Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Macawrong II

No. These are not mine, they are made by someone much clever than me and I have stolen the picture from a photo library because I suck at macaroning.

And again to the actual subject of my blog, despite its tangents into biscuits and slices and such. It happens – I have a brainwave about a combination of flavours, forget the pain caused by the last macawrong, do a lot of online research into an alternative recipe and method that might just work this time, and schlepp over to Brunwick to buy another lot of almond meal at the inestimable Royal Nut Company.

This time wasn’t the time it worked.

This time, I found a recipe in the LA Times by none other than my favourite Dorie Greenspan, supported by an article she’d written with interesting notes about Pierre Hermé.

It was quite different to recipes I’d tried in the past, involving beating only half the eggwhites, then adding a sugar syrup heated to 125C to them, then just mixing the unbeaten remainder to the almond-and-icing sugar mix before adding the meringue and stirring.

Another interesting variation was layering the laden baking sheet on top of a spare one, and sliding the doubled setup into the oven.

And yet another was baking the macarons for 4 minutes at the preheated 180C, then quickly opening and closing the oven, and repeating.

What could go wrong with a recipe based on one by the man who ‘spent years studying the intricacies of macarons’? Mind you, I feel I’ve done the same by now, and that’s not working out so well.

I converted Dorie’s ingredients thusly, and figured out exactly what her ½ cup/4 eggwhites should weigh.

150g almond meal
150g icing sugar
½ US cup eggwhites (120g, or about 4)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
150g white sugar
3 tablespoons water

Dorie didn’t say so much about what ‘mix well’ meant, so with my BodyPump-exhausted arms I counted one hundred melanges in French, or at least to fifty twice over so as to avoid the numbers getting all complicated (quatre-vingt-dix-sept – why did I take up learning this language?), due to something David Lebovitz said about them in his macaron post.There is such a bewildering array of approaches out there, and research that can be done and stones turned. Perhaps I overstirred for this recipe?

The only other variation was not adding the food colouring until I’d mixed well and then halved the mixture to add the different colours and flavours, and I can’t see how this could have affected anything.

I was trying for a magma-like consistency, but I’ve never really been close enough to magma to know what that is. I knew it wasn’t good when it flowed from the piping bag without any squeezing from me, and proceeded to spread flatly as pancake batter across the fibreglass sheet.

Here’s another thing. The first tray was totally flat. The second and third, for all their failings, developed little feet! Under the same conditions. Why bother being scientific when the universe is such a bitch?

Even the ones that developed little feet were impossible to remove from the fibreglass sheet in one piece, which is something I’ve only ever experienced back when I was using baking paper. They had to be scraped off, and I stuffed angry handfuls of them in my mouth until I felt ill and soaked the rest off in the sink and watched all that eggwhite and almond meal and carefully sifted icing sugar going down the drain. 

As obsessive as I feel keeping on going with trying to perfect this, it's that I think I’ve hit on a pleasing flavour combination. The addition of lemon zest and lavender oil to the two portions lifted the shells from being something quite boring and tasteless on their own to very eatable, even without the variations on white chocolate ganache I had planned for them.

Amazing reading online about failed macarons, such as this marvellous and informative post by Not So Humble Pie and all her commenters. Some people stuff them up so badly the macarons chirp like birds as they cool! I felt better after reading that, although less good when I read that a description mirroring my result was due to a phenomenon known as broken meringue. Have I been breaking all my meringues all these years?

By some beginners luck, I once made these work – the second or third time I tried, and even the first few were a good 70% better than this. I get 10% more sucktastic at macarons every time.

I aim to attempt these again next weekend, and have separated the eggs to prove it. The whites will sit out on the bench all week, just like the chefs do it, however counter-intuitive and against all food-safety it may seem. Meanwhile, I’d love to go to this workshop that Dorie went to, in Paris, wouldn’t I just.

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