Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Daring Bakers' Challenge: Maca-wrong Number.

These Macarons are neither lime green, lime green, nor tangerine.

I had the best laid plans this side of America, but no dice. In spite of multiple attempts, I could not seem to produce French macarons that even remotely resembled those of Laduree or Pierre Herme. Or David Leibowitz. Or Tartlette.

But before I get ahead of myself, let's get official business out of the way: 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.

French macarons look deceptively simple to make. There are only four essential ingredients, and they don't require precise timing like candies. The hardest part is making the meringue, but I'm confident with a mixer so no probs, right? Except the thing is, a French macaron is not just a cookie like any other, it's a pastry. See, that takes it to a new level, right? It's not enough just to sling' em in the oven and wait for them to brown like a batch of snickerdoodles, they have to rise. And grow FEET.

Not made by me, obviously.

Check out the photo above. See those rough ridges next to the filling? Those are the feet. On the ideal macaron,  those feet should have a nice ruffle and not protrude from the shell. The dome should be rounded, smooth and shiny, but give easily to the tooth. Now scroll back up and look at mine. Pitiful. About as domed as a Ritz cracker and worst of all, no feet. Not even a toe. Not even a toeNAIL.

Lest you accuse me of giving up too quickly, I made TWO batches, people. I tried letting the piped batter rest for two hours before putting them in the oven, I tried "drying" them at a low temperature before baking at full heat, and I tried just putting them straight in after piping. I tried 375°F for 7 minutes, and 250°F for 25 minutes. They all came out exactly the same.

I've included the challenge recipe below in case you're interested in trying for yourselves. If you want to go full nerd, I highly recommend this excellent collection of links and tips.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to my room and write bad poetry and sew Sisters of Mercy patches onto my backpack.

Toasted Sesame Seed Macarons
  • 2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 cups almond flour*
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 5 egg whites (Have at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
*If you can't find almond flour you can make your own: grind 2 cups of almonds along with a cup of the confectioner's sugar.   Run food processor for at least 60 seconds, or longer than you think you need. They need to be extremely fine—powdery, in fact, like flour. It works best with blanched or skinned almonds, or you could toas your nuts ahead of time and rub off the skins with a dish towel.

Yield: I got about two dozen filled macaroons.

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. 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. Toast and grind the sesame seeds. Place the seeds in a dry pan over medium heat, periodically shaking the pan to turn, until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Do not leave them unattended! Transfer the seeds to a clean spice mill or coffee grinder and grind for a few seconds, until fine. Add to the almond flour mixture.

3. 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.

4. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

5. 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.

6. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

7. Bake the macarons 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.

8. Cool on a rack before filling.

Toasted Sesame Seed Italian Buttercream
(From A La Cuisine!, adapted from The American Boulangerie by Pascal Rigo)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 oz (½ cup) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, ground (see method above in macaroon recipe)
1. In an electric mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.  Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking often, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it feels warm and sugar has dissolved.

2. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip warm egg mixture on high speed using the whisk attachment until stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the butter, one slice at a time, and continue to mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated.  Blend in sesame powder and refrigerate for 1 hour or until it becomes firm.  The buttercream can be kept, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

3. To fill the macarons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macaroons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macarons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Sprinkle with extra sesame seeds for garnish. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.


current brother said...

and to think I scoffed at this as a "challenge" when I saw the recipe in your apartment. Blame the oven, that's what I always do.

Amber said...

Oh, man. I love macarons, but have always been afraid to try them, and this post does not encourage me. I bet they tasted good anyway, though!

Anonymous said...