Monday, September 19, 2011

(Macaron) Paradise Found...

I am shell-shocked (macaron shell, that is), floating in a sugar-buzzed paradise. Some of you who have been to Paris may understand me when I speak of macaron bliss. They are just so...yummy. A perfect combination of flavor and texture, smooth and crunch and moist and sweet. Melt in your mouth good.

I can tell you that WAY TOO MANY of these melted in MY mouth today. I've been experimenting with macarons lately and decided to try my hand at a pistachio flavor after spying a half-bag of shelled pistachios in our pantry. (Shelling enough pistachios to make cookies and filling would have taken all day in and of itself, so I'm happy to have a source for shelled ones.)

The nice thing about macarons is that the flavors and combinations are limited only by the imagination. (The actual outcome is limited by much more, including the heat and humidity of the house, the temp of the oven, the consistency of the batter, the age of the egg whites, the number of pans, the amount of time you let the macaron sit before you bake them!)

I decided to test some of these theories, as well as to put together a recipe entirely from scratch, in the making of these pistachio macaron (macaron de pistache). How 'bout that?!?! OOOH LA LA!

Pistachio Macaron
makes about 100 filled macaron, approx 1"

5.2 oz egg whites (I did not age these at all, they came right out of the fridge)
3.5 oz almond flour
3.5 oz pistachios, finely ground
7 oz powdered sugar
7 oz granulated sugar
1.7 fl oz water

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Prepare baking sheets by cutting parchment paper to fit. You will also need to double-stack your baking sheets, so make sure to use ones that fit into each other.

Begin by pulsing powdered sugar, almond flour and pistachios in a food processor until homogeneous. Depending on how finely the pistachio was ground, you may or may not decide to sift the mixture. (I did not, since I couldn't grind the pistachio finely enough and didn't want to lose it in the sifter.) Place in a large (HUGE) bowl and set aside. Divide your egg whites in half (exactly, I use a scale), placing half in a small bowl and the other half in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Place granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar syrup reaches 244°F. While the sugar syrup is cooking, you can go ahead and get the mixer going, the egg whites should whip to firm peaks. If they are not there by the time your syrup is close to temperature, go ahead and turn the mixer up briefly to high just to make sure that the whites are firm. Once the syrup is at temperature and the whites are firm peaks, stop the mixer briefly and dump the sugar syrup into the whites. Immediately turn the mixer on high (do not let this sit for any amount of time or the sugar syrup will begin to solidify) and whip until resulting meringue has cooled.

Pour the reserved egg white over the dry mix, then add the meringue. Use a spatula to fold both into the dry mix, aiming for a consistent and smooth batter that flows like LAVA! (Someday soon I will take a video clip of this and post.)

Place the batter into a decorating bag fitted with a round tip (I used a #9) and squeeze a small amount under each corner of the parchment paper, just to secure it while baking. Using a squeezing motion (not circular), pipe equal sized amounts of batter evenly across the baking sheet, leaving an inch or so in between to allow for the spread of the batter. If your macaron have peaks or tips on them, you can very carefully dab a finger into some water and gently tap on the peak to smooth it out. Water should not get on the cookie, just help your finger to keep from sticking.

When the tray is full, you can gently tap the baking sheet against the counter. Some people recommend letting the macaron sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to several hours to form a skin prior to baking, but I am not convinced this is necessary. I popped these right into the oven.

After about 5-7 minutes in the oven, you should start to see the macaron "rise" onto its "feet." This is the MOST exciting part!! Except when it doesn't happen. Most of today's macaron did rise up on their little frilly feet, so I was happy! Total baking time depends on the size of the macaron, but I baked each tray for approximately 14 minutes at this size. The macaron are ready when they only move slightly on their feet if you nudge them.

Take the tray from the oven, let the macaron cool briefly before removing them from the parchment.

Since these macaron were actually made with pistachios, I expected the cookie itself to have a pistachio flavor. AND IT DID! Yum. Often, the flavor of a macaron is most pronounced within the filling that is chosen. I couldn't decide what to sandwich inside of these, so I tried a number of different fillings. And....I'm gonna tell you which one I liked the best. (Todd agreed with me, without my prompting.)

I knew I'd want a pistachio filling, but wasn't sure if chocolate would be complimentary or overwhelming. I made a pistachio paste using the following (rough) recipe.

Pistachio Paste
makes about a cup

4 oz pistachios
1 oz almond flour
1 drop almond extract (optional)
2 oz sugar
~ 1 T water + 2 tsp water

Grind pistachios with almond flour in a food processor, add 1 drop almond extract and mix, set aside. In a small saucepan, heat sugar with 1 T water over medium-high heat to make a sugar syrup. Cook to about 250°F, remove from heat and immediately blend into the pistachio mixture until homogeneous. Add a teaspoonful of water, one at a time, until the paste is of the desired consistency. Store in a plastic bag in the freezer. Keeps for, oh, I don't know, say about a month. I just made it today, so it can be used right away. This can be added to ganaches, buttercreams, etc, to impart pistachio flavor.

I made the following combinations:
1. pistachio macaron + dark chocolate ganache filling
2. pistachio macaron + dark chocolate pistachio ganache filling
3. pistachio macaron + buttercream filling
4. pistachio macaron + chocolate buttercream filling
5. pistachio macaron + chocolate pistachio buttercream filling
6. pistachio macaron + pistachio buttercream filling

In general, the chocolate ganache fillings just didn't work with this. The flavor was too strong and overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the pistachio in the macaron. The pistachio macaron with (plain) buttercream was good, but definitely missing something. There were 2 combinations I felt were "pretty good (#4 and 5 above)," and one that was a homerun (#6). Yes, the pistachio cookie with the pistachio buttercream filling was JUST RIGHT. So much pistachio flavor and chewy, crunchy, moist, silky goodness.

Paradise Found...

No comments: