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Okay, I know. Go ahead and say it. I’ve been a BAD BLOGGER. Bad bad bad. When was my last update? MONTHS ago? Um… yeah… so… like… I moved, and then my new kitchen wasn’t done, and then…. um, yeah, I suck. But I’m back now and ready to rumble. Srsly. Ya rly. Gonna do it this time.
Once again, it’s time for the Daring Bakers Challenge. Your blurb of the month: The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Okay, so if you look at any other food blogs than this one (and why would you, really? I mean, this one is so awesome and stuff…) you may have noticed a strange cookie trend sweeping the intarnets. A wave of cookies sweeping the nation, crispy bottomed, brightly colored, flipped “foot” to “foot” and joined together in a holy matrimony of sweet fillings and buttercreams and curds… oh my! These funny, footsy little cookies are called Macarons (if you’re french, or suitably pretentious, which I am). Not to be confused with the humble american Macaroon (oh, how that extra O just goes and changes everything), which I also dearly lurve, the macaron is a frothy mix of egg whites, sugars, and finely ground nutmeats (hehehe… I just love saying the word “nutmeats” – it just sounds so dirty!), baked into little crispy-puffy dollops and eaten slathered-together with just about anything under the sun.
I’ve been watching these little buggers for months now, taking over the food blogs, yet never quite having the excuse to give them a try. “Gosh darnit they’re PURTY,” I’d say, and then forget all about them until the next bit of macaron food-porn launched itself across my computer screen. Well here was my excuse! Daring Bakers picks a winner yet again! Woot!
Little did I know just how tricky these darn things are to get just right. Every one of those pictures I see of perfect, poofy macarons, now that I’ve tried to make them myself, I definitely think should have a bit fat warning label stating “YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY”. Not that my results weren’t delicious, scrumptious even. But not so pretty. And we all know how much I like to make my food pretty. Apparently there are fanatics out there that have dissected the concept of macaron-making nearly to death, spouting all sorts of arcane knowledge about “aging” one’s egg whites, resting pre-baked cookies, not cooking on a dry/humid/cloudy/sunny/rainy/insert-weather-here day. There are pages and pages dedicated to the magical incantations required to create the perfect “foot” on the bottom of the cookie (look at a proper picture and you’ll see what I mean). It’s nutty, I tell ya.
Whatever, I just wanna bake some cookies. So I threw myself into the recipe with enthusiasm, putting my own flavor twist to the buttercream center (caramelized pears with port!). Were they pretty to look at? Not so much. Were they yummy? Yes. Will I make them again? Maybe… who knows. Only time will tell. I packed up half of this batch and brought them over to the house of a couple of sick friends (for the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Joe and Jen). I am firmly convinced that my cookies completely cured them of all their ills. Seriously.
Anyway, you can expect to hear from me again soon because I have some cool posts saved up, and in the next year will also be tackling baking my first and second wedding cakes! Always wanted to do that… Meanwhile, please accept this post as my humble offering back to the world of food-blogging. Forgive me for my absence. I promise to be better from now on. Pinkie swear and everything!
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 [I added the guts of a vanilla bean – save the husk, we’ll use it later]. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch 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.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F. 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.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.
Abbey’s Caramelized Pears with Port Buttercream
(based on Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen – this was the perfect amount for my half-batch of macarons, but YMMV)
2 pears, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 empty vanilla bean pod
freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons Port
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg white
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Melt the 2 tbsp. of butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean pod to the butter and sugar so it can flavor the caramel. Once the sugar & butter are bubbly, add in the chopped pears. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmet to taste, then saute in the caramel for 10-20 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your pears. Once the pears are good and soft, add the Port and let cook for 2-3 minutes more. Take off the heat and let cool thoroughly. Once cooled, prepare the buttercream:
Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Add the vanilla, then add the 6 tbsp. of butter a bit at a time and whip until smooth and luscious. Set aside.
Get your cooled pear mixture and drain off as much of the syrupy moisture as possible, then mash the pears until you get a nice chunky texture. fold into the buttercream, then do with it what you will.