Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Making macarons like a pro

I am going out on a limb here and declaring that I have eaten the best macarons ever.  Oui, ever, even including the ones I've had in Paris at some very chic and famous shops.
It all started a few weeks ago when a student, LK, brought some in for her classmates.

Her mom, Amy Tornquist, is a local chef and restaurant owner (Hummingbird Bakery, Watts Grocery, Sage and Swift).  (Dad is also a chef and quite an accomplished artist.). LK made these macarons with their pastry chef, Susie.  I asked if Susie would be willing to give me a lesson and LK responded that her mom was thinking about offering a macaron making class.  Just a week or so later, the email popped up in my box and I immediately signed up.
It was a small class.  There were only 8 or so of us.  Arles Lucy signed up, as did Iron Woman.  Two mothers of students and one grandmother were also there.
Introductions were made-

And Susie, in the hat, and crew set about showing us the how-tos.
First, a tamis, also known as a drum sieve, comes in handy for getting all the lumps out of the ground almonds, confectioner's sugar and cocoa.  It was suggested that perhaps on my next trip to Paris I should go to E. Dehillerin or another shop to find one.  And I have to confess that I've never been to that shop even though Julia Child wrote about it often.  (now on the agenda for the January trip)
Then some eggs whites were added to the almond meal mixture-

This mixture should be about the consistency of Play-doh, for those of you who remember getting your hands in that as a kid.  Thick.
Next comes the step that I was curious about.  Would Susie use French meringue or Italian?  Italian. This consists of heating water and sugar to make a syrup, then adding that to egg whites and beating it into stiff, glossy peaks.

This meringue is added to the almond mixture by thirds to make sure not to add too much.  It is hard, if not impossible, to go back and add more almond flour if the batter becomes too thin.  This meringue doesn't have to be folded or handled gently.  The egg whites are very stable.
The batter should now look like melted ice cream, but thicker.

It is now ready for the pastry bag.  It was great to get pastry bag handling tips from pros.  I feel much more confident now.  I am usually a mess after dealing with a pastry bag.  A round tip with a fairly large opening works best.  And it may sound silly to have to say this, but I didn't know so here goes... fold down the top of the pastry bag so that if it gets messy, it's okay because you are going to pull it back up before you pipe!

Now, to pipe.  LK is really good at this and showed us how to do it.

Susie has a sheet of parchment paper that she uses as a template.  She traced around a jar of sprinkles to get the proper size and she puts the template under another sheet of parchment so that she can see the circles and not mess up her template.  Genius, n'est-ce pas?  I had previously tried to pipe in circles.  Nope.  Just put the tip down, squeeze the pastry bag and when the cookie is the right size, staying just inside the circle, lift up the tip.  (In The Kings of Pastry, Jacquy makes little noises as he does this-- LK reminded me of this and said it might help! I showed this movie to my 7th grade classes last year and they loved it and at least one of them remembers it.)
The macarons now need to sit for 15-20 minutes to "dry."  They go from shiny to a matte finish and when they are ready you can touch them without getting dough on your fingers.

Susie's husband showed me a trick to not waste a bit of the macaron dough/batter.  Use a pastry scraper.

Next, in the oven, then allow them to cool before peeling them from the parchment paper.
Fill with whatever you wish-- buttercream, ganache, fruit jam, Nutella.  The sky is the limit here.
LK was filling these with a peanut butter buttercream.

She also made some with buttercream around the edges and then chocolate ganache in the middle. The cookies should now go in the freezer.  Yep, that's right.  That helps bring out the flavor.  I left mine in overnight, but Susie says they should be in for at least an hour.
We were given ganache to take home and fill ours with, but we were asked to sample Susie's creations made the day before.  Sigh.  Someone has to do it, you know.

Crummy photo-- focused on my hand and not the macaron, but who can blame me?  I wanted to get back to my taste test.  Salted caramel, candied peanuts and chocolate were involved here, people.
I ate both of them.

We then tasted one that we had just baked and LK had filled with the peanut butter buttercream.  (Again, sorry for the crummy photo...)

It was delicious, but I could indeed tell the difference.  The flavors hadn't had time to meld and the cookie was crunchier than the first two that had spent some time in the freezer.  (Allowed to thaw, of course.)
Susie's husband was in my group.  He is a great piper.  Very steady hands.

My little macarons were given out to a few good friends who seemed to truly enjoy them.  That's the joy of baking... making people happy with little bites of deliciousness.

I got a little sloppy with the ganache.  Must do better next time.
(I have a bowl of egg whites in my refrigerator this very minute liquifying so that I can give it a try again, this time with Italian meringue.  I am thinking pink ones with a buttercream/raspberry jam filling.)

Susie's Chocolate Macarons
(if you do not want to make chocolate cookies, leave out the cocoa; if you want to color them, use gel coloring added to the egg whites so that you are not adding too much liquid)

212 g almond flour
212 g confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp Dutch processed cocoa powder

Sift these ingredients in order to remove lumps.

82 g egg whites (separate them and let them sit for at least 24 hours-- you need 172 g total for the macarons)

Add the egg whites to the almond-sugar mixture and mash it in until it is the consistency of Play-doh.  Don't add too much- it's hard to go back and add more almond flour at this point without making the batter lumpy.

236 g granulated sugar
158 g water

Heat the water and sugar to 238˚F.  Use a candy thermometer to get the precise temperature.  Do not let the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot, though, or you will get a false reading.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat 90 g of egg whites with a pinch of sugar until soft peaks form.  After 5 minutes, add the syrup and mix until stiff peaks form.  Err on the side of too stiff, if in doubt.

Add about one-third of the meringue to the almond-sugar-egg mixture and mix well with a spatula. You do not have to be gentle.  Add another third and keep mixing until the mixture looks kind of like melted ice cream, but still rather thick.  Better too thick than too thin.  (If you have leftover meringue, you can bake them into meringue cookies later!)

Fit your pastry bag with a round tip (#806) and pipe onto parchment paper.  Allow the macarons to sit until the finish goes from shiny to matte, about 15-20 minutes.

Bake at 325˚F for 13+ minutes, according to your oven's temperature.

Take them out, let them cool on the parchment paper and then peel them off.  Fill them and place in the freezer overnight or for at least an hour.

For chocolate ganache:

300 grams (12 oz) superior quality dark chocolate
225 grams (9 oz) heavy cream
90 grams (4 oz) butter, cut in small pieces

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Put into bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to boiling point. Remove from heat and pour slowly over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate melts, then add the bits of butter, one at a time, stirring gently and continually until the chocolate starts to thicken. Pour into the shells. Let cool before eating.

Bon appétit et merci Susie, Amy and LK!  I sincerely hope that I got this right.  Happy Macaron-Making!

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