Happy New Year!!
Two big and beautiful cookbooks have been sitting on my table since before Christmas just waiting for their turn. I was determined not to get sidetracked, because it’s so easy for me to do. The Christmas baking was done, Christmas was removed and cleared out of my house and back in boxes in the basement and with another weekend here it was time to try something new. The two books I had waiting for me were, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron; The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Pâtissier and The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pleiffer. I need to start by saying just how incredibly beautiful these books are!
A family member recently brought me a box of assorted Ladurée Macarons. Ladurée being one of most famous places in Paris that makes and sells macarons and a bakery where Hermé worked before he went out on his own to experiment with different flavour combinations. If you search on the internet for the best places for macarons these two places come up as the top choices.
Hermé’s book is definitely beautiful, filled with stunning photographs of very unique flavor combinations of macarons in large oversized shots that grab your attention. I was excited to dive into the recipes. My first attempt was less than successful, the beautiful cookies fell flat, literally flat as pancakes but as they baked they did have the lovely smooth top and the ‘feet’ that macarons are so famous for and they tasted amazing!
One of the things that I didn’t actually like about the macarons that I tried initially is that they were far too sweet for my liking. I understand that they are basically almond meringues and they need to be sweet but sweet cookies filled with sweet filling is just a little too much sweet on sweet for me. I was surprised that Hermé’s cookies didn’t seem to be quite as sweet… though I hadn’t yet filled them.
I was determined to get the cookie right and so I made another batch. This time they came closer, they rose as they were supposed to and again had the ‘feet’ but the ground almonds weren’t fine enough and the cookies ended up a slightly bumpy on the surface; a little short of the goal. This is where I have to admit to my obsessiveness. It’s not something new, only something that I’ve become keenly aware of and have learned to appreciate rather than ignore. I am determined, stubborn and a little crazy and when I set my mind to something often it becomes an obsession, for at least a time…. Imagine standing on the edge of a pool thinking about getting in… when I decide to get in I JUMP, with both feet and sometimes without looking, definitely without looking back. This is part of my personality that I’ve come to appreciate. Keeping that in mind you can well imagine that I made another and another batch of these little cookies in an attempt to perfect them as best as I could.
I’ve come to realize that as beautiful and incredible as the Macaron book looks I was disappointed that there really isn’t much flavor variation in the actual cookie. I certainly understand that macarons are essentially a meringue and meringues are very finicky and adding anything to them creates issues with baking consistency. Having said that, I suppose I expected the book to provide some interesting ways and means of attaining that kind of variety. I was a little shocked that the cookies actually come in very few flavours and are mostly colored with food coloring to make them so beautiful and different from each other. It wasn’t until I started reading the macaron section in The Art of French Pastry that it was pointed out that these cookies most often come in one simple flavour and coloring them is the way to create the variety we see in these bakeries.
This leads me to what these cookies reminded me of as I baked them, essentially all day. For some, how something looks is vitality important and the world at large cares immensely about ‘how things look’. Most important to me, is not how things look, or how they look to the world around me but more about what’s inside, how they taste and sometimes how much love, time and patience it takes to create something.
Here I have three flavours of macarons all looking quite similar to each other. Following Hermé’s recipe but flavoring them with; pumpkin spice, coffee and cocoa and making my own version of fillings I’m quite happy with how they turned out. Since I flavoured the actual cookies getting them to look very different from each other was quite difficult. The ingredients I used didn’t come in blue or green or pink… thus they are varying shades of brown.
So here’s to a Happy New Year, filled with inner beauty first!!!
- 240 grams almond flour
- 480 grams icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 tablespoon apricot puree (I used jam)
- 180 grams egg whites
Sift together the sugar and flour, ensure that the almond flour is fine enough to sift, if not grind it finer or toss the larger pieces. In a stand mixer whisk the egg whites until they are foamy enough to hold onto the whisk when you pull it from the mixture. In a separate bowl mix the water and puree. Alternatively add the flour and sugar mixture and water, apricot puree mixtures and fold into the egg whites. Fold this entire mixture until when you lift up the spoon and drop the batter it slowly disappears into the mix. If it’s too thick then fold a couple more times to obtain this consistency.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and place the cookie mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip. I used wilton #12. On a pan with parchment pipe the cookies into one inch rounds leaving about an inch of space between them. Tap them on the counter to ensure they are all smooth on top and leave them be for 20 to 60 minutes. This gives the egg whites time to dry and that’s what gives them the smooth top and creates the ‘feet’ along the bottom as they bake.
After the cookies sit place them on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 13 – 15 minutes opening the oven door a couple of times during the baking, this lets some of the moisture escape from the oven. They should bake until they are puffed up and still the same color as when they went in. These cookies should only be the color that you made them.
When they are done slip the parchment onto a flat surface, counter, until they’ve sufficiently cooled off and you can carefully take them from the paper.
According to some of my searchings…. If the food coloring you use changes color then you baked them too hot. If they crack on top then your temperature was too hot. Lower by 10 – 15 degrees and try again.
This process takes patience and commitment. Or at least it did for me.
I flavoured my actual cookies by adding 20 grams cocoa powder, 20 grams instant coffee, 20 grams of pumpkin spice. I added these ingredients to the flour/sugar mixture and folded until incorporated.
My recipe here is an incorporation of Hermé’s, Pleiffer’s and Martha Stewart’s that I searched to gain some ideas since my first batch fell so flat. Making them over and over, each time they got better…. Though still not perfect I’m thinking this will be my New Year’s mission!
Happy Holidays everyone. In the following weeks I’ll provide my version of fillings, which are more tart than they are sweet.