Friday, September 28, 2012

Macarons

What are we supposed to do with all these egg whites?! Since we only needed egg yolks for the chocolate crème, we had some leftover ingredients. The next logical step was to buy almond flour and attempt making macarons!

This was our first macaron-making experience. It was one of our most asked question throughout the years: Have you made macarons? The answer was always no, we were a little bit nervous and scared to! We had heard about horror stories and read about the high failure rates. Macarons are fickle. You have to be precise. Any one thing could go wrong and upset a macaron. If you're confused about the name, please note that macaroons are sweet, chewy coconut mounds.

We did do some research first. Let's start off with some background information from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops:
"The French macaron is a light, elegant confection, a sandwich cookie.... The cookie part of a French macaron is slightly domed, with a whisper-thin top crust that is as fragile as an eggshell and an interior that is a cross between meringue and the world's lightest cake. The base of the cookie is a bumpy little circlet referred to as 'the foot,' and it, along with the thin, smooth top crust, is a signature of a well-made macaron. Classic macarons are made with a base of ground almonds and whipped egg whites and, depending on the flavor, sandwiched with buttercream, ganache, curd, or thick preserves."
We found it amusing to note that she writes how "real French macarons are hard to find in America and difficult to make at home." Oh, how times have changed! (The book was published in 2002!)

Then, we spent the night re-reading Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the Macaron Cafe. (Thank you to my Secret Santa last year for surprising me with this book and click here to see our trip to the shop in NYC.) It seemed pretty straight forward. It looked doable. By golly we were going to do this!

The ingredient list didn't look too daunting, all we needed were:

French Meringue Macarons
Recipe from Macarons
(Makes about 50-60 shells for 25-30 filled macarons)

2 3/4 cups of almond flour
2 3/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 cup of egg whites (from 7-8 eggs)
A pinch of salt
3/4 cups of granulated sugar.
Gel paste food colouring is optional - we didn't use any!

So, the book tells us that the first step in making successful macarons is to age your egg whites. Yes, we know, this sounds odd, but we followed these strict instructions! So separate your egg whites 2-3 days before baking. Store them in the refrigerator - covered. Two hours before you start making your macarons, take the egg whites out of the refrigerator, uncover them, and let them come to room temperature. That's not too difficult! Just keep this in mind during your planning stage. One cannot make macarons on a whim - the very thought of this makes us kind of sad.

The next key step. Sift! If you want to, blend the almond flour and powered sugar in a food processor to make an even finer powder. The finer, the smoother your macaron shells well be. We sifted half of our almond flours, this took forever. Just look at the size of the almond flour before (third photo in this post) and after it is sifted (second photo in this post). At one point, we did grind it down, but then gave up and tossed it with the powdered sugar. Yup, this is where it could have gone down hill. But it didn't and we learned a valuable lesson. Lumpy shells means no sifting occurred! So take the time and sift if if you want smooth macarons. Set this aside.

Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt. Start slow and then increase the speed as the whites start to foam. Add the granulated sugar and food colouring (if using).

Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. You can use this waiting time to line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Test the egg whites by taking the whisk attachment off and scoop out some of the meringue. See that curved tip there? If you rotate it, the tip is still firm and shiny, it doesn't droop to the other side! That's when you know you're ready.

Fold the egg whites into your almond flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula (do NOT use your mixer) and be careful not to deflate the egg whites all at once. Fold and mix until you don't see any dry spots or crumbs. This part is called macaronner - the action of mixing all the macaron ingredients! The mixture should be shiny and have a consistency of Greek yogurt. Try to keep the number of folds under 45-50. Someone had told us that we should only do 4 folds - impossible! (And see? Scary stories about macaron making, no wonder we never attempted it.)

Fill your pastry bag with a large-round tip and fill it with the macaron batter. Squeeze small amounts onto your parchment paper to form 2 1/2 inch circles. You can also make them slightly smaller or larger, it's up to you! Just be consistent so you have pairs with the same size. And leave at least 1 inch of space between the piped macarons.

Our macarons still had peaks on top from piping. If this happens, that means the batter could have been mixed a little bit more. But no fear, dab your fingers with water and gently press the peaks down. The water prevents the macaron from sticking to your finger and causing more peaks! One more step, tap the baking sheet on the tabletop to eliminate any air bubbles.

Now, preheat the oven to 300°F (325°F for non-convection oven, the cookbook recommends using a convection oven because of the even distribution of heat. Score!!) and let the macarons rest. Yup. Go wash the dishes or read a book. The batter needs to sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Apparently this ensures that your macarons will have feet!

After 15 to 30 minutes, bake the macarons for 14 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, open the oven door for 10 seconds to let out excess steam.

LOOK!! Our macarons have "feet" or "pied." Just like Dorie Greenspan's description of a macaron above!

We made a chocolate and peanut butter ganache for our filling. Melted a total of 7 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips and REESE'S Minis over a double boiler. Then mixed in 1 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Once this was all combined, we removed it from the heat and stirred in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Smooth, glossy chocolate. Let this cool completely before using it to fill. Refrigerate if you need to. If you find the consistency too runny, add 1/4 to 1 cup of icing sugar. The ganache should be thick enough to spread or pipe.

When everything has cooled, pipe or dollop the filling onto a macaron shell.

Then, with another shell, gently squeeze to sandwich the filling between the macaron! Try not to have the filling spill out. Keep it nice and tidy.

Oh the joys! The macarons turned out so well! Not perfect - we'll need to be more patient with the sifting next time - but texture and flavour wise, they were amazing! We hit almost everything in Dorie Greenspan's description. Slightly domed with thin top crust that is fragile? Check. An interior that was like the world's lightest cake? Check. Bumpy little feet around the base? YES!

Both our parents liked the macarons and requested more. Howard's parents received them enthusiastically and asked for another batch to take to a dinner party. My parents were content with stealing the shells to snack on, but also asked for a batch to bring to the community centre where they exercise with their friends. Oh and our colleagues, we brought the extras to work and they were highly praised (unless people were being polite).

We were left with a lot of chocolate ganache, the recipe makes too much, so try and half it if you want to use it. Next time, we're going to play with flavours! Maybe green tea? Lemon? Or a simple jam filling for my parents. We're just ecstatic that these turned out - why were we so worried in the first place? Needless to say, we highly recommend reading Macarons for all the tips and recipes!

4 comments:

  1. Perfect wee macs. I'm pinning this one ;0)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great looking macarons! I absolutely love making and eating them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. They will pretty darn perfect to me! I am looking forward to attempting these myself.

    ReplyDelete

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