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archive for confections

silly things we say and do

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Recipe: italian rainbow cookies

This was the scene Wednesday night: an assembly line of gift bags, gift boxes, tissue paper, cards, ribbons, cookies, candies, labels, and a checklist scribbled four times over with crossouts, notes, tick marks, and arrows. Maybe I was tired or maybe I am getting smarter, but as the clock spun ahead into the night, I began to unload cookies from my “to make” list like ballast from a sinking ship. French macarons? No. Peppermint kisses? Nope. Mini sour cream coffee cakes? Jettisoned from the list. I like people, but I like them more when I’ve had more than 4 hours of sleep.


holiday cookies and candies



After we had prettied up the packages and set them on the table to ship or deliver the next day, I let out a big sigh (more like an agonized primal scream) and said, “I’m not making anymore EXPLETIVE cookies! And I’m going EXPLETIVE skiing tomorrow!” We actually got four inches of snow overnight, so the logical next step was…

the lovely new high-speed lift that brings us to the powder 8 minutes faster

it was good while it lasted



And can you believe less than 48 hours after declaring NO MORE COOKIES, I was in the kitchen making… cookies? It’s true. I kinda blame Jennie Perillo for that. She posted a photo of her Italian rainbow cookies on Instagram last weekend, which prompted me to finally research the recipe and buy the ingredients – except I had all of those holiday cookies to crank out. I put the project on indefinite hold until Jennie posted ANOTHER photo of those gorgeous cookies on Thursday and I waved the white flag.

italian rainbow cookies



All my life, I had zero interest in Italian rainbow cookies and here’s why: I assumed they were the same as Neapolitan coconut candies – little sweet tricolor rectangles which I thought were disgusting when I was a kid. No one in my Chinese immigrant family set me straight on the distinction between the two, most likely because they had no idea either one existed. Then a couple of months ago we stopped at Whole Foods to grab a salad and their cookie bar was 50% off. For some reason, I decided to give an Italian rainbow cookie a try and to my delight, it tasted of almonds.

almond extract, almond paste, flour, sugar, chocolate, eggs, salt, apricot preserves, butter, red and green food coloring



There are a lot of recipes for Italian rainbow cookies on the web. They’re also called seven layer cookies or three layer cookies or Italian flag cookies, and they more or less follow the same process and list of ingredients. I found Deb‘s discussion to be quite helpful regarding the chocolate layers and the slicing, but decided on a smaller quantity for my first batch because you never quite know what you’re getting into when you decide to bake something at high altitude. Jennie’s recipe amounted to about 75% of Deb’s quantity and I liked the way she baked all three colors in one pan. So I reduced Deb’s recipe by a quarter and baked it up Jennie’s way. Either way, these are not quick cookies, so set aside a full day or parts of two days.

Most people whip the egg whites first and then make the batter, but I like to reverse that order because no good can come of letting whipped egg whites sit around and deflate while you make the cookie batter. Also, the recipe calls for almond paste, which is not the same as marzipan. Marzipan has a higher ratio of sugar to almond than almond paste. Some of you already know this, some of you do not. Remember what Gandalf said, “I’m trying to help you.”


beat the sugar and almond paste together

add butter

mix in the egg yolks and the almond extract

add salt and flour



**Jump for more butter**

small victories

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Recipe: chocolate almond macarons (sucre cuit method)

It looks to be another warm November here in the Colorado Rockies. Sure we have gotten some snow, but mostly we’re getting sun and warm – which are the nemeses of snow. I’ve resigned myself to riding my bike on the indoor trainer and getting my balance muscles back in shape on my skate skis in the living room. Even the local trails are slicked over with ice (thanks, sun and warm…). I suppose it’s just as well since my parents are in Colorado for a few weeks. Lack of snow made the logistics of prepping a belated birthday party for my dad much easier.


silly, happy neva

shopping with the parents at costco

dad’s birthday cake (one of three desserts)

toasting with friends and bubbles



Our dinner parties typically offer multiple desserts at the end of the meal, but it isn’t because I set out to make all of these desserts. On any given week, I’m always recipe testing or shooting some dessert, which means these gatherings are the perfect time to move the results of my research. We have had a string of dinners at our house lately (I am hoping we are done until next year) and most of them have involved some version of chocolate macarons. I’ve been recipe testing these suckers for over a month. My friend, Dan, held one in his hand and examined it asking, “What are they?” I said they were sandwich cookies, like Oreos. He took a bite and laughed, “These are nothing like Oreos!” He was right. I hadn’t ever been asked to describe a French macaron, I just gave them to people and figured they would eat them. French macs are almond meringue cookies that sandwich a filling – it could be ganache, fruit curd, buttercream frosting, jam, dulce de leche, or even foie gras in special savory instances.

so simple and yet not



When I have made French macarons in the past, I followed the method of whipping a French meringue and folding it into the almond-sugar base. They looked great, but the cookies were always hollow or as I coined it, had “attic space”. I chalk a lot of that up to baking at my altitude of 8,500 feet. Macs are finicky little guys, but at my elevation, they are a pain in the ass. I stepped away from baking macs for several years with the intention of getting back at it – except I didn’t return to it until now. And I think I’ve got it. What follows is a lengthy discussion of the technique that works for me. It’s more for my own reference, but hopefully it will help someone else out there, too. I’ve tried to detail what I can in the recipe itself and go into greater detail here in the post.

powdered sugar, egg whites and egg whites, almond flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, water



Even during my hiatus from baking macarons, they were always on my mind as they gained in popularity and have pretty much jumped the shark (you can now buy them in bulk from Whole Foods and Costco). I spoke with several professional bakers in high altitude mountain towns about issues and tricks regarding these treats. Everyone has their own tweaks and methods that they’ve worked out. I knew that I wanted to try the sucre cuit (cooked sugar) method, which makes an Italian meringue with hot sugar and is supposed to be more stable than the French method.

First things first. I highly recommend using a kitchen scale to make the macarons. I know some people balk at that – some have even gone so far as to tell me that “Here in AMERICA, we use cups…”, but if you 1) want your macarons to work and 2) want to be able to produce consistent results, then you should use a kitchen scale to remove some of the variability. If you choose not to weigh your ingredients and your macarons flop and you complain to me, I’m going to reach through my computer and dope slap you.

You will need at least two baking sheets and some parchment paper or silpat mat to line the top sheet. The reason is that you will double stack the baking sheets (so make sure they are the nesting kind) for a more even bake and rise from the bottom. I bake one sheet of macarons at a time in my oven (because my oven sucks). If I had two trays of macarons in the oven, I know the bottom ones will rise too quickly and the top ones will rise lopsidedly. Also, I don’t know how the macs behave in a convection oven.

It helps that I have quarts of egg whites in my freezer – the result of making too much ice cream and homemade egg pasta. I saved those whites knowing that some day, SOME DAY, I would burn through them in a frenzy of recipe testing macarons. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature before you start. Another push in the right direction was being able to get superfine almond flour in bulk from Costco. Sure, I can grind my own blanched almonds into almond flour, but I can never get mine to be this fine. Also, for some reason it’s much easier to go back to the drawing board after yet another failed batch of macarons when you simply spoon the almond flour out instead of grinding the almonds yourself. Hey, I’m just trying to reduce as many mental hangups in this process as possible. Because the almond flour I use is superfine, I don’t bother processing it together with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. If you are starting with blanched almonds (whole, pieces, whatever), you will absolutely need to run those through the food processor with the powdered sugar and cocoa powder (the powdered ingredients help to keep the almonds from turning into almond butter, too).

And if you aren’t interested in making your macaron cookies chocolate, omit the cocoa powder, but replace the omitted weight of cocoa powder with the equivalent weight in powdered sugar. So if you left out 20 grams of cocoa powder, add 20 grams of powdered sugar.


mix the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and almond flour together (or process in a food processor)

sift the dry mixture to remove any large pieces



When the dry ingredients are sifted (yes, please do this step), pour in 75 grams of egg whites and mix it until combined. Egg whites don’t incorporate the way most liquids do. They take a little time for the dry ingredients to absorb. It will look like there isn’t enough liquid for everything to come together, but keep working at it – it will eventually become a thick, uniform, wet paste. It’s a mini workout for your wrist and arm.

add half of the egg whites to the dry mix

a uniform wet paste



**Jump for more butter**

and now, chocolate

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry pistachio chocolate bar

When the weather cools down for the season, we tend to witness strings of amazing sunrises and sunsets. It means I can take Neva for a fetch session and she doesn’t get too hot in the autumn air. Autumn’s atmospheric volatility is also accompanied by winds, which can make getting outside a little dangerous (tree fall is real, folks) or miserable at best when dirt and small rocks fly at your face and get in your teeth and ears and eyes. But when the winds die down, it’s important to take advantage and maybe hike into the woods for some target practice.


one of many impressive sunsets last week

my happy little girl, ready to go home after playing fetch

jeremy practicing with his air rifle

packed up and ready to hike out



I’m not sure I’ll get much in the way of a grouse season this year because there were matsutake mushrooms to be found, huckleberries to pick, things got busy, and I was late getting my air rifle and learning to use it. But I’m okay with that. I think foraging and living in the mountains has taught me long-term planning and patience. Stuff doesn’t necessarily happen when you want it to – especially if you are waiting on something that may or may not grow from year to year.

precious precious huckleberries



I began toying with the idea of dried huckleberries a few years ago, but had to wait until I had a season good enough to spare a quart or so of berries to dry. That (amazing) season happened this year. After Erin and Jay were done dehydrating their gigantic haul of matsutake mushrooms, they kindly dehydrated a few cups of my fresh huckleberries for me (120°F for 60 hours!). I knew exactly what I was going to do with those dried huckleberries. I had known for over a year.

Cooler weather around the house means chocolate emerges from its summer hiatus in my kitchen. This is the time I start to bake and ship cookies to friends around the country – when I can be mostly certain that the chocolate won’t melt in transit. This is also when I start to play with ideas for holiday gifts – like chocolate bars. Except I was going to make the ultimate chocolate bar using my dried huckleberries.


pistachios, dried huckleberries, flake sea salt, dark chocolate



Our fresh huckleberries are small to begin with, but dried, they are like dried currants… small ones. Pop one in your mouth and the flavor is subtle at first, until you get to the chewy center and the concentrated berry essence grows into something wonderful. Huckleberries pair exceptionally well with chocolate. While I enjoy working with chocolate, I am not a fan of eating chocolate – except when huckleberries are involved.

teeny tiny delicious dried huckleberries



Making a chocolate bar is quite straightforward. Melt or temper your chocolate: dark, milk, or white, but really – dark chocolate is the best; mix in your goodies like nuts, dried fruit, crisped rice, candy, etc.; pour into molds and let set. That’s it. But for anyone who has been reading my blog, you know and I know that tempering chocolate is the right way to do this. And please use a good quality chocolate, especially if you are going to honor the great and mighty huckleberry.

melt the chocolate over a water bath

seed the melted chocolate



**Jump for more butter**