Friday, March 13, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2015: Hint O' Mint Macarons with Irish Cream Buttercream Filling

As I sit and write this my kitchen looks like an Irish car bomb went off in it. Not the drink kind, the real kind, but by gosh we have macarons. I don't know where the last four hours have gone or how many my dog ate off of the table when I went to look for my phone, but mission accomplished, we have St. Patrick's Day themed macarons.

Since I went to work at my new job, I have assisted in no less than 5 French macaron classes and have taken the class once. I have made them at home 3 times now, so I feel like I am at least experienced enough to pass on the recipe and a few observations to you at this time.

1. Macarons aren't really hard to make, they are just temperamental. If you have an old or uneven heating oven like I do, you will be challenged, but don't give up. The French have been making these for hundreds of years in old school ovens, so I can make them too.

2. Some of them might turn out ugly, but that doesn't mean they have no value. I like to call these the chef's treats. The ugly ones aren't a failure, they are a gift from the macaron gods. They are still delicious and they belong to you, so be thankful for them.

3. As my experience has it, the first batch unfortunately is often like the "test pancake". You will learn a lot from this first sheet of cookies. Cracked puffy tops? Your oven is too hot. Hollow? You whipped the whites for too long or didn't mix them with the flour for long enough. No feet? You didn't whip the whites long enough or you stirred them too long when you added the almond flour mixture. Brown? Your oven is too hot or you baked them for too long.

4. The ingredients for these delicate little cookies are simple, but having a few tools will make your experience much more pleasant. Everyone should already have a kitchen scale, but if you don't you might want to make the small investment and get one. Volume measurements are best used for liquids. I found out when I was living in England how much more accurate weight measurements are for dry ingredients and this recipe is a perfect example.

You will also need a food processor or a large, fine screen strainer, an electric mixer, some parchment paper and some pastry bags. For the filling you will need an instant read or candy thermometer. Nothing exotic, just a few things that are very useful in any one's kitchen.

Hint 'O Mint Macarons

Be sure to process the almond flour with some of the powdered sugar or you will end up with almond butter.

7 ounces powdered sugar, divided
4 ounces almond flour or meal
4 large egg whites (about 4 ounces), room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
3 - 1/2 ounces granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon mint flavoring
Paste food coloring of your choice (if desired)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. If using, place paper macaron templates in the bottom of a cookie sheet. Top the templates with parchment or just line the cookie sheets with parchment or a Silpat; set aside.

Place 1/3 of the powdered sugar and all of the almond flour in a food processor and pulse several times to make a fine powder. Add the remaining sugar and pulse several more times to insure a fine texture. Sift this through a strainer, pushing through with a rubber spatula. You might have a tablespoon or two of almond bits that won't pass through the sieve. This is OK, a little waste is normal. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl (if using a hand mixer), fitted with a whisk attachment and set to medium speed, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy and little to no yellow color is visible. Gradually add sugar in one steady stream. Once all sugar is incorporated, increase beater speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. At this point, stop beater and add mint flavoring and food coloring by painting it onto the side of the beater. Continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Stop beating and add the almond flour and sugar mixture 1/3 at a time to the egg whites using a rubber spatula, folding in flour well after each addition. Once all the flour is added fold until mixture is still thick but drips slowly from the spoon.

Place mixture into a pastry bag (you will probably have to do this in 2 or 3 batches) fitted with a No. 10 or 12 tip, or clip a small hole in the bottom of the bag if you are experienced or brave. Pipe mixture into 1 - 1/2" circles that are about 1" apart on to the prepared baking sheets. Do this by piping mixture onto the parchment in a stationary dot, letting it expand from the middle (I pipe for a 5 or 6 count, stop squeezing and then making a quick "comma" with the tip of the bag). The mixture will settle into a larger circle as it sits. Repeat until you have covered the baking sheet.

Pick the baking sheet up by the edges and hold about 8" in the air before dropping it on a sturdy surface. Repeat this 5 or 6 times to pop any air bubbles that might have formed during the piping. Set aside for about 10 minutes to let a skin form on the top of the macarons. You will know when they are ready when they are dry when touched lightly with your finger.

I took this photo when I went to rotate the pan after the first 8 minutes. As you can see, some of them are forming nice feet (the bubbly, frilly looking bit at the bottom) and some of them are cracked and puffy from the uneven heat in my oven. 

When a skin has formed, place the baking sheet into the preheated oven. Set a timer for 8 minutes. At the end of 8 minutes, rotate the pan and cook for an additional 8 minutes. Check for doneness by gently gripping a middle one and giving it a gently "wiggle" if it moves, return it to the oven for a few minutes. If it is firm on its "feet" it is done and can be removed from the oven to cool.

When macarons are cool to the touch, gently peel away from the parchment; set aside. Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with buttercream, recipe below or a simple chocolate ganache if you prefer. Store any uneaten, filled macarons in an airtight container. Since these are filled with buttercream, they will need to be refrigerated. If you can possibly hide them out, they are best the next day when the macarons are still crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside.

Irish Cream Buttercream

3 large egg yolks
1 - 1/2 ounces plus 6 ounces granulated sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
2 ounces of water
2 teaspoons corn syrup
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces and brought to  room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon very strong coffee or 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons chocolate/hazelnut spread
2 tablespoons bourbon or Irish whiskey

Place egg yolks and 1-1/2 ounces sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer set with the whisk attachement. With beaters set to medium high, beat until mixture reaches the ribbon stage, or light in color and thick and foamy.

Combine water, remaining sugar, and corn syrup in a small sauce pan. Stir to combine but once mixture starts boiling, quit stirring. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture reaches 235 degrees on a instant read thermometer.

With the mixer running on medium, pour the cooked sugar in a slow, steady stream into the yolks being careful not to let the sugar hit the side of the bowl or the beater as this will result in lost sugar (I always have some lost sugar and it always tastes good).

Once all the sugar is incorporated, reduce the beaters to medium speed and beat until mixture has cooled to just barely warm when you touch the side of the bowl.

At this point reduce the beaters to low and add butter 1 piece at a time whisking after each addition. Once all butter is incorporated add the vanilla extract, coffee, hazelnut spread and whiskey. Beat on medium high to incorporate.

Immediately transfer buttercream to a pastry bag and clip a small whole in the tip. Pipe about 1 teaspoon buttercream onto the inside of 1/2 of the macarons. Close with another macaron to form a sandwich cookie.

Makes about 4 dozen.

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