French Macarons/Macaroons? Up until a few months ago I had never seen or heard of them (yes I have been living under a rock). Coconut Macaroons, yes, but not the French version. And then Ami S. at Daring Bakers selected them for this month's baking challenge. Oh, la, la. What a daring challenge.
Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, dark and luscious chocolate filling in between. Lovely.
But my first adventure in Macaroon land wasn't without some missteps.
The recipe all Daring Bakers were required to use is as follows:
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have 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 overfold, 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. 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.
I thought a while about flavorings and decided on blackcurrant cookies (flavored using Twining's Blackcurrant tea) and semi-sweet ganache filling. I also didn't want to make a whole batch, so I cut the recipe in half. Question: just how do you split an egg white in half!#$#@ It kept oozing off the spoon!
Step one: beat the egg whites. I read somewhere that "stiff peak" egg whites should cling when held upside down. Looks clingy to me.
Next I added the dry ingredients (in thirds) to the egg whites. I had a little trouble incorporating the almond flour/sugar into the whites, and I think I over mixed the stuff. My egg whites started to deflate and look soupy. Poor little pink egg whites.
Next I piped the macarons onto the parchment paper. They spread a little, but the tops were smooth and shiny. They looked perfect to my macaron novice eyes.
Into the oven they went, first for 5 minutes at 200 degrees F, and then 8 minutes at 375 degrees F. When I took them out I was not pleased. 1) They did not rise, 2) the required macaron "foot" was hardly noticeable, and 3) they didn't look cooked.
Back in the oven they went for another 5 minutes at 375 degrees. But after 5 minutes I still was not happy with the end product. I tried to pull one off the parchment paper and it stuck like glue. Then I tasted it.
Yuck! It still tasted raw.
My first batch of French Macarons was a total failure. Into the trash it went.
For my second attempt I did a little more research.
On a blog called One Bite More I found a recipe similar to the Daring Baker's recipe, but it was already adjusted to a half batch. It also added a small amount of powdered egg whites to help stabilizer the raw egg whites. I also liked the fact that the egg white quantity was given in weight and not just number of eggs.
Macaron Ingredients (second try)
100g egg whites
2g powdered egg whites
50g white sugar
200g icing sugar mixture
110g almond meal
There were also a few additional step in the directions from One More Bite.
- The egg whites are microwaved for 10 seconds at medium power before you start to beat them. The post-microwaved egg whites didn't look any different (it does not cook them), but apparently this step evaporates a small portion of the water content from the egg whites. You do this instead of letting the egg whites age for three days.
- The almond flour is toasted in a 285 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Again this is done to remove excess moisture from the almond flour. I'm beginning to think that excess moisture plays a big part in macaroon failure. Hummmm, may be not the best cookie to bake on hot, humid New Orleans days.
Now in mortal fear to introducing moisture to my macaroon batter, I decided not to add any food coloring paste to this batch. "Better safe than pink", I said. I also skipped the blackcurrant tea. This time around I was shooting for plain almond cookies with chocolate ganache filling.
- The One More Bite directions also say to add all the dry ingredients at once and not in thirds like the original Daring Baker instructions. I dumped it all in a once, and I was much gentler in my folding of the dry ingredients into the egg whites. My batter ended up much stiffer this time (almost too thick). When I piped out my circles they didn't spread at all and the piping tip left little points on top of the cookies. I should have flattened the points with my finger, but I didn't think about it until later.
Here are my babies just out of the oven. Nice and puffy with pretty little feet. Those little pointy tops kinda irked me, but live and learn. I also baked them a little longer than necessary (5 minutes at 200 degrees and 12 minutes at 375 degrees), but after my first batch came out raw I didn't want to take a chance.
And no sticking this time, the cookies slid off the parchment paper with just a little push. And that, Grasshopper, is what happens when you over-bake.
So in the end I deemed my macaron adventure an almost-complete success. They were a little too puffy, a little overcooked, and those pointy tops just scream amateur. But all-in-all a fun and rewarding experience. I can't wait to see what the Daring Challenge is for November 2009.