Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love's Constancy: Elizabethan Lute Songs and Macarons

Rose Water Macarons with Buttercream Frosting and Chocolate Macarons with Orange Curd

Today I catered for the first time! That is, if you can call bringing 40 macarons to my friend Claire's performance this afternoon at the Old Stone House, catering. But I do, so I will bask in the glory of having pulled this off for a few more hours. Not only were there so many standard ways for my macarons to fail terribly, I had to make two batches plus the fillings in an oven I'd never used before with flavors that were new to me.
In order to quell the suspense that I know is building, I will just inform you that, they worked. In fact, they didn't just work, they were my best batches ever. I changed a few different elements (increased cooking time and macaronage) and they came out smooth, shapely and not completely hollow. Macaronage, by the way, is the art of folding the whipped egg whites with the almond flour and confectioner's sugar.
The event in question was a choral concert by Claire Raphaelson and Matthew Wright, a singer and lutenist respectively, who were performing Elizabethan love songs including "Love's Constancy," "Never weather-beaten saile," and "Away with these self-loving lads," among others. I had been researching for nearly a month of what I would make for the afternoon and found some very interesting but inaccessible Elizabethan recipes.
I mean really, where are you to find gooseberries, partridges and blackbirds in Brooklyn? I kid you not. There is a recipe that says, "To bake Woodcocks, Black-birds Sparrows or Larks, truss and parboil them, then season them with Pepper and Salt, and put them into a Pie with good store of Butter, and so bake them, then fill them up with Butter." If you're interested in how to make Quaking pudding, roasted pig with a pudding in his belly, baked swan, or calf's head with oysters check out this website
Since I couldn't find any of these ingredients, and believe me I tried, I decided to make macarons, which while they're not Elizabethan, are decadent and posh enough to hold their own regardless of the era. Since rose water is used quite a bit in Elizabethan recipes like Shrewsbury Cakes, I decided to incorporate that particular flavor into the macarons. I bought a bottle of it at a Middle Eastern specialty shop in Park Slope and plan on using it later for turkish delight and rose water ice cream. I made a buttercream filling for them and used a bit of red food dye to make the macarons pink. For the second flavor, I chose chocolate with orange curd.
Equipped with a reusable and amazing pastry bag, a scale, and fine almond flour which my grandmother bought for me, I set off to make the cookies. Instead of splitting the recipe, I chose to make two separate batches to maximize the amount of macarons and limit the amount of disaster (if I split the recipe and the cookies didn't turn out well, I would have already made two fillings and wasted a lot of resources). 
To begin, I weighed out 115 grams of almond flour and sifted it with 230 grams of confectioner's sugar. I then separated 144 grams of egg whites and beat them in my mixer for 3 minutes on 4 gradually adding in 72 grams of sugar and 1/2 tsp salt, 3 minutes on 7 and 3 minutes on 8. Then I added 1 and 1/4 tsp of rose water and a few drops of red dye and beat again on the highest setting for 1 minute. 
I then slowly added the dry ingredients to the egg white/sugar mixture and folded with a rubber spatula. You have to mix them together until it looks like lava but before it gets too runny. Then I piped the cookies onto my parchment paper clad cookie trays (I've been in the lab so much that I said, pipetted to someone at school), and tapped them very loudly and cathartically on the floor a few times to pop the bubbles. I let them rest for about 30 minutes, until they had formed a skin, and then put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 300 F. I added a few minutes at the end to make sure the insides had set.
For the chocolate macarons, use the same recipe but substitute 28 grams of the confectioner's sugar with cocoa powder. I found that these cookies needed longer to bake for some reason. Also, my first batch cracked a lot until I realized (after reading bravetart's tips, whose recipe I used) that they were on too low a rack and the heat was destroying them. I saved half of them in time and did better with the second batch. I had much less of a hollow shell as a result of the overcooking, which sets the insides so that they didn't collapse. 
The next morning I made orange curd, using 1/4 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 4 eggs, 1 tsp salt, and the juice and zest of 1 1/2 oranges and 1 lemon. Using a double boiler, melt the butter then add the sugar and stir. Beat in the eggs, salt and the juice and stir on and off for 45 minutes. Then place it the refrigerator to cool and thicken. The buttercream frosting contains butter (1 cup), confectioner's sugar (1 box) and 1 or 2 tsp of Grand Marnier or brandy. Cream the butter and then gradually add the confectioner's sugar and lastly add the liqueur. Put the fillings on one cookie and then glue them together, if you will, like sandwiches. 
I used my great-grandmother's silver platter to display them and everyone just loved them. They were a wonderful hit, but not quite as amazing as the performers themselves. The macarons complemented the lyrics as they filled the Old Stone House and took the audience back to 17th century England. 
                                              A shepherd in a shade, his plaining made,
                                                         of love and lovers wrong,
                                                Unto the fairest lass, That trod on grass,
                                                          And thus began his song.

                                                 Since love and fortune will, I honour still,

                                                          your fair and lovely eye,
                                             What conquest will it be, Sweet Nymph for thee,
                                                    If I for sorrow die. -John Dowland

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1 comment:

  1. This treat was yet another element to the art form that took place prior to being consumed by the singer and lutenist themselves, post performance. Watching all the practice that went into each players art was like being back stage then watching the magic happen.