Monday, March 10, 2014

Strawberries & Cream Macarons

I love making macarons, and have done so a handful of times over the last two years or so.  They've always turned out pretty well for me, until this last time I made them.  :)  Some turned out ok; I saved the best ones for the photos, but the "feet" aren't very pronounced at all, and a lot of them cracked, and many more had little "peaks" that didn't go down with the resting period.  I think this is due to two problems: this recipe called for more egg whites than I was used to; I aged 3 egg whites and I didn't realize it wasn't enough until I was making the macarons.  Also, I think I didn't mix these enough, hence the peaks that didn't flatten.  
For the first time, I tried a fruit flavor for the shells. To do this, I had to pulverize freeze-dried strawberries.  My oven browns macarons so much; these were such a pretty pink before baking, but oh well!  They tasted amazing.  The filling is vanilla bean cream cheese.  I do want to attempt another fruit-shell recipe, maybe with dried blueberries next time.  :)
I actually "taught" a friend how to make these; it was my first time making them with someone else besides my daughter.  I should have chosen a more basic macaron recipe!!  Lol.  It was disappointing to have most of them not come out right when I was supposed to be teaching someone else how to make these.  To redeem myself and restore my self-confidence, I made more macarons yesterday, using a much simpler recipe.  They turned out great- will share those ones sometime later.  They had pronounced feet and everything.  Note:  You'll need a kitchen scale for this recipe, able to measure both grams and ounces.
Strawberries & Cream Macarons
adapted from Tutti Dolci

3/4 ounce freeze dried strawberries
115g almond flour
230g powdered sugar
144g egg whites, at room temperature overnight
72g sugar
2g (1/2 tsp) salt
red powdered food coloring, optional

Cream Cheese Filling:
4 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (can use reduced-fat)
pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar, or more to taste
1 vanilla bean, optional

1.  Fit a large disposable pastry bag with a round tip. Line two-three baking sheets with parchment paper. On a third sheet of parchment paper or plain white paper, trace out 24 1.5-inch circles (use a round cookie cutter or stencil as a guide), spaced 1 inch apart. Set aside as a master guide.

2.  Process freeze dried strawberries and almond flour in a food processor until finely ground. Use a fine mesh sieve or sifter to sift strawberry-almond flour mixture and powdered sugar together twice; use a firm spatula to push any large particles through or just discard. Set aside.

3.  Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a large mixer bowl fitted with wire whip attachment. Whip on medium speed (4 on a KitchenAid), until egg whites begin to foam. Increase speed to medium-high (7 on a KitchenAid) and whip until meringue forms soft peaks. Increase speed to 8 and whip for another few minutes. Turn off mixer and add food coloring; whip another minute on high speed to evenly distribute color until meringue is stiff. The meringue should clump in the center of the wire whip attachment; knock against mixer bowl to release.

4.  Add dry ingredients to meringue all at once. Use a rubber spatula to fold dry mixture into meringue.  After 25 folds, your mixture may still look lumpy. Continue to fold about 10 to 12 more times, checking texture after each fold. The batter is ready when it holds its shape when spooned onto itself and slowly flattens out and "ribbons" after 15 to 20 seconds. If the batter is stiff and doesn’t flatten out, it’s undermixed. If the batter is runny and fluid, it’s overmixed and won’t hold a shape.

5.  Transfer half the batter to pastry bag. Slide master guide of circles between baking sheet and parchment paper. Hold piping bag vertically and pipe batter to within 1/8″ from the edge of the circle. Carefully remove master guide from underneath piped circles and transfer to second baking sheet, repeating with remaining batter. Remove guide and save for future use. Tap pans sharply on counter; rotate 90 degrees and tap two more times (to deflate air bubbles and prevent cracked shells).

6.  Let shells sit out at room temperature about one hour to harden.  After 40 minutes, preheat oven to 280°F.  Bake for 12-20 minutes, until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from the macaron. Place pans on wire racks and cool completely before removing shells*. For the cream cheese frosting, beat butter, cream cheese and salt in a large mixer bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; gradually add powdered sugar 1/3 cup at a time and beat just until smooth.  Add seeds from vanilla bean and mix, optional.

7.  When ready to assemble, fit a large disposable pastry bag with a round tip and fill with frosting. Pipe about a tablespoon of frosting onto the bottom of half the shells, then sandwich with remaining shells. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to three days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

*My oven bakes hot and browns these quickly.  If I leave them on until they easily peel away, they will be way too brown and hard.  So I take them out when the bottoms are still a little sticky, and then let them rest a few minutes on the baking sheet.  Then I use a brownie server and firmly scrape them off the parchment without ruining the feet.
Yield – 64 shells, 32 macarons
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