Macarons versus Me, Round 1: Rumble in my Kitchen

What better way to end a week talking about Paris than with a tale of macaron making? A few weeks ago I wrote about my love affair with macarons.

I read about how hard they were to make and while I know nothing will truly replace the experience of buying and enjoying macarons in Paris, I was up for a challenge. You see, usually when I'm told how difficult something is to bake, it just makes me want to conquer it.

I'll cut to the chase and tell you that the macarons won this round. Pierre Hermé's job is safe. . .for now.

This post will be more about my experience of making macarons than a "how-to" guide. Sometimes I think the internet's so full of perfect, pretty, well-turned out results that it needs some tales of baking struggle.

Hopefully this will become a series that leads to me finding a technique and recipe that works for me.

The first thing I did was comb the internet for recipes. I finally settled on David Lebovitz's French Chocolate Macaron recipe. He tried 7 different recipes and all sorts of techniques before finding that this one was perfect for him. I also really admire his blog. Sold!

As if macarons weren't enough, I decided to fill them with salted caramel instead of chocolate ganache. I used a recipe for the caramel from a Chocolate and Salted Caramel tart by Melissa at The Traveler's Lunchbox.  Just click the tart link and go look at the glorious edible art. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Drool, right? I definitely put that tart of my "must try" list now.

Ok. Back to the macarons.

I started out feeling cocky. I was going to make macarons perfectly the first time. I just knew it.

Ha! Here's what happened.

First I separated the egg whites. They are supposed to be room temp so I had already pulled the eggs out, but wanted to make sure they would be warm enough by the time I needed to use them.

I began with slivered almonds since I had them lying around and can't seem to find almond flour anywhere nearby. Using my food processor, I processed the bejabbers--my technical term--out of them until they were more like a flour.

This was really where the first problem occurred. I just can't get my processor to make them fine enough. I'm thinking of trying a coffee grinder next.

When that was done, I added the powdered sugar and processed the mixture for a few minutes to try to get it into a fine powder. Then, I added cocoa powder and processed it again.

Next, came the 2 room temperature egg whites.

The first thing I did before whipping them was clean the stainless steel mixing bowl of my KitchenAid really well with soap and water and then again with vinegar and water. I know that seems a bit. . . um, excessive, but any little bit of leftover fat/oil in the bowl can keep the whites from rising properly. That goes for the yolk, as well, so make sure there's no trace of yolk.

I started whipping them until they started to rise. Ooh look, action shot:

Then I started adding the 5 tbsp. of sugar slowly as they started to take shape. Go go gadget egg whites:

Finally, I had perfect, glossy egg whites.

I very carefully folded the half of the dry ingredients into the whites and, then, when it was incorporated, I added the last half.

That's when I really realized that the almonds were just too grainy. I had they were going to be ok but no dice. You can see in the picture little bits of almond throughout the batter.

It became clear that the macarons were probably going to conquer me. Not one to toss away batter, I decided to go ahead with the rest.

I put the batter in my pastry bag and piped circles onto a parchment covered baking pan. I aimed for 1 inch circles but some of them ended up being bigger. I don't have a silpat yet, but I'm guessing it would be better than parchment.

Here's where the trickster magic of macarons comes into play. Lebovitz says some recipes call for letting them sit unbaked a few hours to develop that little foot macarons are supposed to have.  Fauchon, however, says not to do that and to just pop them into the oven right away. Lebovitz, for this recipe, recommended rapping the sheet on the counter a few times and then putting them in. I chose to follow Lebovitz because that's what worked for him with this recipe.

The especially maddening thing? I did one batch right away and they came out really cracked on top without feet. The second batch sat out for about 20 minutes while the others baked. They had a massive feet and weren't cracked. What!?!

Sad macarons
Big Foot the Macaron

After the macarons destroyed my baking confidence, it was time to make salted caramel. Joy!

I'll be honest, I pretty much hate making caramel. It gets scary hot and is easy to burn. You have to watch it like a hawk and coddle it into yummy existence.

Melissa's recipe ended up being fantastic, though. I highly recommend it. It turned out perfectly and I would make it again without hesitation or fear. My only change was that I used fleur de sel so I upped the amount of salt it just a bit.

The only scary part is when you add the warm cream to the hot caramel. You have to do it slowly and carefully because when the cream hits the sugar, the mixture freaks out and rises quickly.

I tried to grab a quick pic to show you.

Just be careful, add the cream slowly, and you'll be fine. Stick with it and it turns into this:

So after the caramel turned out well, I gained some of my optimism back. I let the caramel cool a bit, but started to cover the macarons while it was still soft enough to drizzle over them.

In the end they turned out ok. I'm disappointed they don't look perfect but deep down I knew they wouldn't. I think for a first try, though, they look pretty darn good.

I need to work on finding almond flour that is fine enough to make a smooth batter. That might be the biggest problem.

Lebovitz's recipe is great, easy to follow, and the result is delicious even if I couldn't get mine as pretty as his macarons are. The salted caramel and chocolate combination is divine.

Maybe I also need to pay my dues and give it another 6 tries until I find the right technique. I'm ready for it! Bring on Round 2.

If there are any macaron masters out there, I welcome any advice or critiques. I'm pretty determined to get these right!