Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Let's Do the Macaron Baby

I know this must have been going on for quite some time now, but the Macaron conspiracy finally got to me. After having read so much about Laduree's Macarons, especially the ones by Pierre Herme, every fibre in my being pleaded that I try baking this at least once. I envisioned grandiose kitchen mastery where I would be whipping up Macarons of varied flavours: Chocolate with a deep velvety smooth dark Ganache, Rose scented to conjure illusions of romance, Matcha's bittersweet fill for stark zen, Lavender infused to bring forth the clarity of spirtual wellbeing. Very simply, rainbow-coloured gerbet Macarons began thumping the good march across my visions , beckoning, cajoling, taunting me to creation.

I'm beginning to understand why I term myself the experimental one. I adore prolific words used when describing baked confections and I salivate over a great visual. I experiment to see how far short I fall of the visually stunning or scrumptious product. I am usually in the kitchen within a week or two after scoffing down or reading a great confectionery description. With the inborn competitive nature, I crave the exultations when something works. And these Macarons, presented me with multitudes of accolades, namely from family and colleagues. People who are familiar with my experiments, know honest opinions are the only price for tasting my re-creations. I think one of my colleagues even teared when she saw my Macarons because she never thought I would make something she had tasted and thought delicious, years ago.

I started doing extensive homework because even the most successful (in my opinion) flog Macaron connoisseurs seem to go in depth of what can and will go wrong for novices. Yet others who are professional cooking instructors (again, in my opinion), raise woes on times where the Macaron Goddess was displeased with them, thus churning out a disappointing batch.

Then I chanced upon NicoleKaplan's simplistic approach in an eGullet thread. She gives a 'show and tell' process that very simply guarantees success. Her Italian meringue method of the recipe gave me the very lifeline I needed. I wrote to her for some advice and promised, if successful, to name my firstborn batch of macarons in her honour.

So with ingredients, a fine mesh sieve and a prayer, I embarked on this. I must have been dropped on the head one time too many by the birthing nurse.

Problem #1
I gather Almond Flour is not actually a white flour but is actually ground almonds. That being said, even after 1 hour of copious sifting, I could not get the almond flour through my fine mesh sieve. After much dainty cussing and swearing, I chucked the entire lot in with the sifted icing sugar & cocoa.

Problem #2
I did not know how much Ghirardelli cocoa to add to my Chocolate Maracons so I just winged and eyeballed it, with much fear, as Nicole instructed.

Problem #3
My Silpat birthday presents could not fit into my tiny little oven and hence I resorted to wax paper. Surprisingly, this seems to assist in lifting the delicate little crisps off the tray, with some careful maneuvering of course. I did read somewhere that Macarons were never meant for the home convection oven and this had me quaking in my boots for all of 12 minutes when my babies were in the oven.

Problem #4
She who forgets she is in the tropics, shall die a terrible Ganache-y death.
I really wanted a bitterish sweet filling to counter the achingly sweet Macarons, so I resorted to Ganache once again (refer to failed piping in my previous post on Cupcake). Obviously I wasn't using my head because once it is piped...
- Do I refrigerate the entire Macaron so the Ganache doesn't ooze out pathetically in our heat?
- Will the Macaron go soft with the moisture in the fridge?
- Will the chewy bits harden? Argh!

Problem #5 (upon cross examination after the deed)
Someone scaled down the recipe by 1/8 but I just realised something AFTER I baked the macs that the proportions don't seem right. Eeps! Actually all is not lost, my recipe below still tastes pretty decent. Crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside. However, I reserve my rights to reverse this judgement till I have actually tasted one of Pierre Herme's.

Anyway, this is the re-produced recipe from NicoleKaplan's eGullet thread:

Basic Macaron Recipe
2 kgs TPT (tant pour tant)
1 kgs Sugar
750 gms Egg Whites

1. Sieve dry ingredients at least once
2. Next start an Italian meringue, bring your sugar syrup to soft ball stage (235-240 F / 118-120 C), and slowly add to your soft peak whites. Whip until lukewarm.
Water to sugar ratio: 25% the weight in water to the sugar (62.50 gms water and yes, I disallow failure). I used a candy thermometer that had a nifty marking that read 'Softball Stage' so I didn't really fret over when would be a good time to stop the cooking process.
3. Then slowly fold the dry ingredients into your meringue in about 3 batches. You do not need to be super careful in fact you want to keep mixing until the batter takes on a kind of shine.
4. Next with a large round tip pipe your macarons onto a silpat and let air dry for 10-20 minutes until a crust forms on top of them.
5. Then bake at 275 degrees (130 C) until they puff up and when you grab the tops and jiggle them a bit they are almost set but still offer a little movement. Let cool and then flip them over and brush the undersides with the syrup of your choice. Fill, stick together and enjoy.

Note: I managed to yield approx. 104 macarons (meaning you can expect 52 filled macarons)

Ganache Recipe (Doubled from what I originally used)
120 gms Unsweetened Chocolate
255 gms Valrhona 64% cacao Manjuri
58 gms Unsalted Butter
360 gm Heavy Cream - abv 36% fat

1. Melt chopped chocolate with butter over a water bath
2. Boil cream over small-medium heat till it boils.
3. Add cream to chocolate butter mixture.
4. Whisk till well mixed. I used Thick cream instead because I bought that by mistake.
Difference being that thick / whipping cream contains at most 36% fat, whilst heavy cream has to contain at least 36% fat. Whipped cream whips faster but loses form more quickly. Heavy cream conversely, takes a longer time to whip and doesn't gather as much volume as whipped cream. Of course, heavy cream doesn't lose its whipped shape as quickly either. From my trial, the thick cream that I bought doesn't seem to whip into any volume at all.
5. Cool and then pipe when the cream can hold form

- The Ganache I originally made is half the fore-mentioned recipe, thus, I still have at least 13 unfilled Macarons leftover. I might try out an Italian Buttercream with no added flavouring.

During the entire process, I was in a constant state of fright from start to finish.
I fretted over the unsifted almond flour causing huge craters.
I fussed that I folded too much and too little.
I felt faint when I didn't see any skins form during the airing stage.
I stressed if my Macarons would be handicapped (without pretty little feet) of if my little divas would develop 'dainty' Size 0 or Size 12 feet.
I worried if the Maracons would keep in an airtight container in my humid weather.

In retrospect after all the calculations and fears are done, I think I managed a fairly decent attempt on my virgin foray into the Macaron dance. True, it may not be the best looking Macs in town... and the piping could have been done more generously. But I would give myself a pat on the back nonetheless and name these... My NicKap's Macarons. Again, excuse the poor excuse of a photographer... me.

(Listen up soldiers!)

(We have Nicole to thank for our nifty feet)

Ready to roll?

Do we look like The Leaning Tower of Pisa... huh? Do we? Do we?

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