Back in March I made a batch of macarons, a traditional French pastry made by sandwiching cream or ganache between two meringue-like almond cookies.
The cookies have a light crispy shell and are soft and chewy on the inside. At least that’s the way they’re supposed to be. Fast forward 5 1/2 months and that brings us to the present. A few weeks ago, a few Twitter friends cooked up a plan to have a “Mac Attack” (“mac” = macaron abbreviation), a challenge where those of us who were unpractised in the art of making macs would bake two separate mac recipes and post about it. The wonderful Jamie of Life’s a feast became our fearless leader and we all began down the wonderful road of mac batter making and baking. You may or may not be familiar with the process, but macs are quite infamous in the baking world for their reputation of being fickle and frustrating. But I wasn’t worried because I had already successfully made a batch of macs. Ha!
I separated out my egg whites, and let them age (Helen of Tartelette explains that this is to reduce the moisture content as much as possible while still keeping the protein bonds from the egg whites the same).
Using Jamie’s recipe the next day, I measured out my ingredients and made my meringue.
Then I proceeded to add my meringue to my dry ingredients.
Instant lumps. I forged onward, hoping that when I finished folding everything together that the problem would be corrected. Mais non, the batter was lumpier than lumpy. I decided for the sake of learning and morbid curiousity I would continue on. So I piping out my little circles of batter on my parchment paper (some of them didn’t look horrible, but you can see evidence of those lumps in the top right hand corner),
and stuck them in the oven. With my nose pressed up against the glass of the oven door, I watched in surprise as my macs began to raise and develop, *gasp!*, feet!!! “Feet” are one of the requirements of a successful mac–the little porous ruffly edges on the bottom of the pastry.
When they were finished baking I pulled them out of the oven and let them cool.
Alas, not only were they lumpy, but they were chewy on bottom, and hollow on top.
Undeterred I started again. Luckily I had aged more than enough egg whites. I measured, sifted, whipped, and then…went to add my meringue to my dry ingredients again. And again, the same problem, lumpy batter. For the sake of practice, I piped out my little circles of batter again,
popped them into the oven again, and of course, the same result.
With all the mac carnage littering my counters, and my nerves frayed, I decided to take a break and turn to Twitter to see if I could get some advice on what I was doing wrong. Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry, and the Mac Queen herself, Helen of Tartelette, both happened to be on, and all kinds of ideas were thrown back and forth. Had I overprocessed my almonds when grinding them? Did I need to break up my lumps in my dry ingredients better? Did I need to shake my spatula a bit when folding in my meringue so as to evenly distribute my dry ingredients? All of the talk gave me ideas of what to do differently, but my baking time was spent and so I had to wait for the next day to arrive.
I went to start measuring out ingredients, only to discover I was out of powdered sugar. This Mac Attack was starting to play out as a comedy of errors in my kitchen! That evening the wonderful Mr. Fuji stopped by the store and picked up several bags of powdered sugar for me. The next day (this past Friday), I pulled out everything yet again, but decided to shake things up to gain new perspective and try a new recipe. I watched this video on YouTube of Chef Nini making macs, then printed off her recipe and got started. I especially liked the idea of using her recipe because it made a very small batch, and thus if I failed yet again, at least I wouldn’t be throwing all of those macs out! I carefully mixed everything together, this time adding the dry ingredients to the meringue in about 5 different batches. Lo and behold, what did I have?
Smooth lump-free batter! I wanted to do a giddy little dance, but I refrained, fearing that I would jinx everything. I again piped out my circles of batter, and when they were ready, threw them into the oven,
and watched with delight as lovely little feet began to appear!
When they were done I pulled them out of the oven.
While I waited impatiently for them to cool, I made some chocolate ganache, and then finally piped ganache onto the bottoms of cooled cookies, and made them into finished macs.
My macs were not perfect, but I was so proud. I had worked hard for these little guys!
I made the Salty Peanut Butter Filling (so good by the way!) and filled them. They were delicious, I must say, despite their flaws.
After four batches of macarons, what have I learned from this Mac Attack? I’ve learned that this is not the last time that macarons and I shall meet. I am determined to get this right. I do know, however, that we will be taking a bit of a break (at least ’til next week), so that I don’t chuck the leftover almond meal at anyone’s head like I threatened to do last night. And to all of my Mac Sistahs out there who have been participating and having their own struggles and triumphs? You rock.
* For a fun read all about macarons and their history, I LOVE this post on Syrup & Tang.
Coming Tomorrow: Homemade bread in about an hour.