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curse you, Martha Stewart!

Today's search engine catchphrase:

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(Though truth be told, I think the biggest spike in diary readership I've had lately occurred when harri3tspy linked to my entry about Maureen Dowd.)

Mrs. Geek and I had a little culinary adventure on Monday night. Mrs. Geek was attending a pot luck sorority alumni gathering on Tuesday night, and needed a dessert item to bring. She did her homework, looked in the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies special issue, and found some festive "Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Filling" on page 60. The whole recipe had five ingredients. Its just some meringue, peppermint extract, some red gel food coloring, a pastry bag with two different tips (a #5 and a #22), and chocolate ganache. Easy as pie, right?

Bollocks, as the British would say. The process is supposed to work like this: you make the peppermint meringue, paint a couple stripes of red gel on the inside of the pastry bag (to create candy cane type stripes), extrude the meringue into fanciful shapes with the #22 tip on a baking sheet, cook at 175 degrees for 100-120 minutes, whip up the ganache, let it harden to the point that it can hold a shape, and then stick two of the meringue shapes together with a small amount of ganache piped out with the #5 tip. I say "supposed" because the Martha Stewart Omnimedia staff left out a few key pointers.

We started off ok. Making the meringue was no problem. I made sure to separate each of the three large egg whites over a custard dish before adding to a larger bowl to prevent yolk contamination. I also wiped down the operating parts of the mixer with white vinegar to prevent fat contimination that way. I warmed the whites over hot water to help dissolve the sugar and then mixed, as per the recipe to create a nice meringue with what I thought were medium stiff peaks. Mrs. Geek added the gel dye to the pastry bag, and we quickly banged out about 40 of the necessary shapes. I put them in the oven to bake and then we waited about an hour before concerning ourselves with the ganache.

Things quickly started going wrong at this point. I got the semi-sweet chocolate chopped, warmed up the heavy cream, and poured the latter over the former to make the ganache. The recipe says "Let stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth, about 5 minutes. Let ganache cool at room temperature, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until thick enough to hold its shape, about 45 minutes." I did this... but at the end of 45 minutes, it still had the consistency of chocolate syrup. That chocolate syrup was also still slightly bitter -- the semi-sweet chocolate I got lived up to billing. I tried adding a little confectioners sugar to brighten it up slightly; I didn't think the recipe wanted a sweet ganache, but I also figured that it wasn't calling for a bitter one either. Otherwise, we decided to play a waiting game to see if the ganache would harden further.

The meringue shapes came out of the oven after about 1:45 minutes. They had firmed up considerably, but still had some stickiness to the touch. I figured that this would go away as they cooled, and set them down on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes. Boy, was I wrong about that! The gel dye on the outsides of the shapes never did completely solidify, making it these treats red and sticky right up until the end.

It is at this point that I should make note of the time. Mrs. Geek and I were too tired on Sunday to attempt this experiment. The sorority alumni meeting was Tuesday night. I ended up working late on Monday night... and didn't get home until 8pm. The meringue went into the oven at about 9:05pm and came out at about 10:50pm. I also had an 8am meeting to attend the next morning.

So by about 11:15, we should just be able to assemble the cookies and catch some much needed sleep at 11:30, right? Wrong. The ganache still didn't harden. Perhaps it was the warmth in the kitchen because of the oven, but ganache was still the consistency of chocolate syrup after over an hour of cooling "at room temperature". Finally at about 11:30, I looked ganache up on the web, saw that it can cooled in an ice bath, and just put the bowl in the refridgerator. By 12:15, the ganache had finally arrived at consistency that approached pudding and could be piped to the sticky meringue shapes. We then put the finished cookies in the freezer (to hopefully firm up) and then collapsed on the bed.

So is something wrong with this recipe? I'm not sure. I've always heard that Martha Stewart's recipes are a little shaky in the reproducibility department. Certainly, this seemingly simple recipe is not for novices.

I think if we ever try this one again, we're going to make sure of a few things. First, the peaks on that meringue would be so stiff that the peaks could cut glass. Next, I think we needed to go a little lighter on the gel dye. We would also allow for plenty of time for the kitchen to be cool while making the ganache. Opening windows would not be out of the question. Finally, an ice bath would be at the ready to firm up and recalcitrant ganache. And oh yes, doing all of the above well before midnight would be nice too.

But until then, I choose to mimic the words of Charles Shultz's World War I flying ace and say: "Curse you, Martha Stewart!"

said drgeek on 2005-11-16 at 2:00 p.m.


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