Saturday, April 5, 2008
I know that I have been absent for a little while and I apologize. I have been baking up a storm and let me say, I am a woman possessed. Let me start at the beginning. The internet is a wonderful thing but it can also be dangerous as in my case! I happened to come across a picture of Pierre Herme's famous macarons. For those who are unfamiliar, Pierre Herme is a famous french pastry chef who makes the most beautiful macarons. Now don't get confused when I say macaron, I am not talking about the american "macaroon" made of coconut. I am talking about the french macaron that is made from egg whites, almond flour, powdered sugar and filled with pastry cream, ganach or buttercream. Once I saw them I knew that I needed to make them since it was a sure bet that I'd never make my way to one of his shops in Paris.
Then, I came across a post by the amazing Helen of Tartlette. She makes the most beautiful macarons among other things and for the first time, I found a recipe that wasn't in french. It was metric, but I thought that as long as I converted it it wouldn't be a problem. Here is where I was wrong, and nothing makes me more compulsive then not being able to do something. Now, after many attempts, here is what I have learned about the finicky macaron. It is not about the recipe, it's about the technique. Anyone can make a batch of cookies if they just follow the recipe, but the macaron is different. I like to think of it more like bread. You may have a recipe for bread, but unless you know how the dough should feel, it's pretty hard to make a great loaf of bread. But I must say, I think that the macaron is a little more picky, if you don't mix it enough, the macarons will be tough and dry, if you mix it too much, they will be flat as a pancake. So, how can you tell when you've mixed it just the right amount? This is where my obsession has taken me this week, trial and error until at last, I came up with something that resembles a macaron. I am not happy with the color and wish my almonds were ground finer, but all in all I am pretty pleased with myself. I am not done though, now that I've got the basics down, it's on to the flavor. If only I could read french so I could follow Pierre Herme's recipes!
Here is the basic recipe I used from Helen's site. Like I mentioned before, it is metric and that is how I made it, by weighing all of my ingredients because as Helen said, it is more acurate. I tried several times with conversions but was unable every time to produce a worthy macaron. So, if you'd like to make these, I advise you to use a scale and weigh the ingredients. Oh, and don't skip using the day old egg whites, I know it sounds gross, but it never worked for me with fresh egg whites.
3 egg whites (I like to use 2-3 day old egg whites)
50 gr. granulated sugar
200 gr. powdered sugar
110 gr. ground almonds
2 Tb blue powdered food coloring
For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature on a covered container. If you want to use 48hrs (or more) egg whites, you can store them in the fridge.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work. Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your almonds with it evenly. Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold and remove some of the batter that will remain uncolored. Add 2 TB food coloring to the rest and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon.
Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns. Do the same for the plain batter.s
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto parchment paper baking sheets. With a toothpick dab dots of the plain batter rand swirl. Preheat the oven to 300F. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.
If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Pipe or spoon some ganache on one shell and sandwich with another one.
If you use fresh whites, zap them up in the microwave on medium high for 20 seconds.
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate
Heat the cream in a saucepan until boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Let sit to thicken until it is spreadable or you are able to pipe it from a piping bag.