alternatives to a plate of cookies

chocolate covered oreos stack

I noticed several of us have something in common, we really like chocolate. So I thought we’d talk a little chocolate. Are you on board? Today we’ll talk melting, tomorrow we’ll talk buying.

I know that when I first started working with chocolate I was totally bewildered. But after doing enough research, I realized that melting chocolate and dipping fun things in it is pretty simple, it just takes practice. So for those of you with chocolate experience (or a good chocolate recipe), I’d love for you to chime in, and hopefully we can convince anyone who’s hesitant that playing with chocolate is worth a try.

chocolate

SIX THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CHOCOLATE BEFORE MELTING
Let’s get acquainted with chocolate, shall we?
1. You can not over stir. Melted chocolate loves to be stirred.
2. Keep water and alcohol away. One drop will ruin a whole batch of chocolate, making it seize up and turn into a stiff grainy mess.
3. Chocolate does not like heat, just warmth. If you can keep your chocolate below 90 F while you melt it (88 F for milk or white chocolate), it will stay pretty and in temper. If you get it above 120 F (110 F for milk or white chocolate), you risk doing bad things to the chocolate.
4. Chocolate chips are not designed to melt, in fact, they’re designed to not melt (so they can hold their shape in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe). If you want to melt chocolate, buy a baking chocolate bar or another bar. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.
5. Move slowly. Chocolate is the boyfriend you do not want to scare away. Stir slowly, heat slowly, be patient and it will all turn out for the best in the end. A bigger batch of chocolate will heat and cool more slowly and evenly, so it is easier to work with than a small batch.
6. If you really want to start out easy on yourself, buy cocoa-flavored candy wafers (aka confectionery coating). They’re not real chocolate, and you can tell, they taste a bit waxy, but they are super easy to practice with, And do not need to be tempered because they’re made with vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter. More on that in my post on buying chocolate.

milk chocolate dipped oreosOne of these things just does not belong here.
Chocolate chips are not meant for melting. The chocolate goes on thick and muddy and takes much longer to cool. Can you spot which poor, sad Oreo was dipped in chocolate chips?

seized chocolate
It’s such a tragedy when chocolate meets moisture and seizes (chocolate seized on the left). If this happens to your chocolate, use it to bake yourself some brownies or scoop it into hot milk for a nice rich cup of hot chocolate, or make any recipe that mixes chocolate and mix liquid.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A MICROWAVE
The microwave is a totally legit way to melt chocolate. Serious chocolatiers do it and so can you.

Equipment:
1 Rubbermaid-type container
(You need a bowl that will stay cool in the microwave, so it will not get hot and scorch the chocolate. If you’re not sure if a bowl will work, microwave something in it and take it out to see if it’s still cool enough to handle. If it is, it’s good for chocolate.)

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate, which are extra sensitive to heat). Put all of your chocolate in the bowl or cup.
2. Microwave on 50% power for thirty seconds to one minute (shorter if you’re melting just a cupful). Take the chocolate out and stir.
3. Return it to the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds more on 50% power. Take it out and stir.
4. Continue cooking in 5 – to 20-second intervals and stirring until the chocolate is 2/3 melted. Remember, you do not want your chocolate getting too warm. Do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.
5. Once it’s 2/3 melted just stir until it is completely melted. If it’s still not quite as liquid as you like, even if it’s all melted, put it back in for just 5 seconds or so at 50%.
6. Your chocolate is now ready for dipping. Take the time to stir every few minutes as you dip. The cooling chocolate on the outside of the bowl can affect the still melted chocolate in the middle.
7. Dip to your heart’s content until the chocolate starts to thicken. Then just throw it back in the microwave a few more times for just a few seconds and stir in between. If you want to keep the chocolate in temper, try to keep the chocolate between 88 and 90 F.
Tip: You can also melt chocolate right in a ziplock bag. This is great if you’re going to be piping the chocolate from a ziplock bag anyway. Follow all the same directions, only squish the chocolate around in place of stirring.

Note: Some recipes will call for a tablespoon of shortening to be stirred in the chocolate to make it thinner and more workable (the ratio is usually one tablespoon to every 6 ounces of chocolate). If you start with good chocolate it will have a high cocoa butter content and this should not be necessary. But if you feel like your chocolate needs thinning, it’s okay to add a little extra vegetable fat, just not ideal for the taste. And know that once you add shortening or another ingredient, the chocolate can not be tempered again.

chocolate melted in the microwave
When melting chocolate in the microwave, do not go by sight, the chocolate will still hold its shape until you stir it.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE IN A DOUBLE BOILER
This is my favorite method. I guess I just like chocolate watching the entire time. You just have to be careful, since it’s a little dangerous having water around chocolate. What can I say, I I thrive on danger.

Equipment:
1 sauce pan
1 stainless steel or glass bowl that can fit snug on the pan to make a tight-fitting seal and still leave room for an inch or two of water in the pan below

Directions:
1. If your chocolate is in a block, chop it into almond-sized pieces (or into small shreds for milk or white chocolate).
2. If you’re melting more than just a little chocolate melt 1/3 of the chocolate at a time.
3. Warm a couple inches of water in the pan to just below simmering, then take the pan off the heat.
4. Place the bowl over the top to make your double boiler. It’s totally fine if your bowl touches the water, as long as the water is warm, like 110 degrees, instead of hot. Dump 1/3 of chocolate into the bowl.
5. Let the very edges of the chocolate begin to melt before you stir your first stroke. Once you see the edges melt, stir as the chocolate melts.
6. Once the first third melts, add the second batch, gently stirring and scooping the new chunks around so everything gets to touch everything else and the heat stays even.
7. If the water starts to cool, put the pan back over low heat for a minute or so. To be extra safe, you can take off the bowl full of chocolate and wait to put it back over the pan of water until you’ve taken the pan off the heat.
8. Add the final third of chocolate. Once it’s gotten a good start to melting, take the bowl off the pan (always dry it with a towel when you do this) and keep stirring off the heat until the chocolate is fully melted.
9. Dip away. Stop every few minutes to stir, and if the chocolate gets too cool, put it back over the warm water for a minute or two.

(Remember, if you can be super patient and let those chunks melt slowly, keeping them from getting more than 90 F or 88 F for milk and white chocolate, the chocolate will reward you and stay “in temper” and will still be nice and pretty when it cools.)

makeshift double boilerMy double boiler. I have a real one but prefer my bowl over a pan.

melting chocolate
Let those edges melt slightly before you stir your first stroke.

double boilerStirring, my favorite part. Do not forget to scrape the sides.

Why should I TEMPER CHOCOLATE?
I spent years bliss fully dipping things in melted chocolate chips and not even knowing about tempering chocolate. Well, it was blissful as long as I ate my creations right away. I’d get frustrated when I’d wake up the next morning to find my chocolate streaky or spotted and have no idea why. If only I’d known. Here’s what tempering will do for your chocolate:
1. Your chocolate will go on smoother
2. It will have that nice snap
3. It will be pretty and glossy and not have the gray spots or streaks called fat bloom
4. It will better resist melting when handled

WHEN SHOULD I TEMPER?
Any time your chocolate has to look pretty coated over something or molded on something, you should temper. Chocolate that comes from the factory is already tempered. When you melt chocolate past 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate), the fats in the cocoa butter lose their structure. You can get an ugly batch of pure chocolate back into temper, you just have to heat the chocolate high enough so it breaks up bad structures cocoa butter, then cool it just so to  allow good cocoa butter crystals to form. If you let the chocolate cool at the wrong temperature, the cocoa butter will form loose crystals and your chocolate will bloom and will not be in temper. We want nice, tight crystals to form. You need to temper with real chocolate and white chocolate, because both are made of coacoa butter.

fat bloom appears on the surface of untempered chocolate

Fat bloom can develop because you did not prepare your chocolate correctly in the first place, or because you didn’t store it correctly so the cocoa butter had the chance to separate. If you find a block of chocolate with fat bloom, you can temper it and transform it back into pretty, yummy chocolate. You cannot temper (a.k.a. fix) chocolate that has been scorched or that has had any ingredients added to it so it is no longer pure.

TEMPERING EQUIPMENT
To temper chocolate you’ll need
1. A double boiler or sauce pan and bowl if you’re going to do it stove top, or a bowl that stays cool in the microwave if you’re going to nuke your chocolate
2. A chocolate tempereing thermometer that ranges from 70 to 130 F, like this one, you want the sensor to be at the bottom of the thermometer
3. A rubber spatula for stirring (a wooden spoon can retain mosture and smells)
4. Parchment paper for laying out your creatiions once dipped

equipment thermometer for tempering chocolate

TEMPERING SHORT CUT
I like to avoid tempering all together by just buying good chocolate and being super patient the first time I melt to keep it below 90 F (88 F for milk or white chocolate). It takes practice, because it is very easy to over heat the chocolate. So it’s good to know how to temper so I can salvage chocolate on the days I just could not be patient enough.

HOW TO TEMPER: SEEDING METHOD
This one is my favorite. You’ll need some apricot-sized chunks of chocolate that are already in temper. Bigger chunks are easier to get out at the end. They’ll act as a good influence over the other chocolate and bring it into temper. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual. You need about 1 part tempered chocolate to 4 parts untempered chocolate.

1. Melt all the chocolate that needs to be tempered using the microwave or a double boiler as described above. Reserve your good, tempered chocolate chunks. Melt the untempered chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate) to break down the bad cocoa butter structures. Always put the thermometer in the middle of the chocolate when measuring, don’t let it touch the bowl.
2. Add the chunks of good tempered chocolate. Stir until the temperature gets down to 90 F (88 for milk or white chocolate). Stir well so they touch all the untempered chocolate.
3. Remove the extra chunks, either with a spoon or by passing the chocolate through a sieve. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

TEMPERING: THE CLASSIC METHOD
I’ve had less luck with this method, but you can give it a try. It just a matter of heating, cooling, then reheating the chocolate. Chop up the chocolate that needs to be tempered into almond-sized pieces as usual.
1.
Melt the chocolate to 115 F (110 for milk or white chocolate).
2. Take the bowl off the double boiler if using one and place it over a towel on the counter (the towel acts as an insulator). Stir and cool the chocolate until it reaches 84 F (82 for milk and white chocolate). If you get good at this, you can put the bowl in a bath of cooler water to speed the process.
3. Warm the chocolate, ever so carefully. Microwave on extra low power or put the bowl over a pan of mildly warm water. Warm until it just reaches 90 F (88 for milk and white chocolate). A couple degrees below is okay, but not one degree higher. The chocolate should now be tempered and ready to go.

ONCE TEMPERED
While your dipping, stir occasionally and warm the chocolate occasionally to keep it workable and between 88 and 90 F.

chocolate dipping

After dipping, gently shake your treat back and forth to help the extra chocolate drizzle off

hot chocolate

mmm, rich chocolate poured right into frothy milk, so French
(only in France I’m thinking the cups would be about one eighth this size)

chocolate dipped cone

dipped waffle cone, my favorite
chocolate covered oreo

chocolate dipped oreos, oh ya
chocolate covered gummi bears

yum. enrobed gummis

If you need a good chocolate book, I’ve gone through dozens over the years, but one that stood out was Elaine González’s The Art of Chocolate.González does a great job of explaining how chocolate works without going over your head, or mine at least.

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mango berry popsiclesYum. Mango. We have adopted these popsicles as our summer alternative to a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We’ve whipped up a batch for ourselves and dropped off a couple batches at friends’ houses over the weekend (it was past 100 all weekend, which is no weather for turning on the oven). These are so pretty out of the cups, but since the syrup can be messy, we delivered them in the cups and let our friends peel off the cup themselves and discover the pretty popsicle underneath.

If you want to make these right, you need to have the mango puree in the freezer for 3 hours before you mix it and spoon it in the cups (though I’m guilty of skipping that step once when I was in a hurry). So it’s good to make these the evening before you’ll eat them, so the popsicles can freeze once they’re in the cups. If you want the simple version, these are still fantastic with just the mango, no blackberry.
homemade berry popsicle recipe

Mango Blackberry Yogurt Pops
adapted from this mango pop recipe
makes 16 pops

Supplies
3-oz. paper cups
mini wooden craft sticks

The blackberry syrup
12 oz blackberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice

The mango yogurt
3 medium-size ripe mangoes, seeded and peeled
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
16 oz plain lowfat yogurt

To make the mango yogurt
1. Combine mangos, water, sugar, and lemon juice in blender. Blend until smooth. Add yogurt and blend until combined.

2. Pour into a 9×9 pan. Cover and freeze for about 3 hours, stirring every hour or so, until edges are firm but center is slightly soft.

To make the blackberry syrup
3. In a small sauce pan, combine the fruit, 1/4 cup sugar, and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium high, cook for 2 minutes.

4. Strain to remove seeds (I like to reserve the seeds and fruit and put them in ice trays to use for smoothies). Return syrup to pot and simmer over medium-low until you get a thicker syrup consistency, about eight minutes. Let cool.

To assemble
5. Transfer mango mixture to mixing bowl and beat with mixer on medium until smooth.

6. Set out cups and start with the syrup. Pour into cups, swirling the cup as you let the syrup drip along the edges. Scoop mango in and press down so cup is 2/3 full. Place one craft stick in each cup. Freeze for 3 hours or overnight. Peel paper off before serving.
mango puree popsiclemmm. mango puree.

yogurt mango popsicles

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If you’re new here, welcome! I’m AmberLee, and Giverslog is my place to share simple DIYs for gift giving, happy mail ideas, simple recipes, and more. I also just opened an online chocolate shop, The Ticket Kitchen. Stop by if you get a moment.

I hope my notes here about making French macarons for the first time help you out. I’d love to hear how it turns out.

I’ve had a hankering to make macarons for some time. I love basic recipes for simple foods that are all about getting the technique right. Plus macarons are such estimable little desserts, and they freeze so well, that they are great to make in advance for a party or for friends who will appreciate them.

I found the process of making macarons to be every bit as delicate as I expected, but doable. It is a thrill to get a batch come out of the oven with a pretty dome and that perfect foot, it feels like sinking a perfect putt or hitting a perfect shot. So even though I went to bed exhausted, I woke up thinking of little alterations I could make next time to get the perfect batch.

And once you have macarons down, you will be a whiz at turning out a beautiful souffle. It uses all the same tricks (get a favorite chocolate souffle recipe of mine and tutorial here).

french-macrons-with-free-tag

Do you like the tag? I’ll post a copy here for you to download in case you’d like to use it.

French Macarons Tag, printable (25106)

After my day of experimenting with different batches, here are some lessons learned. Martha has two recipes online, and I went with her recipe from the June 2008 issue of Living, written by NYC cooking instructor Gail Monaghan (author of Lost Desserts.)

French Macarons
(recipe from MarthaStewart.com
posted here with annotations)
makes about 35 macaron shells

Before you begin:
Choose a nice, cool, dry day to make these. Humidity is not your friend. Because whipped whites are mostly air, if the air is too moist it can flatten your macarons. A hot kitchen can also deflate whites.
Separate your eggs in advance. Eggs are easier to separate when they’re cold, so separate them at least an hour and up to a day before, then cover with plastic wrap so it touches the surface of the egg, and just leave the whites on the counter.
Mis en place. Have everything you need in place so you don’t have anything to slow you down once your eggs are whipped.

Ingredients
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 4.5 oz
3/4 cup almond flour, 2.5 oz. (I’ve made my own by processing almond slivers, but just buying it is simpler)
2 large egg whites, room temperature (no farm fresh eggs! older eggs hold air better, and take them from the fridge the day before or the morning of and let them sit there happily on the counter and warm to room temp)
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar, 1.5 oz. (also called baker’s sugar, I’ve read you can make your own by processing granulated sugar, but have never tried it)
3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam, for filling

See MACAROON VARIATIONS and SUGGESTED FILLINGS on Martha’s website, including chocolate, coconut, peanut, pistachio, raspberry, and vanilla bean. UPDATE: Or see the comments below! Some of you have come up with amazing flavor ideas.

Method
1. Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times. (I found sifting with my usual flour sifter near impossible. The almond flour caked under the sifting hand and balled up over it. Instead I sifted with a simple bowl-shaped sieve.)

2. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (the recipe suggests 8 minutes, for me it took only 3 to 4 minutes, take care not to over-whip). If you’re going to add color, I added food coloring towards the end of whipping my whites. I found I could use standard, water-based food coloring. Several of the recipes I saw recommended paste food coloring, but I didn’t have any at the time, so I went out on a limb! The water-based colors worked just fine.

stiff-peaks
3. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny. I found the amount of folding to be crucial. Fold too little, and your macaron shells will have peaks instead of nice rounded caps. Fold too much, and your meringue will drip into a mess of wafer-thin blobs. Tartlette recommends about 50 folds, until your batter has a magma-like flow. For me about 65 folds was just right. I find the batter has a little of a soft-toffee like sheen when it is ready. (UPDATE 02.10: stop by here to read about a macaron class Tartlette taught). You can test a daub on a plate, and if a small beak remains, turn the batter a couple times more. If the batter forms a round cap but doesn’t run, it is just right. When I spooned my batter into the pastry bag, the perfect batter started to just ooze out of the tip once the bag was full. If it stayed stiff inside the bag it was too stiff, if it dripped out too fast the batter was too runny. I found that doubling the recipe made this step very difficult for me, I found I would over fold to incorporate the flour mixture and I would end up with a runny batter.

macaroon-batter

4. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip.

5. Pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. I put the tip right in the middle of where I wanted each macaron and let the batter billow up around it, then I drug the tip to the side of the round. (You can pipe 1-inch to 2-inch rounds, but you will need to add cooking time). Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. (Different recipes recommend anywhere from no rest time to 2 hours rest time. I was most happy with 30 to 45 minutes rest time, once the caps looked more dull and had formed a slight skin, so that during baking the macaron could puff up beneith that skin and form that pretty “foot” at the bottom.) While they’re resting, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

6. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. Every oven is different, so you may need to play with your oven temperature. The tops of the macaron shells should not brown.

7. Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons (if this doesn’t work, see below, under “troubleshooting”).

8. Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon jam. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months. It takes only 30 minutes out of the freezer for macarons to be ready to serve.

TROUBLESHOOTING: If you’re wringing your hands in frustration because you can’t get these little desserts to come out right, either they are hollow inside or have no feet or they crack, you are in good company. Me included. Here are a few things you can try to get that first perfect batch that will get you addicted to making macarons.

1. Use an oven thermometer: Chances are, your oven is different than mine, which is different from many other friends and bloggers who have attempted macarons. Pay a couple dollars for a decent oven thermometer and you can know for certain that your oven temp is right. Undercooked macarons will end up hollow or deflate after cooking.
2. Use a good baking sheet: If your baking sheet is too thin, the macarons won’t bake evenly or correctly. You can even try doubling up two thin baking sheets if that’s all you have.
3. Use old eggs: I know this may sound wrong, just wrong, but it makes a difference. Use eggs that are not too fresh and leave them on the counter at room temp for a day or two.
4. Make sure you have prime egg-whipping conditions. Trust me, a humid day or one streak of grease in your bowl can make what could have been a beautiful batch of macarons into a disappointment.
5. If your macarons have no feet, make sure they had their time on the counter (after piping and before baking) to create a skin. I love what Evelyn said below: “NO skin No feet… ” When your macarons form a skin before you bake them, the skin traps the air under the dome so that the air’s only way to escape is through the bottom, creating feet as it goes.
6. Don’t over or under fold your batter. I know, I know, we’ve been through this. But if you let your macarons sit on the counter for 45 minutes to form a skin and you’re still asking yourself, “why don’t my macarons have feet?” the answer is probably that you underfolded so the batter is too stiff or overfolded so it is too loose. And if you come up with a different reason, I’d love to hear.
7.  Increase cooking time for bigger macarons:
I’ve undercooked my macarons before and had them come out hollow. Pretty still but very disappointing in texture. Make sure that if your macarons are bigger circles, you bake longer.
8. Keep an eye on your macarons to avoid browning them or letting them crack
: I love these notes note from Beth and Zach (thanks you two!!): “I bake mine with the light on in the oven so I can monitor what’s going on in there. If it seems a little hot, crack the door and stick a wooden spoon in to hold it slightly ajar. I believe the cracking happens when the oven it too hot.” “The steam produced is escaping too fast to exit out only the bottom; thus the top (even with that “skin”) has no option but to break and crack the top. If this happens consistently, turn down the heat a few degrees (no more than 10 degress 5 preferable). “
9. If you macarons won’t unstick, try water (and cook longer next time).
Here’s a great tip from a reader whose macaron shells stuck to the paper. (Thank you, Jennifer!!) “The steam did not work for me, I think because my paper is fairly thick. So I rested the paper (with the Macarons stuck to it) on a thin layer of water. I counted to 15 which is just enough to soften the paper without getting the Macarons wet. They pulled off flawlessly! You may have to adjust how long you let it sit depending on the type of paper you use, so as not to wet your Macarons!” And it’s also likely, if your macarons stick, that you didn’t cook quite long enough.
10. What about a confection oven? Thanks to Zach for this note!: A convection oven should work just fine. But you should reduce cooking time becasue of the moving air, which will help prevent the cracking. If your convection oven is too hot or the air flow setting is on “high” (if apliccable), then then extra drying might make cracking more possible.

macarons

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