I really do love get togethers, dinners for four or soirees for ten. If there is a story to be told or a moment to be shared, I am there to hear it. In a large family like mine, that is a pretty regular occurence. In his, not so much. I am sure his parents would think we're all crazy and way too loud in mine. When Christmas season rolls around and as we get all busy with family, I start missing mine terribly. Even the crazies.
In those instances, I turn to the familiar sound of a friend's voice or the well-known steps of a favorite recipe and most often we end up with a fresh batch of cookies. Since Thanksgiving, we've been all over these Candy Cane Macarons and Eggnog Macarons as we get into the holiday spirit.
Last October, Brooke asked me to be part of Trick Or Treat and while I brought Toffee Crabapples to the party, I also left with tons of ideas for next year's Halloween. Last month she asked if anyone would be interested in following the Trick or Treat success with a Christmas Cookie Exchange and I said "sure...", figuring it would be the perfect way to discover new and great recipes to add to my Christmas boxes.
See, we have stopped buying gifts for family and friends about eight year ago and instead, comes Christmas day, we give each family a large hat box filled with nothing but homemade goodies. It's pretty much all the things I have baked, cooked or prepared along the year and that made it to my Top 20. Yeah, I like to think I am hip. I have a Top 20. It can be anything from flavored syrups and sugars, to spice rubs, cookies, cakes, candies, etc...
I just have one problem this Christmas. I go stuck at Top 9 as life and work got stuck on overdrive. You too, I presume. It's the season. I think I am at the point where I need someone to put a plate of cookies in front of me and say "Here are potential Top 10-11 and 12. Now go put it in that big box for your friend". You know what? I'm not Santa but I know exactly where to find that! A virtual cookie exchange leaving you with brand new favorites to bake.
Yes! Today, I've teamed up with twelve other incredible food bloggers to bring you a holiday cookie celebration so big, it's being monitored by the North Pole. The Baker's Dozen Ultimate Cookie Exchange. From the sneak peaks I have seen so far... you won't want to miss "doing the rounds". I am getting hungry just thinking about it. To see all of the participating bloggers, head to the Baker's Dozen home site, here.
In the meantime, let's talk Candy Cane and Eggnog Macarons...
Candy Cane and Eggnogg Macarons:
Trust me on this: do not crust candy canes and sprinkle them on your shells prior to baking as a decorative element, as you would sprinkle sesame seed, for example. Trust me. Unless you want a reaction similar to acid perforating your skin. Cratters being created under your very eyes as you peek through the oven glass door. Do you trust me now? Hope so...because it ain't pretty but sure gives you food for discussion if you need some.
Instead...crush some candy cane and roll the macarons in it once they're filled, or add crushed candy canes to the buttercream. Much better.
For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (use eggs whites that have been preferably left 3-5 days in the fridge)
25 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds (slivered, blanched, sliced, whatever you like)
Prepare the macarons:
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry. Place the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 280F. When ready, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.
For the buttercream:
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (180gr)(6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
crushed candy canes
Put the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like marshmallow cream. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Divided the buttercream in two portions.
Leave one portion plain and add the cinnamon and nutmeg to the other one. Fill half the shells with the eggnog flavored one (cinnamon-nutmeg) and half with the plain buttercream. Roll the plain filled shells in to the crushed candy canes. Eat!