Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coconut Key Lime Macarons

Sara (Huber) Kutter wanted me to teach her how to make macarons. She wanted to make some for her sweet 1 year old's birthday party. Her colors for the party are green and blue.

We made a traditional blueberry for the blue ones (just blended up freeze-dried blueberries and added to my basic buttercream). I have been wanting to make lime macarons with a lime curd for a while now, so that's what I decided to do with the green ones. But, when I was about to add vanilla to the batter, I thought I'd try coconut extract instead, thinking it would go well with lime. I always have a bottle of Nellie & Joe's key lime juice from Key West, so I used that for the curd. They turned out absolutely amazing, and might even be my new favorite flavor!

Coconut Key Lime 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. coconut extract
green gel coloring

Heat oven to 280-300 degrees and place the racks on the two lowest positions. Cut flat pieces of parchment paper (buy online at King Arthur) 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 lime curd), 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 coconut extract and green 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, and then fill them with lime curd (recipe 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.

Lime Curd

4 egg yolks
1/4 c. Key Lime Juice
1/2 c. sugar
5 T. butter, cold and cut into chunks
green gel coloring

On medium heat, cook egg yolks, lime juice and sugar, stirring constantly. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, or until it reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove saucepan from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time until all the butter is combined, and add coloring to match cookie shells. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and into a medium bowl. Cover the curd with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to avoid causing a skin to form. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day. 

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