Absinthe Macarons

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Everyone tastes absinthe a touch differently. I taste licorice, black cherry and freshly ground nutmeg in this absinthe from Dillon’s that I’m using today, while my husband describes flavours of anise and marzipan. Absinthe is fairly strong on its own. When preparing a glass of absinthe to drink, one dilutes it with cool water slowly poured over a sugar cube.  When used as a flavouring in baking, it acts more like an extract. Just like the water and sugar in the glass, the unique, bewitching flavours of the absinthe are tempered and diluted in the sweet buttercream. When paired with a classic almond and vanilla flavoured macaron shell, it creates a mysteriously timeless treat.

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-ToasterAbsinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Ingredients

for the macaron shells

  • 1 cup ground almonds (as finely ground as you can find)
  • 1½ cup icing sugar
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • black gel food colouring

for the buttercream filling

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp absinthe
  • green food colouring

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

Method

for the macaron shells

  1. Prepare your parchment sheets by drawing 1″ circles, ½” apart across the entire sheet (or using silicon baking mats with the circles already printed on them) and placing them on a large flat surface suitable for drying your batter, like a dining table. You will need 2-3 half sheet pan size pieces.
  2. Sift ground almonds and icing sugar together, twice. Set aside.
  3. In a large stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a hand or stand mixer on high speed until you have a foam with no liquid remaining.
  4. Slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the egg whites. Beat on high speed until the egg whites reach stiff peaks. You’ve made meringue!
  5. Add vanilla and gently beat in.
  6. Add food colouring and gently beat in. The batter will darken as you work it and the cookies will come out darker still, so don’t worry about getting a true black right now.
  7. Fold your almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue in two parts.
  8. Here’s the part that takes practice: it’s time for the macaronnage! With a spatula, spread the batter, with some force, against the side of the bowl. Then scoop it up by running the spatula along the side of the bowl again and try to flip it all over and sort-of lightly smack it back into the bottom of the bowl. Gather the batter up again and repeat 15 times. It takes some time to figure out the best way to do this, don’t be afraid to play around with it. When doing the macaronnage correctly, repeating more than 20 times can result in oily, blotchy macarons, but I’ve found that doing it incorrectly doesn’t count towards this limit. If you are doing it right, the batter will take on a noticeable and somewhat sudden change in consistency, this means you are about half-way to that limit. When finished, the batter should be thickened and drip slowly from the spatula. You will have to pipe it onto your baking sheets/mats and it won’t work if the batter is too runny. This is the technique that defines macarons, this is what makes mastery of them impressive.
  9. For perfectly round macarons, use a large, 0.4″ plain tip with a pastry bag, or do it the lazy way and cut a corner off a zip top bag for mostly round macarons. Twist (or don’t yet cut) the bag at the tip and place it, tip side down, in a tall glass. Fill with your batter and twist, close or clip the other end to help keep the messy batter moving in the right direction. Pipe the batter into the centre of the circles on your sheets/mats and stop before reaching the edges as the batter will spread out a bit.
  10. Once finished piping, carefully pick the sheets/mats up and drop them back on to the table from a height of a couple of inches. The theory is that this helps the cookies keep their round shape and form the little bubbles around the bottom (the pied) when you put them in the oven.
  11. Leave the cookies on the table, uncovered, for 15-30 minutes to dry (or more on a humid day). This is a good time to preheat your oven to 350°F. You will know the macarons are dry when they look smooth and are no longer sticky to the touch.
  12. Place an oven rack in the centre of your oven. Place a sheet of macarons on two stacked sheet pans (this will stop the bottoms from getting too hot, resulting in cracked macarons) and bake for about 15 minutes. Rotate the pan half way through baking. It can be hard to tell when the macaron are done. I pull them out when the kitchen smells sweet and the cookies look crisp, have just started to brown, and don’t look blotchy in the middle.
  13. As soon as the parchment sheet/baking mat is cool enough to handle, take it out of the pan with all the cookies on top and place it on a cooling rack. The macarons will be too sticky to remove from the sheet/mat now; once cooled, they should peel off easily. I usually wait a few minutes for the pans to cool a bit and for the oven to come back to a steady temperature before moving the next sheet to the pans and baking the next round.

for the buttercream

  1. Warm the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave until it is soft but not melted and beat until creamy.
  2. Break the egg into a large heat-resistant mixing bowl and beat lightly with a hand mixer. Set aside.
  3. Add water and sugar to a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until thick and syrupy, about 7 minutes. You’ve made simple syrup!
  4. Slowly pour your simple syrup into the beaten egg while beating with a hand mixer on as high a speed as you can without flinging syrup everywhere, remember it is hot and sticky. Once all the syrup is in, beat the mixture on high speed, slowly reducing speed until it is thick, light in colour and the bowl is no longer hot.
  5. Add the butter to this mixture in two or three parts and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated and creamy. If the buttercream splits and continuing to beat doesn’t bring it back together, it has likely become too cold. Pop it in the warm oven for 30 seconds and try beating it again. Continue doing this until it comes together.
  6. Add the absinthe and beat until mixed in.
  7. Add food colouring

Once everything has cooled, place your buttercream in a piping or zip-top bag and pipe onto half of your shells. Then place another similarly sized shell on top and gently press them together.

Absinthe Macarons | Sophster-Toaster

All photos by me.

The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore

The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I haven’t worn a costume for Halloween since my first year of high school. The very last time, I was watching scary movies with my two best friends on when we decided we would raid the giant box of elaborate, homemade costumes my mom had made over the years and go trick-or-treating at the last minute. It was fun but we all knew we were too old and it would be our last time.

I think most people stop dressing up because they feel like they are too old or mature for it, but I’m not sure why I never picked it back up. My mother is a talented seamstress and has made some of the most amazing, creative and unique costumes I’ve ever seen – and she still dresses up for costume parties. My brother’s birthday is on Devil’s Night so he never really stopped and always crafts impressive costumes. The house I grew up in was on a dark street with houses only on one side, so we didn’t get many trick-or-treaters and last year was the first time since that I’ve lived somewhere they come at all.

The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I’ve always regretted not acting on my costume idea when the day comes, knowing it means I now have to wait a whole year to try again. Last year was especially upsetting when I saw how much my new street gets into the spirit. So this year, with a house I can give out candy from and an adorable puppy I can dress up, I decided to use one of the easier to achieve costume ideas I’ve had over the years to ease back in with.

I bought myself a cheap wig and vintage-leaning sweater from the used clothing shop to pair with my favourite Laura Petrie-esque black jeans and for Pepper, a fancy, handmade and custom painted shark fin from Labrashark. Pepper stole the show at the Halloween party, but with that face, I didn’t expect anything else.

The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I’m so excited to choose and build next year’s costume!

The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Shark and Mary Tyler Moore | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Wig Value Village
Sweater Value Village
Pants ModCloth
Shoes ModCloth
Pepper’s Shark Fin Labrashark

Photos by me and Matt Harrison.

The Puppy

It feels like things are just starting to get back to normal since we brought the puppy home just over two months ago. Pepper turns 18 weeks old today and I’m just now able to keep up on orders, make new designs for the shop and create content for the blog like I did before, all while giving her the care and attention she needs. I’ve typed a lot of weird, desperate and frantic questions into google these past two months but the one I searched for the most, and never really found an answer to, was, when do puppies learn to chill.

The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I knew bringing a puppy home, especially when I work full time from home, would be a lot of hard work. I did plenty of research leading up to the day – and I’ve raised one puppy and one difficult rescue dog before with my family – but I was not prepared for just how physically and emotionally taxing the first couple of weeks and months can be when you are the adult in charge. I felt like I’d given up my entire life to care for this rambunctious puppy that did nothing but pee on the floor and bite me. I could feel myself falling in love with her, and her bonding with me too, but the emotional strain of working doubly hard all day to get half as much work done and then not being able to relax and unwind at the end of it because she’s still here and still needs me was overwhelming at times. Add to that the constant fear that I’m doing everything wrong and will raise a bad dog and you can see why I really needed to know when this puppy would learn to sit still long enough for me to catch my breath.

I read many discouraging non-answers to this important question, most being:

  1. Small dogs mature more quickly than big dogs. – ok, thanks
  2. The puppy phase generally lasts one year but can vary by size and breed, lasting anywhere from around eight months, to two years. – surely, there has to be some difference between a ten weeks old and ten months old!
  3. Dogs don’t “chill out” until they are one year old; three years old; seven years old; some never do. – I don’t expect a stuffed animal, I just need to know when I can have a second to myself

These answers were very unreassuring to the new owners of an Australian Shepherd, a breed known to be difficult due to it’s high intelligence and high energy levels. I understand where they are coming from, it’s a hard question to answer when every breed, even every dog, is going to be different and you want people to be prepared for the realities of dog ownership before they take it on, but come on! Giving these types of non-answers to such a frantic question can make a person in a normal situation feel hopeless. I desperately needed to know when I would have time to sit down again. I just wanted to know when this puppy would stop needing 100% of me, 100% of the time. When she would sit on the floor and calmly chew a toy instead of trying to bite me all the time. When she could go for a walk without going crazy and having a meltdown in the middle of the street. When she would stop tearing across the yard just to rip my clothes. When my husband could greet her after being at work all day and not have her demand a blood sacrifice. Most importantly, when would life with a dog be at least a little more joyful than it was miserable.

So here’s my answer.

For my dog, who is a medium sized herding breed, spends nap times behind a baby gate but has at least one owner at home 90% of the time, takes three walks a day, and has had consistent, positive reinforcement, “tough love” style training since day one, she has just started to “chill” at four and a half months. What I mean by this is, she still needs constant supervision but is now able to entertain herself with an appropriate activity for a few minutes at a time, she can cuddle on the couch without immediately getting mouthy and we are able to control and deescalate her meltdowns when they happen. She is still very much a puppy and her training is nowhere near over, but she is now a silly, polite and charming puppy more often than she is mean, frustrating and destructive hell-beast. She still has bratty moments and can struggle to control her emotions when she’s tired, but she is starting to become a good dog.

The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog The Puppy | Sophster-Toaster BlogThe Puppy | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Dress Sophster-Toaster
Top H&M
Tights Target
Shoes ModCloth
Necklace Craft Arts Market / Emery & Opal

All photos by me.

Playing with Shadows

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Over the summer, I realized that I hadn’t pulled my camera out for anything but work in months. I had turned my hobby and passion into a profession but, in the process, I had completely lost my favourite hobby. To fix this, I made a point to play with my camera; to take it completely off auto – no auto shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance or focus – and have fun with it.

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster BlogPlaying with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

I’ve dipped my toes into the deep end before, preferring to shoot with my shutter speed on auto while manually controlling my aperture and ISO, sometimes experimenting with different white balance settings. But I always held tight to my auto focus for full body self portraits with my tripod and remote shutter release. I don’t see anything wrong with auto settings, especially when trying to grab a quick moment in the life of a busy kitty, but pushing myself to really explore my camera, my skills and my weaknesses has really helped me recapture my favourite hobby and make it mine again.

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster BlogPlaying with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Today I had fun making some ghostly images in a festive dress with a slow shutter.

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster BlogPlaying with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Using a tripod, I set my camera up with a fixed focus, slow shutter speed, high ISO, auto white balance and auto aperture. I used a remote shutter release to open the shutter and capture images as I played around the room.

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster BlogPlaying with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

Dress ModCloth
Shoes ModCloth
Tights Shoppers Drug Mart
Earrings Claire’s

Playing with Shadows | Sophster-Toaster Blog

All photos by me.