Adventures in baking

Victoria's perfect macaron'sThis week I want to share my friend and colleague Victoria Weston's adventures in making French macaroons, or as the French call them, macarons. Victoria is a talented writer, photographer, artist, and PR maven — and she cooks too! I hope that sharing her creative process will encourage you to take up your own challenges.
Here is Victoria’s report:
I did it. After several mediocre and severely flawed attempts to
make perfectly baked French macarons, I did so yesterday.
Befitting, as it would seem on Valentine’s Day. My handsome
husband loved them. Adding accolades to this accomplishment.
It all started last summer when my good friend
Gracey ( magazine)
gave me a copy
of Bluestone cookbook, which featured a basic macaron recipe.
I love macarons and over the Christmas Holiday
enjoyed the St Regis Hotel’s French macarons.
I even bought a dozen beautifully boxed "red/green"
macarons and gave friends as gifts.
Another friend, MaryAnn gave me another cookbook
at Christmas, Macarons by Annie Rigg – my adventure
into baking French macarons soared. I tried several
attempts at the basic "shell" recipe to no avail.
They were tasty but flat, and too chewy – no crispy exterior.
I tried Bon Appetit’s Macaron – the filling was awesome,
but the macaron was far from perfect.
After scouring Amazon for the latest French macaron
cookbook, I purchased Les Petits Macaron by Kathryn Gordon.
If you love to make French macarons, I highly recommend
this book – gorgeous photos and recipes for both
sweet and savory! (Savory: I plan to try the
Sesame Seed shell with Tomato Confit and,
oh boy, the Maple Bourbon Bacon will follow!)
Les Petits Macaron
has practical tips, troubleshooting
guide along with a nice resource section. For
the French style meringue, the author suggests
adding one tablespoon of powdered egg white,
which is supposed to stabilize the meringue.
(Okay, I order powdered egg whites from King Arthur Flour).
To help my adventure along – and much to my surprise,
my wonderful sister-in-law gave me a food scale.
I now have perfectly measured ingredients with
the setting on "grams."
While waiting for the delivery, I gave a try at the
Italian meringue by bringing water and sugar to
235 degrees and slowly adding to soft peak egg whites.
Next, to fold in almond flour and confectioner sugar and fold until the famous "macronage" stage.
After piping out the macarons, I baked at 320
for 12 minutes. I was pleased that they came out decent.
Not perfect. But decent. I filled them with butter cream. My friends enjoyed those – so, why not be happy with the results? I wanted perfect macarons.
I continued reading blogs, watching YouTube videos
and was pleased to hear that Pierre Herme only uses
the Italian meringue method in his macarons. I was flirting with the idea to try with the famous "aged egg-whites."
Before I segued to using "aged egg-whites", I had
attended Kathryn Gordon’s macaron class at
Atlanta Mid-Town Cook’s Warehouse
. There were
12 of us in attendance. Kathryn showed us a few tips
but, much to my chagrin, Cook’s Warehouse ovens
weren’t functioning properly. Really? Yes, really.
The oven temperature never reached 350 degrees, but
stayed at 255 degrees. The macarons were flat, hard,
and tasteless. Bleh!
The powdered egg whites arrived – Kathryn Gordon’s
recipe calls for 1 tablespoon – the result was flat, hard,
tasteless macarons.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I was
determined to bake perfect French macarons.
I used 4 day refrigerated, aged egg whites,
the Italian meringue – piped ‘em – dried them
about 30 minutes – baked in my Viking (Tru-Conv)
at 310 degrees about 8 minutes and I was very pleased
– they were about as perfect as any macaron
I’d seen and tasted … no air pocket, crispy exterior,
and lightly chewy. I filled them with chocolate ganache.
Next, I plan to try the savory macarons.
I’ll let you know how they turn out.
If you are just learning French macarons,
use the "aged egg-whites." They certainly improved mine.
As for the meringue, some will say the French
method is better, others like myself, prefer the Italian method.
Have fun!
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