After my last debacle with almond flour and citrus, you would think I’d be reluctant to go down that road again, but I guess I’m just a natural born gambler. Well, a gambler in the culinary sense, at least. I have never understood the appeal of real gambling. If I’m going to throw money away, I’d at least like to have a pair of shoes to show for it.When I saw this recipe for Flourless Almond Cookies with Cardamom, Orange Zest and Pistachios, I thought it would be a perfect addition to our Passover dessert table. I changed it up and used lime instead of orange and deleted the cardamom. It’s one of those flavours I want to like, but haven’t yet acquired a taste for. I used to hate cilantro and now I love it, so there’s still hope for cardamom.These are a slice and bake cookie. They’re fast to make. You do need to allow time for chilling the logs before slicing, so plan ahead. The logs get rolled in finely chopped pistachios. When slicing, make sure you rotate the log 90° (a quarter turn) after each slice to keep from getting one flat side.I decided to glam up these cookies by adding a sweet-tart glaze. I finished them off with a sprinkling of lime zest and more chopped pistachios.These cookies are the perfect little bite to end the Passover seder with. Chewy in the center, crispy on the edges and an ideal sweet-tart balance. I also made a batch with lemon and they were fantastic.
I read in the Globe and Mail Food section this week that God gave us cardboard so that we could describe the taste of matzoh. Not this matzoh treat!!
I made this for my sister Bonnie. I slightly adapted the recipe from the April 2015 issue of Bon Appetit. This matzoh crunch is kicked up with a pinch of hot pepper. I wanted to make it with Aleppo pepper because she puts that sh#t on everything! Sadly, if you have been following the news, you will know that Aleppo pepper is almost impossible to get now. The civil war in Syria has virtually destroyed the Aleppo pepper production. (Although the scarcity of Aleppo pepper is the least of their problems.) The citizens of Syria are in my thoughts and prayers.
Aleppo is a dried crushed red pepper. It is slightly fruity, with a whiff of smoke and only moderately spicy. I actually found a forgotten tin of it at the back of my cupboard. Not sure how long it’s been there but it has lost most of it’s potency.
I decided to make a few batches of this treat using a variety of peppers and compare the results.
Maras pepper (sometimes spelled Marash), from Turkey, is a good substitute for Aleppo. It is slightly smokier and hotter. I made a third batch with supermarket red pepper flakes and one final batch with chipotle powder, because that’s my jam!Brown sugar, butter and your chill pepper of choice get whisked together over moderate heat until hot and bubbly. Pour over matzoh and spread into an even layer. Bake toffee covered matzoh for about 10 minutes. Top hot matzoh with bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate chips and let sit until they melt. Spread chocolate until smooth.Top with toasted chopped pistachios, dried cherries, toasted coconut flakes, coarse salt and cocoa nibs.Chill and cut into squares.Or cut into wedges. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious.The batches I made with the Aleppo and Maras were not very spicy. The heat was barely noticeable even though I doubled the amount of pepper recomended in the Bon Appetit recipe (I used 1 teaspoon instead of 1/2 teaspoon). The red pepper flakes batch had obvious but not burning heat. It was my favourite. The chipotle was too smoky for my liking. This matzoh crunch is a flavour bomb in your mouth. Sweet (chocolate), salty (coarse salt and pistachios), sour (cherries), bitter (cocoa nibs), spicy and crunchy.
Click here to print recipe for Kicked Up Matzoh Crunch.
Spoiler alert! These were an epic fail. My husband encouraged me to blog about them, even though I would never serve them or make them again. He said that publicly acknowledging my failure would make me more likeable and relatable to my readers. My daughter urged me not to blog about them because no one wants to read about bungled pastry.
In the end, I decided to share with you , if only to see if anyone can solve the mystery of what happened to these bars. More about that in a minute.
If you had come into my house at the beginning of this week, you would have inhaled deeply and said, “It smells heavenly in here.” The air was intoxicatingly scented with coconut, butter, brown sugar and chocolate and almonds. Every year, I am in charge of baking desserts for our family seders. (40 plus on my husband’s side the first night, and 35 plus on my side the second night)
And yes, I would have agreed with you that it was smelling quite delicious in my kitchen on that first day of baking. However, by day 3 of my bake-a-thon, the ambrosial scent suddenly turned cloying and I could no longer stomach the stench of coconut, sugar and chocolate. I needed a break and thought that some citrus would help clear the air.
I was inspired by these pistachio-lemon bars from Molly O’Neill over at NYT Cooking. Since flour is not used during Passover, I replaced the all-purpose flour in the recipe with ground almonds. A very strange thing happened when I baked them. The crust rose to the top and the lemon filling sunk to the bottom, and stuck horribly to the parchment paper lining.
I scraped them out of the pan and tried again, with this recipe from Joy of Kosher. I used pistachios instead of walnuts in the crust and ground almonds instead of matzoh meal in the filling. Same thing happened when I baked them. The crust magically rose to the top and the filling sunk and stuck.
I am nothing if not persistent, so I tried once more, figuring maybe third time’s the charm. I used Anna Olsen’s lemon squares recipe filling and doubled the amount of the first crust I tried, figuring, if it was heavier, it would stay put. I had run out of lemons, so I used limes this time.The filling sunk to the bottom again, but this time it did not stick too terribly to the parchment so I was able to get them out of the pan, flip them over and slice them into squares. While they had a nice lemon tang, the crust became soggy after a few minutes. Within an hour they were a stodgy gluey mess.If anyone reading this knows the reason for the sinking filling, I’d love an explanation. Hope your baking is going better than mine!!
Seems that blondes really are taking over the world. First we had the introduction of Blonde Ale, then Starbucks released its Blonde Roast, and now Valrhona has introduced the world’s first blonde chocolate. Say what?? Blonde chocolate?? You thought there were just dark, milk and white?
Before we delve into the world of Blonde chocolate, I offer you a quick Chocolate 101 Primer:
The process of making chocolate starts with the cocoa bean. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted and then shelled. These shelled beans, known as cocoa nibs, are ground and the resulting product is a thick liquid known as chocolate liquor. (It’s not actually alcohol.) Then, this chocolate liquor is pressed and from this pressing we get two products:
1. Cocoa butter, which is actually the fat from the chocolate liquor
2. Chocolate solids, which when ground results in cocoa powder.
Unsweetened chocolate is basically cocoa butter reblended with cocoa powder. Sugar is added to make semi-sweet and bittersweet dark chocolate, and milk is added to produce milk chocolate. White chocolate contains none of the chocolate liquor. It contains cocoa butter, milk, sugar and sometimes vanilla.
Yes, you chocolate purists out there, I know that technically white chocolate is not really considered chocolate since it does not contain any pulp from the cocoa solids extracted from the cocoa bean.
To be labeled white chocolate, there must be a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, 15% milk powder and a maximum of 55% sugar. Note that real white chocolate is not pure white in colour, it is actually an ivory colour. If you see snow white chocolate, it is likely that it contains vegetable oil, rather than cocoa butter and trust me, the taste difference is significant!
OK, now onto the discovery that rocked my world, Blonde Chocolate! (Just a little aside here, when I announced this startling discovery to my husband and two sons they all started snoring! Ungrateful sods, no blonde chocolate treats for them!)
As with several other culinary innovations, this one was also an act of pure serendipity! About 8 years ago, Frédéric Bau, Executive Chef and director of Valrhona’s Ecole du Chocolat, was doing a demonstration for pastry chefs from around the globe. He had some white chocolate melting in a bain-marie. He used a small amount of that white chocolate for his demonstration and the remainder was left sitting there, continuing to slowly heat, completely forgotten about.
Around 10 hours later, he returned to discover that the white chocolate had caramelized into a stunning buckwheat honey blonde colour. It had the aroma of toasted shortbread, and when he stuck his finger in there for a taste, he was shocked to discover an intense biscuity, caramel flavour. It was smooth, buttery and there was a hint of salt on the finish. Frédéric was convinced that he was clearly onto something big here. It took almost 8 years to be able to reproduce this happy accident on a large scale and sell it commercially.
But in October of 2012 Dulcey 32%, the world’s first blonde chocolate was born. Clearly I must have been living under a rock, as I had no idea about this launch. I only became aware of it last week when I got an email from The Vanilla Food Company, featuring some new products to their lineup. My mind was spinning with the possibilities and I immediately ordered a 2 kilogram bag.
Since Passover is coming up soon (March 25), I decided to make some macarons and fill them with a Blonde Chocolate ganache. I think Frédéric would approve. These are classic French macarons, with only one “o”, not to be confused with American macaroons, (with two “oo”‘s), which are made with coconut.
Macaons are the perfect Passover dessert, since they contain no flour. There is a plethora of information and recipes out there in the Blogosphere. I have tried numerous recipes and techniques. Last year I discovered Stella Parks’ (aka Bravetart) macaron primer. I had always thought that macarons were the prima donnas of the pastry world, very temperamental and required a delicate touch. Not so says Stella. If you are a macaron geek like me, then these posts by Stella are required reading:
To make your life easy, print out this template for piping your macarons. Depending on the size of your baking sheets, you could print two and tape them together. Place template on baking sheet, cover with parchment and set aside.
A kitchen scale and stand mixer are recommended for success with macarons. Classic macarons begin with almond flour, sometimes called almond meal. You can buy ground almonds at most grocery store or bulk food stores. The ground almonds are combined with powdered sugar and then pressed through a sieve.
The meringue is whipped enough when there is a big clump of meringue in the center of your whisk, like this:
Next the ground almond/powdered sugar mixture is dumped on top of the meringue and a rubber spatula is used to combine everything. A combination of a folding stroke and a pressing motion, against the sides of the bowl to help deflate the meringue, are used. Remember, we are making macarons here, not meringues. You want to knock the air out of the egg whites.
The batter, also known as the macaronage, is sufficiently mixed and perfect for piping when you spoon some batter on top of the bowl and it mounds up on itself, but after about 20 seconds, it melts back down on itself. Your macaronage is under-mixed and too stiff if you spoon some out and drop it back into the mix and it just sits there, never incorporating. Your macaronage is over-mixed if it has the consistency of pancake batter. Do not let it get to this stage!
Filling the piping bag is easy if you place it inside a tall glass or pitcher, and cuff the top down. Only fill the bag half full. Otherwise, it will ooze out from the top and you will have a sticky mess, and probably curse me!
Pipe just inside the circles, as the mixture will spread.
Remember to remove template before baking. Top half the macarons with a few Skor bits. These will be the top half of your macaron sandwich cookies.
While macarons are baking and cooling, prepare ganache filling. Bring cream and butter to a boil. Pour over chopped blonde chocolate. (You could also use white, milk or dark chocolate) Let sit for 3 minutes then whisk until smooth.
Let cool to room temperature, until quite thick and then pipe onto half the macarons. Top with Skor lids.
Macarons will keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to a month. Let come to room temperature before serving.
Click here to print recipe for Almond Macarons with Blonde Chocolate Ganache Filling.
Everyday at 5 pm, in the week leading up to Passover this year, the doorbell would ring. When I opened the door, there would be a flat square box of matzoh left on the front porch. By the end of the week, I had a stack of about 6 boxes. Various Jewish organizations around our city were dropping them off at our house with wishes for a happy and healthy Passover.
These were not like the ordinary boxes of matzoh I bought at the supermarket. Regular matzoh are about 8 inches square and come 10 to a box. They are machine-made. Shmura matzoh are round in shape, about 12 inches in diameter. They are hand-made. We traditionally ate this matzoh on the first night of Passover, at the Seder. That was about all I knew about Shmura matzoh.
As I stared at this stack of matzoh boxes, I wondered what we were going to do with all of them. After all, I still had 8 boxes of the regular stuff in the storage room. Suddenly, divine inspiration struck. I didn’t want to let this special matzoh go to waste. I was going to give it the royal treatment. First, I would coat it in a warm butter and brown sugar caramel and then I would slather it in milk chocolate and finally, top the whole thing off with toasted chopped almonds. Who wouldn’t feel special and loved with this treatment. I think there may actually be a spa treatment similar to this somewhere in the world. If not, there definitely should be!
Last year I made Marble Matzoh Crunch with Bittersweet and White Chocolate. This is my adaptation of Montreal baker Marcy Goldman’s creation. Everyone I feed it to rolls their eyes in ecstasy. When I made it with the square matzoh, I broke it into small rectangular pieces. How beautiful it would be, I thought, to wrap up an entire 12 inch circle of this coated beauty!
I had 6 of these all wrapped and chilling in the fridge, ready to go to Toronto for our family Seders. My husband was packing up the car for our drive and he asked me where all the boxes of Shmura Matzoh were. I proudly showed him what I had created. He was horrified! Apparently my creations were sacrilegious. I managed to calm him down by telling him that several boxes survived unscathed and we could take those boxes to his sister’s house. I fed him small bites of the chocolate almond shmura matzoh crunch during out 4 hour drive and he had forgiven me by the time we arrived.
When we returned home I did some research and discovered that Shmura means “watched” in Hebrew, as in, to watch over something carefully. This matzoh is called shmura because it is made under strict rabbinical supervision, meaning that the rabbi is keeping an eye on the process, which must be completed according to a strict set of Jewish religious rules, and in 18 minutes.
thecitycook.com provided this explanation: “The Seder is the centerpiece of Passover. For some who observe and celebrate this holiday, it is particularly meaningful to replace factory-made matzoh, the unleavened bread so essential for the Seder meal, with shmura — or shmurah — matzoh. Shmura means watched from the harvest, which signifies that every step of the process of making this matzoh, from harvesting the grain to the final baking, has been supervised by a rabbi. It also means that when the bread is being made in its small batches, the flour and water are kept in separated cubicles as extra insurance that there is no premature contact between them until the last possible moment, thus preventing any leavening.”
I also discovered that a box of 3 Shmura matzoh, will set you back about $15.00 -$20.00. Shmura matzoh is expensive, because producing it is very labor intensive. Every piece is made by hand, not machine. The production of shmura matzoh is a labour of religious love. Think of it as Artisnal Matzoh.
Whether you decide to give regular or Shmura matzoh the royal treatment, you will not regret it!