Archive | August, 2012

A Wicked, Twisted Road: My First Attempt At French Macarons

31 Aug

The title, besides a strong sign that I’ve listened to Reckless Kelly far too much, is fitting for my week-long journey of researching and making macarons.

Not too long ago, Chris and I had the fortune of spending a lunch hour together.  Chris threw out the usual fare for ideas – sushi, Panera, but nothing sounded right.  I was in the mood for a small café setting.  I turned to my trusty pal Yelp and found a french café with just the right ambiance: RocQ in Lake Forest, CA.

We had a wonderful lunch at the café, but I was completely distracted by the macarons in the display case.  They looked delicious, and it took everything in my power to save myself the calories and walk away without buying a few.  Macarons filled my dreams that night, and I woke up with a strong desire to make my own.  I mean how hard can those tiny cookie things be, right???

I got to work researching the delicate dessert, and quickly learned that macarons aren’t easy at all.  The amount of superstitious tips both amused me and frightened me.  The advice ranged from how long to age your egg whites to what weather is best on the day that you bake your shells.  I was completely overwhelmed, but determined to rise to the challenge.  I started by making my custard, which is also technically difficult.  From experience, I knew I would have to get my timing just right to make the perfect lemon custard for my soon-to-be perfect macarons.

I started out by squeezing and zesting my lemons.  I hate my zester, but this was nowhere near as bad as when I squeezed blood oranges for the lamb recipe. Still, I think that the zester/peeler will “disappear” sometime soon so Chris and I can buy a new one.  Well, easy part over.  Time to get my ingredients in a double boiler over heat and cross my fingers that I pull it off the heat in time.

So simple and yet so difficult: eggs, sugar, butter, and of course lemon.  I kept it just below a simmer and watched it closely.  I pulled it off the heat at the first signs of thickening, let it cool, and did a happy dance.

The consistency was perfect!

I was so fixated on getting my macarons just right.  Per my extensive reading, it’s best to age your egg whites for a day or two at room temperature.  I left a bowl of egg whites on the counter for aging and stored the custard in the fridge for later.  I came home from work the next day and found the bowl of egg whites tipped over.  Silly me, our cats must explore any sort of novel item or food on the counter.  Looks like they had some fun while mom and dad were working.  Frustrated, I separated a few more egg whites and aged them in the fridge instead.  After a few days, I pulled them out and whipped them in a metal bowl with sugar and vanilla.  I kept whipping until I could turn the bowl upside down without the meringue falling out.  This feat drew Chris’ attention and he snapped a few photos. Maybe he’ll post one of them later on.

Next, I made the almond mixture and gently folded it into the meringue until it was just incorporated.  We then searched for the right-sized pastry bag tip, but couldn’t find it.  Chris jumped in, improvised, and piped the batter on my new SilPats, while I tried not to bark at him for getting the size and shape all wrong.  Weary from the piping, I let the shells rest on the counter for a bit as some recipes advised.  I’m not entirely sure this was necessary, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.  When ready, I popped them in the oven to bake.  In my research, I read that the holy grail of macarons are the legs or feet (I’m still a little confused about the difference).  I had no idea what these so-called legs or feet looked like, but I wanted them more than anything.  The timer sounded and they smelled great.  It’s do or die.  I was terrified that they’d be a complete mess, so I had Chris pull them out of the oven while I covered my eyes.  The suspense was killing me.  Moments later Chris chimed, “love, take a look.”  When I opened my eyes, I swear I heard music.  They were beautiful, feet (I think I prefer macarons with a foot and not a leg) and all!

After they cooled, I put them together with a sweet layer of lemon curd in the middle.  Chris and I sampled one, and then two, and then three.  My french macarons were light and sweet, with a little twist of tart.  I saved a few to take over to my friend, her husband, and his younger brothers.  One of his brothers after trying his exclaimed, “oh my goodness, are there more?!?!”  Sadly, there were not more.  I only made a small batch, and boy did they take a lot of time and effort to make.  I think I will try my hand at this dessert again – you know when I have the time and energy to spare.  Maybe I’ll make a batch with a chocolate ganache or different colored shells color.  The possibilities are endless!

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