I was seriously worried I was going to fail my own challenge.
Is that even allowed?
I’ve made 6 batches since I first announced this month’s kitchen challenge. Batch #1 (just a small test batch) was surprisingly successful. I’ll chalk it up to beginners luck.
Last weekend’s attempts, though, were disastrous. Frustrating. Infuriating.
Why did this happen? Who knows. I may have over-whipped my meringue. The few drops of gel food coloring could have destroyed them. I probably over-mixed and under-baked at least two of the three batches. My sour mood was mirrored in the cracks and hollows of the failed cookies.
In the end, after 3 miserable failures, I quit for the day, resigned to the fact that I might fail my own challenge. What kind of example would that set? But I was prepared to raise the white flag and declare defeat.
But, here we are, the day before my (self-imposed) deadline, and I figured I’d give it one more try. I invited my good friend Tabitha over for expertise and moral support (I swear she’s my macaron lucky charm). And sure enough, two batches came out of the oven looking mighty fine and tasting even better.
I have a suspicious feeling that my debacle last weekend may have been caused by moist almond flour. It seemed like the only factor that had changed between the semi-successful batch the weekend before (when my flour was brand new and fresh) and the disasters the next (when my almond flour had been stored in the freezer, thus coming out with a bit of condensation).
So this time, I spread out the flour on a cookie sheet and baked it for about 30 minutes at 170 degrees. Just enough to dry it out but not so hot that it toasted or cooked the flour.
Was that the key? Was that the only reason I failed so miserably before? All I know is, this weekend, it worked. And I’m giddy with the results. Next weekend? Who knows.
I refused to give up on my hibiscus macarons, which incorporated some dried hibiscus flowers that had been finely ground in a coffee grinder. A similar method can be used to incorporate freeze-dried fruit, or any flavored powder, really. I will say that even the failures tasted incredible. Tart and fruity, the hibiscus flavor comes through loud and clear. It also gives the cookies a charming speckled purple shell without the need for any food coloring at all (although you can add a bit of pink or purple coloring if you want a more vibrant cookie).
I did the chocolate batch partly because Naomi told me that sometimes chocolate macarons are easier. Something about the extra fat in the cocoa powder, or something. But for those of you who may have had a bit of trouble with your macarons, give a chocolate batch a try; you may have better luck. They basically taste like bite-sized brownie clouds. I topped mine with some cocoa nibs for a bit of texture (and to hide some of the lumps).
For my filling, I went with a simple ganache, which I infused with more hibiscus flowers (yes, I admit I have a problem). The resulting ganache is rich and floral. I could definitely see myself using this infusion technique (basically steeping the dried flowers in the cream as it heats) to make a hibiscus-flavored version of just about any dessert that incorporates milk or cream in some way.
Click through to get my recipe and see the incredibly creative submissions from readers!
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Good cookware is a gift, especially for someone who is in the kitchen on a daily basis.
During our early years cooking together, we went through cheap nonstick pans like they were disposable. Sure they only cost $20 from mega mart, but when you have to buy a new one every year because the finish starts flaking off into your scrambled eggs, well, that’s a waste of money (and eggs).
Slowly, as we became more and more serious about cooking, we acquired a few pieces of quality cookware, but we always had the cheap ones filling in the gaps between what we had and what we actually used. And we even noticed that some of our “better” pots and pans were beginning to warp and lose their finish after years of daily use. They were still usable, sure, but it wouldn’t be long before they needed replacing.
I must have sent out some good vibes into the ether because at last year’s Big Summer Potluck in Pennsylvania, my name was drawn as the winner of the grand prize: a set of Anolon® Nouvelle Copper cookware.
Once the set arrived, I excitedly packed up all our old pots and pans (the curse of a small kitchen) and shipped them off to my little sis, who was just moving in to her first apartment. Kitchen goodies are the best kind of hand-me-downs.
It’s been almost a year now and we couldn’t be happier with our Anolon® pans. I’ll admit it was not one of the brands on our radar, but it will certainly be my go-to recommendation for serious cooks. Yes, it’s an investment, but just think of how may $20 frying pans you’ve thrown away in the meantime.
A really good pan is worth its weight in gold, or in this case, copper.
We’ve really given these pans a workout, sometimes with as many as 3 or 4 pans going at once (as in the case of the Hibiscus Enchiladas I posted yesterday, seen cooking above). The non-stick finish is still as non-sticky as the day we unwrapped them.
Taylor’s favorite features are the flush-rivets. One of our old pans had rivets attaching the handle that seemed to build up gunk, and always required extra effort and attention when cleaning. And as our household’s head dishwasher, he definitely appreciates the extra thought that went in to such a design feature.
I’m so pleased with these pans. Even more pleased that Anolon® has so generously offered one of their 3 Quart Covered Saute Pans, valued at $129.99, to one lucky L&OO reader! This particular pan (seen above doing a bang-up job cooking chipotle tomato sauce) is one of our favorites. The high sides make it perfect for sauces or risotto, while the nonstick finish makes it ideal for frying delicate scallops or sunny-side-up eggs (and you know we’ve fried our fair share of those). It will quickly become the most-used pan in your kitchen.
So, what are you waiting for?
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Let’s just go ahead and call this what it is, ok?
Seriously, though, I didn’t realize a pound of dried hibiscus would be so much. And as a result of my overzealous purchase, these fragrant flowers are finding their way into some unusual places. Savory things and sweet things, drinkable concoctions and edible delicacies. Taylor’s even using some in his next batch of beer.
Don’t blame me, blame this recipe.
Because I haven’t been able to get these enchiladas out of my head since I first saw the recipe nearly 2 years ago.
At the time, I had seen some dried hibiscus flowers at Trader Joe’s. Or, at least I thought I had. Constantly haunted by visions of hibiscus enchiladas, I swear I scanned the dried fruit section at TJ’s every time we went. Weekly. For the last year and half.
Well, plenty of raisins and dried figs and freeze-dried blueberries, but not a trace of hibiscus. They must have been discontinued (like many of the best products at Trader Joe’s). That, or I was delusional and never saw them to begin with.
I was still unable to shake the thought of these unusual enchiladas (that would make a good band name, don’t you think? The Unusual Enchiladas. I like it.) Anyway, I finally broke down and ordered some dried hibiscus flowers online.
The hibiscus flowers are rehydrated and used inside the enchiladas in place of meat, their chewy texture perfectly suited and equally satisfying along with some shredded carrot and jicama (a Mexican root with a texture like a radish and a sweet, starchy flavor somewhere between a potato and a watermelon). They are topped with a simple chipotle tomato sauce, shredded purple cabbage, sour cream and crumbled cotija or feta cheese.
The verdict? Totally worth obsessing over.
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When life gives you mangoes…
Lots of gorgeously golden, sweet and juicy mangoes…
In what could only be described as kismet, I also happened to have a large quantity of dried hibiscus flowers on hand (the original purpose for which I will share later this week). It was all I could do not to make mango-hibiscus everything (macarons! sorbet! jam! hooray!) I don’t know why, maybe because they both remind me of tropical places, but the two just work together. While I didn’t get to the jam (turns out 16 mangoes disappear quicker than you think they will), this sorbet was an excellent use of my surplus.
The flavor is primarily mango, ripe and fragrant and with a perfectly creamy texture. But the underlying notes of the hibiscus, floral and fruity and vibrant, linger on the back of your tongue. It’s really quite delightful, and I’m not usually one to delight in the idea of sorbet (give me rich and creamy ice cream over sorbet any day). But this sorbet, well, I’d make an exception for this one.
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