The Daring Kitchen Challenge – French Macarons

The Daring Bakers’ challenge for October 2009 was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern.

I was really excited. Not only was this my first Daring Bakers’ challenge, but we would be making macarons.  I love macarons.  And I love a challenge in the kitchen . . . don’t I? So why was I such a nervous wreck about this? Why did I keep putting it off?

According to an article I read this weekend in one of my glasswork magazines, I was hitting my “terror barrier.” Wow. Sounds ominous. Maybe a titch overwrought?  According to this article, I actually hit it a lot. A LOT. I’m surprised I don’t have a concussion.

So let’s begin with the happy ending:

macaron

Now back to the beginning. The first hurdle was what flavor to make. I think I spent three weeks thinking this over. I finally decided I would attempt cinnamon macarons with chai white chocolate ganache.

I won’t dwell a lot on the first batch.  If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, these are what NASA would call a “successful failure.”  They tasted pretty good but looked pretty pathetic.  These were not macarons.

I had started worrying when I piped the batter.  It was foamy and lifeless.

IMG_5780

They seemed kind of wimpy.

failed macarons

Baking confirmed that these were, in fact, wimpy.  Total failures.  What did I do wrong?

With the hysteria headband  firmly squeezing my head, I knew I had to  step back, take a deep breath and not start throwing reasonably tasty but ugly cookies into the garbage. They were still almondy, chewy and sweet, after all. But honestly, I swear it hurt to look at them.  My son and his friend kindly removed them from my sight, into their stomachs.

So back to the cookbooks and Web sites to do some more research. Trying to find my way was like playing a role-playing game where you get to choose where the character goes.  Choose the wrong path?  Pffft, you’re dead.  Different ingredient ratios; raw vs. cooked meringue; stacked vs. single baking sheets; buttered vs. bare parchment; do or don’t rap the baking sheet; let the piped cookies sit at room temp, or refrigerate, or put them right into the oven; bake them at low and/or a high temps; turn the oven off, then turn it back on again. The options seemed to be endless. How could I possibly navigate safely to success?  I have to say, it was advice gleaned from David Lebovitz’s blog that gave me the courage to go on.

For the first batch, I had weighed the dry ingredients first, pulsed them in the food processor, and then sifted the mixture as I added it to the meringue.  Maybe sifting out some of the almond pieces threw off the ratio of the recipe?  For the second batch, I sifted the almond flour before weighing it and then ran it in the blender with the sugar and cinnamon, for extra refinement.  The blender worked better than the food processor for making the almond flour finer.  I also decided to stack baking pans, which is a trick my friend Marcy Goldman always advocates.

But probably the biggest change I made was with the egg whites.  Back when I was a beginning baker, I don’t think I knew it was possible to overbeat egg whites. I used to just whip away in ignorance. Now that I know better, I watch them churning in the mixing bowl with the vigilance I used to have when watching my son for signs of breathing in his crib. In other words, I’m very over-protective of them.   I think that was the biggest stumbling block in my first batch. I was so afraid of overbeating the egg whites that I underbeat them.

As the second batch of egg whites were beating they took on the gloss and thickness of marshmallow cream; it started feeling like I might be on the right track.  They piped out much better too.  Too bad I didn’t remember to wet my finger and smooth down those little peaks on the first pan I piped out.

IMG_5781

It felt so much better to peak into the oven this time!

IMG_5785

In the end I’d used up all of my parchment paper, dirtied my Cuisinart, blender, mixer, bowls, various utensils. All for an innocent looking cookie with only FOUR ingredients. Well, five if you count the cinnamon. I almost took a photo of the wreckage of my kitchen, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Oh, and the final product:  Cinnamon macarons filled with chai white chocolate ganache?  They were pretty divine. 

And now I have four days until the next terror barrier . . . er, I mean, Daring Bakers’ Challenge is revealed.

Here is the recipe I used for the first batch, for which I take full responsibility that they did not turn out.  It’s followed by the recipe for the second batch:

Macarons

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s “The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern”

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)
Note:  I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon 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.

Yield: 10 dozen

_______________________

Cinnamon Macarons

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life in Paris”

Makes about twenty sandwich cookies

1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
½ cup sifted almond flour (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 gr) granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready (or a Zip-loc bag with a corner snipped off).

Sift the almond flour before measuring.  In a blender, grind  the powdered sugar with the almond flour and cinnamon so there are no lumps.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.  The egg whites should look smooth, shiny and thick, like marshmallow cream.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps).

Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

With a barely wet fingertip, gently smooth down any little peaks.  Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes (Next time I’m going to check them at 10-12 minutes.   They were just a tick dry). Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

Sandwich with chai white chocolate ganache.

_______________________

Chai White Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 chai tea bags
1/2-1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
6 oz. good quality white chocolate, chopped (such as Callabaut)

Pour cream into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Cut open the tea bags and add contents to the heavy cream. Bring cream to a simmer then remove from heat and let  steep for about 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring back to a simmer and then strain through a fine mesh strainer over the white chocolate, pressing tea against the side of the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in pumpkin pie spice to taste. Let mixture cool completely, stirring occasionally. It will thicken to spreading and piping consistency as it cools.

 

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11 Responses to “The Daring Kitchen Challenge – French Macarons”

  1. Wic Says:

    I love your post.
    I can say that I am a little afraid of the next challenge.

  2. Bread and Jam Says:

    The chai white chocolate ganache sounds heavenly! Great job on this challenge!

  3. Audax Artifex Says:

    Congrats on the challenge that macaron is perfect. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

  4. rachel Says:

    Welcome to the group and I must say the second time around it turned out beautifully for you!

  5. anna Says:

    This sounds like spicy goodness! Great job!

  6. October 28 Recipe Roundup « The Heavy Table Says:

    [...] chocolate cake to celebrate the 100th post of A Crafty Lass, two fondues from The Dabble, a French macaroon kitchen challenge (check out our own Thai iced tea macaroons here), butternut squash and leek gratin, a reliable [...]

  7. kat Says:

    Oh my are your finished ones ever perfect! A lot of people had issues with the first recipe as well

  8. Lauren Says:

    Congrats on getting feet! Your macarons look stunning =D.

  9. Daring Baker’s Challenge: Tiramisu . . . From Scratch « ah-ha! Cooking with Gas and Glass Says:

    [...] October challenge of French macarons was good practice for making ladyfingers. They’re both foam-based batters, so the egg whites [...]

  10. Bun Taout Says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve tried to make it 4-5 times and came out the way yours did on the first try. I followed the second recipe you posted and I was so excited it turned out! my problem was not beating the egg long enough and the recipe I originally used didn’t have enough sugar per egg. The biggest key word I found from your post was to beat the egg until it has a >marshmallow creme texture<

    Anyway : ) thanks, I've never felt so relieved in my kitchen life!

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