Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Massive Macarons Post: New Flavours and French Method Attempts

In a long struggling attempt to create small batches of macarons, as in, less than 50 at a time, to give people more choice in flavours in numbers, I've been attempting the French meringue method for quite some time, without success...that is until now.

Now, why does it have to be the French method for a small batch?  (For those of you who didn't notice, my macarons from all previous posts are done by Italian method)  The smallest number of eggs you can use in the French method is one egg, about 35 grams worth of egg whites.  If you were to use one egg in the Italian method, you will have to split that 35 grams into two, and trying to whip 17 grams of egg whites on the stand mixer or even with a hand mixer is challenging.  And when you can't get a nice, compact, evenly whipped meringue for your macarons, you're bound to fail.  Also, even for 35 grams of egg whites, it is difficult to whip on a stand mixer even when fitted with the 3 quart bowl and the smaller whisk attachment, so it must be whipped by hand mixer.  Previously, the issues I've hand with hand mixers and the Italian method is that it is not fast enough to incorporate the hot sugar syrup into the egg white before it solidifies, causing chucks of syrup in the meringue and generally not enough syrup in the meringue, hence, wrong ratios.  Third reason is that the French method is hands down, simpler and cleaner, no cooking syrup involved.

To sum it up, why French method:
  1. Whisking issues (amount, syrup solidifying)
  2. Simpler and cleaner

There are a few different recipes floating around the internet and I've taken a look at them and also recipes from books.  Most of them stick to the 1.3x almond flour to egg whites, but the amount of sugar varied.  Some called for very little castor sugar in the meringue and some called for 1:1 castor to egg whites.  I find that it doesn't make much of a difference in the end, as the lack of castor sugar in the egg whites are compensated by the massive amounts of icing sugar in the almond flour and icing sugar mixture, so it just depends on where you want to put your sugars.

As for sugars...oh...this was what was stumping me for the longest time, as it turns out.  I remember reading somewhere that having cornstarch in your icing sugar is a big fat no-no and can lead to cracked shells, so I was using castor sugar through out even when the recipe calls for icing sugar in some parts.  Batch after batch, it turned out like this.

Large, flat, porous, no feet, cracked
Previous to this serious attempt, it was like this too, I summed it up to over mixing.  But now, after I've made so many macarons even with the Italian method, I know what I'm looking for in a good batter.  Despite which method you use, you should arrive at the same consistency of batter because you're making macarons, right?  Armed with that logic, I scratched out over mixing as the culprit.

Not over mixed.  Batter is shiney.  Not flattening out during rest, no bubbles coming up during rest.
No skin formed though

I dub thee color: VALTREX BLUE!

Further Meow logic on subsequent batches is that if end product is macarons, then bake temperature should be similar.  So, let's bake at 325F despite what other recipes say.  Pfff, their oven can't be right, who knows if they're actually using a thermometer inside their oven.  Pfff...

Another batch like the above.

Lower the temp to what others say, to 300F, another batch like the above.  Time to Google some answers.

I finally come across a troubleshooting site, and one lists the condition of the baked macarons looking like mine and the answer to the problem was that "sugar not fine enough".  Ah-ha!  Then I was on the hunt for cornstarch-free icing sugar.  That's not gonna happen in this country.  Then I googled some other bloggers' attempts and see what sort of icing sugar they're using.  I found that Ms. Humble at Not So Humble Pie, at the height of her macarons craze, was using cornstarched icing sugar as she too agreed that it is next to impossible to find cornstarch-free versions.  Her macarons have turned out beautifully in her French method attempts.

I first tried one of Ms. Humble's recipes which is a derivation of the Laduree recipe.  I have noticed that the more sugar that goes into the egg whites, the easier it is to see and feel when the meringue gets truly glossy and compact, which is essential because if it is still loose (but has stiff peaks) there are still large air bubbles inside and will not be able to withstand macaronage, and you'll end up with a flat, runny batter really soon - before all the dry ingredients gets mixed in.  I also remember Ms. Humble explaining how sugars can help maintain moisture in egg whites, lessening the chances of it getting dry and broken.  So, I figured that if I was to whip my egg whites for a long time (it was an extra 4 minutes after the first stiff peaks on the hand mixer), then I'm gonna need all the moisture I can get.  So, I went with more sugar in the whites as opposed to say, Syrup and Tang's ratios.  Some other recipes call for way too much sugar and I didn't want it to be that sweet.  Laduree's recipe seems perfect for how I wanted it to taste and what I needed to see while making it.

Laduree's French Method Macarons ratios

Egg whites: 1
Almond flour: 1.3x
Icing sugar: 1.2x
Castor sugar: 1

Where as if:
Egg whites = 100g
Almond flour = 130g
Icing sugar = 120g
Castor sugar = 100g

310F for 15 minutes on traditional, non-convection oven

This batch was slightly over mixed as I could not see the sheen and reincorporation due to lack of colour (my eyes suck).  Oven was somewhere between 280F-300F, as a result, the innards pooled at the bottom and hollow shells.  Temperature was too low.

After a few batches and saw the difference the amount of sugar in the egg whites it makes - purely for determining when the meringue was "done" whipping.  I stuck with the Laduree recipe, and upped the temperature to around 310F, added colour.  Sometimes I bake my Italian method macarons at this temp, too.

The green ones were pretty much perfect.  No hollow shells, solid bottoms, clean feet.  The others, were variants there of, simply because of the different bowls I was doing my macaronage in, it affected my strokes.

The only thing I don't like about the French method is that the shells are somewhat rougher than the Italian method due to the almond flour.  It is very important to sift your almond flour.

Actual Method:

1. Weigh out your egg whites in a dry, clean, grease-free bowl

2. Sift and weigh out your almond flour and icing sugar together in a separate bowl.

3. Weigh out your castor sugar

4. Begin whisking your room temp egg whites, once foamy, add a splash of lemon juice

5. Begin adding 1/3 of castor sugar into the egg whites shortly after, then another 1/3 during soft peaks, then 1/3 when stiff peaks, add colour at this point if using

6. Continue whisking for another 4 minutes (on hand mixer) until meringue is glossy, compact and is pulling from the sides/bottom of bowl.  It will start to feel more difficult to push the hand mixer through once it starts to compact.

7. Immediately, sift the almond flour mixture over the meringue, this should be your second time sifting the almond flour.

8. Work quickly, but not too rough, to incorporate the dry and the wet.  Then begin macaronage by smearing the batter (not too hard though) around the sides of the bowl, scrape the batter back down to the centre and smear again, until a fluffy, shiny, magma-like batter is formed.  This should take no more than 40 strokes.  Start checking at about stroke-25, batter should thickly ribbon off the spatula and reincorporate back into itself in 30 seconds, add 5 more strokes at a time until you reach this consistency.  Same idea and appearance as any other method.

9. Fill a piping bag prepared with a medium round tip, and begin piping onto parchment or silicone mat

10. Bang the tray on the counter and pop any bubbles that have surfaced

11. Allow to rest for 15 minutes

12. Bake at 310F for 15 minutes, allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then on parchment/mat on a cooling rack for another 5-10 minutes.  Shells should be able to pop off the mat.

Yield: 35g egg whites = 12 filled macarons
I filled these with a few new ganache recipes and let it mature for about 24 hours.  The texture of the French method macarons are definitely different from the Italian method, in that they are softer and more delicate, though not necessarily sweeter.  My friend even described them as soft and chewy, as opposed to soft but slightly crumbly with the Italian method.  He prefers the Italian method as there is more texture happening in the macarons.  I tend to agree.  However, these cookies do resemble most of the ones I've had in France, soft and chewy (though Pierre Herme uses the Italian method and therefore has a different texture).

I'll also leave you with some new ganache recipes.

These new ganache recipes reflect Pierre Herme's method for making the Cassis Ganache macarons.  Using the puree straight against the chocolate, skipping the heavy cream, really allow the flavours to come right through and pop.  It particularly stood out with the strawberry and raspberry - vibrant and slightly tart.  I think this method works best for berries.  The white peach still falls short.  I guess some fruits are just subtle that way.

Green Apple Ganache
White Peach Ganache
Strawberry Vanilla Ganache
Raspberry Ganache
Lemon Cream Filling (different recipe, not the same as below.  Follow link)

Fruit puree = 1
Valrhona Ivoire = 2x  (you may need to slightly adjust the amount depending on the wetness of your puree)
Unsalted butter = 0.1x
Corn syrup = 0.1x

If you are creating puree out of fresh or frozen fruits, please make sure you have reduced the puree on the stove by 1/3

1. Heat the puree on the stove on medium heat, add butter, add corn syrup, and any extra flavourings

2. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour over chocolate

3. Allow to rest for a minute, then start emulsifying until fully combined.  If ganache has separated (oil layer seen around the edges) heat in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time and whisk vigorously until recombined.

4. Allow to cool on counter or fridge

5. Bring to room temp and whisk the ganache to aerate

6. Fill a prepared piping bag with round tip

Prepare about 80g of ganache for 12 macarons

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