Spring & Easter

macarons.jpgI love all French desserts and confections, but one of my most favorites is the macaron. Available in countless colors and flavors, macarons are very popular in France. In Paris, customers line up to buy them at many famous pastry shops, such as Dalloyau or Ladurée, which invented the double-decker sandwiched macaron in 1930. Since Paris is a bit too far for me to travel, I usually buy them at Bouchon Bakery in New York. I love all the flavors they offer even though their selection is not as wide as in France. But for me it doesn't matter, because the chocolate macaron is what I consider to be the best.

French macarons are basically meringue cookies made only of powdered sugar, egg whites, and almond flour. Getting the proportions exactly correct is key to the perfect macaron. Unlike the dense and chewy coconut macaroons, which French macarons are almost always confused with, macarons are smooth, light as air, and only slightly chewy. A smooth and flavorful filling in between two of the cookies is the icing on the cake. Pastry shops have come up with very unusual macarons and fillings, such as passion fruit and green tea, but the chocolate macaron is probably the most popular.

Read more ...

mango-curd-filled-coconut-shortbread-cups-015b-1024x682There’s something about Spring, with all of its celebrations that pull friends and family together, beginning with Easter, then Mother’s Day, followed by graduations and wedding showers, that just seem to demand tiny sweet desserts. Desserts that can be picked up and popped into the mouth and disappear as fast as a bag of M&M’s.

Shortbread is one of my favorite spring desserts. So rich and buttery and short on sugar, the cookie-like sweet pairs well with berries and citrus curds. This spring, I’ve added coconut to my shortbread recipe. Pressed into mini-muffin cups, the dough bakes up nicely, turning a golden brown. I’ve discovered lovely mango curd (recipe is in my last post) is absolutely luscious as a filling for these bite-sized coconut shortbread cups.

Read more ...

bunny buns 016I made hot cross buns last week. I used a recipe from a class I took years ago that focused on breads and rolls made with yeast dough. The sweet, egg- and butter-rich buns have mashed potatoes worked into the dough. I’ve got to believe it’s the potatoes that produce a soft, moist dough. Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition in many homes.

When I was doing some research on hot cross buns, Google directed me to JustHungry, a food blog I’d never visited. There I found some cute Hot Cross Easter Bunny Buns. Made of the same dough that the author used for her hot cross buns, they were shaped with chubby little faces and long bunny ears. Best of all, the author included step-by-step photo instructions, from rolling the dough, to creating the ears  and faces.

I knew I had to try making the little bunny buns myself. With one batch of dough, I was able to create 12 Breakfast Bunny Buns. Each one came out of the oven with its own charm. The ears were long and funny, some pointing straight up, some a little bent and some a bit uneven. Their little currant eyes made them simply irresistible.

Read more ...

eggsaladitalianplateWith Easter just passed, who isn't thinking about eggs? When I was a kid I loved dyeing and decorating eggs. But instead of using hard boiled eggs, I thought it was infinitely cooler to de-egg my Easter eggs.

I remember using one of my mother's sewing needles to punch holes on either end of the uncooked egg. Putting my mouth against the egg, I'd huff-and-puff and blow until the raw egg dropped into a bowl.

Admittedly that was a lot of extra work and there were risks. Making the holes and blowing into the egg could crack the shell. Worse, all that huffing-and-puffing sometimes led to hyper-ventilating, so my mother kept an eye on me, just in case I got dizzy and fell off the chair.

In my child's mind, that extra effort was worth it because the feather-weight shells, brightly dyed and covered with decals, were so much more artful than the heavy hard boiled eggs.

Read more ...

lemoncookiesMy mother was a 30-year-old new mom when she made her first batch of Italian lemon egg biscuits. She wrapped a few in cellophane and gave them to my older brother to give to his kindergarten teacher. The story goes that the teacher called up my mom begging for the recipe, claiming they were the best cookies she had ever tasted.

Since that day, my mom has baked thousands of lemon egg biscuits. Infused with lemon extract and coated with a sweet, crunchy lemon icing, these cookies are light, cakey and refreshingly citrusy. They're a perennial favorite in her Christmas cookie trays; they appear at every family birthday party; and they grace the dessert table every Easter Sunday.

The kids in our family have always adored lemon egg biscuits. I grew up making them with my mom, and now she is passing on the tradition to her granddaughters. The dough is soft, springy, and easy to roll, making it ideal for children's little hands. The best part is icing and decorating the cookies. Kids love to watch the confectioners' sugar and milk transform into a smooth, creamy white, sweet icing as they stir and stir. Of course, nothing pleases them more than dipping the cookies in the icing and decorating them with loads of colored candy sprinkles.

Read more ...