Friday, June 11, 2010

Chocolate Macarons: A Picturebook

These aren’t the prettiest replications of them temperamental confections but still decent, I’d say! I modified Pierre Hermé’s basic macaron recipe slightly to accommodate the cocoa. And I don't have egg white powder but using very aged whites (7 days old) seems to have made up for it.

Ingredients for 20 macarons (40 shells)
100g Almond flour

95.5g Icing sugar
 4.5g Dutch processed cocoa

2 x 37.5g egg whites, aged 7 days
¼ tsp cream of tar tar
100g caster sugar
25g water

Note: I've used this recipe successfully with 3 day-old whites, but they were a little moist and I had to sit them out to dry. If you're using 3 day-old whites, try reducing the water to 22g.

For the baking:
Set up oven trays with baking paper, cut to size. Since my trays are black and so will not show pencilled circles, I put a plain sheet of baking paper over the circle template. Added benefit: reusing the template so I don’t have to go mad drawing circles.

For the piping:
Stand piping bag in a glass, with the end open ready to receive the batter.

For the whipping:
Plug in and have electric beater ready. Have nearby a bowl suitable for whipping your whites, and cream of tar tar.

Making the shells
1. Weigh then sift the almond flour, icing sugar and cocoa. The “right” way is to process these before sifting, but I lack a food processor. And I can’t bear to waste any ingredients, so I dumped the big bits in too. 

2. Weigh the sugar and water into a pot, clip on candy thermometer, and set them on the stove.

3. Weigh the whites out into 2 small bowls. Pour 1 portion into the whipping bowl, and add the cream of tar tar. Just before turning the stove on for the sugar syrup, give it a stir. Turn the stove on to start the sugar syrup. Pour the other portion of whites into the tant pour tant and mix in concentric circles till well combined.

4. When the thermometer reaches around 85 degrees c, start whipping the whites. When the whites just reach stiff peaks, the thermometer should read about 118 degrees c. Turn off stove and quickly pour in syrup. Keep whipping until the bowl is just warm to touch, about 1 minute. When whipping, it helps to spin the bowl around instead of moving the beaters so you get a good view of what’s going on inside, and so you give all areas inside equal attention.

5. With a rubber spatula, add 1/3 of the meringue to the tant pour tant-whites mixture. Quickly loosen it with a chopping motion, sweeping it from time to time (not too violent!). When the mixture seems uniformly mixed, add rest of the meringue.

6. Fold in meringue by sweeping spatula under mixture toward you and bringing it over the top, while turning the bowl to attack it from different angles. Scrape down the sides from time to time. I find the best way to check if you’ve got the batter to the right stage is to do a test pipe with a small portion. If it is still peaky, squeeze it out and mix more.

Test pipe: too peaky. Needs to be folded further

 I stopped folding at this stage

7. When you’re happy with the batter, dot some on the perimeter of baking tray to stick the 2 sheets of baking paper down (the one with circles and the blank one). Then pipe! Keep nozzle tip in the piped batter until ready to pull away or it’ll look like one macaron stacked atop another. Don’t pull away too quickly or the tip of the batter will break off, leaving a crater.

8. Let sit till sides and top surface don’t leave a mark on your finger when touched.

9. Turn oven to 160 degrees celcius, to the mode that gives top and bottom heat (no fan). When preheated, stack the tray of macarons onto another empty tray and put these in the oven at the lowest rack and wish them well (I always find myself saying “all the best my babies!”). After 4 min, remove empty bottom tray. At 9 ½ min, insert an empty oven tray into topmost oven shelf to block off some heat so macaron tops don’t burn. At 14 min, remove macarons, let stand for 20 sec and poke gently at the feet. If they hold their shape, it’s done! If not, return to oven for another minute.

Batch #1 at 7.5 min

Batch #2 at 5min. Although from the same batter, these sat for 15 min longer as they waited for batch #1 to bake, which made their feet growth more forthcoming.

10. When macarons are done, let stand for a minute to cool and harden slightly, making it easier to remove. Holding the macaron in question, peel baking paper away from its base and put on cooling rack.

I-can’t-afford-Valrhona Chocolate Ganache (for about 20 macarons)
I brought Valrhona Jivara and Guanaja chocolate to the counter to pay, but returned them when I realised they were not on offer. I just couldn’t bear to pay $21 for chocolate! Instead, I bought 2 blocks of Lindt for $7.

50g Lindt 70% Madagascar chocolate
40g Lindt 40% Milk chocolate
100g cooking cream
3 Tbsp thick cream
1. Put chocolates into a medium ovenproof bowl and soften them in the microwave. When done, bowl should be warm to touch, not hot. If too hot, let cool before incorporating the cooking cream.
2. Put cooking cream into a pan on very low heat, swirling around to ensure even heat distribution.
3. When cream is warmish to touch, remove from heat and pour onto chocolate in a thin stream, whisking continuously until smooth and cool.
4. Add thick cream. Whisk till mixture is airy.

Putting it all together
Piping nice rounds of filling ensures that it spreads out evenly when you press the shells together, so they look good from all side angles.

1. What works for my oven may not work for yours, so do little test batches. I find that with a fan-forced oven, the macarons rise rapidly only to collapse halfway through. If the fan comes on in your oven, wedge a wet wooden spoon in the oven door to reduce air pressure on the macarons.

Disorganised cracks:
Too little top heat because but an empty oven tray on the rack above too early

If there's too much top heat, they'll look sunburnt.

2. The correct sugar syrup temperature at which to start your meringue varies depending on the size of your pot and fire. 85 degrees is just a guide; experiment to see what works for you. However, it’s better to keep the syrup than the meringue waiting.

3. I find that the above recipe size is just nice. Do too big a batch and it’ll be hard to get the macaron batter evenly mixed. Do too small a batch and the sugar syrup will be problematic because the syrup won’t be deep enough to get a good reading on the thermometer.

4. Once preheated, don’t keep your oven waiting or the temperature will start to fluctuate.

The next big challenge is to make some macarons at home in humid Singapore. My more successful attempts have been made in Adelaide, where it's nice and dry. D (boyfriend who wishes to remain mysterious anonymous) has requested for Durian macarons. But P.U. I gag at the taste of durians (last time I accidentally ate some in an unsuspecting glutinous rice ball, the tears came down). I'll make shells with yellow food colouring, then he's on his own for the filling and eating. And no goodnight kisses, please.

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