Tuesday, 24 April 2012

PG-13 Buttercream Prep

Summer must nearly be upon us.
If you've ever made buttercream, you'll know that it takes a long time for the butter and the beaten egg whites to emulsify. In making both macarons and buttercream, a stand mixer would be mucho helpful. Since I don't have one, I do it all with electric hand beaters. I point out the looming arrival of summer because last night as I stood in my kitchen rotating the hand beaters for a total of 26 minutes, I got so warm and had to remove my shirt.  There I am, in my underwear, making buttercream and sweating. To add to the magic of it all, i managed to splatter green food coloring and buttercream all over my bare gut (the food coloring, of course, left stains). But let me tell you, the toasted pistacio vanilla buttercream was worth the sorry sight I was making it. Oh and I also have a blister on the tip of my tongue from a hot-out-of-the-oven pitascio. 
Maybe the April Showers will bring me a stand mixer instead of May Flowers.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dr. French Rachelle

There is much to-do about bigger being better, how many inches in enough, and so on. Obviously I'm not referring to male anatomy folks. This is a blog about baking, for chrissakes. I am talking about macaron size: 1/2" miniatures, 1" smalls, or 2" larges. Save for one other time, I've only done larges (insert smutty joke: _________ ). Today I made smalls 'cause that way I get 3 pans full rather than 2 and therefor a chance to experiment more with baking temperatures and techniques. And get this- I actually think I might be starting to come to some solid conclusions about what is at root of all my problems. Oven Temperature Runs Too Low. Alternate Baking Instructions, page 256 of the Bible. Ovens that run low can cause all kinds of problems, all of which I've had, but believed to be caused by something else. For the first time since I started this baking adventure, I did not have a stupid perplexed look on my face when I opened the oven door. I was starting to think I'd need some botox to get rid of the confusion-induced forehead wrinkles.  
Un: My control group. Baked the conventional way: 200 degrees for 15 minutes. Increase heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 9 minutes. As expected, they didn't work out. Looked like they partied too hard and threw up on themselves.
Deux: Used alternate Baking Instructions for ovens that run low. 425 degrees for 3 minutes. Decrease heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 6 minutes. Obviously that was too much of a good thing. Looked like they were trying to be fried chicken but they were all level footed and even.
Trois: Alternate baking instructions used again but I raised the oven rack to the middle and went 3 minutes at 425 degrees and only 4 1/2 minutes at 325 degrees. They were starting to brown so I took them out of the oven. Every single one looked perfect! Every single one. Unfortunately they were a little bit gooey on the inside soooooo I think next time around, I'm going to play around with the temperature and timing of the alternate baking instructions because I really feel like I'm on to something here.
Grad students work on their thesis', they conduct experiments, draw conclusions, defend the thesis and get their PhD's. If you know me, you know that I would never have the patience or discipline to get a doctorate in anything too intellectual but I'm going to call this my version of grad studies. I'm getting closer to having my dissertation ready....

Saturday, 21 April 2012

At the market!

This morning, bright and early and despite my gueule de bois (translation: hangover), I got up and headed out to the farmer's market to see if the gal who started my little journey of intrigue and lust had any macarons. As I'm sure you deduced from the photo, she did! I bought one in each flavor she had. At 9$, it was money more wisely spent than last night at the saloon. I asked her how her macarons were lovely to which she told me she studied culinary arts in Paris. Shit. I need to be in one of those Mastercard commercials:
New oven for even baking: 2199.99$
Studying culinary arts in France: 50,000$
Mastering the French Macaron: Priceless
 There are some things money can't buy, for everything else you need to blow cash on, there's Mastercard.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Waste Not.

 I got up Saturday morning and glided into the kitchen ready to make some kind of filling for my purple macarons that i whipped up late Friday night. I was seduced by their fancy purple shells and had to eat one (meringues at 8 a.m. is probably bad for the waistline but a pretty bitchin' way to start the day). Well a perfect macaron should have a slightly crisp, very thin shell and a delightfully chewy interior. I'm going to quote my last post here: "the second batch looked nearly perfect". Looked being the operative word here. Well we all know looks can be deceiving. I bit down and mine were so thick shelled and dry that it crumbled all over the counter. Well, that won't do. I've come to the inconclusive conclusion that a lot of the problems are because of my oven. There are instructions for an alternate baking method that i think I'm going to try next time.

 Now I'm going to quote whoever the cheese-ball is who said this: "when life gives you lemons, make lemon-aid". That expression irritates me but i grudgingly admit it's fitting here. Since the meringues were too crumbly to fill and eat as planned but too delicious to waste, I made little deserts out of them. I made some lemon curd (eggs, eggs yolk, lemon and lime zest, lemon juice, butter, sugar and salt. It's very similar to lemon meringue pie fill and it's so good that I would be okay if I had to shower in it, drink it, eat it, marry it, dance with it, stand in it, etc, etc.), whipped some cream, crumbled up the little purple meringues and layered it all in mason jars. The lemon curd was really tart, the meringues really sweet, the whipped cream really whipped-creamy and the whole concoction really really goooood (*I take a deep bow). It was good thing that I didn't waste any of the meringues (almond flour is a little pricey i suppose) because after we ate, my dinner guests and I were off to spend thousands of dollars on a couple pies and a few pitchers of beer but that's a story for another day.

Lemon curd

Here's a slick tip: whenever you're storing puddings, custards or anything else in that family, put plastic wrap directly on the surface rather than over the bowl. This way, a disgusting skin won't form. Neato.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rotten Eggs and Lessons Learned

As I sit and clack away on my computer, with a batch of purple colored macarons baking, I want to put a question out there into the universe. We've all heard and said "smells like rotten eggs" but my question is this: who out there has actually smelled rotten eggs? I have tonight and continue to smell them as I have them splashed on my shirt. Its horrible.
My grandmother Sally (rest in peace) taught me a lot about baking and cooking and this evening I foolishly disregarded two valuable lessons.
Lesson one: wear an apron to protect your clothing. I usually do but for some reason, I didn't tonight hence the rotten egg on my shirt.
Lesson two: when cracking eggs into anything, never ever crack them right into the bowl. As previously mentioned, the egg whites used in macarons must be aged for several hours on the counter top. This strengthens the protein and makes the meringue stronger. While measuring my 115 grams of egg white (from approximately 3 eggs), I made two mistakes. I almost broke yolk into the whites (which would prevent the whites from whipping) and i also cracked a rotten egg which kind of egg-sploded all over me, the counter and quite nearly into the other egg whites. Since i only had 3 aged eggs, i had to use one non-aged white to replace the stink bomb (I will never use the term "smells like rotten eggs" lightly again).
So maybe tonight's failure at attempt #5 was my grandma's way of giving me hell from beyond the grave. Okay, okay. Lesson learned grandma.
My whole first batch of macarons cracked this time. A new and exciting problem that I hadn't encountered yet. Hooray! This means one of two things. Either I didn't have the oven set at exactly 200 degrees for the first baking stage, causing the batter to remain wet too long which forms too much steam and causes the shell to crack. The other possibility is that I either over whipped the egg whites or over mixed the dry with the wet ingredients again. Oh boy.
I just took them out the oven and that is a far as I have gotten. I still plan to fill them with something delicious and eat them tomorrow night when I have friends over for dinner. While I'm boring my dinner guests with an explanation of they did not turn out, I'll be hearing my grandmother's voice in my head telling me that it serves me right for being careless. Kitchen karma, I reckon.  
First batch. Fail.
BUT WAIT! As I was about to post this entry, I took the second batch out the oven. I was very careful with the oven temperature this time and EGADZ!-they look nearly perfect! But I mustn't say another word for that karma is still lurking. I don't want my cat to jump on them or something....

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Blues.

To the right, moderate success. To the left, disaster.
 Fun fact: there are no blue foods in nature. For example, blueberries are actually dark purple, not blue at all. Actually, the color blue is believed to be an appetite suppressant. Years ago, weight loss experts used to suggest eating off of a blue plate or to put a blue light in the refrigerator as a way of curbing appetite. It's hardwired into our primal nature to avoid blue foods because millions of years ago, blue and black were warning signs of poison (I should note that despite the color, my latest macarons were not in any way poisonous).
Here's another fun fact: I knew all of this when I selected "Cornflower Blue" gel food coloring at the Bulk Barn a couple of weeks ago. The blue food thing is actually one of those useless tidbits of knowledge that I've had stored in my mind for years.  
 So it should come as no surprise that blue was a bad omen yesterday when I arrogantly dove into attempt #4.
One recipe makes two full pans of macarons. As i piped my first pan, i tried to ignore the sinking feeling that I had over-compensated for under-macaronner last time around and over-mixed this time. I continued to ignore it even though the first batch spread too thin, got too brown and had pathetic, weak feet. Upon the first pan rotation of batch #2, I couldn't ignore the feeling anymore. They were a mess. A hot mess. But not in the sexy-Project-Runway-cool kind of way. They were just hot and sloppy. Actually, there was so much wrong with them, I'm not entirely sure that over j-folding was the only problem. I consulted the Trouble Shooting guide but didn't even know where to start. So instead, I went with "Fuck it". That's not officially in the Trouble Shooting guide but i reckon it outta be. Just for those times when shit's gone wrong enough that you're gonna call it a write-off. I accept that now, a day later, but yesterday I was stomping around the house like a beast, feeling rather blue.

On the up side, when i was still feeling pre-failure cocky, I made some maple buttercream. I bought a candy thermometer last week and got to break it in and what's more is that the only other time I ever tried making buttercream was 3 summers ago and it was a horseradish-looking flop that i vowed never to try again. But this time, it was a calorie and fat laden success! Maple Buttercream. Mm-hmmmm.
Not wanting to waste it, i filled the Cornflower Blue macarons (I'm not sure what a cornflower looks like but the color of the macarons kind of made me think of storm clouds which doesn't really make me think of meringue. Well, it didn't before but as i type this, it occurs to me that from now on, I'll probably associate the two) and took them to Easter dinner at my sister-in-law's house, dropping some off along the way at a friend's house as well. I got my moment as a food stylist (yes, that is actually a real job) as i hid the ugly second batch beneath the somewhat pretty looking first batch so that people looking at the bowl were misled into thinking they were all pretty.
They were a hit at dinner and my macaron blues are starting to lift. I also plan to lift that little jar of Cornflower Blue coloring into the trash can as it was probably destined to be bad luck from the start. As far as my little french darlings go, i think I'll tell them that blue isn't a part of their color wheel anymore.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Third time around is not a perfect charm.

I'm really starting to feel as though my little macarons and I are getting to know each other better; our relationship is really improving and we didn't even have to go to therapy or counselling or anything. Let me explain.

After piping them out and slamming the pans on the counter as required, I was sad to see that they had little tails on top that weren't settling out. What isn't sad is that without consulting the Trouble Shooting section of the bible,  I was able to recognize why there were little peaks in the centers and also why my shells appeared slightly lumpy: Under-Macaronner. I did not j-fold the dry ingredients in to the wet ingredients for long enough, thereby creating a meringue that was too strong. But if you remember from my previous entry, if you over mix, you'll have a different set of problems. So I suppose I don't know them suuuuuuper well yet, but it's getting better.

Despite the technical problems, they looked terribly cute and tasted like heaven. I found gel food coloring which creates stronger, more saturated colors than liquid food coloring (note the whimpy light pink of my previous entry). And I had better luck with even baking. While some still slid and created baseball caps, i had quite a few that turned out pretty nice. I had to rotate the pans during baking way more often than I should have to but that's okay because I never stray too far from the kitchen during baking anyway.

My inner-therapist told me that since we made progress this time around, we should be rewarded so I made some proper chocolate ganache to fill them with. They were enjoyed, very quietly (I think the silence was a good sign) late one evening by a group of us huddled together around the kitchen island at my brother's house. I felt proud and very pleased because some of the best times in life are spent gathered in kitchens and this time around it was thanks to a semi-successful third attempt at my petits macarons.