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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mastering the Macaron!

A few weekends ago, boyfriend and I bundled up and headed into Manhattan.  I was very excited about our Sunday plans, while he was less so.  I told him that if he behaved, I would buy him S'mac for lunch.  What were we planning on doing that Sunday afternoon?  I had signed us up for a macaron class!

Several months back, okay I think it was sometime in July, Groupon was offering a half price macaron class at Dessert Truck Works on Clinton St.  I didn't even hesitate and bought us two seats in one of their classes.  Boyfriend wasn't super excited about the class, since he's a master of boxed macaroni and break apart chocolate chip cookies, but he was willing to come with me.

Originally I had scheduled us for a class in October, which is right when we decided to go to Thailand.  The next class they had available?  February!  I wrote a reminder note on the marker board in the kitchen.  As the class drew near, I kept reminding myself to go to Dessert Truck on February 12th.  The morning of the class, the tri-state area woke up to frigid temperatures.  It was one of those days where I would have stayed in our apartment all day long, but we had to get on the train and head into the city.

I'm glad we got out of bed and went to the class because the class was completely worth it.  Held in the little bakery on Clinton street, the shop is closed until after the workshop, giving you one on one attention from the pastry chef.  We arrived and were given tea and coffee to warm our hands against the cold outside.  The group assembled and we were twelve macaron makers of all levels.  From those that had never even eaten a macaron, to those that love the cookies, to me, who had made a batch or two in the past.  We were all ready to learn a little something about these delicious French cookies.

The macaron teacher explained the basics of the cookies and told us of the three different varieties of macarons.  She described them in the best way that I have ever heard, macarons are like European men.  The French macaron - like a French man.  Sensitive, unpredictable and finnicky.  The Italian macaron - like an Italian man.  Strong, sturdy & dangerous.  The Swiss macaron - like a Swiss man.  Somewhere in between the Frenchman and the Italian.  I don't know a whole lot of Swiss men, but her descriptions of the French and Italian men seemed pretty funny, and right.

Personally, I've only ever made French and Italian macarons.  I can agree with her comparisons to European men.  I've had varying success with the French method while I've made some good batches with the Italian ones.  I was so excited that we would be making macarons with the Swiss method, because it was not something I'd ever done before.  We split up into groups and were ready to start whipping some egg whites.

Our instructor suggested our group of four split up, in order to get more hands on time.  I explained that boyfriend would not be handling the food at all, he would be taking pictures.  There was a little back and forth, but it was determined that it would be best for all (especially the final macaron product) if boyfriend didn't touch the cookies.  I kind of wished that he did participate, because my arm got tired whipping those egg whites!  He did make a good photographer though, I got some interesting pictures.  Yep, that's me in all these pictures, Hello!

The Swiss method consists of whipping the egg whites and granulated sugar over a simmering pot of water.  This gently cooks the egg whites and builds a little structure in the meringue.  The three of us took turns whipping the eggs, trading off when our shoulders couldn't take any more.

Once the egg whites reached the stiff peak and were slightly warm to the touch, we got prepared to combine all of the ingredients.  First, some unwhipped egg whites were added to the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture.  Next, we added the meringue and started the macaronage (aka, the stirring/folding).  This was the part that I wanted clarification.  What is the correct consistency to stop working the batter at?  Again, the "flowing like cooling lava" description came up.  I preferred the test of cutting the batter down the middle with the spatula.  If the line disappears in ten seconds, then your batter is ready.

We added a little red color for make our macarons cute and pink.  After transferring to the piping bag and pressing out all the air, we piped rows and rows of pink cookies.  Practicing piping identically sized macarons is tricky, something that I still have to work on.  We came out with a tray of pretty nice looking circles. 

Since the workshop was only three hours long, we didn't have time to wait around for the shells to dry, then bake and cool.  So we did a little swap!  Pink cookies went onto the drying rack, yellow and green ones came out!  We were given a series of delicious fillings, chocolate ganache, salted caramel, blackberry buttercream and toffee and told to fill our new cookies. 

We got to come back a few hours later and pick up our baked macaron shells.  I was so excited to see that they had feet!  The only question remained, could I do this at home? 

If you happen to be visiting NYC or live in the area, I would highly recommend heading over to Dessert Truck for a workshop.  We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot about what I was doing right and wrong with my macarons.  It was great to learn another method for making these wonderful little cookies and the instructor was fun, helpful and informative.  You might have to book a ways in advance, this particular workshop was very popular after the Groupon deal!

One Year Ago: Chocolate Buttercream Truffles

Cherry Buttercream

After bringing our macaron shells home, I decided that a cute pink cookie deserved some cherry buttercream!  I had a little bit of difficulty with this batch of buttercream because of the small scale of the recipe.  If you are making a regular size batch of macarons, just double or triple the batch.

1 egg white
pinch of Cream of Tartar
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tbsp
2 tbsp water
1 tsp corn syrup
8 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp cherry jam
Powdered sugar (just in case)

Place egg white in a cold bowl and set aside while you cook the sugar syrup.  Combine sugar, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil.  Heat until the temperature reaches 240 F. 

When the temperature of the sugar reaches 220, add 1 tbsp sugar to the egg white and begin whipping.  Whip until the whites reach soft peak stage.  Once sugar comes up to temperature, begin streaming slowly into the egg whites.  Beat for 5 minutes, until the egg whites are shiny and bright white.

Add butter into the meringue, one tablespoon at a time.  Allow the butter to be incorporated before adding another piece.  Add the vanilla extract and cherry jam.  If the buttercream breaks (looks all lumpy), beat for another minute.  If it doesn't come back together (as mine didn't) add a few tablespoons of powdered sugar.

Transfer to a piping bag and fill those macaron shells!
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