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The first of each month has been pretty much the same for me for the past year and a half….I grab my morning coffee and head straight to the Daring Kitchen to see what is in store.  This month we were given…

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.DSC_0512

As is often the case, we were given some freedom to play.  The puff pastry obviously is the star of this show, and Steph did a great job of explaining it here.  So I will not go into a lot of detail regarding it, other than to say it is really not a difficult endeavor!!  It is true that I more often than not buy puff already made but I do make it as well and always am I pleased when I do so.

What then, you wonder, am I going to tell you about then….

The supporting cast, of course.

Vols au vent are a puff pastry shell which are filled….and filled with a multitude of options.  My intial thought was to make a pumpkin praline mousse to fill small leaf shaped shells and then finish that off with a cinnamon caramel drizzle…..didn’t happen!!!

The weekend I decided to go for it and tackle the DB challenge happened to be a beautiful mid september weekend.  Crisp and cool yet sunny and bright…I could “smell” the leaves turning color….a wonderful weekend to get in the kitchen and play.  Truth be told, I had quite a few kitchen “projects” planned.  I needed to make a supply of my “world famous” pasta sauce and I wanted to dive into something that I have been afraid of for some time, you can read about that here, and of course puff pastry.

Saturday was a day of getting things in place…my sauce is an all day affair and I also had tons of prep for the DB challenge and my other project.  Sunday arrived, my sauce was “put up”, my fears had been put to rest and my puff pastry had been “turned”, now it was dinner time!!

As I said earlier, initially I was going to go for more of a dessert for the challenge but again dinner was calling, what to do?  The weather was still holding, the air crisp and I kept thinking how much I Love this time of the year…the warm spices, the tart green apples, the little bit of a chill that calls for something comforting, and then I favorite little cafe on the southside came to mind.  The 1889 Cafe does a great stuffed breast of chicken that I thought, if broken down, could be morphed into a great savory, comforting filling for fresh from the oven puff pastry shells.

The inspiration is a chicken breast stuffed with sausage, apples and raisins with a white wine reduction as a topper…easy to break down!!!!  Now my cooking style is not one to follow a recipe, I am a pinch of this, dusting of that kind of cook… please bear with these “instructions” ( although I promise if you give it a go, you will make it one of your favorites).DSC_0507DSC_0508DSC_0509

Start with 1/2 lb breakfast sausage, brown and remove to paper towels to drain.  Cube 3 boneless skinless chicken breast and brown add 1/2 of a medium onion diced and continue till chicken is cooked through and onions are translucent, remove and set aside.  Chop 3 granny smith apples into bite size pieces and caramellize in pan, have patience with this step…let the apples get a nice color on them.  While all of this has been going on I plumped about 1/4 cup raisins in a spiced Riesling, when the apples  have caramellized nicely, remove them and deglaze the pan with the excess wine from the raisins. scraping all the “bits” from the pan.  I then added 1 1/2 cups chicken stock  and brought it to a boil, I then added the chicken, onions and sausage and lowered the flame to a simmer.  Let this reduce by half, then add the raisin, apples, a touch of salt, pepper, sage, cinnamon and 1/4 cup heavy cream bring to temp.  Remove from flame and then “swirl” in 4oz butter, ladle this into fresh out of the oven pastry shells!!!  Enjoy!!!

I served this with a crisp greens salad topped with butternut squash croutons and a lite drizzle of cider vinegar.  Warm, comforting and well worth the “turns”, alas Autumn has arrived!

For the Love of Autumn

For the Love of Autumn


Yea, so I have been playing a bit of the tease with some of you on Facebook….well I guess now is the time to put up or shut up, so here goes.

It has been a year and a half since I first joined the, then, Daring Bakers who have now become The Daring Kitchen; it has been that same amount of time that I became aware of something called a “Macaron”, only one “O” there kids, so not the chewy coconutty cookieish thing you are thinking (although macarons are chewy and cookie-like there is a world of difference between 1 “o” and 2).  It has been slightly under a year that I had my first taste of one of these divine pastry/cookie delectables!!!! It was at Lisa and W’s wedding that I got to put one of Veronica’s macarons to my lips…..OMG!!!!!  No wonder that damn near every food blog this side of the recently downgraded Pluto had something to say about these bad boys!!!!!!!

Almost a year gone by and you are wondering why it has taken me so long to attempt these, well when you read about them, you find that they are a bit intimidating.  The basic 3 ingredients are but egg whites, almonds and sugar combined in such a way as to form something so wonderful one won’t forget it!

At the wedding I also met Helen(e), of Tartelette fame, invariably when macarons are mentioned so is she.  The fact that her creations, edible art, blow me away combined with all the semi horror stories I have read about making macarons  conspired to make me (if you are prudish turn away or switch your browser to another blog) one scared shitless mother fucker!!!!!!

Really, I thought these babies were so outta my league that I would never again have one.  Sure they can be ordered online or you can fly to France or Tokyo for the King of Macarons but since I don’t often patronize bakeries/patisseries, I prefer to make my own,  it was learn or go without.  For almost 1 year…I bought the ingredients more than once and more than once they became something else…the elusive treat was not to be.

Jesu, Giuseppe, Maria as my aunt Lena often said…enough is enough…..(look away time again) shit or get off the pot!!!!!

I committed, I read, I shopped and finally I dove in head first.   Again, 3 basic ingredients but about as many recipes as there are stars in the sky!  These things are all about technique…french method, italian method, whip all the whites, whip only half the whites and on and on.  I finally decided on a  recipe by David Lebovitz, which combines the french method with my favorite flavor, after meat, chocolate.

The egg whites were aged, the almonds ground to a point just short of becoming almond butter and hell I even printed out some nifty macaron templates…aside from doubling the ingredients I followed David’s recipe to the letter, so I won’t bore you with those details.

Nifty printed templates under parchment!

Nifty printed templates under parchment!

I whipped, I folded and I was pleased.  I filled, I piped and again I was pleased.  Well, almost, something was slightly amiss, naw!!!! just stage fright.  5 trays of chocolate macaron discs, 90 shells, 45 finished macarons (for those who have no clue these are constructed like an oreo, 2 shells and a filling).  Now some people suggest to let the piped shells sit out for about an hour to dry and form a “skin” of sorts, David mentions this but it appears he doesn’t always use this.  I did.

Ready for Macaronage!

Ready for Macaronage!

Piped and drying.

Piped and drying.

First tray in the oven, I could have fit another but I wasn’t risking multiple trays just yet!!!!  Oven temp…check, time…check, ok in they go.  A short time later the unmistakable scent of…scorch… I look at the timer and dismiss it, I am only halfway there…..DUMBASS!!!!  FYI, if you smell scorch do NOT dismiss!!!!!  Hockey pucks, I had mini hockey pucks!!!!!!!

Regroup and rethink.  I lowered the oven temp by 50 degrees and used another of those not mentioned in recipes hints…I put a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly ajar.   No smell of scorch this time but when all was said and done, some of the shells cracked, hmmm oven temp adjustment time.  But there was good news with this batch…..I HAD feet!!!!  Those who know, know and for those that don’t…well the macaron shell consists of 3 “areas”, the dome (top), the base (bottom) and the feet ( a small area between the dome and base that…well, resemble little feet).

Because of the cracked shells, I lowered the oven temp another 25 degrees, in went the 3rd tray and then the fourth, as the 3rd looked great.  You got it “Houston, we have a problem!”  At about the time the 4th tray was ready to come out of the oven, the 3rd tray was cooled quite a bit, so I had to get a taste.  Into one I gingerly bit, yes there is that slight crisp exterior but wait where is the softer chewy brownie/cake-like interior????  The interior was slightly chewy but way more “dense” than it should be.

4 trays down and it was not looking good.  I had lowered the temp to the lowest temp I had read in any recipe, so it must be my batter or more specifically the “macaronage”, again if you know…then you know and really I apologize for this but if you don’t know, well I am not sure I can explain, as I am not sure I know it as fully as I could.  Did you see the light at the end of the tunnel in those last 5 words written??

1 tray left and something told me I didn’t screw it up badly enough to just pitch the rest into the can!!  What to do?  I wasn’t going lower with the temp, so I decided on less oven time.  The original recipe calls for 15-18 mins at 375,  I had shaved off 75 degrees and was now about to shave off time, but in they went.  I was not going to walk away from the oven, no way!!  So on went the light and in I stared.  I swear to you, at a little over 6 minutes in, the oven light blew!!!!!  It frickin went out on me!!!  Can this be for real.  Now a 300 degree oven isn’t the hottest but you try sticking your face as close to a slightly ajar, totally dark oven and try and see what is going on in there at that temp!!!!!  No easy task, I tell you!  So at 8 minutes in, I just had to open the door and see what was up….nice rise and FEET, I don’t know what but something told me they were done.  Out they came to cool.

Now, if you have been paying attention you may think, there is something wrong with this picture.  Me too!!  Original recipe the oven temp was 375 and cooking time 15-18 mins, this last try was done in a 300 oven for a little over 8 mins, that’s one helluva difference….and I think I know the reason but that I am saving for the end!  Just a few more observations and ramblings and you are all free to go and bake.

Once tray 5 was cool, I had to taste test….crispy dome, soft chewy interior and chocolate from hell!!  Could I have done it???  Yes, Watson, I think I just may have!!!  Keep in mind, I started with 90 shells, the first 70 were…well we won’t go there.  So I had 20 shells that worked and I had just eaten one, remember, macarons are 2 shells and a filling….what to do???  Yep, I had to eat another shell…and it tasted as grand as I remembered, perhaps no competition for Veronica and Helen but damn tasty!!!!

18 little shells in need of filling…decisions, decisions!!!  Well, I had a little leftover American buttercream from a sidetrip on this months DB challenge (hush hush till the 27th), so 8 got to wrap themselves around that.  If you have been paying attention you know my favorite flavor is meat with chocolate being a close 2nd.  3rd comes….and what better to pair with chocolate….peanut butter!  So I made a mini batch of chocolate peanut butter ganache, literally 2 oz of chocolate, 1/2 tsp PB and a splash of cream, to finish off the last 10 shells.

9 filled macarons… Now I would be a liar to say that I followed what every recipe suggests…to wait a day to let the flavors meld…hell no, I was tasting one of each.  7 filled macarons and 24 hours to wait…in the interest of science and baking I waited and then tasted.  5 filled macarons….hours of reading and thinking, a few singed eyebrows, all this and more for 5 filled macarons!!!!  Am I doing it again?  Yes!!!!!  I am not anywhere in the city of Macaron but I am certainly in the suburbs and soon to be at the city limits!!!  Would I have waited this long to dive in again, NO, Never….go for it, don’t wait!!

For those who “know” I ask that you not hurt yourselves too terribly from falling out of your chairs in hysterical laughter at my not so pretty macs (although, I hope you read on once you get back up to see if what, I think the issues were, seems to be feasible).  For those of you closer to me, who may not “know”, I promise to continue to use you all as guinea pigs till I get pretty macs!!!!

Mac Attack!!!!

Mac Attack!!!!


One hint that I did not follow, nor even think about till after the fact was to get the batter to a consistency where it flows like lava.  Hell I am not a volcanologist so I am not really sure what lava flows like but I am certain my batter had no flow whatsoever.  This though, I think was caused by what I believe to be my biggest mistake…..

“Beat the whites till they are firm and stiff”.  I thought it at the time and know it almost 100% now but I beat my whites till they were rigid and dry.  Could this have been my biggest downfall????

I now want to mention someone who I don’t know, of whose blog I have read little (but I plan on that changing) that I just kind of happened on after all was said and done.  Audax Artifex, his post on his DB anniversary macarons has great information that I found to be helpful.  I just wish I had read it before my first attempt, but then, perhaps it was meant to be this way….I saw my wrongs and then was given a resource to help fix them.

Keeping the Flour Flying!!!

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September 2009
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