Thursday, February 21, 2013

My adventures with macarons

Have you noticed this little French cookie is everywhere now?  I have.  This is the display at the Paper Source in Dedham, MA.  Macaron madness.  I was ecstatic to see this when I entered the store because I was there looking for a gift boxes for mailing my homemade macarons.  Clearly there would be a bounty of options!  I even stopped the friendly sales lady and made her look at the pictures of my very own macarons. (conveniently 6 were on my iphone) and she spent a full two seconds looking at them. I was tempted to tell her that it took me eight hours to make them and that she should really give them more than a passing glance, but she was sweet and the store was busy, and it really was my fault that I had macaron on the brain.

Last month when Reid & I were in NYC, I spied some of these beauties at FP Patisserie in the Plaza Hotel.  They were a little spendy for a cookie, ($2.50 a cookie) but one of the options was the little green pistachio one and I LOVE PISTACHIOS so I bought a half dozen.

First off, some macaron 101.  A macaron isn't the the weird coconut cookie that you find at the supermarket.  You know the one. It looks like this.  That one is pronounced mac - a - roooooon.  I don't know how that cookie got to where it is, but I'm actually angry at that cookie for confusing so many people.  When I told my girlfriend I was making macarons she said, "I don't like coconut!"  Uggghhh! These aren't coconut!  The one I am talking about is this pretty and delicate little sandwich cookie made with almond flour and egg whites.  You can find them in bakery cases and they are usually in a rainbow of colors.  This French cookie should be pronounced mac- a- ron.  (although if you say that and you are NOT French you may just sound ridiculous, but do it -- lest everyone is confused) The fillings for a macaron will vary of course, but the pistachio ones are my favorite.  I ate those six cookies from FP Patisserie before I got back home to Canton but needless, to say, they were on my mind for weeks.

I googled like crazy for recipes.  There are a lot of macaron recipes out there.  The common denominator in all the recipes is that these cookies can drive you to drink. (As if I need a driver) They are finicky.  You need to weigh your ingredients.  The egg whites have to be prepared just so.  You need stiff peaks.    Also, your oven needs to be perfectly calibrated and you need to know how to pipe batter. Then, if by some miracle the cookies come out ok with a perfect convex dome and a nice crusty "foot" on the bottom, you've got the filling to contend with! (For this you will need ingredients that aren't easy to find, some may need to be ordered if you're not willing to spend hours slaving. My homemade pistachio paste took two hours to make. I needed a candy thermometer and a mortar and pestle but I persevered and it was delicious.  The filling procedure would need to be a post of its own and I think would bore you to tears.  Just add 5 stars to my crown and read on) But what the hell. I was up for the task. It was going to snow all day on Sunday, why not?  Football season is over.  I spent two days finding all the ingredients and I took a stab at macarons.  Here are my findings. 

Weight not volume.
First off, you NEED a digital scale to weigh your ingredients. This is not optional. I own one, so that was fine.  I don't mind weighing, but it takes some time of course.  The recipe called for 100g of egg whites (not 5 or 6 egg whites)  I was a gram over as you can see.  I also weighed the castor sugar (that's just superfine sugar) almond flour, and confectioners sugar.  Those are the only ingredients in the cookie base.   I'll post the recipe at the bottom or better yet here is a link to the youtube video.  I watched this 27 times. (This woman from The Joy of Baking rocks.)   

Stiff peaks.
You will whip the egg whites til they are frothy. That takes about 1 minute, then you add the sugar in thirds and whip those til you have STIFF peaks.  What is a stiff peak?  Well, I learned via video and am willing to share.  Stop the mixer and take off the whisk attachment.  Smash whisk down into the mixture a few times then pull it out and turn it so the egg whites are facing upwards.  That pointy "beak" of egg white needs to be pointing straight up and STAY up!  If it bends down, you've got a beak and need to keep mixing.  Here is my stiff peak.  It took about 7 minutes of mixing.

Of course the recipe calls for mixing and folding etc. (watch the video, that woman did a great job explaining) But the final obstacle was piping batter onto cookie sheets.  I'm a very inexperienced piper.  It is important that all the cookies are identical in size because in the end they are sandwiches. I give myself a C+ in piping.  See my trays?  They yellow cookies were too lumpy.  I moved the ziploc bag too much.  The green ones are better, but some are too large. When I did the pink ones, (after I took this picture) I was much improved on my piping, but that batter was more runny and when the cookies settled they ended up much bigger that I though they would be.  I had some GIANT macarons, not really what you are looking for.

Here's me sandwiching a batch cookies with my homemade white-chocolate-pistachio-ganache!  It was amazing.  See it in the little casserole tray. I've never made a ganache before but this one "set-up" perfectly.  (that's what you want when your making ganache - you need it to set.)

As you can see, at this point I was on the wine.  And yes, I drink wine out of a rocks glass.

Do you like my apron?  My friend Karen said it was very June Cleaver.  Well I'll tell you one thing, it was very messy by the time the evening was over.

So here's a shot at the final product.  I was pretty happy with the results.  See how the pink ones are too big?  Also, I think I'd use more yellow food coloring - they were very pale!  I keep scrolling up to the display at Paper Source. Theirs were SO pretty!  As far as taste, I think mine were right on.  The yellow ones were filled with a store bought lemon curd and the green and pink both had the pistachio ganache.

I was horrified to get home from work on Tuesday and see two big pink ones each with a tiny bite out of them in my rubbish barrel.  Apparently my son and his friends, do not like macarons!  Oh well, more for me! Be well Montanans. 



1 comment:

  1. Bravo on so many levels. First question, are you wearing a headlight? Seriously, a difficult task well done.