1.21.2011

A Blogiversary and some Macarons

2 years. As of today, I’ve been doing this for 2 whole years now! Which is officially the longest my crafting/hobby ADD has let me focus on a project before getting bored and moving onto the next big thing. This calls for a celebration! This calls for something big. Something dramatic. Something that shows just how far I’ve come in the last 2 years of baking. How about the Holy Grail of baking for bloggers—French Macarons.

All across the blogosphere, bloggers have attempted these fickle creatures. I’ve never had a baked good give me quite so many ways to fail. 5 strokes too few, a lumpy mess. 2 strokes too many, completely runny. Baked for a minute too long, a crispy brown disappointment. Take them out too early, they’re stuck to the tray. And let’s not forget those feet. The one single characteristic your cookies must have to be called a macaron. That little ruffled ridge at the bottom that must be present, or else you’ve wasted your efforts for nothing. So why not show how far I’ve come in baking by setting myself up for failure from the start?

I’ve been obsessing over baking macarons for months now. I’ve looked at books. I’ve checked out recipes. I scoured the internet while I was home sick from work. I literally spent hours reading blogs, watching videos, looking for tips and tricks and secret magical incantations to whisper to my macarons as they were baking, causing them to suddenly grow those perfect little feet. I gathered up my wealth of knowledge and felt confident that I could (no, I would) get it right on the very first try.

I separated my whites and let them sit out overnight to age. And then I didn’t feel like baking. So into the fridge they went to age for a little longer. And then I still didn’t feel like baking. Finally 3 days later, I woke up and thought, “Today’s the day. I’m going to do it. I’m going to make macarons.” Meticulously, I measured out my ingredients on my new kitchen scale, obtained solely for the purpose of making macarons. I weighed and sifted and set out everything I’d need in perfect, precision-like order, like I was about to perform surgery.

And then I overbeat my egg whites. Because I was busy getting everything ready, what was supposed to be soft peaks ended up stiff, dry peaks. But, because I was confident that I could get this right, I tried to overcompensate by mixing the batter a bit more to break it down. And mixed it too much. I knew as the batter, which should be thick and pipeable, dribbled out of my piping tip that it was a complete loss. Okay, dribbled is a bit of an understatement. It oozed. Like slime. All over my parchment paper. And my counter. And everywhere else it touched. With that, my confidence was gone. And so was my sanity. I oozed into my own puddle of hysterical tears, sobbing, “I CAN’T DO THIS! I JUST CAN’T!” I had been defeated by a baked good.

After a soggy French toast lunch (I wasn’t having a good kitchen day..) and a short nap, I felt the confidence sneak back in. By evening I was ready to give it one more shot. My egg whites wouldn’t be aged, because I’d wasted those, but I’d read on one of the countless blogs I studied that microwaving fresh eggs for 10 seconds achieved the same thing. So I tried it. And I watched my meringue like a hawk. And I mixed with a gentle hand. They piped out well and during their 45 minute rest before baking, they developed a nice shell. Now it was time to put them in the oven and wait. Wait to see if those magical little feet appeared.

I don’t have a window on my oven, so I had no idea what was going on inside. I paced back and forth in front of it for the last 2 minutes of baking, just holding my breath and praying that they turned out right. When the timer went off, I was terrified. What if I failed—again. I didn’t know if I had the perseverance to keep trying if I kept failing. I didn’t have a backup plan. Taking a deep breath, I pulled open the oven to peek inside.


HOLY $%^& THEY’VE GOT FEET!! I DID IT!!

The neighbors probably thought I was being murdered the way I was screaming. I was so proud! I made macarons! The beasts that have bested so many of my peers! But maybe it was just a fluke. The baking gods throwing me a bone only to take it away later with every successive failure after my most joyous win. There was only one way to find out. Bake more. And more. And more.

5 batches later, I’d managed to make 5 sets of footed macarons! All were a success! Well.. successfully footed. They had their other issues.


Yes. That 2nd batch was actually blue to begin with. They ended up browning so much they looked almost pistachio colored. And the one consistent flaw in each batch? Every single one is hollow inside. I’ll overlook that for now, because I’m still calling these a win. But the quest still continues to figure out the trick to the perfect macaron. If there is such a trick. For now, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Measure everything in weight instead of volume. Seriously. I’m totally the one that scoffs at the idea of kitchen scales. I’ve never had an issue with my cups and teaspoons, so I’ve never seen the sense in buying one. But I’m telling you, it makes it a WHOLE lot easier. And you don’t have to go out and get a really fancy, expensive one. I found mine at Bed Bath and Beyond for $20 (Actually, $16 with my 20% off coupon).

2. Grind and sift. Weigh out your confectioners’ sugar and almonds and put them in a food processor. Pulse it for a few seconds until its very fine. Then sift it with a fine mesh strainer. I sift it over a piece of waxed paper so I can just pick it up and dump it into my bowl later. You’ll probably end up with a bit of almond mixture left in the strainer—try to push as much out as you can with a spoon or a spatula. It’s okay to discard some of it, but I wouldn’t get rid of more than a teaspoon worth.

3. When you fold your almond mixture into your meringue, stop mixing as soon as it’s all combined. Run a knife through the mixture to test if it needs to be mixed any more. The mixture should fall back on itself fairly quickly, but not immediately and the line should disappear after 10 seconds when it’s done. If the line holds a lot longer than 10 seconds, give it another fold or two. If it floods back on itself immediately, you may have mixed too much.

4. Once you pipe your macarons out onto the baking sheet, use a toothpick to pop as many air bubbles as you can before letting it rest. Let the macarons rest for 30 to 45 minutes (or even an hour) to form a shell or skin on the outside that isn’t sticky when you touch it. This is what helps create the feet at the bottom, so it’s a very important step!

5. Baking time and temperature can be tricky. You’ll probably have to play around to figure out what works best for your oven. I’m still playing the guessing game with mine. I’ve gotten 2 almost perfect batches--at different times and temperatures. But subsequent batches at those same times and temps either over browned or undercooked. So be prepared for a mixed bag of results the first few times until you get into a rhythm of what works.

6. I probably don’t have to say this, but since I did it, I’ll mention it in case anyone else gets the urge as well. Wait a minute or two, or 5, before you try to pull the macarons off your baking sheet. I ended up pulling the top off of one because I tried to do it immediately. Wait until they set just a bit before trying to move them.

Now that I’ve (mostly) conquered the beast, watch out for a lot more macaron posts in the future! The obsession continues!



Macarons
Adapted from Tartelette
Makes about 16 to 20 macarons (depending on the size)



Macaron Shells:
90 grams of egg whites, aged at least 24 hours
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
110 grams of ground almonds
200 grams of confectioners’ sugar
Food coloring, if desired

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip your egg whites until they begin to get loose and have a few bubbles around the edges. Add the cream of tartar and whip until foamy (think of bubble bath or dishsoap foam). Gradually add the granulated sugar, whipping until soft peaks form. (The meringue should form a peak that curls over to the side rather than standing straight up.) (This is also where I added my food coloring because I used a gel based color. If you’re using powdered coloring wait until the next step.)
2. Pulse the almonds and confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground and no big clumps remain. Sift with a fine mesh strainer to remove any additional lumps, pressing with the back of a spoon to sift as much of the almond meal as possible. (Try not to discard more than a teaspoon of the solids that won’t sift.) Add the almond mixture to the meringue and fold until the mixture just combines. This should not take more than 50 strokes. (Run a knife through the batter to test if it’s folding enough. If the batter falls back on itself and the line disappears after 10 seconds, stop folding. If it holds the line, fold a few more times and test again.) (If you’re using powdered food coloring, add your color halfway through folding to blend.)
3. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (medium to large size) and pipe small rounds onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats about 3 inches apart. Using a toothpick, pop as many of the air bubbles that form on top of the rounds as possible. Let macarons sit out for a half an hour to an hour to harden the outer shells. (When they’re hardened, they won’t feel sticky when touched.)
4. Preheat oven to 280F. When the outer shells have formed, bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to cool completely. (If the macarons are hard to remove from the sheet, sprinkle a couple drops of water under the parchment while the baking sheet is still warm. The steam will help them loosen. But don’t leave them sit too long or they’ll soak up the water and get soggy.)
5. When shells are completely cool, fill with desired filling, such as buttercream or ganache. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving to allow the shells to mature.
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9 comments:

Rachel @ Baked by Rachel said...

Happy blogiversary!!! I was eagerly waiting for you to post this. You did a fantastic job!! So pretty. :) I want to make some someday but like you said... a scale is key and I don't have one yet. Maybe sometime in the next year lol. It's really crazy that with the times and temps you used they all had such different results.

lora said...

Ahh the infamous macaron frustration. I've experienced, the oozing, the over browning, undercooking and the footless. So happy for you you conquered it all and lived to tell. What a great blogiversary celebration with such beautiful macarons. Great job!

sarahe said...

Happy blogiversary! and I'm SOO proud of you for doing this! I have yet to attempt the terrifying macaroon...

oneordinaryday said...

Woot! Woot!
They look gorgeous!

Jane Wilson said...

Hi
Love the blog - on your macarons - have you tried a new book called MAD ABOUT MACARONS - MAKE MACARONS LIKE THE FRENCH by Jill Colonna. It has a website - www.madaboutmacarons.com

Foolproof. Try it!

Love your writing!

Butter Hearts Sugar said...

Happy blogiversary!! Yay for winning, you beat those macarons fair and square. They look fantastic, I love the picture with all the different colours.

Caroline said...

Happy Blogaversary and congratulations on the macarons! I can't wait to try these for myself, and I'm sure I'll have my own disasters to write of when the time comes! They're beautiful!

I BLEED PINK said...

We just made these in culinary school last week and they are a ton of hard work, but yummy!!

Yours look perfect.

blackbookkitchendiaries said...

happy blogiversary! i am so excited for you. Your macaron looks fantastic.

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