Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shamrock-arons: French Macarons and Life

I synthesized information from two sites to go a little rogue on these:

Ingredients (via Martha Stewart):
-1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
-1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground sliced, blanched almonds
-6 tablespoons fresh egg whites (from about 3 extra-large eggs)  I used liquid egg whites, reasoning to follow.
-Pinch of salt
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
I ground my almonds by hand.  I am not kidding.  I don't have a food processor (I am asking for one for my birthday for sure).  I used my meat tenderizer to crush the pieces.  It took hours, but when I get obsessively set on making something, it has to happen. More on that later, just know that this recipe is possible if you don't have fancy appliances or yuppie stores near you (oh to be near Whole Foods!).
 Anyway I measured out 6 TB liquid egg whites.  A lot of times when I have seen macaron and meringue recipes they have called for aged egg whites, although Martha's seem to work with fresh.  However, I almost literally HATE to touch egg whites they are on the very small list of foods that just really gross me out.  Liquid egg whites were on sale at Meijer, so as far as I was concerned it was a sign.

Yes.  I would rather grind up almonds manually than touch egg whites.  At least almonds would build muscle...

So I let my egg whites sit in the bowl while I ground up the nuts.  This got them room temperature, which I think was a good idea.  I stuck a knife tip down in the Kelly Green Wilton food coloring I bought and wiped it on the whisk blade so that it would dye my egg whites, making them egg greens.

Whip the egg whites with the salt until they are foamy, on a medium speed.  They will be super dark green if you are using this exact recipe and color.  It is pretty cool looking.  This took me just a couple of minutes or so, and then I cranked up my mixer to high and started streaming in the sugar.  Some people add it a TB at a time, but I just let it pour slowly and steadily out of my measuring cup, and the meringue whipped right up in just a few minutes.  In all honesty, I was a little surprised how nice and friendly this meringue was being.  You want it to get to the usual "stiff glossy peaks" stage.  By this point, it was literally the exact color of green I wanted.
Whisk the almond dust and confectioner's sugar together and fold into the meringue.

I lined two baking sheets with parchment paper and put my green fluff in a piping bag.  Everything says to fit it with a tip and to me that's just not necessary.  I just cut the tip off the bag.  If you do shamrocks, or any shape really, you just need to make sure that they are really really close.  I piped out 4 circle blobs for each one, and the more compact shamrocks did a lot better than the spaced out ones.  You might want to poke the little tips down too.  I really did not think of that at the time.

I find it easiest when I am freehanding things to do the first row (somewhat willy nilly) and then make the row below look as close in size and shape.  If there is an odd number of rows like this, I just do my best to make matching pairs in the last row. 

Tap the baking sheets on the counter a few times, as per Yum Sugar's directions.  I did this with my second pan and not my first and more of my second had feet, so I suggest it.  Let them sit out for about 15-30 minutes until they form a bit of a thin crust on top and start to not be so shiny. 
 To get the most out of these with your oven, check out this post it really helped me understand what my gas oven would do in this situation.  This is the second time I have ever attempted macarons (my first failing for lack of whipping it long enough, long story) and the only time I have ever tried it in gas.

I put both my sheets in, jelly roll pan on bottom cookie sheet on top.  I would have rather had the jelly roll pan on top since it has sides and I figured it would cook them ever so slightly faster (and it did) but the ones on my cookie sheet were far prettier and I was more concerned with their success.

Bake at 280 for 15 minutes.  This is where I abandoned Martha's recipe.  It suggested 350 for the same amount of time and I just wasn't comfortable with a meringue cookie that high.  My mom has made meringue cookies a lot and so I have not only see how finicky they are, but I know they tend to be baked lower than most things.  So I went with the Yum Sugar temperature. Open the door for just a moment after the first two minutes of baking to let humidity out.

 I took them out and cooled them on baking sheets, and I kind of think that leaving them in the oven with the door open a bit and cutting the heat might have worked better.  I noticed a lot of mine cracked.  I don't have my therm up as high as some people might, so that is something I might consider in future batches.

I made a simple vanilla buttercream to go between them and iced them when they were fully cool.  DO NOT make a stiff buttercream for this (I swear its all I can make here) because it will make it really hard to assemble them without crushing them.
 Words cannot describe how proud I was to see some of these little buggers had those classic feet that macarons are supposed to have. 

I have to give a shameless plug here.  Please, whatever you do, go to Meijer and get this legit jelly roll pan I used.  First of all, the Martha Stewart recipe warned of them sticking to the parchment paper.  The ones coming off my dark non stick cookie sheet took a miniscule amount of coaxing, but the ones on my jelly roll pan popped right off the parchment paper at the faintest touch. 

Plus, it has a nifty lid and handle and all of these little buggers fit around the outer edges.  I put some in my freezer, which by all accounts should last for one month, and some are in my fridge, which should last for perhaps a week or so.
They are really delicious, I will definitely agree with that.  I love the texture of them, but I have also always been highly biased toward meringue cookies. 

Now for the rambling story of how these occurred.  I was really frustrated yesterday, and I have always said I have very productive anger in that I either bake or I clean.  Technically I do both because I bake something and trash my kitchen and then have to clean.  But I was a little regretful that I did not go home as none of my friends were available for visiting and I had just had Spring Break last week and tons of fun in the homeland.  A few other things piled on, including a recipe that had a lot of potential but just failed for dinner, and by that point I was a frustrated soul.

So I did my usual, had a little "woe is me" type session of moping around, and then decided that it was completely unproductive.  I love the color green, far more than any other color, and I made up my mind I was going to march right to the store and get some ingredients to make something.  Anything.  Preferably anything unhealthy (though I did get the ingredients for some more granola bar varieties I have in mind!). 

I had said for weeks I was going to wait until the next time I was home to try macarons because there is this great thing called a dishwasher there and I knew how bad my last disaster was in terms of cleanup.  However, as I stood on the baking row looking at various forms of almonds...I decided time waits for no one and I was going to make this happen.

The easiest way to get me out of a funk is by accomplishing something.  And there was just no way I was going to let yesterday end on a bad recipe note.

So I got back around 830 or so and began pounding and flattening and crushing and grinding the almond pieces with the spikey side of my meat tenderizer.  Not only was it incredibly time consuming, but it was interesting to think that somewhere back along the lines that would have been similar to a way that people of ye old days would have had to work with grains and similar.

I am a big fan of trying things the hard way once so that you really know what ALL goes into your food, including time.  Seriously, go make your own jelly.  It is good stuff to know.

So, fast forward to when I have these in the oven, I open the door a microscopic crack when it has about five minutes left to go, and shut it real quick because I did not want a lot of heat to escape.  In that quick glance, I noticed the most perfect one with its cute little feet.  Suddenly, I was back in business.  Woe is me no more, that was for sure.

And when they came out I rejoiced.  They looked GREAT! Sure some of them cracked and some where a little goofy looking but the point is they were amazing in their own right.  I thrive in accomplishing things, and to have a recipe like this come out well without anyone to help was a major boost for me. 

You can sit around and mope, or you can go out and tackle the world.  That is how I see it.  But I leave you with this thought.  If you are going to tackle the world at midnight or later, be prepared for everyone you know to be asleep and you not have anyone to mass text message of your accomplishments...

Happy crafting!  (and Happy St. Patrick's day!) Pin It Now!

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