Monday, 26 March 2012

A Tasty Fail at Attempt #2.

 I flipped on the television tonight and Top Chef Canada was on. I caught it mid-way through. Coincidentally, one chef had chosen to do a pink macaron. The main judge, a big-shot chef, seemed nothing short of dazzled. The other judges asked him "are they difficult to make?", to which he responded "the failure rate is very high." The brave contestant mastered it (jerk) and won the whole challenge for the episode because he "exhibited great technique and skill."

I tell you this because it made me feel better about this past Friday's failure at attempt #2. Rather than foolishly diving in head first as i did on attempt #1, this time around i carefully planned and did all the necessary preparations before i even sifted the almond flour. The piping size guide made up (if the little darlings are different sizes, they'll bake differently thereby causing more problems); the ingredients all weighed on the digital scale and sifted, aged egg white delicately separated and beaten for 15 minutes (i understand now why a stand mixer is recommended), and finally, the stage i had not reached before: Macaronnage. It is the ever important, very precise, super finicky and surprisingly physical act of J-folding the dry and wet ingredients together. Do it too long, fail. Don't do it long enough: fail.
 Well I'm pleased to report that i successfully made it through the macaronage stage; my batter looked like it had a pretty good viscosity. But the bliss was short lived and defeat came during the 3 stage baking process. My macarons developed their feet (the textured ring around the bottom that forms as moisture in the macaron turns to steam and rises) but slid over, creating the "baseball cap" effect. This is caused by uneven oven heat and happened despite the stacked up pans that they baked on and  regardless of the frequent rotation of these stacked pans. Must mean i need a new oven (this is going to get expensive). This wasn't the only technical problem either. There were air pockets inside the shells because i didn't slam the sheets hard enough before baking to remove the air. Also, the larger batch got way too brown, which means that the oven temperature was too high in one of the baking stages.
Despite all the flaws the little darlings had, they were still awfully cute and just as importantly, they were super delicious as well. Progress was made. And in case anyone is wondering, i didn't eat the whole batch alone. Friends and family got to delight in their tasty imperfection as well. My final thought on attempt #2 is that they did taste good enough that i could have eaten the whole works alone and that's a far cry from a hand full of crumbled egg whites I ended up with on my first try.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Macaron Hunting Abroad.

This weekend I took a mini-vacca and decided to turn it into a French Macaron-hunt as well. In a city of nearly a million people, you'd think that finding a bakery with French Macarons would be easy. After being instructed by our waitress on how to walk to a nearby bakery and nearly giving up when the directions turned out to be poor, we came upon BeeBell bakery. There we found what they called a French Tart. It was a lovely looking little tart-sized frosting dome that turned out to taste like nothing more than a dry cake with a butter patty on top. "It's as if a pie and a cake had a baby" said my friend....a dry and buttery baby. A man on the corner where we ate our pastries must of had a sixth sense that mine claimed to be French 'cause he started his unsolicited advice for us with "Sacre-bleu!". His advice was that we should be smoking weed with our pastries. Maybe that would of made my tart tastier. I should probably look into this and see what these alleged French Tarts are about. But I digress, this isn't about French Tarts.
I came across an Italian pastry counter  and thought I could settle for an Italian Maccherone being that they are similar. As I approached the counter, I started to feel hopeful. I could see a plate with what looked like tiny, brown macarons. To my dismay, they were just biscotti cookies held together by some kind of filling. I wonder though, if the look of the cookie was inspired by the look of an Italian Maccherone being that they are popular confections in Italy as well. In fact, it is widely believed that the origin of the macaron is Italalian. It is said that in 1533, along with her Italian chefs, Catherine de'Medici brought the macaron to France from Italy when she married Henry II. The word macaron itself comes from the Italian word maccherone or macaroni which in turn came from a Greek word meaning kneading or cooking. What's important to remember is that I didn't find what I was looking for at the Italian pastry counter. Instead I ate salad.
Just as the trip was coming to close, I found the second best thing to actually finding a macaron: The Bible. Well, the French Macaron bible anyway. Les Petits Macarons has everything a person could ever want to know what making the little darlings. How-to, trouble shooting, flavor ideas (including savory recipes such as Chevre Rosemary and Duck Confit with Port and Fig), glossy photos and more fill the 270 pages of bliss. I'm on page 23 and among other things, I've learned that a million things can go wrong and no two pastry chefs agree on a single method for making macarons. All this has confirmed that my Adventures in Macaron Land might be even more challenging than I anticipated....

Tuesday, 13 March 2012