Pine Nut Macaroons {ModBak}

The next recipe I made for the Modern Baker Challenge combined something I love (pine nuts) with something I’m not so crazy about (macaroons). In my book, macaroons rank right up there with meringues. They have the same lighter-than-air quality that makes me wonder why I bother with them. And like meringues, they don’t keep well, so you have to plan on eating them the day you make them.

Given my lack of enthusiasm and the must-eat nature of these cookies, I decided to make a half batch. I didn’t have any almond paste, so the first order of business was to mix up a batch of homemade almond paste. I measured out 4 ounces of the almond paste, mixed it with granulated and confectioner’s sugars, and beat them together in the stand mixer while I gathered the rest of my ingredients. I added vanilla and an egg white to the dough and stirred it just until everything was mixed together.

I spooned the dough into a pastry bag and began piping the cookies onto the baking sheet. I could tell right away that the dough (which was more like a batter) was too loose, probably due to the egg white. I buy my eggs from a local farm, and they aren’t sized or graded. The recipe calls for large eggs, but mine were probably closer to jumbo. The dough/batter started to spread on the cookie sheet, so I piped the macaroons as far apart as I could.

The final step before baking is to flatten and moisten the cookies (unnecessary in my case), then to sprinkle them with pine nuts. I pressed the pine nuts into the dough a bit, then baked the cookies in a 375°F oven. The recipe said to bake them for about 20 minutes, but mine were starting to smell quite done by 15 minutes, so I took them out.

They weren’t pretty (hence the reason I didn’t take any pictures). They baked together into one big, flat, brittle-like mass. But they smelled good; and they had that macaroon shine to them.

I let them cool on a rack, then broke off and sampled a piece. And another. And another. Then the girls appeared and started breaking off pieces, too. And before long most of the pan was gone. They had a great nutty flavor from both the almond paste and pine nuts. And the shattering crispness of the macaroons was balanced by the slight bite of the pine nuts.

So even though these weren’t a rousing success, I’d like to try them again to see if I can achieve results closer to what Sara accomplished when she made them. Based on flavor alone, they are worth a second go-round.

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Apricot & Almond Strudel {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge was a quick, easy dessert. It consisted of puff pastry with an almond paste filling and apricots. I decided to make this for dessert the other evening about 10 minutes before dinner went on the table. And I had it in the oven before we sat down to eat.

I rolled out the pastry dough, mixed the almond filling with the Kitchen Aid mixer, and drained a can of apricots. I spread the filling over half of the dough, then topped it with apricots.

I slit the top dough, placed it on the strudel, and pressed it in place. I fluted the edges with the back of a paring knife, and it was ready to bake while we ate dinner.

By the time we were done eating, the strudel was ready to come out of the oven.

I set the strudel on a rack to cool while we cleaned up the dinner dishes; then we cut into it.

We all enjoyed this strudel. The puff pastry was, of course, rich, buttery, and flaky. The almond filling was delicious and paired well with the slightly sweet, slightly tangy apricots.

This was a perfect weeknight dessert. Easy to throw together at the last minute, and absolutely delicious. And, hey, it had fruit in it, so it must have been good for us, too!

Raspberry Almond Tartlets {ModBak}

Talk about saving the best for last. This is the final recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, and what a way to finish! I would have to put this recipe in the top 3 for this section, right up there with the Pumpkin Pecan and Bourbon-scented Pecan Tarts.

I put this one off until the end, not just because it’s near the end of the section (I tend to make the recipes roughly in order), but also because tartlets always seem a bit fussy to me. I tend to favor full-size tarts and pies, as their miniature counterparts tend to be tedious to assemble. I needn’t have worried with this recipe, however, as it came together really quickly.

Having made the crust the day before to use for lemon lime tartlets, all I had to do was roll it out, cut it, and fit it into the mini muffin pans.

I had planned to make a half recipe of the lemon lime and raspberry almond tartlets, so I divided a single batch of sweet tart dough and set aside half for each recipe. There was a small chunk of dough leftover when I made the lemon lime tartlets, and I had stuck that in the fridge after I made the crusts for those the day before. As I rolled out the dough for the raspberry tartlets, I realized there was enough dough to make more than just 12 tartlets. To my surprise, between the leftovers from the day before and the raspberry tartlet dough, I was able to make 24 tartlet shells.

While the dough chilled in the fridge, I put together the filling, which consisted of almond paste, sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter, and flour, all whirred together in the food processor. Then I gathered my ingredients to assemble the tartlets.

I began by putting a dab of seedless raspberry preserves in each shell, then topping that with either one large raspberry or two small blackberries.

Then I spooned in the filling to cover the berries. Nick says to spread the filling evenly with an offset spatula, but mine seemed to even itself out nicely. I sprinkled the top of each tartlet with sliced almonds, and they were ready to bake.

I baked the tartlets at 350°F for 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the filling was puffy and set.

Allowing the tartlets to cool was no easy task, but I left them alone for about 25 minutes, until the pan was cool enough to handle, then I removed each tartlet to a rack to finish cooling. Well, all except for those destined for the dessert plate.

In case you’re wondering, that wasn’t all for me. My wife and I split the tartlets on the plate. But I did sneak another one every time I walked past the table. And I found lots of excuses to pass through the dining room.

I really enjoyed these tartlets. The almond paste gave the filling a wonderfully rich and warm flavor, while the berries provided a juicy, tart contrast. I liked the blackberry ones the best, although I wouldn’t say no to either of them. Which is why I eventually had to wrap them and put them away.

So that’s it for the sweet tarts and pies. On to Puff Pastries. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Roman Almond & Pine Nut Tart {ModBak}

I made this recipe a few weeks ago but am just getting around to blogging it now. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Like most recipes in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, this one was quite simple to put together. In fact, since I already had homemade almond paste in the fridge and pine nuts in the cupboard, I didn’t even have to buy any ingredients.

I made the filling in the stand mixer by beating almond paste and sugar, then adding eggs, butter, vanilla, lemon zest, and flour. I scraped the filling into a sweet tart crust.

I topped the tart with pine nuts and pressed them in with the palm of my hand. Pine nuts seemed like a strange addition to a sweet tart, and I was anxious to see how it would turn out.

I baked the tart in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the filling was set.

I cooled the tart, then sliced and served it for dessert.

J is a pine nut nut, so I knew she would love it. And I liked it a lot, too. It tasted like an almond cake or bread. The filling was baked through and had a texture that reminded me of scones. The pine nuts gave it a nice texture and complimented the almond flavor.

This is one of those recipes that I might never have made but for the Modern Baker Challenge. But I’m glad I tried it. And I will probably make it again.

One-Step Croissants {ModBak}

I have been looking forward to the next recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of The Modern Baker for some time. I love croissants and have made them the traditional way a number of times. All the folding, rolling, refrigerating, and turning. And time. Lots of time.

I have to say I was somewhat skeptical about a croissant recipe that didn’t include all those steps. But having successfully made Nick’s Instant Puff Pastry, which is also a simplified version of what is usually a complex process, I was encouraged to try the croissants.

The dough is quite simple to mix in the food processor. I put flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of the food pro and pulsed it to mix everything together. I added four tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed the mixer until the butter was cut in. I then added the rest of the butter (two sticks!) and pulsed the food processor twice. Finally, I added cold milk and pulsed the mixer three times.

The dough didn’t come together in the food processor, but the recipe said it wouldn’t, so I knew it was OK.

I pressed the dough into a ball, rolled it out into a rectangle, then folded it in thirds. Then, as in the puffed pastry recipe, I rolled the dough into a cylinder.

I flattened the dough into a square, put it in a plastic bag, and allowed it to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Then I flattened the dough by smacking it with the flat of my hand, and put the bag in the refrigerator.

After the dough had chilled for about six hours, I got it out of the refrigerator to roll out the croissants. I had a bit of trouble rolling the dough, but the longer it was out of the fridge, the easier it became to roll. I rolled the dough into a 12 x 15-inch rectangle, which I cut in half lengthwise. I then cut each strip of dough into six triangles.

I rolled the triangles from the wide end, pulling the tip slightly as I rolled up the croissants. I made six regular croissants, and decided to make almond croissants with the other half of the dough. I had some leftover almond paste in the fridge, which I shaped into logs and then rolled into the croissants.

I put the croissants on a baking sheet and set them aside to rise for about an hour and a haf, until they had almost doubled.

I brushed the croissants with egg wash and sprinkled the almond ones with slivered almonds. I baked them in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes. I was surprised by how dark the croissants got, but they looked a lot like the ones Andrea made, so I figured that’s how they were supposed to come out.

I let the croissants cool, then cut into them. The plain one had a nice crumb, like you would expect to see in a croissant.

I have to say, the flavor was a disappointment. The texture was not at all typical of a croissant. The outside was dry and too crisp. And despite its appearance, the crumb was not light and flaky, but rather dense and greasy. I tried it plain and with jam, but either way, one was enough.

The almond ones were better and reminded me just slightly of the almond croissants I used to get at a chain bakery.

In the end, I only ate two of them, and I’m pretty sure I won’t make them again. But they did make me think I would like to make almond croissants from one of my other recipes. So although these croissants weren’t a big success, they did give me an idea for a future baking project.

Homemade Almond Paste {Recipe}

A few weeks ago, my friend Kayte and I decided to try a recipe from Nick Malgieri‘s new book, Bake! She chose Orange & Almond Scones.

I had all the ingredients on hand, including almond paste, which I had recently purchased for another recipe. It had taken some searching to find the almond paste, and, as you know if you’ve ever bought it, it was quite expensive. In the process of hunting for it, I had come across a number of recipes for homemade almond paste. After paying nearly $6 for a small can of it, I decided making my own might not be such a bad idea.

The recipes I found mostly fell into two categories: paste made with a sugar syrup, or paste made with egg whites. I’m not at all squeamish about uncooked egg whites, but I did think the recipes made with sugar syrup might last longer, so I decided to try the following recipe:

Almond Paste

Ingredients:

10 oz dried blanched almonds
10 oz powdered sugar
5 oz granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup water

Instructions:

Make a sugar syrup by placing the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Stir it to combine. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for a few moments. Let it cool.

Place the almonds in a food processor and process them to a fine powder. Add the powdered sugar. With the food processor running, slowly add the sugar syrup until the mixture forms a paste.

Store the almond paste tightly covered. If you will be storing it for more than a week, store in the refrigerator.

This recipe came together easily, at least until the end. Evidently, when the recipe says, “add the sugar syrup until the mixture forms a paste”, it means to add it just until it forms a paste. I added all the sugar syrup and ended up with something the consistency of tahini paste. Way too thin for almond paste, although the taste wasn’t bad.

I decided to go ahead and try one of the egg white versions to compare. Here’s the recipe I used:

Almond Paste

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups blanched almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  • Place almonds in a food processor; cover and process until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, egg white, extract and salt; cover and process until smooth.
  • Divide almond paste into 1/2-cup portions; place in airtight containers. Refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 3 months. 

Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

 This was also a quick and easy recipe, and the taste was far superior to the sugar syrup version, owing mostly to the almond extract and salt.

I had never used almond paste before, so I decided to open the can of paste to see how it compared to the homemade versions.

Almond pastes: egg white (top left), sugar syrup (top right), and canned (bottom)

The taste and consistency of the egg white paste was closest to the canned version. I actually liked the homemade version better, as it had the most “almondy” flavor.

I remade the sugar syrup version, this time adding only enough syrup to get it to a similar consistency to the egg white version. I also added salt and almond extract to the recipe, which improved the flavor considerably.

At the end of the day, I prefer the egg white version over the other two. The canned is my second favorite, with the sugar syrup version landing up on the bottom of the list.

Since I can buy slivered blanched almonds at Mr. Bulky’s pretty inexpensively, and it’s really easy to mix up, I doubt that I’ll buy almond paste again.

Orange & Almond Scones {Bake!}

I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Malgieri a few weeks ago and taking a few classes from him. On the first evening, he featured recipes and techniques from his newest book, Bake! I had just picked up the book a few days before the class, so I hadn’t had a chance to make anything from it. But watching Nick bake, I knew it had been a good purchase.

When my friend Kayte mysteriously received a copy of Bake! in the mail, return address Nick Malgieri, New York, she was excited to start baking from it. So we decided to do a Twitterbake, where we would both bake the same recipe at the same time and Tweet about it as we went. Kayte chose Orange & Almond Scones, which sounded perfect to me. I’m a big scone fan, and these looked great. We had our recipe, picked a time, and were good to go.

The recipe calls for almond paste. Although I had never baked with almond paste before, there are a few recipes I’m making soon that call for it. And after some searching, I had recently acquired my first-ever can of Solo Almond Paste. In the process of searching for almond paste and realizing how expensive it is, I had also found a few recipes to make it. So, the evening before the Twitterbake, I made two versions of almond paste. I liked the egg white version better, so that’s what I decided to use for the scones.

The scones are very simple to make. After mixing flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the food processor, I whirred in the almond paste, then the butter. I beat an egg with milk and orange zest, added that to the food pro, and gave it a few pulses. Then I dumped the whole thing out onto a floured board, divided the dough in half, and shaped each piece into a disk. I scored the dough, gave it a little egg wash, pressed on some slivered almonds, and it was ready to bake.

As simple as they were, these scones came out great. I’m going to serve them when my family comes to town for Thanksgiving and make them again for Christmas morning.

From the recipes I’ve sampled from this book so far, I highly recommend it. If you do pick up a copy, let me know. Kayte and I are planning to make a few recipes from it each month, and if you’d like to bake and Tweet along with us, we’d love to have you.