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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making Macarons: FAIL!

Making Macarons: FAIL! |
This week's #SundaySupper theme is all about trying something new in the kitchen.  Be it a recipe that you've had your eye on for a while (or filed away for I may or may not have), a new technique you've been wanting to master, or perhaps diving in to a cuisine that you are unfamiliar with.  We're talking adventures today!

Of course I have countless numbers of recipes just hanging out, waiting in the wings.  But I knew right away what I was going to do this week.  I was going to make Macarons - something I have been putting off for a looooong time.  Even when that huge macaron-craze hit a few years back.  There were macaron making groups.  I would visit their posts and think about how pretty those little French cookies were.  Shells in a spectrum of beautiful colors.  Fillings that ranged from buttercream to ganache to frosting and jam.  But I only admired from afar.

Honest to dog truth?  In all of that time, I never so much as tasted a macaron.  My first bite into that crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside shell wrapped around buttercream actually came a mere seven months ago, on my first day in Ireland.  It was good, but soon forgotten in a haze of whiskey, foie gras, brown bread, and adorable yogurt jars.

So, having read and intentionally/unintentionally prepared for this moment for so many years, I decided it was time to s*it or get off the pot.  And I wasn't going to start with just any macaron - oh no.  I wanted to attempt a Cheetos Macaron that I had recently read about.  Several times.  The shells were plain, and there was a cheetos-infused ganache in between.  I even saved a few cheetos for crumbling and dusting the top of the shells.
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
First came the ganache:  x-amount of cheetos infused in heavy cream and strained once cool.  Combine the now-cheesy cream with white chocolate to make a ganache.  Or so was the plan.  It all started out well.  Putting cheetos and heavy cream in a pot together made me unusually happy.  Until the cheetos soaked up every single last bit of cream, leaving none to be strained and used for the ganache.  Instead I had a wet mass of unusable goo.  Fail.

So, time to reformulate.  The rest of the bag of cheetos had already vanished.  And I was beginning to wonder whether I should have used cheese curls instead of cheese puff (the recipe didn't say).  Perhaps I should have figured, but when I heard cheetos, that what I went for.  Even though I, myself, prefer the hard, crunchy curls to the styrofoamy puffs.  Oh well, chalk it up.

So I looked at my pantry for a flavor inspiration.  My eyes went to a few precariously stacked boxes of tea.  Earl Grey.  I was going to make Earl Grey Macarons.  And put some cardamom in the shells.  So, I decided on an Earl Grey-infused ganache to go with it.  I had a half of a container of heavy cream left.  So, I infused the rest of the cream with the tea.  And I popped a few white chocolate chips (my nemesis) into my mouth while I waited.  I weighed out what I thought would be the right amount.  And then I popped the remaining chips in my mouth.  Ummmmm....can you guess where this is going?  I whisked my reserved white chocolate into my hot, infused cream - only to find out that I was short on chocolate.  Well, duh.  I was using an old ganache recipe that I doubled the cream for.  But FORGOT to double the chocolate for.  Doh!  And I'd already eaten too much of the "extra" chocolate to make up the difference.  So I whisked in what was left of the chocolate, stuck it in the fridge, and hoped for the best.  My best wasn't good enough.  It wasn't enough chocolate to set up to the point where it wouldn't just cascade over the edges when I set it on the shell.
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
Speaking of the shell, I added a bit of earl grey and a bit of cardamom to the almond flour and sugar.  I beat my eggs and other sugar to stiff peaks.  I folded them together.  I realized belatedly that my 1/2-inch pastry tip was missing - so I piped haphazardly from the cut corner of a baggie onto my parchment-lined baking sheet...which, by the way, I was far too lazy and concerned with lead (graphite?) poisoning to draw circlular patterns onto.  Okay, I did draww on a few and flipped it over, but that was far too much work, so I just free-handed it for most of them.

I sprinkled a few with more earl grey, stuck them in the oven and impatiently awaited the arrival of those gorgeous little shells.  SURPRISE!  Not so gorgeous, but still - THEY HAD FEET!  The most beautiful little feet in the world.  I was ridiculously proud of those feet.  However, they also had nipples.  Pert ones.  Squished ones.  Pointy ones.  Man!  But Susan told me that all I needed to do was push those little nipples down with a damp fingertip after piping, so I figured next time, I'd have perfect shells.
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
Fast forward a day.  I decided that my perfect shells were going to strawberry.  Strawberry macarons with (runny) Earl Grey ganache sounded pretty fabulous to me.  I was feeling cocky confident.  But I didn't really want to use food coloring, so I figured that since grinding freeze-dried fruit to a powder had worked so well to color my meringues last week that it would probably work just as well to color my macaron shells.  Oh the visions in my head!

So I added freeze-dried strawberries to the food processor with the confectioners' sugar and almond flour and whizzed them all up into a beautiful, pink powder.   Aw yeah, these babies were gonna be fabulous!
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
Next up, time to pipe.  I still skipped making circles on my paper, but I did find my piping tip.  So, pretty pink mounds dotted my parchment paper.  Nipples were wiped away with one damp finger.  But...and this should have been a sign...those little mounds never really dried out on the outside after sitting for 15 or 20 minutes like the first batch did.  I slid them into the oven anyway.  Afterall, they were well on their road to being perfect.
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
Until I opened it 12 to 14 minutes later to find not only nipple-less, but also foot-less little cookies.  Not smooth and puffed up proudly, but rather cracked and caving in on themselves as if burdened by my expectations of grandeur.

I don't know if the addition of the fruit was at fault...could it have added too much moisture?  I did everything else the same as my good shells.  I wonder if I'd combined the fruit powder with the egg whites instead of the almond flour if it would have made any difference?  I should have just used some stupid food coloring.  Or left it plain.  I'm not gonna be so "confident" next go-round.

Let me just tell you (if you don't already know), making macarons is flippin' expensive!  Almond flour is pricey!  Heavy cream is pricey!  White chocolate?  Oh yeah, it's pricey.  I was out of ingredients and out of money for this go-round.  No more macaron tries for me this week.  I had to admit defeat.
Making Macarons: FAIL! |
Now, I know I had the right idea.  I'm pretty fearless in the kitchen.  I know the basics...culinary school and a culinary apprenticeship saw to that.  But I've always leaned more towards the cooking side.  I did not major in pastry.  I'm a regular bread baker.  Yeast is my friend, but that elusive macaron remains a distant acquaintance. (Apparently I think yeast should be harder to master than a macaron.)

I'm not giving up for good.  I'll try again...and soon.  I'm reading a book right now for the current round of Cook the Books that has more macarons in it that a Parisian pastry shop, so I'm already set on heading back into the kitchen, armed with a new bag of almond flour sometime in the next 30 days.  Just you wait.