Saturday, July 21, 2012

French Macarons: Stylishly late

French Macarons: Stylishly Late

I was going to have French Macarons up for Bastille Day last week (That's July 14th for you silly Americans who only observe your own holidays) but life was a bit busy slapping me in the head. But I'm over it now and I made a batch to make up for it and so here it is. I guess I really needed that slap in the head since I'd forgotten my dreams, hopes and purpose. This blog is part of that purpose and I'd started to let it fall behind but now it's time to pick up the slack.

But not just for this blog, also for my dream. Six years ago, my dream was pretty tame. I wanted to make food that made people happy. If I could do that, I'd be happy or so I thought. Then my best friend was diagnosed with Celiac disease just as I was getting ready to go to Culinary School for Baking and Patisserie...the very thing that at the time I believed she'd never be allowed to eat ever again. How was I supposed to make things she'd be able to eat? And enjoy. Trust me, I tried some of the gluten free things and they were either so dry I needed a glass of milk with them or the texture was just horrific. (Thankfully things have improved since then)

But I went through the motions, and more than anything else I did while I was at school, I was grateful that I had a food scientist for an instructor. I learned what gluten did and why it was so important in so many foods. I also learned exactly what it was. But life, being what it was, I ended up getting caught up in it again after I graduated until I realized that I was not only undervaluing my skills, I was undervaluing what I had to offer. After a bad incident that mostly had to do with my lack of self confidence and standing up for myself, I decided to figure out about management what I had figured out about gluten and wheat. What it was, why it was, and how it worked.

Right now, I can't say if I was just pretending so I could put off reality for a bit longer or what, but about two and a half years into my degree, I started having my own issues. Digestive things that many of you already know about, plus I was tired all of the time. I could summon energy up through sheer force of will but it exhausted me for days afterwards. A was worried and I was worried. It wasn't just about getting older. Something was wrong. And then I was wandering through the baking aisle at the grocery and my hands started itching. I didn't think anything about it at first (after all, hindsight is always 20/20)  but when I slept it off for almost a full night and day afterwards, I called up my mum (best friend's mother) and she had recently been doing the gluten free diet as well, since Celiac disease can be heridatary and some of her own symptoms had eased.

Can you imagine my horror? I was trained and loved to work with bread; how horrible would it be never to bite into a soft loaf again. To never wrap everything up in a burrito...or to make a roux for gumbo (Hey, I live in Louisiana, this is a serious concern here) but I was so miserable, I was desperate. I prayed for the first time in a long time, please don't let it be this even as I took all the precautions I could. And sadly, my symptoms disappeared. I had more energy than I could recall having. I wasn't disappearing to the bathroom more than once a class period. But I was dying on the inside. I'd spent a lot of my money and others money on getting a culinary degree that seemed worthless now.

After wallowing in self pity for a few days though, I realized this could be the best thing that could happen to me. I wanted to make food that my best friend could eat and enjoy; I wanted to make food that EVERYONE could eat and enjoy. And this was the perfect chance to do so. If there was no flour in the house, then there was no chance of cross contamination. If all I made were gluten free things, I could taste test them and make sure they were good without going "I'd never eat this myself" as I've seen a few so called gluten free chefs do (and no, I'm not naming names).

But it was also a force to hold me to my convictions even in times I felt weak. There was a so called light at the end of the tunnel. I found out that I actually had a wheat allergy and just a gluten sensitivity. Which means I might develop Celiac disease later but it is far easier to explain to someone that if any wheat touches your throat it might close up and you might die in their restaurant for them to take you seriously. I've seen the shortcuts kitchens take.

However, I was overwhelmed, how was I going to get the upfront money? I had no clue and it slipped through my fingers again as I neared graduation. But then I realized, it doesn't have to start off grand and what could be simpler than a take and bake for allergen free foods. If you want to help me get started,'s the link to the fundraiser. But I'm going to do it,with or without help. I'm working on the business plan, I've got someone who's willing to help me with finding a good location and plenty of interest. I just have to get off my butt and realize my dream. KISS. Keep it simple, stupid and follow the dream, the rest will come.

TL;DR: I'm human and I'm trying to get back on the right path. More importantly; French Macarons = Yum! These do not have the coconut like many Americans are used to. This are dainty little cookies that are naturally gluten free, very very French, one of the first desserts I ever made in Culinary School and the first dessert I ever made as I journeyed into my own exploration of all things Gluten Free.
Rustic French Macaron

Difficulty: Easier than whipping a meringue! Just practice patience
Time: Prep Time: 15-20 minutes. Rest time: 1hr  Bake Time: 10-15 min Total: About Hour and half.
Makes: 20-25 sandwich cookies

Mise en Place

  • Stand mixer w/ whisk attachment
  • Lemon juice
  • Sheet pans that fit within one another
  • Piping bags with large smooth tip
  • Spatula
  • mixing bowl
  • Fine mesh sifter
  • Spoons
  • Timer
  • microwave
  • toothpick or craft stick
  • parchment paper 
  • Coffee grinder 
  • Kitchen scale
  • measuring bowls or the like to put everything in once its measured
  • 160 grams sliced almonds (I use non blanched almonds for a more rustic look plus they're cheaper)  or almond meal if you buy it.
  • 180 grams of Powdered sugar
  • 140 grams of Egg whites ( I separate the eggs myself since I haven't had the greatest experience with premade egg whites whipping up)
  • 180 grams of Icing sugar (I'll show you how to make this instead of buying it)
  • Half a dropper or more of your preferred flavoring (in this case raspberry)
  • Food coloring (No taste version if possible, red and black just taste nasty in large doses)
  • 12 ounces of chocolate flavor of choice
  • Heavy cream to sight (Use less with white chocolate but milk and dark vary between 2oz to 3oz for recipe)
  • Vanilla splash

First, before anything else, use the lemon juice to whip down EVERYTHING that will touch your egg whites. This means the mixer bowl, the whisk and a spatuala if you're going to scrap down the bowl. Just put a splash in the bowl and use a paper towel to wipe it down then move the same piece of towel around the whisk. This will get rid of any residual fat on the equipment and will make sure your eggs don't fall. Also use the paper towel with lemon to wipe down the coffee grinder or blender and then dry it well because it's going to touch the sugar that will touch your eggs.

Ignore the egg yolks in the background
Next, you're going to measure out your sugar and place it in batches into the cleaned and dried coffee grinder. Grind until a fine powder. This is called Icing sugar because it is still in cube form like granulated but smaller. Place in a bowl off to the side.  Now that you've got that out of the way grind the sliced almonds until they are meal like. Think powder but don't grind them so much they turn into peanut butter. After they are powder, then you can measure out the 160 grams part so I always grind closer to 180 grams because some of it just won't make it through the sifter that I then use to combine the almond meal and powdered sugar together.

This is a stiff peak.
Place the egg whites and cream of tarter into the mixing bowl and begin whisking at a slow speed and then increase it as it goes along. Then you can add the icing sugar as it begins to build its body. This will take a bit. Maybe five minutes or so. You'll be afraid that it's gone too far or something else. It hasn't. It needs to get a true stiff peak. That cream of tarter will help it do that as will not touching it with your hands. Even clean, your hands have natural oils on them that cause whipped eggs to fail. The sugar will accumulate along the sides. If you're VERY VERY careful and your spatula is clean, you can scrap it down. Make sure it's a stiff peak. This is the most crucial step of all pre piping.

I make a sculpture out of mine
Now, take the food coloring and flavoring and mix them together. Using the toothpick (of if you're impatient like me; the craft stick) and put them into the egg whites. Using the same whisk from the mixer just in my hand instead, I then softly mix in the coloring and flavoring. It should not deflate the egg whites that much at all if you've done it right. 

Folding almond meal right in
 Then I begin to fold in the powdered sugar and almond meal. This is where most of the deflation will take place since you are placing something with weight onto a deflatable air cushion. Now, if you want a smoother macaron you can be a bit rougher with the egg whites and more of the almond meal will sink into the foot of the cookie but I like mine rough looking and so I use a more stiff egg white and I am fairly gentle with my folding. 

Once everything is mixed in but not deflated, I place my piping tip into my piping bag and fill with the egg whites. I use disposable bags because that way I KNOW there's no trace of oil that could deflate my eggs further and I pipe them out onto a double sheet pan lined with parchment paper. I believe I've said this before, but I'll say it again. I have found no oven that doesn't have idiosyncrasy and for the most consistent result, I double pan all of my baked goods so that they spread out and evenly heat what's being baked. Same idea here. Adds about five minutes to the baking time but I can live with that. After I have piped out the egg whites out onto usually two different sheet pans which are both double panned, I might dip my fingers in water to smooth the piping down a little but not always. I then let it sit for about an hour until the 'cookies' have a sugar crust on them in a cool room.

Once the hour is up, I preheat the oven to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Then when preheated, in they go, sometimes (like in my current apartment) one at a time for about 15 minutes or  so and then they are placed somewhere to cool while the next one bakes. Now, here's an important note: Be gentle with them because they are cooked meringues. Anything you do can affect them at any point. Handle the pan too roughly and you could end up with a broken cookie. Also, don't try and remove the cookie until the pan has fully cooled or you could end up with a broken and pudding like cookie.

See that bottom part? That's called the 'foot' and required for a good macaron.
What I usually do during the hour they are cooking is make the filling. In this case, I take a bag of Hershey's Dark (12 oz) and mix it with a little heavy cream and microwave it. You have to do this in 30 second increments at half heat. Stir and repeat until it's homogenous. I also add vanilla. It's one of my trade secrets that makes anything not homemade taste homemade. Haven't figured out why it works, just know that it does. Thank you Chef Shroll (He's the Food Scientist guy from Culinary School). Once the cookies are cooled and the ganache is made, I put the ganache on one side of the cookie and find a matching sized cookie and make the sandwich. Then once they're all made, they go into the fridge to meld the flavors together for a while.

Any flavor combination is possible with a little imagination. Just like any future.

 I also just wanted to say again, thanks again for reading, and if you do want to help with my dream, here's a way to do so. But no matter what, I will get there. It's only impossible if I say it is.

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