Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Little strawberry shortcakes

This was one of the things I made for Kathryn's shower. The basic idea came from this recipe.

But I wanted to use a more interesting pound cake. After a disastrous pound cake attempt out of the "I Am Almost Always Hungry" cookbook, I decided to go way traditional, and tradition led to...Elvis. This recipe claims to have been Elvis' favorite pound cake, though I don't imagine he ever met a pound cake he didn't like.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Feet and height = a better macaroon

So late yesterday afternoon I was feeling tired and hungry and casting about for an activity which didn't involve Masterpiece Theater reruns (go the complete Jane Austen!), I decided the time was right to try my hand at another round of French macaroons, this time guided by David Lebovitz' chocolate macaroon recipe.

He was very Cook's Illustrated-meets-Jeffrey Steingarten about it and prefaced the recipe with the saga of failures and frustrations that preceded the ultimate triumph of baked goods over raw ingredients. Which was not only entertaining but helpful, since it helped put me in that state of mind one really needs to be in (tentative but quietly determined) before folding beaten egg whites into batter.

And though I let the first batch cook too long and lost that core of moisture that reemerges after the filled macaroon gets to sit and think about things for a few hours, they looked rather nice and tasted good too. They got that necessary foot at the bottom, and even though I didn't have the right tip for my pastry bag (the only one wide enough to do the job had frilly points), the top came out relatively smooth and shiny. The photo shows an unassembled half.

So I'm feeling back on track again, and have totally rethought what I'm going to make for Kathryn's bridal shower. Macaroons, goraybe (a Lebanese shortbread cookie), possibly a checkerboard shortbread, truffles that may or may not be flavored with kumquat (I have to try it out first), little carrot cakes that I also need to try out (and will document here), and pound cake squares topped with strawberries and cream.

But not petites fours. My experimentation with that yielded a one-dimensional, rather ugly, sickeningly sweet little square of regret.
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Why are these macaroons so flat?

That's a good question. Certainly not because I intended them to be slipped under doors or smuggled in the pages of books. I'm not sure what happened on my first French macaroon attempt, but the end result was disappointing. I should have known better than to use a Martha Stewart recipe, since they tend not to be standouts (though if their main purpose is to be pretty, things generally go okay). But I found this version and decided to try out the strawberry version, since I would love to make pretty spring-colored (I was originally thinking strawberry and pistachio) macaroons for Kathryn's shower.

The more into the recipe I got, the more warning bells went off in my kitchen-brain: too many egg whites, weird proportions, and I was pretty sure it was going to end up too sweet. I love a breakfast cake called visitandines, which relies on similar ingredients to the French macaroon, so I have a basic understanding of the combination of almond meal, egg whites, and sugar. And things were not seeming right.

This story ends in disappointment, so I'll just cut to the end and say they didn't taste that off, but they were the saddest, flattest macaroons I have ever seen. This happened on the same day of the supremely disappointing petites fours, so I decided to wait a week or so, and then jump back in with the David Lebovitz chocolate macaroon recipe. Which went much better. More on that soon.
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