You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2011.

This macaron recipe has been my favorite one to make thus far and with the perfect French macaron baking weather we have been having, why skip out on making some. Overcast skies with a little humidity they turned out perfect. Serving these with a cup of tea is a very nice way to end a weekend.

Salted Caramel French Macarons

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons almond meal

3 large eggs, room temperature

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

6 Tablespoons granular sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

small amount brown color paste

1 teaspoon cocoa powder, for dusting

¾ cup salted caramel sauce**

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Sift confectioner’s sugar and almond meal together using a fine mesh sieve. I prefer to sift these ingredients separately and then measure out what is needed for the recipe. Set this aside.

Separate the eggs, setting asides the yolks for another recipe. A good rule of thumb is to leave the eggs at room temperature overnight to cure the egg whites.

Beat the egg whites until frothy, add in the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form.

Add sugar gradually and continue to whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Just before you reach this point, add the vanilla extract and colorant.

Fold in confectioner’s sugar and almond meal mixture into egg whites in two parts. Once all of the dry ingredients are incorporated continue to fold until the batter flows like magma when you lift the spatula. I feel that this is important, due to the fact that you want the macaron cookies to smooth out once they are on the parchment. I usually fold the mixture sixty times before the consistency is where I like it, anything beyond this point the macarons will be papery and crack in the oven.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a quarter inch round tip with batter. To pipe a nicely shaped disk, start with the pastry bag vertical to the parchment, tip side down. The tip of the bag should be a quarter inch from the paper. Squeeze the batter onto the center of the circle drawing and the batter will flow towards the edge. Just as the batter reaches this point stop squeezing the bag and drag the tip in a circular motion towards the edge of the disk. This will help eliminate the peak of batter in the middle of the cookie. Repeat with the remaining circles. A word of caution, since we folded the batter to flow like magma, the batter will start flowing out of the pastry bag as soon as you turn the bag tip side down. So work quickly and with precision. It will take a few tries to be confident in this step.

To help the batter smooth out, just tap the bottom of the template. Now slide to parchment onto the sheet pan and lightly dust the tops of the macarons with cocoa powder for some added pizzazz.

Allow the meringue to rest for fifteen to twenty minutes. This will allow a skin to form on the macaron which will give you that signature French macaron skirt, how fancy!

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 325ºF and bake the macarons for 10 minutes. Allow the macarons to cool for a few minutes on the pan before transferring them to a cooling rack. Raise the heat of the oven back to 375ºF. Once the oven is back up to temp, repeat with the reaming cookies. Remember to drop the oven temperature to 325ºF each time you bake more macarons.

*note: If you plan on making countless dozens, you may need to reduce the baking time as the oven’s metal framework holds more heat overtime. Making eight dozen cookies, the last three batches get a baking time of nine minutes. You will notice cookies getting brown edges, that’s bad.

Place a three-quarters teaspoon of salted caramel on half of the macarons and gently press together with the other halves. This recipe will make approximately two dozen macarons. Something that I like to do when filling macs is to gently hold the cookie upside down in my palm and press in the bottom. This will give you more room for filling.

**note: If you plan to use my salted caramel sauce recipe for filling these cookies, reducing the cream to approximately 1/4 cup will give a firmer consistency so the caramel will not spread out.

I hope you have enjoyed this post of another French macaron recipe. If you or someone who loves salted caramel, my advice, make plenty. 

I love making various mousse cakes for special occasions. On the ever expanding mousse recipe list I have added this version. A Neapolitan ice cream translated into a delicate mousse cake. The recipe in this post may seem lengthy, but it’s rather a quick operation. The recipe is broken down into five parts for quick execution. I am particular about recipes like this for their ability to be altered, taking bits and pieces for other dessert creations.

If you prefer a chocolatier base for this dessert you can use your own chocolate cake recipe or use this chocolate cake recipe. The chocolate sponge is slightly drier than an average cake. Would simple chocolate liqueur syrup add a tender moistness to the sponge, most definitely?

The crowning glory of this dessert is the chocolate glaze and chocolate curls. Artistic renditions in chocolate have always been an amazement of mine. A medium that can take many forms from imitating supple drapes of velvet to the mirror like finishes of tempered chocolate.Chocolate Sponge Cake

1 cup pastry flour

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup whole milk

1/3 cup safflower oil

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg whites

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Prepare a 12”x8” pan by coating with butter and line with parchment paper. Whisk together pastry flour, sugar, baking powder and sea salt together. Set aside. In a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup combine milk, oil, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat egg whites in another bowl until frothy, add cream of tartar. Continue beating until egg whites have reached soft peaks. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Continue whisking for a few minutes. Fold in half of the egg whites. Repeat with the remaining whites. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula, bake for 18 minutes. The sponge cake is done when it springs bake when you press the center. Cool for a few minutes and invert onto a parchment lined cooling rack.

Once the cake has cooled it is time for a quick trim and setting up the “frame.” The recipe here makes an eleven and a half inch by seven and a half inch base. The only reason I have trimmed the cake is for a neater profile.

The “frame” is the framework the mousse will use to create the cake. Using cake board material cut out two 7 ½ inch by 2 ¾ inch pieces and two 12 inch by 2 ¾ inch pieces. Tape the edges together creating a frame that will wrap around the cake. Trim where needed so the cake fits just inside.

Vanilla Mousse

4 cups heavy cream

1 cups granular sugar

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

½ cup cool water

½ cup heavy cream, slightly warmed

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water and allow to bloom. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat just before soft peaks form. The consistency will still have soft peaks but they droop a little more. You want to stop at this point because the folding in of the gelatin will work the cream further. Heat the gelatin over simmering water. You want it to be hot enough to activate, it should take a few minutes and the gelatin will dissolve. Remove from heat and warm the remaining cream. The cream should be slightly warmer than room temperature. Combine the gelatin and warmed cream. Pour this mixture over the whipped cream and fold in. Next, pour vanilla mouse over the cake and spread evenly. Chill for an hour to set mousse.

Strawberry Mousse

3 cups cream, whipped to soft peaks

1 ½ cups strawberry purée

3 ¾ teaspoons gelatin

¾ cup water, cool

Bring strawberry puree to a boil and remove from heat; cool. Don’t skip this step; the acids in the fruit need to be cooked a bit so the cream will not curdle. Place gelatin over the cool water and allow to bloom. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the cream. Beat until soft peaks form as before. Heat the gelatin over simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in the warm strawberry puree. Next fold the gelatin/puree mixture into the whipped cream and spread onto the vanilla mousse already completed. Chill cake again until set.

 

Chocolate Glaze

 

½ cup cream

½ cup granular sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted

1 ½ teaspoon honey

 

½ cup cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the cream, sugar, butter and honey in a small saucepan until melted. Sift in cocoa powder and stir until smooth; stir in extract. Set aside. If the glaze is lumpy, strain.

Remove the cake from the chiller and run a warm knife around the cake to remove the cake board; discard. The cake can be moved to a serving platter with the use of spatulas. Better yet, place the cake and frame on the chosen platter for ease. Spread the chocolate glaze over the top allowing it to run over just a bit. Decorate with chocolate curls.

 Chocolate Curls

1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Melt chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water until melted. Pour the chocolate over the back of a sheet pan that has been warmed slightly and spread thinly. Place the pan in the refrigerator until cold. Now this is the tricky part of making the curls, but one that you will find out to be a breeze. Bring the pan out and place it on the work surface. Allow the pan and chocolate to warm up a bit. Try testing if the chocolate will curl by using a spatula to scrape the chocolate off the pan. If the chocolate is to cold it will chip and if it is too warm it will melt on the spatula. Once you are able to make curls, scrape away and place them on a wax paper lined pan immediately and chill until they harden.

Now that you have a pretty dessert ready for you guests, you can cut it up into twelve nice size pieces. Dip a sharp knife in hot water to make clean slices. Something I like to do with desserts with decorations is to place them in the center of each piece so that the carving of the dessert doesn’t damage the decorations such as the chocolate curls.

So that concludes my recipe for Neapolitan mousse cake, hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.

Each year the planting of annuals on the porch is an exciting activity that helps create a more pleasant atmosphere. Typically I choose fast growing annuals that quickly grow into a lush and vibrant balustrade garden. I tend to choose annuals for their foliar interest because the sun light doesn’t hit this spot until late afternoon and flower production would be minimal.

This year I wanted to change things up a bit. I am experimenting with lower growing annuals and various spillers for added texture. Also, I have under planted the boxes with impatients as the sun is too intense for them, but with a bit of cover they will be a bit happier spending the summer in this spot.

The chosen plants for the balustrade are heliotrope ‘fragrant delight,’ gomphrena ‘buddy purple,’ sweet potato vine ‘sweet caroline purple,’ lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ bacopa, and impatients.

 

Heliotrope ‘Fragrant Delight’

Heliotrope is a highly fragrant annual that can grow up to thirty inches tall and heavily perfume its surroundings. For me the scent of this plant reminds me of lily of the valley and a gourmet pastry shop.

 

Gomphrena ‘Buddy Purple’

This particular annual is vibrant and a great filler.

 

Diamond Frost

One of the three trailers I have planted this year. This will grow all season long and provide a nice contract to the other larger leaved plants.

 

Sweet Potato Vine ‘Sweet Caroline Purple.’

As common as potato vines are, they are by far the best of the trailing plants. This variety of potato vine has a more interesting leaf shape and seems to get bushy and full, but not so big it takes over other plants.

 

Standard White Bacopa

I haven’t tried this annual, but I wanted a spilling flower show for some added interest. Petit petunias would have been a better choice, but they need all day sun to show their true potential.

 

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’

One of my favorite perennial used here will create a dramatic effect and is most superb. This variety is the golden form of lysimachia and another way to add foliar interest. If you plan on planting lysimachia in planters and pots, you can dig them out and over winter them in the ground to reuse them the following season. As the root system grows mature, you will have a more vigorous plant that quickly fills out and it’s free.

 

Here are the newly planted flower boxes on the balustrade. The combination is still quiet and serene, but with a bit more personality than my typical plant choices.

 

Now that the plants are settled in for the summer, it’s a good idea to keep them watered and fed for the best show they can provide. Check out my potting plants glossary for instructions on filling and planting container gardens. I do want to add a bit more information on what I do to keep potted gardens growing well all season.

Choose larger starts for your pots as they will fill in sooner so they can be enjoyed earlier in our short growing season. Feed them initially with a good fertilizer that I have explained in the potting glossary and also a gentle liquid feed once a week. Only the potted plants get an additional feed because I try to fill pots with as many plants I can fit into them leaving very little room for the roots to expand. By feeding them with a good liquid feed such as fish emulsion or a mineral based one you are able to keep their growth constant.

Watering potted plants deeply will ensure good growth and overall happy plants. Just to say how much water my balustrade garden needs depends on the plants used. If I planted my typical coleus and potato vines the boxes would require nearly a gallon of water per box a day once the boxes explode with fullness. So remember to keep containers deeply watered especially in hot weather and enjoy the show.

 

Peonies are undemanding, asking little in return. Planted in the right spot will ensure a lifetime of enjoyment. As peonies mature, more and more flower buds appear.  With the relatively short bloom period let’s make the most of it. The topic for today is enhancing the size of the blooms with a quick prune.

 

The photo above shows the secondary buds that can be removed just below the main bud. 

The buds of herbaceous peonies will form almost immediately once the plant has filled out. Then there is an incubation period as the buds develops. The moment the flower stalk starts to elongate, remove the side buds. You can see this happen, by keeping an eye on the flower stalk tips. The buds are tightly together, as they elongate, you see the stalk expand and the buds are easily accessible. This elongation starts later in the spring when any danger of hard frost passes and safe to remove the side buds. Removal of side buds directs more energy into the main flower for a larger show that is sure to impress.

 

This photo shows the flower bud cluster before elongation.

Sorry to disappoint, I have no pictures of the blooms last year, but just be patient and I will post this year’s big and beautiful blooms once the show starts.

Remember to feed your peonies with bone meal after bloom. This is the time herbaceous peonies make new eyes for next year’s flowers.

There are very few perennials in the garden that I neglect due to their hardiness, hostas being one of them. Since all of my hostas are located in shady areas of the garden, I don’t usually bother to feed them with the exception of annual applications of composted manure. Not too long after the full growth of my hostas do I get envious of neighbors who seemingly are able to grow the fullest and largest plants. It seems my hostas could use a little more attention from me concerning their diet.

I am particular on how I feed my garden, keeping in mind that organic fertilizers are easier on the environment. So I have created a ‘hosta’ fertilizer for good strong foliar growth and overall health of these plants.

 

Hosta Nutrient Mix

4 parts all-purpose organic granular fertilizer 4-3-3

1 part blood meal 12-0-0

1 part bone meal 0-10-0

¼ part Epsom salts [for magnesium]

Added to the basic fertilizer is more nitrogen for good foliar growth and phosphorous for added root development. The last ingredient is Epsom salts which contains magnesium to give hosta foliage more radiant color and a nutrient they like. Ever see hosta leaves turning yellow? They require magnesium. If you experience this sprinkle some Epsom salts around the plants and watch them turn back to a their healthy color.

 

I apply around two tablespoons of this mix around smaller hostas and up to a cup for larger ones. With the added annual supply of composted manure, hostas should grow with vigor and look splendid all season that is if they are planted in a good location, dappled shade.

 

A little tip I learned a few years back about hostas, if you don’t care so much for the flower stalks, then snip them off as they rise above the leaves. This will re-direct the energy towards root growth. To date, the only hosta I ever did this with, was a large cultivar called ‘elegans.’ I didn’t want the flowers to interfere with the silhouette of the garden I was going for. As it turns out, the time came to move this hosta and to my amazement the root system was extensive. I have transplanted many hostas and this was the only one that had a root system that large.

 

Hostas should be fertilized once new growth has started in the spring and again mid-season, usually around July. The only exception, I think, is for the hosta ‘Empress Wu.’ This cultivar should be fertilized three times a season and kept moist, but not soggy.

 

 

I don’t usually find myself baking up cupcakes for the fun of it, but I will gladly make them for those who love them. This post is an impromptu recipe for chocolate cupcakes filled with cream and glazed with chocolate. The chocolate glaze part of this recipe is a secret creation that works better than the standard ganache most of us glaze desserts with. This chocolate glaze remains glossy and supple even right out of the fridge.

 

Chocolate Cupcakes

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 ¼ cups granular sugar

¾ cup cocoa powder, sifted

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

¾ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ rounded teaspoon baking powder

a few grates of nutmeg

1 ½ cups hot water

2 Tablespoons espresso powder

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon white vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

preparing the batter:

1. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, sea salt, ginger, nutmeg and baking powder.

2. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.

3. Add vegetable oil, vanilla and eggs.

4. Combine hot water with espresso powder.

5. Whisk until a smooth batter forms; gradually adding in the espresso.

filling the cups:

1. Place 2-#40 scoops of batter in each cup.

2. Bake one pan at a time in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes.

3. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

4. Cool for 10-15 minutes in pan then transfer to a wire rack.

Once the cupcakes are cool, cut a hole in the center of each as if you were coring a tomato. Next, scoop out a little more cake with a melon baller. Set cupcakes aside and prepare the crème chantilly.

 

Crème Chantilly

1 ½ cups heacy cream

¼ cup sugar

Crème Chantilly is a fancy French name for sweetened whipped cream. Place both ingredients in a bowl and beat until cream has formed stiff peaks. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip with whipped cream. Pipe enough whipped cream so that it over fills the tops of the cupcakes. Remove the excess cream using a spatula recreating a smooth top, chill.

Chocolate Glaze

½ cup cream

½ cup granular sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted

1 teaspoon honey

½ cup Dutched cocoa powder, sifted

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat cream, sugar, butter and honey in a small sauce pan until melted and warm. Whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla extract until smooth, strain through a fine mesh sieve.

To glaze the cupcakes, dip each one face down until chocolate glaze touches the baking cups. Allow excess to drip off for a moment and invert back onto a sheet tray. Repeat with all cupcakes and chill until chocolate glaze sets. Repeat process one more time for a nice even coat. The process is repeated because the first coat may melt some of the cream filling and show through. Chill cupcakes again.

Melt 2 ounces of white chocolate and fill a pastry bag fitted with a fine round tip. Simply sweep the tip over the cupcakes back and forth. The tip should remain a half inch above the cupcakes.

These cupcakes are best served at room temperature. Take them out of the refrigerator one to two hours before serving. Delicious!

Here is what is going on in the garden to date.  A cooler spring does signal more blossoms, but a longer wait is expected. Make frequent outings to your garden to enjoy the flush of spring growth.

I do enjoy bleeding hearts for their old fashion qualities and heart shaped flowers. These in the garden are the standard variety; I may plant some of the newer types with golden hues and paler flowers.

We can all over do it with hostas. They are such an easy plant to use as an edging in the garden and are usually indestructible. Since hostas come in an array of shapes, sizes and green to yellow shade combinations there is a lot of interest a garden can have if filled with one type of plant. The shade garden is mostly filled with hostas, so each year I experiment with different ones. Since the ‘standard’ hostas originally planted many years ago on the property were so massively planted, I use them to frame the beds. It gives a nice finish to the garden.

Larger strains of alliums produce very attractive foliage with graceful curves.

Each year’s flush of allium blossoms is a grand delight in the perennial garden. I do have some concern for them this year. Smaller buds may signal that they need dividing as I mentioned in the past.

The peonies are doing well, the two types of peonies that are planted here bloom at different times. An early blooming type paeonia officinalis ‘Rosea Plenta’ will produce sumptuously full and richly colored, double rose-pink flowers.  A late spring bloomer paeonia lactiflora ‘Lady Alexander Duff’ will display large showy flowers that are gorgeous.  If you want larger blooms snip off the side buds just under the main bud. They are there in case a sudden spring frost takes out the main flower bud, so wait until signs of a hard frost has past.

Ferns show their best qualities when they unfurl.

 

I am always finding ways to expand the gardens at my home. With each year the area of open ground is getting smaller. What is left and a little neglected are the massive expanses of stone terraces and wood decking. There is no better way to add more gardening excitement than potted plants.

One special area on the property is a lightly shaded stone terrace. It was here long before the thought of a garden was considered. In this area there isn’t much to plant in the ground and with large stately trees taking in most of the nutrients, I figure why not garden in pots. I have yet to over-winter perennials for this area, but for now I am experimenting with anything that will thrive, making this secluded place more special.

When considering what to write about and fulfill the mission for what this blog is about, I think that creating a beautiful and restful garden space to be necessary. Once the stone terrace garden is planted and well looked after, a relaxing moment here would be perfect.

Of all the hard work that will go into this potted garden, I wanted to take the time to discuss the importance of proper planting of such a garden. Potting plants are a quick fix for any trouble areas a garden may have and moving them around to accommodate a garden cocktail party will be a breeze.

1-plants | 2- pots | 3- potting mix | 4- granular fertilizer

5- slow-release fertilizer | 6- pea gravel | 7- screen material

 

The photo above illustrates all of the supplies used to pot plants, with the exception of landscaping fabric.

Items are listed clockwise from top-left.

 

Potting Plants:

1: Thoroughly clean pots of any dirt and root bits. Soak for one hour before filling if using terra-cotta.

2: Place a piece of screen material over the drainage hole.

3: Add a two inch layer of pea gravel.

4: Place a circle piece of landscaping fabric over the gravel.

Cut a piece larger than what would cover the gravel so the fabric can form a bowl that catches the potting mix. I think a few inches of rise will be enough.

4: Fill 2/3 full of prepared potting soil mix. [Potting Mix Recipe Below]

5: Nestle in plants and fill in with extra potting mix.

6: Water well and make sure water streams out the bottom of each pot.

7: [Optional] Cover the surface of the soil with pea gravel. This helps prevent soil from splashing onto the plants during heavy rains and gives a neater appearance.

The photo above is a cross-section of what a medium to large prepared pot should look like. The pea gravel in the base of the pot will facilitate better drainage. Also, the pea gravel will weigh down a pot that may become top heavy as plants mature. If your pots require a lighter treatment, try using packing peanuts in place of the pea gravel. This is great for surfaces that do not need any more weight pushing down on them, such as a rooftop garden.

I use a basic quality type potting mix with no fertilizers in it. Choosing to add nutrients are a personal preference, one that I love to experiment with and its nice knowing how your plants are to be fed. For the potting mix formula I add two tablespoons slow-release fertilizer and two tablespoons organic granular fertilizer for every gallon of potting mix. If you have any homemade compost on hand, add a cup full for a good dose of microbial activity.

In a few weeks the night time temperatures will stay well above the freezing point and planting can begin.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 834 other followers

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 834 other followers

%d bloggers like this: