raspberry almond macarons (GF)

So, these were the first of the three desserts made for O’s recital (the other two being the mini cheesecake tarts and the mini lemon poppyseed bundt cakes). First batch was baked on Thursday. Second and third on Friday. Fourth on Saturday.

Let it be known that I only needed to bake one batch.

Okay, okay. I don’t want to whine. I did enough of that for about five hours on Friday evening. But I will tell you the story. It’s a good one. Or will, at least, make you feel better about your own life.

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So, macarons have been on my list for some time now. I’d made them once before, about two years ago – pumpkin-flavored with a spiced cream cheese filling – and they were tasty, but nothing to brag about in terms of aesthetics.

At the time, that wasn’t such a huge deal. No one was going to see them but my stomach, after all. But these were going to be seen and eaten by upwards of 60 people. They had to be perfect. I was going to forego sleep until they were. Ironically, the first batch was perfect. Everything I had ever wanted in a macaron: glossy tops, compact feet, dense, airy, crunchy, perfect.

They were also about the size of a dime. What possessed me to make the tiniest macarons known to man? I couldn’t tell you.

So the next day, I was feeling pretty confident in my macaronage. I got to work, eyebrows furrowed in assured concentration. Three hours later I realized that clearly, my confidence was a bit presumptuous. They turned out hideously misshapen, lacking those gorgeous little feet, bottoms sticking adamantly to the parchment paper like petulant children with no purpose in life but to make me fall to my knees and weep. Which I almost did. Three hours of effort for nothing. Over-mixed. Dammit.

Determined not to concede defeat, I whipped up another batch that night, set them out to harden while slaughtering my way through a few waves of aliens in Mass Effect, and threw ’em in the oven for 15 minutes. The result? Better, visible feet (yay!), but still lumpy. Under-mixed. Why did I have to make them so frakking small the first time?

At this point, I was beyond exhausted; exhausted of baking, of powdered sugar leaving handprints all over my shirt and tabletop, of washing that massive stand-mixer bowl and aging eggs. I stopped there for the night, deciding to revisit the endeavor after a bit of rest and recovery from eating a plate of macawrong shells.

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I woke up early the next morning, sun as an alarm in place of that horrid electronic clock I’ve come to hate every weekday of my life. Realizing that it was too soon to get straight to baking, I did some meditating in mental preparation for the task ahead (note: not kidding).

In any case, it was a lazy morning, quiet and bright with the sunlight streaming in through the blinds. I felt calm – calmer than I was on any occasion the day before – as one should be when baking. I set the egg whites to whip in the stand-mixer as I idly sifted confectioner’s sugar and almond flour, a routine that had become, by that point, decidedly familiar. Rubber spatula in hand, I carefully folded half the dry mixture into the eggs, turning the flour over and into the whites, rotating the bowl as I went along, gentle and patient in my ministrations. Turn, rotate, fold, repeat. The tabletop was splotched with powdered sugar, remnants of yesterday’s macaronage, paper cupcake cups strewn about in haste. My life was starting to feel like a Jane Austen novel from all the melodrama.

Finally, the batter’s consistency started to resemble what it should have all along: molten lava. Which, I mean, I don’t have any firsthand experience with, but I’ve sat through enough Lord of the Rings marathons for a pretty good idea. I carefully poured the batter into my pastry bag, and piped discs onto readied parchment. Let them sit for about an hour and a half, popped them in the oven, sent a silent prayer up to whomever must be watching, and waited with bated breath.

My heart was pounding in my ears as I tentatively opened the oven door. It was the most nervous I’d been since applying for college four years ago, I kid you not. The relief that washed over me when I saw the shells stole my breath away, and for a moment I thought I may faint, dropping the tray entirely.

Thankfully, I didn’t. Mostly, I couldn’t believe I had done it, after having read so many horror stories about macaronage and it-took-me-50-batches-to-get-them-right. I sent up a thank-you and felt some of the tension leave my shoulders. I piled the shells onto a plate to cool, sitting them atop the dining room table and stealing glances at it throughout the day. A grounding sight, silent encouragement when I felt overwhelmed.

The efforts paid off too, in the end. I got an excuse to (begin to) perfect these adorable little things, and everyone seemed to love them. And, really, I couldn’t have asked for me.

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Basic Macarons
Adapted from Master the Macaron by Irina Kogan at PastryPal and tips from Not So Humble Pie
Yields about 40 macarons (80 shells)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 large (1/3 cup) egg whites, aged 24 hours at room temperature.
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Method:

Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip. Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper.

Sift the dry almond flour and powdered sugar into a large bowl. Discard any particularly large pieces left in the sifter.

In a clean, steel bowl, whisk the egg whites on medium speed. Once they begin to froth up, sprinkle in the granulated sugar. Continue to whisk on medium speed until the whites produce firm peaks.

Sprinkle half of the dry ingredients over the egg whites, and carefully fold them in. Once they’re almost fully incorporated, pour in the rest of the dry ingredients. Fold gently, making sure to scrape the bottom to pick up any flour that has collected at the bottom of the bowl. The final batter should have thickness and body, and hold its shape – it should  not fill out the bowl as a liquid! You’ll know it’s at the right consistency when the batter slowly drips off your spatula in a ribbon, evening out 10-15 seconds after falling back into the bowl.

Using a rubber spatula, fill the pastry bag with the macaron batter. Pipe nickel-sized dots, about an inch apart, on the prepared pans. Try your best to ensure they’re of similar size. Allow batter to sit in the pan until a skin forms on top – this can take anywhere from 60-90 mins depending on the humidity. Just keep tabs on the shells. Batter has formed a skin if you can lightly touch the top of the shell without having anything stick to your finger – if the batter sticks, they’re not ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 275F and bake shells for 14-16 mins. Macarons are successful if they are smooth on top and have their famous little “feet”. Let them cool completely before removing from the pan, else they might stick.

Macaron shells should be kept out, uncovered until being filled. Sandwich macarons with any ganache, jam, or buttercream of choice. Once assembled, macarons should be kept in the fridge. It’s best to assemble macarons about 24 hours before serving, to allow the flavors to deepen.

Notes:

  • Recipe is 100% gluten free.
  • This is, apparently, the French technique for macaron-making. The Italian is, I’ve heard, much easier and yields pretty reliable results every time. But, you know, go big or go home.
  • If you don’t have 24 hours to age the eggs, microwave the whites for about 10 seconds. This is more or less an expedited aging process.
  • Practice makes perfect.

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Raspberry Buttercream Filling
Adapted from Cuparoons

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup raspberries, pureed
  • 1 tsp milk or heavy cream, if needed

Method:

Cream butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 mins. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add powdered sugar, mixing until just combined. Add the vanilla and raspberries, being careful not to over-mix. If frosting is too stiff, at a tsp of milk or heavy cream. Buttercream should hold its shape.

Pour buttercream into a piping bag with a small tip. Squeeze a small amount of filling onto the center of the (flat side of the) macaron shell. Use another shell of comparable size to sandwich on top of the filling.

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