Friday, July 29, 2016

{UPDATED} Basic Macarons

It's been quite a while since I've updated my recipe blog. A goal of mine is to catch up on a few favorite recipes this summer. I had a dear friend text me tonight requesting a recipe for macarons that she could pass along with a shower gift tomorrow morning, so I thought I'd update my basic macaron recipe with a few new tips and tricks I've learned along the way.

{UPDATED} Basic Macarons

2/3 c. almond flour (sometimes called meal)
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
5 T. granulated sugar
3/4 t. vanilla (or almond) extract
gel coloring

Heat oven to 280-300 degrees and place the racks on the two lowest positions. Cut pieces of parchment paper to fit two cookie sheets perfectly (cut corners too). I no longer draw circles. I found it to be a very time consuming task that I quickly tired of. I learned how to pipe the macarons in a way to keep the perfect shape of a circle (description below).

Place 2/3 c. almond flour (packed tightly) with 1.5 c. powdered sugar in a food processor and process until very smooth and mixed together thoroughly. DO NOT do this in a blender, as it somehow adds moisture. If you don't have a mixer, you can sift your almond flour before measuring, then whisk the flour and powdered sugar together. This avoids little pieces of almond in your cookies.

After separating the egg whites (keep yolks for buttercream and curds), add them to the bowl of a mixer (I love my Kitchenaid). If you're like me, and always forget to set out the eggs so they're at room temperature when you begin, here's a tip. Put the egg whites in the mixer bowl, and swirl around atop of your cooktop's flame (requires a gas stove). Using a clean finger, I will swirl the egg whites around until they are not hot or cold, but room temperature--works like a charm! Add 5 T. of granulated sugar to your egg whites. Using your heavy duty mixer, start with speed 4 and beat for 2 minutes, then go to speed 6 for 2 minutes, and finally at speed 8 for 2 minutes. At this point, add the extract and coloring, then set the mixer to speed 10 and and continue to beat until stiff peaks appear. You will notice that the egg whites start to gather in the middle, which indicates it's ready. To test it, pick up the whisk and if the egg white's 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 dry and clumpy--if that happens, start over with new egg whites).

Leaving the beat egg whites in the original mixing bowl, 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. I use a silicone spatula and scrape around the sides of the bowl, then push down the middle twice, and continue that until you can't see the dry ingredients anymore. As soon as they are mixed in, add another 1/3 of the mixture and continue. Finish mixing the rest of the dry ingredients, being careful to fold and not stir. This last step is a little harder and will require you to scrape the sides and then push down in the middle a few times. When it starts to smooth out and thin out, start testing it by lifting your spatula, and dropping the batter into the bowl. The mixture should pour off the spatula like thick molten lava. If it's not flowing when you lift the spatula, it is too thick and needs more mixing. If you Google videos of stirring macaron batter, you can watch the experts do it and see the desired consistency. That helped me a lot when I was learning.

Use a piping bag with a medium-sized round tip (#10 works, but #12 is better). 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 to hold the pastry bag just over the pan (not touching) and squeeze slightly to let the batter come out until a circle is perfectly formed. This takes practice, but you will get it quickly. Make sure your pastry bag is straight up and down, and squeeze just until the batter flows out of the tip. As soon as you have the desired size (about the size of a quarter or half dollar), then stop squeezing. 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 an hour, or until the tops are no longer wet when you touch them. (This could take a lot longer in a humid climate.) **If your batter spreads too much when you pipe the cookies, or they spread when you tap the pan, your batter is too thin and next time you need to stir less. If the cookies still have a little bump on the top of them, and it won't go away no matter how many times you tap the pan, you have too thick of a batter and you need to stir a few more strokes next time.

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 30 seconds, to let any humidity escape. Then close the door and set the timer for 6 minutes. **This is the BIG moment in macaron making. When you open the oven, you will see if your macarons have the oh so important "feet" at the bottoms. If they have cracked or have a dome, that means you didn't let them dry long enough. Continue to bake and see if you can salvage any.

Once the initial 6 minutes is up, switch 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, lightly press on the top of the cookie. If it is gooey underneath and moves a lot, it needs a couple more minutes. If it feels firm, then carefully try to 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 any off the pans. If they all come off perfectly, pat yourself on the back! If they stick a little, just be careful and try your best. If they stick a lot, use a thin metal spatula and try to scrape underneath them to salvage the cookie's important bottom.

Once all the cookies are off the sheets, you can find each of them a match. If you are the only one who piped them, they should be fairly consistent sizes and you can usually make a perfect match when pairing them up. I line them all up and then fill them with a buttercream or curd (recipes below). You should use a pastry bag with the same size of tip to fill the macarons, and only pipe the filling in the center, filling half of the macaron. Once you put the top on, squish just so you can see the edge of the filling sandwiched between the cookies.

Completed macarons are best if refrigerated (in a tight fitting container) for a couple of hours, or frozen up to 3 months. At least 15 minutes before serving, remove the macarons from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. If frozen, take out of the freezer an hour before serving, and keep sealed in the container, with the lid on, until completely thawed.

Basic Buttercream Filling

7 T. unsalted butter, cold
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 1/2 T. milk or cream
1 t. vanilla or almond extract

Put cold butter in a ziplock freezer bag and hit it with a rolling pin until completely flattened. In your mixer, start beating the egg yolks on high, and add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture lightens to an off-white and you can no longer see the granules of sugar. Add the milk or cream, 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. Be VERY careful not to get too hot or it will cook the egg and you will have burnt spots. Whisk constantly and very quickly while waiting for it to thicken. Pour the thickened egg mixture back into its bowl and whisk constantly until it returns to room temperature or it feels cool when touching the bottom of the bowl. Add the butter in three batches, beating on high until each addition is mixed in. Once all the butter is mixed in, add the extract, and desired coloring; stir until smooth and all ingredients are fully combined. This basic recipe can be flavored and colored however you'd like and can be doubled or tripled. **If the buttercream curdles, that means the mixture was too hot or the butter wasn't cold enough. You can sometimes warm the mixing bowl with a hot blow dryer, or keep whisking and it usually will come together. Google troubleshooting with buttercream if you run into troubles.

Curd Filling

4 lg. egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. lemon juice, lime juice, or passionfruit puree
3 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Prepare an ice water bath; set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the fruit juice and butter. Place over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until thick, about 15 minutes. Transfer bowl to ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Transfer to refrigerator until completely cold, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. **Use leftover on pancakes!