School Lunches

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Baby it's cold outside .... so let's make macarons

-30 degrees. Is that even a real temperature? Well, according to the news sources, that is what it feels like outside my door today. I'll just have to take their word for it because I'm not stepping outside to find out. It's days like today that make me so happy to work from home. I'm an in-home childcare provider and with school being called cancelled due to the temperatures, it makes for a pretty full house today. However, my daughters desperately want to play out in the snow. Do you remember what it's like when your 6 years old and you get first real snowfall of the year? Now imagine being told you can't go play in it because it's NEGATIVE THIRTY DEGREES! So, I did what any mom would do in attempts to keep control of a house full of kids on a freezing cold winter day - I moved the kitchen table, covered the kitchen floor with towels, and filled 3 storage bins full of snow (only what I could get from shoveling the deck from our back door (you didn't think I would actually go outside, did you?).

Next, I pulled out pans, cookie sheets, utensils, bowls, and cookie cutters and told the kids to start playing. It was pretty clear that they would be busy playing inside the warm house with snow for a couple hours so I tried to think of something I could do in the meantime. Logically, I chose to make some macarons. Yup.... that's not usually a 'quick morning project' kind of thing. But, I noticed I had some almond flour still in my pantry from the only other time I've attempted macarons, last September (for my daughter's 1st birthday party). 

Here are the macarons I made for my daughter's birthday party. Hand painted with gold luster dust to finish them off. Not too bad for my first try. Now, would you believe we completely forgot to put them out for the party?! Yup. Sure enough. Party ended. Everyone left. Then I found it. My beautiful glass jar full of untouched macarons. Don't feel too bad for me, we still managed to eat them all. 

Back to today....

Have you ever read a macaron recipe? I can only imagine it's the pastry equivalent of brain surgery. It sounds ridiculously intimidating. I imagine that's why very few people actually attempt it. But, I promise you - the hardest part is accepting the fact that almond flour (a main ingredient) is on average $12 for a small bag (maybe 3 cups worth. Luckily you only need 1 cup for the recipe I use and so you can make three batches!) Honestly, that was the reason I almost never tried them. Luckily, the other ingredients are standard and probably already in your pantry - sugar, powder sugar, eggs. (Not including whatever you decide to fill them with.)

THIS IS THE RECIPE I USE. I find it to be the easiest to follow of the ones I've read. 

The kids were still keeping busy playing with the mountains of snow in the kitchen and I began beating my egg whites and sugar to stiff peaks. And when I say "I", I mean "my stand mixer". Once they were stiff I folded in my almond flour and powder sugar. The first time I made these I actually watched a you-tube video about how to fold in the dry ingredients because the recipes made it seem so scary. Basically, you fold it in until it's all incorporated then use the back of your spoon/spatula to press it against the bowl to deflate it. I know, I know... all that word the mixer did getting your egg whites to stiff peaks and apparently you need to deflate it. But, I don't make the rules - I just follow them... kinda. 

TIP-pulse the almond four and powder sugar together in a food processor to get rid of any lumps. Some recipes I've read also suggest sifting it 3 times. Whichever you do, I get the sense that not having lumps in your flour is essential to the recipe. 

After deflating the batter, fill a piping bag and start piping your circles. I highly recommend printing off a template to keep your circles uniform. I wanted to try some different styles so I printed off a snowman shape. After piping them you need to let them sit for a minimum of one hour before putting in the oven. I hate waiting, I much prefer instant gratification. But apparently that is another important step in making macarons. They need to dry so that when you touch them they don't stick to your finger. 

I decided to try coloring some of the leftover batter and making some snowmen faces. I also made some bright green... you'll see why in a bit. 

After the hour is up, the recipe I followed says to bake them for 10 minutes at 285. This was the downfall for me. I learned last time that I needed to bake them at least 12 minutes. I forgot, and only baked them 10. Unfortunately, when they cooled and I tried to peel them up most of them still fell apart. Luckily, I really wasn't making them for any specific reason so whatever I had left was fine with me. I would recommend over-baking as opposed to under-baking. They will soften up with the filling and resting in the refrigerator anyways. 

Filling options are endless. I just went with an easy vanilla bean butter cream, but I'll be doing more experimenting soon. After I buy another bag of $12 flour..... And next time I'll be sure to bake them a bit longer for better results. 

I used an edible marker to decorate some of the snowman and a touch of orange royal icing to make the noses. 

As for coloring a bit of the batter green.... here's why.

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