Sharing My Heart (s)

It's just about Pumpkin time... and I'm ready to bake some yummy fall treats.  But I've had these heart macaron pictures since the early summer, waiting to make their debut.  Problem is I couldn't get a really good picture, so I held back from posting.

I decided today before I move on with the season, I must post the pictures anyway, and explain how they came to be.  These are vanilla macarons with a lemon swiss buttercream filling.  Yeah - they taste really good.  You can use this or this macaron recipes, or any of the hundreds of other recipes online.  The lemon swiss buttercream recipe is from my favorite food blogger, Stella at Bravetart.  Absolutely yummy!

I haven't been making macarons for very long, but once I started I quickly got obsessed.  So I was making them pretty regularly, for no real reason other than to make them (by the way,  macarons  freeze wonderfully unfilled, and thaw quickly).

So a very good friend who was getting married soon was trying to figure out the wedding cake thing - how do you feed 150 people without breaking the bank?  Have you seen the price of wedding cakes?!

Having watched me in the kitchen baking away at these cute little macarons, she wondered if it was possible to make them into a heart shape?  She had an idea.  Of course I said, 'Nope."  Can't possibly.  I can barely make them round.  But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be a fun thing to try; another way to feed my obsession.  So I said I would try.

And before I knew it, I was knocking these little hearts out like nobody's business.  This is before they were baked.  They are about 1 1/2" at the widest point, and about 1 1/4" in height.

Here are some out of the oven.  As you can see, they don't all come out quite like hearts.  Some of them have a Mickey Mouse style to them. And some of them were simply blobs. 

 Oh - and then there was this one.  I like to think of it as "art."  (I don't know how it happened, honest)

So by the end, I had a freezer filled with hundreds and hundreds of little pink hearts ready to be matched up and filled with lemony goodness.  The plan was to have a small traditional wedding cake, and then have a sheet cake (filled with lemon swiss buttercream) to be served to the masses at the wedding.  Each slice of the sheet cake would have a swirl of buttercream, and the heart would be tucked into the swirl.  It was really lovely.  Unfortunately - I don't have a good picture, but this will give you an idea.

And of course, by the end of the evening, we all broke into the 'macaron conga dance.'

And they lived happily ever after...  XOXO

Now onward to Fall  ..bring  on the pumpkin and fresh cranberries!

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Gluten-Free Pear & Dried Cherry or Chocolate Bread

Isn't that red pear just gorgeous! (Thanks, Marsha and Gene!)

So what's a girl to do when she has been gifted with an abundance of pears.  The easy thing would have been to make a pear crumble or galette, but instead I started looking for new recipes to use them in, of course!  I came across this Gluten Free Pear Bread from Carol on Simply Gluten-free that looked just beautiful, and I had just about all of the ingredients on hand.  So I gave it a whirl - with some changes just based on personal preferences.

The original recipe included walnuts, and since I'm not a big fan of nuts in baked stuff, I just replaced them with unsweetened dried cherries.  I also cut way back on the sugar since I was guessing this bread wouldn't need that much.  And of course, I added some Almond flour.

What can I say? It came out delicious.  I'm sure it would be great subbing in Apples instead of Pears. Or both! And maybe adding some fresh cranberries. 

Update!  And then, because I couldn't leave well enough alone.  I made it with chocolate (wish I had more dried cherries because that would have been a great combination!).  And because everything tastes better with chocolate...

So take your choice.

 Or try something new!

Gluten Free Pear & Dried Cherry Quick Bread (adapted from Simply Gluten-Free)

  • 1 cup Brown Rice Flour
  • 1/2 cup Almond Flour
  • 1/2 cup Tapioca Starch/Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 scant tsp Xanthan Gum
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 2/3 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Erythritol
  • 1/2 cup Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 2 large Pears, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup unsweetened Dried Cherries, or whatever you choose to add


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and spray a 9 X 5 loaf pan with cooking spray (I like coconut)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first seven dry ingredients.

  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, erythritol, oil, and vanilla.

  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until just blended.

  4. Fold in the pears and cherries.

  5. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, and bake for 60 - 70 minutes.  A toothpick should come out dry.
Let the bread cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, and then turn out onto a cooking rack.


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Gluten-free Cherry Almond Cake

Because life is a bowl of cherries!  Don't ya think?

Cherry season comes and goes quickly, so if I was going to bake something, it was now or never (or at least, until next year).  Recently I came across this Cherry Almond cake on a website I like to visit called The Joy of Baking.  I've always had good luck with recipes I've found there.   I mean, what a great combination - cherries (I keep typing cheeries instead of cherries LOL) and almond flour.  This recipe, of course, is gluten-full, so I thought it would be a good one to convert to gluten-free.

Lucky for me - it worked!  And I do mean luck - cause it doesn't always work (someday I'll start a blog with all of my bloopers).  I made this on a Saturday night, and didn't even taste it until Sunday morning.  Willpower!  Yes!

Besides using a gluten-free flour, I decreased the amount of flour in the recipe and increased the almond flour which is a great way to maintain a moist but tender crumb.  It worked out great, and is perfect with a cup o' java in the morning.  

I especially like the fact that it's not overly sweet; and even though there's not a lot of sugar in the recipe, next time I will replace part of the sugar with Erythritol which should work.  

Gluten-free Cherry Almond Cake (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 - 1 lb fresh cherries
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free flour mix of your choice
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds/almond flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 3/4 cups sugar or combination of sugar & sugar substitutes
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (200 C)
Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, and butter the bottom and sides.
  1. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
  2. Rinse, and pit cherries, then split in half and place cut side down on paper towels to remove excess juice.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the flour, ground almonds, salt, xanthan gum, and baking powder and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of your mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes at high speed until thick and pale yellow.
  5. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
  6. Pour the butter and milk down the side of the mixing bowl, and using a rubber spatula or whisk fold in the melted butter and milk into the egg mixture gently to avoid deflating the eggs.
  7. Add the flour in 3 steps, folding it into the mixture each time.
  8. Add cherries to the mix and gently fold them in (if you add too much of the juice the cake will change color)
  9. Pour the batter into your prepared springform pan and smooth the batter using an offset spatula.
  10. Place on center rack of oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool on cooling rack for 15 minutes then remove sides of springform pan and let completely cool before removing bottom of pan and parchment paper.

Dust with confectioners sugar just before serving.  Serve with frozen yogurt or whipped cream or by itself!  This cake seems to taste best if eaten with 2 days.

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French Macarons, Round 2

And this is clearly the winner!   Look Ma! No nipples or hollows! Just beautiful feet!

 OK - so only someone who has baked macarons will understand that last statement.  

Yes - I thought I had these down to perfection when I posted Macarons last time.  I mean, they were beautiful, and delicious, and only had the slightly hint of nipple.  But they had one problem that no one who ate them cared about... except me.  Hollow!  A macaron bakers' second worse nightmare (first is no feet).

What is (are??) the macaron feet??  See just under the very top of the macaron shell - the kind of crumbly looking part (it's not really crumbly) - that's the foot.  We like them big :-)  What's the nipple?  If you look at this picture - the yellow macaron in the right front - you'll know what I mean.  And the hollow... well ... it's when there's a big air space between the top of the macaron and the bottom feet.  Here's a picture I found online.  Mine were worse.  I didn't take a picture.

The recipe I started with is from Bravetart and as much as I love Stella and her recipe (and her blog is simply one of my favorites because she is a fabulous pastry chef and fun blogger), I knew I had to venture out to try other recipes to get me past the 'hollow' hump.  Still - it was her blog and recipe that got me going on my quest for macaron perfection.

I don't know if you've looked recently (or ever, for that matter!), but there are a zillion recipes/blogs/youtube videos out there for making macarons.  There's the French method, and there's the Italian method.  I started with French and I'm sticking with it (I don't need anymore dirty bowls).  It's fascinating, because all of the recipes use egg whites, sugar/powdered sugar/almond flour - but everyone has different proportions and slight (or not so slight) variations in technique.  Yet they all seem to have beautiful pictures of macarons.  How can that be?  These are fussy little buggers, but somehow different proportions and different techniques work for people anyway.  (Of course, only a brave few actually show the inside of their macarons, where hollows hide).

So with a new recipe to try, and some changes in technique (more traditional)  - I did it!  Look - no hollows!

Simply chewy goodness with flavors that pop, that you can only find in a French macaron.

This recipe comes from Ms. Humble at Not So Humble Pie, who took a scientific method to come to her own proportions of egg white-sugar-almond flour that should bake up into a perfect macaron.  And hey, it worked!  I mean, after all, baking is about science as much as anything else, isn't it?

So with her proportions, and using some pretty traditional techniques, I got me some pretty darn good macs.

The more I make these (and I have been making them at every opportunity, including for no reason at all), the more I start experimenting with fillings.  So many possibilities!  These are vanilla bean macs with a strawberry cream cheese filling.  I ground up freeze dried strawberries and mixed it with the cream cheese and some powdered sugar.  The color comes only from the strawberries, along with an intense strawberry flavor.  Yes - freeze dried fruit - the sky's the limit on fillings.

So!  Today's recipe from Not So Humble Pie, with minor changes in technique:

  • 120 grams Almond Meal/Flour
  • 200 grams Powdered Sugar
  • 100 grams Egg Whites (I don't age them, but I try to leave them out for at least an hour, or as much as a day)
  • 30-35 grams Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, scrapped
  • pinch of salt

  1. Prep your pans.  Line two (heavy weight) baking sheets with parchment paper, and have your pastry bag with tip ready.  (I use a template I made - I traced 1 1/2 inch circles on piece of parchment and then I put it under my baking parchment.  You can see the circles through the top piece.  Then after they are all piped - I pull the bottom sheet out and reuse it next time.)

  2. Add the almond meal and powdered sugar to your food processor and pulse  for 15 seconds or so. Then sift, tossing any bits leftover that don't make it through.

  3. Start beating the egg whites on low (about 4 on a kitchen aid) using the whip attachment  for about a minute (until foamy), and then add the salt, followed by the sugar and beat for another minute. (about 2 minutes total)

  4. Add in the vanilla bean caviar and turn the mixer up to medium (6 on kitchen aid) for about 2 minutes. 

  5. Add any food coloring, and then turn the mixer up to high (8 on kitchen aid) for about 2 minutes.  This is where you really need to pay attention so you don't overbeat.  The whites should be stiff, but not overly dry.  They should hold stiff peaks.

  6. Remove the beater whip and bang it against the bowl to remove any egg whites.

  7. Add about 1/3 of the the almond meal/sugar mixture to the egg whites, and start folding it in.  You don't have to be particularly gentle - you actually want to deflate the egg whites somewhat.  Once incorporated, add another 1/3, and repeat until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.   Now you REALLY want to pay attention to it.  You want to keep folding it until it gets to a "lava-like" consistency.  If you pick some up and drop it back down into the bowl, it should blend back into the batter after about 20 seconds.  Be careful not to overmix.  When  you think you're getting close, do another one or two folds and test it again.

  8. When you have the batter just right (!), transfer it to your piping bag.

  9. Start piping out the batter onto the pre-traced circles, staying just inside the edge of the circle.  Don't worry if you don't get it perfect.  I get my share of oval macarons.  Practice is what it's about.

  10. When you've piped your first tray, rap the tray against the counter 3 or 4 times to remove any air bubbles that might be lurking within your macarons.  Repeat with your second tray.

  11. Set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, you can preheat the oven to about 300 degrees.  That's the temperature that works for me - you'll have to experiment with your own oven. 

  12. After about 30 minutes, when the macs are no longer tacky to the touch (lightly), you can put your first tray in the oven (I haven't had luck baking two trays at a time).  They take about 15-16 minutes for me - but again, you'll have to experiment with your oven.  How do you know when they're done? What I've been doing is very lightly nudging the top of one (usually an ugly one) to see if the top is loose - it will move slightly.  If it's loose I leave it in for another couple of minutes and test again.  You want that top on securely.

  13. When the first tray is done, let them cool on the tray on a cooking rack for a while, before peeling them off.  Put the second tray in.

  14. Once completely cooled, you can gently pull them off the parchment (If  there are some sticky spots just nudge it lightly with a sharp knife.  TIP: These babies are delicate. Always handle them gently on their sides.  If you grab them on their delicate tops, you'll probably put a hole in them.  Ask me how I know...

  15. Match up bottoms and tops close in size, and put them together (carefully) with your favorite filling - then into the refrigerator they go in an air tight container for at least overnight.  That's when the magic happens!  Trust me.  Take them out about 15 minutes before serving.  I generally keep them in the refrigerator unless they are being served or eaten.
 Fillings I've used (no recipes - just to taste)
  • Chocolate ganache: made with heavy cream OR coconut milk, and bittersweet chocolate.
  • Lemon cream cheese: made with  cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and a little lemon juice
  • Strawberry cream cheese: made with cream cheese, powdered sugar, and ground freeze dried strawberries.
I'm not a huge buttercream fan, but at some point I'll probably start using it in fillings. Meanwhile, I'm already thinking about what filling to try next!

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Almond Lemon Ricotta Cheese Muffins - Gluten-Free


Yet. Another. Muffin.

What can I say? I love muffins. They are comfort food to me. So the more choices the merrier!

These muffins really are as good as they look. Originally based on this one from the Food Network, I found many variations online. I looked at a bunch and picked up ideas to blend into yet another variation - Gluten free and reduced sugar. And of course, using Ricotta Cheese ups the protein, which is a great addition to any muffin. And who knew adding Ricotta cheese fluffs up a muffin, creating a texture similar to a gluten-full muffin? I surely will start experimenting with Ricotta cheese in more of my baking.

Gluten-free Lemon Almond Ricotta Muffins


  • 1 cup Gluten-free flour blend (or your favorite GF blend)
  • 1 cup Almond Meal/flour
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 scant tsp Xanthan Gum
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 cup Sugar (you can replace half the sugar with Erythritol or Splenda)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 Tbs lemon zest (this gives a strong lemon flavor; use less for a more subtle lemon flavor)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup Ricotta cheese (I used reduced fat)
  • 1 tsp Almond extract(use a little more for a more intense almond flavor)
  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • sliced almonds, not toasted


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

  1. Whisk flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar and lemon zest and mix until blended well.
  3. Add the Ricotta and blend.
  4. Add the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
  6. Slowly add the milk and mix until just blended. The batter will be thick.
  7. Fill muffin tins pretty full (an ice cream scoop is great for this).
  8. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the tops, and press them into the batter lightly.
  9. Bake for approximately 20 - 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Remove muffins from tins to cooling rack.

These freeze very well in an airtight freezer bag - just be sure you get all the air out. I take them out of the freezer and pop them into the microwave for about 15 seconds. They still taste fresh baked!

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