Thursday, December 16, 2021

Peppermint Bark Macarons!

Peppermint Bark Macarons!

Photo by Ross Kowalewski, @rkiiifoodphotography

Macarons and I have a spotty history. I've tried so many techniques, relied on sworn "best" or "fool-proof" recipes, and short of praying to the macaron gods, have had varied results. I've been both overly confident and totally defeated. I've had different results from the very same batch of macaron batter! The first sheet comes out beautifully, the next lopsided and cracked. In my failures and successes, I've learned a few things but mainly, simpler is better. So, I have a few standard practices that have given consistently great results (see photo above!) and I'll share those tips with you.

My tips - Read first!:
1. Aged egg whites at room temperature - I let them sit overnight on the kitchen counter in a small bowl covered in plastic wrap with holes punched in the wrap. I've also put them in the fridge for a couple of days until I could get around to making the macarons. This dehydrates the whites a bit so they are sturdier when whipped. 

2. Addition of egg white powder - about 1 tbs per 3 egg whites which helps to stabilize.

3. Don't beat the egg whites to death

4. Wipe all surfaces (bowl, beaters, silicone baking mats) with white vinegar. NOTE: I have used parchment paper where the macarons stuck/broke, and the silicone baking mats work beautifully! Don't buy the ones with the recessed wells, though. I've read they can be a nightmare! I bought the silicone mats made for macarons with the printed circles. 

5. Oven - preheated to 290 F, middle rack and just ONE cookie sheet at a time.

6. Baking time: 14 minutes for smaller Macs, 16 for larger in my oven. 

And here's the shocker: rather than fussing with a food scale and measuring ingredients to the precise gram, I have had consistent success using measuring cups for granulated sugar, confectioners sugar, and almond flour. 

Equipment needed:
Two mixing bowls
Hand-held mixer
Measuring cups
heavy cookie sheets
silicone mats with the printed circles
White vinegar/paper towel
Plastic/disposable pastry bag (16-inch - small won't do) note: I wash and re-use these
#12 Wilton tip with a large circle opening
zip top bag 


Macaron ingredients:
1 3/4 c. confectioners sugar
1 c. almond flour
3 egg whites, room temperature, aged 
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tablespoon egg white powder 
gel food coloring - 2 drops
White chocolate morsels or candy melts, about 4 oz.
candy canes, crushed (about 2)

Chocolate buttercream ingredients:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 c. cocoa powder
pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
A couple tablespoons milk 

Steps to making the macarons:

1. Preparing: Invert a half-sheet pan or other heavy-duty cookie sheet (thin pans don't work, they get too hot) and place silicone baking mat on top. Wipe down baking mat with white vinegar. You'll need at least two pans prepared this way. The macarons cook more evenly on an inverted cookie sheet. The oven air flows more consistently, I've found. 

Into a mixing bowl, sift/strain 1 3/4 c. confectioners sugar with 1 c. almond flour. Any almond flour bits that don't go through the strainer can be discarded. Whisk to blend thoroughly. Set aside.

2. Mixing: 
In another mixing bowl that's been wiped down with vinegar: with a hand-held mixer, beat egg whites until foamy, then slowly add in 1/4 c. granulated sugar.  Add in 1 generous tablespoon egg white powder (this stabilizes the liquid egg whites). Beat to just-stiff peaks. You'll know it's stiff peaks when the meringue doesn't flop off the beater and creates a 'beak' or when you can turn the bowl over and the meringue stays firmly in place. You can add food coloring at this point. Use a gel color and just a drop or two. Beat another few seconds until color is infused throughout.

3. Macronage:
Now, take about a third of the almond flour/confectioners sugar mixture and fold it in to the meringue, using your spatula to flatten out the batter. Fold in, around, down until it's all mixed in, and do that two more times with the rest of the almond flour mixture. This process is called 'macronage.' Continue to scrape, fold, turn, and press until the batter begins to flow off the spatula and you can form a loose figure 8 with the batter. The STOP. 

4. Piping:
Fit a large pastry bag with a round tip (Wilton #12) or similar sized other brand. I trim off the pointed bottom of the pastry bag just enough so the tip can drop in and fit snugly. Twist tip to close off and then place pastry bag in a large cup or glass and open up. Using your spatula, load macaron batter into the bag, leaving a good 6 inches or so empty so you can twist it shut. I use a twist-tie around the bag at the top of the batter so it won't ooze out. 

Holding the pastry bag at a straight up-and-down 90-degree angle, pipe batter from bag to form circles using the guides on the mat or just making consistent 1 1/2-inch macarons or as big/small as you like. Give bag a quick flick to stop the flow and move on to the next one. 

5. Resting/drying:
When sheet is filled, carefully but energetically tap the bottom of the pan which helps to release any air bubbles. Pop large bubbles with a toothpick. Now, let the pan rest for about 1/2 hour to 40 minutes OR until you can touch the side of a macaron and it's somewhat dried and doesn't stick to your finger. 

About 20 minutes into drying, I pipe out the next sheet so it can rest for 40 minutes as well. 

6. Baking:
After 40 minutes resting, carefully place macarons in oven and set timer for 14 minutes. If you can wiggle the top of the macaron at 14 minutes, give it another two minutes in the oven. If it's ready, it won't wiggle.

7. Filling:
Cool completely. Match up tops and bottoms by size and fill half the macarons (bottoms) with chocolate buttercream* recipe follows), using about a teaspoon of filling. Gently press bottoms of two macarons together so filling reaches the edge. I find piping the filling to be easier than using a spoon. 

8. Make 'em fancy!:
Melt white chocolate or candy melts in a small bowl in the microwave, according to package directions. 

Crush a couple of candy canes in a plastic bag to create peppermint sprinkles. I use a zip-top bag and a meat tenderizer, smooth side. 

After you dip the top of an assembled macaron in the melted white chocolate, generously sprinkle crushed peppermint on top. Let cool. 

9. Maturing (also known as waiting):
Macarons 'mature' in about a day. Before that, they just haven't reached their full, delicious potential. With the filling in place, the macarons absorb some of their moisture and the flavors develop. So, give them the time they deserve. Of course, if you want to 'test' one, I won't tell anybody!

*Chocolate buttercream:
Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioners sugar and cocoa powder and VERY SLOWLY mix together on lowest speed (careful, it can fly out of the bowl). Add vanilla and 1 tbsp. milk, and then add more milk a bit at a time until the buttercream reaches a med/stiff frosting consistency. Less is more with milk, add just a drop at a time because if you add too much, there's no going back. 

10. Report back! 
Let me know if you try this recipe. It's not as complicated as it sounds, but then again, macarons ARE complicated and I wish you (and me!) luck every time!

Monday, November 29, 2021

My Favorite Sugar Cookie Recipe

This recipe comes just in time for your holiday baking!

Oh Christmas Tree!

In the past I have written about this favorite sugar cookie recipe, one I adapted from the Food Network's own Alton Brown. Since he is a food scientist, Mr. Brown understands a recipe on an almost molecular level. I first made these cookies about 10 years ago, if not before. The recipe stands out for many reasons. It comes together quickly with just a few ingredients. It rolls beautifully, I've found, even without chilling. In fact, though the recipe calls for chilling the dough for an hour, I let it rest at room temperature and roll it out without refrigerating. Cookie cutters work like a dream, and re-rolled scraps are as tender as first-cut cookies. This recipe takes to a sprinkling of sugar or a full-on flood of royal icing. It can be as simple or as elaborate as your energy levels dictate. I use it for almost every holiday, and I even roll it into balls and make jam thumbprints. It's a cross between a sugar cookie and shortbread, with a prominent butter and vanilla flavor. It's almost as easy as buying prepared sugar cookie dough, but so much better. If I can't convince you to try this recipe, let me just say that you are missing out!

Cut-out Sugar Cookie Recipe, adapted from the Food Network and Alton Brown

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (Always!!!)

Stir together:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (my addition)

Optional: add 2 tbsp. freshly grated orange or lemon zest and you won't regret it!

The original recipe calls for chilling this dough for an hour. If you don't want to do that, let it rest for a while (maybe 20 minutes) and roll out at room temperature. Also, if you don't want to roll out all the cookies in one fell swoop, you can freeze half of it to roll out another time. I freeze cookie doughs all the time. 

On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out about 1/4 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters. Re-roll scraps. 

(IF you are not planning to frost these cookies after baking, before they go in the oven you can sprinkle with decorating sugars.)

Bake for about 9 minutes but check for a very slight browning on the bottom edge of the cookies. That's the true sign that they are ready to come out of the oven. Without that indication, they are likely underdone. 

Cool on pans for about 10 minutes and then cool completely on wire rack. When completely cooled, you can frost. 

Royal Frosting: I use this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction blog. It's a wonderful recipe and is linked here

I do hope you try this recipe this holiday season. I have a feeling it will be your go-to sugar cookie recipe if you do!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

I Reject Dieting!


Food and I have had a tumultuous relationship. Most of my young life, I ate what my mother served. As one of seven children, we looked forward to every meal. My Mom made it work. Feeding a family of nine most nights was a feat in itself. We never over ate - there wasn't surplus food after any meal. Leftovers? What were they? We always had enough and it was always delicious, if not simple and utilitarian at times. My mom served basics like spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce and an iceberg salad. Meatloaf and roasted potatoes. Tuna Casserole. Goulash (we called it Beefaroni). Roasts were for Sunday dinners or holidays, and there were memorable holiday meals. We enjoyed simple desserts like Junket custard, Jello (with milk poured over!), Cool and Creamy pudding, or a Friehofer's fruit cookie. I remember loving sliced bananas with milk and sugar. And then there were the occasional treats - we all knew how to add and divide because it there was a box of 24 Popsicles, each kid got three. No more. 

My relationship with food got a bit more complicated when I became aware of my pre-teen body, when I developed fat in areas where it didn't previously exist. When you have six siblings, eyes are always on you and brothers can chime in when, perhaps, they should not. I remember one family drive where we approached a bridge where a sign read "Weight limit, 10 tons" and one brother yelled, "Stop! Jeannie has to get out." Ouch. I have long since forgiven him, because he IS a wonderful grown-up brother, but that moment, and others, planted a seed that fully sprouted into a lack of confidence and self-doubt. I actually was thin then, but knew I was fat. Then, I started taking note of everything I should and should not be eating, and I thought everyone else noticed, as well. Here I am, still stung by those words.

Thinking about food constantly had other side-effects. I became obsessed with creating food that was different than the trusted meals and desserts my mother served. My sister Patsy gave me a little metal recipe box for my 12th birthday (I think it was 12) and I started clipping recipes from all of my mother's "women's" magazines before she even had time to read them! I got in a bit of trouble for that. But my recipe box filled up, and I still have it to this day. My Mom indulged my new interest and supported my baking and cooking. The added benefit was that our family enjoyed home-made desserts. 

That obsession with food was at the same time I started dieting. My first diet was one where I started eating Swiss Miss yogurt. Yogurt was fairly new to the market where I lived and was almost seen as an exotic health food. I am sure it wasn't, but I managed to get through high school ranging between 115 and 120 pounds. Once I started dieting my weight climbed about five pounds a year, steadily, which became a yo-yo cycle of instability and more self-doubt. I'd diet on Monday. I'd diet on the first day of the month. The first day of the year. For Lent. I'd diet for the upcoming summer. For a fall wardrobe. For a class reunion. Before getting pregnant. After a baby. From Halloween through New Years Day - what a miserable time to deny myself! I dieted ALL THE TIME and the weight kept creeping back and then some. My self-confidence was crushed as I placed so much personal value on the scale. It was indeed a vicious cycle, one which I am afraid imprinted my daughters (and for which my older, wiser self apologizes.)

Finally, now that I am beyond my mid years and am into my later years, after having tried so many diets to become the me I always felt I was supposed to be, I have had a revelation. My personal value is NOT tied to my weight. I am not in search of a vain goal. My goal at age 67 is to have the healthiest next phase as I can. I've tried all these: I am not a Weight Watcher (WW); I am not plant-based (though I love plants); I am not Keto which for me is not sustainable. I am not Vegan, though I tried that too. I have learned that all or nothing in any circumstance does not work for me. The imprinted middle-child in me is much too rebellious. You tell me 'no?' I'm going for it. So, I have come to terms that I am not a dieter. I am an eater, and I choose to eat foods that are good for me. If I have an occasional treat, I accept that and move on. I am a baker, for goodness sake! So, my practice is: low carb as possible, lots of color, tons of water, iced coffee whenever I want it, healthy protein, lower fat options, and a spoonful of ice-cream if my body tells me it's necessary. For me, dieting is about denial and failure. Eating is about putting good things in my body that not only nourish but bring joy, especially when consumed with friends and family.

At this time of year, when some of us may dread navigating upcoming holiday meals and what we will 'allow' ourselves to eat - let go, just a little bit. Have a bit of this, some of that, and allow yourself the true pleasure of partaking of food traditions that mean a lot to you. It's no fun to leave a holiday feast regretting that you didn't enjoy it as much as you might have.  Feed your body and your soul! And take a walk for you, not for steps or your smart watch or a spreadsheet. Walk to see the night sky, breathe in the fresh air, clear your head. Everything doesn't have to be measured data to tell you you did a good job. 

I will continue to bake, to show it off, to eat delicious meals, to pay close attention to my health 'numbers' and to act accordingly. Giving myself permission to reject dieting is a healthy way for me to take control of my healthy and happy future. 

PLEASE comment below if any of this resonates with you.



The Adirondack Baker 

Photo credit

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Old-fashioned Baked Egg Custard


Old-fashioned baked egg custard
is a comfort food that brings back memories of childhood. I used to make it for my children. It is simple, delicious, and soothing all at the same time. My son used to request it when he was a little boy. Making it again yesterday was reliving a happy memory. With just a few ingredients, it blends together quickly and bakes in a water bath in the oven. The most difficult part about this recipe is waiting for it to cool! It needs no embellishment, no fruit, no whipped cream. It's perfect all on its own, just the way it is. It makes a great breakfast or brunch dish as well - eggs, milk, slightly sweet. What a terrific way to start (or end) the day!

Baked Egg Custard - serves four

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Spray or lightly butter 4 standard-sized ramekins or custard cups (you may have enough for 5)

Have a larger pan ready that can fit the ramekins within


2 cups whole milk

2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar (or equivalent sweetener of choice)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

A dash of salt

nutmeg for sprinkling


Beat eggs with sugar and vanilla. I used my Ninja blender to do this but you can use a mixer or whisk.

Scald milk but don't let it come to a boil - when tiny bubbles appear on the edge of the pot, remove from heat. 

Take 1 cup of the hot milk and gradually blend into the egg mixture to temper the eggs. 

Pour the tempered egg/milk mixture back into the rest of the scalded milk. Mix thoroughly.

Place ramekins in pan. Divide custard among ramekins and sprinkle tops with nutmeg.

Pour hot tap water halfway up the pan being careful not to get water into the custard.

Carefully place pan in preheated oven (careful, it is heavy).

Bake 30-40 minutes or until knife inserted in center of one of the custards comes out clean. 

Once the pan has cooled a bit, remove ramekins and let sit for a while. 

Now the hard part - wait while the custard cools in the fridge!

Alternately: you can bake one large custard in a casserole dish - bake for about an hour. 

Do you have a memoryof a favorite childhood dessert? Please share in the comments below!

Friday, November 12, 2021

A Nice Collection of ADK Baker's Thanksgiving Recipes

Last night I was thinking that, rather than reinvent the wheel, I would did into past blog posts to bring you a few great recipes for Thanksgiving. And at the end, a glimpse into the Thansgivings we experienced growing up - such happy holidays for all nine O'Farrells!

Be sure to open each link for not only the recipe, but the memories which are just as delicious! 

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies!

1.  Fool-proof Make-Ahead Gravy, thanks to Jody Shepson!

2. Mashed Potato Casserole

3. Cornbread Casserole

4. Roasted Butternut Squash Mac 'N Cheese

5. Campbell's Green Bean Casserole

6. Pumpkin Whoopie Pies!

7. Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

8. Pumpkin Walnut Fudge

9. The Morning After - Stuffing Cakes

10. Memory of my childhood Thanksgivings!

I would LOVE to hear comments, so please add your thoughts below! And be sure to use that search bar on the left for any recipes you don't see here. There are a lot of them!

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Gifting Half-a-Batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love to gift food. Yesterday morning I got up early, before work, to make chocolate chip cookies for my co-worker Lisa's birthday. Her birthday was last Friday but she took the day off, and then there was the weekend, and then Monday we treated her to lunch but I forgot to bake! So, early yesterday I made a half-batch of chocolate chip cookies, boxed them up, and delivered them to her office. (Note: the box pictured is actually a pie box, ordered from Amazon, perfect for a half-batch of cookies!). 

Previously, I asked Lisa what her favorite baked thing is. She replied that it's chocolate chip cookies. I asked if she liked them crispy or chewy, and she said "I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn't like!" Knowing I didn't need to make a full batch to create a nice gift, I halved my regular recipe. Halving this recipe yields about 2 dozen, perfect to fill a gift box or your cookie jar. 

Here's the recipe: 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit 
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper 

Mix together: 
1 softened bar (4 oz.) unsalted butter  (room temperature)
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
Whip that together until light and fluffy. 

1 egg 
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
Beat well. 

Lightly stir together and add: 
1 cup plus two tablespoons all purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir in:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels 

I use a small cookie scoop but you can use a spoon to distribute about a tablespoon of dough per cookie, about 2-inches apart. I get 12 to a cookie sheet. 

Bake for 8-9 minutes, checking to see that the outer edges are beginning to brown but the centers are just about set - still light in color but no longer wet. Sometimes I add another minute to get there. I bake two cookie sheets at a time. 

Cool on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove from pans to wire rack to cool completely. 


PS - Dear readers: if you share this post with your friends, I will greatly appreciate it! I am working to get my readership back to previous levels. That will take some time, I understand, but a little boost will certainly help. Thank you! 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Easy No-Knead Sourdough Bread


My baking friend Matt Kopans shared this super easy no-knead sourdough bread recipe, and it changed my bread-baking life! There's no yeast, just a few ingredients, and only a few steps. 
Like many people, my sourdough journey started in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was March 2020, and I heard Deanna Fox on WAMC's Food Fridays program. She was talking about the process of making a sourdough starter and baking bread. I was hooked. I looked her up on Facebook and signed up for her on-line Sourdough Bootcamp. My starter and I were on our way. 

Many pretty loaves of sourdough later, my friend Matt posted a picture of a beautiful loaf of no-knead sourdough bread, something he stirs together at night and pours into a loaf pan in the morning. Simple as that. So, I enthusiastically asked for the recipe and Matt graciously shared.

For measuring (for the most part) I use a digital food scale and if you don't have one, I encourage you to get one. I got mine for about $15. Worth its weight in gold. (How did I ever get by without one for six + decades?)

Directions: The night before or at least 8 hours in advance, in mixing bowl weigh (if you don't have a food scale you can look up measuring-cup equivalents online): 

  • 450 grams all-purpose flour
  • 350 grams un-chlorinated water (I fill a jug/pitcher and let it sit out for a day and the chlorine dissipates)
  • 10 grams salt
  • 2/3 cup (not weighed, just measured) discarded and unfed sourdough starter. After you take this out, it's a good time to feed your starter. NOTE: if you do not have sourdough starter, ask around. It's been such a phenomenon I bet you have a friend within six degrees who will share a cup. Or, you can order it from King Arthur Baking Company.

Mix well. I use a Danish whisk which is also great for mixing other batters - brownies, pancakes, things you don't need to pull out a mixer for. 

At least 8 hours later or next morning:

Place a cake pan full of water in the bottom of your oven. This provides a moist environment for a softer crust. 

Preheat Oven to 450 degrees Farenheit

Grease/spray loaf pan. Mine is a 9x5 with straight sides. Makes great slices for toast/sandwiches. 

Pour dough into pan.

I sprinkled Everything but the Bagel seasoning from Aldi's on top but a naked loaf of bread is beautiful, too. 

Bake for 45 minutes. 

Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Turn out of pan to cool completely. 

Happily cooling and looking pretty!

Thanks so much for the warm embrace as Adirondack Baker enters its second act. It is an honor to share recipes with you!