Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge October 2009 - French Macarons

This was my first month as a part of the Daring Bakers, and my first time definitely proved to be a challenge! This month's recipe 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.

French macarons are a far cry from what most Americans think of when they picture a gooey, coconut concoction with a slightly browned top. French macarons on the other hand are made with ground almond flour, egg whites, and two types of sugar. That's it! Surprisingly, those five ingredients proved to be far more intense than I realized they could be.
Here are the directions as listed on the Daring Bakers website:
Note: Macaron making is somewhat labor intensive, yet simultaneously less difficult than you think it will be. One thing you must do is have your egg whites at room temperature. This ensures they beat up properly, as texture is an integral component to macarons. You will be piping the batter onto parchment paper or nonstick liners, and some home bakers use stencils to make sure their macarons are uniform in size. It’s your choice.

Be aware that you are beating your egg whites first to soft peaks. Soft peaks means that the peaks of the meringue curl over when you lift up the beaters. After you add the granulated sugar to the soft peak meringue, you will beat the mixture to stiff peaks, which, true to their name, stand straight up. Be careful not to overbeat your eggs.

You will also be folding the nut flour into the meringue. As with most recipes when you combine something with beaten egg whites, be gentle in your mixing to keep the egg whites light.

Some recipes call for drying the piped macarons on the counter prior to baking for 30 minutes to an hour. This recipe stipulates that you bake the macarons at a low temperature for 5 minutes, then take them out of the oven, raising the temperature, and baking them for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. Drying is necessary to get the trademark “feet” on your macarons. Experiment to find the best technique for you.

If you plan on using parchment paper rather than nonstick pan liners, be careful when removing the macarons from the paper, as they can stick and are very delicate. Some recipes suggest lifting up a corner of the paper and letting a drop of water fall onto the hot baking sheet, thus producing steam, which helps the macarons release.

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
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• 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!)

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)

Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)

Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)

Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). 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 (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaron for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). 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.

Before I started baking, I read page, after page, after page of comments, photos, and tips from other Daring Bakers. I was determined to fully understand the challenges others faced and know how to correct problems before I dove in. (I have a terrible habit of just diving into a recipe without reading it carefully!)

I made sure to have all of my ingredients and kitchen items at the ready so I wouldn't waste any time. I aged my egg whites overnight, and let them come to room temperature for almost a full day. At last, I had the house to myself, the pup was napping, and it was time to get baking!

I carefully watched as my egg whites came to what I thought was a near perfect consistency. I then carefully folded my ingredients together until I thought they were ready to pipe onto the baking sheets. It was now time for the true test, would the feet form?!?!

After reading others' posts, I knew getting 'feet' on my macarons was going to be the biggest challenge. Many of the bakers who were far more experienced than me, did not have any feet at all on the macarons. I did pick up a few pointers from other bakers in my reading so I made sure to lay out parchment paper to bake the macarons on, and I also stacked two baking sheets to help the feet form and cook evenly.

At last, they were ready for the oven:

For the first batch, I followed the directions exactly. Several minutes before the end, I was literally jumping up and down because....
In nothing else went right, I was thrilled my macarons had feet! I knew this was a huge challenge for other which I overcame without any problem. When they first batch was done, they came out like this:

All in all, I was pretty happy with how they turned out. They didn't puff up as much as I would have liked, but I couldn't complain because at least they looked like macarons!

I baked another batch in which I upped the oven temperatures to see how it would change my results. Many of the other bakers thought the temps were too low so I wanted to see what my results would be. I also left them in a touch longer. The results:

I thought baking them at a higher temp for a bit longer really did make a difference. They weren't as chewy as the first batch and the shell was a bit crunchy.

I wanted to do a bit more experimenting, but time did not allow with this recipe! I chose to just bake plain macarons and fill them with chocolate ganache.

Overall , I was quite pleased with how my macarons turned out. I would like to try them again because my husband and I thought they were delicious. I was shoked how many variations there are of macarons when I began searching online. So many macarons, so little time....