[For the French Meringue Macaron 101 click HERE]So I baked up a new batch of mac's today just because including photos of old macarons with yesterday's post felt like cheating.
I wanted to make a cassis macaron today since I love the flavor of black currant. However, my butter cream wasn't taking on the flavor of the cassis liqueur and I was just dumping it into the mixing bowl. It just tasted like plain ol' butter cream. Well good, vaguely fruity butter cream, but not certainly cassis butter cream.
So yea, I fail.
Anyway, I was also played around a bit with my recipe ratios today. Baking up the following:
Macarons That Were Supposed To Taste Like Cassis But In Reality Do Not:
150g confectioners sugar
150g almond meal
150g granulated sugar for syrup (plus one tablespoon for the meringue)
110g egg whites (divided)
violet food gel coloring
Cassis Butter cream:
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
Beat together the butter and sugar, add several tablespoons cassis liqueur to taste. If your liqueur is like mine, it won't taste like cassis. /sigh
Okay, so lets pick up with the Macaron 101 again, shall we.
To age or not to age, that is the question. I've made Italian meringue macarons with egg whites of various ages. The oldest were whites aged in an open bowl on my counter for four days. It did liquefy the egg whites (ew) and gave my meringue an edge. However, I've also made perfectly fine macarons with freshly cracked eggs. For example, the macarons pictured above were made this morning with non-aged whites, though the eggs themselves where roughly 2 weeks old.
So don't worry about how old your whites are. Older whites do whip up a little better than fresh whites and will give you an edge in your baking, but I still don't feel this will make or break your macarons.
Things that you should be concerned about regarding your eggs:
Oil/yolk in your eggs, or in any bowl/instrument that will come in contact with your eggs. Oil, grease, yolk etc, mean limp, pathetic meringue (if it comes together at all). Separate your eggs carefully to a different bowl than the one you will be using for mixing, just in case you have any rogue yolk issues.
Temperature: Make sure your whites are at room temperature before beating. If it is cold at my house (which it often is) I will place the bowl over a pan of very warm tap water. This helps the whites beat up lighter and fluffier.
Mixing Bowl: Use copper or stainless steel. Copper ions strengthen the egg proteins giving you a nice airy meringue. Stainless is non-reactive and also works well. Plastic (plastic is difficult to clean and can hold onto oils. Say it with me "Oil bad!"), aluminum (gray meringue, ewwww), glass (slippery sides, meringue and egg whites tend to slide down and pool in the bottom of the bowl) are not not ideal mixing bowls for meringue.
Almond Meal: My preferred brand is Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal. It is finely ground and neither too moist nor too dry.
Some folks do grind their own blanched almonds to make almond meal. I've never done so at home because, well... I'm just too busy to bother.
If you do decided to grind your own at home, blanch the almonds and remove the seed coat. Let the almonds dry overnight before attempting to grind them. Try not to over grind as it will turn into almond paste. There is a thin line between a fine meal and the makings of marzipan.
Pinch the almond meal between your fingers. If it turns into a solid lump it is too moist and will need to be dried in your oven (preheated to about 170°F and then turn it off) spread the almond meal out onto a baking sheet and allow it to sit in the warm oven until it has dried out. A good meal will cling together when pinched but will easily crumble back into a fine meal.
An easier method is to weight out the blanched almonds and the powdered sugar needed for a recipe and then grind them together in the food processor. The sugar helps absorb some of the moisture from the almonds and keeps the mixture light and easy to process (read: doesn't turn into a paste).
I've gotten good results with this method using store bought slivered blanched almonds. If you're going to do this, you will need to sift/grind/repeat a few times until the mixture is fine and uniform.
Confectioners Sugar: Or powdered sugar as it is called here in the States. Opt for brands that contain only 100% sugar, as some confectioners sugar has starch added to prevent clumping. I've read that the starch in your batter can contribute to cracked shells. [Edit: I've realized that I may very well be using 3% starched sugar in my own baking. I can't tell because I buy my sugar in 50lb bags, dump it into a large bin and then toss the bag. I'll double check the sugar's ingredient list next time I am at the store.][UPDATE: Checked the 50lb bag! I AM using starched sugar and I never get cracked macarons. I can't even make them crack when I try. I'm narrowing down cracked shell mac problems to: strong heat from the bottom of your oven and not resting shells long enough]
Granulated Sugar: Not much to note here, other than that I prefer to use pure cane sugar over beet sugar when making candy or cooked sugar syrups.
Extras: Many macaron recipes call for a little something extra to boost your meringue. There are several things that will help increase the volume of your eggs and stabilize the egg proteins. You're welcome to use a pinch of cream of tartar, salt or a couple drops of lemon juice in your egg whites to boost them. Just don't use these if you're beating in a copper bowl.
Okay all that ingredient stuff aside, lets get to the macs from yesterday.
So I filled three piping bags, if you recall with a good batter, a slightly over mixed batter and a over mixed batter.
I piped rows of each onto a baking sheet and then baked them at various temperatures.
These are the shells resting, after being tapped on the counter. They look deceptively similar, don't they. The one difference is that you can tell a slight difference in color between the good batter and the over mixed batter.
All of these batters had the "nipple" that remains when pipped onto the sheet, one that eventually sinks back into the little piped round. The good batter lost its nipple slower than the bad batter. So just having a nipple does not mean you've made the batter correctly. If you've really stiff nippl... GAH. Why isn't there a better term for this... if they're stiff on your macarons and you need to tap them down or bang the pan thoroughly on the counter to get them to sink you DO very likely have a good batter.
(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)(Non-rested shells - Baked 300°F - 15 min - double pan)
This was the first round of baking. Now you can see the clear difference between a good batter and a bad batter.
I had hollow shells in both the good macaron (GM) and the slightly over mixed macaron (SOM), the over mixed batter (OM) was a chewy disk.
The foot formation was also not great. The GM had a short foot. The SOM macaron barely had a foot at all and the OM macaron had a projecting frilly foot.
The bottoms were good on the GM and SOM macarons, the OM mac was sticky.
This round is the same as the above, only it was rested before baking.
The rested macarons developed better feet all around. Even the SOM macaron had a foot this time. That was the only difference, they were still not great macs.
Cooking at 300°F for 15 minutes is clearly too low and too long, it results in hollow shells that are a little crunchy.
(Over Mixed)(Rested Shells (15min) - 325°F - 12min - double pan)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
(Slightly Over Mixed)
Much nicer feet on these. Non sticky bottoms on all accept the OM macaron. There are some scattered air pockets in these, so this temperature is probably not ideal.
The over mixed macaron is looking less pathetic this time. The shell is now smooth and looks fairly decent, the cookie still has little height and the feet project awkwardly.
Wonderful high feet on these, particularly the GM. Possibly too high a profile, as there is an air pocket between the interior and the shell. Non sticky bottoms on the GM macaron, the SOM and OM macs were both sticky.
(I did another pan with similar results in the 335°F range and found it was the best for these cookies. I baked the cassis macarons today at this temperature for 12-13 minutes with lovely results.)
(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)
(Rested Shells (15min) - 370°F - 10min - double pan)
EW! Clearly this is too hot. The interior of the cookies tried to escape out the foot, creating lopsided shells and projecting feet. I imagine had I not rested the shells and formed a dry outer layer, the cookies would have likely cracked too.
(Good Mix)(Slightly Over Mixed)(Over Mixed)(Rested Shells (10min) - 345°F - 10 minutes - old cookie sheet with parchment)
To demonstrate the importance of having nice flat pans I'm going to bake a batch at nearly the right temperature. Look at this... UGH! This is what my first macarons looked like. I couldn't figure out why they were so ugly, I followed the instructions exactly and yet my cookies were hideous little beasts.
It took three attempts before I tossed a level onto my pan and discovered that my old thin cookie sheets were bowed. Also, note how the foot projects from these cookies. This is likely because of the lack of insulation from the bottom of the pan. The interior of the cookie is cooking quickly and it tries to escape the confines of its little shell.
Also, I piped the rounds exactly the same as I do on the good pans. The mutant shapes are all due to the wonky pan.
Then I ran out of batter.
Which was a good thing, because I was sick of running back and forth between batches of macarons, taking notes, sampling cookies and snapping really bad photos (sorry for that). It was an absolutely crazy morning.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to create a cookie with no feet or cracked shells. I feel that not resting your cookies before baking, using a single baking sheet and cooking in an oven with strong heat from the bottom is a primary culprit for cracked shells but I wasn't able to recreate this.
Nor was I able to get a totally footless mac. Perhaps if I cooked them at below 300°F this would happen. For yesterday's experiment though, I just wasn't able to mess up bad enough. Truly sorry.
So that's it for today.
I'm going to go lay on the couch and eat my cassis fail-macs.
Also, check out some of the science cookie buzz at HuffPo and Smithsonian Blog. I'm just loving it.