I wish I could be there

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It’s the day after Mother’s Day and as I’m writing this I’m hoping that the courier doesn’t screw up more than it already has. Mom hasn’t received her package yet and right now the timing (and the drama) is off. (Edit: the package arrived and apparently reduced mom to a puddle of tears. What was the gift? A simple handwritten letter)

The last time I was with the family was when I went home for the Easter holidays more than a month ago. Suffice to say I went a little crazy, baking almost everyday. The macarons I wrote about were one of the things I churned out (which reminds me, I’m tinkering with the next installment to that post!). To be honest I wasn’t all that keen to go home. I kept on thinking that I need to sensitize myself to the separation, as depressing as it sounds. But that week off turned out to be one of the best vacation weeks I’ve ever had, and by the time I had to be whisked off to the airport, I was a hot mess. I’ve never been that sad to leave home.
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But to dwell on how much abuse my oven received makes things less morose. To think about how much I enjoyed making sans rival makes things a lot better.

I always though making sans rival was unattainable. But I always enjoy eating the layers of crunchy-chewy meringue, with buttercream sandwiched in between, all dressed in a rich velvet layer of more buttercream. That was before I went to school so basically I thought a lot of baked goods seemed impossible to make by my lonesome. That was then, this is now. And during the course of the week I was able to make five, a pretty awesome feat by my standards.

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Right now I’m at a place where I can say that anything baked isn’t impossible to make. This one is no exception. Making it wasn’t a breeze of course – time and patience (things I feel I lack) are the key elements here. It’s one of those desserts that have components made separately and then put together to make one solid piece of goodness.

This is a nod to my mom, who is (a cheesy comparison coming up) really like sans rival. She’s a crowd favorite and everyone instantly likes her, she’s both sturdy and fragile (sometimes at the same time), and although on the outside she seems to be all butter, you’ll see that she’s made up of so much more than that. She’s never typical.

Last year when I was still home we had this silly moment together where her favorite song was playing on the radio and she just took my hand and whirled me around the kitchen. It was awkward, I was embarrassed, mortified…and strangely enough right now I wish I could do it all over again.
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Coffee Buttercream Sans Rival

serves around 8

This recipe is good enough to make three rectangular sheets that could fit in a half-sheet tray (18 by 13 inches). I decided to pipe the meringue into rounds instead of rectangles, but I still used a sheet tray lined with a silicone mat that measures 11 5/8 by 16 ½ inches. Two rounds fit in the silicone mat so I worked in batches. Alternatively, you can also use cake pans, greased, lined with parchment, greased again, and floured.

  • 180 grams clean egg whites
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • 170 grams granulated sugar
  • 10 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams granulated sugar (for the flour and nut mixture)
  • 60 grams cashew nuts, processed/chopped into very small pieces
  • additional cashew nuts for decoration

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and whip until stiff.Combine the sugar, flour and nuts and fold it into the meringue, working in 3 additions. Use a piping bag to pipe the mixture onto the pan, using a spiral motion to create equal circles. Bake at 350 F/180 C for 30 – 45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool at room temperature.

Coffee Buttercream

recipe adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

  • 7 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 454 grams/1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons coffee powder (or more if a stronger flavor is desired)

Beat the yolks and sugar using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, until it becomes light and lemon-colored. Warm the heavy cream in a large saucepan, until bubbles appear around the sides. Whisk the heavy cream into the yolks and return it to the saucepan. Stir over low heat until thick, around 10 – 12 minutes. Be careful not to let it boil or else it will curdle. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer) and let it cool.

You can whisk the buttercream by hand or use an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment. Either way, add the butter into the cooled custard bit by bit, beating the pieces in until completely absorbed before adding in the next. Add the vanilla extract. When all the butter has been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, you can set aside 1/3 of the buttercream, and mix in the coffee powder into the remaining 2/3. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble: place one layer of meringue on a plate or cake board. Using a straight or offset spatula, spread an even but thin layer of buttercream on it, and top with the second layer. Repeat, then top with the third layer. Spread the buttercream on top, and along the sides. When the coating is generous and even, you can pipe decorative rosettes using the regular buttercream on top. If the surrounding temperature is a bit warm the buttercream might soften too much for you to achieve good, sturdy piping. At this point you can let the mixture rest in the fridge, or to speed up the process, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes.

Coat the sides and sprinkle the top with the chopped cashew nuts. When coating the sides, get a handful of the chopped nuts and lightly pat the side making sure that the nuts stick to the buttercream. The excess will fall of and you can clean it up when you’re done decorating.

Place it in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve.

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Macaron Days (Part 1)

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It’s a blazing hot Saturday here in Manila. It’s the kind of heat that precludes all intentions of going outside to where it’s scorching. Ah, the problems of living in a country with four seasons (hot, very hot, rainy, oh look there’s a typhoon). So here I am doing myself a favor and after a long while, updating! I’m not going to whine about the weather because even if it feels like I’ve been living under a rock, I’ve had a pretty stellar week.

We had a week off from school to give way to the Easter holidays, and I was in a quandary whether I should go home or not. By “go home” I mean visit my family in Zamboanga. I told myself that I should go home less often, just to sensitize myself. But I caved in after being prodded by my parents. Honestly, I can’t really say no to home, can I?

And I’m glad I caved in because the chance to use an oven and bake again sent me in a frenzy. It was no vacation by all means. Every day I was in the kitchen, mixing, whisking, piping, rolling and baking. I didn’t really give myself a lot of room to breathe. I’m not complaining though, because I was amazed at how productive I was. Amazed.

I began my vacation with a few achievable goals in mind: macarons, meringue, pate a choux, puff pastry.

First, I just had to make macarons because when we made it in school I was really happy with the results and it wasn’t “that” hard as long as I observed a few pressure points. I’ll be talking about macarons for here on out.

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I’m not an authority on the matter, though! Simply think of this as an account of somebody who tried his hardest, in the most obsessive way possible, to make a macaron – failures and all.

There are a lot of macaron recipes online, with varying techniques and nuances in ingredients. There’s really no “right” or “wrong” method. Just choose one and go from there. If it didn’t yield the results you wanted, modify, adapt and try again. There’s no shame in that.

This recipe is a bit lengthy but it’s hard not to be descriptive when you’re talking about making a macaron.

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache and Marmalade

  • 60g powdered almonds
  • 120g powdered sugar
  • 60g egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • food coloring of your choice

All I had to do was to blitz the sliced almonds in a food processor/blender until it has become fine powder. To make sure the consistency is good, I passed it through a fine strainer and I processed the big pieces that were left. I didn’t toast the almonds in the oven before I processed it. (My chef instructor told me I shouldn’t have skipped that step so I could have removed the excess moisture in the almonds)

I then mixed the almond meal with the powdered sugar, and then passed it through a strainer again. It’s not so much obsessive as it is necessary to remove the large lumps of sugar. My instructor also told me I could go the extra mile and process the sugar-almond mixture again, which I didn’t do. Is this part necessary? If I would get the chance to make more macarons, I would have done this.

Whisking the egg whites is also another crucial step. Whisking incorporates air into the whites causing it to become white and stiff. Two things can go wrong: either it won’t rise to medium-stiff peaks OR it will be overdone and resemble shampoo foam which is kind of gross. In any case, it is crucial that the egg whites are clean, free from fat in the form of traces of yolk.

I didn’t have a stand mixer so I had to use muscle power and elbow grease to manually whip the whites. This part is physically taxing but it gets the job done. I whisked the egg whites until medium peak. Then I added the sugar and whisked until stiff. Medium peaks is the stage when the whites are whisked until they form peaks whose tips droop. The peaks when stiff are sharp, pointy and well, stiff.

Now that you have your meringue and almond-sugar mixture ready, it’s now time to fold the two together. Folding is more gentle than mixing, and I used my rubber scraper to do this. Folding requires a “lifting” action that gently covers the meringue over the almonds and so on. When it’s folded together, add a drop of food coloring, and fold to distribute. Add more until the desired color is achieved. When you lift the mixture using the rubber scraper, it has to fall in a thick stream, not in clumps. If it’s still clumpy, add a little bit (a drop or two) of egg white and fold again.

I then transferred the mixture to a pastry bag with a round tip (#12), piped it as big as a 5 peso coin and left 2 inches of space in between mounds because it will still spread. It’s important that you allow the macaron to dry and form a skin. This is incredibly temperamental because it depends of the humidity and temperature of the area, which affects the drying time. What worked best for me was to leave the tray in an air conditioned room for two – three hours, or until a skin is felt on the surface when “lightly” felt/poked by the finger.  I had one tray dry at room temperature, roughly the same time length of time received by the ones in the air conditioned room. They also cracked.

The cracked macarons weren’t pretty at all. I probably set the oven temperature too high. They cracked at 180 C. When I set the next batch to bake at around 140 – 150C, then came out just fine, feet and all! I baked them for about 12 – 15 minutes, until they look dry.

The piped a ring of chocolate ganache and filled the center with orange marmalade because the flavor pairing just works so well.
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Tune in for more macaron madness soon. I promise thing will get better, and cuter if I do say so myself.