Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The First But Not the Last

This is going to be the start of what I suspect are many posts on the same topic: macarons.

Don't confuse macarons with macaroons. Macarons are a type of French pastry that's usually pressed into a sandwich by a ganache filling in between two cookies. Macaroons involve coconut and are far denser. The basic ingredients of macarons are ground almonds, powdered sugar, and egg whites.

And like so many French pastries, they are extremely difficult to perfect. Le sigh. (See what I did there?)

I've been intrigued by them for a long time, but have never actually had a proper one until last week. I've considered buying them, but they're rather pricey (about $3.50 per, and they're small cookies), and making them seemed like I was just asking for despair and disappointment. But, as I said, I finally had one -- a miniature version, a spicy pear macaron at Crush, one of Seattle's nicer restaurants -- and I dug it. Really dug it.

So I rolled up my sleeves, girded my loins, took the plunge, enter your favorite phrase here, and made my first attempt at them -- David Lebovitz's French Chocolate Macarons. It was supposed to be 'user friendly.' And of all the reading I've done on macarons, it was relatively simple. But they didn't come out right. Macarons -- from what I've read and what I experienced (limited though it was), aren't actually crunchy, like meringue cookies. They may have a slight crunch on the outside, but the inside should be pillowy and soft, though not chewy and not too sweet. When they're baked up properly, they'll have "feet" -- the trademark of a properly made macaron.

My batch of macarons had a number of problems:

  • the almond meal that I used wasn't ground fine enough (I think)
  • the cookies were far too hard and crunchy
  • the "feet" were inconsistent -- some cookies had it while others did not
  • the tops were grainy and often cracked instead of smooth all over
  • while folding in the dry ingredients to the egg whites, I could tell the batter was getting very stiff, and yet since it didn't look as described I had to keep going

For my next batch, I'm going to be trying a few changes, according to some other recipes/posts that I've read:

  • keep egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours or more, or microwave for 10 seconds before using
  • make sure almonds are finely ground, and sift with the powdered sugar twice to make sure everything is as fine as possible
  • get a proper pastry bag/tip
  • do not overwhip egg whites (DL's recipe said to whip until glossy and stiff, but others seem to disagree, that the meringue should only reach soft-medium levels)

Couple of recipes to try:

As I experiment further I'll be posting the results here!

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