Pistachio Macarons

I am so excited to share my homemade pistachio macarons with you.  They took a bit of time to make but wow … flavor-wise, they are pistachio overload!

I try to avoid coloring but honestly, creamy white shells would not look right.  I used a minute amount of gel color, a few drops of green and one drop of yellow to get the color I was looking for.

I rotate between Helene Dujardin’s recipe and a few others, but after years of making macarons, I personally find the real trick is to master the steps involved.  There are tons of recipes, and they all differ, but if you practice and get the technique right, you will definitely have success.  I remember getting frustrated and saying “that recipe is awful, let’s try another one … why are they not coming out … this recipe is awful …. and so on!”

Here is a great article on macaron troubleshooting that really helped me achieve those perfect feet (which alluded me for a very long time)!

I added a few drops of Real Flavors pistachio flavoring to the paste.  To make the pistachio filling, I mixed a very small amount of white chocolate ganache in order to pipe fluidly.  You do not need a lot, so I made a tiny, tiny batch of ganache.  White chocolate is already super sweet.

Here is how to make homemade pistachio paste.

If you haven’t made pistachio macarons, give them a try!

Happy baking!

Real Flavors – Pistachio Flavoring – Product Review

Pistachio Flavoring by Real Flavors is one of my newfound favorites!

I have been meaning to make homemade pistachio paste for pistachio macarons for a while now.  While time consuming, it was really worth the effort.  I added a few drops of pistachio flavoring to the paste and wow … it really amped up the taste!  The macarons were truly flavorful.

Here is how to make homemade pistachio paste.

If you read my post on Real Flavors, you will know that I looked everywhere for natural flavorings.  The search is over!  Here is where you can buy them!

Disclaimer:
This is not a paid advertisement.
Products are courtesy of Real Flavors

Homemade Pistachio Paste

Pistachio macarons are one of my favorites.  I love the nutty taste and slightly chunky yet creamy texture.  The green color is stunning and always catches my eye.

While a macaron can cost anywhere from $2.30 – $3.30, H still likes to treat me to a box.  To be honest, I would rather make my own, but macarons are very time consuming!

For pistachio macarons, I thought I would make them in stages.  The shells can be made and frozen for up to 6 months.  The pistachio paste will last several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, or you can freeze it for several months.  I would suggest making a small batch, enough for your macarons.

The paste can be quite time consuming and after making it for the third time I thought, this is a lot of work!  I would rather buy it!  H concurred, but with the homemade version, I know it’s pure pistachio with a tiny bit of oil, and no added sugar.

All you need is a small food processor, and raw pistachios.  Okay, raw pistachios are not that easy to find, and they are pricey.  The first time, I bought a bag of salted pistachios from Costco.  Honestly, you do not have to go crazy and buy raw unsalted ones!  I had to get H to help shell them though!  I think he ate the same amount as the ones he shelled :(

The second time, I thought I would make it easy on myself and buy a bag of shelled pistachios.  These were a time saver!

Here is a picture of shelled pistachios, blanched with skins removed.

The hard part is getting the darn skins off.  Yes, you do need to get rid of them!  Trust me, they taste bitter, and they will make your pistachio paste look brown.  Look at all the skins that came off! Can you imagine if you kept them in – yuck!

Homemade Pistachio Paste

Here we go:

  • Bring water in a saucepan to a boil
  • Add the shelled pistachios
  • Boil for 2-3 minutes (I found 1 minute was not long enough)
  • Remove and drain well in a colander.  I prefer not to shock them in icy cold water because you need a bit of the heat and steam to remove the skins
  • Lay the pistachios on a dry and clean tea towel and rub the skins off as much as you can
  • Now, here is a trick that I did not find on the Internet: after trying to scrape the remaining skin off, I decided to put on a pair of disposable gloves.  Take each pistachio and rub gently between your fingers; the skin will pop off easily!  Yes, this can take time, but it will be worth it.
    • Optional: After blanching the pistachios, I find they are soft, so I prefer to roast them.
    • Spread pistachios on a baking sheet, let dry completely and bake in a 350°  oven (depending on your oven, mine took about 6-8 minutes).  Watch carefully and stir often.  After all this work, you do not want to burn them.
    • Let cool completely and process in a mini food processor with a tiny amount of oil.  I find it helps to get the mixture going.  Any “flavorless” oil will do.  I used extra light olive oil.  I do not like to add water or sugar.  If your food processor is a lot stronger than mine, the texture will be smoother.
  • Give the pistachio paste a taste.  I found it was flavorful and nutty, however, a tiny bit on the bland side.  While optional, this is where I used a few drops of Real Flavors pistachio extract.  The drops are very concentrated, so please use sparingly.  I found the paste tasted more flavorful the next day, after sitting in the fridge.  The flavoring really bumped up the pistachio taste, which is what I was looking for!

Note: 
Pistachio paste tastes great on toast or crackers.

 

Real Flavors – Product Review – Part 1

I almost gave up trying to find concentrated flavor extracts that tasted natural.  I did an extensive and exhaustive Internet search and tried a few name brands, but was never happy with the results.  Have you ever tasted something and thought, hmm, what is that awful artificial aftertaste?  Yuck!

When I came across Real Flavors, I was immediately intrigued!  I try to avoid coloring and artificial extracts as much as possible, but I was on a real mission to amp up the flavor of baked goods, most especially macarons.

Real Flavors uses real fruit and produce.  Can you imagine apples extracted from Northern Michigan, peaches from Georgia and oranges from Florida!  While speaking with Joe Caudy from Business Development, I could tell the company has a huge sense of pride in their products.  Their state of the art lab focuses on environmentally friendly processing procedures, which is also FDA registered.

While the flavor extracts can be used in food, beverages, and oral medications, one of my passions are macarons.  Macaron shells are extremely finicky.  It took me years just to perfect them.   Here is an informative guide on making macarons.  If you scroll through all the links, you will see just how labor intensive they are!  While macaron shells only consist of four ingredients: almond flour, icing sugar, egg whites and granulated sugar, they are truly a challenge to perfect.  This explains why macarons can cost upwards of $3.00 for just one!

Macaron shells are not typically flavored.  They are so finicky that any additional ingredients to the recipe can result in catastrophe.  The real flavor comes from the fillings; however, excessive moisture can result in soft, squishy shells.  For this reason alone, I don’t use fruit curds unless they are mixed with buttercreams.  Even fruit purees can be a bit tricky.

This is why I am so excited about Real Flavors!  These super concentrates are just that.  The ratio is 1/8 teaspoon compared to 1/2 to 1 teaspoon.  When working with concentrated extracts, it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way.  I mean tiny, tiny drops.  It is best to start with a minute amount.  I would definitely experiment with 1/16 teaspoon first.  This all depends on the quantity that you are making as well.  You can always add more!

I was amazed at Real Flavors product line!  Here are some of my favorites:

Blueberry
Raspberry
Orange
Strawberry
Peach
Mango
Passion Fruit
Watermelon
Lychee

Why stop there?  Here are some more decadent flavors that I cannot wait to try:

Pistachio
Hazelnut
Coconut
Banana Cream Pie
Key Lime Pie
Pina Colada
Champagne

While I get busy baking and experimenting, check out Real Flavors extracts and Hip Syrups.  Real Spices is another exciting product line, which will be available soon.

Disclaimer:
This is not a paid advertisement.
Products are courtesy of Real Flavors

Iwatani Butane Torch – Product Review

I’m so excited to share one of my favorite kitchen tools with you; the Iwatani butane torch!

I came across this torch while dining at a restaurant.  I had ordered a green tea brûlée for dessert, and was blown away (no pun intended) by the creamy texture, taste and perfectly torched top.  I asked the server if she knew what type of torch was used, and she showed me the Iwatani torch!

I had a mini torch at home and it was quite useless and beyond disappointing.  No matter how many times I tried, the torch left a strong butane/gas taste on everything.  I started using my broiler, and almost gave up looking for a replacement.

The Iwatani Pro Plus and Pro2 are professional high-quality torches made in Japan.  Chefs all over the world use them.  I have seen the torches countless times on Food Network and other cooking/baking shows.  I have to say, I still get excited when I spot one because I actually own two of them now! 

The torches are lightweight, very easy and safe to use.  The flame is adjustable, in both strength and size.  I absolutely love them, and you know what?  There is NO butane/gas taste on anything I have torched.

If you don’t own a torch, this is definitely one you won’t regret buying.

Here are just some of the foods that you can elevate quickly by using a torch:

  • Marshmallows for S’mores
  • Crème Brûlée
  • Torched raw salmon or any other kind of fish
  • Melt cheese
  • Blister tomatoes
  • Glaze a ham
  • Grapefruit halves

Kitchen note:
For safety, I always place the food item on a heatproof baking sheet or tray. 

Disclaimer:
Torches are courtesy of KBC Specialty Products, Inc., a distributor for
Iwatani Corporation of America.

This is not a paid advertisement.

Essence of Unionville – Sunday Brunch Buffet Review

H and I CRAVE Sunday brunches and buffets, and most especially for special occasions.  For our anniversary this year, we decided to try the Essence of Unionville.

It has been a while since we visited the Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa, and we were pleasantly surprised by the changes since then.  The hotel’s décor is modern, sleek, and minimalist, yet very welcoming.

I would like to point out that I had many questions while writing this review, and I was amazed at how responsive Genson Navaprajah, the General Manager was.  I knew he was a busy man, but he took the time to answer all of my emails himself.  I found this extremely refreshing, as I know firsthand that most executives have an assistant to take care of these matters.  I can certainly see that Genson is very hands on in running this hotel, and passionate about customer feedback, whether positive or negative.

Upon arrival, Ruben, the Food & Beverage Outlets Manager; Aleena, the Food & Beverage Supervisor; Scott, the Executive Sous Chef and our amazing server Barbara, extended a warm welcome and congratulated us on our anniversary.  Even though they were busy setting up for the brunch, he or she took the time to answer all our questions.

Let’s get to the buffet …. a smorgasbord of sweet and savory food, all made in house with super fresh and flavorful ingredients.  Nathan, the hotel’s Pastry Chef, Scott and the rest of the culinary team really outdid themselves.  I have to say, I saw Scott several times, working just as hard as the team, and not in the kitchen where I expected him to be.

H was immediately drawn to the crab legs and sushi – his favorites, while I was already looking at the dessert table. We were literally at opposite ends of the buffet!

I truly wish we had the time (and stomach) to sample everything, so we will definitely cover that in a return visit – stay tuned!  All the food stations were visually appealing, and had an amazing array of succulent dishes.

Here were the brunch offerings on our visit:

Croissants, Fruit Danishes, Cinnamon Rolls, Muffins

H tells me this all the time – “Don’t fill up on the carbs!”  As a home cook, passionate baker and dessert/pastry lover how can I not?  Nevertheless, I have to be honest – I am a bit of a pastry snob.  I had my hesitations because I have been to many buffets and have eaten some soggy, margarine or shortening based pastries.  I could tell from just one bite that these were not the case. The croissants and danishes were flaky and buttery, no doubt, because Nathan uses only unsalted butter (no shortening here)!  They were really scrumptious, and I had to stop at one each.  Such regret …

Scones

I took one look at these super tall scones and thought, “Yes, it’s going on my plate,” despite H’s eye roll.  I honestly wanted to eat a second one.  Why you ask?  It’s just a plain looking scone right?  Nope, these were tender and fluffy, yet held up well to a smear of butter.  The scones had just the right amount of raisins and on my first bite, I detected a bit of sweetness.  Honestly, I can’t explain further – you will have to try them!  I asked H repeatedly to take a bite, just one bite, but he was too focused on his crab and sushi!

Freshly Baked Olive Ciabatta Buns

Classic Eggs Benedict

Maple Sausages and Crispy Bacon

The maple sausages had just the right amount of sweetness.  The bacon was exactly the way H and I like it – crispy!

Omelet Station

Piccata Chicken Breast with Lime Cream Sauce

The chicken was tender, and the slight tang of lime lightened up the cream sauce.

Steamed Mussels with Thai Curry Coconut Sauce

This is where I draw a blank!  Why did my plate only have three mussels? (See below for what’s on our plates).  Well, other than the fact that I had other dishes to try, I really regret not going back for more!  H and I love steamed mussels, but the Essence of Unionville’s version is absolutely delicious.  The coconut curry sauce was mildly spicy and the mussels were succulent.  H and I love Thai food, so we hope this dish makes another appearance on our next visit.

Alberta Prime Rib with Natural Pan Juices

The prime rib was perfectly cooked, medium rare to medium.  I was surprised when the server cut our slices.  I should say, “thick” slices.  Have you ever been to a buffet where the roast beef was paper thin?  Not here!  The prime rib beef was seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, so simple – nothing else was needed.  Let’s talk texture, because I have had my share of tough and chewy beef.  Our slices were so tender and juicy that we had seconds!

Cajun Roasted Potatoes, Vegetables

Trout with Teriyaki Sauce

Lamb Leg with Mustard Sauce

Cheese Tortellini with Tomato Sauce

Mixed Greens, Veggie Spirals and Cherry Tomatoes

Caesar Salad

Broccoli Mandarin Orange Salad, Pasta Salad, Quinoa Salad, Asian Noodles

Antipasto

Crudités

Crab Clusters

H and I love crab!  What a coincidence; the night before we were watching “Deadliest Catch,” and then we were eating crab!

Crab crackers were supplied, along with these cute compressed hand towels.  Our sever Barbara was telling us a funny story about the first time she saw them.  She thought the server was giving her mints.  Why the heck was she given mints at the start of her meal?  LOL!

All you have to do is drop the compressed “mints” into the water and POOF, a hand towel appears.  Did I say cute?

Peel & Eat Shrimp | Marinated Kiwi Mussels

The shrimp were jumbo sized, cleaned, and not water logged!

Assorted Sushi

H is a sushi lover while I tend to stick with California rolls.  H commented more than once on how thick the fish were sliced.  I don’t know which he enjoyed more – the sushi, crabs or prime rib.  I would say all three!

Assorted Deli Meats

Smoked Salmon

What’s on our Plates

Assorted Sushi

This review is long huh?  Thanks for staying with me because I left the best for last … desserts!

Crème Brûlée

Double Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Don’t they look decadent?  I ran into Scott on my second round and he asked if I was going to have one.

Cointreau Cheesecake

This was one of our favorite desserts.  When I first saw the dessert section, I thought, “They’re so small!”   I was wrong; they are the right size, especially when it comes to cheesecake.  Besides, being a dessert lover smaller means I can sample more!  Cheesecake is very rich and filling, you really can’t eat a huge slice of it.  This Cointreau cheesecake was very creamy and on the light side, especially with layers of Joconde sponge, brushed with a Cointreau syrup for a hint of unexpected flavor.  I had two!

Chocolate Eclairs

Petite chocolate eclairs generously filled with a chocolate crème chiboust, and a light touch of Drambuie.  They were delicate and mouthwatering.  I said “they,” but in all sadness, I only had one.

Chocolate Mousse Infused with Kahlua

Chocolate mousse can be a bit boring, so a touch of Kahlua made all the difference.  I did go back for another one …

Mango Mousse Infused with Brandy

If you love mangoes, this mousse is for you.  Lusciously smooth and airy, and not too heavy.

Crème Caramel

Passion Fruit Cheesecake

Another winner!  This cheesecake had layers of Dacquoise sponge cake.  The cream cheese filling and passion fruit puree provided a burst of flavor.  The blackberries added a nice tang.  I think I had two, but who is counting?

Mini Blackberry Tarts

These mini tarts had a buttery (all butter, no shortening) and flaky crust, and were filled with a light pastry cream, topped with tart blackberries.  I restrained myself and had only one.

Apple Crumble

Vanilla Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream

Raspberry and Mango Sauce

Panna Cotta

Assorted Fresh Fruit

Swiss Apple Flan with Almond Cream and Bourbon

This was another one of my favorites.  The addition of almond cream laced with Bourbon truly complimented the thinly sliced tart apples.  I’m starting to repeat myself, but just looking at the pictures while typing this makes me CRAVE Nathan’s exceptional pastries.

Mango Charlotte

A very light chocolate sponge cake layered with sweet mango mousse.

Chocolate Rum Cake

Can you see how light, moist and chocolaty this cake is?  H can be picky when it comes to cake.  He prefers cakes with a light texture and whipped cream.  I took only one bite and wish I had my own slice.  H finished the rest in record speed.  He said it was his favorite cake, and really enjoyed the layers of chocolate sponge with a hint of rum, chocolate mousse, and chocolate Chantilly cream.

Since the Essence of Unionville offers all of these exquisite desserts for sale, I found a good choice for H’s upcoming birthday …. Shh!

What’s on our Plates – Part 2

6″ Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Cake

This cake totally surprised us!  What a beautiful site (for a dessert lover!).  We were so full from the buffet, so we took this home to enjoy.  We love dark chocolate and it’s my preferred choice when baking.  I thought milk chocolate would be overly sweet, but it wasn’t.  The cake layers consisted of Joconde sponge, hazelnut praline coated with rice krispies and milk chocolate.  The filling was velvety smooth, creamy, and over the top decadent.

I have to add that all the cakes were light and not cloyingly sweet.  This is very reminiscent of Asian or European desserts.  The cakes tend to be sponge based, and the frostings are not your typical buttercreams that consist of butter and icing sugar.

I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed this brunch.  There were so many surprising aspects.   Barbara was very efficient, always filling our juice or water glasses.  Our empty plates were taken away without having to ask.  In addition, what server is going to tell you to eat more and take your time?  We never felt rushed to leave.  Barbara wasn’t the only one, another server Victor, encouraged us to try more dishes and enjoy our brunch.  Service was definitely on point, but not overly intrusive.

Stay tuned for a return visit so I can provide you with an update …

Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa
8500 Warden Avenue
Markham, Ontario L6G 1A5

Sunday Brunch Buffet:  11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
2 hours complimentary parking
Current price:  $38.50/adult, $20.00/child
Includes juice, tea or coffee
Taxes and gratuity are separate
Reservations:  905-470-8500 ext. 2067

Disclaimer:
This is not a paid advertisement.