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Almond Macaroons, Buttermilk Shortcakes & Banana Sorbet

by Flo Braker

Every kitchen should have at least one. I'm referring to the ubiquitous ice cream scoop. Even if you don't have one because you never buy ice cream in bulk, or a clerk at the ice cream shop scoops ice cream for you, you'll want one after you discover all the things you can do with an ice cream scoop other than scoop ice cream.

Today most homebakers who bake from scratch are delighted to find short-cuts to simplify not only the baking process but also the clean-up afterwards. When you make a batch of chocolate chip, or any other type of drop cookie, the conventional technique is to "drop" the batter onto the baking sheet from a spoon. In fact, we're familiar with dropping all sorts of soft doughs and batters from a spoon to form cupcakes, muffins, pancakes, waffles, even some biscuit or shortcake doughs, as well as souffle mixtures too.

Well here's a handy tip commonly used by some of the best pastry chefs: don't spoon it and don't pipe it -- scoop it. Whatever you scoop goes right into the dish or onto the baking sheet. No assistance from your forefinger is necessary since the spring-action of the scoop both picks up and deposits the mixture just where you want it. You not only eliminate the need to wipe your sticky finger clean, but you also remove any temptation to lick your finger clean. (Licking a finger often leads to the baker gaining weight.)

Another benefit when you use this utensil is that cookies, pancakes, and muffins are uniform in size and bake evenly since you take up the same amount of batter with each scoop. Scooping doughs or batters rather than piping them through a pastry bag or dropping them from a spoon makes clean-up easy with less mess and fewer, if any drips.

In order to practice this scooping technique I offer a few recipes, but please don't stop with these. Have fun and look through your own recipes with an eye for adapting them to the scoop method. Soon, like me, you'll own more than one size ice cream scoop.

A couple of points before you buy a scoop. Check out the scoop at the store. It should be comfortable to hold -- not too heavy or too light, preferably made of stainless steel, and the spring action should move in a lively fashion each time you squeeze the lever. There are two scoops I use the most. One measures out a scant two tablespoons (classified a #40 scoop), the other measures out 1/4 cup (a #16 scoop). Look on the metal bar inside the scoop for a number. That number represents approximately how many scoops you get from a quart of ice cream ... or in our case, for a quart of Almond Macaroon batter, Buttermilk Shortcake dough or Banana Sorbet.

Almond Macaroons
Makes eleven 3-inch cookies

1/2 pound (1 cup) almond paste
1 cup unsifted powdered sugar
good pinch salt
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Adjust rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, beat the almond paste on low speed for about 30 seconds. Maintaining the same speed, gradually add the sugar and salt and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. The mixture will appear very crumbly. On low speed add egg whites to the mixture to make a soft, sticky batter. It should hold its shape when dropped from a spoon. Add the vanilla extract.

Using a #40 ice cream scoop, deposit 2 tablespoons rounded mounds of batter, about 2-inches apart onto the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush dipped in cold water, pat each mound to 3/8-inch thickness. (After patting, macaroons should be about 1-inch apart to allow for spreading while baking.) Bake about 20 minutes or until the macaroons are golden in color and crusted on top. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, peel off parchment. Store in airtight container.

Buttermilk Shortcakes
Makes 9

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup cold buttermilk
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
additional sugar for topping

Adjust rack to lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the buttermilk and orange zest just until it forms a soft, moist sticky dough. Using a #16 ice cream scoop, scoop 1/4 cup rounded mounds of dough, about 2-inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of sugar over each shape and with fingertips pat dough to 1/2 to 3/4-inch thickness. (After patting, shortcakes should be about 1-inch apart to allow for spreading while baking.) Bake about 20 minutes or until shortcake is golden. Cool shortcakes on a wire rack. (You can freeze shortcakes in a sturdy container for up to 2 weeks.)

Marcel Desaulnier's Banana Sorbet
Yields 1 3/4 quarts
The size ice cream scoop you use to serve this sorbet is your choice.

2 cups water
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 pounds bananas, unpeeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to boil until slightly thickened and reduced to 2 1/4 cups, about 15 minutes.

While the sugar and water are reducing to a syrup, peel the bananas. Smash them to a rough-textured consistency in a stainless-steel bowl, using a slotted spoon (the yield should be about 3 cups). Pour the boiling syrup over the mashed bananas. Cool in an ice water bath to a temperature of 40 to 45 degrees, about 15 minutes.

When cold, add the lemon juice. Freeze in an ice cream freezer following the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the semifrozen sorbet to a plastic container, securely cover the container, then place in the freezer for several hours before serving. Serve within 3 days.

Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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