Friday, July 29, 2011

French cookies part 5 Marie Antoinette

The name conjures up images of opulence and 1700's couture.  Really big hair, too.  I couldn't end my week in France without including this most iconic French queen.

Reading about her fascinating life did two things for me.  One, it made me very glad I wasn't around back then, and two, I couldn't help but imagine what it was like to choose the day's outfit from her vast wardrobe.  Me - my wardrobe is pretty basic most days.  But Marie would need to decide what shoes to wear   (I am wearing flip flops).

And what fan would work best with the dainty shoes?  Me - central air all the way baby.

And which gorgeous gown to wear - ummmm, tank top and shorts?

Can you imagine how much all that clothing would weigh?  And holding your head up with the Marge Simpson-esque hair?  Wow. 

Anyway, I had a ridiculous amount of fun making these cookies. 

And honestly, I'm sad to see my French cookie week end.  From the Eiffel Tower and crystal chandeliers

to the chocolate and champagne macarons,

to champagne in general,

to the can can with ruffle and rose cookies,

to my success with macarons - lavender and vanilla bean flavored.

It is time for me to take a break and hatch my next adventure (it is about as far away from France as you can get - my great home state of Iowa!). 

To see the full post for day one click here, day two here, day three here, day four here.
I am linking my week in France with
Sweet Little Gals
Pink Friday
Simply Sweet Home
Between Naps on the Porch
Paisley Passions
Savvy Southern Style
Dittle Dattle
Stone Gable
Sunday Showcase
Nifty Thrifty Things
Pink Saturday
French Cupboard
Chic on a Shoestring
Tidy Mom
Foodie Friday
My Romantic Home
French Country Cottage
And so it is time to say bonjour and

Thursday, July 28, 2011

French cookies part 4 Lavender vanilla bean macarons


With trepidation, fear, and determination, I marched back into my kitchen and did battle with the macaron.  I aged,whipped, folded, piped, banged, dried, double panned, tossed salt over my shoulder, and prayed.  And it worked.

Insert sound of maniacal laughter. 

And now a few facts and tips.  I used the macaron recipe from Martha Stewart for Parisian macaron, and you can view it by clicking here.  Almond flour is called for in all macaron recipes, and in a fit of thriftiness I made my own by grinding up almonds in a food processor.  I didn't grind mine up finely enough because you can see little lumps in the cookie.  Next time, I either need to shell out money for the almond flour or go do a better job of pulverizing my almonds.  They still taste wonderful, but it does affect the smoothness of the tops. 

See what I'm talking about?  Now for the little tricks I used this time. 

1.  I aged my egg whites
2.  I banged the baking sheets a couple of times on the counter (scaring my dog) to help reduce air bubbles.
3.  After piping the batter onto the baking sheet, I let it dry to the touch - about 30 minutes.
4.  I used two baking sheets, one on top of the other for baking.

Not one cracked top, and they all had the desired little "feet".  That's me laughing maniaclly again.

And now, on to the filling.  A lot of macarons are filled with Swiss meringue buttercream, and that sounded like a very good plan to me.  Once again, I turn to Martha for the recipe.  For this somewhat time consuming but easy recipe for SMB click here.  The amount of butter is truly horrifying, but as I have said before, it makes quite a large batch and stores wonderfully in the fridge or freezer.  Just try not to think about it too much.

The filling is where my flavorings went.  I added a very small amount of culinary lavender and some vanilla bean.  Tinted a soft lavender color, it just looked beautiful.  A word of caution here:  use only the tiniest bit of lavender.  I added just a little too much and it was too strong. 

For me (and Tony) the chocolate champagne macarons were the best tasting, but these were the best looking.  Next time I make the chocolate ones, I will add some brown food coloring to the batter to give a nice rich color to the cookie. 

Tomorrow will conclude French cookie week with a visit from Marie Antoinette.  Until then, heureux Jeudi!

My link friends today are
Its a Keeper Thursday
House of Hepworths
Between Naps on the Porch
No Minimalist Here


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

French cookies part 3

Ah yes, champagne.  Added to my macarons, by the glass, and made into sugar cookie form - why I feel downright American in Paris.  Its a tough and dirty job being a baking blogger.  You have no idea how I suffer for my craft *cough*. 

Here is a random fact for you.  In my younger years I was very involved with dance, and at my studio we did a kick line for the finale at the annual recital.  Oh boy, did I ever love doing those kick lines.  It was quite possibly the highlight of my year.  Can you guess where I am going with French cookies and a kick line?

It's going to zee French version of zee kick line.  And why?  Because I CAN CAN.  Sorry, couldn't help myself.

 I made the little ruffle cookies with Swiss meringue buttercream.  All I did was put on a ribbon tip and run the icing back and forth making the little ruffles.  When I make SMB, I do a large batch and then store it in the fridge or freezer.  It hardens up, but goes back to dreamy softness when allowed to come to room temperature.  Every refrigerator should be stocked with this heavenly concoction.  Here is a closer look.

And these next cookies are for all you sweet people who read my blog and leave me such wonderful comments.  From the bottom of my heart

Wish me luck.  Today I am heading back into the confusing world of macaron for part deux.  Too bad that champagne is all gone.

My links are
No Minimalist Here
Tempt my Tummy Tuesdays
Carolyn's Homework
Savvy Southern Style

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

French cookies part 2 chocolate champagne macarons

Hello from south central pennsylvania France!  I finally decided to tackle the confusing world of macarons.  Reading recipes and tips for creating this treat is truly headache worthy.  As you can see from the photo above, I didn't exactly achieve a smooth domed top.  In fact, they almost all cracked and maybe a total of two had the desired little feet. 

But here is the good news:  THE TASTE WAS FABULOUS!  Knock your socks off fabulous.  My non-sweet loving husband couldn't get enough of them fabulous.  They may not have been lookers, but the macaron was lightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  And the combo of chocolate and champagne was beyond divine. 

I used Martha Stewart's recipe from here.  For the champagne filling I used a recipe from a wonderful blog I found called Melanger Baking.  You will notice that Martha and Melanger's are sheer perfection, and I hang my head in shame by comparison...

My adaption to Martha's was to add about 3 tbsp. of cocoa powder to the ground almonds.  For the champagne filling I used white chocolate chips - about 3/4 of a bag - to the heavy cream and champagne.  The champagne cuts the cloying sweetness of the white chocolate as well adding a beautiful flavor.  Oh yes, chocolate and champagne play very nicely together.

There are many tips - and some of them conflicting - on ways to make the perfect looking macaron.  Here's a few:
Age the eggs
Bang the uncooked macaron on the counter before baking
Start the oven at a higher temperature and reduce heat once they go in
Prop oven door open with a wooden spoon
Let macaron dry for anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour before baking
Use double baking sheets
Use insulated baking sheets

I confess - all I did was bang mine on the countertop.  Sigh.  Next round I will let them dry to the touch before baking.  Any other tips out there?

But in the end, my ugly ducklings were enjoyed with a glass of champagne in the garden.  Magnifique!

Link along with
Sweetology 101
A Stroll Thru Life

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vive la France cookies part one

So, a few changes in regard to my blog. 
Change #1:  I have added a wedding inspiration page!  I think cookies are the perfect wedding favor, addition to dessert table, or way to ask a friend to be a bridesmaid, don't you?

Change #2:  I have cleaned up my sidebar.  Too much stuff, and I hate clutter.  I was also set to do advertising,  and I have changed my mind.  No ads, no awards -  no nothing except a list of great blogs I follow, MY followers, and that is about it.  I really want my blog to be focused on my baking, and to that end...

Change #3:  Waaaaaaaay fewer link parties.  They are fun but take a lot of time - time I should spend in the kitchen if you know what I mean.  They are great for building readership, but I really write this blog for myself.  It is a journal of sorts, and in the midst of new blogger excitement, I think I lost some of that feeling.  I really hope all of you keep reading, and commenting, and following me because I love all 146 of you!

Change #4:  Well, its not really a change, but rather a pledge.  I will continue to not use the terms "easy peasy" or "cutie patooty".  Ever.  Under even the cutest circumstances.  Oh yeah,  and I will never tell you something is easy if it isn't.  If I struggle with something, you will know it. 

Ah, now I feel better.  On to the baking!

Naturally,  I would have to do this cookie theme post Bastille Day.  Better late than never, right?  This will be my theme for the week, and I'm already having a very good time.  Lots of research and baking and decorating and ordering new cookie cutters and drinking champagne...hmmmm, maybe every week should be French week.  I actually made a bunch of cookies for Brooke's French class for the end of year, but was in such a huge rush, I didn't have time to take pictures of them.  I also made French cookies in honor of the Philadelphia Flower Show back in March.  Once again, didn't take the time to photograph.  So here we go, Francophiles - THIS TIME I AM TAKING PICTURES!

I thought it appropriate to begin with the most iconic symbol of Paris, the eiffel tower. 

And I'm kind of proud of myself for resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to use pink icing.  Pink would have been very nice, but I am loving the aqua.  For some reason, I seem to enjoy doing really detailed piping work.  The more lines or squiggles, the better. 

Speaking of detailed piping, my French inspired chandeliers had me almost popping a blood vessel in my head. 

Worth the effort, though.  I am crazy about crystal chandeliers and would put them in the garage if I could.  I have these nifty little magnetic crystals that attach onto a chandelier to change out its look.  Red, black, orange, green, pink - whoever thought this one up was genius.  I got mine at Hobby Lobby - I highly recommend them if you love crystal and, like me, have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to changing decor for the seasons.

So this is day one in France at The Enchanted Oven.  I have lots more pretties to come, so keep checking back this week.  Here's a little hint, there is some champagne involved both in image and flavoring!  In the words of my hero The Barefoot Contessa, "how bad can that be"?

Au revoir!
My streamlined list of blog parties:
Savvy Southern Style
A Stroll Thru Life
Sweetology 101
Mod Mix Monday
Wickedly Crafty Saturday
Diddle Dattle

Friday, July 22, 2011

Garden of butterflies

  I do everything I can to attract butterflies to my gardens. One plant that  is a must is butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).  It is a lovely shrub that spends most of the growing season covered in clusters of flowers.  To say that it attracts butterflies is an understatement!   I have included some butterfly bush blossoms below along with a few other pretties from my garden.

To me, butterflies represent the metamorphosis from ordinary to extraordinary.  The transformation from simple insect to ethereal winged beauty is a miracle of nature.

   Butterflies enjoy rocks to rest upon and a source of water.  They are also attracted to large areas of color, so plant multiples of smaller plants.  Butterfly weed is a host plant for monarch butterflies.  It also attracts swallowtails, fritillaries, painted ladies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird clearwing moths (have you every seen what looks like a large bee but flies like a hummingbird?  It’s a hummingbird clearwing moth!).

These are just a few of the flowers that butterflies flock to:

Coneflower - Echinacea
Tickseed - Coreopsis
Butterfly bush - Buddleia davidii
Butterfly weed - Asclepias tuberose
Lantana - Lantana camara
Black eyed Susan - Rudbeckia
Azalea - Rhododendron sp.
Viburmum - Viburnum
Marigold -  Tagetes
Zinnia - Zinnia elegans
Pincushion flower - Scabios)--
Garden phlox - Phlox paniculata
Cosmos - Cosmos bipinnatus
Bee balm - Monarda
Lavender - Lavendula
Delphinium - Delphinium grandiflorum
Stonecrop - Sedum
Speedwell - Veronica spicata

These asiatic lilies remind me of monarchs.

I use corn syrup in my icing, which gives my cookies a shiny almost glaze like finish.  They remind me of stained glass windows.

I love it when my two favorite activities (baking and gardening) collide. 

                                                                       Cookies + 

                                                                         Nature =


Me and my butterflies are flitting around blogland with
Lines Across My Face
Dittle Dattle
Well Seasoned Life
Vanilla Bean Girls
Delicate Construction
Not Just a Housewife
The Tablescaper
Pink Saturday
Tatertots and Jello
Between Naps on the Porch
Fun with Food Friday
Vintage Inspiration Fridays
Foodie Friday
Chic on a Shoestring
Tidy Mom
French Country Cottage
My Romantic Home

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Criminal in my house

I love all the creatures of nature (well, excluding snakes).  In my gardens I provide food, water, and shelter for pollinators like birds and bees.  And I love watching bats fly around overhead at dusk, knowing that they help keep the bug population down.

In the center of my patio, I have a koi pond.  This is my favorite place to relax - it is filled with flowers and is a constant hub of bees and butterflies.  A family of charming frogs moved in this spring.

The squirrels hop from branch to branch in the tall oaks and maples - chattering and busily gathering acorns.  So cute!  And bunnies!  Even though I have a vegetable garden, they seem to leave it alone.  I heard once that leaving human hair trimmings around the edges of the garden will keep them out - a yappy dog doesn't hurt either.

My two cats also love prowling around in the gardens and chasing butterflies.

But then something terrible began to happen.  It became clear to me that I was housing a homicidal maniac.  A criminal so ruthless and cunning that there was no stopping  his lust for blood.  A sociopathic murderer with no conscience ... and his name is

Claude Monet.  This mastermind of horror has a number of alias' - C. Monet, Claudie, Claus, and Mr. Goo Ball.  This next part of the post is not for the weak of heart or stomach.  When Claude Monet catches his prey - HE EATS THEIR HEADS OFF.  He then happily brings them to the doorstep where he awaits a "thank you" or in my case, a scream.  Unfortunately, he is also really good at hiding his smaller victims in his mouth and then sneaking them in the house where they are ceremoniously placed in Isabelle's bed, under a sofa cushion, or wherever strikes his fancy.  Mice, chipmonks, birds, bats, bunnies, squirrels - he doesn't care.  If you fall into the catagory of "critter", it is not safe to stop by. 

We now have to do a mouth check every time he comes in.  I've tried scolding him, but as my husband Tony says, "its just in his nature" and Mr. Goo Ball views it as a cherished gift.  I have to say, he does have a look of love in his eyes when he makes his deliveries...

Linking up with

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wedding cookies again

Here I go again.  It must seem to all of you that I have become obsessed with wedding cookies lately.  Guilty as charged.

The New York City shopping trip over the weekend did indeed result in Genevieve saying "yes to the dress". She purchased it at a really fantastic bridal store called The Bridal Garden.  It is a non-profit salon featuring designer and couture gowns donated by stores and designers with the profits going to children's education  in New York City.  Click here to find out more about this really incredible charity.  Now this is a wedding concept I can get behind.  Genevieve got a stunning Vera Wang at a very deep discount and and the money goes to a wonderful cause.  I'd describe the dress and/or show pictures, but it is a deep dark secret to be kept from her inquisitive fiance.  Sorry Drew, my lips are sealed. Hee, hee, hee.

 The cookies above are my take on wedding bouquets.  Using a sea shell cutter for the top and a golf club cutter for the bottom, I came up with the shape (I do think that a tree cookie cutter would do an admirable job, however).  Have to say, I love the three dimensional look that the flowers give to the cookie.  I had been on a royal icing flower kick last week making roses in yellow, white, pink, and orange.  My favorite little accent flower is kind of like a little pansy with a green dragee center - cute, cute, cute.

Continuing with my royal icing rose frenzy, I made these tiffany blue hearts with scroll work and a white roses.    I would love these in any number of color combos, but what I am thinking of now is a fall theme.  Couldn't you picture these in a brown icing with burnt orange embellishments?  I am thinking about fall today because we in the midst of a despicable heat wave and I am hiding out in the air conditioning pretending it didn't make me sweat going out to get the mail. 

How about some cookies for a destination wedding?  Inspired by a tropical sunset, I think these would be a knock out favor for a beach wedding.  Palm trees, hammock, sunset, umbrella drink in hand...aaaaaah.  The next time though, I will make them with no pink, more red and more orange like these.  I thought more pink would be pretty.  It wasn't. 

There are some changes that will be coming to my blog soon, but I will have to fill you in on them a bit later.  Stay tuned!

Linking with my friends