Monday, April 22, 2013
Eight mini-batches later, I think I sort of know how to make macarons! Macarons that LOOK like macarons, I mean! I don't think I have the exact temperature and time down yet but there are a lot of things I know now that I didn't know a few weeks ago when I first attempted "the divas of the pastry world." Most of my attempts, other than the first try, happened in the last week. Some things I learned:
Our oven is either a) running a bit hot or b) not at the correct temperature when it dings to say it's preheated. After a couple days of oven experiments with various thermometers, my gut tells me it's probably about 15 degrees hot but also definitely needs to preheat for about 15-20 minutes past when it dings. Otherwise at that point the temperature is still climbing.
Proper meringue consistency - definitely dry-looking and super-stiff. The first try I did nail this, the next few I started second-guessing myself and being worried about over-beating. I know what it looks like now.
Why every batch kept tearing open instead of rising and growing feet - likely this was a combination of a few things (oven too hot, runny meringue) but the biggest breakthrough here occurred when I realized that the larger bubbles in the batter needed about 10 minutes to come out. Prior to this discovery I was just following other recipes that said to rap the pan sharply a couple times after piping and you were good to go. It could be the fact that I'm making such small batches and therefore mixing the batter much less than you would for a full-sized batter that makes it not possible to get most of the air out during mixing, but whatever it is, I need to sit with the tray for 5-10 minutes and drop it hard on the kitchen table every minute or so until the bubbles aren't coming anymore. After figuring this one out, I had two almost completely crack-free batches! WITH FEET!
I also started using the Wild Serendipity Foods recipe instead of Bravetart's, figuring my best chance at success was trying a recipe that someone is having success with in my own city. It has given me better success however I plan to try the Bravetart recipe again soon to check if the problems with it were just my technical mistakes. One thing I like about Michelle's recipe is that you mix half the dry ingredients in with the wet first, and then add the rest of the dry. This seems to allow me to get everything mixed together better, but again I'll have to give the less-tedious Bravetart recipe another go eventually.
One interesting tidbit - my first batch was made with hazelnuts and so was my last batch. By far, my best batch was my last, but of course it should be. However the hazelnuts seem to make for a bit thicker of a batter and overall a bit easier to work with. And, more delicious than almonds. I imagine the thickness of the batter/higher rising is due to the higher fat content of hazelnuts. Personally they may become my nut of choice for macarons, though I will have to try out a few more varieties.
Stuff I still need to learn - the exact cooking time and temperature to use so I don't dry them out. I'm still a bit terrified of underbaking them (the dreaded hollow shells) and today's two batches looked amazing but were totally dry after cooling and also browned considerably. You don't want browning and they should apparently still be a bit chewy after cooling - but this is easily remedied by filling them with icing or jam and allowing them to absorb that moisture overnight.
I'll end this post with a couple of pictures of today's successes:
Finally - feet! (Almond above)
Even bigger feet! Hazelnut.
And the best part - no hollow shell! This one was a bit cracked, and you can tell it's quite dry from all the browning but it set properly and looked like a macaron so I'm declaring today a major victory!
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Okay okay... it's been like, forever. I apologize and also hope that some people are still subscribed to this/still check it every so often to see if I've made any new posts. I promise I am making a comeback. Things were really busy for a while and then I just got out of blogging and had a hard time getting back into it, but I'm going to try harder this time.
Anyway what better way to make my comeback than macarons?
If you don't know what macarons are, do a Google image search. You will likely come up with lots of GORGEOUS pictures, like this one (source: chantelguertin.com):
Truly, macarons are one of the most photographed pastries. They are also one of the most feared pastries, according to what the internet tells me. Only attempted by the most accomplished of bakers and even then, often resulting in failure.
After hearing about how difficult they were to make I kind of decided against ever trying them, but after eating a lot of them from Wild Serendipity Foods at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market and starting to really love these little almond-meringue confections, I started wondering if they might be possible. Then a couple weeks ago I stumbled across this post from Stella of Bravetart, linked from my favourite food blog The Kitchn. This led me to Stella's other posts about macarons and the comments of her posts where once-afraid readers attempted macarons using her recipe to (eventual) great success.
So then I was like, "I HAVE TO DO THIS."
Honestly, I don't really know what happened but I have never been hit with a baking obsession like this before. I basically started feeling like I wouldn't be satisfied with my life until I had a) tried and eventually b) mastered making macarons. Being at work and unable to make macarons, I scoured blog posts of amateur bakers' failed attempts, trying to figure out what went wrong for them. They clearly had mixed too much, or didn't measure properly, or didn't bake long enough. I could totally do this.
We're going to Hawaii on Saturday (!!!) but today, after getting up early, cleaning the bathrooms, and doing pretty much all the laundry in our house, I decided I needed to make a small batch. Just an attempt.
I used the Bravetart recipe, subbing hazelnuts for almonds because Stella says any kind of nuts work. I weighed out one egg white in a bowl (and yes, I made Brahm go buy me a kitchen scale while I was at work so I could be ready to make my first batch of macarons whenever the urge hit) and scaled Stella's recipe based on 31 g of egg whites (it worked out to about 1/5 of her recipe). I don't have a stand mixer so I used the whisk attachment on my new Breville immersion blender for the meringue (which did take about 10 minutes), and then the food processor attachment on the Breville to make the hazelnut flour. PS I LOVE this Breville thing and I haven't even used it for the reason I bought it yet (pureeing soups).
Following Stella's recipe, I mixed the macaronage to what seemed like the right consistency. Then I used a Ziploc (perhaps committing one of the cardinal sins of macarons, but I didn't want to run to the store) to pipe 13 rounds onto a Silpat. The last couple rounds definitely got "re-mixed" in the "piping bag" as I squeezed out the last bit of batter so I was expecting them to be the worst ones. Turns out they were the only ones that even started developing a hint of the "feet" that are so important to proper macarons - next time, I know I need to mix more.
Below: before baking. The few at the front of the picture were the least-mixed, and were the ones that started to grow feet a bit by the end. But were also slightly undercooked.
After baking... all cracked. Sorry for the bad phone picture. I should have dug out the SLR for more detailed photos.
The final product - hazelnut-vanilla macarons with Nutella filling.
My oven was running hot, but it was also seeming to have trouble going down, according to the temperature probe I had in it. So I tossed them in anyway and 7 minutes later they all had lovely cracks running through their surfaces - apparently a sure sign of a too-hot oven. So then I turned the oven down the amount that it seemed to be running hot, which then made it too cold... anyway. I need to calibrate this oven before my next attempt.
BUT! They still sort of turned out. They didn't get super flat like the ones I saw on some blogs and a couple of the ones that got the most mixing had the makings of feet. I didn't turn the pan which is recommended, and I noticed the row at the front of the oven was slightly undercooked, but the middle row seemed to be cooked perfect. And they taste amazing so really, who cares?
I think my first attempt at making macarons was a success, even though they turned out less-than-perfect. I figured out a few things I need to change for next time (oven temperature consistency, mix more, turn the pan, pipe from a real piping bag). My plan is to continue making tiny one-egg batches until I get my technique down. And I currently have 6 little French pastries in my fridge that, while they may not look much like macarons, most importantly TASTE like macarons.