Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chocolate Macarons

Dear Diary,

I will never again complain about the price of macarons. I will gratefully and happily hand over as many Euro as the nice people behind the counter want. I will marvel at their crisp, crumbly shell, chewy interior, glorious feet and decadent filling.

And the next time I get to pick the recipe for a blog event, I'm picking something easy.


When the time came for me to pick the recipe for this month's Chocolate with Francois, I swallowed deeply and typed "chocolate macarons." This because we adore macarons, and whenever we go to Paris, we always pick up our favorites and try some new ones. I always thought it would be nice to make them myself, but never did. This gave me the perfect excuse.

I did a lot of research, and the more I learned, the more stressed out I became. I learned that macarons are temperamental. That small changes in temperature, humidity, the moisture in the almond meal, changing your hair color (OK, maybe not that) can wreck your macarons. That cracks, dull-looking macs, footless macs and other horrors are all too easy to produce, especially if you're new to mac making. Should you age your egg whites (some are adamant, others say it doesn't make a difference)? My head was spinning with the Important Choices I was facing.

But every journey starts by putting one foot in front of the other, so I went step by step and just pushed through.
Sifting the dry ingredients is hard when the almond meal is coarse

I first made the recipe about a week and a half ago and learned a lot. The macarons turned out OK, not great, but sort of dull, lumpy and a bit hard. I had made most of them the size of a quarter as the book said and got tons of hard little buttons of cookies. I decided I'd try to fit them in again before our posting date. That ended up being last night after I came home from work.

The sugar syrup took forever to come up to temperature

It was 10:30 PM by the time I finished the second batch, and my photos are pretty bad as a result, but the macarons looked so much better than the first batch. They tasted better, and had much better texture. Here's what I learned:

  • This post was invaluable to me. I liked the scientific explanation of what can go right (and wrong) when you're making macs. This one, the quintessential Bakerella method, was another valuable source of information and technique.
  • I weighed all of my ingredients using the metric measurements Payard provides in the book.
  • You can make the ganache before starting on the macarons. It took my ganache a full two hours to chill both times, and the second time I gave up after two hours and stuck it in the fridge for 30 minutes. I was tired
  • When I make these again, I'll make one and one-half times the ganache recipe. I like how a thicker layer of ganache looks (and tastes!)
  • Bob's Red Mill almond meal/flour is too coarse for these. The first time I made the recipe, I used the almond flour without evening it out in the blender (or drying in the oven as one writer suggested) and my macs were very, umm, extruded looking. The second time I popped the almond flour and cocoa in the blender to make it even finer and it worked (though be very careful to pulse, not puree or you'll end up with chocolate almond butter-probably yummy but not the recipe we're making.)
  • The first time, my egg whites ended up too firm and that contributed to the extruded appearance and texture. The second time, I beat the egg whites on speed 4 on the KitchenAid, and took it down to 2 when they seemed to be getting too far ahead of the sugar (which took a lifetime to go from 230 to 250 degrees.)
  • After adding the hot sugar syrup, I stopped beating the egg whites before the bottom of the bowl was cool the second time. It was still warmish though certainly not hot when I turned off the mixer. This kept me from beating it into the dense, rubbery substance I got the first time.
  • I used a larger tip for the piping bag the second time, and that reduced hand strain and made it possible for the larger bits of almond meal to slip by.
  • The second time, I baked on the middle and lower shelves of the oven. This is because my oven preheats in cycles from the bottom, sides and top of the oven, which it did after I turned the oven back on after the 5 minute rest period. That gave the macs on the top rack a bit of a sunburn. They were still delicious but didn't look as nice.
  • If you want a thrill, turn on your oven light when you turn the oven back on after the 5 minute rest. You will see the macarons rise before your eyes, forming the feet that are one of the elements of a successful mac. Try not to shout "FEET! THEY HAVE FEET!" because you'll scare everyone in the house.
  • When you press the top mac onto the frosting and bottom mac, don't press too hard against the sheet pan or the mac will crack. 
  • After I finished making these last night at 10:30, I snuck over to my friend Susan's blog and read her post. She had a lot of valuable insights into making these. One of the things she said is that she loved how crispy the macarons were fresh, but missed the crispy shell after the macarons had softened up in the refrigerator. So I experimented with leaving them out overnight. The macarons that I put in an airtight container and left on the counter softened up much like they do in the fridge. But the ones I left out on a plate (uncovered) were still crisp outside with chewy middles...pretty yummy in my book. Now, the humidity in my house is about 40% since our climate is dry. I don't expect these to last very long so I think I'll store them uncovered.

The dry ingredients mixed with some of the egg whites

Adding the hot sugar to the egg whites

This meringue was over beaten and the macs tough as a result

Adding the meringue to the dry ingredients

Tuck your bag into the tip before filling it to avoid leakage

Macs the size of a quarter are tiny!

The first batch: a little disappointing

The second batch...much improved

So there you have it. If someone like me...lazy, messy, not meticulous or fussy, can make decent, yes, even delicious, macarons, so can you. Please visit the other Chocolate with Francois bakers to see their macarons...they're an inspiring group of bakers.

Here's the recipe from the book, Chocolate Epiphany:

Francois Payard says: The macaron is the most Parisian of all cookies, found most famously at the shops Laduree, Fauchon or Pierre Herme. There cannot be a chocolate book by a French pastry chef without a recipe for chocolate macarons! Plus, they're addictive: a rich ganache is sandwiched between two meringues that have a crusty exterior shell and a chewy, moist interior. You can fill them with pistachio puree or seedless raspberry jam if you want, but my favorite will always be this chocolate classic. Unlike most macaron recipes, other than Laduree's, these are made with a cooked meringue. Anything with meringue is sensitive to humidity; make these only on dry days.

Chocolate Macarons (makes about 30 macarons)
Printable recipe
3 2/3 cups (450 grams) confectioners' sugar
4 cups (400 grams) almond flour or finely ground blanched almonds
7 tablespoons (44 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
9 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar

4 ounces (120 grams) 50% chocolate, chopped
2 ounces (53 grams) 100% chocolate, chopped
4 1/2 teaspoons (27 grams) light corn syrup
1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream

Make the macarons:
Place a rack each in the upper and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats. If you have enough baking sheets,  double them up (this will prevent the macarons from baking too fast).

Sift together the confectioners' sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder over a large bowl. Stir in 4 of the egg whites, until the mixture is smooth and lump-free.

With a candy thermometer handy, combine the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup (125 grams) water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. If sugar sticks to the sides of the pan, dip a pastry brush in water and brush the sides.

While the sugar is cooking, put the remaining 5 egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with the whisk attachment. Once the sugar reaches 230 degrees on the candy thermometer, start beating the eggs on medium speed. When the sugar reaches 250 degrees, pour it into the eggs in a slow stream, with the mixer running, down the inside of the bowl. Continue beating until the meringue is thick and the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch.

With a silicone spatula, gently fold the meringue into the dry ingredients, in four increments. Fold until everything is well combined.

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag, and cut a 1/2 inch opening in the tip or corner of the bag. Pipe the batter into quarter-size disks on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between macarons. The macarons should have a uniform size. Let them sit out at room temperature for 15 minutes, until a skin forms. This will transform into a beautiful crust on the finished macarons.

Put the macarons in the oven, and turn the oven off for 5 minutes. After that time, turn it back on to 400 degrees, and continue baking for 8 minutes, until a crust forms and they are soft inside. Remove from oven and let the macarons cool on the pans.

Make the ganache:
Combine both chocolates and the corn syrup in a medium bowl. Pour the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate, and whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let the ganache cool, stirring periodically with a silicone spatula, until it reaches pipeable consistency, about 60 minutes. It should feel like a thick icing.

Assemble the macarons:
Turn the silicone baking mat over, and carefully pull it away from the macarons, to free them. Turn half of the macarons over, so that their flat side is facing up.

Spoon the ganache into a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag, and cut a 1/2-inch opening in the tip or corner of the bag. Pipe a nickel-size amount of ganache in the center of the macarons that are facing up. Gently press the remaining macarons over the ganache, to make small sandwiches. Try to match the size of the two halves as closely as possible.

Store the macarons in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to two months.


Kayte said...

I am NEVER trying to make these, do you hear me??? Not only this post, but every single post I have ever read about these babies scares me to death. That said, yours look absolutely perfect. Perfect. Congratulations!

Peggy said...

Leslie your macaroons are beautiful. I loved reading your post because I had to make mine twice and they still are not right, but delicious. Looks are not everything in cooking, right? I agree with you on everything you say. The almond flour would not sift for me. I had a lot of problems with this recipe, but the second time I made them I learned more, and the next time I try them (and I will because I love them) I will know so much more about what to do. I think you made an excellent pick for us. This is my first time in the group and it was a bit scary for me.

Joanne said...

The result of all that effort was perfection!
These weren't easy but with a little patience, not so bad to make in the end.

natalia said...

Leslie you are fantastic ! I'm very impressed by your second ones !! They really are wonderful ! Bravissima ! i'll try to make them again after vacations with your help !

TeaLady said...

Leslie, I have one thing to say. WOW!! I have tried macs and they have failed - badly. As with Kayte, never again. But then again, you give me hope. They LOOK perfect. Congrats on that second batch.

Linda said...

Your macaroons look good! Now I'm a bit worried about making them because we have high humidity here! I'm going to be making them this weekend. Wish me luck!

Joy said...

They're gorgeous! I've had macarons on my to-do list for a few years now, and I just let myself get intimated. I'm so impressed by your success!

Hanaâ said...

Wow, the second batch looks really pretty. I can see an array of those at a fancy bakery somewhere! Great job.

Anonymous said...

You get a virtual pat on the back! Wow, I'm really impressed, and honestly when I saw your photo, I thought I was looking at professional macarons!

Mary said...

"lazy, messy, not meticulous or fussy"--sounds like we have a lot in common! Gorgeous macs, though! Glad you worked through it for the great results.

margot said...

Wow, your macarons look great! I have stayed away from making them for the same reasons and feel that they could only result in disaster in my kitchen. Thanks for all the tips and links for macaron success for the day when I finally get up enough courage.

Lisa said...

Leslie..your macarons are chocolate perfection! they are so aesthetically perfect and beautiful...kudos to you!! Loved reading your tips and hints you began the post with that letter claiming you will never complain about the price of a macaron again..I nodded in agreement! My BF complained about how ONE teeny tiny macaron at an NYC patisserie cost so much. I explained that the labor that goes into these is not only laborious in steps, but to get a pan of perfect macs is nearly impossible! He finally got it when he saw what I've been through when I make them LOL

Keri said...

nO QUESTION About it, you have some serious skills in the kitchen. Every time I come here, I'm blown away. Amazing. Keri a.k.a. Sam

Anonymous said...

I don't like Word Press. It keeps throwing out my comments.

In short, I wrote that I enjoyed the way you write with wit and humor and information.

I also love the way your second batch came out.

Julie said...

Leslie: These are beautiful! I am impressed! I still hope to make these, it just wasn't in the cards for me the past weekend. Thanks for a great choice.

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

First of all, I admire you for choosing a macaron recipe because from what I've read, they can be difficult and temperamental.

That said, NICE FEET!

Di said...

Wow, great job, Leslie! I'm bookmarking this post right now. I've only made macarons once, and they didn't turn out that well. Your tips will definitely help, and I'd love to try a chocolate version.

Audrey said...

Leslie, these are beautiful! I'm very impressed.

Flourchild said...

What a fun post! I got a book on macarons that really helps with baking them. I love the way your turned out!

AmyRuth said...

Hey Leslie, So excited to read all your tips. Not only a compiicated recipe but then on top of that you took the time to write all your insightful tips to "Mac Success!" That my dear is not lazy, meticulous or messy. Silly. Anyway, Nicely done and between you and Susan maybe I'll actually try making these. I have Pierre Hermme's chocolate book with the appropriate french Macaroon recipe. So there you have it. Oh, and bonus I have a book called Chocoalte Ephiany by FP. Is that the book you are baking from? he he probably not. Anyway, perfecto Leslie!
PS Accountant Peeps are into details, yea, yea!

Leslie said...

Thanks, everyone for your wonderful comments! Making these was a high point of my baking experience.

Amy, the recipe is indeed from Chocolate Epiphany. I've edited the post to reflect that.

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

These are did an incredible job....beautiful just beautiful...thanks for picking this recipe this month !

Eva said...

hahahahaha at least yours came out good! i have yet to successfully make them so you've got me beat!

Califor1010 said...

My friend and I attempted this recipe, but being novices we naturally failed.

Our "dry" ingredients seemed perfectly fine until we added those 4 egg whites. After that it was impossible to remove lumps from this mixture... Any ideas where we went wrong???

Leslie said...

Califor1010, mine was a mess the first time I made these. Adding 4 egg whites made it a lumpy vat of cement, but after I folded in the meringue, it smoothed out somewhat. IMO, I would make the meringue less stiff. When the meringue gets to the glossy/stiff peaks phase I think it's going to give you a stiffer batter that will be hard to pipe. That helped me a lot the second (and subsequent) time I made them. They rose better and had great feet. Hope this helps!