Monday, April 22, 2013
Eight mini-batches later, I think I sort of know how to make macarons! Macarons that LOOK like macarons, I mean! I don't think I have the exact temperature and time down yet but there are a lot of things I know now that I didn't know a few weeks ago when I first attempted "the divas of the pastry world." Most of my attempts, other than the first try, happened in the last week. Some things I learned:
Our oven is either a) running a bit hot or b) not at the correct temperature when it dings to say it's preheated. After a couple days of oven experiments with various thermometers, my gut tells me it's probably about 15 degrees hot but also definitely needs to preheat for about 15-20 minutes past when it dings. Otherwise at that point the temperature is still climbing.
Proper meringue consistency - definitely dry-looking and super-stiff. The first try I did nail this, the next few I started second-guessing myself and being worried about over-beating. I know what it looks like now.
Why every batch kept tearing open instead of rising and growing feet - likely this was a combination of a few things (oven too hot, runny meringue) but the biggest breakthrough here occurred when I realized that the larger bubbles in the batter needed about 10 minutes to come out. Prior to this discovery I was just following other recipes that said to rap the pan sharply a couple times after piping and you were good to go. It could be the fact that I'm making such small batches and therefore mixing the batter much less than you would for a full-sized batter that makes it not possible to get most of the air out during mixing, but whatever it is, I need to sit with the tray for 5-10 minutes and drop it hard on the kitchen table every minute or so until the bubbles aren't coming anymore. After figuring this one out, I had two almost completely crack-free batches! WITH FEET!
I also started using the Wild Serendipity Foods recipe instead of Bravetart's, figuring my best chance at success was trying a recipe that someone is having success with in my own city. It has given me better success however I plan to try the Bravetart recipe again soon to check if the problems with it were just my technical mistakes. One thing I like about Michelle's recipe is that you mix half the dry ingredients in with the wet first, and then add the rest of the dry. This seems to allow me to get everything mixed together better, but again I'll have to give the less-tedious Bravetart recipe another go eventually.
One interesting tidbit - my first batch was made with hazelnuts and so was my last batch. By far, my best batch was my last, but of course it should be. However the hazelnuts seem to make for a bit thicker of a batter and overall a bit easier to work with. And, more delicious than almonds. I imagine the thickness of the batter/higher rising is due to the higher fat content of hazelnuts. Personally they may become my nut of choice for macarons, though I will have to try out a few more varieties.
Stuff I still need to learn - the exact cooking time and temperature to use so I don't dry them out. I'm still a bit terrified of underbaking them (the dreaded hollow shells) and today's two batches looked amazing but were totally dry after cooling and also browned considerably. You don't want browning and they should apparently still be a bit chewy after cooling - but this is easily remedied by filling them with icing or jam and allowing them to absorb that moisture overnight.
I'll end this post with a couple of pictures of today's successes:
Finally - feet! (Almond above)
Even bigger feet! Hazelnut.
And the best part - no hollow shell! This one was a bit cracked, and you can tell it's quite dry from all the browning but it set properly and looked like a macaron so I'm declaring today a major victory!