Baking a treat is an excellent way to say “I love you” or even just “you’re pretty special” on Valentine’s Day.
Macarons are gorgeous and showy, but require some technique. Brownies are humble but easy and can be customized. Take your pick.
By the way, Minneapolis Star Tribune staff writer Kim Ode, who tested the macaron recipe, says this is what you need to know:
▪ Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature, which means letting them sit out on the counter for a couple of hours.
▪ A key step is correctly folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Folding is the process of gently turning the mixture back over upon itself again and again, which gradually incorporates the almond meal without deflating the whites too much. The trick is to not become impatient and start stirring; that will deflate the whipped whites and lead to flat and flimsy macarons.
▪ A pastry bag and tip enables you to make perfect little circles of batter onto the parchment paper or silicon baking sheet. In a pinch, a plastic bag with a clipped-off corner does the job.
▪ Macarons actually improve when left to mellow for a day in the refrigerator, making them a perfect do-ahead dessert.
Makes 24 to 28 sandwich cookies
Note: This recipe is adapted by Kim Ode from several others, including Alice Medrich’s, and those on the blogs Joy of Baking and Sally’s Baking Addiction. Ode used Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, available in groceries and co-ops. A pastry bag and tip come in handy for shaping. Let the egg whites sit at room temperature at least 2 hours before you begin.
2 cups (8 ounces) powdered sugar
1 1/3 cups (4.5 ounces) finely ground blanched almond meal
3 to 4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 to 6 drops food coloring, if desired
1/2 to 3/4 cup filling, such as Nutella, jam, lemon curd, chocolate ganache or buttercream frosting
Cut 3 sheets of parchment paper to fit 2 baking sheets. With a marker and template (such as a large spool of thread) draw on 1 parchment a series of 24 to 28 circles measuring about 1 1/4-inch across, leaving an inch between each circle. Place this on baking sheet overlaid with a second piece of parchment. You should be able to see the circles through the paper.
Combine the powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Then pass the mixture through a sifter or medium-coarse sieve (mesh size of 1/16 inch) to lighten it. Discard any almond bits left behind. (There may be none.) Set aside.
In a clear measuring cup, add enough egg whites to reach halfway between the 1/3 and 1/2 cup marks; or use a scale to weigh 3 3/4 ounces of egg whites. Transfer these to a large bowl and add cream of tartar. With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks when beaters are lifted. Add the food coloring, if using. Resume beating, now at high speed while gradually adding the 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat until the mixture forms stiff, but not dry, peaks when the beaters are lifted. A peak of egg white should stand straight up, with no drooping.
Pour one-third of the almond mixture over the egg whites and, with a large rubber spatula, fold into the egg whites to lighten them. Then add the remaining dry ingredients and continue folding until fully incorporated. The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, but the batter should look moist and glossy and slowly slide from the spatula.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip, pipe disks of batter onto each circle. You also can drop heaping teaspoons of batter onto each circle, but the pastry bag gives you more control over a circular shape. Or place batter in a plastic bag and clip off one corner.
Rap the sheet several times on the counter to pop any lurking air bubbles and flatten any peaks. Slip template from the pan and repeat with remaining baking sheet, parchment and batter. (Save the template for future bakes.)
Let the macarons rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the surface of the disks is slightly dry; this crust is what will help form the characteristic ruffled “foot” at the base of each macaron as they bake.
Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat to 400 degrees.
When macarons are ready, slide 1 pan into the oven and immediately reduce heat to 300 degrees. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Macarons are done when they are barely starting to color. Remove pan from oven and set the pan to cool on a wire rack.
Return heat to 400 degrees. Bake second pan in the same way, remembering to reduce heat to 300 degrees.
When the cookies are cool, lift a corner of the parchment and carefully peel the liner away from each disk. Lifting the cookies from the parchment may cause them to break.
Spread 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of filling on the flat side of a cookie and top with a cookie of matching size.
You can eat them right away, but macarons improve when allowed to mellow in the refrigerator overnight in an airtight container. They remain good for about 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Brownies with raspberry jam swirl
These not-too-sweet brownies from an easy batter rely on cocoa powder and don’t require you to melt chocolate (meaning no double boiler or questions about cacao percentages). The raspberry jam can be replaced by another flavor of jam or by nut butter (such as fig jam, cherry preserves, orange marmalade, peanut butter or almond butter). You can, of course, just leave the brownies plain.
Make ahead: The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature (or in the refrigerator, which will make the texture fudgier).
From cookbook author Julia Turshen via the Washington Post.
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons strongly brewed coffee or espresso, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (may use Dutch-process)
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup raspberry jam (may substitute any flavor jam or peanut butter)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square pan with baking spray (flour and oil), and then line it with parchment paper (two overlapping rectangles work well) so that there’s enough paper left hanging over the edges. Spray the parchment in the pan as well.
Combine the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for about 2 minutes, until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla extract, coffee or espresso and salt. Add the cocoa powder and flour, stirring until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Dollop the jam evenly over the batter. Use a skewer or the tip of a paring knife to swirl the jam into the batter a little bit. The goal is for the brownies to have bites of jam, not to have raspberry jam-flavored brownies (meaning don’t stir it in completely, just swirl it).
Bake for about 30 minutes or until set throughout (test by jiggling the pan) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few wet crumbs and not raw batter (try to avoid inserting the tester into a raspberry swirl). Let the brownies cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes; then lift the brownies out of the pan and let them cool completely, if you can bear it, and cut into 16 even squares.
Serve at room temperature.
Per serving: 140 calories, 2 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar