Wednesday, January 15, 2014

French Macarons: If at first you don't succeed...

My first attempt at making French macarons was so abysmal that I didn't even bother making a buttercream or ganache to fill the misshapen, overbrowned things. In fact, the shells went straight into the trash. See my failure here:

Pretty awful, right? I'm surprised I didn't give up right then and there and decide macaron (pronounced mac-a-roan, apparently) making was just not in the cards for me. I'm sure my persistence had something to do with my infatuation with them, a serious affliction since January of 2010, when I ate my first pistachio macaron in Paris and fell desperately in love with the ethereal pastry. 

So I tried it again, the very same day. This time, I corrected a few things. I used the exact same recipe, but mixed the macronnage (the French word for the step in which you incorporate the meringue into the almond flour) much more delicately, added the gel coloring to the meringue, rather than the finished product, lowered the oven temp by 25 degrees, and piped them in much smaller circles. I found out, through reading some other macaron blogs (BraveTart, especially) that the reason mine were so runny was because I was a bit too overzealous in the mixing. I also probably didn't have a stiff enough meringue to start. The oven was way too hot (I ended up decreasing it from 375 to 325--a huge difference, I know) and baking them on the bottom rack of the oven, for about 20 minutes. Anyway, my next attempt looked like this:

The second batch was an immense improvement, but the tops still browned--unacceptable. I filled them with a chocolate ganache that I made from Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips. They were passable, but nothing close to what I aspire. 

Third time is apparently the charm. I am planning on making macarons for a bridal shower I am hosting in a few weeks, and I decided to do a test run. The recipe I kept the same, but I switched the ganache for a light, lemon buttercream.

The result:

I'm not going to lie. I squealed like a little girl when I saw that the shells had feet (the ruffly things on the bottom of each cookie). I babysat them, peering through my oven door, while they baked, refusing to allow them to brown even infinitesimally.  I added lavender and raspberry extract to them to increase the flavor. Here is my recipe:

Raspberry-Lavender Macarons with Meyer Lemon Buttercream
Makes 24 macarons
Adapted from Bon Appetit 

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup almond flour
1 tsp. dried lavender, crumbled in a mortar and pestle
1/2 cup egg whites
pinch salt
2 1/2  tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp. raspberry extract
lavender gel food coloring, to preference
lavender buds, optional

1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 cups powdered sugar
yellow gel coloring

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 300 degrees (275 if you have a hot oven). Sift together the powdered sugar, almond meal, and crushed lavender into a large bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy (stiff peaks). Add the extract and however much gel food coloring you want (begin with dragging a toothpick in the color and add as you go), mix until fully incorporated. Pour almond mixture in the bowl, and using a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients together. It should take no more than 20 strokes. Deflate the egg whites but be gentle. Once it is all incorporated (but still light and fluffy), transfer to a gallon Ziplock bag. Squeeze all the air and twist it closed. Snip the corner with scissors. Pipe dollops of batter slightly bigger than a Hershey's kiss onto the parchment. Lightly rap each sheet on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. Let them sit (after all have been piped) for at least 20 minutes. They should be slightly dry to the touch. Bake in the oven (watching carefully) one batch at a time for 10-15 minutes. You know they're done when you can pluck one from the parchment without it sticking. Let them cool while you prepare your buttercream.

Beat the butter in the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. When it's light and fluffy, add the zest, extract, and lemon juice. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until it's proper consistency. Add the cream. Add more sugar if it's too runny, more cream if it's too thick. Add food coloring and be sure to scrape the bottom,

To fill them, match each cookie to another of the same size. Pipe the filling, (in a Ziplock bag with the tip snipped) starting from the outer edge in a circle and ending in the middle. Sandwich the two halves. No filling should be on the edges. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Take some out an hour before you want to eat them and let them come to room temp. Enjoy!

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