Friday, March 12, 2010

Overcoming fear: French Macarons

Why hello again. So during my baking streak last week, I also decided to make macarons. I had a ton of egg whites left over from making the meyer lemon tartlets (is it tartlet or tartelette??) and I told myself that this time around, I was going to make macarons. I said this last time making... something or another. Yeah, that never happened, oops.

French macarons are another one of those things that I've been overly paranoid about baking. I'd say irrationally, but I've read about and seen many pictures of failed macarons. Also, there are billions of long-winded explanations of how to make them for a reason--they're a bit tricky to get everything right.

But look! But look! Mine came out with feet and everything!

Isn't it purtiful? They're macarons with strawberry cream cheese sandwiched in between. Not too shabby for a first time, I'd say. The shell wasn't the smoothest, and only one of three batches came out (I think because the other two batches I used baking pans with sides (like a 9x13 pan) instead of a cookie sheet, because I only had one)... and I think the "good" macarons were a little hollow inside, but uh, oh well? I've only had one macaron once in SF, but I'd say mine's not too shabby at all, not at all. Click below for more macaronage. :)

So after reading a billion articles on macarons in the past few months, I decided to go with My Tartelette's basic recipe, keeping in mind all the random tips that I've read along the way.

French Macarons
Makes 30-40 macarons (if you get them right...). Adapted from Tartelette.

90 grams egg whites (~2.5-4 egg whites depending on egg size), aged for a few days
30 grams granulated white sugar
200 grams powdered sugar
110 grams almond flour
1 drop food coloring (optional. I've read that powdered food coloring is better, but I didn't have that, and the gel food coloring worked just fine.)

1. You want to prepare the egg whites at least a day in advance. Supposedly aged egg whites make better macarons. (I have only tried it with aged egg whites, so I don't really know from first-hand experience.) You want to separate the egg whites and store the egg whites in the refrigerator in a covered container for a couple days. About 12 hours before you use the egg whites, you want to take the egg whites and leave them out at room temperature. The egg whites should have become more watery after aging.

2. Sift together the almond flour and the powdered sugar three times until completely combined and no almond chunks are left. Make sure that your almond powder is dry. If you plan to grind your own almonds, you can combine the almond and the powdered flour in your food processor and pulse them until the almonds are finely ground.

3. Using the whisk attachment for your mixer, whip the egg whites to a foam (think bubble bath), and then gradually add the granulated sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Add your gel food coloring while beating. Do not overbeat the meringue, or it will be too dry.

4. Add the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture to the meringue. Quickly fold in the almond flour at first to break some of the air, and then fold the batter carefully until the batter flows in a thick ribbon from your spatula (~50 folds). Test a small amount on a plate: if there is a beak, fold the batter a couple more times, if the tops flatten, then it's good. Careful not to over-mix or your macarons will be flat and not very shapely.

5. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (I used an Ateco #807) with the batter and pipe small rounds (~1.5 inches in diameter... mine weren't quite perfect, but oh well.) onto parchment paper (you can draw same-sized circles on the back side if you use parchment paper to try and get evenly-sized circles!) or silicon mat lining a baking sheet.

6. Preheat the oven to 280F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to let their shells harden. Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on their size). Let cool and remove shells from baking sheet.

7. If not using right away, store in an airtight container out of the refrigerator for a couple of days, or in the freezer. Fill the macarons with filling of your choice (buttercream, ganache, cream cheese).

I haven't had a chance to play around with flavors much yet, but some ideas I had for flavoring the shell was to use powdered things such as green tea powder or powdered freeze-dried strawberries (Trader Joe's sells them, and they're not bad! I just used them to make strawberry lemon frosting.). Another idea I came across was to use various nuts like hazelnuts or pistachios for a different shell flavor. as for the filling, the world is your oyster. :)

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