Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers, October: Macaroons (Macarons)



The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

The recipe is on Ami's blog here.

I love making macarons. I'm comfortable with them, especially now that I've figured out the piping and folding and whatnot (although the golf-ball-esque macarons in that last link are still good for a cozy laff). I'd never outright failed a macaron recipe. Until this one (if feet-free macarons that taste fine count as fail).

Daring Bakers, October: Macaro(o)ns
We were allowed to choose our own flavors, so I went with ginger macarons filled with honey fig curd.



Daring Bakers, October: macaro(o)ns
Or should I call them . . . Macawrongs!?

Daring Bakers, October: Macaro(o)ns
This is how I know I've whipped the egg whites just enough: stiff peaks, and it sticks to the bowl when I hold it up. Or how I know I've lost my mind, when I hold the bowl up like this and the egg whites slide out in a limp, sticky plop.

Daring Bakers, October: Macaro(o)ns
The directions, and many other macaron recipes, advise you to fold gently, but I'm not too very delicate. Ultimately, I want the batter to flatten just a bit after I pipe it so the macarons have a satin smooth top and are relatively flat, especially across the top. They won't look or sit right if they bake up domed, although if you're going for a meringue cookie, then dome away!

I knew the recipe wouldn't work out when, during the last bit of baking, the macrons didn't sprout feet. Usually, they spit feet out and look like Mr. Bubble within the first few minutes of baking. With these, not even the magic of Totoro could give these puppies feet. Sadness. =( I paced the kitchen like an expectant father, waiting for that proverbial bun to come out of the oven. It was actually pretty comical. After the fact, anyway. ;)

Daring Bakers, October: Macaro(o)ns
They also had a pitted surface, and the first batch wanted to stick to the silpat, which had never happened before. I baked the second batch a few minutes longer, and the macarons both released easily once they were cool, and they came up with shiny bottoms--like the top of the Chrysler Building!

Although they didn't look right, their taste was right on, and their texture was close enough--a crisp surface with a melt-in-your-mouth, but with a slight initial chew.

Daring Bakers, October: Macaro(o)ns
I forged on and made sandwich cookies with my honey fig curd. Use your favorite lemon curd recipe, and replace the lemon juice with some warmed fig preserves/jelly/puree, and cut up to half the sugar and replace it with honey. I just toss all of my ingredients into a double boiler and whisk away until it's thick and sticky.

Notes:
1. Ultimately, I think temperature and cooking time affected these macarons' outcome. My go-to macaron recipe is David Lebovitz's French Chocolate Macaron Recipe, replacing the cocoa powder with more ground almond when I want a non-chocolate macaron. His recipe bakes the macarons for 15 to 18 minutes at 375; this recipe starts with 5 minutes at 200 degrees, then has you remove the macarons to heat the oven up to 375 where you replace and bake them for 7 to 8 minutes. I wonder if that initial low-temp blast is meant to set a "skin" on the macarons by drying them out. Other recipes do this by simply letting the piped macarons sit out for up to 30 minutes. Frankly, I've had luck just sliding them in, fresh out of the piping bag.

2. A lot of bakers swear by aged egg whites, which contain less moisture than fresh whites. Personally, I'd never experienced a noticeable difference, but I did use day-old egg whites, aged on the counter in a covered container (yes, scary, I know, but you can also age them in a covered container in the fridge as long as you promise to bring them up to room temp. before trying to whip them). If you want, you could add just a bit more of the dry ingredients to suck up moisture, but I'm not meticulous enough to work out that calculation.

3. Don't be afraid of the egg whites. If you underbeat them, they'll spread out too much; if you overbeat me, they'll be too dry and will turn to mud when you add your dry stuff. Beat them until they hold a stiff peak and are glossy. And you can hold your bowl up, even upside down, and they'll hold fast for about 30 seconds. By the time you've folded your dry stuff in, they'll spread out just a bit instead of staying in a dome, but they should stay round and then grow feet when you bake them. That is, if your macarons are the feet-growing type.

4. In retrospect, I wonder if I would've gotten better results (i.e., feet) if I'd measured by weight instead of volume. The batter may have been too wet to have much lift, and since I used a coarser meal instead of the finer almond flour (I always use meal since I can never find flour), I should've predicted that things might be "off." I typically do measure by weight, too, if weights are given, but I was in too big a hurry this time. Dopey excuse, since I had the scale out just the day before to make the curd!

5. Curds make for good filling, but they're not a stable filling and can gooze out, especially after awhile or you're in a warm environment (e.g., a hot kitchen). You can fold the curd into your favorite buttercream recipe. YOM. Go as much as one part curd to one part buttercream. Keep the curd chilly, but not after you're spread it into the macarons; fridging them will make them chewy, and that's not YOM.

Want to see some amazing flavor combos and beautiful macarons (some more beautiful inside than out, as per the recipe)? Click around our blogroll!
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