Monday, February 11, 2013

joyeuse Saint-Valentin!

My Valentine's Day macarons

My last entry about my favorite eats on my engagement night truly flows perfectly into this week's,'s almost Valentine's Day! I am thrilled to be spending my first Valentine's with my loving husband, as we approach our one-year anniversary in March. I never knew I could care about someone so much, so deeply and affectionately. It's my heart's desire to serve him as much as I possibly can.

On our wedding day.

You know that old saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach?" In this first year of marriage, I have certainly found this to be true. And so, what better way to say "I love you" than through a unique, melt-in-your-mouth treat like a French macaron?
I have been experimenting with macarons for almost 2 years now, and began a small business, La Petite Patisserie, about 8 months ago. Although macarons are divinely mouth-watering, they can be tricky to make, and because of this, they can be difficult to find (especially in the American South.) I refer to them as the "cupcake of France," because they are literally in every patisserie window, gleaming with their vibrant colors, begging to be consumed by the hungry passer-bys.
Macarons are made with ground almonds (almond flour) instead of traditional white flour that we use so much in the US. This makes them perfect for people with gluten allergies, as they are naturally gluten-free. Egg whites are whipped with sugar to make a frothy meringue, then mixed quickly with almond flour and powdered sugar, and piped into small rounds onto parchment paper. They are left to dry for up to 1 hour, then baked at a low temperature. The final result resembles little delicate cookie sandwiches, filled with a buttercream, ganache, or jam.
My chocolate macarons

There are about a million possibilities for macaron flavors. This recipe is the most basic, an almond macaron with a good-quality jam as the filling. Macaron flavors are all meant to be delicate, to compliment the flavor of the almond, and these simple ones allow that flavor to shine.
Please visit my Facebook business page to read more about my macarons: ;)

My macaron disclaimer: Macarons can be very temperamental! If yours don't come out perfectly the first time, don't be discouraged- mine didn't look great the first time, either! Once you get the hang of them, they are very fun to make, and you can begin to experiment with fun flavors, colors, and decorations. Enjoy!

Basic Macarons

I have included the gram measurement because I weigh my ingredients, as this will give you a more accurate measurement.

200 g (1 1/2 c) confectioner's sugar
100 g (2/3 c) ground almonds
3 egg whites, room temperature
a pinch of salt
40 g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
A piping bag (I use Wilton 16-inch disposable), fitted with a 1/2 inch tip (Wilton #12)
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment paper or a Silpat (Williams-Sonoma)

Measuring my ingredients

Combine the confectioner's sugar and the almond flour into a food processor, and blend until well incorporated. Set aside.
Place your egg whites in a Kitchen-Aid bowl if you have one, or a large mixing bowl if you don't. Add the pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until they hold a stiff peak, about 3-4 minutes.
Continue to whisk on medium speed, and slowly add the granulated sugar, one teaspoon at a time. Continue until all the gran. sugar has been added and your mixture is thick and white, about 5-6 minutes.
(At this time, you would add your food coloring to the meringue. This is optional; if you decide to add some color, make sure the food coloring is mixed thoroughly and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.)
Using a large spoon or spatula, fold the almond mixture into the egg whites. Mix for about 1 minute, until fully incorporated and spoon, but do not overmix. The mixture should drop from your spoon in a smooth, molten mass.
Fill your piping bag with the mixture. I place the piping bag in a large cup and fold the top edge of the bag over the rim of the glass.
Holding your piping back straight up and down, pipe 1 1/2 inch rounds onto your parchment paper or silpat. Let the macarons sit for about 30-45 minutes, until they no longer feel wet or tacky when you touch them. 
Bake macarons at 320 degrees F for about 12 minutes. You may need to adjust baking times according to your oven. 
Let cool completely. When cool, fill with the best quality jam. I use Bonne Maman.

Here are a few tips I have learned in my trial-and-error macaron baking:
 If your macarons do not come easily off of the parchment paper, they are probably under-cooked  Try baking 1-2 minutes longer next time.

If your macarons crack, there is probably too much moisture/humidity. (This is very common in the South). Try reducing your oven temperature 5-10 degrees and baking 1-2 minutes more.
If your macarons are too liquidy when you pipe them out, either you did not whip the egg whites long enough, or there is not enough dry ingredients.
If they are too stiff/difficult to pipe out, you probably whipped your egg whites too long.
Macarons should have little crinkly edges when finished, called "feet." If yours do not form feet, or only form feet on one side, try leaving them to dry a bit longer. This may also be due to uneven oven temperatures.

Most of all, have fun with them!! I have seen every flavor, from the most traditional (pistachio, lemon, chocolate) to the most wildly bizarre (basil cream, cognac, french toast!) Experiment with your own. It is often much easier to flavor the filling than the macaron shell itself, because the texture is too easily compromised by adding additional liquid. Get creative with decorations too- I use nonpareils, cocoa powder, ground nuts, coca nibs. The possibilities are endless.

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