Macarons versus Me, Round 2: Romancing the Macaron

On Thursday I decided I wanted to try making macarons again. I thought I would do a trial to see if a new recipe would make a difference. It did! They turned out much prettier than my last batch. I didn't record the process this time. I was actually planning on doing that next week since I wanted to make a couple of batches for Easter, but I don't think I will have the time.

I did pull out my camera when I saw how nice they looked in the oven, so I have a few of the final product. I also have a some notes about what I've learned so far and what I need to work on. Originally, I wanted to make blueberry macarons using a recipe from Cathy Shambley at SlowFood Chef. The recipe is based on Helene Dujardin's Powdered Strawberry Macaron recipe at Tartlette. I actually found the recipe at Tartlette first and thought a blueberry/cream and strawberry/dark chocolate macarons would be perfect for Easter. Luckily, I googled some more and soon found out that Shambley had already tried the Dujardin's recipe with blueberries!

The recipes both call for drying the fruit in the oven at a low temperature for a few hours and processing it into a powder. Unfortunately, my blueberries were still too juicy after the suggested 2 hours, so I scrapped that and decided I would put them in a lemon curd. I will try the original strawberry version next because I love the idea.

Now, on to the shells and what I learned this time around.

The Good

  • My attitude. I decided the best way to conquer the macaron was to have some patience instead of rumbling with them in my kitchen.
  • I found almond meal at a nearby store, put it in the food processor, sifted it, and ensured it was very fine. It was much more like a flour this time, which made a huge difference in making the batter smooth.
  • I got a new pastry bag tip so I had better control over the batter.
  • I used a scale and measured everything precisely which added that extra level of accuracy.
  • The second batch looked like real macaron shells! I did a little dance when I saw that they were smooth on top and had feet. No cracks!

  • I found a vanilla buttercream recipe I like. I normally hate buttercream but the Cupcake Project's Vanilla Bean Buttercream is goo-oo-oood.
The Bad
  • I tested the timing again. One batch went into the oven with only 15 minutes of rest and the second batch had 30 minutes. I've definitely found my macarons crack if they don't sit at least 30 minutes.
  • I used a food coloring gel this time. Instead of adding the gel directly to the batter, I reserved some of the whipped egg whites and added it to them first. Then, as I started to fold the almond flour mix into the egg whites, I added the colored egg whites back into the whole mix. I was focusing so hard on not over-mixing that I forgot about the colored egg whites, so I added them in at the end. . .which caused me to over-mix a bit. Ha! I think this is part of the reason why my shells are flat.

  • I'm not fond of food coloring but I know that's the best way to get those gorgeous colors.
  • The blueberry lemon curd was delicious but a little too squishy. No one wants macaron filling squirting out at them.

What I'm Trying Next

  • Stacking my baking sheets. Apparently this helps insulate the top sheet and keeps the bottom of the macarons from baking too fast.
  • Not over-mixing!
  • Using an Italian meringue recipe. This uses a sugar syrup instead of granular sugar and seems to make fluffier looking macarons (Although, apparently the French meringue I've made is tastier. Hmm.) Pierre Hermé uses Italian meringue. What's good for Pierre Hermé is good for me.
  • Finding confectioners sugar that doesn't have cornstarch in it. I'm not sure this will happen, but I'll be on the lookout for it. Apparently the cornstarch only makes the macaron look duller, so it's not that big of a deal.

Overall, I think this was a huge step forward. I think the results are beautiful and they tasted great. I can't wait to try more!

I still have a lot to learn, but I know I'm getting closer to the right recipe and technique. I'm also having lots of fun!

Glazed Lemon Cookies: Sunshine in Cookie Form

The final recipe I made on Sunday was a new one to me called Cooks Illustrated Glazed Lemon Cookies. It all started when my aunt asked me to make her something lemony last Thursday. Originally, I thought I would do Giada’s Lemon Ricotta cookies, but I’ve become kind of disillusioned with them.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re really good. They’re just very cakey, heavy, and not as lemony as I’d like them to be. They feel more appropriate for Christmas than spring/summer. I wanted something that was lighter and crisper in texture and flavor. Cooks Illustrated Glazed Lemon Cookies

I did a little searching and settled on the Cooks Illustrated recipe I found at The Way the Cookie Crumbles. The author of the blog, Bridget, has a great printer-friendly recipe and write-up there if you want to try them out.

After staring at chocolate for a few hours, it was so nice to see and smell lemons and lemon zest. It made me feel like spring is really here. That means summer is coming! I’ve survived the winter. Hurrah!

The recipe starts with a lemon sugar, which I thought was really pretty and fragrant.

It gave me an idea. A nice hostess gift for a baker would be a trio of sugars in little jars: lemon, lavender, and vanilla.

Actually, come to think of it, I might try this recipe with lavender sugar to make a Lavender-Lemon Glazed cookie.

The rest of the recipe is pretty easy. I made a few minor changes. You are supposed to pulse bits of butter with the dry ingredients in a food processor. I don’t like my food processor, so I cut the butter in by hand, using my fingers to crumble everything, and then used my paddle attachment on the stand mixer to make sure everything was like a fine meal. It worked perfectly.

I also added more lemon, about ¾ of a tablespoon, because I really wanted them to have a bold flavor. This made the dough a little sticky, but it was still very easy to handle.

The dough, like the World Peace cookie dough, gets rolled into a log and put in the fridge or freezer so it can be cut into rounds.

After I cut and baked them, I let them cool. When they were almost completely cool, I started on the glaze. The recipe calls for adding some cream cheese to the glaze, but I omitted it because I wanted the lemon to really stand out.

I used 2 tablespoons of freshly squeeze lemon juice and then added confectioner’s sugar until it reached the consistency and sweet/sour balance I like. The consistency should be runny but thick enough that it doesn’t completely slide right off the spoon and/or cookies. I didn’t measure, but you’ll probably need somewhere around 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Just add a little at a time until you reach your preference.

The result is a really bright and fresh lemony cookie that has a rich, buttery, and almost shortbread-like quality. I find the balance between the sweet and sour is great, nothing is overwhelming. It’s the best lemon cookie I’ve made so far and I can definitely see making them again for a summer picnic or barbecue.

The only problem seems to be that they lose some of their original crispness pretty quickly. It might be from glaze and the extra lemon I added. An easy fix would be to make and eat them right away, of course!

And so concludes the tales of my mini baking marathon. After all of these baking posts I’ll be back to talking about the travel and history side of things soon.