Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Another year, another year older. I'm not exactly sure how I felt about this particular birthday. I'm not one that usually frets about my age. But this year, this particular birthday sort of socked me in my belly. It was the punch that makes you feel queasy and out of sorts. The birthday was the dreaded 39. For whatever reason, as odd as it may sound, 39 seems more dire than 40. I can't put my finger on it, nor explain it in any way that makes a bit of sense.

Now for those of you who are a bit older - try not to scold and scoff at me too much. I know - 39 is not old! However, when I awoke on that fateful day, the thoughts that flashed through my head were the "what if's" of the world. A million unanswered life questions were zooming through my brain. "Is my life what I want it to be? Have I lived my life to the utmost fullest? Am I the person that I wanted to be when I grew up? etc., etc., etc."

Sigh....So, instead of stewing on those questions, I took one look at my husband and knew in my heart I was where I was meant to be. My life journey is not finished, and I am lucky to have the best partner in the world by my side taking each step with me. (I know, I know - I'm being oh - so - sappy). I didn't need any other birthday wishes.

To celebrate my birthday, I was lucky to have two nights of festive birthday dinners with close friends. And if you haven't guessed it yet - I didn't cook! I didn't lift even a pinky finger in the kitchen. But I do have a yummy surprise for you.

On Friday night, my very good friends, Judd and Annie, prepared a birthday dinner for me. The entire meal was wonderful - from the pissaladiere to the Italian pot roast to the copious amounts of wine that we consumed. But, I come to you bearing the sweetest dessert. Judd made the most wonderful Macarons. They were utterly delightful.

If you're not familiar with a Macaron, it is a traditional French pastry made of egg whites, almond powder, icing sugar, and sugar. They are meringue-like domes with sweet fillings. Above you will see the most silky Caramel au Beurre Salé (Butter Caramel). It was my favorite. Don't get me wrong, the Italian Butter Cream was good, but I just loved the butter caramel. I enjoyed the sweet and savory touch.

I may have awoken on my birthday with a fuzzy head, but the birthday celebrations added clarity and calmness. Bring on 40, I say!! The Macarons were an added treat. I'm sure the wine we shared didn't hurt a bit. So become adventurous and make some Macarons, you won't be disappointed.

Recipe adapted from A La Cuisine

Macaron Batter
1 ¼ cups castor sugar
½ cup almond flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
parchment paper

1. Allow egg whites to thicken by leaving them uncovered at room temperature overnight.
2. On 2 pieces of parchment, use a pencil to draw 1-inch circles about 2 inches apart. You should have 5 rows of 4 circles (20 circles) for a 12" x 17” baking sheet. Flip each sheet over and place each sheet on a baking sheet.
3. Sift almond flour through a tamis or sieve.
4. Sift castor sugar through a tamis or sieve.
5. Mix the almond flour and castor sugar in a bowl and set aside. If the mixture is not dry, spread on a baking sheet, and heat in oven at the lowest setting until dry.
6. In a clean, dry bowl whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy.
7. Increase the speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar.
8. OPTIONAL: Add any flavorings.
9. OPTIONAL: Add 1-2 drops of food coloring to add a little color to your Macarons.
10. Continue to whip to stiff peaks – the whites should be firm and shiny.
11. With a spatula, gently fold in almond flour/castor sugar mixture into egg whites until completely incorporated. When small peaks dissolve to a flat surface, stop mixing.
12. Fit a piping bag with a 3/8-inch, round tip.
13. Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets in the previously drawn circles.
14. Tap the underside of the baking sheet to remove air bubbles.
15. OPTIONAL: Add any flavorings or decorations to the tops of the Macrons, such as, a pinch of fleur de sel.
16. OPTIONAL: Let dry at room temperature for 1 or 2 hours to allow skins to form.
17. Bake, in a 325F oven for 10 to 11 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets after 5 minutes for even baking.
18. Remove macarons from oven and transfer parchment paper to a cooling rack.
19. When cool, slide an offset spatula underneath the Macarons to remove from parchment.
20. Pair macarons of similar size and pipe about ½ teaspoon of the filling onto one of the Macarons.
21. Sandwich Macarons and refrigerate to allow flavors to blend together.
22. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

Italian Buttercream
2 egg whites
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices

1. In an electric mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.
2. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking often, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it feels warm and sugar has dissolved.
3. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip warm egg mixture on high speed using the whisk attachment until stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the butter, one slice at a time, and continue to mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated.
5. Add any flavorings and refrigerate for 1 hour or until it becomes firm.
6. The buttercream can be kept, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Caramel au Beurre Salé (Butter Caramel)
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 ½ cups castor sugar
⅔ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

1. Pour the corn syrup into a large saucepan and bring it to a boil.
2. Slowly add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
3. Continue to cook until the sugar has started to caramelize and turn golden brown.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring the cream and salt to a boil.
5. Remove the caramel from the heat and gently add the cream.
6. Stir over low heat until smooth.
7. Remove from the heat and add the diced butter.
8. Stir until smooth.
9. Let it set until it is spreadable, then use it on your macarons.

Caramel-Fleur de Sel Macarons
1 recipe Macaron batter
1 recipe Caramel au Beurre Salé (Butter Caramel)
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Macarons: Follow the directions for the Macaron batter.
Butter Caramel: Before refrigerating the buttercream, mix in the Caramel au Beurre Salé.
Assembly: Pipe Caramel au Beurre Salé onto one half of the finished Macarons and carefully sandwich together.


Anonymous said...

Those Macarons look yummy!

Anonymous said...

Happy 39th Birthday to you Renee, and many more. I have been reading your blog for months and love it. The Macarons look absolutely scrumptious. I can't wait to try that recipe out on my family.

Nikki Miller-Ka said...

Happy belated, my fellow Taurean! And those Macarons made me want to melt in my seat. Tastespotting is all I am going to say...

Renee said...

Thank you, Nikki! Those Macarons were so yummy!!!

glamah16 said...

Those llok great. I like the sound of the caramel. I feel the same way about 39. Not sure howi feel about the big 40 in Nov. At 39 all I heard was the doom of the biological clock ticking. I guess I should be grateful to have made it this far.

Sydney said...

The first picture with the butter caramel is wow. I have never wanted carmel more in my life then right now.

Lori said...

The macarons look yummy and who could resist caramel!