April 2014 archive

French Toile Easter Table

french-toile-easter-table

Happy Easter!

It was a lovely warm and sunny Easter morning and we sat down to brunch just after opening our be-ribboned Easter baskets.  This French toile Easter table started with the chocolate brown French toile napkins.  I picked them up several years ago at Pottery Barn…I just wished I have purchased more!

french_toile_easter_table

The grass in the trough grew lush and green which is something I can’t seem to do in parts of my back yard…go figure.  I posted about planting the grass in the trough here.   I painted ceramic eggs in gold leaf type paint and burnt umber craft paint.   I didn’t get too worked up about how to do the designs…freehanded them mostly.  My favorite part of the centerpiece is the little iron bunny peeking out.  So charming.

French toile and easter really seem to go together for me…well, actually French toile and any holiday go together for me.  Red for Christmas, brown for Thanksgiving, Black for Halloween. I easily could have a post for each holiday, French Toile Easter Table, French Toile Christmas Table, French Toile Thanks….well, you get the idea.

Have a wonderful Easter!

 

 

Five Layer Ombre Cake

 

Five Layer Ombre Cake I Nesting With Style

I found these fantastic Wilton cake pans  while taking a peek at the Sur La Table website for Macaron supplies.  I adore those fantastic rainbow and ombre cakes which are all over Pinterest right now but had some reservations about tackling one myself.  First of all the thought of a huge multi layer cake, usually made with at least two recipes of batter, was not an attractive thought.  Don’t get me wrong…the family loves cake.  But not two cakes in one.  I was sure that at least half would end up in the trash.  Such a waste.  My second reservation was that it is a busy time of year and I didn’t really want to spend all day wrestling with the thing. I wanted my ombre cake but I wanted it to be easy too. Did I just type that? Oh yes I did.  I wanted my cake and to eat it too. (Sometimes you just have to go there).  Seeing these pans inspired me.  I would have my five layer ombre cake.

ombrecakebatter

One of the neatest things about this cake is that it can be made with ONE recipe of cake batter…or if you are in a hurry, one cake mix.  Yep.  Just one.  I mixed up the white cake batter and divided it into 5 cereal bowls.  I used a pink gel food coloring and started coloring the batter.  No food coloring in the first bowl.  A couple of drops in the second.  A few more in the third and so on.  Soon I had five different colors of batter waiting to be baked into my five layer ombre celebration cake…dreams are made of this!

ombrecakes

18 minutes later I was looking at five layers of baked pink goodness.  Yum!  Being smaller (about 6″ around) they cooled rather quickly and were easy to handle.  I broke out one of my favorite and festive little cake stands and got to work.  As I was on a tight timeline I used pre-made frosting (and ended up using about 1 1/2 cans).  I used Duncan Hines white whipped frosting which ended up being the perfect choice.  Very, very fluffy and light.  I think a traditional buttercream would have weighed the cake down too much.  I finished with a handful of rainbow sprinkles and it was time to eat.

ombrecakecloseup

Things I am going to do differently next time around…I will not only grease but also flour the pans.  I had some sticking issues and I want the cake to come out cleanly next time.  Also, I will make sure the two darkest layers are a bit different in color I think more contrast would be good. And finally, a new color scheme…perhaps…a rainbow cake.  Too bad I didn’t find these pans until after St. Patrick’s Day that would have been adorable.  Oh well, there is always next year.

Ribbon Trimmed Martha Stewart Inspired Easter Baskets

Ribbon Trimmed Martha Stewart Inspired Easter Basket

In the spring of 1991 I opened the mailbox to greet the latest edition of Martha Stewart Magazine.  It was the first year of the magazines publication and I couldn’t wait to each issue to arrive.  I was newly married and eager to try just about anything which graced the pages.  It was there I found instructions for ribbon trimmed Martha Stewart inspired Easter Baskets.

Ribbon Trimmed Easter Baskets Martha Stewart Living

There they were on page 56.  A (relatively) small article (4 pages) on Easter Baskets.  Not just any Easter Baskets…The Easter baskets of my dreams.  Up until that point I had never seen an Easter basket which wasn’t 10 shades of horrible.  The main event was what was inside…peeps, jelly beans, chocolate bunny, the good stuff.  The basket itself was usually either this strange plastic woven type (oddly trying to mimic something actually woven but in the most unrealistic way possible). Or an actual woven basket which looked like it was made from materials found by the side of a highway somewhere.  I won’t say road kill.  But close.  In the spring of 1991 that all changed for me. The basket which in itself WAS the main event.

Martha Stewart Living Ribbon Trimmed Easter Basket Article

Okay.  In retrospect those baskets were uber busy.  A white spray painted basket covered in bows.  Pattern on pattern on pattern.  I think the thing which struck me however was the colors.  Each basket had its own color way.  Everything in the blue basket was some shade of blue, the same for the yellow, etc.  Even the (overly to my eye now) decorated sugar cookies coordinated.  Now that had style.

Ribbon Trimmed Martha Stewart Inspired Easter Baskets I Nesting With Style

I set about to re-create this little lovelies.  One for me.  One for my new husband.  Cute tiny little baskets filled with similarly colored treats. I varied from Martha’s example by making a collar of bows around the top instead of bows scattered all over.  I used much more saturated colors than Martha.  Bright blue for him.  Raspberry Pink for me.  Cute.  I’m not sure how hubby felt about an Easter basket covered in bows but being a newlywed he didn’t say a word.  Good man.

Ribbon Trimmed Easter Baskets with Alpha Phi Letters I Nesting With Style

The following year when our daughter was born I gave her my little pink beauty and I made myself a purple one.  The mistake I made in the beginning was that I selected baskets which were far too small.  Not enough room for the Easter treats I wanted to fill them with.  I wasn’t a problem until the kids got a bit older and the little treats got well, not so little.  By the time we had our second I had re-made the baskets in a much larger format.  Pink for her, yellow for the next little nipper.  Blue for the third.  Green for the fourth.  I have even made them for my niece and nephews.  So far I think I have made about 10 of them and each one is unique.

Target Easter Eggs

I love that they look festive and party like even with nothing inside.  Each year I buy new eggs to add (after all those little plastic eggs don’t hold up forever).  The great thing is that the hues of the basic colors always change…so after 13 years of eggs they are all different shades.  I love that spectrum of color.  This year I added a pack of large and small from Target.  Beautiful colors.   But the addition I am most excited about are the glitter eggs from Target.  Haven’t opened one yet but they sure look great!

Ribbon Trimmed Martha Stewart Inspired Easter Basket with Chick

Each year I freshen the baskets up a bit.  In recent years I have added a glitter initial to personalize them even more.  I’ve also added little chicks tucked in here and there.  Add more ribbon and plump the ribbon already there.  It has led to an unexpected result.  They have, in effect, become little time capsules of the kid’s childhoods.  We called our #4 monkey when he was little….and so he has a bow with little monkeys on it on his basket.  Our daughter went through a butterfly stage and on hers there is a glittery butterfly. On each of the baskets there is ribbon from an article of their baby clothing.  Each has a snippet of ribbon from my Mother, who passed away and we all miss so much. I added darker more elegant tones of ribbon as they got older…ribbon which reflected their growing up.  These baskets now function like sentimental Christmas ornaments on a tree…each with its own story.  I especially love that it happened organically.  There was no plan to have it happen this way.  It just did.

Blue Ribbon Trimmed Martha Stewart Inspired Easter Basket

I’m done freshening them up for this year.  I added (three years tardy) my daughter’s sorority letters to hers and my son’s college ribbon to his.  Easter is three weeks from today and the baskets are all laid out…bunny ready.

Ribbon Trimmed Easter Basket Butterfly

Instructions for making these are as easy as it comes.

What you’ll need:

Glittered Monograms I Nesting With Style

  1. Make lots and lots of small bows
  2. Wrap a longer piece of ribbon around the handle, attach at the bottom with hot glue
  3. With hot glue gun attach bows around the edge of the easter basket, make sure the pattern in random
  4. For the monogram take a chipboard letter and paint a coordinating color
  5. Spread with glue and sprinkle with glitter.  I used Martha’s glitter either Tinsel Glitter or One of these gorgeous colors or Iridescent Glitter (I think I used iridescent on the blue C and the yellow C and basic colors on the A’s.

Pink Ribbon Trimmed Easter Basket with Alpha Phi Letters I Nesting With Style

Back in 1991 I don’t think Martha Stewart could have dreamed that a small 4 page layout on Easter Baskets would become the cornerstone of a family’s Easter tradition. Or maybe she just hoped it would.

Pink Ribbon Trimmed Easter Basket I Nesting With Style

Red Velvet French Macarons

red velvet macarons

Red Velvet French Macarons are a delicious addition to the spring cookie jar! I adore red velvet cake and so those flavors were a natural to translate to my favorite confection macarons.  And so from me to you…Red Velvet French Macarons…enjoy!

The Basic Recipe: Can be found here.

I’ve taken some photos of making the red velvet macaron below.  It is amazing how a few drops of food coloring can really change a plain macaron into something festive!

macaron mixing

Color

The one thing I was disappointed in with the Red Velvet macarons above was the color.  The red turned out to be a orange red rather than the deeper blue/red commonly associated with red velvet.  Next time I will use a different red food coloring…so no color # here as I didn’t like that aspect of these.

Red Velvet Filling

I am addicted to this filling and woke up trying to think of other things to use it on.  It is creamy and delicious and gooey.  A note about the recipe…it will seem as though you will not have enough filling for the macarons.  Don’t fear, you will have more than enough.

macaronsbonappetit

 

Red Velvet French Macarons Filling
 
This fantastic macaron filling would also be delicious topping a red velvet cupcake!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: French

Ingredients
  • 6¼ ounces confectioner’s sugar
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1½ oz unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ tsp. vanilla
  • pinch kosher salt

Instructions
  1. Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixer with paddle attachment
  2. Scrape sides of bowl and add vanilla & salt
  3. When combined slowly add confectioner’s sugar (with mixer on low speed)

Check out the Macaron Recipe File Page which has the complete list of Macaron recipes and other Macaron resources.  It is a work in progress which I hope to keep adding to!

 

Flower Love

pink and yellow tulips

I don’t know that I have talked about living in Europe for 4 years.  Well, now I am.  And I did.  It was from that experience in my early 20′s which changed forever the way I see life and living.  It was there I learned the European love affair with flowers.  This Flower Love has stayed with me since.  Flowers aren’t just something special you buy for your sweetheart on an anniversary they are part of everyday life.  You go to the market and pick up a baguette, cheese, wine and a bouquet of flowers.  It is just what is done.  I quickly became accustomed to a little bouquet on my table.  Keep in mind that these little posies were not grand affairs.  Usually a single type of flower in a little clear vase.  Simple perfection.

I am happy to report that my sweet husband shares my love of fresh flowers.  Each week he picks up a bouquet of tulips at the store.  Tulips have a special significance for us  When we moved into our first home just after we were married our realtor (and friend) left a vase with tulips on the kitchen counter welcoming us home.  The moment has stayed with us.  What a lovely thing to have that reminder each weekend from the love of my life.  I would miss not having those blooms on the kitchen table.  And the best part?  When the boys are with their Father at the store and he hasn’t picked them out yet, they remember and remind him.  How great that flower love is part of their world too.

tete et tete daffodils

A visitor stopped by the other day and remarked on the beauty of the tete et tete daffodils blooming in the dining room.  I put the little container in a glass candle holder surrounded by moss right where I can see it as I walk by.  The thing which struck me about her comments was the implication that somehow it was extravagant to have these little beauties. “But they don’t last long” and are “expensive”.  Actually, not so much.

The little container of tete et tete daffodils cost $3.99 at Trader Joe’s.  The have been blooming for a week and I think they will for another. So this is how I calculate it.  Those little yellow beauties will bring a smile to my face for two weeks at the bargain cost of $4.00…just $2.00 per week.

pink tulips

And the little vase of tulips on the bathroom sink?  One bunch of tulips ($6.99) fills 4 jars…enough for perching on bedside tables and the counter in the powder room. I can’t buy a latte for that and it certainly wouldn’t last as long or bring me as much joy.  Joie de Vivre.  It is about those little choices. (Oh, and the jar was in the dollar section at Target!)

Easter Grass

An update on my little field of grass from my previous Easter decorations post…it is growing and growing.  At first it was pretty sparse looking…I actually had to fill in with more grass seed.  But now I think I am on the right track and I’ll have a mini field ready for decorated eggs!

French Macarons Basic Recipe

chocolatemacarons

The first subject which came to mind when thinking about starting a blog was the exploration of my favorite sweet treat on the planet.  Macarons.  Not macaroons…Macarons.  That most etherial of French delicacies.  I love them.  I mean, I really, really love them.  So much so that I must limit myself to making them once (or perhaps twice) a month as I will eat the whole batch myself within a day or two.  This series is all about French macarons.  And today it begins with a French macarons basic recipe. This is the result of the obsession I have with these little magical treats. This is the base recipe which all others derive to produce Macarons which are crunchy but with a soft melted center.  Delicious.

I have created a French Macarons Recipe File Page within the header of the blog so we can have all our Macaron fun in one place.  As we move through different recipes I will post the links there!

I first discovered this exact ratio of ingredients on a French Blog called MaiTai’s Picturebook.  It is a lovely read, beautifully photographed, all about Hermes scarves and life in the south of France. Sprinkled within are wonderful sight-seeing trips around France and here and there are the most terrific recipes.  The proportions for Macarons are one of those nuggets!

This recipe is based on the ratio of ingredients based on weight not volume.  In other words instead of measuring cups to determine how much of an ingredient we will use, we will weigh the ingredients in grams.  Another notable difference in this recipe is that all the ingredient amounts are based of the weight (in grams) of the egg whites.  After all, one cannot exactly know what a particular egg white will weigh.  Once we know what the egg whites weigh we determine how much of everything else to use.  Sounds complicated but in reality it is pretty simple.

Looking over this post I realize how daunting this all looks.  I beg you to not be dissuaded.  I made these instructions as complete as I could with as much detail as I could think of.  Not to make it seem complicated but to give as complete a roadmap as possible.  I really want you to charge ahead because making these is not difficult and is so rewarding.  And if for some reason a batch does not work out…we are only talking about egg whites people.

Mise en place
Mise en place (French pronunciation: ​[mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French phrase which means “putting in place”, as in set up.

macaronspipingbagEspecially important is making macarons is mise en place. Why?  Because once the process is up and running it is far easier to get reliable and consistent results with all ingredients weighed & sifted, piping bag prepared and baking pans ready. I find it is important to have a very clean work area and spotlessly clean utensils, bowls, etc.  I know, it is always important, but especially so with whipping egg whites as they can be extra finicky and don’t like even a speck of oil or fat of any kind or they won’t whip properly.

Macaron Mise en Place

Assemble Cookware

Assemble Ingredients

Time to Get Started! Step by Step Macaron Directions:

Egg whites are about 33-36 grams each and 2 make about 14 macarons.  I like to use 4 egg whites which will fill two half sheet pans of macarons.  If we are going to the trouble we should make enough to share!

First put a clean bowl on top of your digital scale.  The scale will, of course, weigh the bowl (which we don’t want).  The scale should have a “tare” button.  What that does when pressed is to move the scale to “0″ thus eliminating the weight of the bowl.  Cool right?!  Add your egg whites to the bowl.  Now you have the amount of egg whites (in grams) you are working with.  Set them aside.

The egg whites this time around were 132 grams.

There is a bit of math here…the amount of almond flour is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 1.26.

132 grams x 1.26 = 171.36 grams of almond flour

We know we need 171.36 grams of almond flour and so we weigh that next. Put a clean bowl on the scale and press the tare button and add almond flour until your scale reads 171.36 grams.  Set aside.

The amount of confectioner’s sugar is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 2.07.

132 grams x 2.07 = 273.24 grams of confectioner’s sugar

Weigh the confectioner’s sugar out and set aside.

Lastly it is time to find out how much sugar we need.

132 grams ÷ 3.6  = 36.66 grams of white sugar

Weigh the white sugar and set aside.

Now the fun really begins!

Sift together confectioners sugar and ground almond flour.  Another option is to first run the confectioners sugar and almond flour through a food processor and then put through a fine sieve to remove bigger bits. This is called “tant pour tant” or half and half.  Discard leftover bits and set the tant pour tant aside.

macaron measuring

Time to Whip It Up!

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Continue to beat while slowly adding granulated sugar.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved add food coloring and any additional flavorings the recipe might call for. When finished the egg whites should hold stiff peaks.

With a spatula fold the tant pour tant into to macaron base.  There is no need to be super careful here…a little deflating of the egg whites is okay.

Make sure there are NO egg white streaks within the mixture.  It should be lava like and a very smooth paste.  Any egg whites not incorporated will not bake evenly and I promise it won’t be pretty! The mixture will, at first, appear as if it won’t ever combine, but never fear, soon it will turn to smooth lava.

macarons basics

Pour macaron paste into prepared pastry bag.  Fold over end and twist to keep mixture from oozing out the top.  Full disclosure…when I made the recipe which I photographed it was a bit runny.  The macarons turned out great but I prefer the mixture a tad thicker in consistency.

Pipe 1 1/4-1 1/2″ rounds of macaron paste onto prepared cookie sheets.  Space rounds about 2″ apart as they will spread.  I use an Ateco #8 tip for larger macarons
or #4 for smaller macarons with an 18-Inch pastry bag for this process.

Once macarons are piped bang the cookie sheet on the counter three times to force any air bubbles caught under the surface to rupture.

Rotate the pan 1/2 turn and bang the sheet another three times.  If there are bubbles remaining I pop them with a toothpick otherwise I won’t get that smooth macaron dome!

Let the pans rest for at least 1 hour (If it is a humid day I will wait even longer).  What you want is the tops of the piped macarons will loose some of their shine.  The photos below represent newly piped (on the left photo) and a bit duller (after 45 minutes on a rainy day).  This is a good time to make the filling!

macaron drying

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Bake the macarons for 9-20 minutes.  This is a large range of time.  It can vary greatly depending upon how hot your oven runs and how humid the temperature.  In actuality baking macarons is really just a process of drying out the meringue.

One good rule of thumb (a la MaiTai) is to wait until one macaron begins to crack and then the rest are sure to be done.  Another tip from MaiTai, a way to know if they are approaching being done is when the kitchen begins to smell delicious!  I just keep an eye on them and when they have risen, are a uniform color and smell delicious I know I am there.  If there is any question about under vs over baking opt for over baking.  Remember, you will be filling them with a wet filling which will soften the meringue while they rest (more about that later).  I use MaiTai’s advice and once one has cracked I take the pan out of the oven.

Remove pans to wire racks.

When completely cool remove shells from baking sheets and match up pairs of similar size.

Fill with desired filling (either with a small spatula or pastry bag and tip).  If I am using jam I just use an offset spatula…all other fillings I use a small pastry bag and tip.

Now comes the hard part.  Wait.  Yes, wait.  At least one day.  Place macarons in an airtight container and put them in the refrigerator.  The texture completely changes in the 12-24 hours they ripen.  If you don’t believe me eat one right away and then wait a day…the texture mellows in the middle and they take on that wonderful creamy consistency in the center with crisp outer shell. If you have baked them on the overdone side rest them even longer…although I can never wait more than a day. Macaron bliss!

french macarons

French Macarons The Basic Recipe
 
Prep time

Total time

 

A step by step recipe for French Macarons!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: French

Ingredients
  • 4 Large Eggs (separated) and weighed (in grams)
  • Ground Almond Four Flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour/Meal) Total weight of egg whites x 1.26
  • Confectioners (Icing) Sugar Total weight of egg whites x 2.07
  • Granulated (Caster)Sugar Total weight of egg whites ÷ 3.6
  • Gel, Paste or Powdered Food Coloring (I use Ateco gel or Wilton paste)

Instructions
  1. Weigh 4 egg whites. Set them aside.
  2. Weigh the almond flour. It should equal the weight of the egg whites (in grams) times 1.26.
  3. Weigh the confectioner’s sugar. Is determined by multiplying the weight (in grams) of the egg whites times 2.07. Set aside.
  4. Weigh the white sugar which is determined by dividing the weight of the egg whites by 3.6. Set aside.
  5. Process ground almond flour and confectioners sugar in a food processor. Put through a fine sieve or sift. Discard remaining bits.
  6. Beat egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until they form soft peaks.
  7. Continue to beat while slowly adding granulated sugar.
  8. Once the sugar has completely dissolved add food coloring and any additional flavorings the recipe might call for.
  9. With a spatula gently fold the dry mixture into to macaron base. There is no need to be super careful here…a little deflating of the egg whites is okay.
  10. Make sure there are NO egg white streaks within the mixture. It should be lava like and a very smooth paste. Any egg whites not incorporated will not bake evenly and I promise it won’t be pretty!
  11. Pour macaron paste into prepared pastry bag. Fold over end and twist to keep mixture from oozing out the top.
  12. Pipe 1¼-1½” rounds of macaron paste onto prepared cookie sheets. Space rounds about 2″ apart as they will spread.
  13. Once macarons are piped bang the cookie sheet on the counter three times to force any air bubbles caught under the surface to rupture. Pierce any remaining bubbles with a toothpick.
  14. Rotate the pan ½ turn and bang the sheet another three times.
  15. Let the pans rest for at least ½ hour (I usually wait about an hour). What you want is the tops of the piped macarons will loose some of their shine.
  16. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees
  17. Bake the macarons for 9-20 minutes. This is a large range of time. It can vary greatly depending upon how hot your oven runs and how humid the temperature. In actuality baking macarons is really just a process of drying out the meringue. So a cooler oven on a humid day will take longer than a hotter oven on a dry day.
  18. Remove pans to wire racks. Lift the parchement on each corner an put a few drops of water to help release the macarons. Be carefull…not too much water…literally just a couple of drops. Let cool.
  19. Remove shells from baking sheets and match up pairs of similar size.
  20. Fill with desired filling (either with a small spatula or pastry bag and tip).
  21. Now comes the hard part. Wait. Yes, wait. At least one day. Place macarons in an airtight container and put them in the refrigerator. The texture completely changes in the 12-24 hours they ripen. If you don’t believe me eat one right away and then wait a day…the texture mellows in the middle and they take on that wonderful creamy consistency in the center with crisp outer shell.

macaronmeasures

Fillings and Flavorings

Chocolate Macarons

This is the easiest macaron filling there is…Chocolate Ganache.  A simple and classic combination of chopped chocolate, heavy cream and butter.  If you can boil water you can make ganache!

Chocolate Ganache

Since we have the digital scale out we will use it for the filling as well!  I love the taste that two types of chocolate add to this ganache.  I used both milk and semi-sweet.  A pinch of espresso powder in this is a welcome addition if you happen to have some lying around!

Chocolate Filled Macarons
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

A delicious macaron filling of milk and semi-sweet chocolate
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: French

Ingredients
  • 80 grams Milk Chocolate
  • 50 grams Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • 30 grams unsalted Butter
  • 120 ml Double (Heavy) Cream
  • Pinch of espresso powder (optional)

Instructions
  1. Chop chocolates and place in bowl.
  2. Cut butter into cubes and add to chocolate
  3. Gently heat heavy cream over a low flame until just simmering
  4. Pour heavy cream over chocolate/butter mixture
  5. Stir until combined
  6. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve