Sunday, 22 May 2011

Macaron Successes, Failures and a Giveaway!


It was about 2.5 years ago (shortly after moving to the UK)  that I was flipping through a magazine when something caught my eye.  Something magnificent that I'd never seen before.  No, it wasn't a pair of designer shoes or a pretty dress.  It was a cookie!  But not just any cookie.  These cookies were colourful fancy little things with pretty ruffled edges.  I scoured the page to find out what they were called and where I could get them.  Macarons. I'd never heard of them before - except for the American coconut haystack kind (aka macaroons).  I immediately googled macarons to see how I could make them.  At that time only a few websites & blogs popped up that actually featured recipes for macarons, each of them explaining how finicky they were to make.  Age your egg whites, fold the batter until it flows like magma - (no more than 50 strokes), don't make them on a humid day, let the piped macarons rest on the counter for 45 mins,  leave the oven door propped open with a wooden spoon, and only listen to smooth jazz while making them - ok, that last one is a lie, but you get the picture.  It seemed as if the odds to make these pretty little cookies were stacked against me.  Never the less a few days later I decided to bake my very first batch of macarons.  I did all of those things I mentioned above (except for the jazz), and you know what?  My macarons actually turned out pretty darn good for my first try!  They had the frilly little feet and everything!  I was thrilled with them, and gloated to myself that they really weren't that hard to make!  Well, fast forward 2.5 years, and I've made dozens of batches of macarons, but sadly only about 50% of them have actually turned out well enough to even be called a macaron.  I didn't know what I was doing wrong.  My beginners luck had run out shortly after I made my first batch, and it seemed like each batch I made was completely hit or miss - even if I used the exact same recipe as the time before.  Macarons started getting increasingly popular on the blogging and baking scene, and I was constantly reading new blog posts and trying new recipes out.  I got pretty discouraged after a while, and to be honest I probably went a good year without baking another batch of macarons - until now.  Recently I came across a blog post by Brave Tart where she described her exact recipe and method of macaron making.  What made Brave Tart's recipe and method so different from all the others I'd come across what that none of those crazy "rules" that I mentioned above applied!  It didn't matter if the egg whites were aged, room temperature or cold, humid days were no problem at all.  And I believed her!  Why?  Because she confirmed my thoughts all along.  You see, Brave Tart is a restaurant pastry chef who makes batches upon batches of macarons each day, and if she had to adhere to all those crazy rules ALL the time, she may only be able to produce and sell her macarons 3 days a week!  So, this past weekend I gave Brave Tart's recipe a try.  Three trys to be exact.  Each time I managed to get at least one tray of perfect looking macarons.  Sometimes I aged the egg whites, and sometimes I used fresh cold ones. They worked each time.  I did however have a few issues, but I don't believe they're the fault of the recipe. 





My latest macaron baking sessions allowed me to come to the conclusion that my oven is - well basically a piece of crap.  Why?  Well, to be honest I've never really been a fan of my tiny UK oven - especially after discovering that some of my North American pans are too big to fit inside. But the size isn't what annoyed me this week.  It's the fact that my oven only has a top element - not a bottom and a top element like most of the ovens I'm used to.  This results in a lot of my baking browning on the top in order for it to become fully cooked throughout.  In fact, I'll often have to cover whatever I'm baking with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent it from browning as it continues to cook.  This was reflected in the 3 batches of macarons I baked over the weekend, and led me to believe that my oven may likely be the main reason why my macarons have been so hit and miss over the past couple of years.  I tinted the first batch bright pink, and I was really pleased with the way they were looking in the oven until I noticed that they were starting to brown slightly around the edges, making the colour a little uneven.  The other thing I noticed when I took them out of the oven after the recommended baking time was that the bottoms weren't nice smooth (and lets face it - we all want nice smooth bottoms don't we!)  Instead my macarons had slightly moist and sticky bottoms - a result of there being no direct heat underneath my macarons.  I came to this conclusion after reading this article from Syrup and Tang that explains the differences between the 4 main types of ovens & their heating elements.  The article stated "If you have a crappy electric oven with an element just at the top (type D), abandon much hope of easy macaron making without a serious oven stone of some sort to store heat in the lower part of the oven."  That explains a lot!  As I mentioned before, my oven is fan assisted with the only heating element located at the top.  I've tested the temperature regulation of my oven before using a thermometer, and although it does reach the exact temperature I set the oven to, the temperature will vary by about 10ºC-15ºC throughout the duration of the baking time. Not good!  Basically thanks to the Syrup and Tang article I've come to the conclusion that I'll need to create a heat source at the bottom of my oven using my pizza stone.  I haven't had a chance to try that yet, but I definitely will sometime soon!

Anyways, lets get back to my macarons! Although all 3 batches of my macarons turned out, I was most pleased with the look of my final batch.  In order to avoid my macarons from noticeably discolouring I opted to leave them au-natural.  I made a plain vanilla flavoured macaron and filled them with Speculoos (a subtle gingerbread flavoured spread similar to peanut butter).  I also had a few extra Speculoos cookies laying around which I crumbled and sprinkled on top of the macaron shells before baking them.  These were so so good!  And thanks to Brave Tart's recipe they were also so so easy to bake!  For this particular batch I opted not to age my egg whites or bring them to room temperature.  I just used cold ones straight from the fridge.  Although I did get those pretty little feet around the edges of all my macarons, I do think that the best feet were achieved in my first batch (the ones that discoloured & that I ate before taking any real photos) when I used egg whites that were aged for 2 days at room temperature. 





Vanilla & Speculoos French Macarons
Slightly adapted from Brave Tart

4 ounces (115g) Almond flour, or whatever nut you like
8 ounces (230g) Powdered sugar
5 ounces 
(144g) Egg whites , temperature and age not important!
2 1/2 ounces (72g) Sugar
The scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
1/2 tsp (2g) Salt

1 Belgian Speculoos cookie - crushed up

Belgian Speculoos Spread (Peanut butter or Nutella would also go well)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 300° and have ready a large (18”) pastry bag, fitted with a plain circle tip, along with two sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

2.  Process the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor for a minute or two in order to get rid of any little almond chunks.   Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean (not the extract), and salt and turn the mixer to medium (4 on a Kitchen Aid). Whip for 3 minutes. They will not seem especially foamy at that point.  

Increase the speed to medium-high (7 on a Kitchen Aid) and whip another 3 minutes, then crank the speed to 8 for go another 3 minutes.  

At that point, turn the mixer off and add in any extracts/flavor/color and whip for a final minute on the highest speed, just to show it who’s boss (and to evenly distribute the color/flavor).  At the end of this minute, you should have a very stiff, dry meringue.

When you remove the whisk attachment, there will be a big clump of meringue in the center, just knock the whisk against the bowl to free it. If the meringue has not become stiff enough to clump inside the whisk, continue beating for another minute, or until it does so.

4.  Now dump in the dry ingredients all at once and fold them in with a rubber spatula. Use both a folding motion (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a pressing motion, to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl.

First timers: the dry ingredients/meringue will look hopelessly incompatible. After about 25 turns (or folds or however you want to call “a single stroke of mixing”) the mixture will still have a quite lumpy and stiff texture. Another 15 strokes will see you to “just about right.” Keep in mind that macaronage is about deflating the whites, so don’t feel like you have to treat them oh-so-carefully. You want to knock the air out of them.

Undermixed macaron batter: quite stiff. If you spoon some out and drop it back into the mix, it will just sit there and never incorporate. Do this test before bagging your batter and save yourself the trouble of baking of undermixed macarons!

Overmixed macaron batter: has a runny, pancake batter-like texture. It will ooze continuously, making it impossible to pipe into pretty circles. Um, try not to reach that point.

You can evaluate your batter one stroke at a time, no rush.  Essentially, the macaron batter needs enough thickness that it will mound up on itself, but enough fluidity that after 20 seconds, it will melt back down. I’ve heard people describe this consistency as lava-like, or molten, and that’s pretty apt.

5.  Transfer about half the batter to a piping bag. (When your bag is too full, the pressure causes the batter to rush out in a way that’s difficult to control, making for sloppy macarons.)  Pipe the batter into the pre-traced circles on the baking sheet. Stop piping just shy of the borders of the circle, as the batter will continue to spread just a bit.  After piping your macarons, take hold of the sheet pan and it hard against your counter. Rotate the pan ninety degrees and rap two more times. This will dislodge any large air bubbles that might cause your macarons to crack.  Sprinkle the tops with the crushed Speculoos cookies.  

Bake for about 18 minutes, or until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from a macaron. If, when you try to pick up a macaron, the top comes off in your hand, it’s not done.  Once the macarons have baked, cool thoroughly on the pans, before peeling the cooled macarons from the parchment. Use a metal spatula if necessary.

6.  To fill your macarons take a large dollop of  Speculoos and carefully smooth it on the bottom of a macaron before sandwiching another macaron of similar size and shape on top to create the finished macaron.  

Macarons, against all pastry traditions, actually get better with age. The shells soften and become more chewy, mingling with the flavor of the buttercream too. So, while of course you can eat them right away, don’t hesitate to store them refrigerated for up to a week. If at all possible, set them out at room temperature for a few hours before consuming, because cold buttercream is kinda gross.




I'm so excited that I found this recipe, and Brave Tart herself has been wonderful about getting back to my tweets and emails full of questions!  I can't wait to make these again using different flavours, fillings and colours.  Next time I'll use the pizza stone as a bottom heat source and will let you know whether or not its successful.


And now onto something really exciting!  Everyone knows that the key to making a good macaron is a good kitchen scale, so I was delighted when lovely folks over at Salter UK provided me with a beautiful new MyScale kitchen scale to test out.  I decided that making these macarons would be the perfect opportunity for me to try it out.  The scale is definitely the prettiest kitchen scale I've ever seen, and it's also pretty cool because you can customise the pattern on it to whatever you like!





The Salter MyScale Personalised scale is customisable allowing you to change the display image to suit your tastes and kitchen decor.  It comes with 2 ready made designs - a pastel polka dot background and  a beautiful silvery grey damask pattern that I LOVE!  But if you don't like either of those patterns then the really cool thing is that you can upload and print out your own design using a picture of your choice by visiting the MyScale website.




The digital display is back-lite which makes it easy to read, and the buttons are really sensitive to the touch, so there's no need to push down hard on them in order to reset it or change the measuring units.  (I had to do this with my old scale and it was a pain!)  You can easily switch from grams to ounces and milliliters to fluid ounces at the touch of a button, so there's no need for measuring cups.  The scale turns off automatically after a few minutes, but instead of the digital display turning completely blank, it reverts to a clock!  The scale is also wall mountable so that you can use it as a pretty piece of art and a clock when you're done baking in order to save valuable counter top space!  See - told you it was pretty cool!





Now here's the best part!  Salter UK has kindly provided me with a 2nd MyScale to giveaway to one of my readers!   To enter all you have to do is leave a comment below telling me what design you would choose to use on your MyScale.  Additional entries can be earned by doing the following:


  • Become a follower of Made With Pink using Google Friend Connect
  • Become a fan of Made With Pink on Facebook 
  • Follow Made With Pink on Twitter and tweet the following message:  I've just entered to win a customisable #Salter_MyScale from @Made_With_Pink and you can too! Visit http://tiny.cc/nehz9
Links to all of the above are in the right hand column.  Maximum of 4 entries per person.  The winning comment will be chosen at random

You can also follow Salter UK on Twitter here: @SalterUK and as well as on Facebook

Open to UK residents only.  Contest closes at 11:59pm Sunday May 29th.  Winner will be announced the week of May 30th.  

*** Just a reminder that you MUST leave a comment below in order to be entered into the prize draw, otherwise I have no way of keeping track of who tweeted, followed etc.  If you make a comment anonymously then please leave an email address so I can contact you if you win. You should leave a separate comment for each of the 3 things listed above if you want to be entered more than once.  I will be using random.org to choose a number from all of the comments listed below in order to determine the winner. *** 


Alternately if you can't wait to find out if you've won the MyScale you can purchase it via Amazon here:   





25 comments:

Kate said...

Ohh, thank you so much for posting such useful tips! I too have been having nightmares about disastrous macaron baking attempts. Literally breaking out in cold sweats and dreaming of undercooked macarons chasing me... really!!
On my MyScale I'd have written in capitals ' Better weigh out double, at least one of the cakes will be solely for you right?! '

Thanks! With much appreciation from Katescakesandbakes

Rebecca Spencer said...

Already follow you on twitter after seeing you post to my friend Ali Ryrie :)

I've never attempted to bake macarons but with your helpful tips & recipes I might give it a shot!! :)

I would have a photo of cakes/yummy delicious looking dessert printed on the scale, a colourful pattern that matches my kitchen or perhaps some witty comment such as "I'm on a seafood diet... I see food & then I eat it".... Haha
lame I know!!

Thanks!! Reb xxx
rebeccalspencer@live.co.uk

The Caked Crusader said...

OK, I know the correct answer would be a picture of a loved one...but....it would have to be either a cute puppy or an awesome cake - or both, if I could find the picture!

cakeje van eigen deeg said...

all those crazy rules are exactly the reason why I've never tried macarons. (also because it's not that simple to find almond flour here, and I don't have a food processor to make the flour myself).

I also like that you used speculoos! such a great idea, I bet they tasted wonderful ;)

Kezia said...

Wow, what a cool giveaway! I'm probably have a picture of something edible to, maybe even a macaron!

nicsnotebook.com said...

I have never tried making macarons but I really like the sound of them - esp as they get nicer & chewier the next day!! The scales look amazing, such a fab idea to be able to customise them. I would have pawprints on mine of course as we are animal mad in this house lol..!

nicsnotebook.com said...

Am following via GFC as Nicola (@NicsNotebook),

nicsnotebook.com said...

Have tweeted your link also (@NicsNotebook) x

nicsnotebook.com said...

and have liked you on FBook as Nicola McCandless xx

corduroy cat said...

wow i could really use a scale! i would put a pic of myself when i was skinny, so i could remind myself to stay on my diet and not eat too many of the cakes i bake :)

Bernice said...

Your post is brilliant - I've tried to make macarons and boy wat a disaster. I fear my oven problems are the same as yours. But I will not be defeated! The scales are great. Think my choice of covers would be a customsied photograph of my daughter. She is three and a half and I cannot do anything in the kitchen without her 'help'. My cakes may not look perfect every time but they are made with love!
Keep up the good work.
X

Anonymous said...

Oooh I would so love to win the scales. I agree the damask one is so pretty. As for the macarons, I've been wanting to try macaron-making for ages but not plucked up the courage. Maybe now is the time! I've also heard that the Italian meringue method is more reliable (can't find a link right now), but that might be worth trying too x
Toni Collis (originaltonic {at} googlemail.com)

Anonymous said...

Oh and here is my entry numero 2! As I'm already a fan of yours on facebook... sadly no twitter account for me, so no more entries here :(
Toni Collis (originaltonic {at} googlemail.com)

Cupcake Kelly said...

I wrote a whole comment and it got erased! anyway, the polk dot pattern is cute. My scale only measures grams and ounces and I'm dying for one that measures liquid!

Cupcake Kelly said...

Me and my facebook page already "like" you on facebook.

Rebecca said...

2nd comment- Already follow you on twitter (rebbywebbywoo)

:)

rebeccalspencer@live.co.uk

Rebecca said...

3rd post- like your page on facebook too :)

rebeccalspencer@live.co.uk

Katie said...

Great tiips for making macarons. I've tried once and they were ok but not great.
I'd love to win the scales, my ones are not that accurate. My favourite design is the blue spotty one - simple yet stylish

laura said...

love the macaroon recipe! it is all so complicated!

the scales are fabulous! i would love to put a selection of my fav cake recipes on the scales! easy to keep track of :)

daydreamingfoodie@thegardenkitchen.co.uk

laura said...

and liked on facebook :D

daydreamingfoodie@thegardenkitchen.co.uk

miss_saraa said...

These were absolutely delicious!! thanks so much for all the yummy treats Andrea. :) :) You're so talented woman <3

nikkijoy said...

I've always wanted to try macaroons! They look so darling! I quite like the polka dots... Or some other bright crazy pattern, my fiance and I have agreed to have a rainbow kitchen when we move in together =) x

nikkijoy said...

...and I am most DEFINITELY becoming a follower. How could I not with all these beautiful looking recipes to try out?? =)

Isle of Tea said...

Thanks ever so much for our Tea and Bakes guest post!! We will be making these very soon. Nom nom nom! x

Made With Pink said...

Hi Everyone,

Just a note that Blogger has been having issues over the past day or so with Google Friend Connect, so it's not appearing on the right hand side as it should be. Hopefully Blogger will have this issue sorted out shortly!

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