Sunday, June 20, 2010

Macarons and messes

Summer vacation is here-- we are already at the end of week 2, but who's counting, right?  I've done some cleaning, read a couple of books, visited my family up in the mountains, roamed around downtown Durham, and tried out some new recipes.  Yesterday, in order to stave off boredom and make good on a personal promise, I decided to tackle macaron-making for the second time.  My first ones were a flop, but I've learned a couple of things since then.  Use a coffee grinder to grind the almonds (no, these are not the coconut cookies that some Americans think of-- these are made with almonds) and let them rest on the baking sheets for 45-60 minutes before baking them.  (Chef Érick was making them when I popped into his kitchen one afternoon last March and offered up advice.)

That's the secret to the "feet" that you see in the first photo.
I made a caramel-salted butter filling for mine,

but that didn't go too well.  It tastes heavenly, but the macaron kept sliding off.  Not sure what went wrong, but the Ex-Ex loves the sauce.  It will be really good on vanilla ice cream.
So I went back to the filling drawing board, found a recipe for chocolate ganache filling and stirred that up.

And I gently filled the rest of the macarons (the cookies crush easily!)  After I had finished and used up all the macarons, the Ex-Ex made an excellent suggestion (but too late, unfortunately)-- a thin layer of chocolate on the bottom cookie, then a thin layer of caramel, then another thin layer of chocolate and then the top cookie. 

I have to admit that the whole time I was making them, I felt The Kings of Pastry, Chefs Jacqui and Sébastien, M.O.F., looking over my shoulder.  I tried making Chef Jacqui's funny noises as I piped the macaron batter onto the parchment paper.  (It didn't work out as well for me as it does for him-- guess I need more practice...)  Then, as I finished and looked at my countertops and the mess of confectioner's sugar, ground almonds, and egg shells, I could hear Chef Sébastien's (said with a French accent) Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness... to the guy whose work station and piping bag were a mess.  (I was attempting to pipe with a ziploc bag... I do not own very many kitchen do-dads or trucs so I attempt to make do with what I have.)
In my high school Home Ec classes (now called Family and Consumer Sciences) my grade always suffered because I made messes.  But I do clean up after myself.  Some French Guy wasn't much help.
I am pretty proud of my results this time.  The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Miam, miam to quote Carol of Paris Breakfasts!

Basic Macarons
(makes 30-40 cookies)

90 g egg whites (about 3 large), ideally placed in a bowl in the refrigerator for  2-3 days to liquify or age (they do not spoil the way the yolks do)
30 g granulated sugar
200 g powdered sugar
110 g almond flour or almond meal

Combine almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor and pulse until finely ground and no lumps remain in the powdered sugar.  (I ground the almonds myself, first in the food processor and then in a coffee grinder, then I combined the two in the food processor.  I didn't toast the almonds first, but if I do this again, I will just to change the flavor a bit and make the almonds easier to work with.)
With an electric mixer, beat the eggs whites until soft peaks form.  Gradually add granulated sugar and beat until meringue is really stiff.
With a rubber spatula, fold in 1/3 of the almond-sugar mixture, using quick, firm strokes.  You want to break up the meringue in this step.  Add remaining almond mixture, 1/3 at a time, using gentle stokes to fold until all almonds are incorporated and no lumps of meringue remain.  The batter will be thick and when you drop a teaspoonful of the mixture on top of the rest of the batter it should take 30-60 seconds to disappear and be reincorporated.
Using a pastry bag or ziploc bag with the corner cut off, pipe the meringues into 1-inch circles on parchment paper.  You can trace circles on the paper if you want or just guess, but try to make them uniform sizes since you will match them up later to make sandwich cookies.
Let air dry or rest for 45-60 minutes.  Preheat oven to 300F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheet and then carefully transfer to wire racks.

Salted Butter Caramel Filling
1 c. sugar
3 oz (6 Tbsp) salted butter
Additional pinch of salt
1/2 c. heavy cream, at room temperature

Melt the sugar over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Whisk the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly.  When the sugar is a dark copper color and you can smell that it has caramelized, turn off the heat, add the butter all at once and stir it in.  Then add the cream and stir to incorporate.  Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache Filling
2 oz. heavy cream
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Combine cream and chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between intervals, until chocolate is melted.  Cool to room temperature.  Put in a pastry bag and pipe onto macaron.

Merci to a couple of blogs whose recipes helped me out-- Savour Fare  and Honey and Butter.

Bon appétit, les macarons!

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