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Mad about Macarons….and Happy Feet!

by on January 4, 2010
 

A tale of Macarons, with a very happy and steady ending!

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Nerve-wracking, time-consuming, causing many a ‘twijfels’ (doubt).

IMG_0009‘I’ll never do this again’, I say when I’m afraid it will all fail…..even when I see the feet, I’m still not convinced.

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I make 4 batches and I learn a lot. Finally, they’re all ready and I can taste them. Each batch…to his own. Some have the perfect macaron bite, right out of the oven and the others are way too crisp. Many are shell shiny…and others have the crisp outer but a dull brown.

I must say that I LOVE them…………….and I know for sure now that regardless of the mess they caused me to make, or how I need to go take piping lessons, I will make them again :-). Oh yes, I will!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know what exactly it was that pushed me over the edge and into the camp of feet-seekers, I suspect it was Mowie! By the time I started clicking open all the recommended reading material, I was enlightened but overwhelmed . With each open page, I felt my confidence ebb away….with such forceful torrents but still I forged on, eager to tick off another French Conquest!

You know I’m a Geologist, right? Thankfully not a Volcanologist for when I got to the point when the recipes mention ‘….should flow like Lava’, I did some serious soul searching. Was I really int he right profession? Did I know my stuff? Doubts and more doubts plagued me!

It wasn’t helped by my desire to do so much with this first batch. I wanted to make different flavours, requiring sharing the batter up into 3 portions….. Eventually, I realised that for sure, there was the path to failure – over ambition and so I settled on chocolate.

So after all the research, I decided on going with Crista and Julia, who had made Italian meringue macarons. Somehow, I trusted them. Why? Well, Cristina @ From Buenos Aires to Paris worked in restaurant in Buenos Aires, where she made 500 macarons every Friday and Julia @ Melanger presented us with 12 days of holiday macarons. It also happened that both of their recipes used the same technique, so perfect choice!

The recipe (adjusted from Julia’s)

Ingredients
100g egg whites
122g almond meal
122g icing sugar
3 teaspoons cocoa powder (I used Hersey’s unsweetened)

For the syrup:
150g sugar and 50ml water

Directions

Prepare you baking trays and templates if need be by lining with parchment or using silicone mats.

Process the almond meal and icing sugar together.

In a mixer, whip half the egg whites to soft peaks.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the water and sugar for the syrup to 117C (or 242F) on a candy thermometer.

Once ready, slowly add the boiling syrup to the egg whites and continue to whip on medium speed until they thick and shiny and are completely cooled (about 10 minutes).

Mix the remaining egg whites to the sifted almond mixture and fold into the meringue in four parts.

Pipe macarons on lined baking sheets.

Let your macarons sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes, if you can. I couldn’t for all my batches so…I did as I could.

Bake at 140C or 280F for 15-18 minutes. Scream and dance in amazement, when you see the feet. Remember to turn the tray halfway through baking.

Fill with ganache or filling of your choice.

Refrigerate to set.

What I learnt:

#1 – Age is everything, apparently.

If there was one thing I knew I had to do, it was age my egg whites and almond meal 3 days before.

For the egg whites, I weighed them to make sure I had the required amount and just in case, I aged an extra one, which I set apart in a different bowl. I covered them in cling film and pierced holes, to allow them aerate.I left the egg whites at room temperature overnight and then popped them into the refrigerator for a couple of nights and brought them out on the morning in question, for the egg whites should be at room temperature.

If there is one thing I’ll do differently next time, it is pass the egg whites through a sieve before the aging (for the tension for me on the day was too much, leading to an accident but thankfully, I had the extra white I’d put aside).

I will also ensure I sieve the almond meal before I age it. I think it would make it easier than doing it uncountable times on the day…again!

#2 – It can be a messy process, but be prepared!

On the day, yesterday, I was up early, my loins already girded.. Ready for battle. By the time I’d found all the individual elements of my food processor; my piping set and my thermometer, I was frazzled. I could even have taken on the weirdness of Miss Frizzle, though I wasn’t sure I would be performing any magic. I then proceeded to set up the baking sheets and mark my circle templates on to my silicone sheet….which has been offered up to eternal macaron making, or should I say mini micro-mini macaron making for I used a permanent marker! Next time, and yes there will be a next time, I will make larger circles.

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I set my piping bag and tube in a glass and then continued on.

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In the process of getting non-white bits out of my egg whites, I spilled some….thankfully, I had forseen this and could react well. Then I split them into two bowls, making sure they were of equal weight.

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Then I sifted the almond meal, twice and weighed it. Followed by the icing sugar. Twice., also weighed both times. Then I mixed the almond meal, icing sugar and cocoa powder and sifted again, twice and did final weight measurements. Each time I passed the material through the sieve, I discarded the larger particles….haven read somewhere that you DO NOT want them in. This was tiring, frustrating and as the minutes ticked on I was so sure I would fail. To be honest, I considered throwing the towel in at this stage but I knew my family members would be disappointed, especially since I had given such stern warnings about no one touching my almond meal!

I completely forgot to add the 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar (to each egg white)…in all my excitement and anxiety.

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#3 – Whipping the egg whites, making the meringue and the syrup.

When I was sure everything was ready and clean, I put the sugar and water into a saucepan and the egg whites into the mixer. Then I proceeded to turn the food processor on, at medium speed. I then turned on the sugar-water mix and stuck my thermoeter in. At first, I put only the tip…and then realised perfaps the whole arm should sit in. It took a matter of minutes and we had reached the magic 117 degrees centigrade. I was shocked to see the syrup was mere seconds from caramelising as I walked ever so slowly to the mixer, right by my side. I paused a second or two, and then I drizzled in the syrup, slowly. A few random drops instantly hardened but most of it got in. Now I understand why perhaps macarons have that unique chewy texture…or maybe not!

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I let the mixer run for 8-9 minutes, feeling the outside of the mixing bowl to see how cool it was.

Finally, when I turned off the machine and took off the lid, I could finally see the shiny, glossy white meringue. For the first time on this adventure, hope flared in my breast but I knew the worst was yet to come. Lava. Lava. Lava.

#4 – Do not panic at the ‘Mix the remaining egg whites to the sifted almond mixture and fold into the meringue in four parts’.

I tell you, I panicked.  First off all, the mixture looked a bit dreadful and stodgy and I refused to believe this would ever yield the delicate beauties I sought. So I re-read the recipe and decided that no mistakes were made. I managed to fold the mixture in, in 4 batches and then filled my piping bag.

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#5 – Piping….is not for me, I think

I put the oven on to preheat at 140 degrees centigrade. My tray was ready and I proceeded to pipe, completely forgetting all I’d read about how to pipe them. I made circles and ended in the centre as opposed to piping in the centre and letting them spread out. The templates really helped. I kept thinking they would ‘expand’, spread out and so I wasn’t overly worried with my 2.5cm circles. I found this part so tricky that I managed to pipe turtles, animals with tails and even a thumbs 2nd finger up…albeit with stunted 4th finger!

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I set these aside when I was done, leaving them to age…but I was in a hurry. We had to go out and I needed to bake them all in about an hour and so, I hastily put together another sheet and leaving Batch 1 to ‘rest’, I baked these straight away in paper-lined, tripled-up brownie trays, using a wooden spoon to leave the oven door open. Please don’t ask me why.

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Five minutes or so later, I was screaming and dancing….shouting for all the world to hear ‘They have feet, they have feet’!!!!!!!!!! Common on, how tired is that? I think we should all put together an anthem, one we can bellow out loud while we bake. I will put something together, ok, leave it to me.

When Batch 1 was done,Batch 2 went it and baked while I prepared Batch 3 and 4. Batch 3 macarons were baked on a tart tin, placed on a pizza pan, without paper and Batch 4 was made by swapping the brownie tins (one at bottom to top).

Here’s a brief description of each

Batch 1 – Baked immediately after piping. Had feet and shiny tops with a rich brown colour…but were lopsided, a bit like burger tops on the beef. Think issue with instability may have been because the baking paper I used was a bit wobbly. Tasted delish. Like a macaron. Crisp shell, chewy bottom. Amazing. Wasn’t easy to take off the paper. Especially ’cause I was in a hurry. Had to use a knife to get them off.

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Batch 2 – Rested for half an hour, Had feet and duller tops with a lighter brown colour. Were well-balanced. Were very light and crisp, even after a day in fridge (without the filling though), with only a slight, ever so slight chewiness. Left super light footprints on the silicone sheet and came off a treat, with no damage to the crisp top at all.

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Batch 3 – Rested. By the time I got to these, my piping nozzle had come off the bag, I also saw that the cookies didn’t spread and so I piped just using the bag. Men, was this easier. I got macarons of non-uniform size but I knew I’d be able to crudely pair them! The were ok. Very chewy and when I tried to get them off the tray, all the shells cracked, which I didn’t mind at all…..I have a super-dessert in mind for these so….I just packed them up and kept them out of sight and harm’s way (speaking of which my kids worked their way through the unfilled shells……with joy!)

Batch 4 – Same story as Batch 3. Since I put them into the oven at the same time…..May have been a mistake 🙂 but at this stage, I couldn’t care less. Victory was had and I knew I would still use them. Now with my piping bag sans nozzle, I ended up making twinned macarons…. But these overall were the best sized and more uniform shapes than any of the others (ignore the tails!)

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I was also a bit nonchalant about opening and closing the oven to check on the progress….For the first time in a while, I had no fear of ‘centre collapse’….

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Till of my own volition, I poked them too soon when they exited the oven!

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Now though they had feet, the feet came in a variety of forms. Some were more

‘Foot in mouth and head’ than ‘…on the ground’!

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Others were like whales and dolphins, feet/mouth wide open! Can you see how lop-sided they are? They are the children of Batch 1.

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2 cheers to he who spots the alien snake or creature first?…and better not say ‘I see them everywhere’ ’cause that would be so, so wrong!

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And thats almost all of it.

When it came to filling them, I made a quick matcha cream with matcha powder, a little hot water, icing sugar and creme fraiche, all mixed together. This was nice but a bit too bitter for my liking….next time I’ll ease up on the Matcha;

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I also used some chestnut puree for a filling. I especially enjoyed these….they blended so well with the chocolate with a balance of sweet and only a hint of cocoa bitterness!

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And finally, the last filling was clementine and cranberry curd and it had a nice, light refreshing tang which also worked well!

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Remember that I have a batch saved for another day and my kids had their fill. Pity the husband who let me see macs up close and personal (by bringing me some boxes back from Paris), didn’t get to enjoy them but like I said, I will do this again! Next week, I’ll be dishing up the lovely dessert I made for Macattack3, so please come back for a bite of something!

Lots of Love. Oz

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