I Celebrate the Day by Relient K
This is one of my favorite modern day Christmas songs. I learned about Relient K through my youngest daughter. I'm a fan. And this song has caused me to do what no new Christmas song has done in a very, very long time ~ and that is to think about the birth of Jesus in a new way. "The first time that you opened your eyes, did you realize that you would be my Savior? And the first breath that left your lips, did you know that it would change this world forever?" The potential of that wee babe born so humbly in Bethlehem. What an awe-inspiring thought. Potentials from "first times" - it'll give you lots to ponder if you let it. Do we ever sit back and contemplate where our "first times" have taken us? I do ~ often.
My second year of culinary school found me in my baking rotation. It was divided up in segments through which each team of two had to circulate and demonstrate skills in various areas - breads, pastries, cookies, etc. One of the cookies in the cookie segment was the Parisian or French Macarons. That is not a spelling error - it has only one "o." It's basically a meringue cookie sandwich and the filling can be all sorts of delicious things like buttercream frostings or luxurious chocolate ganache. They are such an eye appealing cookie - you can dress them up in so many ways.
They can also be little stinkers ~ difficult and moody at times. I didn't understand this because I had really good "first time" luck. There were only a few of us in class that got them to turn out on our first try. These are my "first times" that got to be sold in the campus cafe. I laugh now, looking at the "nipples" on top. They shouldn't be there! The top should be smooth! But they were a hit and very tasty.
So, about a year later, I had a friend who wanted to learn to make them. I said that I'd be happy to teach her. It had been awhile since my "first time" so I thought I'd whip up a batch to remind myself how it all went. That's when Little Miss French Macaron started showing how persnickety she could be. I started experiencing the lopsided mood, the "no foot" mood, and the cracking mood. The "no foot" refers to that little ruffled base that actually defines this cookie. If it doesn't have that little piedmont, or "foot," it's not a French Macaron. My friend came over and we worked on it and actually had some successes. But I have been on a quest ever since then to figure these girls out once and for all! And so have many others. There are lots of blogs out there featuring these delights. Just Google "french macarons."
Last spring I had some terrific success making some for the wedding reception of my friend, Erin. You met her here last year this time when I taught her how to make pie dough and some Christmas Quiche. These are the macarons I made for her ~
Pistachio with Rose Buttercream
and these ~
Erin's mom, my friend, Lara, had this cute little suitcase which we used to display them. In addition to the pistachio ones there are Lavender with Lemon Buttercream, Raspberry with Chocolate Ganache, and Lemon with Blueberry Buttercream. I was really proud of these!
I still have troubles with them now and then, though. I'm going to be completely honest with you. It's a learning experience. But I find that I want to get them figured out ~ to be somewhat proficient, you know? Who knew what that "first time" would lead to!?
Recently, my friend, Ciel, catered a wedding and asked if I'd make some for her. I made Gingerbread with Eggnog Buttercream ones and I made these Chocolate with Peppermint Buttercream ones.
I'm so tickled with how they turned out!
I'm going to share the recipe I used with you today along with some of the things I've learned in my quest to perfect them! I use white rice flour because that's what my baking teacher had us do in class. We were low on the almond flour so he had us substitute the rice flour for part of the amount needed. I haven't had the nerve to do it differently ever since.
Heads up - accuracy is everything with these. I absolutely weigh my ingredients.
Chocolate French Macarons
1/2 c. almond flour or "meal" (40 g)
2 T. white rice flour (10 g)
1 c. powdered sugar (120 g)
4 T. Dutch-processed cocoa powder (25 g)
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 t. egg white powder (not the same thing as meringue powder!)(you can substitute cream of tartar)
5 T. granulated sugar (65 g)
Before you begin, have your sheet trays prepared with parchment paper or silicon mats. It is helpful to use two sheet trays, stacking one inside the other. It helps act as a buffer for the bottoms of the macarons while they are baking.
To help my macarons have the same size, I trace little rounds the desired size on a piece of parchment paper and slip it under the top parchment paper or silicon mat and use it as a guide.
Have your pastry bag ready and fitted with a round 1/4 - 1/2" opening, depending on the size. I like little 1" macarons so I use the 1/4" round opening tip to pipe. I have it ready and standing in a large cylinder measuring cup so my hands are free to scoop the batter in when the time comes.
Combine the almond flour, white rice flour, and powdered sugar in a food processor and process no longer than 30 seconds. You don't want the almonds to start extracting their oils. This step just helps break down the almonds into even finer granules. After processing, sift the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve with the cocoa powder. You will see these little pieces of almond at the end.
If there's not too many I just add them to the sifted mixture but I try to not use more than 2 - 3 T. of them. Set aside the dry ingredients.
In a mixing bowl, add the room temperature egg whites and the egg white powder and start to beat on medium high speed until foamy. At that point, add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until they can hold a peak and are glossy. Getting your meringue right is the first crucial step to a successful macaron.
In a large bowl with plenty of room to work, combine the stiffly beaten egg whites with the dry ingredients and, with a clean and dry spatula, incorporate the two together using sweeping strokes, cleaning the sides of the bowl with each sweep. Once there are no more "dry" patches, begin the "macaronage" - which is the term used to define the process of deflating the meringue while continuing to mix. This is a tricky spot because it needs to be just right. Too little = fail. Too much = fail. It takes practice to recognize when the batter is just right. To do the macaronage, you scoop up the batter from the bottom with the spatula and then spread it out along the inside of the bowl. Then you repeat this until the batter flows like "lava." Some put an actual number on the times you're to do the macaronage. Some say 15, some say 20. I haven't found a magical number yet. Like I said - I'm still learning myself.
Preheat your oven to 285 degrees.
Once the macaronage is complete, scoop the batter into the prepared pastry bag. You can see my circle guides in the following photo. Place the tip of your bag in the center of each round and pipe until the batter ALMOST fills the circle. The batter will spread a little so you want to give it room. As you finish piping, bring the tip straight up and off. The tip that forms should "melt" back down and disappear after a few seconds. Continue piping the rest of your batter. I get about 75 little macarons - about 1" in diameter - from this match. Give the tray a small tap onto the counter to settle the macarons then leave to dry.
The tops are initially sticky to the touch. When you can lightly tap the tops and they don't stick to your finger, they are ready to bake. This time varies widely depending on climate both inside and outside the house. It can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. It is possible to over-dry them so you can't just pipe and leave. They need your attention. They deserve your attention!
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes. You should see the "feet" starting to form at about 10 minutes. They are done when the insides of the macarons are not soft - i.e. the top doesn't wiggle around when you lightly touch it. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing them from the parchment.
This sight makes me do a little happy dance!! Look at those "feet!"
Once cooled and removed, it's time to fill. However, they do improve after a rest for about a day. Just store in an airtight container. No need to refrigerate.
To fill: just take one, squeeze some frosting or ganache on it's flat bottom, and gently top with another, pressing slightly until filling comes to the edge. You can garnish the top or leave plain.
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar (410 g)
1 c. unsalted butter (227 g)
1 t. peppermint extract
2 T. cream
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the powdered sugar and unsalted butter until light and fluffy, 3 - 5 minutes. Add the peppermint extract and cream and mix to combine well.
For the ones in the picture, I added red food coloring to half the batch of buttercream and followed the instructions at Our Best Bites to create the swirl. I used a flower tip, Ateco #190, to make the flower on top and sprinkled with baker's sugar. Baker's sugar is not as fine as powdered sugar but more fine than granulated. You can find it by the other sugars in the baking aisle.