How to Make Macarons Part 3: *Epic* Fail

Hollow shells from over beating the meringue and cracked shells from not enough macaronage
Hollow shells from over beating the meringue and cracked shells from not enough macaronage

I don’t fail. I epically fail. Which, if you’re going to fail at all is the way to go. No half-assed, wimpy attempts that inevitably result in disaster. If you’re gonna fail, go down in flames.

Failure is not all bad. Thomas Edison went through 10,000 incarnations of the light bulb before landing on incandescent genius. Scientific studies even show that the more you fail, the faster you learn. Makes sense. So- failure in this household is not only an option, it’s expected in the name of learning. What happens when we encounter colossal failure? Well as long as nobody has been injured, it generally results in lots of sheepish laughter.

As in this week’s Macaron experiment. Boy did I blow it. I tried a different recipe because the process was simpler, and as the youngest Kitchen Diva in Training wanted to get in on the action, I figured this would be more her pace than the in-depth versions of Pierre Hermé. Of the two young ladies, she is definitely the more passionate in the kitchen. And when she saw her sister making macarons ‘all by herself’ she insisted in choosing one to make on her own as well.

This week, we used Brave Tart’s basic macaron recipe, and went for the Champagne and Roses flavors variety. Sorry, Stella- our colossal failure has nothing to do with your recipe, and everything to do with user error!

Here’s what we learned this week:

1) We definitely overbeat our meringue. Macaronage

This, in fact, was our number one issue. People always say baking is an exact science, which it is…..but, I’m finding it’s also highly intuitive, and you have to be bold enough to know when to trust your intuition.

For instance- one of the things I was very curious about with Brave Tart’s recipe is the meringue making process. Much easier for a 6yo, because you through all the sugar and egg-whites into the bowl and let ‘er rip. The addition of salt alters the flavor somewhat, but also helps stabilize the meringue (provided you don’t overdo it.) We doubled our batch, which was our first problem. Stella is very clear about how long to whip the meringue, and I went a lot longer because I wasn’t getting a big blob of meringue stuck in my whisk- the reason, I learned when I made a second attempt with the regular sized batch, was because I had too much meringue in my bowl. When I whipped again- I got an ENORMOUS blob..clue, that for me and my bowl, I likely went too long. I did, as the pictures sadly show.

2) You can simultaneously overbeat and underbeat your egg whites!

Notice the little 'nipple' on the left macaron. Not enough macaronage. The pair on the left was the only non-cracked pair from the second batch, and the only two that grew feet.
Notice the little ‘nipple’ on the left macaron. Not enough macaronage. The pair on the left was the only non-cracked pair from the second batch, and the only two that grew feet.

On batch two- I not only overbeat the meringue, I under-macaronaged! In layman’s terms, this means I over inflated the egg-whites in one step, and then failed to deflate them enough in another step. You can see this by all the little ‘nipples’ on the top of the cookies… sigh.

Brave Tart’s recipe also calls for adding the almond mixture to the egg whites, not the other way around. I’m used to adding the whites to the flour. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make a difference one way or another, but I think I was definitely more freaked out about over incorporating with the heaviest stuff on top. I think this is one reason why I didn’t macaronage long enough. In fact, the reason we salvaged any at all from the first batch was because the mini Kitchen Diva in Training insisted on mixing it herself. Apparently, she knew what she was doing!

3) Food Coloring Fades in the Oven

Eek! Houston- we have a problem
Eek! Houston- we have a problem

 

Who knew? No one was more surprised than me when the pretty pink circles came out brown, footless, and horribly cracked. Stunned, speechless. The second attempt was much pinker because I used a TON of red food coloring. Red is definitely less forgiving than yellow in the oven.

 

 

4) I really, really need a new oven

For the first time *ever* my oven temperature started fluctuating wildly. At one point it was actually the set temperature, which meant it was too hot for cooking macaron. I’m just going to have to deal with this little bit because I refuse to spend money on a new oven right now. If I buy a new oven, we will end up moving in less than 3 months. Guaranteed, and I will have purchased my dream oven for someone else. No thank you! Of course…what if we wanted to move? hmm….maybe a new oven is in order.

In Conclusion Piping the macarons

So I failed. Big Whoop. Were they delicious? Umm…… YES! Did we eat more broken, hollow, cracked ones than we should have? Hell yes. Am I going to curse myself for setting up a year of sugary, carbo-loaded, fatty baking challenges for myself? Probably. It’s too cold to run and I don’t have much self discipline to yoga on my own. A moment on the lips….

We did pick a few of the least ugly ones to try out the champagne flavored buttercream. The hollow batch still stated great- was kind of chewy, but again that’s a selling point for some. I prefer more pillowey myself, and the second batch (likely not over cooked), even in its under-macaronaged state, definitely softened to a more pillowey state.

Here’s the deal: For those of you reading this- don’t let this deter you from trying to make macarons- any macarons. Pierre Hermé is my macaron hero, but so is Stella Parks. Both are innovators, both have endeavored to simplify and demystify macarons, both are doing tremendous work by testing the boundaries of flavor and ingredients. I love this. I will probably go back to my Pierre Hermé Italian Meringue method, because for me, that feels more comfortable. Truthfully, if I had the time, I would continue to work on Stella’s method until I could perfect it-because it’s way less hassle. And, for the record (my sincerest apologies Monsieur Hermé) I don’t leave my egg whites out for a week. I don’t have the counter space. And I don’t use mineral water- I use tap water. They still taste great.

And that, my fellow kitchen adventurers, is the whole point.

Next Week: Tune in for the last installment of Le Macaron

For the time being, we'll be enjoying our champagne and roses separately.
For the time being, we’ll be enjoying our champagne and roses separately.

 

Some friends and I will be venturing into foreign territory as we develop our own macaron. What will happen? It will be an adventure.

Have you been brave enough to attempt some macarons this month? Email your pictures to adventuresomekitchen(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ll post them in our final installment. Feel free to post your stories and experiences here.

How to Make Macarons Part 2: The Inca – or lost in translation

The Inca
The Inca

This is the second installment of The Adventuresome Kitchen’s 4 part “How to Make Macarons” series. Join me by posting your stories, thoughts and questions, or by emailing me a picture of what you’re working on in your kitchen!

Maybe it’s that we read the recipe 25 times. Maybe it was the sunshine, or the incredibly smooth school-day, or the fact that since I wanted my daughter to succeed at this, I took it down a notch from warp-speed and wasn’t a total spaz while I was cooking. Did you know that? I’m often a total spaz in the kitchen. A whirling dervish; a white tornado. Pots and pans seem to enter my gravitational pull and then get flung aside with enough force they could be catapulted into orbit like the Voyager heading to Saturn. I nearly set a dish-towel on fire the other day. Mr. Kitchen Diva would beg to differ and say that I did set it on fire.

In spite of the high energy in the kitchen, stuff rarely boils over, burns, spills, or catches At work in the kitchenfire. And somehow in the midst of the creative frenzy that is my brain,  I manage to take pretty copious notes. But with a Kitchen Diva in Training at the helm today, working on a complicated recipe she picked out, things had to slow down. What ensued was a luxurious afternoon spent cleaning, prepping, measuring, timing, teaching, singing, dancing, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

 

 

Pierre Herme Macaron - The Inca

 

The elder Kitchen Diva in Training, just past 11, went for Gold- literally! She picked a lovely, somewhat intimidating macaron called The Inca. Lemon yellow with gold glitter, its filling is comprised of avocados, bananas, white and dark chocolate. We were all a bit unsure when she picked it. I’m guessing it’s not the most popular treat in the macaron shop- but it should be. Holy Guacamole Bat-Man! This filling could exist on its own as a cream pie and people’s eyes would roll back with ecstasy. It’s not too sweet, just slightly tart, and Ka-Pow! Then you’re hit with a tiny square of bittersweet chocolate. This is why Pierre Hermé is the master.

As for the process? Well, it was a little tricky. There were some language issues in this recipe that were not resolved either with editing or translation. Namely with the drying of ripe bananas. The recipe calls for 120g of ripe bananas to be ‘sprinkled’ with lemon juice and dried in a low oven for 2 hours. The recipe then says to chop it into 60g pieces for the ganache filling? Whaa? 60g is most of a banana, and there’s no way that’s going to fit in a piping tube… And, as you can see from the picture below- ‘sprinkling’ with lemon didn’t quite get the job done. Those babies went straight into the trash. Cue the whining trombones.

We tried again with the last banana we had left and tossed them all liberally in the lemon juice with much better results.. Now, I admit, perhaps the tang of the lemon might not be what Monsieur Hermé was after, but they were good, and at least they didn’t turn black!

I'm guessing these are Not exactly what The Master was envisioning.
I’m pretty sure these are not exactly what The Master was envisioning.
Take 2: These look much more appetizing. The difference? Tossed in Lemon Juice.
Take 2: These look much more appetizing. The difference? Tossed in Lemon Juice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank goodness we’d read the recipe 25 times! One of the challenges I told my daughter about is that often things happen very fast in the kitchen- even when I’m not flying about at light speed. Sugar hits a temperature and has to be moved to the egg whites. Egg whites have to be whipped only so much or they go from light and fluffy to saggy and separated in the blink of an eye. If you’re prepared, and you’ve considered your work space, set up your ingredients, and know your recipe, you can tackle these timing issues with ease- and hopefully without throwing too many pots and pans into orbit. And if you’re very lucky, your macarons will turn out just like the picture!

The finished product!
The finished product!

Here are some of the things we learned today:

Piping Le MacaronI need 5- yes 5 cookie sheets to fully pipe a batch of macarons. Back to the kitchen store before Friday.

I need more piping nozzles. They definitely work better than the ziplock bag, but we had to stop during piping to replace the bags etc.. It would be much easier with 4 bags and 4 nozzles set out ready to go.

My oven is simultaneously too hot and too cold. It runs 25 degrees cold. But today while we were baking, I realized that 350 degrees for these yellow macarons was too much. They were sticking to the parchment and were slightly gummy on the inside, even when their tops showed they needed to be pulled from the oven. Ultimately, we landed on 300 degrees for 14 minutes. They peeled off the parchment with the ease of a ripe banana, and were perfect on the inside.

MacaronageChocolate colored macarons are infinitely more forgiving than lemon yellow colored macarons. There’s no hiding when they’ve been ever so slightly over done.

According to the Kitchen Divas in Training, macaron parties are lots of fun and the only way to make macarons is in a group.

The younger Kitchen Diva in Training is getting quite good at photo documentation. Most of the pictures you see today are hers, or her big sister’s.

The elder Kitchen Diva in Training really shined. She was nervous about piping,

Et Voila!
Et Voila!

macaronage-ing, working with boiling sugar, but she rocked it all, and showed herself she can do anything in the kitchen.

You’re never too old to have fun getting covered in gold glitter.

Anyone can make macarons. Yep. You read that right. It’s true. Anyone can make macarons.

Lastly- these macarons should always be enjoyed after a delicious bowl of Vegan Chili!

There are still two weeks left to join in the macaron fun! Grab a friend, or tackle it on your own. You too can master these delicious gluten-free treats! Next week, the younger Kitchen Diva in Training will be picking out one of Brave Tart’s magic creations to try in our kitchen!

How to make Macarons Part 1: Beauty & the Beast

Pierre Hermé: MacaronsThis is part 1 of our 4 part mini series- How to Make Macarons.

For those of you who have read my Gluten-Free Paris posts, you will know that I am a huge fan of Pierre Hermé. I feel his macarons are by far the best thing going on in Paris. Last year for Christmas, Mr. Kitchen Diva gave me his fabulous Macarons book. The pictures are glorious and enticing, and Monsieur Hermé works to break down the very intimidating macaron process. I found his directions to be clear and concise. In fact, he writes that he had his 10 year old daughter test the basic macaron recipe and make them by following the steps he outlines in the book.

Well crap. If a 10 year old can do this, why can’t I? And for that matter, why am I letting a ‘leetle cookie’ intimidate me? Eesh. So I began by working through Monsieur Hermé’s recipe.

Here’s what I learned during attempt #1:

1) I need a new oven. I won’t be purchasing a new oven anytime soon, so I am going to have to work with what I have. This means cooking only 1 pan of macarons at a time- on the top shelf. You can see from the pictures below, my first pan of macarons turned out beautifully- they had perfect feet, glossy tops, and were cooked to the right consistency.

The macarons on the bottom shelf of the oven did not fare so well. They were lumpy, cracked, and their bottoms scorched. This is indicative of poor airflow, and a different temperature…I don’t quite understand myself how a macaron can be simultaneously overcooked on the bottom and undercooked in the middle… I think it may have something to do with number 2.

This was the first batch on the top oven rack. Notice the happy feet, uniformity of shape, evenness across the top and the glossy texture
This was the first batch on the top oven rack. Notice the happy feet, uniformity of shape, evenness across the top and the glossy texture

 

 

This was from the same batch but placed on the bottom oven rack. Notice the crumple-y, uneven texture and the cracking.
This was from the same batch but placed on the bottom oven rack. Notice the crumple-y, uneven texture and the cracking.

2) I have a few cookie sheets that need to go to the great recycle bin in the sky. One in particular is so bad that every macaron scorched on the bottom. The other I think I can work with by placing the parchment paper over a silpat- which I will do in round 2.

Scorched.
Scorched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) I really need some piping nozzles. Sadly, I thought I had them, until I frantically went searching for said large piping nozzle after I had already made my fillings. I ended up going the MacGuyver method and made my own piping bag with a ziplock. It was okay. It lacked a bit of control and so my macarons were varied in size.

I put the whole batch in a big ziplock. The later macarons spread further. Next time, I'll only work with a little batter at a time.
I put the whole batch in a big ziplock. The later macarons spread further. Next time, I’ll only work with a little batter at a time.

4) Although my first batch of macarons (on the top shelf of the oven) were cooked beautifully, I suspect that part of my issue was that I didn’t quite beat my meringue high enough, as the other batches were slightly gooey in the middle. This feature was actually a bonus for one of my tasters, but it wasn’t what I was going for.

5) I would like stronger flavor from my fillings. For attempt 1, I made a Pierre Hermé-style chocolate macaron shell and filled some with a pumpkin pastry creme and others with an orange curd. I found myself wanting more intensity to balance the chocolate. Of the two- I liked the pumpkin pastry creme the best

The prettiest for the pictures. Pumpkin filling is on the left, orange curd is on the right. Next time, I will make the filling a little more generous.
The prettiest for the pictures. Pumpkin filling is on the left, orange curd is on the right. Next time, I will make the filling a little more generous.

6) Making macarons is always better with company. The youngest Kitchen Diva in Training helped with production this time, took most of the pictures you see on the blog today, and was great in the encouragement department. In fact, at one point when I was grumbling about what I’d do next time, she ran to the ‘fridge and pointed to a magnet we have. “Never, Never, Never Give Up- Mommy” she said in her pipey voice. “Remember, you always tell us that the fastest way to learn is to make lots of mistakes!” Ah yes, out of the mouths of babes. I really do have the most adorable children.

I also discovered some great troubleshooting websites:

http://foodnouveau.com/2011/12/16/destinations/europe/france/a-macaron-troubleshooting-guide-useful-tips-and-advice-to-master-the-french-delicacy/#equipment-09-double-baking-sheets

http://notsohumblepie.blogspot.com/2010/08/macaron-troubleshooting-new-recipe.html

http://misohungrynow.blogspot.com/2011/01/troubleshooting-macaron.html

My favorite online macaron resource is written by the witty and engaging Stella Parks from BraveTart. Stella was named one of the top 10 Pastry Chefs of 2012 by Food and Wine Magazine. Her posts are informative, funny, and inspiring. She demystifies much of the macaron making process, and reminds us not to get too caught up in seeking perfection. She makes macarons in a totally different way from Pierre Hermé, but I’m guessing they are no less delicious. I’ll be attempting Pierre Hermé one more time next week, and then moving on to one of Stella’s fabulous concoctions.

Never Never Never Give Up

For next week: I’ll be hitting my local kitchen store to purchase a few more cookie sheets, some piping nozzles, and maybe even some fancy gel food coloring. I’ll be honing in on how to manage my wildly inconsistent oven, and lastly, I’ll be inviting the oldest Kitchen Diva in Training to take the lead in the next round of baking.

 

 

JOIN ME: Grab a friend or two and jump in! Feel free to post your comments and email me pictures at adventuresomekitchen(at)gmail(dot)com.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Pastry Creme-makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

1/3 cup sugar,

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large egg yolks

1 cup eggnog

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp cinnamon

Directions

Place egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl and whip at high speed until the mixture is thick and color is pale yellow. Meanwhile, using a stainless steel saucepan, bring eggnog, pumpkin, and cinnamon to a simmer. As soon as the mixture begins to show the tiniest bubbles, slowly pour about 1/3 of the mixture into the eggyolks- whisking constantly! This is called tempering the eggs, and is a crucial step in the custard/creme making process. Otherwise you end up with sweet scrambled eggs!

Next, pour the warmed-up yolk batter into the hot pan with the remaining eggnog. Whisk constantly and remove from the heat when it begins to bubble. Pour into a large stainless steel bowl. I like larger bowls because it helps cool the mixture faster- more room to spread out.

Stir with a lifting motion for a few minutes to release some of the heat. When the mixture has partially cooled, place a film of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry creme, removing any airbubbles, and place in the refrigerator. The mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.

Cream of Carrot Leek Soup

The snow has started to fly again in Paris, but tonight we were warmly tucked inside before it started sticking to the streets. And while we were damp upon returning to le petite apartment we were not drowned rats- a welcome change from some of the past days. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow we’ll have been here a week. I haven’t seen one museum, nor done half the things I set out to do, but we have had an amazing visit so far, with more to come. Today, a few more pictures from the last few days, and a recipe for a simple and very warming soup- Cream of Carrot Leek Soup- something nice for a cold snowy evening!

This picture here is representative of the way we’ve been eating most days- a little cheese, a little sausage, a little fruit, and then after, a little salad. Very simple and satisfying fare-the kind that gives you the energy to walk four miles or more taking it all in amidst the drizzle and cold.

In many ways, today was a very special day- we met a longtime friend of my grandfather’s who welcomed us with open arms, and we spent an afternoon speaking in French and English. Of course, I left with a handful of recipes that I can’t wait to attempt!

And before that, I met a fellow food blogger and made a new friend. I have only been blogging about gluten-free food for nine months. In that time, I have encountered a world of amazing new people. People who are as generous with their time and encouragement as they are with sharing their recipes on their own blogs. As a result,  I regularly have conversations with people around the world about food and cooking, and have felt my horizons expanding exponentially. But it is extra special when you get to meet- even for a brief time- someone with whom you have an instant rapport and mutual appreciation. Cristina who writes the blog From Buenos Aires to Paris, met me and my family today for a delightful walk along the Champs Elysées. If you’ve never visited her blog, I suggest you hop over and prepare yourself for some great recipes and exquisite photos- all delivered with great enthusiasm and a marvelous sense of humor! We traded stories while the girls enjoyed some hot pomme frites from the Village du Noel and ended our time together with a visit to a fancy store at the top of the Champs to purchase some Pierre Hermé macarons. Thank you Cristina for a lovely visit, and for making us feel so welcome here!

Macarons are naturally gluten-free, and we have made a point of sampling as many different ones as possible during the last six days. Pierre Hermé macarons are far from traditional- try adventurous flavors like Rose, White Truffle with Chestnut, and Chocolate with Green Tea for starters. I’d post a picture, but they didn’t fare well during our walkabout today, and so sadly, I will have to return to purchase more so that I can post a nice photo!

After such a lovely day, imagine returning to our ‘home street’ to enjoy a little conversation with the shopkeepers while we purchased ingredients for dinner! C’est tres jolie!

In keeping with the late hour, the impending snow, and the need to prepare something quick, a simple soup seemed to be in order. Carrots and leeks looked good, so we decided to add some creme fraiche and voilá! Le bonne soup!

Enjoy the photo montage below, and if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere tonight, may you be as warm of heart and body as we have been today. Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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