I wish I could tell you all I have been AWOL because I've been studying but, bar a few practical exams and such, I've mostly been party planning. I have finally (one day before I need to start baking) put together my final list of desserts for my dessert table and figured out what can be made ahead. I know I could freeze cupcakes and cakes ahead of time, according to the interwebs, but the few nay-sayers have made me wary just because I haven't tried it before I wouldn't want it to come out dry and ruin the dessert table. Decision decisions, that and I don't have much fridge/freezer space at all. I am confident however in freezing macarons, so guess what I did all weekend?
The first time I ever tried making macarons was last December and it actually turned out quite well. I tried the Italian meringue method (heating a sugar syrup to add to the egg whites) without a candy thermometer to test the sugar syrup. And any of you who have tried to make macarons and failed, will know that it's a very precise almost mathematically anal equation to figure out. Even if you are good at maths you can still suck at it - copper bowls (as plastic bowl keep oil = bad), turn trays in oven (v not turning), whip egg whites for x minutes or to hard peaks....etc etc so so many variables. This is my first attempt in December, the chocolate ones have these gorgeous frilly feet (can you spot them?) and the green tea ones are cracked and uggs but still delicious:
So this time I did more research (as always - trawling the internet is my new hobby, also I like the word trawling) and there were some really really detail instructions for the french macaron method, but long story short it didn't work for me and failed miserably. So I now have a bunch of macarons to smash and eat with icecream - no big loss.
I did however learn a few things from the experience and have two really good reads for you. The first is Bravetart's ten commandments - she's a bit of a rebel, no aging egg whites, chucking everything in the bowl, no forming skins, none of it - nah-dah, she's so risk-ay (the good kind) but there is one rule she follows, which to thwack the piped tray against your counter a couple of times to knock out the air bubbles which will otherwise form cracks in you beautiful new macarons. Which is now my new second favourite rule. The number one favourite rule I picked up from somewhere in the blogsphere (sorry I can't remember but I love you); the basic thought process behind aging egg whites for 24,48,72 hours is so the proteins denature themselves - in non scientific terms - so the proteins unravel with time, but I'm lazy and heat also helps to denature proteins, so the massive tip I have and it works is to separate your whites and microwave them for 10 seconds - you will have a tiny bit which cooks but no stress, scoop it out and chuck it and then reweigh your eggs (this works very well with syrup and tang's method due to the mathematics of the ingrediants). The second reading recommendation is Not So Humble Pies Macaron 101 French Meringue - it explains things clearly, what to do why and what happens when you beat your eggs too much.
After the french macaron failure, I decided to power through it an try the Italian method set out by syrup and tang - THIS IS THE ONE. It is very mathematically, you calculate the rest of the ingredients based on the weight of your egg whites once they've been separated (so if you nuke them and then chuck a bit out your still okay). Also there are pictures of a good batter, slightly over mixed and a way overmixed batter and what happens when you bake them - I've managed to clear all ends of the spectrum with my macaron weekend with the same recipe, but mostly between the good and slightly over mixed range.
Keep reading for practical tips I've learnt:
So basically I followed the recipe to the T. The reason I majorly screwed up one batch is because I used pre-packaged almond meal - the stuff is moisttttttt. The very first time I made macarons in December I sifted the almond meal - it was like trying to sift a paste, it took 3 hours. Even after adding icing (powdered) sugar it still took a while. Almonds are quite cheap by the kilo or even in 750g bags at grocery stores - if you live in Melbourne there are a few discount nut shops or Chadstone shopping centre's colonial grocers has 750g of almonds for $5.99. Its fairly easy to grind your own in a food processor. But add about half of your powdered sugar to the all the almonds needed, and then process. Then sieve the mixture with a spoon to help push it through. Whatever is left chuck it back in the blender and add the rest of the powdered sugar and sieve again. If you blend the almonds by themselves the healthy oil that nuts have will kill you - this time anyways - it will make the almond meal moist and near impossible to sieve. According to Bravetart your mixture can survive around two tablespoons of chunky bits, and it's true, so if you have two tablespoons (probably the almond skins) chuck it in, just that your macaron will be a bit bespeckled but not really a deal breaker.
The only other tip I have would be to try using a hand mixer, not a whisk but the small hand held mixers without the stands - it's exercise - you will build muscle with all the stirring and mixing, and secondly I have no idea what the various stages of a soft peak in meringue is, it's easier to monitor when things are a bit slower and you feel like you have a bit of control. The adding sugar syrup thing needs a little coordination either a helper or balancing the butt of your mixer on the bowl but otherwise it's a breeze. ALSO buy a candy thermometer - if your in Australia, General Trader has them for $9.99.
I baked my macarons in my 70s oven for 14 minutes at somewhere between 140 and 150 degree C, and didn't turn the tray. Also I did let a skin form for about 30 minutes - it's definitely faster with the italian meringue method. Also I got lazy and used a ziplock bag to pipe with no tip and I didn't trace circles onto my backing paper although I should have, so they are a little messy.
But once these babies started to rise at 5 minutes I started doing a happy dance. I was ecstatic.
Only two from this batch cracked and if you can't spot the second woot for me. But to be honest I sandwiched the macarons with the cracked ones on the bottom.
This is the the best one - look at those feet and that bottom - happy dancing again.
Okay end of epic macaron post - a dozen egg whites and umteen amounts of sugar later. Also it is okay to freeze macarons, Pierre Herme the king of macarons freezes his for at least 24 hours to enhance the flavour - you just need to defrost them for a few hours before you eat them.
This post was actually meant to be about the dessert table recipes I found on pinterest, so I'll get on that tomorrow and review them as I go. But in the mean time check out my 21st food inspirations board.
Happy crafting and cooking!