Today's post is a bittersweet one. It's sweet, because I'm quite proud of these little macarons, and because they're a gift for Anna. If you don't remember Anna, she's a good friend of mine, a very talented baker, and is bound for Johnson and Wales University. This post is a little bit sad because these are a present for her graduation party. I'm a senior now, and Anna's a college girl.
But let's talk about macarons! I've had (relative) luck with them in the past. My first attempt was a complete failure, but from then on they'd been getting consistently better. When Anna and I turned out our first batch, I thought we'd mastered them. When I made another successful batch after that, I was convinced that I was the queen of macarons and that those food bloggers who complained about never getting them right were just wimps.
How very wrong I was.
These macs actually took four tries to get right. The first was with Anna. We attempted to make pistachio macarons, and they fell completely flat. No feet, no rise. Hmm. I shrugged it off as a careless mistake we'd made, probably because we were busy giggling in the kitchen and had overmixed or undermixed or something. Then I came home and tried macarons again, hoping to fill them with yummy raspberry mousse. Pardon my lolspeak, but FAIL. The cookies were puffy, lumpy, lopsided, and had big old chunks of almond meal throughout. Ever the stubborn mule, I tried macs again, this time sifting my ground almonds vigorously. No lumps this time, but sticky, cracked, teeny-footed cookies that stuck to the parchment. Argh.
Around this time, I came upon Not So Humble Pie's Italian macaron tutorial. Her macarons are gorgeous, with the kind of pictures that drive wannabe bakers to mac madness. I'd heard of the Italian method before, which seemed more complicated than the French method of whip-dump-fold. I had avoided it before because it involves making a sugar syrup, and I didn't see the point of making Italian meringue if I was just going to bake the cookies again afterwards. But by now I was desperate to figure out what I was doing wrong with my cookies, so I thought, what the hell, I'll make the stupid sugar syrup and see how it goes.
Well much better, that's how it went. These macarons had cute little feet, smooth tops, fluffy centers, and (most) were perfectly round. Certainly no one is accusing them of being perfect; I'm still working on piping and working out kinks with the batter, but for my first Italian attempt, I'm pretty darn pleased. I don't want to jinx it (cross your fingers!), but I did find that during the crucial folding stage, where the almonds and meringue are combined, it was easier to tell when the batter was just right with the Italian than with the French method. And, as I am a silly stubborn teenager, I'll be attempting it again and again to see if it really is an easier method to work with. Just as soon as I get some more almonds.
Now that all the technical sciencey bakey stuff is out of the way (which is awesome, and you should check out Not So Humble Pie's amazing scientific explanations of how macs work), we can talk about what is arguably the most fun thing about macarons: flavor combinations! We have a big old jar of Nutella sitting in our cupboard from when our friends from Spain came (they have two younger kids, don'tlookitme), so when I decided I wanted to make Anna macarons for her present, I thought that everybody's favorite spreadable obsession would be perfect for the filling. As for the shells, well, I have a huge fat crush on marcona almonds. If you've never had them, they're an incredibly tasty kind of almond grown all through the south and east of Spain. They're short and wider than the almonds we see here, sweeter, and a little bit softer. They're used in turrón, and since I've been in love with turrón since I've had teeth, that's probably why I love munching on them so much now. One of the great things about macarons is that you can incorporate other kinds of nuts into the batter. Marcona almonds aren't such a stretch from the "regular" kind, but they do lend a delicate, extra-special flavor to the finished cookie. And the combination of light almond meringue with with the rich, chocolatey taste of Nutella is downright heavenly.
To close: congratulations, Anananana! I know you'll be amazing at J&W and afterwards. Keep baking, keep making macarons and mousse and dobos torte, and especially, keep being a great friend and a great girl.
Oh, and enjoy those macarons.
Your Baking Soundtrack for Marcona Almond and Nutella Macarons:
I can't believe I haven't featured this album in a post yet (please see the above list of pathetic excuses for lack of posts). It's the perfect balance of upbeat, Latin pop and poignant slow songs. The album is fun, danceable, bittersweet, and satisfying, all at once.
Marcona Almond Macarons (Italian Method)
Adapted from Not So Humble Pie
38 grams blanched almonds
38 grams marcona almonds (if you buy them salted, let them soak in water and dry before using)
75 grams powdered sugar
60 grams egg whites, room temperature and preferably aged
92 grams granulated sugar
25 grams water
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Fit a large pastry bag with a plain, round tip.
In a food processor, grind the two kinds of almond and the powdered sugar until very fine. Pass this mixture through a sieve until no chunks of almond or clumps of sugar remain.
Place 30 grams of the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Measure out 18 grams of granulated sugar and place this near the mixer.
Place the remaining 74 grams of the granulated sugar in a small sauce pan. Add the water, swirl to moisten all of the sugar, and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.
Over medium heat, cook the sugar without stirring.
When the sugar reaches 190F, begin beating the egg whites in the electric mixer on medium low speed.
When the whites are foamy, add the 18 grams of sugar and beat to soft peaks on medium speed.
When the sugar reaches 230F, turn the stand mixer up to medium high and trickle in the hot syrup, being careful not to splatter the sides of the bowl.
Beat the meringue for 5-8 minutes, until cool.
Combine the remaining 30 grams of egg whites with the almond and powdered sugar mixture, mixing until well combined.
When the meringue is cool, quickly and gently fold (do not mix!) it into the almond mixture. Use as few strokes as possible and fold only until the mixture is just uniform. The batter should flow in a thick, fat ribbon off your spatula when you hold it up, with a thick covering of the mixture remaining on the spatula.
Fill the piping bag with the batter.
Pipe circles about one inch in diameter onto the baking sheets, leaving a bit of room for them to spread slightly.
Leave the macarons to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Bake at 325F for 14 minutes.
Allow to cool COMPLETELY before attempting to remove them from the parchment paper