So, macarons. Those notoriously tricky footed French cookies. Everyone agrees that they're moody, difficult, and often refuse to cooperate.
Knowing this, guess what I've been fixating on for the past few weeks.
I think it was the challenge that made me start obsessing over macarons. That, and the fact that they're everywhere - and so darn adorable (I'm looking at you, Epicute). Whatever the reason, I desperately wanted to make macarons. Regardless of the fact that so far I'm only a home baker, I'd never tasted, much less made one, before, and that all the odds were against me. But you only live once, am I right?
On my first attempt, I used a recipe from Tartelette that looked promising. Vondelicious wrote a post about making macarons using it, and hers were lovely. Unfortunately, mine were not.
Oh, yeah. They were messy. They flattened right out, stuck to the paper, and crinkled on top. Also, Tartelette's post said to bake them for 15-18 minutes, and these were in the oven for 35 and still were not done when I decided I'd had enough and pulled them out. Everythign that could have gone wrong with these macarons did. I suppose I should have figured as much would happen when the batter looked like this:
So, this batch didn't work. However, one of the great things about being mule-quality stubborn is that you don't give up easily. Actually, let me rephrase that. You don't give up until you've run out of eggs and butter, you're covered in flour, and someone (everyone) in your house is crying.
After the first batch, I was even more set on getting macarons down. Today, we were hit with an unexpected snowday (holla East Coast if you're wondering when your city turned into Antarctica), and since it's once again impossible to leave the house, I had the perfect excuse to work on these cute and notorious little cookies.
Before I go any further, I have to give a ton of credit here to Joe Pastry for his wonderful, brilliant, fantastical post on macarons. I found it while doing research for a project at school, and it explains macaron making so that anyone can understand it. The pictures are great, since they show you how the batter should look at each stage (and since macarons are much more about technique than anything, this is extremely helpful). If you're going to try macarons, read it. It will save you a headache and boost your ego when you get pretty little cookies.
Anyways. This time, the cookies worked. I had suspected that my last batch was so runny and spread so easily because I hadn't whipped the whites sufficiently, and I was right. I've always been afraid to whip eggs to anything past the soft peak stage because I don't want to overbeat them, but it turns out that I've been severely underestimating their sturdiness. This time I whipped those suckers up and the batter didn't spread at all. My macarons were lovely and full.
A little too full, actually. Nex time I'll have to be a little more vigorous when folding the almond meal in. But I'm quite happy with them, and even though I hope to keep perfecting them, I think these are quite good.
There are a few things I learned here. First, as Joe Pastry so eloquently put it, "this isn't spongecake." So don't be afraid to actually stir the batter when you add the almond meal to the egg whites at first, because it will break some air bubbles in the stiffly whipped egg whites and this will prevent that little peak on the top, and also keep them from rising too high.
As you can see, some of mine had that little "beak":
Also, that macarons aren't that hard (Shh! Don't tell anyone!). Yes, they're finicky and you can't just dump, stir, and pop them in the oven. But if you worry and fuss too much about them - as I did with the first batch - you'll inevitaby ruin them. Just remember to work gently and pay attention to what you're doing. If you do that, you'll be fine.
I filled these with a simply chocolate pastry cream and they're very tasty. However, I only made half a batch of the macarons (always better to start small when you're not sure how it'll go), so I have a lot of of the cream left over. Hmm, what to do. Maybe take a spoon to it?
I also piped the macarons themselves pretty tiny, so they're extra cute. Sandwiched together they're simply irresistible (*starts singing in a Robert Palmer voice* Simply irresistibleeeee!)
So, what have we learned? Well, that macarons are so popular for a reason; they're yummy, cute beyond belief, and secretly not that hard to make. And it feels great to step out of your comfort zone and surprise yourself with something you're proud of.
Adapted from Joe Pastry
2 ounces almonds
3.5 ounces powdered sugar
1.75 ounces egg whites (aged overnight at room temperature, or brought to room temperature and then zapped in the microwave for no more than ten seconds)
.9 ounces granulated sugar
Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Place the almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and grind until very fine. You should see no almond pieces. (You may have to work in batches if the machine is small. Just divide up your almonds and powdered sugar evenly each time.)
Pass this through a sieve or sifter and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the egg whites until they are at the soft-peak stage.
Add the granulated sugar and beat until very stiff.
Add the ground almonds all at once and stir gently - don't fold - until the batter starts to come together. Slow down as it starts to look consistent.
Test a little bit on a small plate. If it holds a peak, give it a few more turns. If it flattens out, you've overmixed, or your egg whites weren't stiff enough.
Fit a piping bag with just the coupler, no tip, and stand it up in a glass for easy filling. Spoon in the batter.
Pipe small circles, about 1.5 inches in diameter, on the parchment paper.
Let these stand at room temperature for an hour.
Bake at 300F for 12-15 minutes.
Let cool and then peel the parchment paper off.
Fill with a thick pastry cream, buttercream, ganache, jam, preserves, etc.
Chocolate Pastry Cream
Slightly adapted from Joy of Cooking
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 egg yolks
Scald the milk with the chocolate and vanilla.
Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl.
Mix in a double boiler the sugar, flour, and egg yolks. Beat until light.
Very gradually add the scalded milk by adding a small amount to temper the yolks and then whisk in the rest.
Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to thicken.
Remove from the heat and continue stirring for a minute.
Cool and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
If the cream curdles slightly, just a) pass it through a sieve or b) use a blender, food processor, or immersion blender to smooth it out. Works wonders.