The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.We have made macarons quite a few times before, but were nevertheless excited when learning about this month's Daring Bakers' challenge. I mean, a) macarons are delicious; b) the possibilities for creativity are endless; and c) it's always fun to try out a new recipe.
The first time we made macarons, we used a recipe from Tartelette. The result wasn't bad for first-timers, but they weren't perfect. The next time, we tried the recipe from our guru for all things sweet, Jan Hedh in his book Passion för Desserter (Passion for Desserts). That's the recipe we have used since, and it has yielded some really good results, and we have even been a bit daring with it.
But what's a good macaron like? Before starting to make them ourselves, we had never had a macaron, so in reality we didn't really know how they're supposed to be in order to be perfect. But a few weeks ago, we got the answer, and it was given to us by no other than the famed Pierre Hermé. Markus went to Paris for a work conference, and "skipped class" to go to Hermé's store and pick up a box of assorted macarons. Unfortunately they got a bit compromised by traveling, so they didn't look perfect, but the taste... oh dear god, how delicious! There was 12 different flavors (two of each!), all delicious. Markus liked the champagne one best, I fell in love with the olive oil and vanilla (sounds weird, but the flavor was so delicate), and we both let out a big sigh of pleasure when biting into the fleur de sel caramel. We didn't take any pictures, but if you want to see what Pierre Hermé's macarons are like you can take a look at this post on Nook & Pantry. We had quite a few of the flavors described there.
So now we know what a perfect macaron is like. Would Claudia Fleming's recipe lead us to that holy grail of pastry making?
It's sometimes hard to stop yourself when coming up with macaron flavors but we limited ourselves to two, probably quite original, flavors: Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons and Tiramisu macarons.
By coincidence, we started with the gingerbread macarons. We could tell that there was trouble afoot when we were making them - the proportions seemed kind of odd, and the macaronage (the batter) did not behave the expected way when Markus piped it. Also, the temperatures and baking times seemed a bit strange. In the private forum of the Daring Bakers, I found that Clumbsy Cookie shared my apprehensions about temperatures and timings. As Clumbsy is a lady who knows her way around the sweet stuff, I followed her adjustment of times and temp's, and baked for 6-7 minutes at 170°C and then for three more minutes at 150°C.
These aren't macarons, people. They were, however, very tasty - kind of a chewy meringue cookie. Actually, they were so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of them with the filling before eating them all!
We still had the batch of tiramisu macarons to make, and we agreed that we didn't want to waste more ingredients and time on a recipe that could fail us again. You see, we make our own almond flour for macarons, a time-consuming process which involves:
- blanching almonds
- peeling them
- drying the peeled almonds in the oven for about 1 hour at low temperature (100°C)
- letting them cool
- grinding them in our very efficient but kind of small almond mill
- sifting the almond meal to make sure it's very fine
Our awesome almond mill. Thanks grandma!
Yes, I realize the truly daring thing would have been to give Claudia Fleming's recipe another go, but instead we decided to use Jan Hedh's recipe for the second kind of macarons, and figure out what the differences between them are.
So, here's the macarons we made using Jan Hedh's recipe. They're not perfect (we think the most perfect macarons we've made are the lavender ones which can be found in this post), but they're like a 1000 percent better than the above pictured fiasco!
So, what's the differences between the two recipes?
- Proportions of ingredients: See the interactive recipe scaler below. In short, the largest difference is the amount of sugar, where Jan Hedh's recipe calls for much more per egg.
- Drying before baking: Hedh's recipe calls for drying the piped out shells at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before baking them.
- Baking time and temperature: The official recipe called for 93°C for 5 minutes, followed by 190°C for 7–8 minutes while Jan Hedh called for 7–8 minutes in 170°C.
The official recipe
Jan Hedh's recipe
Now, let's talk about flavors!
Gingerbread & Blue Cheese macarons
Gingerbread and blue cheese may sound like a weird combination, but a slice of blue cheese on top of a Swedish gingerbread cookie (pepparkaka) is a very popular treat in Sweden during advent and Christmas, often served with a glass of hot glögg. We flavored the shells with four teaspoons gingerbread spice mix (ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom), which gave a perfect gingerbread taste to the shells, and made a blue cheese cream for filling. These were really tasty, and we'll definitely make them again for the holiday season - actually they were so good that we made a second batch, using the Jan Hedh recipe. After all, we still had some filling left.
Blue cheese filling
140 g firm blue cheese (we use Swedish Kvibille Ädel, similar to Danish blue cheese)
75 g whipped cream
Mix the cheese and the whipped cream. The way to get a uniform, smooth cheese cream is to cut the cheese into smaller pieces and chuck them in the freezer the day before. Then you give the frozen cheese a good whirl in a food processor until you have very fine cheese crumbles. Mix them with the whipped cream. Smear between two gingerbread macaron shells.
Tiramisu is one of our favorite desserts: savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits dipped in coffee and layered with an Amaretto flavored mascarpone zabayone. We made coffee flavored macaron shells, and used the mascarpone zabayone for filling. We were out of Amaretto, but since macarons already are almond flavored, it didn't really matter. However, we added a bit too much coffee powder to the macaron shells - we used 1½ teaspoon, but really one teaspoon would have been enough. Apart from that, these were good. We had planned to dust the shells with some cacao powder before baking them (tiramisu is decorated with a dusting of cacao), but we forgot. Instead, we dusted some cacao over the filling before sandwiching the cookies together.
1 egg, divided
2½ tbsp sugar
100 g mascarpone cheese
Whip the egg white to stiff peaks. Whip the sugar and egg yolk until the mixture is light and airy. Stir in the mascarpone. Fold in the egg whites carefully. Place in the fridge so that the mixture sets before filling the macaron shells. If you like, you can dust a little bit of cacao powder over the filling.
Thank you Ami for this challenge! Even though we didn't succeed with the Claudia Fleming recipe, we had fun making this. Make sure to visit the Daring Kitchen for recipes, pictures and lots of other good stuff, and pay a visit to other Daring Bakers through the blogroll!