Friday, April 27, 2012
It's funny how sometimes the things that should be easiest in life are always the hardest. Take the humble macaron; although often having only three measly ingredients, these persnickety cookies have been confounding chefs for centuries. Simply one too many mixes of the batter, or uncooperative humidity in your kitchen and your cute, round cookies will turn into dry, flat wafers.
The first time a friend and I made macarons they came out perfectly. I mean perfect. I was buoyed by our success and didn't see what all the fuss was about. I was cocky. So, a couple of months later when I planned to make macarons for a cherry blossom-themed dinner party, I didn't think twice. Big mistake. The curse of the macaron reared it's ugly head and, while still delicious, mine came out flat and chewy.
So before attempting my next batch of macarons, I decided it was time to get some help from the professionals. Enrolling in a "Mastering Macarons" class at my local Sur La Table, our class spent an instructive three hours with chef Monya Maynard learning the secrets of "macaronnage" and "macaronner." Which is French for, "how you mix the dry stuff" and "how you mix the wet stuff." What was most helpful about this class was actually getting to SEE what the macarons should look like at each stage. Often, I think we are too preoccupied with the recipe, and don't see what's really happening (Deep, I know).
For example, standard wisdom calls for mixing the macaron batter exactly 25 times. No more, no less. Clearly this is unrealistic, and Chef Maynard showed us exactly what the batter should look like (drizzle a little bit off the back of a spoon and it should disappear into the rest of the batter within 10 seconds) regardless of how many times you stirred it to get to that point.
Similarly, most recipes will tell you to allow the macaron cookies to rest 30 minutes before baking. But, as we learned in class, this amount of time will vary based on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen. Essentially, the top of the cookie needs to dry in order to form the telltale macaron "foot", which could take up to an hour. Because of the conditions in our kitchen classroom, we even had trouble getting our chocolate macarons to set. Instead of setting our macarons by the clock, we learned to look for a matte finish to tell that they were no longer sticky.
In addition to all of these helpful tips, we also got a copy of what I consider to be macaron gold...Behold: The Template. By slipping a copy of this sheet under parchment paper, you get perfectly sized macarons every time!! While you could make one of these on your own with a pencil, some quarters, and a hell of a lot of patience, I'll let you in on a little secret...you can get your very own template here from honeyandsoy. You're welcome.