Trendy Food Tuesday: Spotlight Macarons

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A couple of weeks ago, I had this genius realization during my daily routine of mindlessly scrolling through food porn pictures and recipes online: people love the crap out of macarons. Seriously. They are right up there with quinoa and Nutella as the Holy Trinity of potential Pinterest explosion.

I was so excited by this new revelation that I even took to twitter to boldly declare them as “the new cupcakes” to my legion of followers (like 300, but whatever that was enough for the Spartans.) What a trend spotter I am, I thought. I am so cutting edge. I should have my own TV show where I just, like, talk about trendy foods. I’ll basically be the Ellen of the culinary world.

Then I did a google search (heyyy NSA!) for “macarons are the new cupcakes” just to make sure no one had read my tweet and immediately stolen the idea and written an article about it. Needless to say, I was quickly brought back to reality. Turns out there was already an article about it. Written in 20-fucking-10. Oh yeah, and also this one, from 2011. EVEN FOX NEWS WAS IN ON THE TREND LIKE TWO YEARS AGO AND THEY THINK THAT PEPPER SPRAY IS A FOOD PRODUCT.

So yeah, I guess I’m not so much the culinary Ellen as I am your dad who was like “have you guys heard about that tumblers thing that Yahoo just bought? Sounds pretty neat!”

But as I’ve stated before, I’ve never been a huge sweets person, which is why I guess I don’t have a much of a pulse on the pastry industry. Further, I have been a vocal opponent of the cupcake dictatorship we have been living under for the better part of the last decade, so I was excited to see anything that could potentially be staging a coup. And besides that, macarons are actually delicious, fun to eat, and don’t involve a mountain of goopy icing the size of J Lo’s weave smashing into your face when you try to eat it.

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Sick. I may be late to the bandwagon, macarons, but I welcome you with open arms.

Since this blog is all about me expanding my culinary horizons and trying out new recipes and techniques, I thought, “well I’ll just whip up a batch of macarons today!” How hard could it be?

That was last Thursday. Turns out, it is super hard. First of all, it seems like every recipe you find has a very specific amount of each ingredient measured by weight in grams, which is confusing because I’m a stupid American, and also I don’t have a gram scale in my house because I’m not a fucking drug dealer.

This macaron recipe is absurd.

This macaron recipe is absurd.

These sorts of precise measurements are exactly why I have little patience for the pastry world. Eventually I did find a nice idiot-friendly version of the recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart, who has never led me astray. In Martha we trust.

Next point of confusion- what the hell is almond meal and where do I find it? (Answers: ground almonds; pretty much every grocery store.) But I didn’t feel like taking the time to find that out for myself, so I went ahead and finely chopped up some pecans I had on hand in a food processor and substituted that.

That didn’t really work. I mean, it might have, if I hadn’t also underwhipped the egg whites and undermixed the batter, like so:

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And then my cookies turned out like this:

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Soft, sticky, chewy, just really not so delightful. They were indeed as ugly as they look in this horribly lit picture. After another failed attempt at this method the next day, I went to the store to get some actual almond meal, and spent about 2 hours reading different recipes, “tips,” and YouTube videos trying to understand the process better.

I was getting some mixed information: bake them with the door slightly ajar, bake them with the door closed and FOR GOD’S SAKE DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT OPENING IT; tap them on the counter, don’t tap them on the counter; let them sit out before baking them, it doesn’t matter if you let them sit out before baking them; etc, etc, etc. It was messing with my head. I just needed to cook. And cook I did.

Some people are so intense about the precision required to make these, and I think that’s what makes them so intimidating. That’s not my style. Will they turn out perfect and the exact same every single time? Maybe not. Did I achieve repeat success with this recipe? Yes. Will it taste delicious regardless? Absolutely. For me, it was all about getting the right consistency of the batter- once I achieved that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

The first step in this is making sure your egg whites are whipped correctly. They should have the signature “stiff peaks.” One recipe I saw said you know they are done if you can turn it upside down and they don’t fall out. I don’t think I even have to go into why that is a stupid method. Just look at them. They should look like this.

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Now to mix the powdered sugar/almond meal mixture. Some recipes say you MUST SIFT!!1!!111!, but I just whisked them together. Worked out great. Then you toss it in a third at a time, and you just fold, lightly. It will look super weird at first, and you will think it’s a disaster and they’ve turned out wrong. But then it will all come together at once. It will be beautiful, smooth, and glossy. Stop right now.

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Now transfer them to a pastry bag and pipe them into circles. Most recipes say you need to sketch out your circles onto the parchment paper before piping them. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Just make circles- it will work out, I promise.

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At this point, I let them rest on the counter for about 15 minutes. Some people say you don’t need to do this; some people say you need to do it for like an hour, but, whatever, this worked for me so I’m sticking with it. Did you hear me? It worked! Finally! I even got the little feet. I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture when they came out of the oven. Then I filled them with caramel.

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Salted, because we are being trendy today.

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High on my success, I decided to take it a step further: pistachio macarons. With chocolate ganache. Talk dirty to me.

First, I just replaced half of the almond meal with pistachios I ground in the coffee grinder.

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And repeated the same process, adding a couple drops of green food coloring to the egg whites just to drive home the pistachio point.

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Now for the ganache.

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This batch was even more beautiful than the last. I think I’m getting the hang of these things- even if I am two years behind.

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Pistachio Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe

Makes: about 12 cookies

Ingredients:

For cookies:

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup ground pistachios (simply put shelled pistachios in a food processor or coffee grinder and finely grind them)

3 egg whites

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 drops green food coloring

For filling:

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 tbsp softened butter

Directions:

For the cookies:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In an electric mixture with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until they are very foamy. Gradually pour in granulated sugar, turn the speed up to high, and whip until stiff peaks form. Add food coloring and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, almond meal, and ground pistachios. Add this mixture into the egg whites in three batches, folding with a rubber spatula until it is all combined into a smooth, glossy batter.

Transfer the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, and pipe it in 1 1/2 inch circles on a baking sheet lined with NON-STICK parchment paper or foil. Let sit on the counter at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then pop them in the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely.

For the filling:

Heat the cream in the microwave for about 4o seconds. Put chocolate in a bowl and pour hot cream over it, stirring until chocolate is completely melted. Let this cool slightly, then add in softened butter and stir to combine. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to set up.

Using another pastry bag, pipe the filling onto the bottom side of half of the macarons. Top with the other macarons to make a sandwich, pressing slightly to spread the filling evenly. Serve immediately or let cool in the fridge to really set up.

Salted Caramel Macarons

The process for making these is the exact same as for the pistachio cookies, except you use a full cup of almond flour and omit the pistachios and green food coloring.

Filling ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar

3 tbsp water

2 tsp corn syrup (this will keep the sugar from crystallizing)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp softened butter

Coarse kosher salt or sea salt

Filling directions:

In a saucepan, add sugar, water, and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the sugar starts to turn slightly amber in color, about 15 minutes. Stop whisking, and start swirling the pan for another minute of so until the caramel gets to a medium brown color. Turn the heat off and add cream, whisking continually. It will bubble up vigorously so be careful. Transfer to a bowl, allow to cool, then add butter. Let set up in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

When assembling the cookies, sprinkle each one with a pinch of salt.

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