This week I bring you a very special edition of Needs Baked. Normally, I bake things from my kitchen in Brooklyn. However, these were made for my in-laws, in their kitchen, when I visited them in sunny Boca Raton, FL.
I wanted to do something nice for them while visiting. On previous trips we had talked about different desserts that they liked. One was a Charlotte Russe, which I had originally intended to make this time. This recipe was another one they mentioned. Another dessert we discussed, Gateau St. Honoré, seemed a little ambitious.
When I mentioned that I wanted to make something for them and asked what they would like they said it didn’t matter, and that I didn’t need to make anything. Undeterred, I decided to pick something anyway. I almost didn’t ask them as I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, but I wanted their opinion. Also, since I was going to be poking around in their kitchen for a while, I wanted to run it by them, and at that point there wouldn’t be much surprise anyway.
The Charlotte Russe would have been good, but the recipe makes a lot, and it would have been challenging to deal with the leftovers. This recipe made a lot as well, but they freeze well and transport easily (so my wife and I could take some with us), so I decided on this one.
I had never even heard of this cookie before, but my in-laws and my wife love it. It’s named after the famous French actress. My wife has fond memories of it from her childhood. And while I’m not a big almond fan generally, I figured I would give it a shot.
Of course I did some research on the recipe. There are lots of different ones out there. I had to narrow it down. I avoided the ones with shortening. I don’t normally use it, and I knew they would have no use for the leftover. I also avoided the ones with almond paste, as that could have been hard to find. Since I was baking in someone else’s kitchen, I had to assume they didn’t have anything (always a safe assumption). So when I went grocery shopping, I got everything.
When I started on the prep for the recipe, I realized I couldn’t find any measuring spoons or cups. I saw that they had a KitchenAid and a Cuisinart so I thought they would have more basic kitchen bits and bobs. I had not counted on this. Guessing can be fun, but for a new recipe with lots of different parts, I knew I needed them. I enlisted my wife who helped me find one cup. (Progress!) She then enlisted her parents who, after some searching of their own, pointed me to the measuring cups and spoons. Phew! Crisis averted.
Reading through the recipe, it said the ganache would have to sit for a bit. So instead of starting with the meringues, I made the ganache first so it could sit while I was doing the rest. I melted it in the microwave for about a minute and a half. Then I let it sit in the fridge while I made the meringues.
I prepped the ingredients for the meringues. (Mise en place, ftw.) I measured the sugar. I ground the almonds using a vintage Cuisinart mini chopper/grinder. I assumed I needed 2 cups after being ground, not before. I wasn’t sure quite how ground the almonds should be. Most of it ended up being like almond meal, some not so much. I used liquid egg whites. Since I didn’t use the right measuring cup, it was only an estimate, and might have been a little off.
I should note that during this whole process, my wife helped by doing a lot of the cleaning up. Thanks hon! She was instrumental and a huge help. It would’ve taken a lot longer without her help.
I used their amazing, vintage KitchenAid stand mixer to make the meringue. It took a few moments to figure out how it worked. I had done it on a slow speed as I didn’t want to overwhelm it. It was probably too slow, as it took a long time. Eventually I turned up the speed. In retrospect, I probably should have beat them a little bit longer as they didn’t turn out exactly right. They were okay, but I think they were too liquidy, so they spread out thinner, instead of staying smaller or thicker.
When I went to bake them, I realized there were no baking sheets. So, I used an aluminum roasting pan. I baked them for 10 minutes. It took a couple of batches to figure out the right size for the cookies. Then I started doing two batches at a time. I ended up with 37 (+24 others which I’ll explain below.).
Some of them were too big and squished into each other while baking. I could have put fewer on a sheet, but I wanted to get them done quickly. I could have made them smaller, but it was hard to do so because the batter was too liquidy, and I had to hold the parchment paper down with one hand and pour with the other.
After baking them, it was hard to get them off the parchment paper without them falling apart. The smaller ones were better, but I also probably should have let them sit and cool a bit longer. I found a rack and cooled them first on there and then on the dining room table as I ran out of room in the kitchen.
With the cookies baked, I grabbed the ganache to frost them. I should have pulled it out of the fridge earlier. It was still pretty solid and considering that the meringue was on the weaker side, it was a little bit of a mess. Eventually I figured out to just place the ganache on a bunch of them, and then by the time I came back to the first ones, the ganache had warmed up enough to spread properly. I had more cookies than they had said, so I had to use less ganache, and I couldn’t do mounds as suggested. I just put some on and spread it a bit to cover the surface.
While putting on the ganache, I found a bunch of them to be unusable. They were either broken or too thin. I put those aside. There ended up being 24 of those. I didn’t want to waste them. My wife came up with the idea of taking the unusable ones and rolling them up around a piece of ganache into little balls. It was a great idea and totally worked. Interestingly, these actually better fit the shape and size that she remembered.
So after finishing with the ganache, I moved on to the chocolate coating. (I didn’t put the cookies in the fridge as suggested.) For the pound(!) of chocolate, I used a bag of chips (12 oz) and a box of baking squares (4 oz). I melted the chocolate with the vegetable oil. It took about a minute and a half. At the time, it seemed like a lot of chocolate.
We dipped the balls first. Those were easy. We were pretty generous with the chocolate, so some got it most of the way around. I figured there was a lot of chocolate, so it would be fine. We generously coated the remaining cookies, by spreading the coating with a spoon. Dipping them would not have worked, as they were too delicate. For the first couple batches, we were pretty generous. Then as we realized that we were running out of chocolate, we started to be e less generous with the last ones. Some just barely had enough to cover them. We had to borrow some from the previous batches, and we had to really scrape out the bowl. (I learned how to do it well.) In the end, we covered them all. Yay!
As we finished a sheet worth we had put them in the fridge to firm up. This made more space on the table and meant we could stack on top of them without chocolate sticking to the wax paper. We used the same aluminum roasting pans. They stayed in the fridge overnight.
(BTW, I said “we” through a lot of this, because I couldn’t have done it without my wife. She helped with a lot of the cookie assembly and came up with the idea to save a whole bunch of the broken cookies. I cannot thank her enough.)
Because of having a late start, we had to wait till the next day to try them. The next day we had to run a bunch of errands. So we didn’t get to try the cookies till the late afternoon. My in-laws were very excited.
“Very professional,” said my father in law. “You could open up your own shop.” They really liked them. As did we. These cookies have three different layers so there’s a nice mix of textures and tastes. I’m not a big almond fan, but the almond was really nice in these. And all the different bits go well together.
The night before I had said to my wife that I had wanted to impress her parents, and I was unhappy that the cookies didn’t turn out like they were supposed to. Well the cookies might not have turned out like they were supposed to, but they were still delicious, and my in-laws were still impressed. I think I know how I messed up the meringue, so if I made them again, I think I could get it right. That was the only problematic part, everything else was okay. (It was my first time making meringue.)
I’m glad they liked them. We left them a whole bunch in the freezer (they keep well in freezer), and took just a few with us. And every few days for the next couple weeks, until they ran out of them, my father in law would give us updates. How great they were, how they ran out, etc. It was very sweet.
It was quite an adventure making these, especially in someone else’s kitchen. But I learned some things, and I’m glad I was able to make the cookies for them. How about you? Have you ever made something in someone else’s kitchen? How did that turn out? I’d love to hear your stories!
Recipe courtesy of The View from Great Island.