Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers – Macarons (October 2009)

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was excited to learn that these cookies did NOT have coconut in them. I also was excited because I had never made these before but have seen them many times on the other blogs that I have wandered through. They looked so pretty. Also, the excitement grew when the ingredients did not include any "eye of newt" ingredients (or easy alternatives at least). I was up for the challenge and ready for success! Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the end and greeted with failure...but...let us start at the beginning.

First, in case you are not familiar with this french pastry should quickly head over to here to read a bit about them and see what they are supposed to look like.

The recipe starts by letting the egg whites come to room temperature. There was much discussion on the Daring Bakers forums about letting the egg white sit out for several days. I did this...they sat for 5 days. I was then concerned about them going bad, but read that as long as the end product is cooked that it should be fine. (So far, I think all the tasters are safe.)

SO...we started with whipping the egg whites to soft peaks.

Since the mixer does all the work, these were turning out to be quite easy. Mom was also assisting so I had her measuring out the almond flour and confectioners sugar.

Speaking of mom...she's a great help in the kitchen. She always protests that she cannot cook and is a disaster in the kitchen, but I dare say that this is simply not true. She has come up with some great dishes and well, fed me (and my family) well for many years with few complaints (other than some veggies, but I don't like them no matter WHO cooks them!).

Back to the challenge...once the soft peaked egg whites and sugar were whipped to what I thought was stiff peaks we started to fold in the almond/sugar mixture.

As I think I have mentioned before, I am a terrible folder. I think it has something to do with my lack of patience to get it all mixed together. This may have been the reason for my impending failure, or it could have been my lack of experience with getting the egg whites to a solid stiff peak. Either way, once the almond flour/sugar were incorporated we were ready to pipe. I had a sneaking suspicion at this point that the batter was not stiff enough, it was too runny. But, I pressed on.

After piping, we let the oven do the work of baking, raising the temp and then baking again. We crossed our fingers that a miracle would happen and the "feet" would form. Sadly, they did not.

The lowly cookies were spongey and soft. Most stuck to the baking sheet. The bottoms that did make it off the sheet looked like they'd be crunchy...if they had just risen. They reminded me a lot like angel food cake. Sticky and soft like that.

But, wanting to complete the challenge, even with a failed cookie, I pressed on. We had leftover cream cheese frosting from a wonderful banana cake (without the topping) that I had made from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen (ahh, one of my food idols!). I tinted the frosting orange with some food dye that I always have on hand and piped it between two cookies. The glamor shot...

So, as macaroons, these cookies were a major fail...no crunchy feet at all. They tasted ok, but since they were so difficult to get off the pan all but the three used in the glamor shot found their way to the trash. My tasters (mom and dad) said that the finished product tasted ok, but I think that is more a testament to the super yummy cream cheese frosting.

I suppose I should try this again, maybe using the recipe that many on the Daring Bakers site suggested from another food blogger Tartlette (find her recipes here). If you try this or another macaron recipe and are successful, please let me know!

Recipe: Mararons
From Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern

Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.

Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Sifter or sieve
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.

Ami S gave us several websites to help us. Feel free to check them out...who knows, you may have better success! 
David Lebovitz breaks it down
More macaroon 411 from Serious Eats
Go behind the scenes of Paulette
Watch a pro pipe macaroons
Beating egg whites
Enjoy With Love,

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