23 July 2010

first time's a charm: french macarons

You ever have moments where you want to throw your arms in the air and shout, Queen of the Kitchen! Cuz tonight I definitely did. I present to you: French macarons.
So the first time I ever tasted a French macaron was maybe a month or two ago. I talked Brandt into baking some - purely because I was too intimidated to make them myself. Intimidated? Yeah. Google the French macaron and you'll see so many blogs talking about how tempramental macarons can be. Meringues in general can be tricky, so making a little treat where the meringue is simply the base? Ugh. Let someone else make it. Hi Brandt! Okay so he made them, right, and they were good! As much as I bake/cook I don't usually go back for seconds after I try anything that first time, but I think I ate, like, half a dozen... and it would have been more had he not run out.

Flash forward to this week when I decided it was time to tackle macarons myself. Was I still intimidated? Yup. I mean I've been researching these puppies for weeks now... seen plenty of pictures of failed ones, read lots of stories of how many times someone had to try it before it finally worked out. Where are the feet!? They shells are too bumpy! They didn't puff up! They puffed up too much! I looked at these freshly piped dollops of batter and mentally prepared myself for the worst.
There is a flip side to all that research. I read about all the techniques needed to make these a success. I learned that it will take anywhere from 1 to 5 days for the whole process start to finish. I learned that weighing them is your best bet (but estimated conversions will be listed below.) I learned that by letting the batter sit for a while after piping, their outside shells will harden a bit. I'm guessing that makes for a very delicate top. I took all the tips into account, and these turned out exactly right -- crisp delicate top, airy middle, meringue-y cookie part. Smooth tops. And look at the feet! Queen of the kitchen!
The recipe below is for the shells. A macaron is basically a sandwich with 2 shells and a filling - often ganache, buttercream, jam, or curd. In my first picture, I filled them with key lime curd, peach preserves, and raspberry jam. (I had all three in my fridge, convenient yay!) The curd was my favorite, though I look forward to trying a flavored buttercream or ganache... and to trying different shell flavors too. In the mean time, heck, I could happily eat the shells by themselves!
One more note: Of the dozens (seriously, dozens) of blogs I read to find recipes and tips, the vast majority of the variations are based off of Tartlette's recipe. Apparently she is the macaron goddess. Thus, this recipe is from Tartlette.

French Macarons

90g egg whites (just a touch less than 3 egg whites)
25-50g vanilla sugar (2 tbsp to 1/4 C)
110g blanched almonds (about 3/4 C)
200g confectioners sugar (about 1 1/2 C)

Prepare/Age the eggs: Separate the whites from the yolks, place whites in a really really clean bowl, and cover loosely. Let it sit at room temperature 1 to 3 days. I aged mine for 3 days. You can also refrigerate up to 5 days.

Prepare the almond meal: Combine almonds and confectioners sugar in a food processor and proccess until it's very fine. Sift through a strainer to keep the big bits out and regrind as necessary, until pretty much all of it can be sifted through.

Make the meringue: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy -- it should look like a bubble bath. Continue beating and add sugar little by little (I added 2 tbsp worth) just until it forms a glossy meringue that looks like shaving cream - you should just get stiff peaks.

Add about half the almond meal/powdered sugar mix to the meringue and mix in - about 10 strokes. Gently fold in the rest of the dry mix until it comes together. You know it's done if you cut your spatula through it and it sinks back into itself within 10 seconds. You can also take a little bit and dollop it onto a plate - it should flatten on its own. If it's got peaks, fold a couple more times. This whole thing shouldn't take more than 50 strokes.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or zip top bag with the batter. If using a zip top bag, snip off the bottom corner when ready to pipe. Pipe small rounds - about 1" in diameter - onto the baking sheets. It should spread a little, so leave an inch between each one. Let sit for 1 hour so the shell hardens.

Preheat oven to 300. Bake for 14-18 minutes, depending on the size. My small ones baked in 15 minutes. I made bigger ones (about 2" diamater) and they took 16 min.

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