Orange-Chocolate Macarons

This past Christmas I received something I’ve had on my wish list for a while– a silicone baking mat specially made for macarons. It has raised circles all over it that you pipe your batter into, and the tiny ridge around the edge helps contain the batter and direct it upwards to make perfect “feet” on your identical circular macarons. I admit to being a little skeptical at how well it would work, but it ended up being amazing! I was able to pipe 48 small (okay, maybe just a tiny bit smaller than I’d ordinarily want) macarons onto a single baking sheet without worrying about them oozing into each other, and they turned out beautifully!

Look at those perfect feet!

I’m absolutely going to get a second mat so I can bake up a 4-egg-white batch of macarons all at once (I had exactly enough batter to fill the sheet twice).

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Woodland Creature Cookies

Yet another treat I served at my daughter’s woodland creature party was a selection of woodland creature cookies– foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. I used my classic chocolate cutout recipe for the cookies, and frosted them with a 3/4-sized batch of a hybrid glaze/royal icing that I picked up online from Baking Sweet Hope. It’s a nice combination of the best of both icing worlds, and I had just about the right amount of icing to cover my cookies in several different colors without worrying about running short.

The original icing tutorial and recipe are both so good that I’m not going to try to summarize them here– just go check out her page!

I did make a few mistakes in the icing process– first, I think I thinned the icing too much, which prevented me from getting quite the amount of detail I’d wanted. I also tried to do too many cookies at once (at least on the foxes), assembly-line style, which messed with my details a bit as well. But in general I think the animals turned out well, and they tasted great! I admit that the hedgehogs were my favorite of the lot– which ones are your favorites?

Tree Stump Cake and Meringue Mushrooms

For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.

For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.

I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.

I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!

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Woodland Creature Dessert Table

So for her birthday party this year, my daughter chose “Woodland Creatures” as her theme. I admit to nudging her a bit in the right direction a few months ago because I thought it would provide an opportunity for lots of cute themed food, but she really got into it, even giving me a list of things she wanted to include. I’ll give details of how I made things in the next few posts, but take a look at the resulting dessert table…

Included above are a tree stump cake, meringue mushrooms, decorated animal cookies, white chocolate fudge rocks, moss-covered cupcakes, candy acorns, and pads of “moss” made of green-dyed sugar cookies. (Also edible pinecones but they didn’t turn out all that well so I’ll forego posting a recipe until I get it right).

I had *so* much fun putting this party together. I raided the 80% off Christmas decoration section at my local craft store to get the artificial greenery, but aside from that all of the decorations on the table were edible– my version of the infamous Willy Wonka chocolate room. Honestly, I think this is one of the best dessert tables I’ve ever done!

Chocolate Pumpkin Marble Cake with Pumpkin-Ginger Cream

It’s fall, which in baking terms means pumpkin and spices and all things warm and cozy! That being said, while I’m perfectly happy to bake standard pumpkin muffins at home, when it comes to parties I always have to try something more interesting. That’s why, for a recent potluck, I came up with this recipe, which combines pumpkin and ginger and all those other spicy fall flavors with chocolate– and it was a great combination!

That being said, while I increased the original cake recipe by 50% to make a taller cake (big crowd expected), in retrospect I think this was a mistake– the cake-to-frosting ratio was off. I’ve reduced the cake amounts back down for this post, so your cake will not turn out as tall as the one in the photo– this will be a good thing! I’m kind of tempted to try to make this into cupcakes next time so I can really pile on the frosting– you should try it!

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Chocolate Chip Tahini Oatmeal Cookies

I was looking at recipes the other day when I came across a recipe for tahini-oatmeal cookies– it billed itself as being vegan, gluten-free, and whole-grain, which ordinarily wouldn’t be in its favor, but it occurred to me that I probably had some leftover tahini in the fridge, so I decided to give it a shot. Sure enough, I had about an inch of tahini left in my jar– just enough to eke out the 1/3 cup necessary for the recipe– plus a few spoonfuls of almond flour leftover from my aquafaba macarons, so it was clearly fate!

Since there was no additional fat in the recipe the dough went together quickly, though it didn’t spread at all in the oven so the resulting cookies ended up a bit too doughy to qualify as “cookies” in my book. I think next time I’ll flatten them out a bit more and hope they crisp up around the edges. I do appreciate the tahini flavor, though, which (as I’ve said before) goes excellently with dark chocolate, and is helped along by a healthy dose of salt. Oddly enough, the combination of tahini and oats reminds me a bit of walnuts, which would also go excellently in these cookies if you so desired.

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Aquafaba Macarons

I love macarons. They’re beautiful, delicious, and lend themselves to all kinds of flavor combinations. Unfortunately they also take a bunch of egg whites, which I rarely have available without wasting yolks, and I hate waste. Which is why, after I made a chickpea dish the other night, I saved the chickpea brine to make something out of.

What do macarons have to do with chickpea brine, you ask? Everything. Because apparently (and this is something I only recently discovered, though it’s been a thing for a while) you can treat chickpea brine like egg white and it will whip up into a meringue! Amazing! You do have to reduce the brine by 50% first to get it to fluff up properly, but that part is easy.

I will note right now that to make the macarons with my aquafaba, I used my standard macaron recipe, which you can find here.

Anyway, I reduced my brine, chilled it, and it whipped up beautifully, making a perfect meringue.

It also made a lovely magma-like macaron batter.

That being said, when I followed the directions of several tutorials and baked my macarons at a very low temperature (250 degrees F) to avoid making the tops crack (apparently a danger with aquafaba macarons), the macarons themselves turned out rather flat. No feet!

I tried my last pan at my usual macaron temperature (350 for 2 minutes, then crack the oven door and bake for another 8-10 minutes) and they got feet, but they also rose unevenly and cracked, so I guess the correct temperature is something around 300.

I’ll have to try again at some point, but for now you can at least be assured that these will be smooth on top at the lower temperature.

Once they were baked and cooled, I sandwiched the shells with my latest chocolate fudge frosting and a dollop of Nutella, then let my daughter roll the sides in sprinkles and paint the tops with food coloring.

Okay, I admit that I kept a few to paint myself so they’d be extra-pretty, but I always do that when I have little helpers in the kitchen! The results were delicious– just like normal macarons!– so I will definitely be trying these again the next time I make something with chickpeas in it!

Food Processor Fudge Frosting

As I mentioned in my previous post about fudge frosting made with ganache, I’ve been experimenting with frostings lately– specifically, chocolate frostings. And while the ganache frosting ultimately came out as the winner I have to put in a good word for this one, which intrigued me due to the unique use of a food processor rather than the stand mixer– it promised to be done in seconds, which seemed like it would be convenient for a quick recipe. On the other hand, it also called for softened butter (which always takes a while) and melted and cooled unsweetened chocolate, which not only takes a little time due to the cooling of warm chocolate, but also uses what I consider a specialty ingredient– unsweetened baking chocolate (I usually keep bittersweet in my pantry). Still, it was interesting enough for me to give it a shot.

The resulting frosting was amazingly smooth and silky, though not particularly fluffy– an expected side effect of the food processor, which doesn’t beat much air into the frosting– and as promised it came together in 60 seconds flat. The chocolate flavor was excellent as well, so I would definitely recommend this for when you want a denser frosting that doesn’t need a mixer.

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Peanut Butter-Chocolate Fault Line Cake

So, once I’d made my cake layers, my fudge frosting, and a peanut butter cream cheese frosting (no real recipe here, I just beat together 4 oz. each of butter and cream cheese, added about 3/4 cup of peanut butter and a splash of vanilla, and then added powdered sugar until the texture was right), it was finally time to assemble the cake.

First, I removed my frozen cake layers and set them on the counter to thaw. After about 45 minutes they were cold enough to be firm but thawed enough to be workable, so I used a long, serrated knife to level off the tops. I stacked them with peanut butter frosting and ran a thin crumb-coat over the whole thing before setting it in the refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes or so. At this point I will note that I made a mistake in using crunchy peanut butter (what I had on hand) for the frosting, because peanut chunks do not make for a smooth crumb coat. Oh well…

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Ganache Fudge Frosting

So, having found a new chocolate cake recipe, I decided to try a new chocolate frosting recipe! I’d previously decided on this one as my go-to, but I think it may have been beaten (heh, baking joke) by this new one!

This recipe, from Serious Eats, starts off with a basic cocoa buttercream, but then adds a healthy dose of bittersweet chocolate ganache to really amp up the chocolate flavor. The reviews were excellent, and boy, did it deliver! This is officially my new favorite chocolate frosting, and you’ll see how I use it in my next post!

Sure, it takes a little extra time to make and cool the ganache, but the results are amazing. Smooth, creamy, and a nicely deep, dark, chocolate-y flavor. It does whip up just a little bit loose at first, but some time in the fridge will fix that if you stir it periodically to keep the chilling even.

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