08 March 2010

Parisian Macarons

Yes, they are delicious. And cute. And NPR thinks they're the next big cupcake/whoopie pie.

[taken by david lebovitz. yes. those are macarons. look at the pretty colors!]

But they are DAMN hard to make.

I have some theories, as I type this in my kitchen with horrible lighting. The dishwasher is whirring, after a night of defeat is finally over. I slaved over these darn adorable little cookies, for FOUR HOURS. Yes, seriously. I ate dinner at 6:30 and pretty much worked on them up until now (at the moment I am typing this sentence, is it 10:28 PM).

I got this book, I Heart Macarons. It was one of my Christmas presents to myself. So when I got the book, back in December, I thought - Hey! I'll make these, over Christmas break!

So I went out and bought almond flour, which is harder to find than one may think. Yeah, you can make it yourself but you need almonds without the brown skin on them to make your own. Yes, you can also find almonds without the brown skin. But I was lucky enough to spot some almond flour at Trader Joe's while looking for my favorite juice. So I bought it.

Everything else in the plainest macaron recipe is pretty simple - powdered sugar, egg whites, vanilla, regular sugar. That's it. Easy easy lemon squeezy. I had all of those things on hand! So, I had the almond flour and I was good to do with the making of the macarons at any time.

But instead I forgot. Christmas came and went and I got a lot of new toys and books and then school started again. And all of a sudden, three months had passed and I still had yet to open the I Heart Macarons cookbook and actually make something from it. So I decided last week, "yes! I will make macarons over my spring break!" This idea was further solidified when I stumbled across La Bonne Bouchee last Friday. I had just come from the doctor (why else would I be in Creve Couer?) and wanted something sweet (what else is new?). Pastries of Denmark was supposed to be around there and, with eyes like a hawk, I kept looking and looking for it but it was gone. Missing. Hiding. Something, one of those things. But across the street was a modest little storefront I could barely see from Olive - "La Bonne Bouchee". First of all, it's French. I like French. Also, it translates into "the good mouth". That's just hilarious. Thirdly, I had heard of this place and I thought, "well. I won't be back out here until the next time I go to my doctor so I may as well stop in and see what they have."

It's magical. You must go. If I had had my camera, I would have taken pictures. There were jars and jars and jars of meringues, all different colors and flavors and sizes. There were three huge bakery cases, full of chocolate croissants and raspberry tarts and fruit pies and...and...PARISIAN MACARONS. I was pretty excited about this because it was the first time I had ever seen Parisian macarons in St. Louis. If you've been a longtime reader of happy notions, you may remember seeing this post last summer - when Pete and I were house-sitting for my family members up in Chicago and we went on a wild goose chase all over the city, hunting for the delectable, enigmatic Parisian macarons.

And up until Friday, that was the last time that I had had one.

I digress. So I decide to make the macarons this week. At work today, I thought - hey. I could make those tonight. Pete will be busy with work but I don't have anything to do other than watch Seinfeld so I may as well kill two birds with one stone and bake AND giggle at Elaine.

The book lists four problems that may arise with the cookie part of the Parisian macaron. I had none of those problems. My cookies turned out glossy. They were chewy. They had pieds (the little feet that are the Parisian macaron signature). There were no oil stains or cracks.

[pieds = "feet"; the bubbly little layer between solid cookie and filling; taken by this lady]

So it sounds like I was golden, right? After using two different types of mixers, six different mixing bowls, breaking my favorite Rosati-Kain glass cup in the microwave (it cracked when heating sugar water; I don't think very far in advance when I'm cooking sometimes), and two racks in the oven, I thought it would be okay. But as I poured the macaron batter mix into my pastry bag, and it started to literally fall out of the bag...I realized that something was wrong.

The batter laid too flat. It wasn't puffy enough. I wish I could think of a good analogy to make, but it's impossible - because the little pools of batter that were on top of that parchment just looked so sad. They are impossible to compare to anything else.

If you are a seasoned macaron baker, you may be thinking one of two things: 1) Kaylen, you didn't macronnage long enough. That may be true. But I tumbled that batter around my mixing bowl 20 different times (you're only supposed to do it 15) and my arm felt like it was going to fall off and I couldn't take it any longer. The other thing you may be thinking: 2) Kaylen, did you let those egg whites sit out for 24 hours?

No. No, I did not. Try two hours. Pete said, "you should put it in the microwave". Don't worry, I didn't. Eggs + microwave = salmonella or e.coli or just a disaster in general, so I avoided that. Using the microwave is great when butter needs to be room temperature (although I read a new trick! If you put the stick of butter into lukewarm water when you're getting the other ingredients together for whatever you're baking, by the time you're supposed to use the butter, it'll be room temp!). But eggs. No dice. No good.

There is one other problem that may have been to blame. I used almond meal. I just looked. I thought, "well almond meal must be the same as almond flour". I haven't verified this on google, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. I put the almond meal through my food processor (WHICH SUCKS, I need to add a new one to the registry) which did make it more fine. I pushed it through a sieve, twice, which also made it more fine. But maybe it wasn't fine enough.

And finally. Almond flour can only be exposed to air temperature for so long before it doesn't work the way it's supposed to (isn't that insane? That's what the book says). My almond meal sat out for two hours, while I was waiting for the egg whites to warm. And the real kicker: since I bought that almond meal in December, it's due date was...well, it's bad. The due date was two months ago. But I hadn't opened the bag! It was vacuum sealed, until 6:30 tonight! Doesn't that mean anything?!

Apparently not.

So in general, my macarons turned out...okay. I would never show them to anyone else (that's why there's no pictures; sorry!), but they had the pieds and they are glossy and they are moist and chewy. They even taste pretty good, they just look ugly. And since the batter formed little pools on the baking tray, as opposed to little puffs, a lot of it ran together in the oven and formed one giant macaron. Which really, isn't so bad...right?

But I'll be back. Round II, tomorrow. Get ready.

And if you want to really read about how difficult it is to make macarons, just look here. At this blogger's blog, who works for Betty Crocker. If she has a hard time with it, well...that just makes me feel better.

(congratulations if you made it to the end of this post! i love you.)


Bridgett said...

Goodness gracious. Im trying to think of something i've made that was this ridiculously hard and messy....but I guess I'm not that adventurous!! The first time I made chicken pot pie from scratch it took all day and 3 pots and 5 bowls and all that, but it turned out like a photo in a cookbook. I have had failures. I guess I just didn't document them so...amusingly. :^)

Bridgett said...

Oh, Iremember. My first cheesecake. The cheese part was great. Too much butter in the crumb crust though caught the oven on fire. HA!

Karen said...

I might have shared this before, but I've made macarons 4 times: 2 were glorious, 2 were...not so much. From the same recipe! I use Martha's.

I've never used almond flour, but have ground the almonds in a food processor until fine. Once until it became almond paste (whoops!). Anyway, it sounds like it was a mix of not-quite-right ingredients. And maybe you mixed too much after combining the eggs and dry ingredients? That's a surefire way to flat macarons. The key is to BARELY combine the wet and dry so the eggs retain their fluff.

This has inspired me to try again!

Laura said...

i bet they were delicious anyway!

mh said...

I've never had Parisian macaroons! They're nothing like the coconut ones my grandma used to make at Christmas!
I've made several things that have taken the whole kitchen -- and more cleaning than cooking it seemed. :) But it's all worth it!

sonrie said...

seriously...send me a photo...i want to see. and, i can't believe there is no almond flour anywhere. Did you try local harvest?

Pete said...

Thanks, ya'll!

Bridgett - that chicken pot pie sounds amazing. I want to have some of that right now...

Karen - thank you for the pointers! My egg whites have been hanging out on the counter for almost 24 hours now and I am going to try another batch in the morning. I will be sure to not overmix.

Laura - they WERE pretty good, if I do say so myself... ;)

Mary Helen - yes, it is quite a production and I know you've had some of those in your kitchen.

Rosemary - Pete threw them away. He said that they were "tempting" although I can't imagine how. HOWEVER, I will document the process during the day tomorrow.

Kaylen said...

Oops, sorry, that above post was me. Not Pete. I don't think he would say, "thanks ya'll".