Wednesday, November 10, 2010

cranberry macarons

Now I know that our grandparents probably never made macarons. They probably haven't even had macarons! They are probably more familiar with the shredded coconut macaroons. That said, I know my grandma used to make meringues for my mom growing up. Macarons are not so far off from meringues. These little macarons have a meringue base that is mixed with very finely ground almonds.

I tend to make a jam, curd, or whatnot, use it once, and then store it in my refrigerator for a long time. I'm making an effort to use what I make, so pardon the use of cranberry curd so many times! Thank goodness it's all gone now, so I promise no more cranberry posts (for a while)!

Making macarons is not for the faint of heart. I am going to be honest with you, they are very difficult. That must be why they are so expensive! Sadly, my favorite Parisian shop in town that sold macarons recently closed. What was I to do but learn to make them on my own? Well, I could go to Paris and have a macaron from Pierre Hermé, the father of macarons! Sigh. Someday!

This was my 4th attempt making macarons, and I am brimming with happiness. They turned out beautifully! Lucky for you, I've got it down and I'm ready to share my secrets! The owner of that Parisian shop shared a few secrets of macaron making with me, and I have learned many of my own tips through experience and research.

For one thing, I learned that you cannot make macarons the day of unless you have a microwave, because the egg whites must "aged."  That means they must have been sitting out at room temperature for at least 24 hours.  I don't have a microwave, but if you do, you have a microwave, you can put them in for 10 seconds.  That tends to evaporate some of the moisture out the eggs. 

Second, you should not make macarons the day of anyway, because they need to sit in the fridge for a day or two so that the flavors can develop.  Then you sit them out at room temperature for serving.

Third, and this is the tip my Parisian shop owner friend shared with me, make sure to use several baking pans stacked on top of each other.  My baking pans are not commercial strength, and so they tend to be very thin.  If you stack two or three together, it makes the temperature more even and the bottoms don't burn as easily.

Lastly, if you are using food coloring, you need to use powdered food coloring.  If not, see my note on using food coloring below. 

There is a basic ratio for macarons. This site, Syrup and Tang, really helped me, because I don't always want to make a large batch (which is 12 macarons).  I'd like to make just 6 at a time.

Here is the ratio from Syrup and Tang:
Ingredient Amount Example (with eggwhite=50 gm )
Almond meal 1.3 x eggwhite 1.3 x 50 = 65 gm
Icing sugar 1.6 x eggwhite 1.6 x 50 = 80 gm

Castor sugar 0.8 x eggwhite 0.8 x 50 = 40 gm
Egg white
50 gm

Total weight
_______ 235 gm
A batter with 50 gm egg white should yield one baking tray 30 cm x 40 cm or approximately 25 shells.

Make sure you have the proper equipment:
  • scale - everything is measured and precise when you are making macarons
  • piping bag with a large round tip, a #807 or #808 would work.
  • parchment paper
And the proper ingredients:
  • blanched, ground almonds
  • powdered sugar
  • granulated sugar
  • aged egg whites
  • food coloring (see my note above on food coloring)
  • Plus a filling of your choice! I used my cranberry curd.

    Blanch your almonds:

    To blanch almonds, you put your almonds in a bowl, boil water and then cover the almonds.  After 1 minute, rinse the almonds with cool water a few times.

    Feel free to pour yourself a cup of tea with the remaining hot water - that's what I did!

    This is where the hard work begins. Start popping the almonds out of their skins. Hate making macarons yet? Probably, but the cookies are so amazing, I'm sure you'll keep going.
    You have to squeeze each of these almonds out of their stinking shells!
    After the almonds are blanched, grind them in a food processor until they look like Parmesan cheese. Have you ever had spaghetti ice? This is the topping!  

    If the almonds are the slightest bit wet, that's a problem. The balance of wet and dry ingredients is essential in macarons.  You'll need to spread them out on a cookie sheet and put them in an oven on 200 degrees Fahrenheit until they dry.   It takes about 5 minutes, but keep a close eye on them because they will burn. Issues when using food coloring A note about using food coloring that I found on Delectable Deliciousness' blog. The mixture of anything wet, even food coloring, changes the balance of liquids in your macaron batter. Therefore, mix your food coloring or gel coloring with the granulated sugar until it's mixed. Careful, you can end up with pink fingers like me! Once it's incorporated, put it in the oven at a low temperature, about 200F, like you did the almonds. Let it dry out for a few minutes, keeping a close eye on it. Finally!  Time to start baking! Once you have your ground almonds, measure out all of your ingredients on your scale. Sift the powdered sugar and the almonds together. Start to beat your egg whites until they are foamy. Then start to add your sugar slowly to the foamy egg whites. You know its ready when you have firm peaks like this! Add your powdered sugar and almonds to the mix in two batches. You want to get those almonds stirred in there as fast as possible, but making sure you aren't over-mixing which causes hard macarons. Scoop your mixture into a piping bag. It's easier if you stick your bag in a cup like this. Pipe your rounds onto silpat or parchment lined baking sheets.  This is tricky if your stacked baking sheets are a little wobbly, but it'll be okay. I made a macaron guide on the back of a grocery bag to slide underneath the parchment so I can see how big my macarons are. It's best to hold your hand steady over the circles as they fill, rather than doing a circular motion. If you see lots of bubbles in your macarons, knock the side of the pan to get them out. Next, let your macarons sit for a while.  I let my macarons sit for an hour to dry. This is key!! They form a skin on the top that helps them rise and make their little "feet."
Pretty macarons sitting on a pan, waiting to be baked!
    Bake at 350 for 2 minutes, then stick a wooden stick in the door and turn down the oven to 315. They should form feet around 5 minutes in.  Let them bake for about 15 minutes.   Be warned, these little darlings are sensitive. You have to watch them because each oven is different. Where your heating mechanism is in your oven can really affect your macarons. I'd suggest turning them in the oven if you know your oven heats unevenly, like mine. Once they are done, pull them out and let them cool for a couple minutes. Pull them off the parchment, they should come off easily. Match macaron shells that are the same size. Pipe in your favorite butter cream, jam, or cranberry curd! Store in the refrigerator for a few days to meld the flavors, then sit out at room temperature to serve.