January 16, 2007

Gourmet's French Macaroons

I don't think I've ranted about my oven before. Since I moved in this past September, I hung a thermometer in there because it always seemed unreliable. We learned it was usually anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees off. And when the stars line up just right, as it turns out, the temperature can get up to 75 degrees hotter in practically no time at all. This was particularly infuriating when I was making these beautiful, delicate Raspberry Chocolate French Macaroons.

Before I go into the annoying details about the oven malfunctions, I want to start off by mentioning the difficulties I had making a meringue when I had never made one before. Interpreting the instructions was vexing. "Soft peaks" ok. I can deal with that, but "stiff" "glossy peaks" is much more subjective. How stiff is stiff? How glossy is the perfect gloss? Will it get glossier if I beat it for a little longer, or will it turn to butter. It didn't turn to butter, but I think I was a bit conservative on the whipping times.

The recipe also recommended cutting the corner of an unpleated plastic bag to create a makeshift pastry bag. I'd seen them, I'd read about the best way use them, but I had never actually used a pastry bag before. And I cut the corner a little too large (it was probably about 1/2-inch rather than 1/4).

Filling the buggers was no easy task either. The first time, I spooned it right in and got the batter everywhere. I'm not a fan of sticky things, and let me tell you, it was glue city. Learning from my mistake, I placed the empty paper bag in an empty cup and proceeded to spoon in the filling. Much cleaner. It made the whole thing a lot less stressful.

The meringue was ungainly, possibly because it was under-whipped, but had accepted that I would likely have malformed cookies. Combining the mildly-runny patter with my inexperience with pastry bags and wax paper. There was quite a bit of swearing andmore than a few ugly cookies (see photo), but I still had hope for the final product. The taste was all I cared about.

While I squeezed the future macaroons out, the oven warmed. The temperature was compensated for, so it was about 300 degrees when I put the first sheets in. I walked away for two minutes. Two. And I come back to find smoke billowing out the back of the oven. Open the door. Burnt cookies. 400 degrees. The dial still said 280 (ish). I was pissed. They weren't completely ruined, but they were close.

To make matters worse, since I used wax paper instead of the requested parchment, the burnt macaroons had fused to it. My wont of parchment wasn't for lack of trying, though. I went to four grocery stores, including Fairway, and hardly any of them even had wax paper. Leave it to me to start making cookies during the one time of year everybody makes them. I ate one or two with the paper still on them, just to see if people could notice. They would. Instead of throwing out the bunch, I called my baking-est aunt to see if she had any recommendations for loosing the meringues. She said exposing the sheets to extremes, either hot or cold, might help improve their situation.

Putting them in the freezer didn't help, so I put them on a wire cooling rack above a pot of simmering water. The wax paper (and the burnt bottoms) got full of steam and they came right off, leaving the inedible parts behind, still stuck to the paper. I was pleased.

As the cookies cooled, I made the ganache. Being a equipment-impared cook, I do not have a double boiler. To get around this, I would have sat a pot in a pot of simmering water, but the recipe clearly warned against this, so I tried to work on an alternative. My trusty cooling rack came to the rescue again, when I used it to put distance between the scorching water and the smooth, delicate chocolate. Worked like a charm.

The cookies were a hit. The raspberry-chocolate ganache was a brilliant foil to the mostly-bland cookie. For the second batch, I thought it might work well to make regular chocolate ganache and pair it with raspberry preserves. It wasn't bad but the added sugar from the preserves brought the sweetness level to nearly aching.

And I got to experience the joy of making 4 dozen cookies and eating four. At least everybody liked them (and I actually got to say, "Here's a cookie; but if you're going to rave, please rave quietly because there aren't enough for everyone." And that was worth it).

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Special thanks to my old camera for the photos.

1 comment:

Elizabeth W. said...

Wow, that's impressive...when do I get to eat one?! mmmm...delicious lookin'