Macarons. Those delicate, and often mispronounced French pastries are a delight to the senses. Attractive round form, initially crisp texture that soon melts away to nothingness, not to mention the cornucopia of flavours limited only by ones imagination. So, it was with great delight that I found that my very first Daring Bakers Challenge would be these sublime treats.
However, that initial delight soon dissipated to disappointment, despair and occasional delirium.
This month’s challenge was hosted by LAmonkeygirl from Baking Without Fear , using a macaron recipe from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. The requirement for this months challenge was to make the macaron shells from the recipe provided. Flavouring of the macaron shells (if at all) and fillings were entirely up to the individual. Though I was originally going to go with a decadent cookie dough filling, I decided to go with an apple pie flavoured one instead.
Yes, apple pie! Ever since I had my first apple pie flavoured gelato, I’ve loved the concept of apple pie flavoured confections.
The ingredients list below shows that the macaron shells, the foundation of any good macaron pastry, only consists of 4 ingredients, with two of them being sugar. However, don’t let that fool you. After eight batches of macarons, and a couple of recipes later, I had managed to make only a single successful batch of macarons as pictured at the beginning of the post.
More on that later. Let’s get into the recipe as per the Daring Bakers Challenge.
The mise en place for the macaron shells only consists of four ingredients:
- 225g of Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar, sifted
- 190 g of Almond meal, sifted
- 25g Granulated sugar
- Egg whites from five eggs (at room temperature)
- Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
The key I found here was to ensure that the almond meal was dry and didn’t have the tendency to clump. If the almond meal is somewhat damp, lay out the almond meal on a large tray to air dry.
- Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
The above image indicates what stiff peaks should look like i.e. standing up without the tip drooping.
- Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
A number of references that I’d picked up on the Internet indicates that the batter should have a magma-like consistency i.e. a thick, viscous consistency. Getting this consistency right is probably one of the more critical stages that will determine whether you end up with proper macarons or sad, but otherwise tasty failures. More on magma-like consistency below.
- Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch (1cm) tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
- Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
This is where the consistency of the batter really stands out. When piping the macaron rounds, odds are that you’ll leave little peaks as you pull the piping bag away. With the magma-like consistency, these little peaks “melt” away and incorporate themselves into the rest of the mound, leaving a nice circular disk, as pictured above. If the batter is too think, these peaks will tend to remain and when baked, will leave the macaron looking like a Hershey’s Kiss.
- Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
- Cool on a rack before filling.
If everything works out, the macaron should look something like the above image. The characteristic “feet” of the macaron shell, the textured base below the smooth shell of the rest of the macaron, is the sign of a successful macaron. Of the eight batches of macarons, this one came from the only successful batch made.
The recipe used for this batch was not the one supplied by the host of this month’s DB challenge but one I’d obtained from the Serious Eats website (recipe link here). However, even this batch had its issues.
Some of the macarons ended up with a slightly cratered shell, not unlike the surface of the moon. How to deal with this issue so that all the shells end up with a smooth consistency is something I’ve yet to learn. Having gone through eight batches and end up with only one successful batch, I’m somewhat over the making of macaron shells for a while.
Apple Pie Filling
Now, having dealt with the shells, there is the matter of the apple pie filling to be addressed.
Unfortunately, with no recipes as a guide (couldn’t find any such recipe on the Internet), my general habit as an instinctive cook i.e. guided by my senses and add as I go rather than follow and note empirical measurements, and having only made one successful batch of macarons to fill, I unfortunately cannot offer a precise recipe for the filling. However, I can give general guidelines, which I’ll list below.
The apple pie filling is essentially the combination of a basic cookie dough recipe (plain flour, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract) along with an apple and cinnamon syrup.
- Add around 1 cup of fresh apple juice along with a stick of cinnamon to a saucepan and reduce on a low heat until it reaches a thin syrup consistency. No sugar is added at all as there will be plenty of sugar in the cookie dough.
- Once the apple juice has been reduced, around a shot or two of apple schnapps was added to the syrup to bring back some of the lost aromatic apple characteristics during the reduction process.
- Reduce for a few more minutes to allow it to return to a syrupy consistency and burn off some of the alcohol.
- Remove from the heat, remove cinnamon stick and allow the syrup to cool.
The syrup should be somewhat acidic, which I found cuts through some of the richness of the cookie dough batter.
To finish the apple pie filling:
- Prepare a basic cookie dough as per your favourite recipe.
- Incorporate the cooled syrup to the cookie dough until the consistency resembles a ganache or pastry cream.
- Either pipe or spoon the filling onto a macaron shell and sandwich together with another shell.
Ensure that there is enough filling so that when it’s sandwiched, that the filling spills out of the edge of the shell. By running a clean finger around the edge of macaron, the excess filling can be cleaned up, leaving a clean looking finish as pictured in the previous image.
Thanks to LAmonkey for this month’s challenge. Though my love for macarons has now become a love/hate relationship (love to eat them/hate to make them), I’ll likely give them another go in the future. Not only to get consistent, successful results (or any successful result for that matter), but also to try out other interesting fillings I have in mind :)