Wednesday, March 30, 2011

French Macaron Marathon (Part One)


I'm finally writing a post about one of the most coveted cookies in popular baking right now- the French Macaron. They're beautiful, colorful, versatile...and irritatingly hard to make.

The following recipes are for Strawberry Macarons with Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream filling and Apricot Macarons with Peach Champagne Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Apricot Macarons with Peach Champagne Buttercream Filling

Strawberry Macarons with Strawberry Buttercream Filling

There are multiple baking blogs written by talented bakers with really great advice about how to make a successful batch of these delicate cookies. There are SO many details to experiment with and master when making these cookies- how many times to sift the almond flour and confectioner's sugar, how long you age your egg whites, piping techniques, double lining baking pans or not, making sure you don't over mix or under mix the batter. And trust me, the list goes on...

Before attempting these lovelies, be cautioned that you will most likely be frustrated by how they turn out. They may not turn out how a macaron should look- they could crack, not develop a "foot," develop a lopsided "foot," or turn out different sizes and awkwardly shaped circles.

BUT- the good news is, even if your cookies don't turn out on the first or second, or even third or fourth try, you will learn A LOT. If you're the type of baker that feels like the "rules" don't apply to you, you're more likely to mess up the first time. And I can say that because I'll humbly admit that I fall into that category. I tend to arrogantly feel like I can change recipes at my leisure OR, worst, that I can take shortcuts without repercussions.

Here are some tips of my own that I've come to learn purely from past failed macaron attempts. I must say, I've been making some pretty good batches lately (including these that are featured), but I'm still working on my own techniques to improve the aesthetics of my macarons.

My tips:

1. Read some blogs

Sprinkle Bakes

David Lebovitz

Tartelette

2. Follow the Rules of the Almighty Patisserie Gods

Some of the steps sound ridiculous-
*Will aging my egg whites (overnight or for a few nights) really make a difference?
*Do I really need to sift my dry ingredients twice?
*Can I really over mix the batter by adding in one or two folds too many?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES. And I learned it the hard way...

3. Practice baking with the cheap stuff

I've never attempted making my own almond flour, but it's certainly possible. There are multiple cooking/baking blogs with tutorials. However, if you're planning to buy the almond flour, I would recommend starting with a cheaper, coarser brand and then moving on up to the expensive stuff. I used the Trader Joe's almond meal ($3.99/bag) in both of these macarons, which I think causes them to bake a little higher and not quite as elegant as they look when made with finer almond flour. Bob's Red Mill is much finer and higher quality and does not include any small pieces of dark shell. Now that I've baked multiple batches of macarons successfully in a row, I caved and bought the good stuff for my next macarons and post.

4. This is a repeat from #2, but it's so important, I'm repeating it- AGE YOUR EGG WHITES.
You must separate your eggs and place the egg whites in a covered container on your kitchen counterpart at least overnight and for up to a few days. If you don't age your whites, you will not get a foot. If you're still a novice macaron baker, set aside a few batches of egg whites for mess ups, that way you won't have to wait another day to make a second attempt.

5. Don't overmix your batter and don't overbeat your egg whites- you WILL end up with funky misshapen macarons, possibly with lopsided feet (or no feet) too.

6. Find a circular object with a 1.5 inch diameter. Trace Circles 1-inch apart on your parchment paper prior to baking, especially if you're completely spatially challenged like me. It makes for fool-proof same-sized cookies.

7. Make the cookie shells one day and refrigerate overnight. Fill and serve the next day. If you do not finish all of the cookies within a few days, they freeze very well in freezer bags lined with parchment paper.

8. Be patient. It's so rewarding when you're successful at making these cookies. They're NOT like baking other cookies, cupcakes, or cakes. They're far more tricky and technique-based.

For the Macarons (yield-about 32 cookie shells)(Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Online)
Ingredients
3/4 cup almond flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 tsp flavoring extract (I used 1 tsp apricot extract/1 tsp strawberry extract)
1 tsp food coloring

Directions
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Sift almond flour and confectioner's sugar 2 times. Set aside. Whisk egg whites on low-medium until foamy. Add a SMALL pinch of cream of tartar. Whisk on medium-high until whites are whipped and have soft peaks. Slowly add in 1/4 cup sugar and food coloring, continuously whisking until whites form stiff peaks. TIP: Whites should form a peak on the whisk attachment, but should not be whisked to the point that they are too stiff to fall off the whisk when tapped on the mixing bowl. Sift dry ingredients over egg whites in three parts- do not stir, but fold gently with a rubber spatula into egg whites. Continue folding batter until it "ribbons" off rubber spatula.




Scoop batter into a 14-16 inch pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. Pipe circles onto pre-drawn parchment paper lined baking sheets (make sure you're using the heaviest baking sheet possible to prevent cookies from cracking).


After piping, hit baking sheet on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Allow cookies to sit for 15-20 minutes before baking so that they form a protective "skin." This step also helps to avoid cracking.

I start baking my macarons at very low heat about 230 degrees- which I'm also convinced helps to prevent cracking. After they appear to be set and a foot begins forming, I increase the oven temperature to 250-275 degrees. Bake about 12-16 minutes, until you can lightly touch the cookie and it doesn't slide (the foot is stiff and baked through).



Be sure to experiment with temperatures to see what works best with your oven at home.

For the Filling:
Make a batch of vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. Separate in two parts.

For the fruit purees:
Peach puree
2-3 whole ripe peaches (skin removed) OR canned peach halves

Directions
Puree the peach using a blender set to "puree." Pour puree through fine mesh sieve into a small pot. Simmer on low heat on stove top until reduced to about half it's original volume. Put in freezer for quick cooling (or fridge overnight).

Strawberry puree
1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries, thawed

Directions

For the Peach Champagne Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
Ingredients
1/2 batch swiss meringue buttercream
3 tbsp peach puree (or more, as long as frosting doesn't become too thin)
1 tbsp reduced champagne (simmer 1/2 cup champagne until reduced to 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp champagne from bottle
Yellow and pink/red food coloring (add and mix in until desired color is reached)

For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1/2 batch swiss meringue buttercream
3 tbsp strawberry puree (or more, as long as frosting doesn't become too thin)
1 tsp strawberry extract
Pink food coloring (and mix until desired color is reached)

Pipe about 1 tsp filling onto a macaron shell. Carefully place another macaron shell onto the filled shell so that the cookie makes a sandwich.

6 comments:

  1. I'm just starting. I've aged my whites and my macarons look just like the photos with little feet and smooth tops. I have one problem that I can't figure out. When you bite into the macaron, the top cracks. I went to a local bakery that only bakes macarons. When you bite into their cookies the top doesn't crack. Do you have any advice?

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  2. Hello!
    Hmm...sometimes with macarons, these texture issues can be quite the mystery. Would you describe the cookie as seeming to be somewhat hollow?
    It could be that your batter was overmixed, or that the shells were baked at too high of a temperature.

    To be honest with you, the best advice I can give is to keep reading more about them and to keep on trying. The more batches you make, the closer you'll come to getting it right.

    One more blog I would suggest that is not listed in the previous post is:
    notsohumblepie.blogspot.com
    She does an excellent "troubleshooting" french macarons post.

    Hope this helps and happy baking!

    -Heather

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  3. Have you ever tried making a layered cake with a large macaroon? I had a cake years ago at a party that was a layer of almond based macaroon, thin layer of cake, apricot buttercream with tiny bits of dried apricot, -- several layers of this, topped with a layer of macaroon and delicate decorations (powered sugar, a little decoration of chocolate). Wondered if you had done something like this and how different would the cooking process be. Thanks!

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  4. I have never tried doing this! It sounds like it would be quite tasty. Let me know if you find a source and end up making it- I would love to know how it turns out.

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  5. Help! I see these cutie-pies all over the place (They almost look too good to eat and now that i have seen what makes them that way... well, my hat is definitely off to you!)

    My "but" is - when did these become Macarons/Macaroons? I grew up with not extremely pleasant, rather dry almond cookies that were called macaroons. A non-baker friend said "Well, the difference is the spelling". But i see in comments that it's spelled both ways here (help help!!) :) These sort of seem more like fancy whoopie pies, you guys probably (hopefully!) know what i mean. Is this a new thing? I so hope someone knows, this has been making my brain spinny for about 4 years ;0) Thank you! I'm loving this site, so many yummy, pretty things!!

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  6. Hi! What kind of oven are you using, is it a convection oven? Gas or electric?

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