Saturday, July 19, 2008

Curiosity Challenge~French Macaron

Have you ever tried to bake or cook something that you have never tasted before? If so, how did you know you made correctly made the item?

After reading about the many different macarons that Kat has tried, I thought, “these cookies must taste delicious.”

I began my research like I always do by using Google . Names like Pierre Herme and Ladurée popped up and I thought, “these things must be good if there are stores selling macarons and people wait in line for them!”

It’s a French pastry that is not to be confused with the chewy coconut macaroon. One letter change makes a big difference. Just like when Pilates exercise was gaining popularity about 8 years ago, I thought it was an exercise combining ballet plies. Okay, okay, that more than a difference of a few letters, but still, I thought it was the same thing.

Getting back to macarons....macarons are composed of blanched almond meal flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, egg whites, and flavorings. They are quite popular in France and Japan, but to my knowledge are not quite popular in America yet.

Being the naïve yet ambitious baker that I am, I decided to start my own “curiosity challenges” just for myself. Why should I only limit myself to the “Daring Bakers” monthly challenges. Some would call me a “lazy baker” but I’d prefer to refer to myself as a “smart baker.” I skim recipes and I sometimes merge recipes together to get the best of both worlds. My philosophy is why should I spend 3 hours in the kitchen when I can do the same thing in one hour.

After my extensive research (i.e. googling “macaron history,” “macaron recipes,” etc), I found these sites to be the most helpful. Dave Lebovitz , and Serious Eats interview with Dorie Greenspan. On the Serious Eats site, there is a labeled diagram breaking down the key components to the perfect macaron. It’s composed of two stacked cookies (with feet) with a meringue inside and a thin eggshell crust filled with a filling of choice.

Reading Dave Lebovitz’s blog was quite entertaining and may soon become one of my favorite blogs. He conducted seven trials and came up with a recipe, so I decided to try it. Plus, his recipe involved pulverizing the almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor, and that sounded heavenly as composed to sifting the ingredients to ensure fine particles. Dave’s recipe also did not involve letting the dough sit for an hour to obtain a “skin” on the top of the dome. Isn’t this recipe sounding better and better? He’s managed to cut down the macaron-making time by 1.5 hours.

Dave Lebovitz’s Chocolate Macarons

Macaron Batter
1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces , 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
3 tablespoons (25 gr) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 gr) granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn't quite fine enough.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you're alone).

Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the countertop to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

*I modified his recipe by adding a half a pinch of salt. Also I only had Trader Joe’s almond meal, so my almond meal had skin on it. If you do not have the pristine cream-colored almond meal, make chocolate macarons, you can’t tell there are skins in it.

Oh and so how do obtain those cute little signature feet on the bottom of the macaron? After you pipe your batter onto the baking sheet, gently lift your baking pan up a few inches(less than 3) and let if drop to the counter. Repeat a few times. That’s my definition of “rap”

I have not graduated to making a filling and a sandwiched macaron. I figure, one step at a time. The end result for my first attempt was quite positive. I do think that I bake what people would call a French macaron. The outer layer was thin and delicate like an eggshell, the middle had a slight chewiness to it like a meringue cookie, but with more give, the cookie had feet, and for the most part the domed top was smooth. But how would I know if I did. It’s not like there are any stores in Champaign, IL that sell perfect macarons for me to compare my little light domes to.

In a future post I will seek to explain why almond meal paste (almond flour) is a key ingredient in a macaron. Why not use just plain flour with high protein? My spur of the moment guess would be that it’s because of the fat and protein content of almond meal


Lori said...

I tried a couple macarons at Ala Moana for the first time this summer. That close up picture you have looks just like the chocolate one I had! :)

K and S said...

OMG that is so great for the first try! I heard that the almond meal shouldn't have cornstarch mixed into it or it will go flat. I give you credit for trying to make these!

genkitummy said...

yay! at least they look right. i'm still working on it.

thanks for the boost of confidence. i better open up one of my food chem books or "on food and cooking" and read about the chemistry behind cornstarch and almond meal. thanks for the tip!

Debinhawaii said...

How impressive! They look great! I love Macarons. The ones at the Pacific Place Tea Garden by Neimans in Ala Moana are good-they have a French trained pastry chef make them if you get a chance to try them on your trip back.

chou said...

I loved them. And as you know, Ben proclaimed them cookies to fight over. Or something like that. As we wandered into our different corners and tried to eat the ones you gave us as fast as we could!

Mike said...

Wish I could have tried some :(

genkitummy said...

deb-i'll have to go try those macarons at neiman marcus when i'm back home next week! thanks for the tip.

c.-i'm glad i could share the macarons with you! i tried them a few days later and they were icky. i had to throw them away. i guess the shelf life is pretty short.

mike-you'll be making those when you're here in champaign. :)

Lore said...

Havan't tried my hand at macarons yet. Yours tuned out great!

Nellie said...

Art Mart has some baby-sized macarons in pistachio, rose, vanilla, and chocolate. They're pretty good!


genkitummy said...

hi! thanks for stopping by my blog. and thank you for the suggestion. i'll go check out artmart in the next few weeks when i stop by the urbana farmer's market.

Susan said...

I just found your blog now when searching to make macarons and it was startling to see that you were in Champaign IL since thats where im at now haha! This post was also very helpful!

genkitummy said...

Susan-Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog. What a small world. I've been moving a bunch over the past few years and was last in Champaign, IL in 2009.