Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Macarons, Just For Kicks

For my inaugural post, I present the macaron recipes that I have been working on the past few weeks.  After reading all the other blogs and information available out there, you'd think that making a macaron is the fussiest, most impossible task in all of baking.  You'd be partially correct.
The trick about these things is that the recipe isn't enough to guarantee success.  For as many bakers, you'll find as many recipes for the perfect cookie and perhaps the same amount of styles.
Chocolate macarons with salted caramel buttercream.

I really hadn't attempted to make macarons for the last few years, ever since a Christmas debacle wherein every one of the damn things exploded or failed to produce feet.  It was the Christmas I was still in culinary school and thought I knew most everything, certainly enough not to screw up a straightforward recipe.  My mom's friend invited a more established pastry chef to dinner that evening and I saw the look in her eyes when I brought out the less offensive specimens for coffee.  The shame.

Well, since then I hadn't cared much to learn the proper way.  A lot of chefs and bloggers I read up on even said it's probably not worth the hassle, especially in the United States.  Like a madeleine, it's the sort of confection best enjoyed in it's native terroir.  Heck, the first macaron I ever had was purchased at the Paul bakery on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.  I savored that small, expensive box of cookies for like three days, a feat considering my sweet tooth, taking small bites of all the different flavors (and thus insuring that I would not have to share).

Macarons with raspberry dark chocolate ganache.

With all that considered, I recently decided that I wanted to make some for an almond cake garnish.  I figured that now, several years removed from culinary classes and installed in a proper restaurant kitchen, I'd surely have the aptitude to defeat the beast.  

Six tries.

To my credit, I did not give up, despite the money I spent out of petty cash in almond flour (about that...) and the rise and fall of hope pulling one crappy tray of cookies out of the oven after another. Convection oven, regular oven, double trays, silpats, parchment, toasting the flour, grinding my own... I tried the lot. 

The seventh time though, was a charm!  Dainty and pink, with tutu-frilly feet, I filled them with a raspberry and dark chocolate ganache.  Success was mine!  They weren't perfect, they still had a few with uneven feet and rocky surfaces and the gap between the soft almondy part of the cookie and the top meringue crust was too high.  I had more work to do.

Almond cake with lavender earl grey  buttercream and macarons

Finally, I managed a really nice batch of lavender colored ones for an almond lavender earl grey cake I was working on.  The gap was gone, and despite the death of a few outliers who ended up on wrong portion of a dinged-up sheet tray, they all had developed feet and smooth surfaces.  I made a batch of chocolate ones the next day and they were gorgeous.  I was ready.

Since then, I've been obsessed!  Here are my recipes and the changes I'd made:

French Almond Macarons

yield 16 sandwiched cookies
(adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe here)

  • 1 cup powdered confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (meal)
  • two room temperature egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon meringue powder (optional)
  • ganache (recipe follows)
Pulse the almond flour and confectioner's sugar together in a food processor.  Sift thoroughly, and grind again if necessary.  If you are making your own almond meal from blanched almonds, pulse the almonds separately and toast the meal until it becomes fragrant and on the edge of browning.  Let cool and then pulse with the confectioners' sugar.  Either way, sift at least twice.  If some small pieces of almond are left after sifting, it won't be the death of the recipe to throw them in.

Whip the egg whites in a perfectly clean and fat free bowl, adding the cream of tartar and meringue powder when the whites become just foamy.  When they reach lightly soft peaks, start adding the sugar with the machine running.  Some recipes say not to add it all at once, but I don't think it actually matters so much.  Add your gel or powdered color here (grocery store liquid colors may mess up your texture).  Whip until very glossy and defined firm peaks form.  You should be able to hold the bowl over your head without the stuff falling out.

At this point, sift the almond flour mix over the egg whites and begin folding.  If left too firm, I find that they produce feet but are lumpy as hell.  Too loose, and the feet never form and the tops become wrinkled.  This is the fabled macaronage stage whereby most bakers lose their steam. You want the mixture to be smooth and bubble-free but not too liquid.  Molten lava, is what I read over and over.  I found that my perception of magma was a bit firmer than what makes a good macaron.  Practice makes perfect, but err on the side of slightly too thick.  They'll be lumpier but turn out better than the too thin ones. 

Pipe into 3/4 inch rounds with a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I just use a coupler from my decorating kit) in a rosette pattern on a silpat.  You can use parchment, but I find that if you have old, beat up pans like I do, the parchment does nothing to hide the dents and make nice cookies.  Ultimately, if your pans are flat, you're good to go with parchment.   If you've made the batter correctly, the cookies will spread slightly and the point of the "rosette" will settle into the rest of the batter after 20 seconds.

Gently rap the sheet pan on the countertop to rid the macarons of any excess bubbles and let sit in a warm, dry place to form their shell.  Leave them for at least twenty minutes.  They should be dry and not sticky at all when you poke one gently.  Bake at 350 for around ten minutes, turning once at the six minute mark until they are ever so lightly colored and hesitant to move on their feet when you poke 'em.

The best way to remove them from the pans, I find, is to place the whole pan in the freezer and gently peel back the parchment or silpat when they are cold.

Sandwich same sized cookies together with buttercream, ganache, curd, whatever!

Easy Dark Chocolate Ganache

yield approximately 2 cups

  • 12 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 8 fl. oz heavy cream
  • 1 T corn syrup
  • 1 T soft butter (optional)
In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and corn syrup.

Boil the heavy cream in the microwave or on the stovetop.  Pour over the chocolate and shake the bowl a little bit to distribute the liquid.  Let settle for two minutes undisturbed.

Add the butter and whisk to combine.  

Let chill to desired texture and fill your cookies.

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