As you can tell, it took me about 2 years of investigating these little "things" to take my own first step. Helen the tartelette and Aran the Cannelle are my mentors on the macaron path. I have read almost all their posts regarding macarons. It really helps, trust me, to get yourself familiar with the techniques by reading before doing. Both of these ladies are amazing. They are well experienced but yet very kind to share what they know. They set good examples for me. So, this post is a tribute to them.
I made the chocolate macarons in Aron's blog for my macaron debute about 3 months ago. It was a total success. I filled them with bittersweet chocolate ganache, and it was the most favorite among family and friends. Since then, I have made Aran's pistachio macarons with white chocolate grapefruit ganache, Aran's Chocolate Macarons with salty peanut butter filling, Helen's opera macarons, and many different kinds of butter cream, ganache, and my own caramel sauce to go with different macaron shells. It was so much fun, almost like a game. Every time I made a combination, it became the favorite among the testers. Funny!
Helen's recent post on strawberry macarons really caught my eyes. I like new things and changes. So, I made them right away. The first two pictures are them. I promised they are NOT chocolate macarons. I don't have any pink powder color, so I used burgundy. It came out a bit too dark. And, it took me 2 hours in 250F oven to dry those sliced strawberries. Argh! That's the only downside for these tasty macarons. I made some butter cream wtih egg yolks, instead of egg whites. I mixed half a pod of vanilla beans in, and it was perfect!
I confess that I don't always follow the recipes to the exact. It is fine to add my own touch and baking experience to the stuff. I don't change too much when I follow Helen's and Aran's macaron recipes. Well, I am known as a "more-or-less" cook/baker. As long as you don't drift too far off, I think it's not harmful. (Please don't my words for it, if you don't agree.) Making macarons are not difficult, but it's tricky. Here are some my opinions:
- mastering meringue is the first and most important task. I have been making chiffon and sponge cakes for many years, and I LOVE working with egg whites. This experience came very handy making macarons. I don't mind making Italian meringue. But I think for small batches macarons, French meringue is the easiest. AND, in my opinion, French meringue macarons are less sweet than Italian meringue ones. What you need to look for is the finish meringue should have the texture of the make-up sponge ladies use for putting the foundations on their face. You almost can not see the air bubbles. It should not look at the scrubbing sponge you use to wash dishes. You want your meringue looks so welcoming, so shining, and so soft that you want to put your face on it. Got the idea? One big lesson about whipping egg whites I learned from April is to finish the meringue in a slow speed with the electric mixer. This is what I do sometimes. Once the whites are whipped to the full body, take the bowl off the machine and whip it by hand. It will truly stabilize your egg white.
- I very much appreciate Helen's "Macarons 101". She carefully explained all the details her French meringue macarons. I love it when she wrote "... starting to fold vigorously and rather fast at
first, .." Woo, being vigorous is one of my strengths. So I followed, and that gave me my first batch of macarons successfully.
- Aged egg whites in room temperature works well for me, so I always make sure separate the whites 2-3 days beforehand, leave in the refrigerator, then let it sit in room temperature for 24 hours. I usually put it in my basement where is cooler than my ground level kitchen temperature.
- Drying process after piping is very important. The one time my macarons came out flopped was when I hurried them into the oven. Of course, the sitting time has a lot to do with the humidity of the environment. I made most of mine in the winter season, and we always had heater going. House humidity was low, so one hour was sufficient.
- I started grinding nuts using my coffee grinder. It really saves money. I bought a pound of blanched almond flours from the organic food section in my local grocery store. It was $10. The slivered almond is only half of that price per pound. I can do the grinding myself, and it doesn't cost much!
Oh yes, the homemade caramel sauce is awesome. I didn't like store bought caramel at all until I started making my own. The recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible. By the way, that book is educational. I have been using it for pies and tarts since I got it few years ago.