custom cakes/cookies

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macarons: trend predictions and ego maintenance

Trend ALERT: Have cupcakes met their match with the French macaron? The macaron may not be mainstream quite yet, but it's been speculated that it's coming. Ask most people (and I have) if they know what a macaron is, and they say “sure!”. Confirm by stating it doesn’t contain sweetened condensed milk or coconut; a bit puzzled, they say “oh?”. Compared to its American namesake, French macarons are a much more sophisticated meringue-style cookie traditionally made with ground almonds. Sandwiched together with a ganache or buttercream or jam or curd, these confections are infinitely customizable by flavor and color combinations. I first read about them a few years back in a foodie magazine article about Christmas gift suggestions. Intrigued, I looked into ordering some as a treat for myself but was shocked to find the shipping price as expensive as the cookies. Determined to have a taste, my next instinct was to figure out how to make them on my own. That’s when I stumbled across the blog of the lovely and talented Tartelette and read every tip and trick I could gather from her. With a great virtual mentor and perhaps beginners luck my first batch ever (tinted purple and filled with a lavender ganache) was perfect! And then I never made them again…

Fast forward to this month where 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. I was extremely excited to be reacquainted with macarons—I’ve already done this!

Unfortunately my first batch (cocoa flavored with spooky Halloween decorations) was disappointing. They tasted fine, but looked like sad little cracked and deflated disks, almost too soft and flimsy to hold a filling. I had read much about the finicky nature of the meringue batter, especially the careful attention needed during the macronage process (the technique of incorporating the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites), but had yet to experience it firsthand. Things worked fine for me the last time. What was I doing wrong this time? Needless to say my kitchen ego was a little bruised, so I regrouped ingredients, pulled out the Tartelette recipe I was comfortable using (sorry Claudia Fleming) and started over. Round two (still cocoa flavored but with fall leaf and pumpkin sugar decorations) turned out so much better. I achieved the much sought after "feet"—that little ruffled edge at the base of the cookie. Complete success!

For the filling I wanted something that evoked the flavors of fall, so I chose a spiced pumpkin, dark chocolate ganache. I adapted it from a recipe shared with me by my favorite local chocolatier, Nancy Biehn of Sweet Gem Confections. I shouldn’t have strayed as far away from her recipe as I did, as the ganache turned out to be a mini disaster of its own—major, inexplicable cocoa butter seepage from the fancy chocolate in which I invested quite a fair penny! I couldn’t get it to pull together to be cohesive with the rest of the mixture. Having run out of ingredients and time to start fresh, I decided to drain off the liquidy cocoa butter and use the remaining spread as is to fill my perfectly-footed macarons. In doing so, I duly noted the additional opportunity for an ego check—making a ganache is usually foolproof.

Understandably, if this hasn’t enticed you to try making these yourself and you want to check if any bakeries near you sell French macarons, here’s a good place to start.

Will the French macaron supplant the cupcake as the next sweet trend? Hmm, perhaps not all regions of the country will readily take to the frillier dessert. If you ask me, I think pie might need to be thrown in the mix for good Midwestern measure. This is just my humble prediction, but it may be quite likely if the amount of flaky pastry dough coming out of my kitchen this year is any sort of barometer.

Chocolate Macarons

3 egg whites (separated from yolks 3 days before baking and kept at a cool room temp)
50 grams granulated sugar
200 grams powdered sugar
110 grams blanched almonds
2 TBS cocoa powder

1. Combine the cocoa powder, powdered sugar and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery. Sift into a large bowl. Regrind any large leftover bits of nuts in a coffee grinder and add to bowl.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment to a foam. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks and you achieve a glossy meringue.
3. Add sifted almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently with a rubber spatula to combine. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes.
4. 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.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized rounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper). Let the macarons sit on the counter for an hour to harden their shells a bit.
6. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°F. Bake the macaron for 10-12 minutes.
7. Cool completely on a rack before filling.

Makes 2 dozen filled cookies

Spiced Pumpkin, Dark Chocolate Ganache
(this definitely needs tweaking)

1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup half and half
1 cup pumpkin puree
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
2 lbs chocolate, finely chopped and set aside in a large bowl

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients except for chocolate to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Let stand for a minute or so and then stir to incorporate. Ganache should be cooled slightly until firm enough to spread onto macarons.


Heather Anne said...

I would have probably drained the pumpkin puree overnight, or reduced it a bit first. Chocolate and water don't really like each other. They look beautiful though!!!! We are actually selling macarons at eve now... so maybe the trend is catching on :)

Heather Anne said...

ps... they are known for being very tricky little cookies...... so no need for a bruised ego.... they look amazing for your first try!

Riveted said...

I can so relate to the concept of a 'kitchen ego' and mine was recently bruised by a disastrous caramel. Wonderful post...I'm currently trying to claw my way through the computer screen to get at one of those yummy Macarons!

Shayne said...

I tried making these once about a year ago. am not sure if I will try that again.

Kim said...

Macarons are a favorite treat when we are traveling - I very much hope they replace the cupcake craze! And I have thought about trying to me them at may have just given me enough encouragement. :) Yours look beautiful!

Maggie said...

The decorations are beautiful! I'm so glad that another person didn't have any luck with the provided recipe.