Tuesday, February 19, 2013

French Macarons

About four years ago I had my first french macaron experience. I had just gotten hired as a counter girl and barista at La Bamboche, a Japanese/French fusion patisserie known for their macarons. Despite the fact that I was working at one of the top places in the city to get the Parisian treat, I much preferred indulging in their fresh-baked croissants and lemon tarts, rather than the many flavours of macarons. After trying a couple flavours of macarons, I found the little cookies much too sweet for my palate, and quickly turned away from them.

The sheer temptation of having so many different flavours, all dressed up in beautiful pastel shells, with a new feature flavour appearing each month, not to mention hearing the sighs of pleasure escape from the mouths of the many regulars that would come in to indulge in macarons each day, made it impossible for me to stay away from the confection. All it took was a few more tastes for me to be completely hooked. No longer did my mouth pucker from the immense sweetness, as I tickled my taste buds with flavours such as caramel seasalt, espresso, pistachio (my favourite!), and even lavender. As I continued working at La Bamboche, I watched as the macaron craze took off and became the new "it" treat in Toronto, with pastry shops popping up in every nook of the city featuring this special french cookie. Although it was much easier to buy macarons in Toronto, it was still rare to hear about anyone attempting to make them in their own home. Working at the patisserie, I knew just how complex the process of making macarons were, seeing how fickle and time consuming they can truly be, and never even considered that I would ever take an interest in making them myself. 

All that changed this Christmas when my boyfriend Chris got me a gift certificate for a Parisian Macaron Making class at Le Dolci. As much as I appreciated the thoughtful and generous gift so early on in the relationship, I have to admit that the thought of a macaron making class really intimidated me. As the date of my scheduled class approached, I started to get anxious about the idea of a hands-on class, making something so notoriously difficult. Yes, I was nervous about the class and how I would fare next to the other participants, but more than anything, I was freaked out over making them on my own after...or failing at them on my own after. I couldn't possibly accept a macaron making class as a gift and not even try to make them on my own. It was happening. The pressure of succeeding at making the treat, both in the class and out on my own, was increased tenfold by the fact that Chris just so happens to be a fantastic cook. With so much hype built up around my own "skills" in the kitchen thanks to my food blog, I was so incredibly nervous about living up to the hype in front of my new boyfriend. Talk about pressure!
Much of that pressure was immediately relieved as soon as the class at Le Dolci began. The class, which was led by the very charming Madalina Paul of Duhlicious, was so unbelievably informative, allowing us participants to learn all the tips and tricks to macaron making that I had never before read about online. That hands-on experience was so incredibly beneficial for me, being able to feel first hand exactly what the proper texture should be in each stage, with Madalina guiding us through the techniques every step of the way. I walked out of that class with a recipe, a ton of hand-written notes, a box of macarons that I could proudly say I made along with the class, and, most importantly, I walked out confident that I could recreate those delicate little cookies all on my own.

After another personal one-on-one macaron making lesson from Danielle at Sweet & Splendid Bakeshop, I was more than ready to take on the macaron by myself! I very carefully followed each step to macaron making, making sure to follow every single note that I jotted down from Madalina. It was when I was folding the egg whites into the almond flour mixture that I was sure that everything had gone macawrong! I was positive the texture was off. Although I could have very well tossed everything in the trash at this point to save myself from wasting any more ingredients, I took a deep breath and prevailed, trusting my instincts of when to stop folding and begin piping.

I must have sat on the floor in front of the oven the entire time those shells were baking, so eager to see if I had found macaron success. Sure enough, after adjusting the baking time (my shells needed about 3-5 extra minutes in the oven), my macaron shells turned out almost perfect! I can't describe to you how happy I was to find such success my first time making them on my own! The shells were crisp and chewy, with the texture just slightly off due to my shells being a little too large. I proudly packaged up the most aesthetically pleasing macarons for Chris, so excited for him to taste my success! The look on his face as he took his first bite of my Lemon Cream Cheese Macaron made that long, difficult, and messy process of making macarons all worth it! As much as I was pleased to impress my guy, more than anything, I was so proud and pleased with myself for tackling the difficult treat with such success.

Chris, thank you so much for encouraging me to go outside of my comfort zone and test my skills in the kitchen by making these treats. It's something that I never thought I would be able to do on my own, and it's because of you that I was able to take that leap and find such success with it. You are my official macaron taste tester!
Macaroon: A dense and moist cookie made with coconut and typically dipped in chocolate. Principal ingredients are coconut, egg white, and sugar. This cookie is characterized by its dense coconut peaks and chocolate base. Source: Duhlicious

Macaron: A light meringue-based and almond biscuit filled with ganache, buttercream, or jam. Principal ingredients are egg whites (whipped to stiff peaks), sugar, almond flour. The confectionary is characterized by its smooth, domed top, ruffled circumference (referred to as the "foot"), and flat base. The outer "shell" is delicate and brittle, and the interior is mildly moist. Source: Duhlicious

Note: 90g is approximately 3 eggs whites

Note: Use the filling of your choice!

Tip: Fresh eggs do not whip up as well as aged eggs.

Tip: Use large piping bags.

Tip: Don't be impatient when allowing your piped macarons to rest before placing in oven. You want them to form a shell on top.

Tip: To test whether your macarons have baked long enough, lightly tap them. They should not wiggle too much, just ever so slightly.

*This is an Italian meringue as opposed to a French meringue. An Italian meringue is ideal because it is near impossible to over mix. The taste and texture remain the same.
Macaron Shell
65g water
250g sugar
90g egg whites, room temperature

gel or powder food colouring (do not use liquid!)
250g almond flour (also known as almond meal)
250g icing sugar
90g egg whites, room temperature

  1. Gently and slowly stir together the water and 250g sugar until combined. You want to stir gently and slowly so that crystals do not form.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and water to a boil. Allow to cook, without stirring at all, until it reaches the soft ball stage. Using a pastry brush, brush water along the sides of the saucepan to deter crystals from forming around the sides of the pot. 
    1. Test for the soft ball stage by dipping a spoon into a glass of ice cold water, then dip into the centre of the sugar and water mixture, and then quickly back into the water. Feel with your fingers to see if you can form into a soft, gummy ball. You will reach this stage after the string stage, in which the sugar mixture will feel stringy between your fingertips.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer (make sure the bowl is spotless!), beat 90g of egg whites at moderate speed. Once the egg whites begin to look like a bubble bath, very slowly begin pouring in the sugar syrup, holding the saucepan higher than the mixing bowl so that it pours out in a thin, continuous stream. Increase speed to high and beat until the bowl is almost cool to the touch (its likely to retain a bit of warmth) and the egg whites form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks. You want to be able to turn the bowl upside down without the egg whites falling out.* 
  4. Combine almond flour and icing sugar in a food processor, pulsing until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and very fine. Sift into a large bowl and set aside. (I like to do this step ahead of time and set aside!) When the meringue is just about ready, fold in the remaining 90g egg whites into the almond flour and icing sugar mixture, along with a small amount of the food colouring.
  5. Carefully fold the meringue into the wet almond mixture, adding a little at a time (should take about 3 additions). Stop folding when the mixture is evenly combined and is the viscosity of lava or molasses. When piped, the macarons should hold a peak of about a second or two, and then they gradually find their round shape and flatten out.
    1. This is where you have to get a feel for when to stop mixing. It's easy to over or under mix at this point. Try scooping some of the mixture up and dropping back into the bowl. The mixture should slowly and gradually flatten back into the rest of the mixture in the bowl. If it holds its shape when plopped back in the bowl, you may need to continue folding for another 10 strokes or so. Continue folding and testing as needed until you have reached the "lava" viscosity.
  6. Pipe macarons onto a heavy parchment-lined sheet pan.
    1. If you do not have a heavy pan, layer two pans on top of each other, but I would still advise investing in at least one heavy pan. I got mine for a mere $15.
    2. Lay your printed macaron circle-shape guide under the parchment.
    3. Tack down the corners of the parchment with some macaron batter to ensure the corners do not fly up when baking.
    4. When piping, pipe vertically (don't hold the piping bag on a slant!) until batter fills the circle-shape guide. Pipe with your dominant hand, gently squeezing the batter, with your other hand guiding. When bater fills the circle-guide, quickly and carefully swirl your wrist, and stop piping so you are not left with peaks. My apologies, because this step is much easier to show than to explain.
  7. Rest macarons until they appear dull and are no longer tacky to the touch. Bake at 275ºF on the middle rack in a convection oven (310º for non-convection) for 10 minutes. To test for doneness tap the top of a macaron, if the bottom wiggles, it should bake for longer. Allow the macarons to cool before removing from pan and transferring to a cooling rack.
  8. Once completely cool, fill with ganache, buttercream, or other filling, and carefully top with the other shell half. Macarons are best enjoyed 24hrs after filling, allowing the shells to set and the filling to rehydrate centres. 
Recipe by Duhlicious
Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
150g cream cheese, at room temperature
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
zest of one lemon
1/2 - 3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together cream cheese and butter until soft and creamy. Stir in the lemon zest. Gradually add icing sugar to taste. 

Listening To:
Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul

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