French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 1

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

 

MacarOncafetrio
3 French macarons from MacarOn Cafe–my inspiration!

Making a pound cake from scratch is the most advanced baking I’ve ever done. This dessert contains the most basic ingredients found in your pantry and fridge: eggs, butter, flour, sugar, vanilla extract and baking powder. As long as you have a hand or stand mixer and measure your ingredients correctly, it’s not difficult to mix and bake.

Macarons also require few ingredients: two types of sugar, egg whites, almond flour, and color. That’s it as far as the cookies, a/k/a shells go. The fillings can be diverse: readymade jams or jellies, caramel, Nutella, butterscotch, lemon or lime curd, etc. You can make your own whether it’s buttercream, chocolate ganache, or a jam/fruit spread.

I’d tasted macarons a few times and loved them. They were decadently sweet and rich. From an Etsy store, I ordered an array of pastel colored macarons that were photographed for the cover of my novella, Sweet Dreams.

I needed a picture for the cover of my forthcoming sweet romance/cozy mystery, Macarons of Love, #4 in the Yolanda’s Yummery series. So I bought macarons in various colors and flavors. Average price: $2.25 each. I took 300+ pictures and they were good, not great. I cherished each macaron and decided that having these delicacies handy whenever I wanted them was a very appealing idea. Even if they didn’t turn out looking great, I’d get a better education about the art of baking macarons and would understand my characters even more. I had most of the ingredients and equipment, I reasoned. Well, not almond flour, but sugar was in the cupboard and fresh eggs in the fridge. I’d watched more than a dozen how-to videos on YouTube. I read numerous blogs, many of them showing step-by-step directions. Some bakers claimed they were easy to make; other bloggers despaired of ever being able to create them. One confessed that several batches never even made it to the oven.

I spent $12 for one pound of almond flour! This is one of the reasons why macarons aren’t cheap. I also learned that almond meal, almond powder, and almond flour are the same thing. Only when making macarons, you needed to sift or sieve it. The more you sift, the finer it gets, the better lookin’ those macarons.

Macarons weren’t spooned onto a baking sheet—they were piped on. Piped with one of those piping or pastry bags? I thought that was for decorating cakes or cupcakes. My experience with a piping bag? Zip. I couldn’t just neatly spoon them on? Nope.

Separating eggs and whipping the whites into a meringue didn’t seem too difficult to someone who’s whipped thousands of gallons of shea butter. But there’s a difference between the two ingredients: shea butter can’t be overwhipped, egg whites can. I also had a major oopsie that first day after picking up the egg and instead of separating it the entire egg splatted into the bowl. Great, I’d have to wait another 24 hours so the egg would be aged enough for high quality macarons. At least that’s what many of the bakers suggested.

Since I knew my piping skills were nonexistent, I had some foresight: I made a template the size of the baking sheet and had 1.5” circles neatly spaced on the back of the paper that was adhered to the baking sheets. 

I put the required amount of almond flour [Bob’s Red Mill] through a small sieve. Correction: I attempted to sieve the flour. Thirty minutes later, I’d managed to get about 1/8 of a cup from sieve to mixing bowl. I grumbled about how time consuming it was, recalling people on videos doing it in seconds. I tried smacking the sieve and just spilled more flour. The spatula didn’t work. My fist, wanting to punch it through… nope, that sieve was too small.

I interrupted my macaron making “festivities” and drove to the store to buy a larger sieve. Finally, the almond flour was able to make it through the larger size mesh, as did the powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, I had no difficulty whipping the egg whites, granulated sugar, and adding the magenta gel color.

Folding the flour and sugar meant the dry ingredients had to be sifted again. Good thing I didn’t have to use that mini sieve. The egg whites would’ve deflated or whatever happens to old egg whites. Macaronnage is the term for gently folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites which results in a batter that’s not too stiff and not too runny. There are ways of determining when it’s done such as counting the number of strokes to testing the batter to see how it falls from the spatula—the term molten lava is frequently used. Well, I guessed it was like molten lava because my arm was starting to feel like it with all that mixing, um, folding.

Before I encountered my first run-in with the pastry bag with the plastic nozzle that I’d hopefully inserted correctly, I had to get the pink batter from bowl to bag. Those baking experts showed how easy it was—the same people who could probably pipe blindfolded—insert piping bag in a glass, fold the top over like a cuff, and make sure the nozzle was pointing up rather than down. Also, twist the bottom of the bag a few times so the batter won’t escape. Okay…

Theoretically, easy. I plopped the pastry bag into the glass and added the first scoop of batter with my spatula…but I’d forgotten to make the cuff so the batter got stuck on top and some of it fell on the counter. Way to go, wasting batter and making a mess. Eventually, I got most of it into the bag and the batter started escaping from the bottom, too. I’d be lucky if I managed to make one macaron shell!

mymacs1
My 1st batch of piped macarons

I won’t describe the horror of piping except that part of my face was pink from batter oozing out the top as I tensely gripped it. Some dropped onto my hand. Good thing it wasn’t red! Each of the discs was a different size with only a few of them being round. Getting the batter onto the parchment paper was a messy feat but in the end I managed to get 24 various sized discs onto each tray.

I baked each tray separately and used the bottom oven rack after reading and watching the tales of staying away from the middle rack.

mymacs2
Just out of the oven

The result can be seen to your left.

Itsy bitsy feet on some, a single mega cracked shell, but the taste of the shell was sweet. I added jam rather than attempt to do a buttercream filling which would need to be piped—I really didn’t fancy that word!

Next week: More French Macaron Baking Adventures with King Arthur flour and my first buttercream filling plus a recipe!

mymacs3
Finished macarons with strawberry jam filling

The Discerning Readers’ Newsletter
 Sign up to learn more about upcoming releases and to win free books & gifts! 
http://eepurl.com/UZbE9 

Boxed Set Friday – The Yolanda’s Yummery Series, Books 1 – 3 by Lisa Maliga

By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2015

Boxed Set: The Yolanda’s Yummery Series, Books 1 – 3 lisa maliga ebooksI’ll admit I’m partial to boxed sets, a/k/a box sets. This is beneficial for the reader, as they can have access to a series or serial. Boxed sets are usually more cost efficient and space efficient, as you don’t have to flip from one eBook to another since they’re conveniently bundled into one file.

Before publishing my boxed set, I learned that I needed two different covers due to some online bookstores not wanting the standard three-dimensional type of cover. A non 3-D cover was the norm for some stores so that customers wouldn’t get confused into thinking they were buying actual paperback books housed in a box. Once I learned that the reason behind iTunes and Smashwords preferring a standard “flat” type of cover, I found another cover artist to design the second type of cover. Here it is:

yolanda's yummery series boxed set books 1-3 lisa maliga

I was pleased with this flat type of cover design and like it as much as the 3-D version.

I’ve noticed more boxed sets being published and I think that’s a wonderful idea. So, each Friday I’d like to highlight a boxed set whether by one author or a group of authors. Your boxed set can be on sale, free or whatever price you choose.

Want to have a special blog post dedicated to your boxed set? Send me an email and include the buy links. Once the blog has been posted on Friday, you’ll have your own boxed set page and can promote it anywhere you’d like. Your name and the title of your boxed set will be in the subject heading, making it keyword-friendly.

Just send an email to: lisa_maliga@msn.com Please use “Boxed Set Friday” in the subject heading.

Below is an example of how your page will look. If you have two different covers, I can include both of them. You can send me a longer book description. Also, if you have any fun facts about the boxed set that you’d like to share, please include them in your introductory paragraph.

Title: Boxed Set: The Yolanda’s Yummery Series, Books 1 -3 

Author: Lisa Maliga

Brief Description: This collection of sweet romance/cozy mystery eBooks contains 3 full-length novels plus a chapter to the novella that started it all: Sweet Dreams. Best of all, it’s value priced! 

Genre: Sweet Romance/Cozy Mystery

Amazon US link: http://www.amazon.com/Boxed-Set-Yolandas-Yummery-Series-ebook/dp/B00T8JKSMO

All other links: http://www.lisamaliga.com/boxedsetyolandasyummeryseries.htm

  WIN A VARIETY OF BOOKS! Sign up for The Discerning Readers’ Newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/UZbE9

Sweet Dreams and Macarons

Copyright 2015-2016

by Lisa Maliga

sweet dreams a novella by lisa maliga ebook kindle smashwordsMacarons and sweet dreams? Yes, the two go together quite well. Macarons are sweet and somewhat crispy little cookies that can be filled with butter cream or chocolate ganache or various types of jams. They’re usually made with almond flour and are gluten-free. Macarons are often quite colorful, as you know if you’ve seen them. My opinion is that they’re the best kind of dessert—small and delicate. Fancy but not outrageously so. Yes, I’m so fond of macarons that I’m including mention of them in my sweet romance/cozy mystery, Macarons of Love: The Yolanda’s Yummery Series, Book 4.

But what started it all was a romance novella I wrote called Sweet Dreams. Brenda Nevins, the main character, is a romance author/baker. Although the macarons part isn’t at the beginning of the story, these tempting little cookies do have a costarring role. During the writing of the ebook, I got obsessed with macarons. I read several cookbooks on how to make them, visited numerous websites, and sampled quite a few tasty macarons. I bought some online and even tried the Trader Joe’s version[s] which were easy to store as they went from frozen to just right in about 30 minutes.

It was a tough job, but I gutted [pun intended!] my way through it.

macarons sweet dreams bakery fresh romance novella lisa maligaAnd now, I’ll be revisiting macaron-land for the next few months while I write my book. But that’s fine with me. I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to these fine sweet treats. This board has 5000+ pictures and recipes. Check it out! http://www.pinterest.com/lisamaliga/sweet-macarons

NEW! Learn to bake macarons! Check out BAKING FRENCH MACARONS: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE.

 

Introducing…The Great Brownie Taste-off!

By Lisa Maliga Copyright 2014

I’ve discovered something funny about writing romance books – I like ’em sweet. Literally. In my first, Sweet Dreams, the cover art shows an original photograph of brightly colored [and incredibly sweet and fruity] French macarons. These sandwich-type cookies are small and delicate but oh so worth it! Subtle hint: try one…or a few!

brownies the great brownie taste-off by lisa maliga
Yummy brownies!

But how do I go from macarons to the classic and better known dessert of brownies? Well, I didn’t plan it. In fact, I thought I was writing the first book of the romance series, which is about cakes, not brownies. Even though I was following a detailed outline, the brownie angle took over and so I went with it. The first book of the Yolanda’s Yummery series establishes how this yummery [bakery] came into existence. Here’s what The Great Brownie Taste-off is about…

Yolanda Carter comes from a family of artisans and lives in her deceased grandparent’s cottage in Sherman Oaks, California. She works at a small cat shelter but dreams of owning a bakery. Her friend from high school, Teagan Mishkin, knows that Yolanda needs money and suggests better paying work as a cocktail waitress. The interview takes an unexpected turn and she stumbles across a scheme to close down the cat shelter. The plan Yolanda concocts may be the only way to save the shelter. Helped by her parents, coworkers and friends, a rising young blogger also takes an interest in her plight. Will she bake the best brownies of her life?

BONUS ~ Includes the winning brownie recipe!

Amazon link: The Great Brownie Taste-off [FREE!]

great brownie taste-off yolanda's yummery series book 1 free ebookNEW! PAPERBACK LINK: The Great Brownie Taste-off

Amazon UK link: The Great Brownie Taste-off [FREE!]

B&N NOOK link: The Great Brownie Taste-off [FREE!]

Kobo link: The Great Brownie Taste-off [FREE!]

Smashwords link: The Great Brownie Taste-off [FREE!]

brownies great brownie taste-off yolanda's yummery series

Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix Review

By Lisa Maliga

Photograph and text copyright 2014-2022

It was an impulse purchase this box of brownie mix. I needed to bake brownies so I could photograph them for my next eBook cover. So I bypassed the usual suspects of Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines for the more expensive alternative, Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix. Like the others, the additives were few—water, vegetable oil and just one egg. It also contained a chocolate syrup pouch for added flavor—something I always appreciate. The one thing I couldn’t do was add any walnuts as the brownies featured in my book are sans nuts or any other type of fun ingredients like marshmallows, shredded coconut, caramel or even frosting. But that’s okay because a true brownie will taste marvelous no matter how simple the ingredients are. And the brownies in my book are baked from scratch but they do require a bit more work than a mix brownie.

Now if you’re short on time and want an easy to make brownie, I can highly recommend the Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme Brownie Mix. Also, if you’re a fan of buttery brownies, I suggest you grease the baking pan with butter instead of using cooking spray.

Ghirardelli kindly includes such valuable tips as not overbaking brownies. To many of you, that may be a no-brainer. To me it’s a major issue as I love soft and chewy cookies and especially slightly underbaked brownies as they tend to be heavy. However, if you want a thicker, heavier brownie they suggest adding two eggs and less water.

Being impressed with Ghirardelli’s brownie mix isn’t a surprise. I enjoy their chocolate, especially their peppermint bark. For more information about this well named brownie mix, here’s the page: Ghirardelli Brownie Mix, Chocolate Supreme

Like to read about brownies, bakeries, and romance? If so, check out this FREE ebook, The Great Brownie Taste-off!

brownies great brownie taste-off yolanda's yummery series
This is how they turned out!

eBook Cover Design Tips

By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2013

I don’t usually write about creating an eBook cover because it’s a different process for each title. It’s not just the initial canvas–what color is the background? Will I use a photo? Another important consideration is the font. And what color will that font be, what size, etc. Creating my first romance novella’s cover was simple: I wanted something to reflect the title and that was a cupcake with sprinkles. I thought it emphasized the title along with the fact that bakeries and baked goods are featured in the storyline. I bought a six-pack of cupcakes from the supermarket and took a few photos. They looked good. They looked better after I enhanced the cupcakes with extra multicolored sugar sprinkles. Cupcake photo ready to go, I thought I’d try Amazon’s Cover Creator. Here’s the result after ten minutes of fiddling about with it: [NOTE: click to enlarge image]

sweetdreamsmockup

I wasn’t too crazy about the vertical lettering but I like the Cinzel Decorative font.

There were two issues. The Cover Creator is designed for eBooks sold on Amazon, not those sold at other online stores like B&N Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, or elsewhere. Also, while cupcakes played a part in the story, so did a fancier French pastry: the macaron. That idea for a book cover popped into my head – a stack of macarons. Not just a single stack of strawberry or chocolate macrons, I envisioned pastel colors of pink, yellow, green, and orange.

Why not try a stock photo? I discovered these: http://www.istockphoto.com/search/text/french%20macarons/filetype/photos/source/basic#17bcc90

So many macarons! So beautiful, bright, luscious looking! I was hungry after clicking through the assortment. I found just the right photo for my cover. Until I tried to buy it. I couldn’t get just one, I had to buy several. So, I decided to do it my way—take my own photos of the lovely photogenic macarons. I bought the fancy French cookies knowing I’d have to eat the results of my sweet photo shoot! 🙂

I opted for yellow and green – lovely colors. A little subdued, though. This was taken indoors in natural light but it wasn’t bright enough to show the white background.

ebooksd1

I clicked on the auto enhance button and the background turned a nice shade of sky blue.

ebookSD2

It looked good at 25% but at 100%, I saw a lot of background noise.

Scratch that cover idea.

I got creative and decided to do two stacks utilizing all the colors—totaling seven macarons. Seven almost perfect macarons. I later noticed the little crack in the left Key Lime macaron but thought it looked even more realistic. After all, these are very delicate cookies. They’re made with egg whites, never any yolks, granulated sugar and powdered sugar and finely ground almond flour.

There were three different backgrounds: white, pink and a soft blue. I thought white was too stark, pink too common, and the blue was enough of a contrast to make the bright colors pop.

Keep in mind I’m working with .PNG files at a 300 dpi capacity and the dimensions are 1600 x 2400—standard eBook cover size. So I take the double stack of macarons and remove the background thanks to the handy Magic Wand tool that Fireworks provides for people who are too lazy to actually cut out the background. With the white background, I can stay with that look or add color. As you can see, I added color. I also fiddled around with the settings so that I got brighter shades for more visual impact, although they’re actually quite close to the original colors. As I photographed them indoors I used as much lighting as possible. 

macaronstack1MED

After taking 200+ digital photos, here’s the final result: 

sweet dreams a novella by lisa maliga ebook kindle smashwords

Sweet Dreams – A Contemporary Romance eBook

SWEET DREAMS By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2013 

sweet dreams a novella by lisa maliga amazon kindle smashwordsFormer bakery employee Brenda Nevins is now a successful romance author of the Yolanda’s Yummery book series. Best friend and agent, Samantha Ho, has gotten her a movie deal and a reality TV show about her forthcoming bakery, named after her bestselling series. The frosting on Brenda’s cake is her engagement to handsome and sexy Warren Stillman, a Beverly Hills attorney.

Complications arise whenever any communication she sends or receives turns into snippets of a cheesy science fiction story. Her agent, fiancé, movie producer and anyone else on the receiving end thinks she’s playing a stupid joke. Brenda is trying to track down the person responsible for hijacking her career, her finances, and even her fiancé.

For Brenda, finding the culprit is necessary to make sure that her dreams aren’t derailed. In the process, she wonders if her aspirations are as dreamy as she’s imagined?

This novella is approximately 30,000 words.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/355959

Amazon Link: Sweet Dreams

Kobo Link: Sweet Dreams

Barnes & Noble Link: Sweet Dreams

Read a review of Sweet Dreams at Cheryl’s Book Nook.

“As a book reviewer I couldn’t help but find a few of Brenda’s inner thoughts just a tiny bit snarky. A reviewer who claimed your request for a book review got sent to their spam folder, and all that frilly stuff Brenda spouts off on her blog had me in stitches. Sounds like our author knows from whence she came. This is a delightful novella and I am for sure going to keep my eyes open for more from this author.” Julie, Romancing the Book

Read full review here: http://romancing-the-book.com/2014/08/review-sweet-dreams-by-lisa-maliga.html