a pinch of cream of tartar.

Combine the water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until dissolved, then bring to a rapid boil. Boil for about 2 minutes. The temperature should reach 235°F-240°F (I go by temp, not time for this step). Take the syrup off the heat. Immediately start whipping the egg whites using an electric mixer. When they hold a curved peak on the end of the beater, stop, grab the pan of the hot syrup, resume beating, and pour the syrup steadily into the whites as you beat them.

Continue beating until the meringue is smooth, glossy, and forms soft peaks. Remove from mixer.

Fold in the almond flour mixture until everything is evenly combined. Then, start stirring. This will thin the mixture. Stir until the batter runs in ribbons that disappear back into the mass in 10-20 seconds (the batter should be sort of thick, not too runny). Test frequently and stop when you reach this point.

Pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets. The cookie should flatten out. If it doesn’t spread, stir the batter some more. Cookies can be positioned close together since they don’t spread while baking.

Allow the cookies to rest on the sheets in a dry place with good air circulation (counter top is fine) until you can touch the top and come away with a clean finger (roughly 2 hours).

Toward the end of the baking time, preheat oven to 275°F. Bake 25-30 mins, until firm on top. Remove and let cool completely on the sheet. Use a thin spatula to remove them from the parchment (I’ve been able to lift them easily with my hand). Spread half of the cookies with filling. Top with the remaining cookie.

Macaron chocolate peppermint
Macarons (second attempt) with chocolate peppermint buttercream

 

Chocolate Peppermint Buttercream Filling

This I made up as I went along. I took about a stick of butter and beat it until soft. I added some unsweetened cocoa and mixed until combined. Then, added a splash of milk and mixed again. Then I went back and forth with adding powdered sugar, milk, and cocoa until I got a flavor and consistency I liked for the macarons (not too stiff, not too soft). Add a tiny splash of peppermint extract, mix again, and then you’re ready to go.

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Available Now: Carrot cake cookies!

Package of carrot cake sandwich cookies

Carrot cake cookies are everything you love about the dessert, down to the cream cheese filling, but in a snack portion!

Two boxes (update: Only one left!) of six carrot cake cookies are available for purchase today! $15/box + tax.

Local pick up only (Charlotte/Matthews, NC).

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Black Buttercream

The elusive black buttercream. This has been my main experiment for the past month. Along the way, I made some awesome slate grey colors, some more bitter flavored icing, many many many cakes to use as vehicles for eating the experiments, and used lots and lots of gel coloring.

In April, I took a cake order that was going to be mostly black. The client gave the option of using fondant or buttercream and I opted for buttercream because guests would be more likely to eat and enjoy it. Having read several posts on blogs and in baking groups about working on black buttercream, I figured I would get it in only a couple of trials.

Trial 1 – Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is my current go-to for cakes. It isn’t very sweet, has great flavors, takes spices and colors well, and holds up well through various temperatures.

Black Buttercream Trial 1
First run of black buttercream (IMBC)

For this first run, melted milk chocolate, a small amount of black cocoa and some drops of Wilton black gel coloring were added to white IMBC. The chocolate flavor was delicious! The initial color result was a slate grey. Leaving the buttercream out overnight to darken only yielded a very slight change in shade. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe I didn’t add enough black.”

Trial 2 – another run with IMBC.

Black buttercream trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC)

Trial 2 had a lot more black cocoa, no milk chocolate, and more black gel color (this time I tried Americolor) than last time, but it still was not enough as I achieved exactly the same shade as I had in trial 1. The chocolate flavor in batch 2 was still good despite lacking the smoothness the melted milk chocolate added.

Black Buttercream Trial 2
Second run of black buttercream (IMBC). The slate grey color was fabulous but not the intended target.

There were many issues with the IMBC: the texture was getting thinner as I added more chocolate and gel and I was not satisfied with it, the flavor was very bitter and I was adding a lot of powered sugar in to compensate, and it was taking hours to mess with the color. If I was going to add so much powdered sugar, why not start with something very sweet, like American buttercream (ABC)? During my research, a recipe from Chelsweets kept coming up and I decided to give it a go.

Trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets.com

Black buttercream trial 3
Black buttercream trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets

VICTORY! Not only had I achieved black, but it came together really quickly and the flavor was very good! I had found my black buttercream.

It took about a month, but I was ready to tackle the cake order. This cake order was big for a few reasons:

  1. First cake order for Casual Confections
  2. First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
  3. First cake where I was trying to match a design
  4. Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
First Order for Casual Confections in Baked Well
My first official night renting space from Baked Well (Matthews, NC) for Casual Confections orders!

The order was for a Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC for the pages and lettering, and black chocolate ABC for the icing.

Death Note cake top view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC
Death Note cake side view
Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC, black chocolate ABC

I did not stage any of the photos, just grabbed a few quick shots on the work table after a few hours of working without a/c, around the repair guy, and running into a few issues with the bake and decorating, I was very tired and needed to clean and close up. The black buttercream turned out really well. As it crusted, I was able to use a wet paper towel to smooth out the buttercream and achieve a leather cover look, which was perfect for the look of a well-worn journal.

Achieving black buttercream was definitely more of an adventure than I expected it to be, but I learned a lot of lessons along the way and now I can whip it up in almost no time!

Black buttercream tongue
Chelsweets was right. Her black buttercream colors your tongue, but not your teeth!

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Black American Buttercream via Chelsweets(makes 4-5 cups)

1 cup (217 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37.5 gram) heavy cream
1/2 tsp (2 grams) vanilla extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) black cocoa, sifted (I always ended up adding a bit more to get a deeper black)
1/2 tsp black gel food coloring (add more if the color isn’t quite the black you’re looking to achieve)

Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla.

Add in the sifted black cocoa and mix on low speed until incorporated (scrape down the sides and mix).

Alternate between the powdered sugar and cream, adding each slowly (the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and the cream, a splash a a time). Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached (add more cream for a wetter, looser buttercream, add more powdered sugar for a drier, thicker buttercream).

Once the frosting is fully made, add in a generous squirt of black gel buttercream and mix by hand with a rubber spatula until the frosting is evenly colored.

To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container. Leave out overnight at room temperature or place in the fridge for several days.

*Check out the link for additional tips and nutrition information.

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Pull Apart (Cupcake) Cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream

In 2019, I’m taking on some baking challenges with two other bakers in different states. The challenge for January is a pull apart cupcake cake. I opted for a fun but simple design for this, my first cupcake cake. To still make it a challenge, though, I tried my hand at making Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). I’ve made American (ABC) and Swiss Meringue (SMBC) buttercreams before but not Italian.

The design I selected for the cake was taken from bluprint (formerly Craftsy). My version ended up utilizing 9 regular sized cupcakes and 20 mini cupcakes, all yellow cake. The nice thing about such a simple design is that you end up with plenty of extra cupcakes to snack on. One mistake I made was with the mini cupcakes.

gcgn1676
Staging for pull apart jellyfish cake.

The recipe for the Italian meringue buttercream is by Yolanda Gampps on HowToCakeIt.com. She has an excellent video up if you’re interested in seeing her techniques. Her recipe is easy to follow and should have you whipping up some IMBC in no time. If you haven’t tried IMBC before or aren’t sure if you have, it is less sweet than American buttercream (one of the most common types of buttercream in the U.S.) and a little less buttery than Swiss meringue. It’s a really smooth and light flavor as a base. It also takes coloring and flavorings really well. I added some raspberry extract to the purple portion and it was very good.

After making the buttercream and arranging your cakes, use a piping bag with a wide tip to pipe the outline of your design. Then fill in the shape with more buttercream and smooth it out with an offset spatula. This helps to keep some of the definition in your shape and prevents you from pushing cupcakes around while trying to dollop icing on them.

Lessons learned from my first go at a pull apart cake:

  1. I need to be better about portioning out my buttercream colors. I ended up with far too much leftover blue buttercream and not near enough white buttercream to touch up the tentacles.
  2. I need to bake my mini cupcakes longer. I under-baked them slightly, resulting in them being too moist and the wrappers pulling awkwardly away from the cakes after sitting overnight.
  3. I forgot to put icing on the bottom of the large cupcakes before decorating them. Adding a dot of icing under each cupcake makes it harder for them to slide across the board and helps to hold them in place.
  4. This was only my second time piping anything (the first being the teeth on the sarlacc cake). You can tell I was playing around with one of the piping tips due to the variation in the design of the purple icing on the tentacles.

Overall, the experiment was a success. The expectation of a yummy pull apart cake that resembled a jellyfish was met and now we have a taste for IMBC!

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Italian Meringue Buttercream

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp-sized pieces, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.

While the sugar syrup is heating, put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

When the syrup reaches 230°F on the candy thermometer, begin to whip the egg whites on medium/high speed. Whip until the egg whites are stiff.

When the syrup reaches 240°F, immediately remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer still running, pour the syrup into the egg whites in a very thin stream. Pour the syrup between the sides of the bowl and the whisk.

Whip the meringue at high speed until thick and glossy and the bowl is no longer warm on the outside, about 8-12 mins.

With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time, whipping until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally.

After all of the butter has been added, continue to whip the buttercream until it’s thick and smooth, 3-5 mins.

Beat in the vanilla.

Divide the buttercream into different bowls to fold in different colors and flavors.

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Oatmeal Chai Sandwich Cookie

Today I utilized three different recipes I’ve tried in previous bakes and ended up with something very tasty! How tasty? The entire plate of cookie sandwiches was gone before any could be shared outside of the house! This has become a new favorite.

May I present to you, the oatmeal pecan sandwich cookie with chai buttercream.
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• Chewy oatmeal cookies from a previous post (just use chopped pecans as your mix ins instead of apples or walnuts)

• Chai spice* (from the chai spice sugar cookies post) I make a batch of this to keep handy for experiments like this. The buttercream only needs up to 4 tsp so there will be more than enough left over if you make a batch of the chai spice.

• Chai buttercream (modified from Chocolate, Chocolate and more)

6 Tbsp butter at room temp
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tsp chai spice mix* (see recipe above)
2 tsp whole milk

Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 mins. Sift the powdered sugar into the butter in 3 half cup sections, scraping the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Add the chai spice and beat again. Add milk a 1/4 tsp at a time and beat for a few mins until the frosting is smooth and keeps its form when manipulated. If it looks too runny, stop adding milk. Adding more powdered sugar will thicken it. Adding more milk will make it less stiff. Mix until desired consistency is reached.

Spread a thick layer onto a cooled oatmeal cookie. Place second cookie on top and press down to secure the cookie, but not hard enough to make the frosting run out of the cookies.