Indignant at having to pay so much, I was determined to make my own. How hard could it be. After all, I only need egg whites, confectioner's sugar and almonds.
Well, nothing has caused me more baking consternation. After seven batches - no less - I finally produced macarons with the requisite smooth, flat top and frilly feet. Eat your heart out, La Baguette:
I immediately turned to Martha's Baking Handbook, which is the only cookbook I own that has a macaron recipe. Odd enough, the first tray of this first attempt was somewhat successful - it had a smooth top and feet, albeit thin ones - but the second tray from the same batch all cracked and had no feet at all.
Numerous blogs advise that folding is everything, that consistency is key so I though the second batch must have been overworked somehow. I realised at this point that there is a little more artistry to these goodies than meets the eye. So, I launched another attempt, this time folding ever so slightly less than the first time. Now, both batches cracked, though my discs had higher feet.
Thinking that the recipe was suspect, I foraged around using Google and found that most recipes actually hew to same proportion of ingredients though baking times and temperatures varied widely. Several batches ensued - low temp, high temp, oven door ajar, convection bake, regular bake, folded more, folded less. All with patchy results. By my sixth attempt, I was disheartened to note that my very first attempt actually had the best result and every succeeding effort had progressively worse ends.
Then, I Googled "foolproof macarons" and stumbled on Jef of My Food Geek. His macaron used an Italian meringue instead of the French meringue that I've been using. I followed his recipe and eventually produced two perfect trays:
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. My first attempt at Jef's recipe actually still produced the all too familiar cracked discs of meringue. It was on the second attempt that I succeeded:
After my first go at Jef's method, I shook a clenched fist up at the summer skies through my kitchen window and loudly threatened that I will never touch macarons ever again.
After I regained my cool, I surveyed what ingredients I had left. After all these attempts, I was running low. There were no more eggs, but I had a box of pasteurized egg whites (for a now long-forgotten high-protein, low-carbohydrate regimen); I had no ground almonds, but had a tub of whole raw almonds.
I pulsed the ground almonds into a paste along with confectioners sugar and some egg whites then proceeded to make the Italian meringue. My heart sank when the meringue from the boxed egg whites would not form very stiff peaks and I had to be content with medium-stiff peaks. I folded the almond paste and meringue together, piped discs (a task that I have become quite good at after all these attempts) which were baked at 280°F on a convection setting.
Suddenly, all was well!
Luckily, I still had some leftover Swiss meringue buttercream in the freezer. After a two-minute stint in the microwave on 10% power, all I needed to do was stir the filling to a soft, smooth consistency. Here are some lemon buttercream filled macarons:
- I am taking a break from Tuesdays with Dorie and will be slowing down a little for the month of July. Please watch out for my posts on July 15th and 30th. In August, I plan to return to weekly blogging.
- Here in summary are my twists to Jef's foolproof recipe: use of pasteurised boxed egg whites, whole raw almonds, a medium-stiff Italian meringue with peaks that droop lightly, folding only until the mixture is homogenous, baking at 280°F on a convection setting for 18 minutes. Also, I kept the spacing tight (probably about 1 cm space in between discs). If I were more calmly composed and had I been predisposed to another litany of attempts, I wouldn't have changed so many variables all at once so I would actually learn what I did right. Maybe the effect of all these changes were synergistic.
- Forget Silpat, forget parchment. Go with those thicker, non-stick aluminum foil. Throughout all my trials, these were the only ones that gave perfect release. Be sure to let the meringue discs cool for about five minutes on the baking sheet. Ease them off by gently prodding on the reverse side of the foil.
- To get accurate discs, lightly press a cookie cutter (about 4.5 cm diameter) on the aluminum foil. Stagger the discs by piping alternating rows of four and three discs, spacing them by about 1 cm. When you pipe the meringue, know that they will have a slight spread, so don't fill the entire marked out circles. It'll take a couple tries to get this right.
- To flatten the tiny peaks, rap the baking sheet on a flat surface; I like to drop the sheets flat on the floor from about a foot height. This will spread the discs a bit more so don't fill the entire marked out circles on the sheet.
- I made about 20 macaron sandwiches. The cost of all the ingredients used for all of my attempts is still lower than if I had bought the same number of macarons from La Baguette et L'Echalote. Patrick, ever the pragmatic one, reminds me that I am not including my hours and capital to this pricing, but I am convinced that the thrill of triumph definitely tips the cost analysis to my favour. Besides, mine tastes better.
- While macarons are traditionally and artificially coloured to match the filling, I prefer to show the speckles of almond skin on the ivory meringue discs and allow the filling to provide the sole punch of colour.