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Vanilla macarons: now with feet!

Vanilla macarons with coconut cream

I don’t really like macarons.

I know this is a crazy thing for a food blogger to say, but it explains why I had never previously tried making Parisian macarons, the tiny almond flour and meringue cookies that sandwich a filling of custard, jam or buttercream. That is, until I found a giant bag of almond flour at the Ven (the awesome gourmet warehouse near where I live), and thought, “Why not?”

The other thing I thought was “How hard could it be?”

Famous last words.

Now I understand why every food blogger has a post on macarons. Why Laduree is a pilgrimage for any foodie visiting Paris. Why there are more than a dozen pages of macarons photos in TasteSpotting.

They are nearly impossible to make right. Like, voodoo and magic impossible. And when you can’t make it right because some variable is off — the humidity in the room, your macaronnage technique, the aging of the eggs, the heat of the oven — you become obsessed. Really obsessed.

Armed with what has to be the cutest macarons book ever, I love macarons by Hisaka Ogita, I made four batches of macarons over two weekends.

And on that magical third batch: I got feet!

Macaron feet!

Getting the pied, or feet, on macarons is one of the trickiest achievements in baking. The pied is the cute little ruffle on the bottom edge of the cookie. Without the pied, you couldn’t really call it a macaron. There are loads of things that can prevent you from getting those elusive little ruffles. Ogita says that rapping the baking sheet against the counter and drying the batter before baking are factors. Others say it’s the macaronnage (the mixing of the batter before piping) is what has the greatest impact on the feet. And still others point to humidity: the more humid the environment, the more difficult it is to make macarons in general. (Some of the best instructions I’ve found on macaron technique is on an excellent post on Food Nouveau.)

I’ve been keeping notes with what seems to go right and wrong with each step (what did I say? obsessive). Some of what seemed to go right in the batch that turned out:

  • I’ve found that the Italian meringue method is a bit more difficult, but more foolproof, especially if you didn’t remember to ‘age’ the egg whites. (Egg whites that have been separated several days beforehand whip more consistently than fresh egg whites.)
  • I also added a bit of sugar to the meringue before pouring the sugar syrup to stabilize the meringue a little bit.
  • I didn’t adjust the humidity at all; it was a ridiculously rainy day on Miracle Batch Day.
  • I felt as though I overmixed it, but I guess I didn’t. The recommendation is that it should ‘flow like lava’. (Not that I’ve ever seen lava in real life before.)
  • I didn’t dry the macarons after piping it and before baking, except for the amount of time it took to preheat the oven. (I’ve seen instructions to leave them to dry for two hours!)
  • I did rap the baking sheet against the counter a few times once I piped the macarons.
  • I stacked two baking sheets under one set of macarons to control the heat while baking.

So that’s what worked for me.

This time around, that is.

Vanilla macarons with coconut cream filling
adapted from I love macarons
makes about 16 filled cookies
I like the coconut filling because it uses up the egg yolks that you’ll have left over. I found it a bit too buttery, but I would probably just reduce the amount of butter a little bit, or just use the custard directly next time. Make sure to store the macarons in the fridge overnight before eating; the cookies need to ‘fuse’ with the filling to create that heavenly macaron texture.

For the cookies:

2 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons fine granulated sugar
3 ounces (85g) almond flour
5.25 ounces (150g) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. In a large bowl, sift together the almond flour and powdered sugar through a strainer (you won’t want any big pieces of almond in the mixture.)
  2. In a small heavy saucepan, combine the 5 tablespoons granulated sugar with the 2 tablespoons water. Swirl — don’t stir — over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat just a bit until the sugar mixture comes to a boil. You will want to use a candy thermometer to make sure it comes to 240 degrees F (soft ball stage). At this point, you will need to take it off the heat and quickly start streaming it into the meringue, so it’s important to get the meringue started as the sugar syrup is boiling.
  3. Meanwhile, start beating the egg whites in a stand mixer with the wire whisk (level 6 on a KitchenAid). When you have reached soft peaks, add the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. When the sugar syrup is ready, very, very slowly and steadily trickle it into the meringue mixture as the mixer is running. As soon as all the sugar syrup is added, you will now add the almond flour mixture.
  4. Stir in a third of the meringue into the flour mixture with a spatula until it was well combined. Add the rest of the meringue and fold in until all the flour has been combined with the meringue.
  5. The macaronnage: Using a spatula or dough scraper, scoop the entire mixture from the bottom of the bowl and turn it upside down. Do this about 15 times, or until the batter “flows like lava,” or drips slowly from the spatula when lifted.
  6. Fill a piping bag with a 1-cm tip and pipe the cookies into 1-inch (or 2.5-cm) wide circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Rap the baking sheet against the counter a few times, set another baking sheet under it, and let the cookies rest while preheating the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
  8. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through the baking time.
  9. Transfer the parchment to a cooling rack while you make the filling.

For the filling:

7 tablespoons (100 g) butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
2/3 cup (150 ml) whole milk
3 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup (160 g) granulated sugar

  1. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the milk and coconut to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Slowly pour the steeped milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking the whole time so the eggs don’t curdle.
  3. Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Stir constantly with a spatula over medium heat until the mixture starts bubbling. Cook for another 1 minute until thickened, stirring the whole time.
  4. Transfer the custard to the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat with a wire whisk until the mixture cools to room temperature.
  5. Add the butter one piece at a time. Once the butter is all added, whisk at a medium/high level until it’s creamy and light.

Preparing the cookies:
Spoon a bit of the custard cream onto a macaron and sandwich with another. Store in an airtight container in the fridge overnight.

Kulinarya roundup: Suman

As one of the hosts of this month’s Kulinarya Cooking Club theme, I thought a roundup of all the great suman recipes would be helpful. I’ve learned that we all seem to have good-suman-wrapping-skills running through our veins, and that it brought back a bit of nostalgia for all of us. My sister took one bite of the suman I brought over and felt transported back to our holiday parties at my auntie’s house.

Isn’t it great how our favorite homemade foods can do that?

Dahlia at Energetic Chef made the most exotic looking suman: a black rice version. Beautiful.

Connie at Home Cooking Rocks ambitiously tackled THREE flavors of suman, including an inventive peach version.

Oggi at Oggi I Can Do That tried out suman sa morón, a version that includes chocolate. The candy bar of suman!

Kath at A Cupcake or Two made the all-time classic, suman sa lihiya, complete with homemade latik (sweet coconut) sauce.

Olive at Latest Recipes also made suman sa lihiya. I love the photo with the latik!

Trish at Sugarlace made suman na may latik, and made it her way: with plenty of sugar (I agree that this is the way to go!)

Lala at This Little Piggy tried her hand at the same suman I tried out: suman na inatala. And, as a bonus, she explains what it means when someone tells you that you look like a suman!

Caroline at When Adobo Met Feijoada tried something completely different: suman na kamoteng kahoy, or cassava suman. I’ve never had it but can’t wait to try.

Cherrie at Sweet Cherrie Pie also tried out cassava suman with a great idea: a layer of latik (toasted coconut within the suman itself. What a great idea!

Althea at Busog! Sarap! made suman by first cooking the sticky rice mixture in the rice cooker. I am definitely doing it her way next time.

And my suman recipe can be found here.

Thanks all! Can’t wait ’til next month’s challenge.

Suman inantala

Suman sa antala

Along with fellow pinay blogger Divina, I had the honor of choosing this months Kulinarya Cooking Club theme: suman. Suman is typically sweet sticky rice and coconut milk wrapped in banana or palm leaves. What’s interesting about this is that I’ve never actually made suman before, even though I grew up eating it because I had aunties who made it for special occasions.

Now I know why we only had it on special occasions: suman is a supreme pain in the ass to make. It sounds so easy: mix sticky rice with coconut milk and wrap it all up in leaves. I had no idea that I had a few hours ahead of me when I set out.

I decided to make the suman I grew up eating: I guess it’s called suman sa antala, which involves cooking the mixture of sticky rice and coconut milk, wrapping it in banana leaves, then steaming it. Other types of suman, including the popular suman sa ligia (suman made with lye water), involve placing the uncooked rice and coconut milk mixture in the leaves and then dropping the packets in boiling water to cook. I absolutely do not trust my banana-leaf-wrapping abilities, so I opted for the pre-cooked and steamed version so we wouldn’t end up with open banana leaves floating in a sticky rice boiling water mixture.

This is especially wussy of me because suman sa ibos is typically wrapped in palm leaf. Catholics out there know these leaves as the long skinny ones they hand out on Palm Sunday. Wrapping suman in this is truly an art — it should look like this photo and be totally watertight so you can drop it in boiling water without falling apart. That takes SKILLS.

For me, the most irritating step was the preparation of the banana leaves. I grew up eating suman that had a little square of banana leaf wrapped around it, then the whole thing was wrapped in foil. Now I realize why: the preparation of the banana leaves is what you might call time-consuming. You have to wipe down both sides of the giant banana leaves (believe me, you don’t want to skip this step — you’ll be amazed at the grossness that comes off those things) then run each one over an open flame to soften the leaf. Even though it took a while, there was something really therapeutic about this part — the singeing leaf kinda smelled like the Philippines. Weird but nice.

The suman wrapping actually went pretty fast after that. If you’ve ever rolled lumpia or tamales, you’ll have no problem with this. I don’t even know if I did it right, but hey, they looked like a bunch of green tamales, so close enough. I cut a small square of banana leaf (about 5 inches), then the larger square was about 10 inches by 10 inches. I used about 3 tablespoons of the rice mixture within the square. Can anyone educate me on the point of the little square inside the big square? Either way, it looked good when we unwrapped it.

I’m definitely making this again for special occasions. They look like pretty little tropical presents, and this would taste amazing sprinkled with sugar and eaten with Philippine mangoes.

Suman inantala
makes about 18 suman

3 cups sticky rice, soaked for 30 minutes then rinsed
3 15-ounce (500 g) cans of coconut milk (I like Aroy D)
3 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 thawed 1-pound packet of frozen banana leaf (500 g), or fresh if you have access to it

  1. Combine the rice, coconut milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until it’s really thick and the rice is nearly cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. (It’ll be pretty hard to stir at this point.) Let the mixture cool to just warm or room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the banana leaves. With a damp cloth, wipe the leaves down on both sides. Pass the leaves on both sides over a medium flame on the stove. The leaves will change color slightly and will be more pliable.
  3. Cut the leaves into 18 large squares (10-inch by 10-inch) and 18 small squares (5-inch by 5-inch). Also keep a large section of leaf available to tear into strips for tying the little suman packets shut. (You’ll need 2 ties for each packet.)
  4. Lay the small square in the center of the larger square. Both should have the matte side of the banana leaf face up (you want the shiny side on the outside of the suman). Measure 3 tablespoons of the rice mixture into the center and wrap the suman as shown in the photos.
  5. Steam the suman for 35 minutes. These freeze well, you can also store them in the fridge and heat them in the microwave before eating.
  6. Serve warm, sprinkled with sugar.

Preparing suman: banana leaf preparation
You’ll see the leaf soften has you hold it over the burner.

Preparing suman: banana leaf
Two squares of banana leaves

Preparing suman: rice

Preparing suman: wrapping the rice mixture

Preparing suman: banana leaf wrapped

Suman sa antala

Suman sa antala

Suman sa antala

Chicken relleno (rellenong manok)

Chicken relleno

This month’s Kulinarya Cooking Club theme is one of my favorite food history topics: Filipino-Spanish cuisine.

Seems like I have a theme going lately: Filipino-dishes-I-didn’t-grow-up-eating. (See my previous post on humba). I decided to go all out on this one and cook something that has always been intimidating: chicken relleno.

Relleno is a (mostly) deboned chicken, filled with a ground meat mixture and roasted. Because of the name, I had assumed it was of Spanish origin. However, its roots are French. The difference between a relleno and a galantina is that a galantina (indeed a Filipino adaptation of a classic French galantine) is a fully deboned chicken, simmered in stock and served cold, whereas a relleno is roasted and served warm. It typically still has the legs and wings attached so it looks a bit more bird-like rather than just a large cylinder. Although French in origin, the galantina/relleno started appearing on festive (wealthy) tables in the Philippines during Spanish colonial rule. For many families, it is a traditional Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) dish.

The most difficult part of this recipe is obviously deboning the chicken. Each time I do this it gets slightly easier for me. This time I escaped with only two cuts on my hands and most of the meat managed to stay on the carcass rather than bones (which is a good thing). Leaving the wings on and the leg bones below the thighs makes it easier, and gives the chicken form. Once you get past this step, the rest is a pinch.

Deboned chicken for chicken relleno
Deboned chicken

Stuffed chicken relleno before roasting
Stuffed and ready to go

Most recent recipes for relleno call for all sorts of canned eats: Vienna sausage, pimentos, hot dogs; basically, all the trappings of post-war Philippine affluence. I elected to base the filling off Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s recipe in Memories of Philippine Kitchens, which eschews all the canned stuff. Although they call for chorizo (as many relleno recipes do) I opted instead for some bacon (why not?). Typically, hard boiled eggs are set in the center of the filling, but I left this out only for logistical reasons: I couldn’t position them correctly so I left them out. (If I were to make this for a special occasion though, I would definitely put them in.). Raisins are typically added in the relleno filling, but if that sort of sweetness freaks you out, I would consider it optional. Personally, I like it, but used golden raisins just because they look nicer.

The filling was right on: it was the perfect balance of sweet and salty and tasted great with the roasted chicken skin. I didn’t feel like it needed any gravy, but a giblet gravy would probably be crazy good with this. And don’t worry; after a few tries, you’ll have the bones out of that chicken in no time.

Chicken relleno

Chicken relleno
serves 4-6 with sides

1 2-pound chicken (1 kg)
1/2 pound (250 g) ground pork
1/2 pound (250 g) ground beef
1/4 pound (125 g) diced smoked bacon
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, grated
1/4 pound (125 g) button mushrooms, quartered
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
6 green olives, minced
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Debone the chicken. The best way to start is to have the chicken breast-side up and start by separating the breast meat from the bone. Basically through the neck cavity, you will just continue working your way down and around the carcass, separating the leg joints from the main bone structure so you can eventually just pull the back and breast bones out through the neck cavity. After removing the main bone structure, separate the lower leg (drumstick) from the thigh bone and remove the thigh bone. The only bones remaining should be the wings and the drumsticks.
  2. Over medium-high heat, saute the bacon. When it is brown and crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon.
  3. Add the mushrooms to the bacon grease and saute until browned and the liquid has evaporated. Set aside with the bacon.
  4. Add a bit of oil to the same pan and add the carrots and red pepper. Saute until soft. Add the garlic, taking care not to burn. Set aside with the bacon-mushroom mixture. Set aside and allow it to cool.
  5. Once the sauteed mixture has cooled, set it in a large bowl. Add the onions, pork, beef, olives, raisins, salt, pepper, cornstarch and egg. Mix well with your hands.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  7. Rub the chicken all over – inside and out – with salt and pepper. Brush the outside with melted butter. Sew the chicken’s tail cavity with kitchen string. Carefully stuff the filling mixture into the chicken cavity, being careful not to overstuff. Sew the neck cavity shut.
  8. Set the chicken on a rack over a roasting pan. Roast for about 1-1/2 hours, turning and basting the chicken every 30 minutes or so, allowing it to brown evenly. Remove it from the oven once the thigh meat registers at 170 F (76 C) and the stuffing registers 165 F (74 C). Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Chicken relleno

Sugar-braised pork (humba)

Sugar-braised pork (Filipino humba)

A few months ago, my friend Maila asked me if I’d ever made humba, a type of Filipino stewed pork. I had heard of it, but had never eaten it, so naturally, to me it sounded like a blog post plan.

Humba is a Visayan festival dish that seems to be a southern answer to the adobo and kaldereta of the north. The influence is definitely more Chinese than Spanish; the use of tausi (salted fermented black beans) and the common inclusion of Chinese mushrooms is a central flavor combination for this dish. This stew is also notable for the use of palm sugar, a testament to the Filipino love of salty and sweet foods together. (See my recipe for pork barbecue if the idea of sugar and pork turns you on.) For this recipe, I’ve substituted light brown sugar, but if have access to palm sugar, it would be even nicer in this dish.

Dried chinese mushrooms
Dried mushrooms

The fact that I’ve never eaten it before came as no surprise: my mother is a proud Kapampangan cook, and I think I can safely say that Kapampangans – who consider themselves the best cooks in the Philippines – can be just a leeeetle dismissive of other regional dishes. (Just try talking to someone from Pampanga about Ilocano food, for example. Be ready for a rant.) The fact that Kapampangans were the first ones to give sisig to the world may justify this attitude… a little bit, anyway. (And by the way, I love Ilocano food too. Most of it anyway.)

I was robbed. Do you like pork? Do you like tangy and sweet together? Do you like stews with lots of delicious sauce? This is humba, straight up.

Recipes for humba often call for pork belly (liempo), but I find that the belly cut makes the sauce a little too fatty for my taste (yes, it’s possible), so I’ve used pork shoulder instead. In The Filipino-American Kitchen, Jennifer Aranas suggests serving humba with a soft version of maja blanca mais, which is almost like polenta with coconut milk. I served it — untraditionally, of course — with mashed potatoes. (And rice. There’s always rice on the table. Don’t tell me about double-carbing.)

Lastly, this dish rocked my world the day after I cooked it. If you have a chance, make it a day in advance and let all those beautiful flavors harmonize in the fridge overnight. Oh yes, it’s worth the wait.

Humba, sugar-braised pork
with lots of rice, serves 4-6 hungry people

2 lbs. (1 kg) boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
small knob of ginger, minced
3 bay leaves
5 or 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
3 tablespoons salted black beans
3 tablespoons palm vinegar
2-1/2 cups (600 ml) water
2/3 cup (70 g) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) salty soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Combine the sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl: water, salted black beans, palm vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Cut the pork into large chunks. I don’t like small cubes because if you braise it for long enough, you get these nice bits of shredded pork mixed in with the large pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a heavy Dutch oven over high heat. Add a splash of vegetable oil. Brown the pork on all sides. (Do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan.) Set the pork aside.
  4. In the same Dutch oven, lower the heat to medium and add the onions, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the garlic and ginger, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  5. Add the sauce ingredients, the mushrooms and the bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Add the pork (and any juices that have accumulated. Bring back to a simmer.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. (You can also stick the whole thing, covered, in a 250 F (120 C) oven for 2 hours). Simmer for 2 hours.
  7. Uncover and raise the heat to medium-high and allow the sauce to reduce by a quarter, or as much as half, so it’s a bit thicker. Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms, halve them, and add them back to the sauce.
  8. Serve with lots of rice, maja blanca mais, or my favorite, mashed potatoes.

Humba with garlic mashed potatoes

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