May 05 2011
Happy Birthday to me!
I’ve never really been one to call attention to myself – quite the opposite, actually – so for me to even wish myself a happy birthday via the Internet is a little odd. But you know what? Life is short and worth celebrating, and you better believe that includes birthdays.
This year is an exceptionally special birthday for me, because of how different things are from this time last year. This week last year I received some not-so-great news about my health. At that point, it wasn’t a surprise, but rather, a confirmation of my worst fear. But when you’re reminded of your own mortality, whether it’s illness, an accident, or even a close call, something special happens: you start living again in a way that you’ve never lived before. You appreciate every little thing, whether it’s the joy you feel when the little four-year-old neighbor girl stops you for an in-depth chat about her lollipop, the laughter that escapes while you watch your pet being silly, the wonder of simple chemistry in the kitchen, or the pride taken when a kitchen experiment turns out exactly as you hoped it would.
Something else happens, too. My hairdresser and I have discussed this occurrence on more than one occasion, she having recently gone through a major life event, as well. You realize the important of doing what is best for you. In my case, it’s trying to find the balance between cooking the food that my body needs to be strong, as well as cooking/baking the food my soul craves.
It also involves removing sources of stress in my life – as much as possible, anyway.
I used to work for someone who was perpetually happy. I mean, nothing got this woman down – at least, not more than temporarily. She didn’t fret over that which she couldn’t control. She did what she could to make things better, and snapped right back to being her happy self. I loved spending time with her because I was always in a good mood after; negativity would simply bounce off me. In that way, she brought out the best in me. Others tend to bring out the worst in me, and sometimes, the best thing is to get some distance, some perspective. Ironically, though probably not shockingly, those are the times I end up baking something, usually bread that I can beat up.
These delicate macarons, were the result of a good mood.
I made them many weeks ago and was waiting for the right time to post them. Since I’m not making my birthday cake until this weekend there couldn’t be a cake post today, so these seemed like a good alternative.
For the record, these macarons weren’t perfect. I slightly overwhipped the egg whites, all from one “pulse” of the mixer (turning it on, then off immediately). Did they still look pretty? Well, yes, I believe so. Did they still taste good? Sure – orange buttercream sandwiched in between the cookies sure didn’t hurt! I shared them with family and friends, and rather than curse my stand mixer, I went out and purchased an inexpensive hand mixer (which I’d been wanting, anyway). I still haven’t used it, but I have some egg whites in the fridge that are aging, so it’s only a matter of time.
90 grams room temperature egg whites, aged 5-7 days in the fridge
30 grams granulated sugar
1/16 teaspoon cream of tartar
210 grams confectioners’ sugar
110 grams almond flour
Red & Yellow Paste Food Coloring
Sift confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites to a foam and start gradually adding granulated sugar and cream of tartar, until glossy. Add food coloring and mix until just combined. Be careful not to overwhip. (I try to stop just before I think it’s “ready,” or I invariably slightly overwhip.)
Add almond mixture to the meringue; fold with a spatula until the batter falls back on itself in a ribbon. Be careful not to overfold (to be safe, pipe a small disk onto a plate; if a small peak remains, give the meringue another fold and test again; if the top slowly flattens on its own, you’re good to go – it’s always best to do this test just before you think the batter is ready).
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Fit a pastry bag with a round tip (Adecco #807 or 809) and fill with the batter. Pipe 1 inch rounds onto baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350*F. Reduce temperature to 300* and bake for 8 minutes, then rotate pan and bake for another 6 minutes. Cool completely. Pipe frosting on the flat side of one macaron and top with a similar-sized macaron.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon orange zest
Mix butter and shortening on low until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time, until blended. Add orange zest, mix to combine. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes