Friday, January 17, 2014

My First Macaron

That's right, I spelled it the French way.

I feel incredibly fortunate/spoiled/ruined/happy/sad that my first ever macaron was from Laduree in Paris.  I didn't know what it was when I bought it, I just knew that the Laduree shop on the Champs-Elysees looked like this side of heaven and I wanted a piece of it.

When I learned that these airy little confections were unbelievably delicious I became a little bit obsessed.  As I bit into my 7th macaron I complained to Paul that my stomach hurt.  "Maybe you should stop eating the Macarons," he replied.  I gave him a look that told him he was totally crazy.

(We googled what to do for a stomach ache in France, and found many suggestions to drink red wine.  IT WORKED!)

I was all out of Macarons later in the week when we were touring the marvel that is Versailles.  As we exited one wing and made our way down a massive marble staircase, the heavens opened once more and I was met with a miniature Laduree shop right there.  I bought a small box to take home.

Aside from long distances, we walked everywhere we went in Paris, which made for some pretty exhausted tourists.  On our trek to the Versailles train station Paul decided he wanted a quick cup of coffee from McDonald's.

The picture to the left is of that McDonald's, believe it or not, and what do they have?  Macarons!  Paul bought me a small box along with his coffee. (He's such a keeper!)

As Paul and I paced the Gare du Nord waiting for our train to take us back to England, a little book caught my eye at the nearby newsstand.  This book was meant for people just like me, tourists who ate their way through Paris and left with a suitcase full of pastries.

It has been exactly two years since I bought that book in Paris and I finally worked up the courage to make my first batch.  It was pretty nerve wracking - so much pressure to live up to my original experience.

This little book did not disappoint.

I did not do a perfect job of making these.  My food processor is broken (the whole thing depends on a toothpick-sized piece of plastic!) so I used our coffee grinder in small batches.  My mixing bowl is so deep it took forever for the eggs to get frothy and I didn't quite get them to soft peaks.  The sugar syrup splattered and made beautiful icicles on my mixer.  I was shocked when they turned out as beautiful and delicious as they did.

If I can do it, you can do it.

You will need some equipment:
  • a scale- measure all your ingredients by weight, not volume
  • a sieve - it's essential to sift at least once for smooth shells
  • a candy thermometer - a non-negotiable
  • electric beaters / stand mixer- do NOT attempt this by hand, your arm will fall off
  • a rubber spatula - wood and metal utensils don't have the dexterity you need
  • piping bag with an 8-10mm tip - I used a ziplock bag with my piping tip! 
  • parchment paper

Are you ready?  Let's do this.

Coffee Macarons
by Jose Marechal in "irresistible macaroons"
Preparation time: 50 minutes + 1 hour drying time
Makes about 50 finished mini macarons

  • 180 g (6 1/4 oz) ground almonds
  • 200 g (7 oz) powdered sugar
  • 80 ml (2 3/4 fl oz) water
  • 200 g (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2 x 80 g (2 3/4 oz) egg whites
  • a few drops of coffee extract
and for the cream filling:
  • 250 g (9 oz) butter, softened
  • 140 g (5 oz) powdered sugar
  • 160 g (5 1/2 oz) ground almonds
  • a few drops of coffee extract

To make the shells:

Mix and then sift together the ground almonds and icing sugar.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the water and granulated sugar to a boil.  Without mixing, make sure the temperature does not exceed 230º F (very important!).

While the sugar is boiling, whisk half of the egg whites to soft peaks, increasing the speed of the whisk once the syrup passes 210º F.  Once the syrup reaches 230º, take it off the heat and pour in a thin stream into the whisked egg whites.  Beat the meringue until it has almost cooled.

(Need to know what soft peaks look like?  Check this out.)

While the meringue is doing it's thing, mix the unbeaten egg whites with the almond/sugar mix to make a thick paste.  Add the coffee extract.

With a spatula, mix a third of the meringue with the almond paste to loosen it up, then add the rest and fold carefully.  (Not sure if you're doing it right?  This guy will show you.)

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.  (The author recommends that you stick the paper to the pan with a small dot of meringue at each corner.  I didn't and it was fine.)

Make small, evenly sized and shaped balls at regular intervals across the tray.  Tap the bottom of the tray lightly on your work surface and leave to dry slowly at room temperature for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 275º F.  Bake the macaron shells for 13 minutes.  Immediately upon taking them out of the oven, slide the parchment onto a dampened counter.  This will help the shells to release from the paper more easily.

To make the filling:

Beat the butter with mixer or electric beaters "until it has the consistency of very smooth ointment."

Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Add the almonds and coffee extract and beat for several minutes until the cream is very fluffy, almost doubling in volume.

Test and adjust the amount of coffee according to taste.

Pair your shells together, filling one with cream and gently sandwiching them together.

For the best flavor, let the macarons sit overnight in an airtight container before serving.

Not bad, eh?

Irresistible Macaroons (Les Petits Plats Francais)is full of beautiful pictures, step by step instructions, and lots of tantalizing recipes.  Now that I've made my first batch they're not so terrifying anymore.  I feel pretty certain I'll be making more for some bridal showers that are coming up.

Is there anything you've been wanting to try that you have been afraid to?  Don't put it off any longer!  Get in that kitchen and hop to it!

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