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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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August Cookie Care Packages

The theme for August’s cookie care pages was “comfort cookies.” Included in this month’s box are snickerdoodle, hot chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies.

Wishing you had ordered a box? I have one extra available for purchase! $30 includes shipping and tax. Email CasualConfections@gmail.com or use the form at CasualConfections.com/Menu to order.

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Cannoli Filling and Pastry Cream

Pastry cream is not something I’ve had on my to-bake list, but finding the right recipe for cannoli filling has been. I grew up having cannoli from Long Island, so the bar has always been set pretty high. Last year, I took a stab at making a cannoli filling using a recipe for cannoli dip. As you may recall, it was more of a learning experience than a dining experience.

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Failed cannoli dip filling and failed ganache

For my second attempt at a cannoli filling, I tried a recipe by Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery. Since her recipe utilizes pastry cream, I ended up adding it to my to-bake list. King Arthur Flour is a great source for recipes, so I decided to give their pastry cream a spin.

Having watched shows like Chopped and the Great British Bake Off, making pastry cream had become a bit intimidating. It seemed too easy to ruin the cream and end up with inedible scrambled eggs. The one piece I kept forgetting about was that they were working against a clock. It is easy to see how one slip up can ruin the whole batch, but overall the process was simpler than expected.

Since these experiments were for the filling and the cream, I decided to bake and torte a single devil’s food cake as a vehicle for eating the results instead of going whole hog with fresh pastry. Those challenges are for a later time.

While the cannoli filling isn’t where I want it to be, it is very tasty and a great place to start while honing in on the right ingredients and proportions. I highly recommend giving both of these recipes a go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Pastry Cream via King Arthur Flour

3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
4 large egg yolks*
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) butter
1 cup heavy cream (optional)**

*if you’re looking for something to use the egg whites for, try Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC).

Before starting, set up a bowl with a strainer in an ice bath (place the bowl into a larger bowl, add water and several ice cubes between the two bowls, keeping the inner one dry).

In a medium saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of milk and all of the sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk.

Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning into scrambled eggs when you add the simmering milk.

Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk. Doing this through a strainer will prevent lumps later. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, with a whisk, until mixture thickens. Once the cream comes to a full boil, stop cooking immediately or it can curdle and separate.

Remove from the heat and strain through a fine strainer into the bowl set in an ice bath. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract (I sliced the butter so it melted faster and mixed more easily). ***If you would like to flavor the pastry cream, do so here*** (See King Arthur link for flavoring suggestions)

Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool.

Will keep covered in the fridge for up to five days before it begins to weep.

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Cannoli Filling via Ginger Barragan

3/4 cup pastry cream
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (depending on brand, your cheese may need to be strained through cheesecloth overnight. A dry ricotta like Kraft Polly-O (my favorite!) can be used immediately.)
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp mini chocolate chips (I used more than 1 Tbsp. add to desired density of chips)

Stir pastry cream, ricotta, and powdered sugar until well-combined. Mix in chocolate chips. Chill for 1 hour before filling shells or using in cake.

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Cannoli filling in a torted 9″ round of devil’s food cake.
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S’mores Pie

S’mores are one of my favorite summer treats. When this recipe by Wishes and Dishes came across my feed, I had to try it! The graham cracker crust was a version I hadn’t tried before and I like how it turned out. I’m sure I’ll use it again with other recipes. I also had a big win with this recipe – I remembered to build the sides of the crust! I was sure to heavily emphasize my notes about the sides so I wouldn’t forget. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
S’mores Pie

1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (8 graham crackers if you are making the crumbs yourself)
1 tsp baking powder
7 oz marshmallow creme (1 container)
6 whole full-sized Hershey’s bars
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet morsels)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9” pie pan.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until combined. Mix in the egg and then the vanilla extract. Next, mix in the flour, then the graham cracker crumbs, and finally the baking powder.

Divide the dough in half.

Press one portion of the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.

Using a rubber spatula sprayed with non-stick spray, add the marshmallow creme on top of the crust. Spread evenly. Separate the chocolate bars into individual rectangles (aka pips) and place each pip on top of the marshmallow creme. Evenly distribute the mini marshmallows on top of the chocolate bar pieces (I added an extra handful of mini marshmallows).

Using the remaining portion of the crust, pat sections of dough on top of and around the marshmallows. They will not be completely covered which is what you want. The dough is soft so do this in pieces.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. I added a small handful of more chips.

Bake for 20 mins until lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on wire rack.

Cool completely before cutting.

As an added touch, I crushed the remaining single graham cracker in the sleeve and sprinkled it on top of the baked pie.