cookies

Un Petit Trésor: Les Macarons

The time has come. What a lovely night: I’m sitting in my little white desk chair, burning my raspberry scented candle, and weaving together a story I’ve been itching to tell you for ages. Why haven’t I told it sooner? It’s about an endeavor that until this month, I simply haven’t had the nerve to attempt. In keeping with their character and mission, however, the Daring Bakers have once again pushed me out of my comfortable nest. For weeks now I’ve been flapping my wings in a frenzy, uncertain as to whether I’d fly through this challenge like a graceful (albeit nonexistent) Willow Bird, or fall to my (melodramatic) doom. Well, here I am telling you the story I’ve longed to tell you, so it must be good news, right? Let me tell you a tale of magnificence, of magic, of madness, of . . . feet?

Of feet.

Don’t be grossed out, podophobics — these aren’t the sort of feet with heels, arches, and toes. These are the sort of feet that bakers across the world have been dreaming of long before this month’s challenge rolled around. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m referring to the sweet little feet on a lovely French macaron.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Macarons are unique, delicate sandwich cookies with a crisp shell, soft innards, and a variety of different fillings. They’ve been called “the new cupcakes” because of their petite portion sizes, their diverse flavorings, and their meteoric increase in popularity in recent years. While I don’t think they’ll be replacing cupcakes anytime soon, macarons are infinitely versatile. The shells can be flavored with cocoa, powdered fruits, and teas; colored with bright powdered food coloring; and filled with any one of myriad ganaches, frostings, creams, nut butters, or jams.

The recipe for macarons is deceptively short and (forgive my beloved puns) sweet. The plethora of nit-picky addendums to said recipe, however, expose the truth: macarons are difficult to perfect. They’re finicky about ingredient ratios, oven temperatures, folding intensity and duration, your kitchen decor . . . you get the idea. I was nervous but determined as I set my first batch of egg whites out on the counter to age. To be honest, the aforementioned nit-picky how-tos probably added to my anxiety more than they aided my technique. My obsessive compulsive nature was on overdrive trying to compile the 847,948 macaron tips I had read, some of which conflicted and some of which were insanely detailed. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find someone prescribing optimal wrist angles for folding batter or proper macaron-making hairstyles.

At some point, you have to stop reading the mountain of macaron manuals and just jump on in. In that spirit, I picked up some cardamom in the bulk spice section of my local grocer and set to work on Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons.

Macaron recipes all typically follow a basic pattern: beat egg whites and sugar to a stiff meringue, process almonds and powdered sugar together until fine, sift to remove lumps, fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients to form the macaronage, pipe out into circles, and bake. I added the cardamom into my macaron shells and whipped up Tartelette’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling to sandwich between them. I sprinkled some roasted, salted pumpkin seeds in the center of some of these macarons for good measure.

When I knelt to peer into my oven window and saw feet on my macarons, I grabbed my phone and my camera. The former was to call Mike and share my elation, while the latter provided a video memento of my victorious achievement. I love knowing that so many fellow bakers (daring or otherwise) have felt the joy of this very moment while sitting in front of their own ovens.

Despite my elation, my first batch of macarons certainly wasn’t perfect. They were delicious, but the shells were a bit flat. After reflecting and reading, I decided the flatness of the shells was probably due to overfolding my macaronage, and that the Daring Bakers recipe was a risk, seeing as it used a different ratio of ingredients than the accomplished Tartelette. Thus I made the following changes: I would count my strokes as I folded in my dry ingredients, ensuring that they were under 50, and I would use Tartelette’s recipe.

Batch #2 was comprised of plain macaron shells with two fillings: Cream Cheese Buttercream with Strawberry Jam, or David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Filling. And finally, using only 45 folding strokes, egg whites aged for 48 hours, and Tartelette’s careful ratio, I achieved a magnificent macaron!

While both fillings were good, we strongly preferred the chocolate filling to the somewhat overly tangy cream cheese buttercream. Y’all know I love cream cheese, but the taste of this recipe struck me as a bit odd (maybe I did something wrong). I do love the idea of cold, fruity jam on top of cream, but next time I’ll use a regular vanilla buttercream.

These gorgeous bites would be perfect with tea or coffee (I have to admit, though, I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact, that’s Coke Zero in the mug up there — go ahead and laugh). Because of their flexible flavoring, macarons are also ideal for any time of day. Eat a light jam macaron on the patio for breakfast, a buttercream macaron for a late morning brunch, or a ganache-filled macaron for a decadent dessert. Don’t be discouraged if your first try doesn’t yield perfection; the eventual success and satisfaction is worth the wait!

Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons


Recipe By:

-Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern (adapted by me)
Tartelette (pumpkin cream cheese filling)

Yields: around 2 dozen macarons (48 shells)


Macaron Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) icing sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) almond flour
2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.) granulated sugar
1/2 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
5 (Have at room temperature) egg whites, at room temperature (I followed the popular recommendation and aged my egg whites for 24-48 hours on a counter top, covered with a paper towel)


Pumpkin Cream Cheese Ingredients:
2 oz (60gr) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 oz (60gr) freshly cooked or canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp ground cloves


Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the icing sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift half of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold to combine. Fold quickly at first and then gently. Add cardamom to your batter. Sift in the remaining almond flour and continue to fold, but be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients. Note: Count your strokes and try to stay under 50. The macaronnage should “flow like magma,” whatever that means, when it’s ready.)
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets (double up on baking sheets if they aren’t professional grade) lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper). Note: I piped mine too close together. Be careful.
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored. Note: Don’t get so excited about their feet that you yank them out too soon; if you do, the feet will collapse into a sad ruffle. Don’t ask me how I know this.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

For filling: In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, pumpkin and cloves until completely incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with this mixture and pipe onto half the shells and top with another shell.

Note: If I had this to do over again, I’d use Tartelette’s recipe (below) with cardamom added for the macarons.

Plain Macarons with Two Fillings: Cream Cheese Buttercream with Strawberry Jam and Chocolate Ganache


Recipe By:

Tartelette (macarons, cream cheese buttercream, adapted by me)
David Lebovitz (chocolate filling)

Yields: around 15-17 macarons (30-34 shells)


Macaron Ingredients:
3 egg whites (about 90 gr)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds


Cream Cheese Buttercream Filling Ingredients: Note: I would have preferred regular buttercream. This filling had an odd flavor.
1 1/2 sticks (170 gr) butter at room temperature
4 oz (120gr) cream cheese, softened
3 egg whites
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
2 Tb water
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean split open and seeded.
Strawberry jam (or flavor of your choice)


Chocolate Filling Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 gr) butter, cut into small pieces


Directions:
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature in a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won’t work. Combine the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Pass through a sieve. Add them to the meringue,with the coloring and give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper lined baking sheets (double up on baking sheets if they aren’t professional grade). Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Note: Don’t get so excited about their feet that you yank them out too soon; if you do, the feet will collapse into a sad ruffle. Don’t ask me how I know this. Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don’t let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

For strawberry cream cheese filling: In the bowl of stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they have soft peaks. In the meantime, combine 2 Tb water with the sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan and bring the syrup to 250F. Slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites. If you use hand beaters, this is even easier and there is less hot syrup splatter on the side of your bowl and in the whisk attachment of the stand mixer. Continue to whip until the meringue is completely cooled. Slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The mass might curdle but no panic, continue to whip until it all comes together. Add the cream cheese, the same way, a little at a time until everything is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, or paste or bean. Keep it to spreadable consistency for the macarons and refrigerate the leftover for cupcakes or mini toast in the fridge up to 3 days or in the freezer.

To assemble macarons, pipe cream cheese buttercream onto one side topped with a dollop of jam. Sandwich the other shell on top. Refrigerate to set.

For chocolate filling: Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using. When cool, I whipped the chocolate with a handmixer to achieve a good spreading consistency. I then piped a large dollop in the middle of shells and sandwiched other shells on top. Refrigerate.


Piping batter onto a macaron template and then the cookies fresh out of the oven (and a little wonky).



Blurry proof of feet for batches 1 and 2!





I hope you enjoyed this post! Don’t forget to cruise the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all of the creative French macarons.


Share Share this post with friends!

Milan Cookies

Saying that I love to try new recipes and techniques is an understatement. Even when I’m making a tried and true dessert that I’ve made repeatedly, I always have a crazy urge to try a new decorating technique or another twist. It was a wonderful decision, therefore, to join The Daring Bakers.

Each month, one of the Daring Bakers is responsible for hosting a challenge that they issue to all of the others. Bakers complete the challenge and everyone posts their results on the 27th of the month. This is my first month in the group, and I can already tell I’m going to love it.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network (to see my Mallows, go to this post).

First and foremost, I think the Daring Bakers will encourage me to try recipes I might not otherwise consider. These Milan Cookies, for example, aren’t something I would have decided to try on my own, but they are delicious and sophisticated. I can picture them being served at tea; they’re so prim in their little paper bowls! The cookie filling is a thick ganache with a hint of orange zest that complements the slightly citrus flavor of the cookie itself. Everyone who tried these loved them!

Just a hint: I had some lemon curd frozen from my Lemon Burst Fairycakes, so I spread it on a cookie and gave it a taste. It was heavenly! You could even sandwich some lemon curd between two cookies and dip them in ganache! Clearly, these cookies have inspired me.


Milan Cookie with lemon curd filling in the place of ganache.

This recipe is from Gale Gand and Food Network, but of course, I tweaked some things. Changes to the recipe are marked in italics below. I hope you enjoy these cookies, and be sure to send me a photo and/or leave me a comment if you make them! I’d love to see your results!

Milan Cookies


Recipe By: Gale Gand (slightly tweaked — changes in italics)
Yields: about 50 sandwich cookies

Ingredients:
12 tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups flour
Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling ingredients:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 orange, zested

Directions:

Cream the butter with a paddle attachment then mix in the sugar. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe thick 2-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan (note: it’s easier to pipe onto parchment if you “glue” it to the pan using some nonstick cooking spray), spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 7-8 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.

Cookie Filling: In a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl. Whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools). Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

NOTES on storage from Audax Artifex: Let cookies cool completely before storing them, or the residual heat will produce steam that will soften the cookies and accelerate spoilage. Separate layers of cookie with wax paper or foil.

In a dry climate, keep unfilled cookies crisp by storing them in a loosely covered container, such as a cookie jar without a snug lid. In a damp, humid climate, store in a tightly covered container.

Also keeping the unfilled cookies in an air tight container with a muslin bag of salt or bicarbonate of soda – this will absorb the dampness keeping your cookies crisp.

All of that said, I will tell you, my cookies got soft. We actually enjoyed them that way, so don’t fret if yours aren’t as crisp on day 2. Many of the Daring Bakers also tried fun combinations — chocolate Milan cookies with chocolate mint ganache, plain Milan cookies with no citrus, etc. So do some experimenting!

Process Photos:


Baking in the oven.



Cooling off (here you can see that a few were quite
wonky! To reduce the number of crooked cookies,
quickly and confidently pipe a thick, straight line.)



Mixing cookie filling.



The sandwich construction station!



LOTS of cookies!






Enjoy!

Visit the Daring Bakers (temporary) Blogroll to see more of these treats from amazing bakers!

Since I mentioned challenges, what’s the most challenging recipe you’ve tried?

Mallows

As I mentioned in my previous post, the July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network. While the Milan cookies were delicious and dainty, the Mallows were scrumptious and indulgent. They were two very different types of cookies, but I learned from each recipe and enjoyed the variety! If I had to choose a favorite, though — and you know I do — it would be these Mallows.


Four types of Mallows (from back): Almond Mallows, Hazelnut Mallows, Cinnamon Mallows, and Plain Mallows

Mallows are chocolate-covered, marshmallow-topped cookies. The wonderful thing about these Mallows (besides the amazing flavor) is how versatile they are. Homemade marshmallows are very easily flavored and customized, so I was able to make four Mallow “flavors” with hardly any more trouble than just making one. I chose Almond, Hazelnut, and Cinnamon Mallows in addition to the plain.


Almond Mallows

Almond Mallows have an almond sliver between the cookie and marshmallow, and another atop the cookie. In addition, their marshmallows are flavored with vanilla, almond, and butter flavorings. The marshmallow is as rich as a buttercream frosting, and so tasty! I bet this version would also be delicious with some creamy almond butter piped on under the marshmallow.


Hazelnut Mallows

Hazelnut Mallows (my favorite!) have Nutella piped on under plain marshmallow, and are topped with toasted hazelnuts.


Cinnamon Mallows

Cinnamon Mallows have cinnamon and nutmeg flavored marshmallow, and a light dusting of cinnamon and cocoa powder on top.

Enjoy experimenting with flavors! Different sorts of nuts, spices, and extracts are all tools for tweaking your mallows. Some Daring Bakers piped a bit of jam or nut butter below their marshmallows for an added surprise. Use food coloring to denote different flavors of marshmallow. There’s a lot of room for creativity here.


All four types of Mallows again (from left): Cinnamon Mallows, Almond Mallows, Plain Mallows, and Hazelnut Mallows

Gale Gand’s original recipe seemed to need some tweaking, since Daring Bakers typically ended up with — I kid you not — hundreds of cookies, and only enough marshmallows to cover around 50. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to hopefully yield the correct amounts! Also, Gand’s original recipe called for melting semisweet chocolate and vegetable oil to make your coating. After reading that about half of the Daring Bakers’ were having trouble with their chocolate not setting — especially those who live in warm or humid climates — I decided not to take a chance with it. Instead, I used my beloved CandiQuik dipping chocolate, which dries in literally minutes! You can probably find this at Lowes Food or SuperTarget. A friend of mine over at Barbara Bakes uses Ghiradelli dipping chocolate, which is another option.

Enjoy playing with your Mallows! My family and friends loved these cookies, and I hope yours will too.

Mallow Cookies


Recipe By: Gale Gand (tweaked quite a bit!)
Yields: about 80 small (bite-sized) Mallows

Cookie Ingredients:
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
1.5/8 teaspoon baking soda (this is an odd measurement — eyeball it as best you can!)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 eggs, whisked together (to get half an egg, crack it into a separate cup and lightly beat it; then discard 1.5 tablespoons and add the rest to the recipe)
Dipping chocolate (I used 2 bags of chocolate CandiQuik)

Homemade Marshmallow Ingredients:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 egg whites , room temperature
Flavoring (either Plain, Almond, or Cinnamon)

-Plain = 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
-Almond = 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/8 teaspoon almond extract, 1/8 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring, and 4 drops of yellow food coloring (optional).
-Cinnamon = 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch nutmeg

Directions:

Begin by making cookies:
1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough (see my tips for rolling out dough, below).
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 8 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

While cookies are cooling, make your marshmallows:
1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer (though soft ball stage can be eyeballed with a simple cold water test, I love having a candy thermometer around. Mine even has a line marked “soft-ball stage”).
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the flavoring of your choice and continue whipping until stiff (it will take around 15 minutes, so I hope you took your vitamins this morning!). Note: You can also separate the marshmallow into multiple bowls and make multiple flavors, but if you do, reduce the amounts of the ingredients so they don’t overpower the smaller volume they’re flavoring.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Now to finish the cooled cookies:
1. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat and cover with a cooling rack — this will be your drying rack!
3. Melt dipping chocolate according to package instructions. I like to set my bowl of chocolate in a larger bowl of hot water to keep it melted while I work. Just be careful not to let the water touch the chocolate, or it will seize and you won’t be able to work with it.
3. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot dipping chocolate (see my video demonstration below!).
4. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Now’s the time to add toppings if you wish, while the coating is wet. For a chocolate squiggle, let coating dry and use a ziplock of CandiQuik with the corner cut off to drizzle over cookies.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature (unless you’re in a very hot environment and notice melting, in which case, store in fridge).

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Julie’s tips for rolling, gathered from various internet sources, my mother, and some lovely friends during a moment of panic:

  • Work with small batches (about 1/3 of the dough) at a time, while keeping the rest chilling in the refrigerator.
  • You can coat your workspace in equal parts confectioners’ sugar and flour if you’re worried about using too much flour (which can cause dough to get dry/tough).
  • Roll dough immediately from the refrigerator, turning it often and redusting lightly with flour mixture to prevent sticking.
  • If you don’t have a cool metal counter or marble slab (which I don’t), set some frozen vegetables out on your counter for a bit before you roll to cool it off. Then dry your workspace and roll. You can also refrigerate or freeze your rolling pin for a few minutes.
  • Have a sheet pan in the freezer. If you sense your dough is getting sticky/warm, put a sheet of wax paper on the dough and press the frozen sheet pan on top to cool it down quickly.

The One Minute Dipping Demonstration!
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvyI3i4nYLY&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x2b405b&color2=0x6b8ab6&border=1]

Process Photos!


Ready to roll!




Fresh from the oven and not so pretty.




Getting organized to make my four types of Mallows (and not confuse them!)




Is it soft-ball stage yet? (notice my faithful Coke Zero in the background!)




Piping Nutella filling onto my Hazelnut Mallows. The more you can fit, the better!




For Almond Mallows, I used a bit of the almond marshmallow mixture to “glue” an almond sliver on the cookie before piping my marshmallow.




Marshmallows of all flavors piped on.




Dipping — see video above for a demonstration!




Finished!




Mmm! Have one of each!

Visit the Daring Bakers (temporary) Blogroll to see more of these treats from amazing bakers!

Baking to Freeze: Introduction!

New babies are such a joyous occasion, but the stress of getting used to a new, totally dependent little person in your life is sure to be a bit overwhelming. I’m so excited for my friend, A., who is expecting her new little one any day now (I’m sure it’s a girl, though we don’t actually know yet). She’s already so organized and has been nesting for months, but I wanted to do something to help her through the first busy days. What better than to do something I love (baking!) to support her as she adds to her family? I decided to make and freeze some dinners (and dessert, of course) for her to pop in the oven after Baby comes.

I’ve always loved the idea of giving friends gifts of food. Beyond merely supplying a need, personal, handmade gifts of food also supply warmth and affection. Sitting down to a hot meal is always satisfying and pleasant, and even moreso when it also represents the bond of friendship. It’s an intimate way to share a tiny piece of the load your friends are carrying. It’s lovely to be able to do something to help, and I hope the food turned out lovely for her.

The first step of creating A.’s meals was scouring the internet for which dishes would freeze well, thawing and baking instructions, and packaging tips. After all that searching around, I thought it might be nice to create a “one-stop” post on Willow Bird Baking about creating frozen meals. Hopefully this will be helpful for those of you with expectant friends, new neighbors, or even friends going through times of grief. Using this post, you ought to be able to bake one (or both) of two freezer-friendly casseroles and a batch of frozen cookie dough, print labels/thawing instructions, and get tips on preparing products for the freezer.

Now, onto the food! I chose two lasagnas for my freezing escapade. One is a Mexican Lasagna, which folks joke is neither Mexican, nor a lasagna! It’s very easy to throw together. The other is a Classic Italian Lasagna, which is Italian and is lasagna, and is much more time consuming. It’s a labor of love. Which casserole you choose really depends on your goal: if you want a quick and easy recipe, choose the former, but if you enjoy making more complex recipes, choose the latter (or both). I personally hadn’t made a “real lasagna” before, so I wanted to give it a shot! Finally, I chose to make some cookie dough for a dessert, since it freezes very well. Martha Stewart’s Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies sounded hearty and delicious. Because of the large quantities of food, I decided to keep half and give half. That way the baking does double duty, and A.’s freezer doesn’t get overbooked!


LOTS of food!

Click on the recipe below that you’re interested in baking (or baking to freeze!) to find the recipe, printable labels, and thawing instructions:

Recipe #1: Mexican Lasagna

Recipe #2: Classic Italian Lasagna

Recipe #3: Chunky Peanut Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies

Finally, here are some great tips for freezing casseroles, to which I would add the following:

  • Consider packaging: disposable baking dishes are a kindness, since they won’t need to be returned. Make sure all of the dishes you’re preparing will fit in the freezer when packaged and wrapped!
  • Label your meals: In addition to the name of the dish, include instructions on thawing/baking, a “date packaged” and “good until” date, and the recipes (this will allow friends to calculate nutrition information, peruse ingredients, and even make the dish again, if they wish). I’ve included PDF labels for each of the dishes below, so feel free to download and print them. The labels can be cut out and glued on 4×6 index cards to make them sturdier.
  • Wrap food better than you think you need to. Double layers of plastic wrap, pack things in ziplock bags, etc.

Baking to Freeze: Chunky Peanut Chocolate and Cinnamon Cookies

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies are the third and final recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!). These cookies taste festive: cinnamon and spice, along with crunchy peanuts and rich chocolate chips.


Ziplock of Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookie dough partitioned into 4-cookie logs, with thawing/baking instructions.



Cookies after baking.



Baking to Freeze Recipe #3: Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies


Recipe by: Martha Stewart
Yields: About 40-50 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add sugars; mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, peanuts, and vanilla with a mixing spoon until well distributed. Refrigerate dough until it is slightly firm, 15 minutes. If freezing, roll into logs using wax paper. Double wrap logs of cookie dough (in desired portions) in plastic wrap and seal in a ziplock bag. Freeze for up to 6 weeks.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly. Bake until just golden, about 13 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Can serve with ice cream.

Thawing Instructions: Thaw desired amount of cookie dough in refrigerator for several hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Space 2-3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake until golden, about 13 minutes.

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

Preview:

1 8 9 10 11