October 2009 Daring Baker Challenge: French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was excited to try these macaroons, since I am feverishly enamored of its coconut macaroon cousin. Why then, pray tell, did I put off doing this challenge until yesterday? It's a mystery to me. I like these challenges, since it gives me a since of a job to accomplish. Since I am unemployed, or rather, "employed in the home", I don't often have deadlines. When I worked, I was queen of multitasking, a trait that I think carries into my home-employness. Sometimes, I'm surprised at how many things I get going at one time, and think maybe I should stop and start juggling or spinning plates just for laughs. I think though, that I'm learning that the Daring Baker Challenges are a bit like my dreaded high school Geometry class: do the homework (and learn the theorems), and then you will know how to effectively accomplish the task at hand.

Last month, I did more homework. I watched Julia Child making puff pastry dough, and when it was time for me to do it, I just did it. After all, I watched her and a Frenchman just do it, what could be so hard? But these little buggers were different. They had the reputation of being tricky to master, and I didn't do much homework. Of the challenges so far, besides puff pastry, I am going to try this one again, since I KNOW I can do better. And so, dear reader, read on:

This recipe for French Macarons called for 5 egg whites. I had 4 frozen in my freezer from the September challenge that required 4 egg yolks. I do take to freezing multiples of yolks or whites, after Alton Brown told me that you can freeze them separately. I've made Jamie Oliver's sheet meringue out of frozen egg whites with perfect results, so I figured that they would be fine for this application as well, as long as they were at room temperature.

Now, I'm not so sure. The first thing I do when I wake up on Daring Baker Challenge Post Day is check on Audax Artifex. He does post on the forum for members earlier, but I think I'm intimidated by him...so I wait until the 27th. He left his egg whites out for 3 days, covered and at room temperature. I am doing this next time.

The only variation to the batter I made was to add about 1 t. of almond extract. It is my most favorite flavoring, and I couldn't resist amping it up. I did opt to grind my own almonds, which I used by weight. I ground them in the food pro with a cup of the confectioner's sugar, as the directions directed, and then I ground them some more. I don't know why they all didn't succumb to powdery fineness, so I sieved them. I had about this much left over... and saved it to use on ice cream.

I thought the batter looked nice, I didn't feel that I over-folded the dry ingredients into the egg whites, and I was originally happy with how they looked when I piped them out:

I think in retrospect, I did pipe them too close, and also that since I didn't re-grind the portion of almond that I sieved, I had a slightly less dense batter.

Still, to this point in our adventures, I thought everything was going pretty well. Until they started coming out of the oven. The premise of the macaron is that you bake them at 200 degrees for 5 minutes to set them. Then, crank the oven to 375 degrees and finish them until browned slightly, about 7-8 minutes. After the 8 minute mark, I slid them hopefully out of the oven...

...and was able to hold them up to the light. I tried both parchment and a silicone baking mat, and both had the same reaction. I started trying to peel them off the sheet after they cooled about 5 minutes. It wasn't going to happen. I had forgotten that I believe there is a reason that the punks of yesteryear used egg whites to shellac their mohawks into shape: they are the stickiest substance on earth. I also had forgotten that in my Christmas cookie cache a few of years ago, I tried a Amaretti recipe from Martha Stewart that I think went entirly into the trash can, it was so miserably mangled. I am insanely curious to know if aging my egg whites for several days will eliminate this sticking problem, or if it is just par for the course since sugar is involved.

After I slipped the parchments and silicone mat into the freezer for several minutes, this released them instantly. I still didn't have the "Macaron Look" that I was so hoping would appear. They tasted great, though, which I always will count as a triumph!

I decided to fill with chocolate buttercream, which isn't all that imaginative, but is my favorite thing in the world, especially with almond. My non-dessert eating Husband ate them all up, since I only filled 4 or 5. I unfortunately left the rest on the racks when I turned my kitchen into a sauna via my canning project last night. When I went to attend to the rest, they were hopelessly sticky. No matter, I peeled them off and popped them all into the freezer. I love cookies from the freezer anyway. And they must be good, since before I came up here to write this, he asked me for some more macarons! This is a triumph! I had to fill some, but did so gladly since I am gushing that I may be gradually cultivating a dessert eater.

Lately, I think if I have any leftover crumbs or sweet bits I freeze them in thoughts of making ice cream. I adore homemade ice cream, but don't adore that I'm the only one to eat it - thus challenging the proportions of my figure. I am daydreaming about these almond flavored bits, however, and think that if I chop up some of my alcohol soaked cherries, and add it to vanilla or maybe chocolate ice cream, I could be very happy. Maybe shave some dark chocolate over the whole works, since I'm dreaming away. I've had so many ice cream options in my mind lately, I may just have to go and freeze my canister, so it will be ready when my dessert options wane - not that that happens so often. I am backlogged on things to try, partly due to my obsessive food blog reading. I guess that the reading is probably healthier than the eating, but as long as I stick to my "everything in moderation" mantra, all will be well.

You can find the recipe for French Macarons at the Daring Kitchen site, and as always, click on a few members on the blogroll. I'll be trolling through to see what I can do to improve my macaron making skills. After all, if I have a keeper of a recipe for my sugar-challenged Husband, what better motivation?