A Sneak Peek of Paris Treats

My computer has been in the shop for a while now, so my Point du Hoc post will be coming later. I have access to the photos on another computer so I will start working on it shortly. In other news, I can hardly contain my excitement!

I picked up my parents at the airport yesterday. They were back from a vacation in France: 1 week in Alsace, 1 week on the Riviera, and a few days in Paris.

Before they left they asked if there was anything I really wanted. I told them two things: soap from Marseille and Pierre Hermé macarons.

There is now a box of gorgeous macarons waiting to be savored on the kitchen counter. I will definitely be taking pictures and doing a post about them. For now, here are a couple of pictures of the flavor guide.


I think I saw one Huile d'Olive & Vanille (olive oil and vanilla) in the box. Strangely (or maybe not so strangely), I'm looking forward to tasting that one the most.

As a side note, doing this post got me thinking. It always takes me forever to get my longer posts publish, so I think I need to figure out how to do some of these smaller ones more often between the longer ones.


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!

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!