Macarons 102 – Getting There

In the last blog, I was so happy that my macarons were starting to resemble macarons and not just some weird-shaped almond cookies. Yay! And even though my oven is not behaving that cooperatively on most days (On some cold winter days, it could take up to an hour to get the pilot lit properly — arghhh), I found ways around it (here).

So shielding the macarons with another empty pan put on rack above works well, so here are some shots from the second batch.
These macaron shells have no extra flavors just different colors.  I filled them with store-bought dolce de leche that proves to be wayyyy toooo sweet.  I also made some lemon curd filling from the leftover egg yolk — that turned out to be waaayyyy too runny

 

The foot was high, but the shells were somewhat hollow.  I did try to bake them on the lower shelves — That was disastrous.

 

The dolce de leche filling that was too thick and too sweet

Macarons Test Lab – Here I go again…

Two years ago, I embarked on a journey to try to bake French macarons but got so discouraged and humbled that I swore to never go on this hair-pulling, teeth-grinding, suicide-inducing baking experience ever again.  Alas, I should have known better.  You guessed it, never say never, right?  So here I am again, being drawn into the labyrinth of recipes and techniques, and with sugar-stained hair and wayyyy too much coffee in my vein, I’m doing it again.

Somehow, I faintly suspect that I’m more of a masochist than I care to admit. Oy Vey!!!!!

Anyhow, this time, I decided to put a method to my madness by sticking to one recipe and wrestle the little devil down until I somewhat master it before moving on and up.

Much to my satisfaction, I’ve got some progress!!! Hurray!!! And all the jubilation and elation is owed to the marvelous Not So Humble Pie’s Macaron Troubleshooting with tips and tricks from Joy of Baking and shared passion and tenacity for achievement of Yaya Yayai who tirelessly compared baking notes with me — THANK YOU!!!

The most joyful experience was to watch the long-coveted ‘FOOT’ all of a sudden materialized out of thin air.  Oh! Joy — Now, at least, if I don’t do anything else in life.  This will be enough — I can safely say that this is closure for me. LOL.

So here is the recipe.  I make half the recipe for each batch.  It’s more manageable for me, so I include the measurement also for easy reference:

Not So Humble Macarons v3.0128 – Full Recipe
yields approximately 50 cookies
(Half recipe measurement below)

5 g dehydrated egg white powder*
28 g granulated sugar
225 g confectioners (powdered) sugar
125 g almond meal**
100 g aged egg whites***

Not So Humble Macarons v3.0128 – Half Recipe
yields approximately 50 cookies
(Half recipe measurement below)

3 g dehydrated egg white powder*
14 g granulated sugar
113 g confectioners (powdered) sugar
63 g almond meal**
50 g aged egg whites***

* I used CK Products as recommended by Not-So-Humble-Pie, but I just checked on amazon and it was not available, so one’s got to find another brand.  Just make sure it is dehydrated egg white and not  meringue powder.




** The 5-day aged egg white seemed to work perfectly.

*** I used Honeyville Blanched Almond Flour Super Fine Grind .  I may try Bob’s Red Mill next time, if I can’t find Honeyville

My First Succesful Macarons – Basic Macarons with Lemon Mousse Filling.  The foot formed but the color of the meringue was not white


 


– Prep two half sheet pans with parchment or silicone baking mats.

– Pre-heat your oven to somewhere between 290°F.  My oven heat is not the most consistent in the world and tends to overheat drastically.  That oven thermometer really is a life saver.  So I only use this temperature.

– Start by weighing out your sugar and egg white powder into a small bowl. Mix with a fork until uniform and set aside.

– Sift together your almond meal and powdered sugar.

– Weigh out your egg whites and begin beating them on low speed until foamy. Begin slowly sprinkling in the powdered egg white and sugar mixture as you beat. Then increase the speed to medium and beat until a firm meringue forms. (I sneaked and used medium high speed — about 8 — on my stand mixer and it turned out okay — or so I thought — to speed things up a bit).

– You want firm, glossy peaks in your meringue, you don’t want to beat all the way to stiff peaks. So hold yourself back.

Man, I love that peak.  Won’t be able to do that with my hand mixer though 😛

– Beat in food coloring gel now (I use Buff) and then add 1/3rd of the almond mixture. Folding it in gently. Once combined, add another third of the almond mixture, and so on. For visual reference on how to combine and fold, see this video by Chef Nini. (Note: the batter should be deflated a bit to let the air out).

– Add your batter to a piping bag with a round tip (any size bit under 1cm works fine) and pipe rows of macarons.

I baked on these silicone mats I bought from Costco — super good-valued compared to the original Silpat – much cheaper and they also have templates for piping newbies like me 🙂

 

– Pick up the pan with both hands, and holding it level, tap it firmly onto the counter several times. This will bring up any air bubbles in the cookies. Pop the bubbles with a toothpick if they don’t break while tapping.
– These cookies NEED to rest on the counter. Between 30-60 minutes depending on the humidity.  They will become tacky and opaque and not stick to your finger when touched.  Then they are ready to bake.
– This is where the fun starts.  Each stove and kitchen has its own challenges, mine included.  So it took me one sleepless night to figure it out and crossed referenced with the Not-so-humble pie’s troubleshooting list.  This is my conclusion for my kitchen.  You will have to experiment and come up with your own way –  and then again, you might not have to.
  – After several trials and errors, I baked one tray at the time mine on doubled trays.  Then put another empty tray on the rack above to shield the cookies which browned to much if I didn’t.  Bake the cookies for roughly 15 minutes.
– Once the cookies lift easily from the parchment or silicone baking mat they’re probably done. To be sure, pop a cookie off with an offset spatula and break it open. The insides should be set and not overly moist (wet uncooked meringue is no good). If it is too moist the cookies will collapse when they cool.

 

First Successful Shell – foot wise — But the top browned to much and a bit flat in my opinion.  They are supposed to be plain white.

After my initial success, I felt a bit more confident and more reckless, hence the color purple.  I filled the shells with Lemon Curd Mousse (that’s a story for another time).  The shape and texture were perfect — no hollows but the top was still too brown.  So I had to try to fix.

 

So I thought, perhaps I baked too cool and too long.  So I tried 350 degrees 12 minutes with airing the oven by open and close to let the steam out after 8 and 10 minutes  (a friend share the tip from Pierre Hermês book) — A disaster.  The shells were uncooked and collapsed out of the oven thus creating huge air pockets.

This is the final disaster before I ran out of egg white — In attempt to fix the brown top, I baked on the lower rack (lower third) with an empty tray on the rack above to shield the cookies.  Just like the Troubleshooting list states, because they were cooked on too low of an oven rack, the cookies rose rapidly due to strong heat from the bottom of the oven. Even though, I double stacked the pans, it didn’t help, so I put them back on the middle rack (in the double-stacked pans) and put another rack on the top-third position with an empty tray to shield the cookies.  So, though the cookies are all cracked and hollowed, the color is perfect.

So, I think I figured it out, but didn’t have enough egg white to test this theory. So until the next batch, Bon Appétit.

Classic French Madeleines

My most vivid memory of the things I learned during the 4 years of French literature has been these “petites madeleines” from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or À la recherche du temps perdu.  The most quoted passage is this one.

..No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea…wikipedia

And I’d like to also note the French version — for old times sake 😉

Il y avait déjà bien des années que, de Combray, tout ce qui n’était pas le théâtre et le drame de mon coucher n’existait plus pour moi, quand un jour d’hiver, comme je rentrais à la maison, ma mère, voyant que j’avais froid, me proposa de me faire prendre, contre mon habitude, un peu de thé. Je refusai d’abord et, je ne sais pourquoi, je me ravisai. Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblaient avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse : ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. J’avais cessé de me sentir médiocre, contingent, mortel. D’où avait pu me venir cette puissante joie ? Je sentais qu’elle était liée au goût du thé et du gâteau, mais qu’elle le dépassait infiniment, ne devait pas être de même nature. D’où venait-elle ? Que signifiait-elle ? Où l’appréhender ? Je bois une seconde gorgée où je ne trouve rien de plus que dans la première, une troisième qui m’apporte un peu moins que la seconde. Il est temps que je m’arrête, la vertu du breuvage semble diminuer. Il est clair que la vérité que je cherche n’est pas en lui, mais en moi. Il l’y a éveillée, mais ne la connaît pas, et ne peut que répéter indéfiniment, avec de moins en moins de force, ce même témoignage que je ne sais pas interpréter et que je veux au moins pouvoir lui redemander et retrouver intact à ma disposition, tout à l’heure, pour un éclaircissement décisif. Je pose la tasse et me tourne vers mon esprit. C’est à lui de trouver la vérité. Mais comment ? Grave incertitude, toutes les fois que l’esprit se sent dépassé par lui-même ; quand lui, le chercheur, est tout ensemble le pays obscur où il doit chercher et où tout son bagage ne lui sera de rien. Chercher ? pas seulement : créer. Il est en face de quelque chose qui n’est pas encore et que seul il peut réaliser, puis faire entrer dans sa lumière. Du côté de chez Swann

Anyway, I digress.

So, since the first time I tasted these heavenly scalloped-shaped cakes, I fell absolutely in love and they have been my favorite throughout the years.  Only until recently, that I mustered enough courage to even attempt to make them and I’ve been trying out several recipes (How to Make Classic French Madeleines by The KitchnJoyofcooking.com; and A Real Madeleine by Annemarie Conte), and finally came up with my adjustment that I like best.  So here goes…

 

My Classic Madeleines

(Makes about 24 – 28 Madeleines)

Ingredients:

160 g. of unsalted butter (1 stick and 3 Tbsp) melted and kept warm
2 large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour +1 Tbsp, divided
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp lemon zest

Instructions:

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then keep it warm.

2. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugars with the paddle attachment at high speed until the mixture is thick and pale in color (about 5-8 minutes).

Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).

Then sift about one-third of the flour mixture over the whipped eggs and gently fold in, using a rubber spatula or whisk. Sift and fold in half of the remaining flour, and then sift and fold in the rest. (Do not over mix or the batter will deflate).

4. Then take about 1 cup (240 ml) of the batter and fold it into the warm melted butter. (This lightens the butter making it easier to fold into the batter.)

Then, with a spatula, gently fold the butter mixture completely into the egg batter.

Cover and refrigerate the batter overnight (can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days).

5. Prep the pans using a pastry brush, generously grease the molds of two – 12 – 3 1/2 inch (8.5 cm) Madeleine pans (preferably non stick) with very soft or melted butter. (Make sure the pans are well greased or the Madeleines will stick and be hard to remove.)

Then dust the molds with flour.

Tap out the excess flour.

Freeze the pans overnight.

6. When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Drop a generous tablespoonful (can use an ice cream scoop) of the batter into the center of each prepared mold, leaving the batter mounded in the center. (This will result in the classic “humped or domed” appearance of the Madeleines.) – Do not over-fill the mold or madeleines will become flat.

7. Bake the Madeleines for about 8 – to 11 minutes. Check after 6-8 minutes and rotate pans (left to right, front to back).

Bake until the edges are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched. (Do not overbake these cookies or they will be dry.)

8. Remove the pans from the oven and immediately tap each pan against the counter to release the Madeleines.

Place Madeleines on a wire rack to cool.

Best served immediately but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days or frozen for up to 1 month. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

 

Potage Parmentier vs. Thai Green Curry

“The thing you learn with Potage Parmentier is that ‘simple’ is not exactly the same as ‘easy’.”

Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, Julie Powell.

The fact that there is a distinction between “simple” and “easy” is all brand new to me – and apart from sparking contemplation about life in general, this statement made me want to try making the soup.

Yet, I bet when Ms.Powell wrote this, she had never tried making Thai curry paste from scratch!!! I could say with certainty because I made both.

Julia Child’s Potato and Leek Soup (Potage Parmentier – recipe here) which, despite the simple ingredients: potatoes, leek, water and salt simmered all together for 40-50 minutes – is marvelously delicious.  The only not-so easy part is when you have to mash the potatoes with fork – which is really fine with me.  I always like my soup chunky.  A bit of cream is mixed in before serving.  And yes! It’s just heavenly and comforting.  I never cared much about leek nor potatoes before, but this classic soup changed my mind completely.

For the Green Curry Paste (recipe here), the list of ingredients is also very simple: garlic, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, fennel, coriander seeds, Thai chili, shrimp paste, and salt.

BUT I had to pound them with pestle and mortar by hand for what seemed like forever to get the paste shown here — not as fine and smooth as what you usually see coming from a can or sold in fresh markets in Thailand.

Food processor did not work well in this case, I found.  So now I know why the ability to make smooth curry paste used to be one of the many qualifications sought after in potential daughter in laws in the old Siam.  Your patience and perseverance is put to a test! Big time! Much like marriage I supposed 🙂

If making Potage Parmentier is nowhere near easy, making green curry paste is climbing Mt. Everest in my book.  I don’t know if I’d every make it again soon, but at least I know that I can now.

 

Now, about life in general …

Simplicity in life may not be easy to achieve, but it’s well worth a try.

 

 

 

 

French Apple Tart (Tarte aux Pommes)

My French Apple Tart (Tarte aux Pommes) based on Barefoot Contessa‘s Recipe was very popular among friends today.  I did not make the pastry dough in food processor.  It’s easy enough (in fact I find it easier) to make it by hand with pastry blender and spatula.

คราวที่แล้วลองทำอันเล็กๆ ด้วยแป้งพัฟเพสทรี่ ก็อร่อยมาก แต่ยุ่งยากไปหน่อย คราวนี้ได้สูตรแสนง่ายของ แบร์ฟู้ทคอนเทสซ่า ดูเก๋ ไฮโซ แถมเป็นที่ชื่นชอบของเพื่อนๆ เอาลิงค์ฝากไว้เผื่อใครอยากทำ ตรงนี้ นะคะ 🙂

Ingredients
For the pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water

 For the apples:
4 Granny Smith apples (I use Golden Delicious)
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small diced
1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam (I used apple syrup made from apple peel)

2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water

Directions For the pastry,

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl. Stir to combine.

Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. (I did this step with pastry blender)

Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14-inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. (I tend not to use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement beautiful.)

Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup of sugar and dot with the butter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out. Don’t worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!

When the tart’s done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn’t stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, I cut the tart into pieces and served with Vanilla fat-free frozen yogurt (to lessen the guilt ;P); topped with rum-infused apple syrup instead of apricot jam with apple syrup made from apple peel, 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water (I think I got this from Alice Waters’ Classic Apple Tart posted by Smitten Kitchen).

To add colors and more layers of tastes, I grated about 1/2 teaspoon zest from these fresh tangerines from my neighbor’s garden.  The citrus aroma and a little bit of bitterness really balances out the sweetness perfectly.

พอทิ้งไว้จนเย็นลงพอสมควรแล้ว — ตอนเสริฟ ตัดเป็นชิ้นสี่เหลี่ยม คู่ไปกับวนิลลาโฟรเซ่นโยเกิร์ต ราดด้วยน้ำเชื่อมแอปเปิ้ลที่เคยมีคนบอกให้เก็บเปลือกแอปเปิ้ลที่ปอกแล้ว ไปต้มกับน้ำตาลจนเป็นน้ำเชื่อม — จริงๆ ตามสูตรเค้าให้ใช้ แยมแอปริคอต แต่ตัวเองไม่ค่อยชอบเลยเปลี่ยน รู้สึกจะได้สูตรนี้มาจากของ อลิส วอร์เตอร์ส เจ้าของร้าน เช ปานิซ (Chez Panisse) ที่เค้ามีชื่อมากๆ ที่เบิร์คลี่นะคะ

สำหรับเปลือกแอปเปิ้ล ถ้าซื้อเค้า แล้วไม่ได้เป็นออร์แกนิค เปลือกมันมีขี้ผึ้งที่เค้าเคลือบไว้ช่วยให้แอปเปิ้ลเก็บได้นานเวลาขนส่ง หรือไม่ก็ยาฆ่าแมลง เวลาจะใช้ต้องล้างด้วยน้ำสบู่ล้างผักแล้วขัดให้ดีๆ นะคะ

น้ำเชื่อมเวลาจะใช้ เอามาอุ่นแล้วใส่รัม (แทนเหล้าหวาน Calvados ตามสูตร) ปล่อยไว้บนเตาไฟอ่อนๆ พอรัมระเหยไป น้ำเชื่อมก็มีความซับซ้อนของกลิ่นรสเพิ่มขึ้น เพิ่มรสชาติได้มาก แล้วก็ขูดเปลือกส้มจีนโรยหน้าไอติมด้วย หอมดี แล้วก็รสขมนิดๆ เข้ากับของหวานๆ ได้ดี๊ดีค่ะ

Frozen Yogurt ที่ซื้อมาคราวนี้เป็นแบบไร้ไขมัน แต่จริงๆไม่อร่อยเท่า ถ้าเป็น Vanilla Bean Ice Cream จะเพอร์เฟคท์มาก แต่เวอร์ชั่นนี้ก็สำนึกผิดน้อยหน่อยนะคะ