Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DB Challenge: Macarons


The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. of Baking Without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Aren't food trends interesting? Remember when yogurt shops were big in the early 90's? Then they all died out. Now they are back in vogue and sprouting up everywhere. The other thing that sprouted but I think is now on the decline is cupcake shops. What's the next 'big thing'? Some would argue that is the macaron.

Macarons are just becoming known and familiar in the United States. They are small pastry cookies made of a sandwich of almond meringue sides with a pastry cream, ganache, or other filling in the middle. They are light, sweet, and decadent. Usually they are small which can probably be attributed to the French preferring to show restraint on their portions. But, because they can run very sweet, it can also be likened to a chocolate truffle - to be savored and enjoyed.

I began my DB Challenge by doing some local research. In Sacramento there are two places that are known for selling macarons. One is Le Petit Paris cafe on 19th Street. They sell about about eight flavors of macarons that they receive from a baker in San Francisco. In the pictures theirs are the smaller macarons. From there I sampled the lavendar/apricot and pistachio macarons.




The larger macarons are made locally at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. I sampled the almond and passion fruit macarons there. I was able to ask Ginger for some tips about making them. She said to make sure to leave my egg whites out on the counter overnight and she suggested taking my almond flour/powdered sugar mixture and letting it dry in my oven overnight as well. One of the key things about macarons is to get out as much moisture as possible, so drying out the dry ingredients even more helps. Some even leave the egg whites out for a couple of days so that they lose some moisture as well. Out of the four macarons I sampled I liked the passion fruit flavored one the best.

Before we get to my finished product I wanted to point out what 'feet' are on a macaron. Macarons have feet and why it is called that I have no idea. Anyway, the feet is the little bit of separation or lip you see on the edge of each macaron - the side next to the filling. Here are a couple more illustrations of other people's because, unfortunately, mine did not have feet!



So now to my experience. My first batch flopped! This especially sucks because almond flour is not cheap and hard to find. The Co-op has it for $10.59 a bag! It takes half a bag for the recipe below. Some of the problems with batch one was that when I piped them out, they were too runny and spread out and melted together. The few that were successful in keeping shape and baking, stuck to the parchment paper so that when I peeled them off, all the innards were left on the paper. This after I had done all the tips that Ginger had given of leaving out all the ingredients and drying them out.


That had been on Sunday and now it was the work week. My intent was to leave the egg whites out a couple of days and bake the next attempt mid-week. But Monday was Columbus Day and for the locals who know, there was the big controversy over whether we State workers should show up for work or boycott. I went to work only to find that all my bosses didn't! So with that, I worked half day and went home to bake. This time I had not dried out the dry ingredients but decided to just go for it anyway. Above is the piped batter before I put it in the oven.


The second batch went much better but I was still worried as I tried to peel off the paper. It looked like I would have the same problem again, so I did one of the suggested fixes. I put the sheets back in the oven for the macarons to dry out even further. And this time I didn't put them on any sheet because I wanted the underneath of the paper to get as much dry air as possible. This worked out well.


The filling is chocolate buttercream left over from the Sans Rival I had made over the weekend. It worked great with the macarons.

I enjoyed the finished product a lot and will make macarons again. In the future I look forward to trying different flavor combinations. I kept it simple this time since I had that left over buttercream. Hopefully next time I will get feet!


Macarons

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 2-3 dozen.
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