Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Macaron Experiment

Remember LK's obsession with macarons last December? She discovered these French delicacies in New York and proceeded to pay outrageous amounts for the taste treats. A macaron, by the way, is not a macaroon. Macarons are not even cookies. They are actually meringue baked onto what looks like a cookie sandwich with sweet filling.

I mention these because Shirley has been visiting us, and we hit a rainy day where no one felt much like going out. It was one of the few days when tradesmen weren't visiting, so I decided to justify my unofficial title - the one where LK tells people that Don's the baker in the family.

This statement usually pops up when someone is telling her how creative and experimental her cooking is. If that conversation turns to baking, LK will make it clear that she does not like to bake, essentially because she thinks it merely involves the ability to measure ingredients and follow recipes. Then she adds that Don's the baker in the family.

In the case of macarons, though, I think I learned that A) being the baker in the family doesn't necessarily mean you can make macarons; B) following recipes isn't anywhere near as easy as LK makes it sound; and C) don't fill pastry piping tubes to the top and squeeze them in the middle.

I had been planning this experiment for several weeks, and LK had been able to find a way to get me not to do it. But on the rainy weekend day she ran out of ways to get me to do something else.

I had bookmarked what looked like a great recipe from the famous left-wing cooking site, Huffington Post. Food blogger Jamie Schler wrote a great article and step-by-step approach complete with pictures. It looked easy. And actually large parts of it were.

Making the meringue was very simple and folding the cocoa powder, sugar and crushed almonds into it was a snap. However, Jamie spent a fair amount of time explaining how to draw little circles onto paper you would place under your baking paper in order to make the baked "cookies" all the same size so they would match up well when you made your "sandwich".

I could tell you that I had never used a piping tube before, that I got better as we went along and that it was only mildly distracting when much of the goop came out the top and all over my hands when I squeezed it in the middle. Or I could just let you judge how close my uniform circles matched Jamie Scher's:

Jamie Schler's perfect circles
My perfect circles
The good news, though, was that once they were baked the various shapes I made seemed to have mates so I could at least pair them with one like them, even if they weren't exactly matches for the rest (and they weren't):

The match game
But the real test, of course, is the finished product. The chocolate ganache filling is the easiest recipe in the world: chop up some chocolate, pour boiling cream, stir till it melts and then cool it.  Well, it sounds easy, but for some reason my filling was - well, let's say, it was a bit on the runny side:

Jamie Schler's perfect macaron
Don Kennedy's perfect macaron
But all of this aside, they must have been good because I only had to keep pushing them on Shirl and Linda for four days until we all agreed that the meringue was getting so stale it was likely to break their teeth. Shirley flies home today, but I can't wait for her next visit so I can experiment with different flavors.

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