Macaron Chronicles, vol. 2: Fourth attempt

Two batches in two days… I am determined to get this right!

I received TWO books on macarons for Mother’s Day, by the very best and most famous pâtissiers, and they are the most beautiful books.  Pierre Hermé’s “Macaron” is considered the macaron Bible, and even if the recipes are terrifyingly complicated for this macaron novice, the pictures are beautiful, the flavor combinations inspiring, and I know one day I will put these recipes to good use.

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The second book I received is the Ladurée Paris recipe book for macarons, which includes the recipe for the classic macaron shell, which allowed me to confirm that I had been using this exact recipe all along.  If I am going to perfect a recipe for macarons, it is going to be the best macaron recipe.

Here are my scientific notes on Batch #4:

Batch #4 on 5/15/17 (in lieu of a workout. Typical.):

  • Still measured out a half batch; wondering if this is why yesterday’s batch failed so miserably… Maybe the ingredients just don’t work at smaller measurements??
  • Still used my cheapy food scale – was extremely tempted to grab one at Walmart but decided to find one on Amazon that had good reviews, and to buy when I felt comfortable investing in a good one that I will have for a while.
  • Food processed the almond flour/confectioner’s sugar a little longer this time, instead of pulsing.
  • Whipped the meringue until “stiff” but not absolutely stiff (the peaks still bent a little – yesterday I whipped them until super stiff and I believe this is what made a more crunchy, hard shell.  At first I was scared to over-whip again so I stopped, then just before mixing with the dry ingredients, I decided to whip them another minute.  They were still a teeny bit soft. (Update: I now realize the stiffer meringue was fine yesterday, as I did not have hollow shells but did again today.  The hard, crunchy shell I believe was because they were slightly over cooked).
  • The egg whites I used were aged almost two weeks.  Not necessarily by choice, mostly because I didn’t get around to trying another batch for a while.  Not sure if this made a difference.  I suspect not, because my shells were still slightly hollow.  From what I understand, aged, room temperature egg whites results in a better meringue, not necessarily a better cookie.  So again I think I just need to whip my meringue stiffer.
  • Tried oh so hard not to over fold the batter; Dana’s Bakery says to fold until “molten lava consistency,” or until the batter falls from the spatula in a ribbon without breaking, and flattens at the bottom of the bowl.  I did this yesterday in the failed batch, but I think it was over-folded nonetheless (my shells barely had a foot at all, whereas in previous attempts I believe the batter was slightly under-folded but still produced feet (albeit small ones)).  I was super careful to start the spatula at 12 o’clock, circle to 6 o’clock, fold over, then rotate the bowl 1/4 turn.  Repeat.  Tested batter consistency several times.  Praying it was the right amount this time!
  • Realized after getting the batter correct that I forgot to add in the 1/4 egg white as I was mixing, which is said to loosen the batter just a wee bit.  I decided this was fine- what difference could 1/4 of an egg white make, anyway??  Gulp.
  • Did not rush the piping process.  Made sure to secure the piping bag so the batter wouldn’t splooge (one of my favorite words, and yes I made it up) out the tip before I was ready.  Don’t you just hate it when that happens?  wink wink.
  • Piped onto silicone mats (not parchment paper, as in failed batch yesterday).  Will bake trays one at a time on a doubled-up cookie sheet, as this is supposed to help form those infamous “feet.”
  • Discovered that if I set the trays to “harden” on the left side of my kitchen island, they are directly in line with the air conditioner vent, which blows lightly onto the shells to speed up the hardening process.  I turned down (up?) the AC a notch before starting the batch to keep the kitchen cooler, as it is hotter than Hades outside.
  • Baking at 290F this time, lower and slower to help those cookies rise, rise, rise (I hope).  I baked for 17.5 minutes at this heat before I took them out, which seemed just right.  You want to be able to gently pull the shell up and it should come up without any damage; I tried to pull one out after 16 minutes and the cap of the shell ripped off.  Oops.
  • Also, I piped both trays out at the same time, so the second tray sat for an extra 17 minutes.  The shells were very dry by the time I put them in the oven- wondering if this will help the feet growing or not, we will see…

Excuse me while I go sit in front of my oven and pray for rising feet and no burst shells….

RESULTS:

Tray #1:  

  • The shells looks lumpy and bumpy.  A quick check on the “Troubleshooting Guide” at Food Nouveau tells me I did not process the dry ingredients enough.  Hmmm.  I do tend to force the dry stuff through the sieve instead of discarding the larger pebbles.
    • SOLUTION: Try processing longer, and discarding the thicker pebbles at the bottom of the sieve, rather than forcing them through.
  • The feet look a mile high!!!
  • Still slightly hollow at the top of the shell, although not as hollow, if that makes sense.  Last time they were paper thin at the top, and these shells feel much sturdier. So that’s progress!
    • SOLUTION: I should have whipped the meringue even more.  So I’m thinking my problem yesterday was more that I over-folded the batter and perhaps did not let the shells sit and harden long enough before I put them in the oven.  Because now that I think about it, the batch yesterday had all sorts of issues, but ironically the shells were not hollow (the one thing they had going for them).

Tray #2:

  • The feet look even higher on this tray… So awesome.  This tells me that leaving the trays out to harden even longer will help grow those feet.
  • Shells are also slightly hollow due to the meringue I was too scared to whip enough.
  • Still taste delicious!

Things that worked:

  • Using my silicone mats instead of parchment paper.
  • Doubling up the cookie sheets.
  • Folding method – it appears I did not over fold!  No cracked tops this time.
  • Looooong drying out time – I will let those shells sit and sit and sit before baking them.

Things that didn’t:

  • Lumpy shells – never had this problem before so maybe I over processed, since that’s what I did differently.
  • Hollow shells – Must whip the heck out of that meringue and not feel guilty about it next time.

New things to try:

  • Beat the meringue to stiff peaks.
  • Discard larger pebbles of dry ingredients, and tap the tray harder to flatten out shells.
  • Will let the shells dry out for at least 30 minutes under the vent in my kitchen.
  • Bake at 290 and add a minute or so (18.5 minutes).

I am now waiting a day or two to age more egg whites, then I will be back at it.  The study continues….

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I am not Maison Ladurée, but I can sure try to be.

 

Ah, le macaron.  The iconic, airy, colorful sandwich cookie that evokes the tenants of all things French: chic, beautiful, delicious….and extremely temperamental.  The macaron arguably elicits the very stereotype of the Parisian people that they often deny (or proudly uphold, depending on which one you talk to): complicated, meticulous, difficult to replicate, and exacting to the last detail.

And yes, I’m talking about a cookie here.  The small kind of cookies my husband likes to pop into his mouth in one swift motion, chew three times without actually tasting, and then swallow down his throat without another thought.  I’ve worked eight long years on getting him to enjoy the finer things in life, but even still he has his moments.  But I digress.

You see, this cookie is a big part of my plans.  My dreams.  I’m being real here, at the expense of being laughed at.  Isn’t it so hard to share your hopes and dreams with strangers?  This is my way of keeping myself accountable, or tracking my progression into business ownership.  And I will succeed.  You see, macarons are going to be part of my empire.  Maybe (definitely) not Ladurée style, but part of it nonetheless.

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My friend Alma brought me these direct from Paris.  I took six days to eat them so as to enjoy them as long as possible.  And no, I did not share with my husband.

Do you recall my recent post in which I explained that I have several years until bringing said dreams into reality?  Well, my husband really kind of lit a fire under me to start experimenting and (eventually) perfecting in the kitchen, so that I’m ready to pounce when my opportunity strikes.  And so that very week I went out and bought a bulk-size bag of almond flour, a food scale, and some piping bags and tips (which turned out to be the totally wrong tips, but more on that later.  I made it work).  And that Friday, after doing lots of research online and understanding just how challenging macarons can be – particularly in humid climates – and feeling more determined than ever to do it anyway, I put that baby down for a nap, rolled up my sleeves, put on my apron and I got to work.

I should preface this by saying I scoured the internet looking for the Ladurée macaron recipe.  I figured, if these are going to be a part of my empire, then I may as well learn how to make the absolute best type of macaron.  So after comparing a few blogs who claimed to be using this recipe, and learning you can actually buy a Ladurée cookbook (which I promptly added to my Amazon wishlist and hinted to my husband it would be a perfect Mother’s Day gift), I settled on the recipe by A Bit of Bee’s Knees.

As The Pioneer Woman would say, here is the cast of characters:

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So here are the things you will need that you might not already have in your kitchen arsenal:

ALMOND FLOUR: the key and essential ingredient to macarons.  It makes them light and fluffy and gives them that nutty, airy taste.  Can be found in the baking section of any grocery store, with the specialty flours (or gluten free section).  I found this giant bag at Sam’s club.

A food scale: you can find several recipes that convert the measurements of dry ingredients in grams to cups, but from my research they are not extremely accurate, and said research also taught me that macarons are so temperamental that it really is worth investing in a scale and to just do it the right way.  So I bought this one at Bed Bath & Beyond for like $6.  You can spend a crap ton of money on scales it turns out, but since I’m just getting started I figured a cheapy will do for now.

Piping tips: Ok so I bought cake decorating tips which ARE NOT THE SAME as food piping tips, as the opening to the tips are so much smaller.  The recipe calls for about a .5″ tip opening, and I discovered mine was microscopic.  I made it work, but do yourself a favor and get the correct tools (your forearms will thank you).

A sifter.  I had recently bought myself one as I never had one before, but this is also an essential tool because you must sift the flour and confectioner’s sugar together.  This eliminates all lumps and turns the dry ingredients into a fine powder.  WARNING: sifting takes forever.  So put on some music and be patient.

Food processor.  I note this only because up until about a year ago, I never had one.  Just some crappy Oster blender that was a wedding gift, and couldn’t handle anything beyond a smoothie.  Now I have a fantastic Ninja and ever since we bought it, it has come in handy SO MANY TIMES.  You many not need one if your flour is fine enough- I didn’t actually need one (I realized after the fact), because I bought super fine almond flour, however the recipe technically calls for pulverized almonds, so if you must pulverize your own almonds, you will absolutely need a food processor.

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My baby!  Isn’t she a beauty??

LOTS OF EGGS.  You need 6 egg whites + 1/2 extra (I told you they were meticulous, didn’t I?), AND they need to be room temperature, otherwise your meringue will not be, well, meringue.  I was impatient and nuked mine for 10 seconds on half power, but I recommend planning ahead and just pulling them out well in advance.  I saved the yolks in the fridge hoping to figure out something to do with them, as it felt wasteful to throw away 7 egg yolks.  Sadly I never got around to making custard.  Next time.

Also, I read another blog about using aged egg whites.  According to Food Nouveau (my new Bible for all things macarons), this means separating the egg whites into a plastic sealed container and letting them sit in the fridge for 1-2 days before using them.  Now, I didn’t know this beforehand, but I am going to try it next time and hope that my macarons raise a little bit more in the oven.

And my last bit of advice before you launch into this adventure, is to remember to let your piped beauties sit on their cookie sheets for a LONG TIME before putting them in the oven.  The recipe I used says 10 minutes, or until they develop a bit of a dry shell so that if you very lightly brush them with your finger, you don’t get any batter on yourself.  Well, this took WAY more than 10 minutes for me.  More like 25 minutes until they achieved this consistency (I’m thinking living in humid Florida is the culprit, lucky me).  However, it is an essential step, otherwise your cookies will not pop up in the oven and have a delicate “foot” on the bottom as they are supposed to.

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Waiting…and waiting…and waiting for that delicate shell to harden.  I recommend wine while you wait.
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See the base of the cookie?  That’s the “foot.”  Mine should be bigger, but hey, first time.

And there you have it, things to consider before you attempt your first batch.  You’ll notice I didn’t actually include the recipe here, or show you my step-by-step process.  I had so many thoughts swirling around on this snarky little cookie, that I decided to write about my experiment in a few posts (otherwise this would be entirely too long and you would stop reading halfway through… If you haven’t already). So stay tuned, my next post will be the recipe and my experience trying these for the first time.  If you just can’t wait for that, scroll up to access the recipe via the provided link.

Happy baking!

Recipe #1, and Ode to my favorite blogger.

Before I post this recipe, which I tried from my newest cookbook, I have a slight confession: I’m kind of obsessed with The Pioneer Woman on Food Network.  I was actually inspired to start a blog because of her.  She is a rancher’s wife who began a blog as a way to share her daily life with far away family members, and after posting recipes and realizing she had quite a following, she really struck it big.  I have no high aspirations to have my own cooking show, and though I love to cook, I don’t have a lot of original recipes yet; I still consider myself a student, but I sure enjoy trying new recipes and learning new techniques, which is what I plan to share here on my blog.  But please believe me when I say I have had some major kitchen meltdowns.  Oh, the meltdowns.

This recipe I’m posting is from “The Pioneer Woman Cooks,” which I think is her first cookbook she published, which my husband just gave me for Christmas because he knows that I’m, well, obsessed.  The recipe is as simple as it gets, and I decided to give a quick try one morning when feeling bored with my standard fried eggs and toast.  The result was rich, buttery toast with a creamy, medium-cooked egg in the center that made it so handy to smear the yolk all over the toast and gobble it down.  It’s super easy, and takes very little brain power.  Try it next time you have a hankering for eggs and toast in the morning; it’s just a little something different to start your day right.  Thanks, Ree!  Let’s be friends!  Please?

Egg in the Hole, by Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman

First, take a couple pieces of bread and cut a hole in the center.  I used a wine glass turned upside down, because I’m apparently a lush, but maybe you’re fancy and have a biscuit cutter.  Use your imagination.

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Then take about 1 Tbsp butter and throw it in a skillet over medium-high heat.  I used my new cast iron skillet that I’m slowly becoming obsessed with.  Let the butter melt and spread over the whole pan.

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Once the butter is melty and sizzling, throw the bread in the pan, then take an egg and crack it into the hole in the bread.  Repeat for however many pieces of bread you have.

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Then season the egg with salt and pepper, to your taste (I prefer more salt to pepper, but some people just love their pepper).

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Give the bread about a minute, and when the underside is browning nicely, flip the bread and egg over with a spatula.  You can throw in a little more butter too (about 1-2 more Tbsp).  Now season this side with a little salt and pepper.  Give this side a minute or two, depending on how well you like your eggs done.  I like my yolks still gooey so I can spread them all over the bread.

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And voila!  Not beautiful, not food art, but rich and delicious, and a new way to have your morning eggs that takes no extra time at all.

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Funnily enough, I never liked runny eggs until I studied in France in college.  My host mother used to make the most insanely delicious galettes with ham and a sunny side up egg; she’d then take a fork and smear the yolk of the egg all over the galette and proceed to devour the whole thing.  And then another.  And from that first taste of galette onward, I practically NEED my eggs to be runny.

And now I need to eat some crepes.