I am writing this post as I munch on a Miette chocolate macaron that my husband bought me. That should tell you how well my macaron making experience went during this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. Ami S. asked us to make macarons using a recipe from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. We could use any filling our hearts desired.
[Note: Macarons, which originated in France, are meringue sandwich cookies typically made with almonds. They should not be confused with macaroons (you know, those coconut ones).]
I have always wanted to make my own macarons, but laziness usually prevails. It's much easier to just pop over to Miette or Paulette (both in Hayes Valley near my beloved Blue Bottle), but they can be pricey at $1.50 and $1.60 each respectively. I never leave without 2 macarons. And more often than not, it's more like 6 or 12! But the DB challenge was a perfect opportunity to try making them myself.
I read posts by Helen, Duncan and Veronica. I watched videos in French even though I couldn't understand 90% of what they were saying. I religiously read the DB private forums about macaron making. I ordered an insanely large bag of blanched almond flour online and stocked up on plenty of eggs and confectioners' sugar. And I started early in the month, soon after the challenge was first announced, which is uncharacteristic for me since I always wait until the very last minute to try the recipe. The great part about starting so early was that I was able to try the recipe many times before the posting date.
Unblanched (skin-on) almonds (Trader Joe's almond meal). I aged my egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours and whipped them to stiff peaks. Single sheet pan. I tried both parchment and silicone baking mats. No problems removing the macarons from the pan using either. Macarons have the ruffled foot, but the foot extended beyond the border of the shell. Some had fissures and cracks. Helen's advice was to mix less and to stack a second sheet pan underneath the first to promote even heat distribution. The almond skins gave the macarons a more pronounced almond flavor, but the skin-flecked shells appeared less refined than ones made with blanched almonds.
Attempt 1: Batter flattened out nicely.
Attempt 1: Some shells developed fissures.
Blanched (no-skin) almonds (Honeyville almond flour). I aged my egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours and whipped them to stiff peaks. I used a second sheet pan and silicone baking mats. No problems removing the macarons from the pan. I was careful to gently fold in the almond-sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites. The ruffled foot did not extend beyond the border of the shell (yippee! - that's how it's supposed to be). But I had a huge air pocket under the shell (blah! - not what I want) and they looked like hamburger buns which my taste testing co-workers found amusing. Using blanched almonds gave the macarons a more delicate flavor than those made with unblanched almonds.
Attempt 2: Foot ruffle good, air pocket bad, looks like hamburger bun.
Blanched (no-skin) almonds. I aged my egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours and whipped them to stiff peaks. I used a second sheet pan and silicone baking mats. After watching some how-to videos and reading the DB forums, I decided to mix in the almond-sugar mixture with purpose instead of gently folding. Advice was to "fold and press" to incorporate the almond-sugar and to somewhat deflate the batter. The batter should be smooth and "flow like magma". Also, I tested the batter by making sure a ribbon of batter drizzled on top of the rest of the batter would disappear within 30 seconds. After piping out the batter I also gently rapped the sheet pan to release any large air bubbles.
My baked macarons were flatter than in attempt 2, but the ruffled foot extended beyond the border of the shell and I still had that pesky air pocket under the shell. The macarons would not come off the silicone baking mat even after letting them cool for a couple hours. So I had to bake them in the oven until they would come off. That extra baking time darkened the shells to a light golden brown. They still tasted good but a bit toasty. The photo at the beginning of my post is from attempt 3.
Attempt 3: Shells darkened from extra baking to get them off the silicone mat, darned air pocket still there.
Method and results identical to attempt 3, but I didn’t bother re-baking them to remove them from the silicone mat. I just scraped them off the silicone mats with an icing spatula. They were a sticky mess but the thin delicate outer shell remained intact.
Attempt 4: Batterlooks promising.
Attempt 4: I just can't get the ruffled foot right.
Even though they all tasted really good with the salted almond butter filling I made, I would consider all four attempts failures. Attempt 2 had the best ruffled foot as it did not extend beyond the border of the shell. Attempts 3 and 4 had the right flat shaped but the ruffle was wrong and I still had that air pocket. I need to figure out how to get rid of the air pocket! It happens when I gently fold the almond-sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites and it also happens when I "fold and press" with purpose. I am getting pretty good at piping out the macaronage into circles of the same size. I am now officially obsessed with making them over and over again until I get it right. Then I will no longer need to buy them anymore.
The fine print:
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.
Confectioners’ powdered (icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated (or superfine) sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g, 0.88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 large (156 g) (at room temperature)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). 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. 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.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t over fold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
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 (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes at 200°F (93°C). 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.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen (5 dozen sandwich cookies)
Salted Almond Butter Filling
1/2 cup creamy almond butter (store bought or homemade)
1 cup confectioners' powdered sugar
3 tbsp softened butter
1/8 tsp pure almond extract
1/2 tsp fine sea salt (or salt to taste)
1-2 tbsp almond milk or whole milk
Combine all ingredients and only 1 tablespoon of almond milk in a mixing bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of almond milk if it's too stiff.