From the book THE GREAT BROWNIE TASTE-OFF (THE YOLANDA’S YUMMERY SERIES, BOOK 1).
I haven’t made these brownies in a couple of years, so when I followed the recipe, I rediscovered the joy of a very rich and decadent buttery brownie. I took a lot of photos of the process and have turned them into a cool video that shows you the various steps.
Even if you’ve only made brownies from a mix, this is an easy recipe to make.
Here are some tips to make your buttery brownies taste even better!
♥ Your butter should be a good quality and unsalted is recommended. For the record, I used Plugra.
♥ Use eggs from chickens that are free to roam around, as they taste better.
♥ I used an 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish. You can use a 9″ x 9″ glass or metal baking dish if you prefer but the brownies will be slightly flatter. Instead of using cooking spray, just use the butter wrapper to grease your baking dish.
1/2 cup [1 stick] butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs [room temperature]
1/4 cup [2 ounces] dark chocolate, melted, cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease your pan with either cooking spray or butter.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until combined.
Add an egg, mix in well, then add the second egg and mix well.
Stir in melted chocolate and vanilla.
Gently fold in flour, until combined.
Pour mixture into pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely. Cut into squares. Enjoy.
You can get a copy of THE GREAT BROWNIE TASTE-OFF (THE YOLANDA’S YUMMERY SERIES, BOOK 1). Best of all, the eBook version is FREE!
I used to think that a ganache was something fancy that went on top of a cake or some type of fancy pastry. I knew it was made from chocolate, but that’s about all. If you’ve never made this lovely and decadent macaron filling, don’t worry, it’s very easy to make. You only need a few ingredients but you should get the best type of chocolate that you find appealing. For practice, use standard dark chocolate morsels that you may have in your pantry, but if you’re a chocoholic, add a 70% cacao content dark chocolate.
Chocolate Espresso Ganache Filling
4 ounces heavy cream [120 grams] 4 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate [120 grams] ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste ½ teaspoon instant espresso
Put cream in microwave for about one minute until hot — NOT boiling. Pour over chocolate chunks. When melted add instant coffee and vanilla and whisk well until smooth. Let sit at room temperature for at least four hours or overnight. Cover with plastic wrap. Just before getting ready to use a spatula to scoop the ganache into a piping bag with large round tip.
This is a simple recipe to make and it will really perk up your macaron shells. The touch of espresso gives the chocolate more zing! I used my favorite brand of chocolate: Valrhona.
Adding instant espresso to chocolate chunks
Pour in your cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Before the release of my new eBook, I mentioned I’d be writing about a spring surprise. I was definitely surprised! I envisioned a beautiful spring green color macaron shell and a rich minty chocolate ganache filling. Well, I ended up learning more about gel colors, natural colors and essential oils.
At first, all was great with the meringue. It had the standard stiff peaks and to get that lovely minty color, I added 7 drops of gel food coloring. And that was followed with one drop of pure peppermint essential oil. So it looked and smelled like chocolate mint chip ice cream.
Everything mixed up well; the piping was adequate, the shells dried within 30 minutes. Midway through the first batch, I switched on the oven light and saw nice little feet forming. I set about making the ganache and when it was time to remove the macarons I saw that all the shells had a golden brown crust! My goal was green not brown. After removing them, I lowered the oven rack [it was one below the center] and lowered the temperature from 320 to 300. But as seen below, it didn’t help…
I baked the other two trays at varying temperatures and oven rack positions. All of them were well done, even though twenty minutes was the longest time spent in the oven. Most were so hollow either the tops came off or you could easily see through the feet from one side to the other.
The chocolate ganache tasted good but not great as I didn’t add enough heavy cream and discovered that the teaspoon of virgin coconut oil clogged the metal piping tip. I reversed the piping bag and adding the ganache that way! What a mess I was making. I also lost several of the shells due to the tops being so crisp they just flipped off. Maybe I could’ve added filling to the other layers, but I just decided to send them to the compost heap outside.
Later, I learned the reason my shells browned – too much gel food colorant and the oven temperature was too high. Okay, next batch I was changing the color to something all natural: matcha green tea.
Batch #13 was either going to be lucky or unlucky. Turned out it was a bit of both. My eggs sat on the counter overnight and I noticed they’d aged so well they whipped up to fill the 2-quart bowl up more than halfway. That was a first!
However, I’m going to pass along this tip: don’t mix the powdered sugar and almond flour together a week before you make macarons. I thought it’d save time but in reality I had to resift the remaining half because it got a little clumpy. That wasn’t much of a problem nor was having to move the batter into the five quart bowl because there wasn’t enough room.
Even though I only added 1.5 teaspoons of matcha green tea powder [which I sifted before adding to the sugar/almond flour combo] I found it more difficult to mix. However, it definitely turned the batter green and the resulting macarons look natural, tho’ not lime green or mint green. This was also the first time I used extra fine granulated sugar.
I added peppermint essential oil to the batter just before mixing it rather than to the meringue. There wasn’t a hint of the matcha green tea aroma.
The first batch ended up cracking and went into the compost pile. The other two batches came out okay—there were feet, they puffed up but deflated a bit—and they were as hollow as heck but they resembled macaron shells. They’re on the rustic side. The chocolate ganache was made with dark chocolate with mint extract and I added a few drops of pure peppermint essential oil. This time the heavy cream was the right amount and I only added a teaspoon of real butter and no virgin coconut oil.
While the resulting macarons don’t look like they’re from Lauduree, they tasted good and I ended up with 20 of them.
Next week I’m going to make a fruity combination to celebrate spring. Wish me luck!
My quest for baking the perfect chocolate macaron continued. They needed to have feet but also be smooth and shiny. By adding less cocoa powder, my second bath was easier to mix. The egg whites “aged” overnight, about 12 hours. But I slightly underwhipped them, which was a first. After the macaronnage, I added the batter to the piping bag and closed the top with a rubber band to avoid spillage. It worked, although by the time I piped the last shell, the remaining batter was threatening to ooze out of the top.
The macarons didn’t set up right away – I had to wait about 30 minutes. Later, I realized that both trays should have rested for at least 45 minutes.
This time, the oven temperature was lower, 300 degrees. I’e since learned that chocolate needs to bake around 350 degrees. Also, the baking time should’ve been longer. One tray was in the oven for 19 minutes and the other 20. Afterwards, I realized they could’ve baked another two minutes longer in both cases because I wasn’t able to easily remove them from the parchment paper. However, using 20/20 hindsight, chocolate macarons should bake for about 12 – 14 minutes at 350 degrees.
While both trays showed macarons with feet, they were in the small side and the shells were hollow. At first, the macs looked like they’d have smooth, glossy tops, but after they emerged from the oven they deflated a bit and had irregular shaped tops.
Unlike the first batch of chocolate macarons, the texture was lighter and airier – not like brownies or biscotti.
The chocolate ganache filling was easy to make. I chopped up a Valrhona bar [71% cacao content] trying not to eat any of it. Note: next time I’ll try the Valrhona 46% feves! For 50 seconds, the heavy cream went into the microwave and when poured over the chunks the melting began. I whisked it for a few strokes and then added the room temperature butter and vanilla extract. Soon it was successfully mixed and sampled. Way better than the first batch. Nothing like using a high quality chocolate bar, heavy cream and imported butter! Yes, I could taste the difference between this and the previous batch made with chocolate chips. The richness was so apparent.
Due to being underbaked, the shells stuck to the parchment and I used a spatula to remove them. Some of them were really cracked and messy looking but I managed to salvage them into sloppy and unphotographable macs. They tasted good when consumed that day. However, the next day and the day after that the macarons tasted much better.
NEXT WEEK: More adventures as I bake scrumptious French Vanilla Bean Macarons.
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Before baking the macarons, I sifted the almond flour three times and poured it into an airtight container. Now, every time I make macarons, I only have to sift the flour and powdered sugar together once, and whisk the two ingredients in a bowl and set it aside. So much sifting is done to ensure that your shells are smooth and shiny.
When I whipped the [room temperature] egg whites, I added the pinch of salt with the granulated sugar at the foamy midway point. Four minutes later, I had that satiny texture of egg whites that had reached their peak. Then I added two drops of pink gel for a baby pink color.
The flour/sugar mixture was added in two stages and this time I counted how many times it was folded: 63. The texture was just right and I was cautiously optimistic, as I poured the batter into the piping bag. My first few macarons were round and all was going well until I felt something wet on my hand. Ooops, I’d been holding the bag wrong and it was leaking out the top. But I kept at it and wound up with a grand total of 52 shells.
30 minutes later, the macarons went into a 300-degree oven. Instead of using the center rack, I opted to use the one just below it. This time I turned the tray eight minutes into the baking. There they were: FEET!
They baked for 19 minutes and when I pulled the tray out I saw 26 macarons shells with feet. I did a happy dance, and added the second tray. Meanwhile, I began making the “lemonade” buttercream filling. Actually, it was flavored with Trader Joe’s lemon curd. I used the strawberry buttercream recipe and substituted lemon curd for the strawberry jam.
All was going well until I added the powdered sugar. It flew out of the bowl, on the counter, stove, floor, me…the bowl was too small! Next time I’d mix the softened butter first until creamy and then very slowly add the powdered sugar. More time consuming but no cloudbursts of sugar that way.
Due to using naturally yellow butter and lemon curd, I didn’t need to add color, but I did: 5 drops which didn’t significantly change the color. The taste was a sweet and tart blend that I adored. If you adore lemon, try the following recipe. Let me know how it turns out and feel free to ask any questions or make any comments!
Pink Lemonade Macaron Shells
1 cup powdered sugar [confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar]
¾ cup almond flour [sift 3 times]
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 egg whites [room temperature]
2 drops pink gel colorant
Pinch of salt
Serving size: 52 shells or 26 macarons [approximately]
Stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment
2 – 4 large baking sheets
Parchment paper or silpat mat
Large sieve or flour sifter
Pastry/piping bag with large round tip
Measuring cups/spoons/stainless steel or glass bowls
Silicone or rubber spatula
Large cup or glass to hold piping bag
* Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. If the sheets are thin, double them up. Macarons are sensitive to heat so they need to be baked on a durable tray that has lots of insulation. You’ll also need a pastry/piping bag with a large round tip ready before you begin.
* Sift powdered sugar with the almond flour. Large grains that don’t make it through can be thrown away or used as a skin exfoliator. I discovered this when I washed the equipment by hand the first time!
* Whisk the sugar and flour to make sure it’s fully blended.
* In a stainless steel or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy like a bubble bath before adding the salt. Then add granulated sugar in 3 batches. Start at a low speed and gradually increase the speed. When finished, the mixture should have stiff peaks. Add color last, but only whip for the briefest amount of time to mix in the color.
* Add dry ingredients to the meringue in 2 batches using a spatula. Fold until the mixture comes together, scraping the sides and flip batter over. When the sugar/flour mixture is blended, the batter will be easier to mix and will look shiny. Lift the spatula and see how quickly batter falls in “ribbons” from the spatula. A ribbon of batter dropped into the bowl should merge with the rest of the batter in 20-30 seconds. Another test is to “write” the number 8 with the batter.
* Add tip to piping bag and then twist near the bottom to prevent any mixture from escaping. The tip should face upwards and that also helps keep the mixture in the piping bag as you place it in a cup and form a cuff over the rim so it’s easy to add the batter.
* Spoon batter into piping bag. Twist the top of the bag and untwist the bottom, gently pushing the just-poured batter toward the bottom. You’ll remove any excess air that way.
* Pipe the batter onto the parchment or silicone mat. With parchment, you can use a template. Stay inside the lines as the batter will spread and flatten a bit.
* Pipe batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1.5-inch circles.Keep the batter inside circles if using a template.
* Rap baking sheet several times on the counter. This will further flatten the macarons, and remove air bubbles.
* Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
* Allow macarons to sit for 30-60 minutes until a film forms. Lightly touch a macaron and if no batter clings to your finger then it’s dry and ready to be baked.
* Bake for 16 -18 minutes. The tops should be firm and glossy and the bottoms of the shells should have formed “feet” or frills at the bottom. The risen macarons should be firm with the slightest amount of give. If it wobbles, they require another minute or so. When done, the cookies can easily be removed from the parchment.
* Remove from oven, place cookie sheet on a wire rack or flat surface and let cool completely.
Lemon Curd Buttercream Filling
1/4 cup softened butter [use a high quality butter like President or Kerrygold]
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar [confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar]
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons lemon curd
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
5 or so drops yellow gel color [optional]
Whip butter for about 2 minutes before adding some of the powdered sugar. Add the cream, lemon curd and vanilla. Gradually add the remaining powdered sugar until the filling is the desired consistency. Add colorant last.
Pair the shells according to size. Spoon or pipe filling onto one side. Gently add the other side. If using a piping bag, start in the center by doing a swirl until you reach near the edges but not right at the edges. You don’t want to overfill them and make a mess with leaking buttercream filling. Gently add the top shell and give it a twist of about a quarter turn to make sure the shells are nicely lined up.
Store your macarons in an airtight container and put in the refrigerator. They should last about a week. Macarons taste best at room temperature, so remove from the fridge about an hour beforehand.
I’ve tasted chocolate macarons from Trader Joe’s and Laduree. To your left is a photo of what a true chocolate macaron looks like.
For my chocolate macarons, I used a different ratio of ingredients, different filling and different oven temperature from my other three batches. What could go wrong? Or right?
I used a good brand of cocoa powder: Divine. Yes, it smells and tastes as good as its name so I thought that was perfect for my favorite flavor.
Major differences included changing the oven temperature, using the center rack, and adding salt to the egg whites. That last step resulted in a longer time to get the first signs of froth and the finished meringue texture.
This batter was unlike the others as it was much thicker. I probably used too much cocoa powder. It had only been sifted once, when added with the sugar and almond flour. Whatever it was, this batch was very difficult to mix and I got so tired I just stopped. As soon as it was awkwardly piped onto the parchment paper, it was already dry. With my other three batches, when first touched, some of the batter stuck to my finger. With this batch, I was able to touch the batter and feel a thin film had already formed! That was a first. It was the complete opposite of the previous week’s 90-minute wait for the shells to get that film. Still, I had to wait for at least 30 minutes while I preheated the oven and made my chocolate ganache filling.
That’s when the fun began. I used the standard unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate. Instead of opting for the double boiler, I used a microwave to melt the heavy cream, then pour it onto the shredded chocolate, melting it that way. The recipe also called for butter and vanilla extract. It mixed up well with a whisk. I added it to the piping bag and let it rest [sideways] on the counter to cool off.
Meanwhile, I’d discovered something amazing going on with the macarons – at the seven-minute mark I switched on the oven light and looked through the window – feet! The macs were all forming feet. “I’ve got feet!” I shouted. “Feetsies! I’ve got feet! Feet don’t fail me now!”
And they didn’t! I was able to turn the tray and see the feet up close. I impatiently waited for them to finish. When they were placed on a cooling tray, I admired the little frills that surrounded each round and semi-round shell. Later, I’d easily slide them off and note very little residue on the parchment paper. There were no hollows; each shell was solid on the bottom.
But the tops looked a little rustic. No shiny and smooth finish. Oh well, can’t have everything.
Time to pipe the ganache. Nothing happened. Some butter had separated and solidified at the edge of the nozzle. The ganache was stuck inside. Squeezing from the top, even shaking it, that dark brown filling wasn’t budging.
Time to make another batch of ganache. I followed the same directions, using Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels. They melted even faster and the resulting ganache was like thin syrup. I put it in the fridge. Two hours later, it was still the same texture, only colder. I melted a small amount of morsels in the microwave and then had something that could go into a piping bag and become the filling for the nicely chocolatey brown shells.
The macarons looked and tasted like brownies with commercial chocolate rather than a French delicacy I’d hoped to make. 24 hours later, the macs tasted no different, definitely like brownies with semi-sweet chocolate fudge filling.
But at least they had feet!
NEXT WEEK: More adventures as I bake Pink Lemonade Macarons.
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The macaron baking saga continues as I want to test the King Arthur “super finely ground” almond flour I’d found for a dollar less at Walmart. I also wanted to try a strawberry buttercream filling because I love strawberries and the idea of a buttercream filling seemed decadent to me. I’d written about them in my books but in fact had never made buttercream frosting/filling from scratch. I’ve used containers of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker frosting. Well, they weren’t actually buttercream, they were called frosting, had a long shelf life, were always at room temperature, and were spread with a knife. At least in my experience they were. While all frostings or buttercreams contain high amounts of sugar, the store-bought variety had vegetable shortening instead of butter so they didn’t contain butter or cream.
At first, I thought the super finely ground almond flour only needed to be sifted with the powdered sugar. Wrong! I ended up sifting it twice. I left the two eggs out overnight, thinking I’d separate them before I made the macarons. When separating the whites from the yolks, some of the yolk dropped into the egg white bowl. Macaron baking experts declared that a NO as fat wasn’t good for macs. So I scrounged around online until I found a website where the author claimed an egg could be aged in the microwave for ten seconds.
Most eggs contain a high percentage of water in the whites. When aged, extra water evaporates. Separate the white from the yolk and cover with cling wrap with a small slit to allow for evaporation, then place in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. You can also leave it out overnight or for about 12 hours if the bowl is covered with a paper towel. The eggs must be room temperature if you want them to whip into a fluffy meringue.
This was my worst batch yet, due to the egg problem. The egg didn’t age or do anything other than maybe warm up a bit. Unlike the sunny day where I made my first batch, the weather had gone from early morning sunshine to mid-afternoon humidity and rain. It was a challenging four hours due to:
* Waiting 90 minutes for the shells to dry
* Undermixing the batter
* Clumsy piping of the batter
* Forgetting to remove the paper templates from the baking sheet [see 2 photos below]
* NO feet
On the bright side:
* 1 more drop of coloring made the magenta even brighter
* Remembering to make a cuff with the pastry bag
* Lowering the temperature of the oven
* Making the best strawberry buttercream filling I’d ever tasted
* Able to pipe the buttercream filling onto the macarons
Strawberry Buttercream Filling Recipe
¼ cup room temperature Unsalted butter [use a high-quality brand like President or Kerry Gold]
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 Tablespoons high quality strawberry jam
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract OR vanilla bean paste
I want to emphasize the importance of using the best and highest quality ingredients in your buttercream filling as you will taste them! If you can use fresh strawberries or strawberry jam/spread that you’ve made, that would be excellent. I used a fruit spread that was sweetened with natural fruit juice and fruit pectin. There are many high quality types available in your grocery store, health food store, farmers market, etc. that DON’T contain high fructose corn syrup.
Here’s a list of preferred ingredients: strawberries, sugar, cane sugar, concentrated lemon juice, and fruit pectin.
INSTRUCTIONS: If using a stand mixer, add the butter to the bowl and mix for about 30 seconds, and then add half the powdered sugar.
If using a hand mixer, make sure you have a LARGE bowl and mix the butter first, then add half the sugar.
When the mixture is smooth, add your wet ingredients: cream, jam and vanilla. Once mixed, it’s time to add the remaining powdered sugar.
The mixture should be smooth and firm but not too firm that it would crush the delicate macaron shells.
If you pipe onto the shells, it’s recommended that you use a large, plain tip, Wilton size 10.
Start by piping in the center and doing a swirl until you reach near the edges but not right at the edges. You don’t want to overfill them and make a mess with leaking buttercream filling. Gently adding the top shell and giving it a twist of about a quarter turn is an easy way to make sure the shells are nicely lined up.
NEXT WEEK: More adventures in macaron baking! I test my first batch of chocolatemacarons with chocolate ganache filling!
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