Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Which I Am Better at Baking Than the Whole Internet

Because I made macarons today and got them right on the first try!

Every single baking blog I read claimed to have taken 3-10 tries to get them right. So I am better at baking than the internet! Or at least better at following directions.

Anyway, here is how it went down!

On Sunday I went to the apartment sale of a friend of Faye's, with Faye and Katie, to help them acquire stuff for their new apartment (of course, it is currently in my apartment, because Faye currently has no apartment and Katie is subletting a loft bed in Manhattan). Also at this apartment sale were things that F&K didn't need but I DID! These include two pastry bags and accompanying tips (actually, I can't figure out how to get the tips to go on and stay on and do their job, but fortunately for macarons you only need a basic round exit so I didn't have to attach anything successfully) and also a kitchen scale! The kitchen scale is very small and won't reset to zero with anything heavier than a pound on it, so it's not efficient and it's hard to read the display and I'd like to replace it with a better one when I can afford it, but it's good enough to measure ingredients for macarons for now! Also I spent $9 on an oven thermometer and $5.50 on a pound of blanched almonds at the Mediterranean grocery in Astoria (also I picked up a big container of black sesame seeds for $2, for macarons and ice cream and anything else delicious I can think of!). It turns out one recipe of macarons only uses a quarter pound of almonds, so it will be semi-sort of-affordable too keep myself in almonds. I also splurged on two colors of powdered food coloring at the cake supply store at Queens and 45th: emerald green and cherry pink. These will be good for when I make mint macarons and rose macarons. I also want black food coloring for black sesame macarons and blue food coloring for I don't know what kind yet of macarons and red and brown food colorings for chocolate macarons and gold food coloring for champagne macarons and ginger macarons and all the other macarons because gold is exciting.

So after I returned from those errands today, I got down to work! I was prepared to try two or three times today before giving up. So as not to waste ingredients on potential disaster macarons, I made only a half recipe - one cookie sheet of macaron halves - what should have been 18 macaron halves but was actually 17 because I spaced them poorly.

Anyway, I did everything that the recipe I picked and Stella at BraveTart said to do. I weighed my ingredients. I whipped the egg whites with sugar for almost ten full minutes (actually, I only did about 2 and a half minutes instead of 3 for each speed, because I had read that another baker found that it helped her macarons not to have hollow shells, but it still came to almost 9 minutes total). I did the macaronage without tentativeness, deflating my whites but counting my strokes and paying close attention so I didn't overmix and turn it runny. At this point I was not positive I had done it right - at one point I piped out a test macaron and it didn't spread quite the way I thought it should, so I piped the excess batter back into the bowl and continued folding for about 10 or 12 more strokes. In the end, both the one slightly undermixed and the 16 (I guess) correctly mixed macarons came out fine. I piped the rest of the macarons onto the parchment paper. I don't do circles beautifully, but they came out ok. I let the macarons sit for an hour in case I had overmixed (it's not strictly necessary but it doesn't hurt). I checked the temperature of my oven (5-10 degrees hot, as I suspected from the first). I put the baking sheet on another baking sheet to even out heat along the bottom. And then I put them in the oven and proceeded to sit and watch them bake for the full 19 (and then another 4) minutes, because I am nerdy and was both curious about the process and also wanted to see exactly what would go wrong and when if something did go wrong.

Here is what they looked like right at the beginning:

Here they are about three or four minutes later totally growing frilly feet just like they are supposed to!:

I cannot tell you how exciting it was when I saw that first foot.

Here is the first crack (not supposed to happen, in a perfect macaron):

I cannot tell you how concerned I was about the whole batch when I saw that first crack.

Fortunately, only four of the seventeen cracked, and only one little crack apiece (I have seen pictures of macaron disasters where every macaron has collapsed with 6 cracks!). I think some of it had to do with the poor job I did tearing and straightening out the parchment paper and then putting the pan in the oven, so a few of the cookies weren't sitting flat on the pan.

Here is the picture that just revealed to me what I didn't notice after 23 minutes of staring at eye level at my oven, which is that the oven door is totally disgusting:


Anyway, I checked them at 19 minutes, when they're supposed to be done, and ruined a macaron (two macarons, I thought at the time, but one fixed itself when returned to the oven!) in the process - basically you're supposed to try to take a macaron off of the parchment paper, and if the top comes off in your hand they're not done yet. I did this with two, and one I totally destroyed but the other I put the top right back on and it fused back with its bottom! Anyway, then I stuck them in the oven for what was going to be two minutes but I got nervous and confused and they weren't browning or anything so I figured I had a few more minutes before I overcooked them (they are not supposed to brown at all) so that turned into four minutes (with me still sitting there staring at them the whole time, haha) and then I checked another one and it was done and I took them out! Here they are out of the oven, with beautiful smooth domes and magnificent feet!:


While they were cooling, I mixed up some Italian meringue buttercream, because I am fancy. This involves cooking egg whites and sugar over a double boiler until they are about 150 degrees (good thing I have a CANDY THERMOMETER now, eh?!? :D), then beating them in a bowl until they are cool (ugh, this takes forever, and also glass bowls, like I have, retain heat, so the buttercream never got as cool as it was supposed to so after I beat in the butter it still wasn't thick so I had to pop it in the fridge for a bit) and beating in room temperature chunks of butter and a little vanilla and salt. Basically, it tastes like straight up butter with some sweetness. Hilarious but also delicious. And then I flavored one section with Tasmanian leatherwood honey, which Tom (Jamie's ex) gave me like two years ago and which I like but which has a very strong and distinctive taste so I go through it very slowly, and food colored it "sunset orange" with a mix of plain ol' cheap liquid food colorings; and then I flavored one section with rosewater and colored it "dusty rose," and set aside some plain vanilla for later.

Here are the rockin' results!:

You can't really see the pink of the buttercream in the other one I took a photo of, so here instead is a picture of just the buttercream:

Anyway, they are delicious too - crispy on entry, full of chewy cookie, bright Earl Gray taste (actually a little too much bergamot in this variety of Earl Gray for me, so I won't make this flavor again for myself, but Beauty Queen Amanda loved it and I think everyone else will too), creamy sweet buttercream with just a gentle flavor.

Basically, I am the rock star of the kitchen! Next up: mint chocolate macarons. I think. My mind could change between now and Thursday (tomorrow I go teach in Jersey. Although I have time to bake before I go, so I might do that too). Maybe I'll make some for Faye's birthday tea party too! Although I think I am already booked to make green tea cake and ginger ice cream and maybe scones. So we'll see ;)

Oh, and btdubs, here is a quick pic of those cinnamon rolls I mentioned in the last post:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Macaron Investment

The question is, of course, whether to buy the kitchen scale, piping bags and tip, buckets of blanched almonds, and powdered food coloring (because bright colors improve all food!) necessary for learning to make macarons.

And I do mean "learning to make" as opposed to just making, because based on all reports - even the down-to-earth non-magical-thinking one I've decided to subscribe to - macarons are complicated and finicky.

But, you know, now that Grease is done, I have the time and the inclination. I've gotten better and better in the kitchen over the last couple years, and I'm careful and good at following a recipe.

And then there's the part where I'm completely obsessed with the idea of making them.

I mean, come on! They are so pretty! And delicious, which I didn't expect out of them before I tried them. I'm so picky about dessert, and they really look like they would taste like sweet cardboard, despite how pretty they are. But it turns out they are delicious! (Based on the two I've ever eaten - a rose flavored one and, I think, chocolate chestnut, or something like that.) And they are filled with buttercream, after all. And I've never done French or Swiss or German buttercream before, so that would be totally exciting! I love the crispness and then the chewiness and then the softness, and all the flavor without too much sweetness.

And all the flavors I could try! I have rosewater - I made rose ice cream the other day - and I could make caramel ones, and chocolate, and chocolate mint, and bourbon pecan... as with ice cream, the possibilities are endless! Plus it would actually complement my ice cream habit really well, as many ice cream recipes use 5 or 6 egg yolks, and I have trouble figuring out to do with all the whites. The answer, of course, is make macarons, which call for lots of egg whites!

But a good kitchen scale - I read good things about the OXO brand - that holds up to ten pounds, which I would probably want because my bowls are glass rather than stainless steel, so a couple pounds already is $30-50; powdered food coloring is about $2 per 1/2 oz of color; piping bags are about $4 apiece; and almonds (which would be my biggest ongoing cost rather than single startup investment) are like $6 for 8 oz! Yikes! None of that is egregious, of course, but it's more than I want to spend, especially since my entire discretionary budget has been going to train tickets to get to work, and also I really want to see Once and Newsies on Broadway (which at least is tax-deductible for me!).

I wish it were my birthday already! Oh well. I will either decide to do it or not. And I will be sure to let you know if I do, and blog about all of my macaron triumphs and travails!

In the meantime, yesterday I made giant upside-down cinnamon pecan rolls, and they are sweet and delicious. Not an everyday treat - they need a double rise, which I'm used to now from regular bread making, and also you have to roll the dough out into an 18"x24" rectangle (the size of my entire counter!) and brush it with butter and sugar and cinnamon and roll it up and cut it into pieces, which is not terribly difficult but kind of a pain - and they're gigantic (so you need a lot of people around to eat them) and too sweet for me to eat all the time - I prefer richness to sweetness - but they are pretty darn good. Faye and Alyssa and Katie and Alex and I wolfed them down after a dinner of spinach salad, vegetables with hummus, and roasted asparagus last night, while watching season 2 of Sherlock. Great night!