Monday, March 29, 2010

almond macaroon torte with chocolate frosting

almond torte with chocolate frosting

And on Saturday, we returned from our week at sea, our week of no work, of sunshine and someone else making dinner and lo, what a bummer. But we had a great time, from stunning views as we sailed out of New York Harbor on a freak 75 degree day in March:

leaving new york
the verrazano went by our patio

On an epically proportioned boat

ferry back to the boat

With the second-tiniest but most enthusiastic sailor (a baby two days younger had the audacity to steal Jacob’s Youngest Cruiser thunder)

delight

To short excursions, an abundance of pool parties and endless plates of fresh fruit.

old and chipped in nassauaquarium at the atlantisthis is the pool areasole food photo

And then we came home and I battled a torte recipe with knives and rulers and whisks and the arced steel blade of a food processor and prevailed. Because I am awesome, right? But I’m convinced that the recipe had it out for me. Well, the recipe and these still-wobbly sea legs, the feeling that the kitchen is sloshing along in choppy waters no longer charming on day two (and now three).

orange peel syrupwhipped egg whitesmeringue layers, before bakingmeringue layer-blobs, after baking

But mostly the recipe: I didn’t understand why it recipe demanded slivered almonds (which had been harder for me to find) if only to grind them in step one. Two vanilla beans seems excessive considering that the vanilla taste was still muted — I’d use extract next time and save the expense. A fussy orange peel syrup imparted virtually no orange vibe in the final frosting. Steps seemed out of order (preparing a syrup first that you wouldn’t need for hours) and measurements were absent where I needed them. Syrup is chilled just to be warmed again. A simple adjustment shaved 30 minutes off the prep time of the frosting. A sloshy orange “compote” seemed like something that would just dissolve a dry meringue, not complement it. Parchment rectangles were sprayed with oil (is this necessarily?) which caused the rectangles to spread into puddles which merged together and slid off my trays; only significant trimming salvaged them. And the baking time was easily double what was needed (good thing I watch the oven like a hawk).

stacked and filled macaroon torte

And yet! Despite all of those laments above, I’m spectacularly excited about serving this tonight because I’m pretty sure it’s going to taste like a giant Kit-Kat candy bar. How could it not? It’s gigantic rectangle comprised of stacked, thin, crunchy layers spread thickly and then coated completely with semisweet chocolate that hardened overnight into a candy-like shell. It’s homemade from fantastic ingredients, it’s flour-free (thus kosher for Passover and gluten-free), dairy-free (paerve), practically fat free, can be made a day or two in advance and doesn’t require refrigeration. Guys, this is like the Harvard of desserts. But mostly it’s a giant Kit-Kat, which means that even schlubs like me get a piece.

almond macaroon torte

One year ago: Artichokes Braised in Lemon and Olive Oil
Two years ago: Vegetarian Cassoulet
Three years ago: Arugula Ravioli

Almond Macaroon Torte with Chocolate Frosting
Adapted heavily from Bon Appetit

I’ve made a tremendous amount of changes to this recipe — adjusted cooking times, added weights, added dozens of tips, rewrote just about everything, etc. — and this is a good thing as the one I started with was exasperating. And that’s putting it mildly. But the core of the recipe — what I ended up with after a lot of tweaks and what I believe it is meant to be — is delightful, both an elegant, showy torte and a candy bar that I cannot wait to get a taste of in T-minus 7… 6… 5 hours… Not that I’m tapping my feet or anything.

Update: We loved it. It was a huge, huge hit, although not precisely Kit-Kat-ish. The layers (as the ingredient list gave away to some commenters) are almost exactly like those trendy macaron, which is to say crisp but soft and slightly chewy. The chocolate remained firm. It was easy to slice cleanly with an unfancy knife and I’ll definitely be making this again.

Serves 12

Almond macaroons
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces or 300 grams) slivered almonds (or an equivalent weight of blanched, sliced or already ground almonds)
1 cup (196 grams) plus 3 tablespoons (37 grams) sugar
2 large pinches kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large egg whites

Frosting and assembly
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Flavoring of your choice, such as 1/2 teaspoon orange oil or extract, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, almond or other extract
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (61% or less is recommended, I think it would also be great with 72%, a nice bitter contrast to the sweet macaroons), chopped or chocolate chips
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted (at 350 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes on a tray, stirring once or twice)

Make macaroons: Position an oven rack in the top and lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325°F. Draw two 12 x 4-inch rectangles, spacing 2 inches apart [see Note below for my tiny kitchen adjustments] on a piece of parchment paper, then two more of the same size on a second sheet. In total, you’ll use 2 sheets of parchment paper and draw 4 rectangles. Turn each sheet of parchment over (so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon) and spray with nonstick spray [but first see Note below about the necessity of this] .

Place almonds, 1 cup sugar and coarse salt in a food processor (you can skip the food processor, however, if you use an equivalent weight of almond meal or ground almonds, just mixing the ingredients in a bowl) with vanilla bean seeds, if using (you’ll add liquid extract in a bit) and blend until finely ground.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract (if using), then slowly add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites. Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each rectangle, filling completely.

Bake macaroon layers until golden and almost firm to the touch in the center, reversing sheets halfway through — this took a total of 23 measly minutes in my oven; the original recipe says it can take up to 40. I would check in on yours at 23 minutes and then every 5 minutes thereafter if they’re not done yet.

Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack.

Make frosting: Simmer 1/2 cup of water and sugar in a medium saucepan until sugar dissolves. Measure 10 tablespoons from this and either discard the rest of save it for another use. Put the 10 tablespoons syrup back in the saucepan and add flavoring of your choice. Bring the syrup back to a boil and add chocolate to the saucepan. Remove from heat and let sit for one minute, then stir the chocolate until smooth. This should yield a medium-thick frosting, good for spreading. If yours is on the thin side, you can let it cool for 5 or 10 minutes until it is a good spreading consistency.

Assemble torte If needed due to spreading, carefully trim your macaroon layers back to their intended rectangular sizes — for me, a sharp knife lightly coated with oil worked best for this.

Place one macaroon layer on a long platter. (If you’re a follower of my layer cake tips, you’ll already know that slipping little pieces of parchment or waxed paper under the edges will help keep your platter clean; you pull them out when you’re done frosting the torte.) Spread 1/2 cup frosting evenly over. Top with another macaroon layer. Spread 1/2 cup frosting evenly over. Repeat 1 more time then top with last macaroon layer, flat side up (whoops, didn’t do this). Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of torte. Press sliced almonds onto sides of torte.

Do ahead: Can be made one to two days ahead. Cover with foil tent. Store at room temperature.

Tiny kitchen/tiny tray tweak: If you’re curious as to why mine may look a little smaller or taller than yours, I had to make my rectangles a little smaller — 11 x 3.75-inch — to work within the tiny baking sheets that fit in my tiny oven. I flipped them over so they didn’t bump into the walls of the tray, but this proved unfortunate when mine spread down the sides! I (of course) don’t recommend the tray flipping.

About that spray oil: As I mentioned in the post above, this step vexes me. I’ve always made macaroons and meringues on sheets of parchment paper that were not sprayed or grease, the nonstick properties of parchment were enough to release the cookies. But this recipe has you use nonstick spray on them, which encourages your neat rectangles of macaroon to slide and spread. This is not ideal. I hope to update this step soon with a note about whether you can get by without the spray oil, using plain parchment. Fortunately, any spreading can be trimmed but more ideal would, of course, be no spreading at all. Update: At least one commenter (thank you Kate!) made these without oiling the parchment, found that the macaroons spread less and had no trouble removing the macaroons from the parchment.


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