Cooking my way through Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets, plus other treats I come up with
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Happy Macaron Day!
I'm not making this up, the 20th of March is Macaron Day! In Paris (and apparently New York*), bakeries give out free macarons. In honor of the occasion, I'll post some pictures of my latest (4th) attempt at making macarons.
Not to be confused with macaroons, macarons (I always get made fun of when I use the I'm-choking-on-broccoli French 'r') are almond and egg white cookies that sandwich buttercream, ganache, jam, even ketchup. The little cookies should have a delicately crisp shell on the outside, fluffy and slightly chewy on the inside, and most importantly, have a frilly skirt or "feet" on the bottom (otherwise they can't be called macarons). They're notoriously difficult to make, since they require precision and accuracy in temperature control, beating time, moisture, etc.
My first attempt was a total disaster, the cookies turned out crisp and flat as a pancake. But it wasn't really my fault, since the recipe for chocolate macarons in this book had a egregious typo (someone was too copy/paste happy). The second time I used the standard recipe from the same book, but I over-beat the batter (there's even a verb for beating macaron batter, macaronner). The third time, I used the Italian meringue recipe here (there are different schools of macaron-making, mainly based on what type of meringue is used in the batter. An Italian meringue is hot syrup beat into egg white foam. A French meringue is sugar beat into egg white foam). The batter had the right consistency, but it was too sweet and I ended up with molten sugar everywhere. I was too disappointed to make a filling, but I shamelessly fed the shells to my coworkers.
Incidentally, this is what happens to your beater when you whisk soft-ball syrup into egg whites.
I switched back to the French meringue school. This time, I picked a recipe that had the highest almond powder to sugar ratio I could find. I want my macaron to be fluffy and tender on the inside, not sticky sweet. Armed with two oven thermometers (I found out my oven's about 50 F off) and two professional baking sheets from the restaurant supply store (which ironically cost less than one of my regular nonstick flimsy sheets), I carefully made another batch of macarons. I even made coffee buttercream to go with it!
The macarons were pretty good, definitely sell-able in Seattle, especially after they've been refrigerated for a day (to be fair, coffee buttercream makes most things delicious). I'm not too happy with the shells - the fluffy texture in my favorite Parisian macarons still eludes me, you can see how the top crust crumbles into the air pocket in the shell - but I'm making progress.
There'll be a lot more tinkering in the kitchen. Stay tuned.
*I'm rather alarmed by New York's "Macaron - the New Cupcake" slogan. Does that mean in a few years Seattle will also be flooded by mediocre macarons? Given that macarons are a hell lot harder to make than cupcakes, I'm curious how bakeries will adjust. Maybe I should get ahead of the curve and start a chain now. Macaron Royale, anyone?