Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As easy as...macaroons?

Macaroons were not something I ever expected to be able to make at home, and I certainly didn't expect that they'd be quite this easy. That said, this recipe requires a decent amount of attention to detail, and baking experience will make it easier to follow. But I promise, you can make these too - I'm not some kind of culinary wizard.  And you efforts will be deliciously rewarding!

Vanilla Macaroons
This is a basic recipe for macaroons, with a few flavor suggestions below. Feel free to experiment with other extracts and spices to make different flavors. I used both Bob's Red Mill almond flour (made from blanched almonds, so there are no almond skins in the flour) and Trader Joe's almond meal (which has almond skins left on). Both worked equally well. Additionally, you can make your own almond flour by processing almonds in a food processor until a flour-like consistency is reached (but don't over process, or you'll end up with almond butter!).
Makes about 40 cookies, enough for 20 completed macaroons

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 c almond meal (see notes)
3 egg whites
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
dash salt
4 tbsp granulated sugar

To fill: about 1 cup butter cream frosting (recipe below), or Nutella.

For Chocolate Macaroons, reduce vanilla to 1/2 tsp, and add 2 tbsp cocoa powder with the nut mixture.
For Cinnamon Macaroons, add 2 tsp cinnamon with the nut mixture.

1. Combine powdered sugar and almond meal in a bowl. Whisk together with cocoa powder or cinnamon, if using.
2. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or using a hand-mixer, beat egg whites with vanilla and salt on medium speed until foamy.
3. Add the granulated sugar 1 tbsp at a time, while continuing to beat. Continue beating until soft peaks form (the tips of the peaks should curl).
4. Stir the nut mixture into the egg whites. Don't over-stir, but don't under-stir either (see note below).
5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat-type liners (This is a MUST!). Using a 2 tsp or 1 tbsp measuring spoon, drop level measures of mixture onto the sheets, leaving about an inch between the cookies. Alternatively, you can use a small cookie dough scoop. Or use a piping bag to pipe 1 1/2 inch circles (I tried this method, and found it sticky and frustrating).
6. Let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until set. Set cookie sheets on wire racks. Let cookies cool completely before removing from sheets.
8. Spread filling on one cookie, and top with a second cookie. Keep refrigerated, especially if using butter cream filling.

About stirring: A few stirs makes a big difference. While you don't want to over-stir, make sure you stir enough - the mixture should flatten/spread slightly when placed on the cookie sheet. You want cookies that look more like the ones on the left than the ones on the right: (the difference  is about 10 seconds of stirring [well, and they're different flavors])

Cookies waiting to be filled:

Cookies waiting to be eaten: (I didn't make them wait long)

Butter Cream Frosting
This recipe is based on a Swiss-style butter cream. (There are also French, Italian, and American styles, if you're curious.) It combines recipes from Joy of Cooking and Good Eats 2.  You will need a quick-read thermometer to make sure your egg whites are safely cooked. 
Yield: about 3 cups.

4 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or extract of choice)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into about 1 tsp chunks (that's 24 pieces per stick)

1. Using either a double boiler, or a metal mixing bowl placed over a pot of water (be sure it fits so that the bottom does not touch the water), bring about 1 inch of water to simmer in the lower vessel. In the top vessel/bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar. Over the water, whisk constantly until the mixture becomes foamy and reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. My set up was stable enough to whisk with one hand and hold the thermometer with the other, but use caution. 
2. Carefully (your bowl will be hot!) transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer). Add vanilla. Beat on high speed until the mixture cools, thickens and increases in volume, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Continuing to beat at medium speed, add the butter one piece at a time, letting each piece incorporate before adding the next. (My recipe notes that this process should take about 6 minutes, and I found that accurate). The mixture may appear to curdle (this happened during the second stick for me), but continue anyways - it should come together. 
4. Once all of the butter is incorporated, increase mixer speed to high and beat for another minute until the butter cream is smooth. 
5. Use immediately, and store all frosted items in the fridge. Lick the bowl.

Note that you may be able to store the frosting in the fridge, and use it again later by returning it to room temp, but when I tried to do this the frosting "broke" - i.e. the liquids and solids separated, rendering it useless.


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