French Macarons, part I of ???

I had no idea. Really, I didn’t.

What began as a (self-deemed) creative attempt at gift giving has turned into a burgeoning obsession. The French macaron. How I hate thee. And love thee. And hate thee. To make matters worse, the little buggers have begun to show up everywhere. Haunting me. Whereas months ago I’d never even seen one outside of the recipe books, they’re now stalking me from magazine covers, bake shops and Starbucks. That’s right, Starbucks is selling them. Sheesh.

And they aren’t cheap. There is a store in Beverly Hills that only sells French macarons. The price: $1.60 a piece. This has me knocking my head against the wall and (not for the first time) asking myself…why…why did I not think of this 12 months earlier? I’d have the market cornered and  would certainly be well on my way to appearing in the Forbes top gagillionaires under 40 list.

But, I didn’t. And so I probably won’t.

Here is how my relationship with the French macaron began. Over the summer I read David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris Now, I don’t know where Mr. Lebovitz has been all my life, but man, I’m glad he’s in it now. If you don’t already know (and you probably do), he was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse and now lives in Paris and writes cool cookbooks and a really funny blog The Sweet Life is sort of a living memoir with recipes. And, as soon as I read it, I knew I had to give it as a holiday gift. What better to pair the book with than with a bag of the quintessential French treat (and there is a recipe for them in the book), that’s right, le macaroon Françoise (made by me of course).


Are you getting the feeling that my seminal adventures with this sandwich cookie may not have been entirely successful?

Turns out, there is a reason that little shop sells them for nearly two dollars each. Much like the Parisians themselves (yes, I am about to stereotype), they are fussy, finicky and rather unpredictable. But, I’ll admit, also like the city of lights and its culture, the entity (when it does turn out) is worth the hassle.

So, this is my first of who knows how many posts on French macarons. I am determined to get them right. And, I am determined to try each and every flavor (except for the ones I don’t think I’ll like because, really, what would be the point?). Right now, my success rate is about 50%–but I promise to share my successes and failures along the way.

To start, this recipe calls for not only a food processor but also a standing mixer (or some really strong biceps that can create stiff peaks with a whisk). The recipe also necessitates a pastry bags and tips. This is indeed a gadgety recipe.

Next, you make your own flour. Yep, flour from blanched almonds. Using food gadget #1, the food processor (mine’s named Bertha), grind the almonds into a powder. You want the mixture to be super duper fine. I got it as fine as I could. I’ve recently read that you should sift the flour a couple of times after grinding. I’ll try that next time and report back.

To continue with a theme, you then grind together the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar and cocoa.

So as not to make the standing mixer jealous (yes, this too has a name: Marta), egg whites are whipped into lovely silky peaks. A couple of my batter attempts turned out very dry (more on this later). In retrospect, I think I must have over-whipped the egg whites and sugar.

Once you’ve got peaks, very carefully fold in the dry mixture. I’ve read that the resulting batter should act like lava. Indeed, I believe this is an apt description. The batter is definitely liquidy but also has a certain viscosity.

Once you’ve corralled the batter into a pastry bag, pipe disks onto parchment-lined baking sheets. And, into the oven they go. But wait, there seems to be some speculation on whether to let the raw batter harden some before going in to the oven. I think this may make a difference if you live in a humid environment. In dry Southern California the disks were already beginning to harden as I finished each sheet.

Remember my mention of  over-whipping the eggs whites.? Look at the picture below, specifically the, uhm, piles ones on the right. What do they look like? Uhhuh. On the over-whipped batch they piped out in coils and baked in the same form. My husband was incredibly amused and I apologize to anyone who may have been the recipient of a “liberated” french macaron.

Done right, the cookies have “feet” and do not crack or split across the top. Lets talk about the feet first. Take a look at the picture below. See the little base at the bottom? Those are feet. If your cookies crack, they won’t grow feet. And apparently that is a major macaron faux pas.

Through trial and error I discovered that I could only use the top rack in my oven. Lower racks caused the cookies to crack.

After they are nice and cool, you marry up the halves. Fill them (this time around I used a chocolate ganache–though not the one David Lebovitz has with his recipe).

Et voila, you are one step closer to speaking French.

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz

  • 1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350º F .
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.
Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

Match up pairs and fill with ganache.

Chocolate ganache (recipe by Martha Stewart)

note: I used this recipe not because I don’t like Mr. Lebovitz’s but because I had made this ganache recipe a couple of days before for sundaes and just tripled the batch at the time…you know, kill a couple of birds with diabetes at once.

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small heavy sauce pan, bring cream to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate, swirling the pan so the chocolate is completely covered. Wait a couple of minutes and carefully mix the chocolate and cream together with a spatula. Mix in corn syrup and salt. Transfer to a clean bowl and refrigerate until the consistency of fudge (this makes filling the cookies easier).

The brownie stands alone

I have learned that there are two types of people in the world: ones who like cakey brownies and ones who like fudgy brownies. Note: I have not provided an option for people who do not like brownies. This is because those people do not exist. While I do have a great cakey brownie recipe that I’ll share this summer (it calls for fresh zucchini and so in my head is a summer recipe), it’s my fudgy brownie recipe that is a true ace in the hole.


If ever confronted by the devil Charlie Daniels style, I’d wager this recipe for my soul. And. I’d win that shiny brownie pan made out of gold.

Over the years, I’ve searched far and wide for a good brownie recipe and I couldn’t tell you how many recipes I’ve tested and had to toss for one reason or another. This recipe though, it’s fail-proof. Calling for nothing more technologically advanced than a wire whisk and a rubber spatula, I found the original recipe on Chowhound and have since adapted it to fit my own brownie needs.

Because of its simplicity, the key to this recipe are the ingredients and how you combine them. Use. The. Best. You. Can. Find. The best chocolate, the best butter and the best eggs. And, make sure these fantastic ingredients are all at room temperature before you combine them.

While you can use chocolate chips for this recipe, my advice is to chocolate-up and use the good stuff.

Give it a good chop so that it will melt uniformly.

I’m serious here, once you have smooth glossy molten chocolate and butter, turn off the burner and set it aside to cool to room tempurature.

Here is the deal on the espresso/coffee: it’s just there to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, you won’t actually be able to taste it in the brownie. While the original recipe calls for cooled espresso, I don’t happen to have an espresso machine. In the past, I’ve just used instant coffee. Now that we have a cool Keurig machine, I just make a single cup of dark roast. Again, let it cool to room temp before using.

I’ve also done a stout beer reduction and replaced the coffee with it. That’s always fun too.

While the chocolate cools, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Then, beat in the room temp eggs, vanilla and coffee.

Now can you add the chocolate? You bet!

Once combined, FOLD in the flour. Gently, very gently.

These are like the Men’s Warehouse of brownies: I guarantee them!



  • 2C superfine sugar
  • 2 TBS unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 ½ t kosher salt
  • 1 C butter
  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 TBS coffee, espresso
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 2 C flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line with parchment and grease a 9X13” baking pan

Over low heat, melt together butter and chopped chocolate. Once melted, set aside until cool.

In large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Beat in eggs one by one. Mix in vanilla and coffee. Whisk in cooled, melted chocolate and butter mixture. Fold in flour until just combined. Pour batter into prepared baking pan, cook 35-50 minutes until cake tester or toothpick comes out with dry crumbs.

Note: This makes a thick brownie. Often if I am going to use the brownies for hot fudge brownie sundaes or if I need a lot of them, I’ll one-and-a-half the recipe and use a 10X15” jelly roll pan. The brownie will be thinner but in my experience, more uniformly fudgy. Just be sure to adjust the baking time down (start checking at 30 minutes).

Of course, you can add just about anything to theses: nuts, more chocolate, fruit, candy. While less is often more and these brownies stand sturdy on their own, sometimes more is more too.

Whoopie [sic] for Devil Dogs

I lost a bet.  It had to do with a football game between the college I went to and the college where I work.  And, unlike a certain coach who not only allowed—but celebrated a very un-sportsman-like play in the last 44 seconds of said game, I am always a good sport.

Of course, the wager was for baked goods.  With the veritable deluge of work-related holiday parties, potlucks and general food-related merriment, it was decided that I would not pay up until the actual week of Christmas.  My original plan was to bring in red velvet cupcakes.  However, I’d already made several batches for other events by the time it came to pay up and though I never I’d say this, I was red-velvetted out.

In looking through my very ratty book of recipes for something “new,” I came across a childhood favorite that just felt like the perfect pay-off for my ill-fated bet.

The Devil Dog.  At least that’s what they are called where I come from.

Until this blog post, I had no idea where the name “devil dog” came from.  Though, I’ve always had a romantic notion that they were named after a fierce yet amiable squad of WWII bombers who ate them for good luck before each mission.

A quick Google search revealed a significantly less interesting explanation.  There is a snack cake company in New Jersey called Drakes Cakes; maker of the original yodel and ring ding.  According to its website Drakes Cakes has been giving Little Debbie, Hostess and even Tastykake a run for their money for over 100 years.  Drake happens to make a treat called a devil dog (which coincidentally also looks a lot like a Suzy Q).

So, I’m guessing that the recipe I have must have originally been a homemade version of the Drakes Cake devil dog.  However, somewhere along the way something must have gotten lost in translation because while the original devil dog was meant to look like a hot dog, the ones we grew up with look a lot more like hamburgers.

This recipe is very similar to an array of whoopee pie and giant oreo recipes I’ve seen floating around.  The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what they are called because what they are is pretty darned delicious.

Yes, this recipe calls for marshmallow fluff.  It’s creepy and yet invitingly soothing at the same time.

The cake will rise to look like little burger buns.

Once the cakes are cool and the filling is made, match up the halves and give half of the halves a hearty dollop of filling.  Watch out–this stuff is sticky.  Super sticky.  I despise sticky stuff and so used my trusty scooper to minimize having to touch the bionic super fluff.

Top each half with its mate and you have a devil dog. Or a whoopie pie.  Or a giant oreo.

Devil Dogs

This recipe is adapted from my original since the original calls for…gasp…boxed cake mix.  The recipe below is a mash-up between my original and a July 2009 Gourmet Magazine recipe for whoopie pies.  Also, the original recipe calls for each half to be made from ¼ C of batter.  This yields a ginormous “dog” that really is too big to eat as a snack.  I prefer to use my handy one-ounce scooper.  Even then, this resultant has about as much cake and “frosting” as a regular-sized cup cake.

Makes 20 if using 1 ounce scooper, 10 if using ¼ C

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

For the Dog (cakes)

  • ½ C unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1 C packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temp.
  • 2 C sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ C cocoa powder (man-up and use the good stuff)
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 C room temp. dairy (you can use buttermilk, whole milk…or even egg nog as I used for the bet)
  • 1 t vanilla

For the Devil (filling)

  • ½ C unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1 ¼ C confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 14oz container marshmallow fluff
  • 1 t vanilla

Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar with standing or electric mixer until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).  Beat-in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients and buttermilk in alternating batches (start and end with dry ingredients).  Mix until smooth, scraping down sides along the way.

Using 1-ounce scooper or ¼ C., scoop level amounts of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, 1-2 inches apart.  Bake until tops are puffed and spring back when touched (10-15 minutes).

For filling, beat together butter, sugar, marshmallow fluff and vanilla in standing mixer or with hand-held mixer until smooth.

Note, the filling is very, very sticky you may want to refrigerate the filling for half an hour before putting the dogs together.  If you are working in a warm kitchen, you may also want to stick the completed batch in the fridge to firm up.