Happy Leap Day: Let’s Talk Macarons!

This past Friday’s bake was macarons! It went a lot smoother than the first time I made them and they turned out just as pretty too. They also disappeared just as fast. It’s such a shame I can only make about 25 of these at a time. I think my family might be macaron addicts now.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures the first time I made macarons because my household was crazy that day. This past Friday though was a day off from homeschool so in the morning, I took my time making macarons and taking pictures! This blog post will have a LOT of pictures.

Since the recipe I used the first time worked well for me, I decided to stick with that recipe. I still have Baking Chez Moi around because I am so reluctant to return it to the library!  So I just keep renewing it and renewing it. I’m glad that no one else has wanted to borrow it! I think I will eventually be buying this cookbook.

If you want to take a look at the recipe I used, it is here.

This might be the most tedious part of making macarons. Drawing out the circles and spacing them so that they are 2 inches apart. If I start making macarons regularly, I will probably be investing in some reusable silpat just for macarons.

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For some reason, I find weighing my ingredients fun! Must be the numbers girl in me. 200 grams of almond flour and 200 grams of confectioner’s sugar equals 400 grams.

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This is how I sifted the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar. Pushing the mixture through a sieve using a spoon.

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Oops! I was off by 1 gram on my white sugar for the sugar syrup.

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This time, I decided that it would be nice to color my macarons a light pink, since I was using a raspberry jam for the filling for half of them. This is about 75 ml of egg whites with 6 drops of red and 1 drop of blue. The other 75 ml of egg whites went in the stand mixer bowl to be turned into Italian meringue.

Mashing the egg white/food coloring mixture into the almond flour/confectioner’s sugar mixture and watching the color change was neat. Guess there will always be a little bit of kid in me! The color of the batter at this point is pretty dark but it lightens up once the Italian meringue is added.

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This is probably the trickiest part of making Italian meringue. Timing whipping the egg whites to medium firm peaks to the same time that the sugar syrup gets up to 245 degrees Fahrenheit. I did not try to hold the bowl over my head to see if the meringue was firm enough. I’m not brave enough to try that yet!

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Here is the meringue after 10 minutes of whipping with the sugar syrup. Honestly, I could probably have eaten this whole bowl by myself. I satisfied myself with licking the beaters, the spatula, and um… yes, the bowl too. No, I didn’t share with my kids. Someday, I am going to use Italian meringue in a cake frosting and probably have a fight with my husband over the bowl.

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Another fun part! Mashing the Italian meringue into the almond flour mixture.

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This was a bit of a tricky part for me. I could not remember what the batter was supposed to look like once it was ready to be piped. I did remember that it was supposed to drop like lava off of the spatula in a V-shape. I just couldn’t remember if it was supposed to be this grainy-looking. I was a little worried that I had ruined the texture, but once they were piped out, the texture looked fine.

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My “piping bag.” This is a decorating tool from Wilton. This was a lot neater for me to use than a pastry bag. Not as much wasted batter.

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This is the way the batter is supposed to look after piping. Nice and smooth.

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4 pans of macaron shells and it still didn’t seem like enough! Some of them ended up bigger than others. I let the pans sit for about 30 minutes to form a crust. Once I could touch the tops of the shells without having any batter stick to my finger, they were ready to go in the oven.

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I love watching these cuties bake! 6 minutes at 350 degrees, rotate the pan, and then bake for another 6 minutes.

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I made a white chocolate ganache to fill half of the macarons. I mixed in some mini chocolate chips once it was cool just so that I could tell Josh I had tried to make a chocolate chip filling. I had said earlier in the day that I was going to make chocolate chip cookies. Nope, I ended up making macarons instead! The ganache was too liquidy to use right away so I put it in the fridge to thicken up enough to use as a filling.

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Here are the raspberry jam macarons. I used some jam from one of our favorite orchards back east, Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Maryland. They used to have an online store but that doesn’t seem to be up right now.

The macarons turned out so pretty! I couldn’t resist trying one right away, but macarons really do need a day or two in the fridge before serving. The difference in texture between the interior and exterior becomes more defined. It is definitely worth the wait!

-Lynn

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Friday Bakes in 3 Parts – Mini Maple Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon roll dough usually doesn’t like me. If we are going to have cinnamon rolls for breakfast, I will buy them. One afternoon, in one of my “I don’t know what to make for dinner” panic modes, I happened across a recipe on the back of a Taste of Home magazine from 2006.  I don’t remember now what I made for dinner that night, but I did set this particular magazine aside so that I could make the recipe.

Last Friday, I finally made some decent cinnamon rolls. The dough started out in the bread machine so that saved me quite a bit of time. Another plus, the dough uses maple syrup as a sweetener, not white sugar. Josh is a big fan of anything maple so that is why this recipe caught my eye. The rolls don’t taste particularly like maple syrup but they are definitely sweet!

Mini Maple Cinnamon Rolls – find the recipe here.

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I loved the dough. It was very easy to work with once the dough cycle in the bread machine finished. The size of the cinnamon rolls was perfect for kids. Not so big that they can’t eat a whole one, but still makes enough that they can each have a second one (or more!) if they want.

The filling was a little difficult to sprinkle on. It also caused a few of the rolls to separate in the middle. I think I would spread the butter on first by itself, and then sprinkle the filling over the butter. That way the filling would be more evenly distributed.

I also initially did not bake these long enough. They probably could have used 5 to 10 more minutes in the oven. I was afraid of them browning too much though so I took them out at 25-30 minutes.

I loved the maple icing on these. Josh likes cream cheese icing though so I might have to try that next time and see which one he likes better. I do use a Grade A Dark maple syrup so that is probably why the icing turned golden instead of being white.

This recipe is definitely a make-again. And I may tweak it a little bit to make it even better!

-Lynn

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Friday Bakes in 3 Parts – Stuffed Crust Pizza

Since 1 pizza isn’t enough for my family and we like thick crust, I have taken to doubling our standard sourdough pizza crust recipe from King Arthur Flour.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

I have posted about pizza crust before, in this post. This time though, I decided to try making the crust into a cheese-stuffed crust. I also brushed the crust all over with  melted butter and roasted garlic powder. I was also more prepared this time and was able to make a kid-friendly pizza that disappeared and a supreme-style pizza for Josh and I to share.

The cheese-stuffed crust turned out good, but I didn’t seal the crust completely on the inside, so some of the cheese leaked out during the pre-bake. That was okay though. The melty cheese was covered up by all the toppings!

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Hard salami instead of pepperoni, bacon, Italian sausage, some no-cook pizza sauce, and of course, lots of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. I am finding that I kind of like the rectangular shape for pizza.
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Josh and I had a kind of healthy pizza. Well, not really, but it tasted good! Salami, Italian sausage, bacon, mushrooms, red bell pepper, red onion, a few bits of spicy chili peppers.

I was really happy with how my pizza crust turned out. We like a thicker, chewy crust, which is why I have to double the recipe.

To make the cheese-stuffed crust, I just sliced up some block mozzarella into rectangular blocks of cheese and rolled the edges of the pizza crust over them before the pre-bake. Next time, I will probably make the blocks a little bigger, maybe string cheese thickness. I also need to figure out how to seal the crust so that the cheese doesn’t leak out.

One nice thing about doing a cheese-stuffed crust is that it allowed me to actually define the edge of the pizza. Usually, my edges aren’t very clean.

The no-cook pizza sauce I used is from Fine Cooking. I halved the recipe for these two pizzas and had no sauce leftover to take up space in my fridge. My kids are more into the cheese and the toppings than the sauce so the fact that it didn’t cook on the stove is fine with me!

-Lynn

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Friday Bakes in 3 Parts – Tiramisu Cake

Last Friday, our washer started acting up again, so I wasn’t able to do laundry. This didn’t make me too sad, because it meant I could bake! I went a little bit crazy with the baking though, which I seem to do a lot, don’t I?

First up, a pretty complicated cake, with a lot of moving parts. Well, not real moving parts, but it really seemed like it because every time I had a free moment, I was making or mixing something for this cake. It was pretty and it was also complicated. I really should not have made this cake, but I needed to use the mascarpone I made a few days ago for something!

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I didn’t have a lot of time to make it as pretty as I would have liked. Since I ended up changing quite a few of the ingredients, I will repost the recipe with my changes. Most of my changes are due to necessity and not because I really wanted to make the changes.

The actual recipe is here.

Tiramisu Cake

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the two cake layers:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

For the espresso extract:

  • 2 packs of Starbucks Italian Roast instant coffee
  • 2 Tbsp boiling water

For the espresso syrup:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp strong coffee

For the filling and frosting:

  • 8 ounces mascarpone
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1½ vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 3.5 ounce dark chocolate bar, finely chopped

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, dust the insides of the pans with flour, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Place the pans on a large baking sheet.

To make the cake:

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set the bowl aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and beat only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and smooth their tops with a spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes. When fully baked, the layers will be springy to the touch and golden in color. Cool the cake pans on a rack for 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmolding them. Peel off the parchment paper and allow the cake layers to cool right-side up.

To make the extract:

Stir the 2 packs of instant coffee into the 2 Tbsp of boiling water in a small measuring cup and set aside.

To make the syrup:

Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and stir in 1 Tbsp of the coffee extract. Set aside.

To make the filling and frosting:

Whisk together the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and 1 Tbsp of the coffee syrup in a large bowl just until smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. With a rubber spatula, stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream.

To assemble the cake:

If there are domes on the cake layers, use a serrated knife to even out the tops. I found that this also helped expose the interior of the cake and allowed more syrup to soak into the layers. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak one layer with about 1/3 of the syrup mixture. Smooth about 1 and 1/4 cups of mascarpone filling over the layer. Press about half of the chopped chocolate into the filling. Then, soak the second cake layer on one side with  1/3 of the syrup and place this second layer upside-down on top of the first layer. Then, soak the top of the second cake layer with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting, whisk 1 Tbsp of the remaining coffee extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Whisk in more of the coffee extract depending on your taste preference.

With a metal offset spatula, smooth the mascarpone frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the remaining chopped chocolate.

Refrigerate the assembled cake for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving.

This cake was a lot of work. I think it was mostly because I was mixing up the components of the cake in between baking two other things. I kept running out of surfaces in my kitchen to put everything!

I don’t think my cake layers turned out right. They tasted good, but I think their crumb wasn’t tight enough. In a way though, this gave the syrup a lot of crevices to soak into. I also did not use all the syrup I made. I thought it would be too much, but it ended up that I should have used all the syrup because the cake was a little dry by the time we ate it for dessert. I didn’t have any cake flour on hand, which is why I had to use all-purpose flour instead. If I make this again, I will try to find a yellow cake recipe that uses all-purpose flour and use that instead of the one in the recipe above.

I will admit that baking cakes is not my forte. I think cake is something I need to learn to do after I learn how to bake a few more breads.

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A slice of the tiramisu cake

I think I should have doubled the amount of filling/frosting. And I need to figure out how to bake a decent cake! Somehow, I don’t think my family will be sad that I plan on practicing cake soon.

The next two parts will be: Stuffed Crust Pizza and Mini Maple Cinnamon Rolls! I almost put all of them together in one post but that would have been too long!

-Lynn

P.S. Since my kids were going to be eating this cake, I did not use any of the coffee liqueur that is usually used to make tiramisu, another reason I had to change a few of the ingredients.

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100 Posts!

I wanted to write this for the actual 100th blog post, but I think I ended up writing about pavlova instead. So here is the 105th post, but pretend it is the 100th post. 😉

Josh and I started the blog as .44 Hobby Farm in August last year. We weren’t quite sure yet of what we would focus on, so our blog name was more of a placeholder than anything else. We live on 0.44 acres in San Diego County. Of course, Josh will always wish we had more land! Our whole lot would probably be fruit trees and raised garden beds if he had his way. 🙂

Last month, Josh decided he liked the name The Geek Homestead so that is now our blog name and website domain. We are well-known amongst our friends as “geeks,” and we are slowly trying to incorporate some of the ideals of homesteading into our daily lives.

Here is just a quick list of some posts from the past few months 🙂

Lynn’s very first post – August 29, 2015 – my first time making any kind of cheese from scratch

Josh’s very first post – August 29, 2015 – building a raised garden bed out of cement blocks

Josh builds a masonry wall – September 9, 2015

Lynn’s Sourdough Starter adventures – September 2015 – my starter is still alive and going strong 🙂

Our starter has given us yummy crackers, crumpets, sourdough bread, and pizza crust!

Josh’s Bokashi composting – November 2015 – what a great way to compost pretty much any food scraps!

One of our more adventurous bakes! – Hibiscus Cookies – December 2015

We do aim to start posting more recipes and add those to their own category. I do want to make sure that we do post them properly and with the correct acknowledgements though. If anyone knows how this works, I would really appreciate the input on how to do that! As far as I can tell, if you rewrite the recipe in your words (with your own additions/subtractions) and make sure you link to the site you found the recipe, that it is okay to post the recipe? If there is more to it than that, I would love to know!

-Lynn

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Lego Challenge: 02-23-16

Today’s Lego Challenge from gather love grow was to build a lightsaber out of Legos.  I expected that my boys would build large elaborate lightsabers, but they each built something small.  Our oldest said he couldn’t find pieces to make it bigger.  That in spite of the large number of Lego pieces we have everywhere in the house.

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Our oldest made a tiny lightsaber. I do like the round handle.
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Our second son made a lightsaber that has holes in the blade.  I am not sure how that would work, but it does look fun.
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Our third son was proud of the shiny pieces in his lightsaber blade.
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Our fourth son made a Lego Lego lightsaber.
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Our daughter wanted to get involved so she brought me a butterfly slinky to take a picture off.

 

If you like what you see please go by and see the gather love grow blog, and let Isabelle know you like the Lego challenges.  They are her ideas, I just have my kids follow them and blog it to show her what we have done.

 

-Joshua

We have a Facebook page where I try to put up more pictures of the plants we grow.

The San Diego Comic-Con Open Registration craziness

Josh and I have been going downtown either with or without our kids for Comic-Con every year for the past 3 or 4 years. We haven’t had tickets though and usually just walk around outside the convention center to experience all the free events. We always have a great time. But every year that we’ve gone downtown during Comic-Con time, we’ve said to each other, “Next year, let’s try to get tickets.” But we never did. Until this year.

There are some pretty crazy hoops to jump through before you even get the chance to buy Comic-Con badges. I found this out last year in February when I wanted to attempt the badge lottery. You had to create an account with the Comic-Con website before February 11th this year in order to even enter the waiting room to get a badge on February 20th. Last year, I was too late to create an account so I waited until last year’s open registration was over to create my account, and I had Josh create his account. That way, I knew we would be ready when this year’s open registration rolled around.

Comic-Con is probably one of the larger convention center events that happens here in San Diego every year. It’s fun and crazy and very, very crowded. I’ve only had tickets to Comic-Con once before, about 20 years ago, when it wasn’t quite as popular as it is now.

Downtown San Diego during Comic-Con  – July 2014

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One of the free events we go to every year – NerdHQ.

Open registration this year was this past Saturday. So I let my kids play video games while I spent an hour online waiting to see if I would get into a registration session to buy tickets. You start out in a waiting room and then are randomly selected from there to enter a registration session. I never got in! But, a friend of mine was logged in just to help me have a chance to buy tickets. She got in! The day we wanted was sold out already, but there were still Thursday badges available. So she was able to get two of those for us. It’s not an ideal day for us (our mid-week church services are on Thursday) but we can spend at least part of the day at Comic-Con before we head to church.

We will definitely blog about our adventures that day and post a lot of pictures!

Looks like I will need to create some kind of geeky category. After all, we are The Geek Homestead!

-Lynn

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