Thursday, March 14, 2013

Macaron Atlas


I’ve got a new job… a new place to live… a new commute (I get to ride the train every single day!)… and some new kitchen skills and tools!

Now, I know I’ve been neglecting you. I will not make excuses. I will not make promises. I shall merely acknowledge my absence and move on. I hope you’ll do the same, because today I want to share with you that I have conquered a shadowy beast.

Those white and brown flecks on top are powdered sugar and cocoa powder and entirely intentional.
This was probably my biggest kitchen challenge to date. I always read about how difficult it is to make these perfect little cookies, and they’re always just a bit on the expensive side. Add that to the fact that they are somewhat magical to me (I fell in love with them while in France and bought them multiple times a day), and you shouldn’t be surprised that I was scared to take these on.

Macarons.

This lone vanilla/chocolate macaron may think he's special... but he's just the first to be eaten.
The beautiful, delicate, multi-colored treats that look like they’re from a fairy tale, made of colors and clouds. They melt in your mouth. They are sandwiches of frosting. And yet, beneath that light, fluffy exterior, is a past full of complications and so many failures.

Something else I was intimidated by lately was picked up a book I received this past Christmas: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. I don’t know if you saw the previews for the 2012 movie (or if you saw it, as I have not), but it all looked terribly confusing and interestingly star-studded. All I’d heard about the book was that it is confusing, a bit slow, and very strange.

Finally, I picked it up… and got lost in a sea that tossed with real-feeling characters and reincarnation and time and society and forgiveness… and it was incredible and it was infuriating and I am so, so glad I sailed my ship through those unclear waters. I can’t even tell you what it all really means, but if you want to think and pay attention, and if you are patient and hopeful, and if you are open-minded about that oh-so-limiting concept of “genre”, then pick it up. Take a journey. Take notes (seriously).

These orange/vanilla macarons were made on a very humid day... hence the cracking and hollow interiors.
And snack on some of these beautiful cloud cookies while you’re at it!
Seriously. Can you even resist them?

No?

Didn’t think so. (Okay, fine. To be fair, to some people, these are not as irresistible as I claim. Some people (coughBOYFcough) don’t like the texture of them. To those some people I say BAH!)

This photo was taken in 2010 by the beautiful and talented Deborah Stevenson when we were in Paris together.
If you click on her name, you'll get to see one of her photography albums.
Her point of view is quiet, beautiful, touching, inspiring.
I’ve made lavender, vanilla, chocolate, almond, and orange cookies. I want to try making salted caramel, blood orange, raspberry… the list could go on. Wouldn’t it be fun to make peanut-flavored ones and fill them with grape or strawberry jelly? And I have plans this week to make mojito-flavored ones and dye them a bright Shamrock green.

And if you have a minute, go vote in my Facebook poll! I'm going to be entering the blog in a contest, and am curious what you think is my best post so far. Then if you haven't already, like my page on Facebook! Or follow me on Twitter! Yes I know there are fancy links up at the top right, but I'm making it easy on you. Now go forth and eat cookies!

Macarons


1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup superfine (baker’s) sugar 
¾ cup almond flour (I made my own by processing almond slivers; it’s more work but way more cost-effective)
2 large egg whites, room temperature (older is better than fresh, surprisingly)
Pinch of cream of tartar
See Notes for adding flavors

1. Pulse 1 cup of sugar and almond flour in a food processor or small blender until combined. Sift mixture with a colander.

2. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add the rest of the superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (take care not to over-whip). If you’re going to add color, add it towards the end of whipping the whites. Water-based (regular) food coloring and paste both work here.

3. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is mixed well and a bit shiny, almost taffy-like. Fold too little, and the shape of the cookies will be too stiff and pointy. Fold too much, and your meringue will drip into a mess of wafer-thin blobs. I usually do 40-60 folds. You can test a daub on a plate, and if a small beak remains, turn the batter a couple times more. If the batter forms a round cap but doesn’t run, it is just right. The perfect batter will barely start to escape the pastry bag without leaking out or staying stiff.

4. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip OR a giant Ziploc baggie with a corner cut off.

5. Pipe ¾-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. They should look a little duller, like the outside has started to dry into a sort of skin. While they’re resting, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

The peaks on these lavender macarons lasted longer than they should have-- that's a hint to fold more next time!
6. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, then put the cookies in. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until they’re are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees before inserting the next batch. The tops of the cookies should not brown.

7. Let them cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack, or just pull the parchment paper off the baking sheet onto a counter.

8. Once they’ve cooled, you should definitely fill them with something. Jelly, peanut butter, cookie butter, whipped cream, basic frosting (butter + powdered sugar + flavoring)… The possibilities are endless! Be careful, though. The cookies are fragile.

Lavender glaze with milk and sugar, to dip the lavender cookies in
9. Now you can eat them or store them. They’ll keep in an airtight container for a few days, or can be frozen for up to 3 months. To thaw, just pull them out of the freezer for half an hour or so.

Pastry bags are not very pretty but I LOVE THEM SO I DON'T CARE.
Notes

- If you’re adding liquid flavor (i.e. vanilla extract, lemon juice, honey), add ¼ teaspoon at the same time you would add food coloring.
- If you’re adding dry flavor (i.e. crushed lavender, orange zest, ground nuts), process/blend it with the almond flour combination. Depending on the strength of flavor desired, use anywhere from ½ teaspoon to 1 heaping tablespoon.

These light cookies are best enjoyed with a starbuck and a good book.