Dreamy Mishaps: Pecan Milk and Praline Macarons

Sometimes recipes are inspired by memories, sometimes by cravings, and some come from eccentricities. These recipes started with a cheesecake. My boyfriend got me a food processor as a gift for our two-year anniversary and, to express my gratitude, I whipped up his favorite dessert, a classic New York style cheesecake, which left me with two unused egg whites. These egg whites nagged at me until I decided I would use them to make macaroons—I had already used my new gadget to make almond milk and dried the remaining meal to produce almond flour—but I couldn’t get excited about going classic. I wanted something more exotic than chocolate or vanilla, and the withered late season peaches and tough pre-season pears at the market weren’t inspiring me to make jam. Searching for regional inspiration, I recalled my recent first experience with pralines, a buttery, cookie-shaped candy, and like macarons, gluten free. Pralines are made with pecans, which grow in abundance here in Georgia.

After my delight at the sweet, creamy deliciousness of homemade almond milk, I decided to make pecan milk from my nuts before using the powdered remains in macaroon batter. (It gave me something to do while my egg whites aged.) The pecan milk has a richer, nuttier flavor that went beautifully with a drizzle of honey and a dash of nutmeg. I’ve also been enjoying it with Minimalist Baker‘s Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola. I dried my pulverized pecans in the oven and the next day I was ready to make macarons.

At this point I should probably admit that I’ve never made macarons before. They are famously difficult. And it rained. Okay, enough excuses. These little guys are not the prettiest. They could have used another five minutes in the oven and I applied the filling when it was too hot, destroying the fragile foot that I swear showed up on about half of them. If I was a professional chef, I’d say that my macarons where a failure, but I’m a home baker and since everyone I fed these too—including my boyfriend who only likes two other desserts: warm brownies a la mode and cheesecake—loved them, in my book, that’s close enough to success to share.

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Pecan Milk

2 c. pecans
1/8th tsp. salt
5 c. filtered water, plus more for soaking

*You will need cheesecloth and a blender or food processor.

Cover pecans with water and let them sit overnight. Drain, rinse and combine with 5 c. water in a blender or food processor, blend on high for 30 sec. or until nuts are pulverized and liquid looks milky. Drain through 3-4 layers of cheesecloth, squeezing to release as much liquid as possible.

Spread the nut pulp in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and dry in oven on the lowest setting for 3 hours r so, until light and dry.

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Pecan Praline Macarons

(adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

For the Macarons:

200g confectioners’ sugar (approx. 2 cups)
100g pulverized, dried pecans (approx.. 1 cup)
120g room temperature egg whites (around 3 large egg whites) left out at room             temperature for at least a few hours or up to 3 days
1/8 teaspoon salt
40g sifted granulated sugar or caster sugar (approx.. 3 Tbsp.)

For the Filling:

1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp. butter
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. pulverized, dried pecans
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the macarons: Blend pecans and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until well mixed and finely textured. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat salt and egg whites slowly until stiff peaks form, then increase to high speed and add caster sugar, incorporating quickly. Do not over mix. Fold in vanilla. Sprinkle pecan mixture over egg whites and fold together gently until just incorporated. Allow mixture to rest while you prepare 2 double layered baking sheets topped with parchment paper, fit a piping bag with a round tip, and preheat oven to 325°. Pipe 2” mounds onto baking sheets, spacing about 1” apart. Rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet, then remove to rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: Set oven to 350°. Combine whipping cream, butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisking frequently. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla. Remove nuts from oven and stir in. Allow sauce to cool for 15 minutes, beating frequently to prevent hardening.

To Assemble: When macarons are completely cooled, stick pairs together with filling. For best results, wait 1 full day to enjoy.

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Fantasy Mango Granola

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I love granola, but one thing I’ve always found disappointing is how little flavor variation there is between different recipes. Sure, I may use different nuts or dried fruits, different oils or sweeteners, but by the time I stir it, bake it, and add some yogurt or almond milk it always tastes sort of the same. The only exception I’ve found is peanut butter granola, which is delicious, but I wanted something lighter, fruitier, more tropical. I tried experimenting with different spices and types of honey, but the differences were subtle, and the classic granola flavor persisted.

Then, one day, while nibbling on a freeze dried mango slice I realized I was holding the secret to my success. At first I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the freeze dried fruit since it burns easily if exposed to direct heat. I decided to add it in after cooking and before cooling, just as I would do with chunks of dried fruit.

I whipped up a batch of granola, pulverized a handful of dehydrated fruit, and sprinkled it over the fresh-from-the-oven oats, and stirred in some chopped dried mango for another layer of fruitiness. The result was just what I’d been dreaming of, a unique, tropical, fruity granola.

Freeze dried fruits have no added sugar or preservatives and a concentrated fruit flavor. As an added bonus, their low moisture content helps keep your granola crisp. This recipe could easily by adapted to make strawberry, apple, or banana granola. Try it out! You won’t be disappointed

 

Fantasy Mango Granola Recipe

(yields approximately 4 cups)

3 c. oatmeal (I used gluten free)

3 T. dark brown sugar

1/8 t. cardamom

1/4 t. salt

1/4 c. seeds (I used sesame)

1/4 c. nuts (I used peanuts)

1/3 c. honey

2 T. vegetable oil

1/4 c. powdered, freeze-dried mango (from 12 slices)

1/2 c. chopped dried mango

Preheat oven to 300°. Place a sheet of lightly oiled parchment paper on a baking sheet. Mix together oatmeal, brown sugar, cardamom, salt, seeds, and nuts in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine honey and oil, pour over oatmeal mixture and stir until well coated. Spread into a thin layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes, stir and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp. Remove from oven. Lift parchment off of baking sheet and set on a cool surface. Sprinkle mango powder over granola and toss to combine. Add chopped mango and toss again. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure Recipe: Chocolate Spelt Zucchini Bread

adapted from Baby Cakes

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Since last summer when I stopped eating wheat, I will occasionally experience a craving for a food and realize I haven’t tried to make it wheat free. I say wheat free instead of gluten free because I have discovered that while wheat gives me vertigo, heart palpitations, and digestive distress, spelt—an ancient low-gluten relative to wheat—has no ill effects on my system. I still often try to bake completely gluten free, but sometimes spelt with its sweet nutty flavor, gorgeous toasty color and impressive absorption is just the right tool for the job. Plus, it gives baked goods a longer shelf life than gluten free flours.

And I needed spelt’s super absorbency here because I used 2 cups of finely shredded zucchini, twice the amount in most recipes! I also added fresh fruit because it’s July and I just can’t get excited about raisins when my refrigerator is full of golden kiwi, plump blueberry’s, and dark syrupy cherries.

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This bread is less sweet than many zucchini bread recipes, moist and dense. The generous amount of zucchini, whole grain flour, and low sugar content make it wholesome. A mixture of chocolate chips, fresh fruit and crunchy bits make it complex and decadent.

I made cocoa nib, mini bittersweet chocolate chip, and cherry bread. It’s rich and complex, but subtle. I can’t wait to make this again with a new flavor combination: peach/white chocolate/pecan perhaps or blueberry/milk chocolate/poppy seed? Let me know what adventure you choose in the comments.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure Wholesome and Decadent Zucchini Bread

 

2 c. spelt flour

½ c. flax seed meal

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. salt

2/3 c. brown sugar or coconut sugar

¾ c. milk (cow, almond, coconut, etc.)

½ c. melted coconut oil or butter

1 ½ Tbsp. vanilla extract

2 c. shredded zucchini

1/3 c choc chips (white, milk, dark, regular or mini)

1/2 c chopped stone fruit or whole small berries (cherries, apricots, peaches, blueberries or raspberries)

1/3 c. crunch (nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, or cocoa nibs)

 

Preheat oven to 325° and lightly oil a standard bread pan. In a large bowl, mix spelt flour, flax meal, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set 2 Tbsp. aside in a separate medium bowl; a chips, fruit and crunch ingredient and toss to coat with flour mixture. Set aside. In main bowl, one at a time, add sugar, oil, milk, and vanilla, stirring to incorporate after each addition. Fold in zucchini, then add chocolate mixture and fold again, until just incorporated.

 

Pour batter into prepared bread pan and bake for an hour (plus or minus 10 minutes) until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, or as long as you can wait before digging in.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure Recipe: Vinaigrette

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Even people who love to cook rarely make their own condiments. Homemade catsup and mayo are amazing, but who has time to make them every time you make a burger or sandwich (especially if you’re wheat free like I am and begin the sandwich making process by baking your own bread)? Salad dressing, on the other hand is something I firmly believe in making myself. Premade dressings are either cheap and full of added sugar, or pricey and kind of gross. A homemade dressing comes together in minutes and is easy to make in very small batches. You can store it for a few days if needed, but one of the best thing about homemade vinaigrettes is that you don’t have to commit to a huge bottle. You can choose a new adventure for every salad. The recipe below makes 2 servings and is easily doubled, or quadrupled if you’re feeding a crowd. Today I chose lemon juice, fresh basil, and mustard. Try it out, and let me know what your favorite flavors are!

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CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE VINAIGRETTE
(Lemon, mustard and basil pictured above)

Makes 2 servings

3 Tbsp. Oil (Olive, Sesame, Avocado, or Melted Coconut Oil)
+
1 Tbsp. strong acid (Red Wine, White Wine, Cider, or Sherry Vinegar) OR
2 Tbsp. mild acid (Lemon, Lime or Grapefruit Juice, Rice Wine or Balsamic Vinegar
+
1 binder (1 clove smashed garlic, 1 Tbsp. tomato paste, 1 egg yolk, 1 Tbsp. cream)
+
1 tsp. solid flavorings (shallot, fresh herbs, lemon or lime zest, olives, capers) AND/OR
1 Tbsp. liquid flavorings (honey, pureed fresh tomato, orange juice, cranberry juice)
+
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients thoroughly with a whisk until combined. Add a tsp. of water to thin if desired. Serve immediately over your favorite salad, seafood, or roasted vegetable.

Choose Your Own Adventure Recipe: Sherbet

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Sherbet may sound like something your grandmother would serve you, but it’s actually a pretty sexy dessert. Cold, creamy, and so easy to make, sherbet is like the perfect hybrid of ice cream and sorbet. It’s bright and fruity, but also decadent and creamy, the perfect summer treat, if you make it yourself. Sherbet is slowly edging its way back into style. If you’re lucky enough to live in New York you should try the yuzu sherbet at ChikaLicious or the black raspberry sherbet at Sundaes and Cones, but wherever you live, you should really try to make this treat at home. It’s a snap, a breeze, and perfect for creating your own flavors.

Unlike most ice cream and sorbet recipes, it requires zero time seeping, boiling, or otherwise sweating over a hot stove.

The recipe below works well with fruits that are not too acidic and have a medium water content. The high water content of melons, or the extremely low one of bananas or avocado will affect the texture. The acidity of citrus fruit can curdle the dairy, and requires special consideration. For best results, choose one of the options offered below.

I made this lovely Strawberry Lavender Vanilla Sherbet this weekend, and it was bright, fruity and fluffy. Try one of the suggested flavors below or think up a combo of your own. Let me know how it goes!

 

Choose Your Own Adventure Sherbet

(adapted from Brooklyn Supper)

½ c. sugar (granulated sugar or evaporated cane juice)

¼ – 1 tsp. of flavoring* (seeds from 1 vanilla bean, zest from one citrus fruit, dried edible flowers such as rose or lavender, finely chopped fresh herbs, warm spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg)

4 c. chopped fruit* (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries; skinned peaches, apricots or nectarines, mangoes, cherries)

1 c. cream (heavy whipping cream, coconut cream, cashew cream)

pinch of sea salt.

 

Chill a metal bread pan or other container in the freezer. Place ½ cup of sugar in a medium bowl and add in the flavoring. Mix with finger, rubbing together to combine thoroughly. Toss in fruit, mix well and let it macerate for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, pour cream into a separate large bowl and whip until you’ve formed soft peaks. Pour fruit mixture into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour over cream and fold together gently. Scoop into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Scoop into prepared pan and freeze at least an hour before serving. When ready to eat, allow sherbet to soften for a few minutes on the counter before scooping.

 

*If you’re feeling bold, you can mix two!

 

Suggested Combinations:

Strawberry, Lavender and Vanilla (pictured above)

Peach Mint

Cherry Lime

Apricot Rose

Blueberry Cinnamon

 

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure Recipe: Baked Oatmeal

Confident and experienced cooks tend to view a recipe as a series of suggested guidelines, adapting and tweaking as desired, but most people see a recipe as a series of rules, a complex formula that could easily be ruined by one wrong step. There’s nothing wrong with following a recipe precisely, but it can be limiting, expensive, and make cooking feel like a chore instead of a chance to be creative.

So I’ve come up with a solution: choose your own adventure recipes, a series of guidelines with lots of options built in so that you can experiment without worry. This first installment is a dish I recently discovered and have completely fallen for: baked oatmeal.

Baked oatmeal is like the perfect hybrid of a cake and a bowl of oats. It comes out firm and chewy, tastes great hot or cold, and is both healthy enough to eat on a weekday morning and special enough to make for a weekend brunch.

I made my version with fresh strawberries, orange juice, sliced almonds and a dash of turmeric. Choose your own adventure below.

2 cups oatmeal (I used thick cut, use certified gluten free oats to make gf)

2/3 cup nuts and/or seeds (almonds, pecans, walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds)

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp of 2 additional spices/flavorings (nutmeg, cloves, garam masala, cardamom, vanilla, orange zest)

1/3 c. sweetener (brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave)

1 1/2 cups liquid (milk, almond milk, orange juice, apple juice)

1 binder (2 eggs, 1/2 c. pumpkin, 2 flax eggs, 1/2 c apple sauce)

2 cups fruit (berries, sliced bananas, diced peaches, chopped apples)

2 tsp. turbinado sugar to finish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Grease a small (8×8) pan or casserole dish. In a nonreactive bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add all remaining ingredients except for fruit and mix again. Scatter half of fruit in bottom of baking dish, pour oatmeal mixture on top. Scatter remaining fruit on surface, follow with turbinado sugar if using. Bake 45 minutes, until edges are browned and texture is firm. Serve hot or cold, with milk, yogurt, and/or additional fresh fruit.