Holiday Baking: Treat Boxes, recipe for Pistachio Macarons with Quince Buttercream

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Last year I started a new tradition- treat boxes for the holidays.  This is the time of year when people say “to hell with my diet” and dive hog wild into the sweets.  I love baking sweets, but only when they’re appreciated.  Nothing kills my joy more than when I offer somebody a carefully crafted homemade treat and they snatch their hand away with an “I can’t eat that, sorry.”  But not this time of year.  Being in the “giving spirit” also means being in the “receiving spirit.”  I take advantage.

This year’s treat boxes were stuffed with an eclectic mix of goodies.  I started off with Hazelnut Linzer cookies with raspberry and apricot jam (recipe inspired from here).  Linzer cookies are a traditional take on the famed Austrian dessert, the Linzer torte.  The cookies look like stained glass windows and are crunchy and slightly dry.  The perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of herbal tea.  I added crushed hazelnuts to my dough to give them a nuttier punch.

Next up were the chocolate and vanilla flavored marshmallows.  Last year I made peppermint marshmallows, which were very well received.  Homemade marshmallows taste so much better than store bought.  They’re creamier, lighter, fluffier yet denser (an oxymoron?) than their StayPuft cousins.  Every time I make them I can’t help but think of Ghostbusters and pretend that my marshmallows will expand and come to life in the form of a cute but angry monster.  (Vanilla marshmallow recipe here, to make chocolate I added chocolate flavored extract instead of vanilla and coated them in a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and powdered dark chocolate).

Holiday treat boxes The most time consuming undertaking were the macarons.  I still have a love/hate relationship with macarons because they’re gorgeous, and delicious, and you can come up with endless combinations, but they take patience, persistence, and the knowledge that chances are you’ll screw up a batch or two and you’ll have to make another.  I took a risk this year and tried pistachio macarons (made from ground pistachios in place of some of the ground almonds) with quince buttercream and jam and a hint of cardamom.  The flavor combination was all my idea and I think it worked out.  I only messed up one batch this time, but I did break a few precious cookies while trying to fill them.  They were beautiful though.  Recipe follows below.

For the chocolate fix (every good treat box needs something chocolate), I made dark chocolate truffles with a Chambord/raspberry filling.  These came out lovely.  I bought some new molds just for the occasion.  After freezing the Chambord centers I hand-dipped each pyramid shaped truffle in tempered Valhrona dark chocolate.  Then I brushed on gold luster dust for the extra wow factor.  My chocolates were divine.  (Dark chocolate truffle recipe here)

Finally, white chocolate chip macademia nut cookies rounded out my box of goodies.  Soft, moist, slightly under-baked gooiness.

And there you have it.  2 days of baking, 96 marshmallows, 48 Linzer cookies, 48 macarons, 48 white chocolate macadamias, and 72 hand-dipped chocolates later, I had my 24 treat boxes, complete with Sweet Peas by Tamara enclosure card.  Ready to gift.  ‘Tis definitely the season to indulge.

Pistachio Macarons with Quince Buttercream

Serves 15
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
Total time 2 hours, 10 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Dessert
Region French

Ingredients

Macaron

  • 90 g egg whites (preferably room temperature)
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • 200g powdered sugar
  • 55g almonds (blanched, no skins)
  • 55g raw pistachios (not salted or roasted)
  • 2-3 drops Food coloring

Jam Buttercream

  • 2 Egg whites
  • 100g Granulated sugar
  • 175g Unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Quince Jam

Note

Adapted from Tartelette's recipe.
If you've never made French macarons before, there is a lot of information out there as to why they're so delicious yet often so frustrasting to make.  Before you get started, I highly recommend reading these tutorials:

Macaron 10 commandments
Macaron Myths

Demystifying Macarons

You may mess up the first time, you may get it perfect the first time and then fail the next.  Try try again.  They're worth all the effort.

Also, macarons are best on the second day. They need to soften for a day to get the right texture. I usually bake them a day ahead and then fill them the next day.

Directions

1. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the sugar until you get glossy meringue. (If you remove the whisk attachment and invert it, the egg whites should make a nice cone on top of your whisk, if they fall over they're not stiff enough. If they start to break apart on you you've gone too far and they'll be too dry). Make sure you scrape down any sugar that accumulates on the side of the bowl. You can add a few drops of food coloring (green) at this stage if you want your macarons to have a more "pistachio" look.
2. In a food processor, add the almonds, pistachios, and powdered sugar and pulse. Grind the heck out of them until they're finely ground. You might want to pass through a fine mesh sieve a few times to get rid of any remaining large pieces.
3. Add the ground nuts to the egg whites. Give a few quick strokes to incorporate all the nuts. You want to break down some of that air. Once all the nuts are incorporated, take your flat silicone or rubber spatula and firmly press the batter against the side of the bowl, then fold the batter by scraping it up in your spatula and incorporate it back into your bowl (this is called macaronage, and is very important). Do this about 15-20 times until your batter starts to flow like lava. You don't want it too stiff or too runny.
4. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #806, 807 or 809 work) and pipe the batter onto a cookie sheet topped with parchment paper (silicone mat works well too but I prefer parchment) into small rounds about 1 inch in diameter (they will spread to about 2 inches so leave room). Once they're all piped, take the cookie sheet, lift it in both hands, and firmly bang it on the counter twice. This releases the air bubbles and prevents your macarons from cracking during the cooking process. Then let them sit out for about 15 minutes to dry them out a bit.
5. Bake in a preheated over at 280 degrees for 15-20 minutes. They're done when they lift easily from the parchment. Macarons are best on the second day. So I usually store them for a day before filling them.
6. Add filling of your choice to one macaron and sandwhich with another.
7. For the quince butter cream: Combine the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until the egg whites resemble runny marshmallow fluff and the sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.
8. Pour the mixture into your stand mixer with whisk attachment and beat until you have a glossy meringue.
9. Beat in softened butter, one tablespoon at a time making sure it's completely incorporated before adding more. At some point your buttercream might look curdled, don't worry and keep going, it will come back together.
10. Beat in the vanilla and jam. Refridgerate for a few minutes before spreading on your macarons.

 

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