Macarons

This is a blog post I wrote about a year ago in a different blog. It is still completely relevant to my current life.

When I’m troubled in my mind, I tend to divert myself from my actual problems and invest my energy into something productive and even more distracting to keep myself occupied. Which was why I decided to devote this week to the art of baking macarons.

1 carton of egg, lots of ‘Why?? WHY is this happening??” and 12 test batches later, the mission was accomplished.

I’m choosing to write a very detailed account about what to do should any of you feel the urge to waste a week of your life chasing after a perfect batch of these irresistably delicious but frustrating cookies.

The basic recipe sounds simple enough:

Ingredients
28g egg white
32g almond meal
53g icing sugar
8g caster sugar

Method

  1. Whip egg white with caster sugar until it forms firm peaks.
  2. Fold in almond meal and icing sugar until it forms a smooth paste.
  3. Pipe into 3-5cm rounds onto non-stick baking paper and bake for approximately 12 minutes in a 150 Celcius conventional oven.

There are copious numbers of pictures of macaron disasters on the internet (all you have to do is Google “macaron disasters”) because somehow along the way bad things happened and the macaron failed to well… become a macaron.

Anyway, here’s how I acquired the perfect batch of macarons.

  1. Place almond meal and icing sugar into a food processor and process for a few seconds. Sift mixture and discard bits of almond meal that are left in the sieve – it’ll create a rough macaron surface if you keep it in.
  2. Add a small pinch of cream of tartar to the egg white and beat on slow speed for the first couple of minutes before increasing to high. When egg whites are at soft peak stage, add the caster sugar in gradually and beat on high until stiff. Very stiff – won’t-fall-out-of-the-bowl-when-inverted-sharp-peaks-in-egg-white-stiff.
  3. If desired, add some coloring at this point as well as the almond and icing sugar mixture. Fold the mixture until mixture is glossy and when dropped the trail disappears after about 30 seconds. This is the magical phase of macaronage. Usually this is achieved by about 30 strokes of folding for a batch this small.
  4. Fill piping bag with mixture and pipe out 3-5cm rounds on non-stick baking paper, staggering the rows for a more even heat distribution. Bang the tray on the counter a few times (go all out and release your pent up anger, existent or non-existent) to flatten out the peaks and bring any air bubbles to the surface.
  5. Leave piped macarons on the counter for about half an hour. Rushing it straight into the oven can lead to failure. I don’t know why – but that’s what happened with me.
  6. Which is why I only start setting up my oven after I’ve finished piping the macarons. I experimented with various permutations and finally discovered that the macarons should be baked on the top rack, with several layers of baking trays and silicon mats underneath it. Something to do with heat distribution. I set my oven on fan-forced at 125 Celcius. (Note: This is a trial and error process, you’d probably have to experiment with a few batches with yours to figure out the optimum set up and temperature)
  7. While waiting for the oven to heat up, feel free to do the washing up and maybe a clay facial mask.
  8. Once the oven is ready, pop the macarons in. Immediately decrease the heat by about 10 Celcius. Walk away and amuse yourself with something else. 6 minutes later, turn the tray 180 degrees for evenness’ sake.
  9. By 13 minutes, your macarons should be done. Take them out. They should look like this:

Foot at the bottom and a nice shiny smooth surface. These actually have a few bubbles – I wasn’t agressive enough with my tray banging with this batch.

Try to detach the macarons once they’re cooled. If they’re stuck to the paper, don’t despair. What I do is return it into the oven for a futher 1-2 minutes, which usually does the trick. I’ve read other blogs of people who sprinkle water onto the paper and etc but somehow I don’t like the idea of water anywhere near my precious precious babies.

Sit and admire your beautiful beautiful macarons. Or if they were a failure, start obsessing about what went wrong.

Here’s batch no. 13. Orange colored shells filled with chocolate ganache with a splash of Triple Sec.

I can finally sleep tonight. And go back to my original problem.

Notes:

  1. You can double or triple this recipe very easily. This is a very small recipe because…well, when one is testing one doesn’t want to toss out huge batches of failures. This recipe yields about 14 shells – or 7 macarons.
  2. It will probably take a while to get the perfect conditions to produce the perfect macaron. If you are so lucky as to be successful the first try, I take my hat off to you. If you don’t – persevere!
  3. If the tops of your macarons brown too quickly (test batch no.3 was perfect except for this annoying problem), try lowering the temperature by maybe 10 Celcius. Yes, it took me another 8-9 batches to figure that out.
  4. The majority of macaron recipes suggest that the egg whites be left out for 24-48 hours. I do not have it in me to be so patient! If I want to make macarons I want to make them now, not 24-48 hours later! Anyway, all my batches were done with fresh egg whites and I still got desirable results so…. but I am assuming it might be better with aged ones but I honestly couldn’t be bothered.
  5. Always sift your almond meal and icing sugar mixture. Really makes a difference to the smoothness of your macarons.
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Parmesan Crusted Tart

I made the commitment to a 250g bag of shredded parmesan cheese. That meant that I had to carefully plan my meals for the next couple of weeks to incorporate as much parmesan as I could into everything so that I wouldn’t end up with a mouldy bag of cheese 2 months later at the back of my fridge.

Did a Google search and found a recipe for a tart crust that incorporated parmesan into it. Was very intrigued and decided to try it out.

What was I going to fill it with? Decided to just wing it. And it turned out absolutely delicious! Recipe is as follows.

Can you see the flecks of parmesan cheese in the crust?

Makes 10 inch tart

Ingredients

Crust

  • 300g plain flour
  • 125g cold butter, diced
  • 40g shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tbsp chilled water
Filling
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small can of corn kernels
  • A small handful of ham pieces from the supermarket deli
  • 1 tbsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp mixed herbs
  • Half a zucchini, sliced for garnishing
  • 50ml cream
  • Cracked pepper to taste
Method
  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius (160 if fan-forced).
  2. Combine crust ingredients sans chilled water in one of two ways – in the food processor in short bursts or if you don’t have a food processor by hand. Do it by rubbing the butter into the mixture. Once a dry crumbly mix is formed pour in the chilled water until it becomes the right doughy consistency.
  3. Put the dough into a 10′ tart pan and press it out with your fingers towards the edges as evenly as you can. Yes, you can also choose to roll the dough out and do it that way but I think this is the quickest way to get things done without being a perfectionist.
  4. Weigh down the pastry with baking beads and stick it in the oven for about half an hour or until the pastry is nice and crisp and golden.
  5. In the meantime, combine all the filling ingredients. Once pastry shell is ready, pour filling into shell. Arrange zucchini slices strategically on top of the filling and put back into the oven for another 30-45 minutes or until fully set.
  6. Unmould and enjoy!
I cut the tart up into 6 portions and they will serve as my lunch for the rest of the week.

Chocolate Brownies

I

I have always found it difficult to make the perfect chocolate brownie. Overcook it and it’s more like dry cake. Undercook it and it’s just a gooey mess that won’t get out of the pan in shape. However, I struck the perfect balance with this recipe over the weekend.

Makes 20 squares

Ingredients

  • 125g butter
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150g walnuts (optional)
Method
  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius (160 if fan-forced).
  2. Line a 20 x 30cm baking tin with baking paper.
  3. Melt butter, brown sugar and dark chocolate together. Fastest and easiest way to do it is in microwave by setting it to 30 second bursts and stirring it after every cycle until it’s all melted and smooth.
  4. Add in all the other ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into baking tin and bake for 20 minutes.
I found that the bread knife was the best knife to get lovely clean cuts in a large slab of brownie because of the length of the knife as well as the type of crumb.
This refrigerates very well so it can serve as dessert for the week. Or if you’re feeling very generous, bring it into work and watch them fly out of the container. They are divine.

 

How To: Cook Pasta In Microwave

Some may call me callous and whatnot but for me, the quickest and simplest way to cook pasta is not in a pot of salted and oiled water when it’s at a rolling boil or whatever it is that everybody says. For me, the microwave oven does the job the best. And this is how I choose to do it.

Put however much pasta you want to eat into a microwave safe container and pour in enough water to cover all the pasta. Set to cook for 10-14 minutes, depending on quantity of pasta and type of microwave.

Perfect pasta every time!

Avocado Pasta

I bought some avocado with the full intention of using it to make some sushi. Unfortunately, I found insects living in my sushi rice and had to abort that plan. What to do with a lone avocado? Make some avocado pasta, of course!

Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients

  • 250g pasta of choice (I used penne)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp of garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Handful of shredded parmesan
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 100ml cream
Method
  1. Cook pasta to desired tenderness. The easiest way to do it for me is to do it in the microwave.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pot and add garlic. add cream and parmesan as well as chilli flakes.
  3. Add cooked pasta into the pot and and the avocado at the end. Season with cracked pepper if you so desire.
Delicious, easy and inexpensive.

How To: Melt Chocolate

The easiest way to melt chocolate for me is to just do it in the microwave. Steps are as follows:

1. Pour the required amount of chocolate into a microwave safe bowl.

2. Put it in the microwave and set it for 20 seconds.

3. Take it out and stir.

4. Repeat steps until chocolate is nice and melted.

See? Easy. None of that double boiling fuss.

Chocolate Mousse

Nothing hits the spot like chocolate.

I have a 3kg stash of Callebaut chocolate sitting in my pantry. For one person. Decided to make some headway into it and got the idea to make some chocolate mousse. Also, I’ve had these martini glasses for about a year now without putting them to any good use. Recipe is as follows:

Makes 2

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 75ml cream
  • Spray can of whipped cream (optional)
  • Silver cachous and decorative biscuit (optional)
Method
  1. Melt the dark chocolate. I find the most convenient way to do it is to put it in the microwave.
  2. Beat the egg white into stiff peak stage in a separate bowl.
  3. Whip the cream into soft peak in yet another bowl.
  4. Add the egg yolk into the melted chocolate and mix till combined. Gently fold in cream and then egg white into the mixture.
  5. Pour finished mixture into martini glasses or any other glassware and store in fridge until set.
Decorating
Chocolate mousse is great on its own but I think everything just looks that much more appealing when dressed up. For this particular dessert I sprayed some whipped cream out of the can (yes, it’s cheating. But very effective cheating) and sprinkled some silver cachous on top. The crowning glory? Half an Arnott’s Royal.