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We have a loose tradition with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law-to-be to get together every few months and undertake a baking project out of one of the cookbooks that we both have. That is when my macaron obsession began.
We made chocolate ganache macarons from the Flour cookbook; I made them again later, trying to add some color (see above). While they were delicious, they didn’t look like beautiful macarons you see at a professional bakery. While I don’t at all consider myself an artist, the closest I get to it is making edible art through food. I love beautiful food.
I recently quit my job (more on this some other time). I had about 4 weeks of vacation time that I slowly burned off during the summer before my last day in early September. During my time off, I decided I was on a quest to learn to make beautiful macarons, with the goal of making them as parting gifts for my co-workers. I considered seeing if I could intern at the macaronerie (Miam Miam) down the street to learn the secrets of macaron making. Then I decided to do what I always do when I want to learn something: I looked up and reserved every macaron book I could find at the Boston Public Library. Once 4 came in, I canceled the rest of the reservations (I did, after all, have to bike all of them home from the library).
I read all 4 books two times each (they are 75% recipes, which I skimmed). But I wanted to read, reread, and study the methodology to understand what I would need to do. Never have I been so methodical in the kitchen, where the slogan is to “approach cooking like love: with reckless abandon”. Each book detailed a different process, with each adding it’s own weird urban legend, such as:
- you must open the oven door 2 times halfway through
- you must prepare the egg whites 4-5 days in advance
- you must rapt the cookie sheet the counter several times after piping
- you must sift everything twice
- you should dry the cookies for 30 minutes under a fan in an air conditioned room
- …and many more
I didn’t want to screw this up, so I decided I would start off doing almost all of these weird requirements.
At the same time, I began volunteering at Community Servings and took a brief class on safe food handling and working in a professional kitchen. I brought that into my home kitchen, especially since my macarons would be gifts.
To take a step back: What is a macaron? Is that those coconut mountain looking things? No, those are macaroons. French, or Parisian macarons are the little, often colorful, airy little sandwiches with a magical texture and interesting flavors. They are made with eggs whites and almond flour (which I bought after a 3 hour experience/debacle blanching and making our own flour). There are traditionally 2 methods to making macarons: the French method, where you make a meringue by beating egg whites with sugar, or the Italian method, where you make a sugar syrup and beat it with egg whites. I am French and it seemed easier, so I go with that method.
I’m not going to tell you all the steps to make the macarons (at least not right now), but I was very pleased with my first batch – coffee chocolate. As I made them, I had all 4 books laid out on the living room floor and would read the same step in each book to try to combine all the things they said (very typical of Jenny’s cooking). But it paid off – they were perfect and they looked beautiful. I was so excited, I just kept looking at them. I did it!
I got a little more confident to get a little more reckless for my next batch – matcha green tea. I didn’t exactly have a recipe, so I modified the chocolate cookie recipe to take green tea powder instead of chocolate and modified the coffee buttercream to use green tea powder instead of instant coffee. Another hit!
The next two batches got a little tight on my deadline for my last day. The sifting of the almond flour and powdered sugar was time consuming and prepping the eggs 4-5 days ahead (then taking out 2 hours before use) proved to require some serious planning.
I got a little more reckless and since I didn’t have orange extract, I used triple sec, (an orange liqueur) instead and made orange cookies with an orange chocolate ganache.
Last, I totally screwed up my measurements (and by measurements, I mean weights – everything was weighed in grams to get an exact amount) and messed up the amount of ground hazelnut I needed to use. In the end, it worked out and I made hazelnut chocolate macarons, in a gorgeous turquoise color.
I found these cute presentation boxes on Amazon. They came without directions, but I figured out how to build them and built each by hand and created a box label.
Overall, it was a good fun learning experience. Look for these tasty treat to come to a special event near you!