Monday, January 13, 2014

Holiday Eggnog Macarons

I've just come up for air after a very crazy holiday season this year. We did a lot of celebrating in December and then packed everything up to spend Christmas in Utah with friends and family. It was a fantastic trip and we arrived home to Virginia just in time for school to start (and also in time for a few snow days that first week back).

I'm finally getting around to posting recipes for my favorite holiday macarons that I made this year. My very favorite were the eggnog macarons. I'm not even an eggnog kind of girl, but these were probably my second favorite to plain almond macarons. They had such a simple, buttery filling that melted in your mouth and the eggnog flavor came out more than I had anticipated.

Eggnog Macarons

2/3 c. almond flour (sometimes called meal)
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 egg whites (at room temperature or slightly warmed)
5 T. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 280 degrees and place the racks on the two lowest positions. Cut pieces of parchment paper to fit two cookie sheets perfectly and then make 1-inch or 1.5-inch circles all over the papers, leaving at least 1/2-inch of space in between circles (I found something in my drawer that looked like an inch and traced it).

If your almond flour seems coarse, run it through a food processor to make it more fine. Sift the almond flour before measuring out 2/3 c. When measuring, make sure to pack it in, as it will be very light weight. Whisk the sifted almond flour and powdered sugar together and set aside.

Place egg whites in the bowl of a mixer and start to mix on med-high with the whisk attachment. When they start to get frothy, add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed and continue to beat until glossy, stiff peaks appear. To test it, pick up the whisk and if the peak at the top doesn't fall, they are ready. If it falls down, keep mixing. Make sure you don't over mix (it will become clumpy). Once you reach the desired stiffness, quickly mix in the vanilla extract.

Transfer egg whites to a large bowl (I often use the same bowl they were originally in). Add a third of the dry mixture and fold it about a dozen times until just mixed. Fold with a spatula, going up the sides, pushing down the center. Finish mixing the rest of the dry ingredients, being careful to fold and not stir. When you lift your spatula, the mixture should pour off like thick molten lava. If it's not flowing when you lift the spatula, it is too thick and needs more mixing. This is the trickiest part, but after experience, you will know when it's perfect. If you're having trouble with this step, there are a lot of videos on the internet that help.

Use a piping bag with a medium-sized round tip (#10 works perfectly). Place it in a large cup and fold over the sides. Pour in half of the mixture and twist the top. Start piping the batter into the circles. The best way to do it is hold just over the pan (not touching) and let the batter flow out naturally, until the circle is perfectly filled. Then quickly turn your wrist as you lift the tip to try and not leave a tail. Once the first pan is filled, hold the pan with both hands and tap hard on the counter 3 times. Turn the pan so your hands are on the opposite ends and tap again 3 times (helps get any air pockets out and flattens the cookies). Continue until both pans are filled and the rest of the batter is used up. Let them sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes, or until the tops are no longer wet when you touch them. (This could take a lot longer in a humid climate.)

Place the cookie sheets on the two bottom oven racks. You will have to experiment with the cooking times, but this is what worked for me. Set the timer for 2 minutes and when it rings, open the door for about 15 seconds, to let any humidity escape. Then set the timer for 6 minutes. Once the time is up, change the pans so that the top one is now on the bottom, as well as turn around so the back of the pan is now in the front. Bake for 7 more minutes. To test the doneness, carefully lift the cookie off the sheet. If it comes off the parchment easily, they are done. If the cookie separates in half, bake one more minute, and so on. Cool the macaroons completely before lifting them off the parchment paper. Once they are cool, start matching up the sizes and place both halves next to each other and then fill.

Completed macarons are best if refrigerated for a couple of hours, or frozen up to a month in a sealed container. At least 15 minutes before serving, remove the macarons from the freezer and keep sealed in the container, with the lid on, until completely thawed.

Eggnog Buttercream Filling

8 T. unsalted butter, softened
3 egg yolks
1/4 c. granulated sugar
5 T. eggnog
1 t. vanilla extract

Cut butter into pieces and mash with a spatula until the consistency resembles mayonnaise. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then add the granulated sugar and whisk until the mixture lightens to an off-white and you can no longer see the granules of sugar. Add the eggnog, and whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture into a small saucepan and heat over low, whisking constantly to ensure that the mixture does not curdle or scorch. Cook until the mixture becomes thick and custardy, like pudding. Pour the egg mixture back into its original bowl and whisk constantly until the bottom of the bowl is at room temperature. Whisk in the butter in three batches, add the vanilla extract, and stir until smooth and all ingredients are fully combined. Pipe or spread onto half of one macaron shell and carefully place the same size shell on top. Put just enough pressure so that the filling reaches the edges.

If desired, use edible, non-toxic glitter to decorate for the holidays. This can be purchased at a candy/cake supply store. Use a simple syrup (1 part water 1 part sugar, dissolve on the stove) and a clean non-toxic paintbrush to lightly paint the top shell with a "glue" that will make the glitter stick.

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