Monday, December 31, 2012

Salted Caramel Macarons

My Yelp tagline says "I'll give it 5 stars if it's better than my cooking." Well I'm even pickier about desserts since I'm a better baker than a cook. When I eat out, I rarely order dessert unless I'm feeling fancy, and it take a bunch of swooshes and molecular gastronomy thingys to impress me.

Well one thing that upset me for the longest time was that I couldn't make macarons. I tried my first one about a year ago and was obsessed ever since, so the point where if it was sold in a bakery on on the dessert menu, then there was no question that I'd get it. But if it's so common, I should be able to make it myself...right? So I tried. I tried making a batch last spring and they were terrible. They rose initially but instantly deflated when they came out of the oven, so I fed them to friends and called them "whoppie pies." Meanwhile, I continued to shell out almost $2 per miniature cookie since they are so ridiculously overpriced. Ever since moving away from college, my arsenal of kitchen tools has expanded improved dramatically, so I tried to make these again earlier this week. Much better.

A few notes and tips when making macarons...I didn't do any of this the first time around, and any of these might've been what resulted in my failure. Since then, I've done a lot of reading on proper macaronage (process of making a macaron, yes it's an actual word):
  • You can use the Trader Joe's unblanched almond meal, which costs $3/bag and is much cheaper than the commonly used Bob's Red Mill, which is $11/bag. The results may be rougher and not as pretty since the almonds are unblanched, but it's not a big difference. In fact, I like how the almond skin bits make them look rustic.
  • Age your egg whites by separating your eggs and let them stand at room temp for a few hours, or overnight in the fridge.
  • Whip your egg whites so that they're stiff enough to hold a peak but NOT so stiff that it won't fall off the whisk.
  • Learn proper folding techniques. Google those YouTube videos so that you don't accidentally deflate your egg whites.
  • Invest in a silicone baking mat if you bake often. It works marginally better than parchment paper, but it also saves in the long run if you bake these often.
  • Once you've piped your macarons onto the baking sheet, give the sheet a few firm taps on a surface to help them spread and get the air bubbles out. Let them sit out until a skin forms, as in so that you can touch them and not get batter on your fingers. This should take between 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how aged your egg whites are. 
  • Exercise restraint and don't eat them all immediately after filling! They are better the day after you make them, really. Make them a day in advance if you're serving guests.


Ingredients for Macarons
  •  3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp total volume of flavoring extract + food coloring

Ingredients for Filling
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 stick + 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

In a bowl, sift together 3/4 cup of almond flour and 1 cup powdered sugar. Alternatively, when I'm home with the parents who have a food processor, I just put both ingredients in and process for about 30 seconds to save time, since sifting is a PITA.

In a separate bowl, whisk two egg whites on low speed until foamy. Throw in a pinch of cream of tartar, then whisk at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and flavoring extract/ food coloring as desired. Whisk at medium speed until stiff peaks form.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, but do not overstir (~50 times or so for me).

Pipe the macaron shells onto your lined baking sheet into quarter sized circles. Let sit until a skin forms (touch to test).

Bake in the oven preheated at 230F for 5-8 minutes, until you see the foot beginning to rise, then raise the temperature to 250-270F and continue to bake for 12-15 more minutes (times can vary greatly between ovens). You can check for doneness by seeing if the shell/foot has dried, or by peeling off a corner macaron. When ready, remove from the oven and let cool.

While the macaron shells are cooling, make the salted caramel buttercream filling. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp water to a saucepan and heat until boiling. Continue to cook and stir until sugar becomes amber in color, then turn off the heat. Add 3 Tbsp butter and stir until melted, then add 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream and whisk til smooth. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

When the caramel has cooled, beat it until it becomes lighter in texture, then beat in a stick of softened butter. Add a cup of powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.

This is what they look like filled :) Hold back, refrigerate, and dig in the next day.

How were they? Some of them cracked. Some of them broke when unsticking from the mat. Some of them broke away from the foot. Some of them were lopsided. Some of them looked perfect and tasted delicious, which makes this an overall success.
Would I make them again? Yes, over and over again with this recipe. I would experiment with fillings and flavoring extracts in the future. I don't think I'd buy another one again...but I wouldn't mind getting them as presents ;)

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