27 Oct 2009

French Kiss: Keep on trying babe! (next time using a mint)

First trial, first failure…No, naturally not at kissing! I’m a master in that, but in making French macarons.
Those little creatures can be really evil! A nice crunchy embossed shell protecting a soft and moist heart of meringue; have two of them and a buttery/chocolaty spread at hand and you are in even. Just like a kiss, you cannot stop at just one. Why showing me the pleasure of sinning if afterwards I have to sin only once, no way! Give me the whole box and look the other way.
These delicate and flavourful flying-saucer like biscuits are a big fashion hit lately. Why? Well, does anybody figure out the reason for fashion craves? My idea is that since they are small and cute everybody fall for them (yes, you are right they are like a kitten but if you find a hair on it oh well… report it to the animal protection).

Love and hate of every baker, they are at the same time easy and terribly tricky to make just right. Believe me; following just one recipe might result in tears of disappointment while you stuff your mouth with the (thanking God) almost always eatable results of your sweat.
I first met these biscuits a couple of months ago, it was August, when escorting a group of friends through the lovely city of Paris. During our peregrination in the Marais, we decided to have a tea at the Maison de the Mariage Fréres and two of us took few macarons to try.
The pretty colourful creatures arrived immediately after out tea and we enjoyed crunching them discussing their delicate (or inexistent) flavourings. From then on it was a continuous referring to these delights till when our good friend Sania, owner of the lovely First Flush TeaRoom here in Bonn, decided to add them to her list of sweet goodies. This was last month, September. Since then I wanted to finally try making them myself but laziness and work plans continued asking me to postpone the project. Last month was also when I decided to join the Daring Bakers‘ship and luckily enough, macarons were picked as challenge for the month of October.
Yeah! Here we go, forced to finally try them (in a very short time actually since I remembered of the challenge just 3 days before the deadline, on a Saturday night…).

We were asked to make macarons following Claudia Fleming’s recipe presented in The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern; here it is:

Ingredients

  • 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)
Directions:

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 macaroon 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.
Ransacking my fridge, I found the 5 eggs, no problem for the sugar, but I did not have any grounded almonds flour so I had to make my own. The almonds I had were not enough so I used some of the apricots kernel in my pantry. Using my food processor, I grinded the nuts with some of the sugar to a fine powder (multiple sifting and grinding action were needed).

Since the flavoring was left free for the cook to decide, I opted for cardamom scented shells so I grinded the seeds from 2 cardamom pods with some of the sugar using my coffee grinder.
The egg whites were at room temperature so I went for whipping them. Beeeeep!! First error: I added the granulated sugar to the egg white before whipping them (no big deal since this is supposed to only reduce the final volume of the meringue) but, Beeeeep!! second error. “What the heck!” I told myself, “What do I need a Kitchen Aid for if I cannot use its whole power” so after a little beating at low speed I cranked it all up and whipped at maximum power. Big mistake, I ended up with a grainier meringue than supposed. In effect the sugar you add to the egg whites is not enough to well stabilize the mousse; at least I did not get a watery one.
Oh well, let’s try it out the same. Fold in the almonds powder; pipe the shells onto some parchment paper and slide them on a baking tray and on the oven to dry for 5 minutes. What do you know, they started fusing together! Yeah! I did not want to make a dacquoise but well, at least some of them were left free of bothersome bridges with their neighbors.

Take them out, warm furthermore the oven (I have just a small toaster oven by the way) and slide them in to cook. Did I say cook? I should have said simply to brown since when they came out they deflated and the interior and bottom were still quite moist. To my surprised eyes (note the sarcastic tone) I realized that I did not make macarons, neither a dacquoise but just almonds galettes!
Considering my two unforgivable mistakes, I gave it a second try the next day; this time with only 1 egg white (I had already 5 yolks left in the fridge). This time I think I under-whipped slightly the meringue since when I piped the mixture out, quite a number of big bubbles start appearing at the surface of the resting shells. I baked them anyhow and this time they came out quite flatter than the previous batch.
I suppose that what happened in the oven is that both batches received too much heat from the top and not enough from the bottom, so they did not have the chance to rise and develop a properly called foot before they browned (the deflation out of the oven indicated a lack of cooking too). Next time will have to cover the top heating element with some aluminum foil while moving the baking tray lower into the oven. Even, paraphrasing Shirley Corriher (link), a baking stone is the golden goose of the bottom heat; that might also help. Must get me one of those soon or later….
Ok the shells where flavored with cardamom, what about the filling? I wanted to feel some buttery notes in it so I made a basic butter mousse whipping it with a little bit of sugar, roughly the same volume as butter (I used ½ tbsp of butter for my trial). I then added 1 tsp of Kirsch Wasser to it, little at a time, and the chiffonade of roughly 20 basil leaves.


Since I wanted to have a more comprehensive basil flavor, I used half big leaves from a young basil plant and half tiny sturdy ones from an older plant, the latter in fact show a more clove like aroma than the first ones.
I must say that, all included, I was satisfied with the gustatory result of the experiment. The basil butter cream showed a surprising aroma; let me show it to you.
Imagine a late summer afternoon; it is almost the sunset, warm wind grazes you while you rest in your garden. Savoring the last ray of light you close your eyes in contemplation; a soft smile starts shaping your lips and you start radiating back some of the light that the sun just bathed you with. Yes, you got it! This was the aroma in the basil butter-cream: a perfect ripe sweet peach.
The aromas of almond and cardamom in the shell kept on stretching the experience between earth and even; the first sweet, round, soft earthy flavor while the second more balsamic, crisp, incense like.


I will surely try to make these little creatures again, if not for their wittiness just because they require minimal physical stress (most of it is in your head tough).
Thank you a lot Ami for having chosen this as monthly challenge!

7 comments:

  1. Your flavor combinations look delicious! Give them another shot, I am sure you will get there!Enjoyed the post. Hugs, CJ aka spicy

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  2. How eloquently written! It was an exciting read, Ale! Can't wait to taste "the real thing".

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  3. How utterly brave to make macs in a toaster oven!! And as you figured out your errors as you were doing them, you are on the track to one day making the perfect mac! You must absolutely join our monthly Mac Attack and with our help, advice and encouragement, not to mention our never-ending teasing and joking, we'll help you perfect your macs. I am fascinated by that basil butter! Anyway, it was truly a valiant first try!

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  4. clearly i need to stop my complaining...I can't even toast bread in my toaster oven.

    LOVE the idea of butter mousse! must try this!

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  5. @CJ @Anonymous (aka Rita :P) Thanks for ur words my friends :-)

    @Jamie Thanks for the encouragement my dear. The macs wont have me alive, nevaaaaa!!! I'll kill that beast lol

    @Jen lol!! mine has been quite helpful so far, u just have to get to know the heating beast and think b4 u put anything in it eheh Naturally I didn't do so with our friends macs ;-)

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  6. Alessio, macs are so temperamental, I had to do it a few times before i got my "feet".Your combination of flavours are great,and as the others have said, I'm sure, with a few more tries, you'll get there :-)And that's what being a daring baker is all about!

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