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Contrary to popular belief, macarons not hard to make

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Mar 29, 2018

(March 30, 2018) Another birthday has come and gone. I would be telling a fib if I said I relish the thought of adding another year to my repertoire of adulthood.

That being said, there is a sense of sweetness in knowing that wisdom flavors the recipe of maturity.

I recently took a class, Fabulous French Pastries, at Wor-Wic Community College, taught by John Delvecchio.

Delvecchio is a fantastic pastry chef and I have been wanting to study with him for some time. The class was outstanding and I highly recommend it if desserts tickle your fancy.

In two (three-hour sessions), we not only prepared but learned the intricacies of whipped cream, pastry cream, crème brulee, buttercream frosting, pate choux, chocolate ganache, eclairs and macarons.

It takes years of experience to know the art of baking and hands-on experience can be the best teacher.

As a result of my latest tutorship, I would like to focus this week’s article on macarons. These vibrant cookies are gorgeous indeed and make a stunning presentation. The contrast between their crisp shells and soft fillings make them a perfect way to satisfy even the most discerning palettes.

Contrary to popular belief, they are not difficult to make as long as one has an understanding of the science that supports their success.

Before we get started, let us clear up a misconception. Macaron is not the same thing as a macaroon. Macaron, pronounced mah-kah-rohn, is a Persian pleasure; where, macaroon, pronounced, mah-kah-ROON, is an American unleavened cookie made with sweetened coconut flakes. If you have noticed that there is no syllable emphasized in macaron, you are correct.

Now that clarity has been blended into the introduction, we can focus on the principals of macarons. Many chefs prefer the piped shells to rest at room temperature before baking which allows a “skin” to be formed.

Once you can gently press your finger against the piped macaron with no dough sticking to your finger, the skin has been properly formed and the macarons are ready to go into the oven. This step is key to the texture of the famous cookie.

Almond flour, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar are the main components of macarons. However, “aged” egg whites are preferred over newer egg whites.

According to Les Petit Macarons, aged eggs have a more concentrated protein structure that works best for forming a meringue. It is these subtle details that distinguish perfection to the fullest degree.

A major appeal of macarons is their colorful appearance; colorings exist in liquid, gel, paste, or powder. It is best to add colorings when the batter is almost thoroughly mixed. If you add the food coloring too early, the air you are whisking into the batter will lighten the color.

Precision is critical in baking and measuring dry ingredients is no exception. How one packs dry ingredients into the measuring cups is just one example of how the amounts can vary. The solution is simple, weigh all dry ingredients.

No fat should ever come in contact with whipped egg whites. After you have washed the equipment used for whipping egg whites, squeeze a small amount of lemon juice onto a paper towel and whip the inside of the whipping bowl as an extra precaution.

In addition, handle the whisk by the base, the slightest bit of fat will ruin whipped egg whites.

Folding dry ingredients into the meringue is the key to obtaining the right structure for macarons. Unlike most cakes batters which instruct you to fold until just combined, you need to mix the ingredients of macarons until the batter is able to drip down from the spatula. This can take some time, so occasional testing is suggested.

Parchment paper verses silicone mats depends on personal preference. You can use parchment paper and obtain great macarons, but the paper will flap around in a convection oven. To avoid this problem, simply pipe a dab of batter under each of the four corners of the parchment paper and lightly press; this will hold it in place.

Advancement of cooking cannot occur if one does not step out of their comfort zone. Macarons are not only delicious but make an impressive dessert tray. This is a great opportunity to experiment with the colors of spring. Remember, a chef is not only a cook but also an artist. Enjoy!

*The following recipe is taken from Cook’s Illustrated website.

French-Style Macarons

Ingredients

3 ¾ cups (15 ounces) almond flour

3 1/3 cups (13 1/3 ounces) confectioner’s sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 large egg whites, room temperature

pinch of cream of tartar

5 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups vanilla buttercream frosting

food coloring (optional)

1.  Spray large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper, set aside. Fit a large pastry bag with a ½-inch plain tip; set aside. Process half of the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt together in a food processor until the mixture is very finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining almond flour and confectioner’s sugar; stir together and set aside.

2.  Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites on medium-low speed until they are opaque and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until it has a consistency of shaving cream.

3.  Transfer egg whites to a large bowl to accommodate the remaining ingredients. Gently fold one quarter of the almond flour mixture into the whites, followed by the vanilla. Gradually fold in the remaining almond mixture until a thick, gloppy batter forms.

4.  Fill pastry bag with batter. Twisting the top of the bag to apply pressure, push the batter toward the bag tip and pipe onto prepared baking sheets into 1-inch mounds, spaced 1-inch apart. Use the back of a teaspoon or your finger dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds. Allow macarons to rest at room temperature until the tops are dry and smooth skin has formed.

5.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until lightly browned, rotating the tray halfway through the baking time.

6.  After the cookies are done, carefully slide the parchment paper with cookies onto a wire rack and cool completely.

7. Pipe about 1 tablespoon of the frosting over the flat sides of half of the cookies and gently cover with the flat sides of the remaining cookies to form sandwiches.

*Almond flour can be purchased at Amazon and Harris Teeter.

* Macrons cannot be refrigerated.

Secret Ingredient — Individuality. “It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.”

—  Hans F. Hanson

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