Mini Baked Alaskas

baked-alaska

Lately it’s been so hot that ice cream has been the order of the day– whether in a cone or on a stick, we can’t get enough of it! But it’s always nice to spice things up a bit, so when I found myself with an extra layer of cake and some egg whites (both left over from an ice-cream cake, by the way), I knew just what I wanted to try– baked Alaska!

I think I first heard of it as a kid when watching the movie “Annie,” as the cook is describing to Annie what’s for dinner at Mr. Warbucks’s house (Texas grapefruit, Virginia ham, Idaho potatoes, Wisconsin cheese, Washington apples, and baked Alaska). Curious, I looked it up and discovered that it was a delectable-sounding confection of cake, ice cream, and meringue that could be baked without melting! I also got a mini-lesson in the insulating properties of foam…

That being said, I never got around to trying or making it, until now! I don’t really have much of a recipe for anything other than the meringue– to be safe I made a Swiss meringue, where you heat the egg whites with the sugar to kill off any bacteria. But aside from that, you can use ice cream, fillings, and cake of your choice.

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Raspberry Aquafaba Meringues

 

aquafaba-meringuesSince we’ve been grocery shopping less often and trying to use pantry staples for meals lately, I’ve been eating more chickpeas. And what’s left when you use canned chickpeas in recipes? Chickpea brine– or, to use another term, aquafaba.

I’ve used aquafaba before to make macarons and they turned out well, so I thought I’d give it another try and make some meringues. However, since my chickpeas weren’t low-sodium (as is usually recommended for aquafaba recipes), I was wary of making a plain vanilla meringue recipe– I worried that the salt might come through too strongly. So instead I decided to add a few spoonfuls of raspberry Jell-o powder for flavor and color, figuring that the raspberry flavor would disguise any lingering salt.

The finished meringues were light and airy and delicious– they’re actually even more melt-in-your-mouth than meringues made with egg whites! Seriously, egg-white meringues still retain a slightly chewy quality at the very end as you crunch into them, but these literally just melt away on your tongue and disappear. The raspberry Jell-o came through nicely, and I can definitely see using other flavors in the future for a pastel rainbow of meringues. All in all, I like them!

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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!

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!

Mocha Macarons

mocha-macarons

I had a bunch of egg whites left over from my almond cake adventures, so rather than let them go to waste I decided to make a batch of macarons. After considering a few flavor options based on my pantry contents, I settled on coffee– partly because I had instant espresso powder on hand, and partly because I also had all the ingredients for a basic buttercream filling, which would lend itself well to the flavor profile (as opposed to needing specialty fruit preserves or making a caramel sauce from scratch).

Luckily for me, my local Target recently started carrying King Arthur Flour almond meal at a very reasonable price, so I didn’t have to settle for the Trader Joe’s stuff (which isn’t blanched and so has tiny bits of almond skin in it) or go searching for sliced blanched almonds to pulverize on my own. Despite the rainy weather, my tried-and-true macaron recipe didn’t fail me and I didn’t get cracked tops or misshapen macarons– I love this recipe.

While the shells were cooling I whipped up a coffee-flavored buttercream, but decided at the last minute to beat in some melted semisweet chocolate, both for flavor and for a slightly firmer texture. To finish off the macarons in style, I dusted cocoa over the tops, covering half of the macaron with a sheet of paper to get a nice sharp line. The cocoa mostly stayed put, though I had to be careful not to stack the macarons and mess up the design. They looked very impressive when I was done.

The result was delicious, and this recipe will definitely go into my “save” box at home!

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Swiss Non-Meringue Buttercream

smbc-raspberry

My favorite vanilla frosting is definitely a cooked flour frosting (recipe here), because it’s light and creamy without any of the tooth-aching sweetness of standard American buttercream, and without the mouth-coating butteriness of Swiss meringue buttercream. For a second choice, though, between American and Swiss I would prefer Swiss meringue if not for one thing– the sheer amount of extra work involved in making the meringue. First you separate all your eggs, being careful not to let a single speck of yolk contaminate the whites. Then you dissolve the sugar in them, whisking the whole time over a double-boiler to avoid cooking them. Then you have to beat them into a stiff meringue, which takes forever even with a stand mixer. If you’ve let even the tiniest bit of fat into your egg whites, they don’t whip up. So much trouble! And the strangest thing is, once you’ve done all that work to create a fluffy, stable, fat-free meringue… you beat a whole bunch of butter into it, immediately deflating it. It makes no sense!

But then I did a little digging online and read– wonder of wonders!– that you don’t have to go through all of that. That the beating of the egg whites is completely unnecessary, and that you can skip that step (and the attendant non-contamination stress) entirely, and still come out with a perfectly good frosting. I had to try it.

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Cookies for Gail Carriger

Carriger-cookies-done

Gail Carriger is one of my new favorite authors, and for those of you who haven’t read Soulless (of The Parasol Protectorate series) or Etiquette and Espionage (of The Finishing School books), I suggest you go out right now and get them. They’re the perfect blend of light, frothy humor, pseudo-historical commentary, and plain old fun. Plus, Gail has a fashion blog that I thoroughly enjoy perusing, as it features many fun vintage and vintage-inspired looks. I even sent her one of my hats once, since her characters so clearly appreciate fine millinery.

So when I heard she was going to be in town for the launch of her latest book (Manners and Mutiny), I knew two things: First, that I was going to attend and meet her in person, and second, that I would bring cookies.

What kind of cookies, you ask? Pretty ones. Definitely pretty ones. Vaguely Victorian-ish, since that’s the era her stories are set in, and probably featuring items and/or characters from the books. When I was making the Spooky Mummy Cookies I deliberately set aside some of the dough to cut out some fancy plaque shapes, and froze the baked cookies in preparation for this project. When I was ready to get started, all I had to do was defrost and they were ready for decoration!

Not to imply that this wasn’t a complicated project– heaven forbid! It involved two different kinds of icings and several decorating techniques spread over two days, so let’s get started!

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Victorian-inspired Fondant Cookies

cameo cookies

After making those Spring Watercolor Cookies, I started getting the urge to indulge my “cute food” obsession by making other kinds of decorated cookies using different techniques. When a friend of mine decided to have a fancy tea party for her birthday, I knew I’d found my excuse. Continue reading