Sunday, February 19, 2012

Macaron Madness

Parisian Macarons: Star Anise and Vanilla with Lemon Curd Filling

I have been bitten by the macaron bug, a plague that has infected about forty percent of the foodie blogosphere and thus far is cured only by perfection. Since we can only advance asymptotically to perfection, we are left floundering with a chronic illness doomed to haunt us forever. Like any disorder, there is a large range of severity and I seem to have a milder version but nonetheless the agonizing symptoms drive me to alleviate them in whatever way I can: making more macarons.
Thus, like any clever parasite or immunological trickster, macaron madness is a positive feedback loop: when I make macarons, I get even madder and then I just have to make more macarons. Today was my third adventure into the world of persnickety cookies and while many of macarons cracked (apparently from being underwhipped and too humid), a few were pretty enough for a shoot.
I seemed to find the best possible flavor combination the last two times I made macarons: cardamom and lemon with buttercream frosting and so I found myself like a returning champion doomed to fail because I could not live up to my own creation. Luckily, as I searched through the spice rack I found beautiful star anise seeds, which smell like licorice and decided to combine the crushed seeds with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Since the cookie was going to be slightly sweeter because of the vanilla, I chose to contrast the shell with a lemon curd filling from Tea and Sympathy's cookbook (see Lemon Danish post).
Mind you, I made these cookies in under two hours while I ate heated up leftovers for lunch before I left for my job as a figure skating coach, running out of the door the minute they came out of the oven. So, as one of my five year old students today said to me after we finished a conversation about the various designs of rink sideboards, "Speaking of shipwrecks..." you first grind your almonds and confectioners sugar (see specific amounts in my first Parisian Macaron post), and then sift into a separate bowl.
After you feel satisfied with the texture of your almond powder, whip your egg whites and sugar on low for three minutes, on medium high for three minutes and on high for three minutes. Now you should add your flavors and colors. I ground about five or six anise stars in a mortar and pestle and added the powder and one teaspoon of vanilla extract to the meringue. I also added a squeeze of yellow food gel to give the cookies a nice lemony look.
Then beat your meringue for thirty or so seconds on the highest speed of your mixer and pause. Fold in your dry ingredients and add 1/2 tsp of salt (better to add this to your almond flour before hand so it disperses). Use a rubber spatula to mix, folding for as long as it takes to create a homogenous mixture of lava like goo. Deflate the meringue as you go along to expel any potential air bubbles and then add your mixture to a silicone pastry bag or a makeshift ziplock one.
Squeeze out as many cookies as you can fit (they don't expand so you can bunch them as close together as you want) and then tap the trays on your counters to give a final kick in the butt to the bubbles. Your oven should be pre-heated to 300 F and you can cook them for 18 minutes. Proper macarons should have "feet", which are the little bubbles around the edges in the picture above. Like I mentioned before, for some reason or another many of my macaron shells had cracks in them, but the problem might be as simple as too high a temperature in the oven (place on the middle rather than upper shelf).
While Not so Humble Pie has a great, but wonderfully neurotic, diagnostic survey to diagnose your macaron ineptitude, my hypothesis is that these cookies will work when they want to. I cannot isolate a single error factor present today that was not present during my first two tries (I have always been in a hurry, same oven, same tins, same almond source...) but nonetheless, some of my macarons just were not in the mood today. Fortunately, even cracked and footless macarons still taste sublime.
Since I don't like to leave the ice on a bad jump (it leaves a bad taste in my mouth), I will try try try again. Whereas repeatedly falling on a bullet sit spin this morning at my freestyle session was not so fun for certain parts of my body, trying to improve my macarons is a treat in and of itself. This flavor combination was amazing and my next attempt might be....drumroll please...chocolate with a blood orange curd filling. Yet I, like many, are driven to make these cookies because in their facade of simplicity they offer up the ultimate challenge. It's as if the macaron stares back at me from its perch on my plate saying, try to make me again, just try. In "Isis" one of my favorite songs by Bob Dylan he finishes by singing, "Isis oh Isis, you mystical child, what drives me to you is what drives me insane." Like all that is worth doing, as I told countless four year olds today, you must fall down. But on a less corny and more poignant note as Dylan finishes, "I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead."

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