Daring Bakers: French Macarons

Boy oh boy, do I have experiences to share and pictures to show you this month with this challenge! But before I get into that, let me introduce our hostess of the October Daring Bakers' Challenge:

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Our hostess explains what french macarons are:

"In the United States, the term “macaroon” generally refers to a cookie made primarily of coconut. But European macaroons are based on either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites. The texture can run from chewy, crunchy or a combination of the two. Frequently, two macaroons are sandwiched together with ganache, buttercream or jam, which can cause the cookies to become more chewy. The flavor possibilities and combinations are nigh endless, allowing infinitely customizable permutations".

I found that the challenge recipe did not work as well as another one that I've been using almost weekly over the past six months. [If you would like to see the actual challenge recipe, click here.]

I followed the directions for the challenge recipe exactly and the results were a disappointing FAIL (see pictures below):

Against my better judgement and previous experience, the parchment paper did not remotely help these poor things. I even baked them on Silpats, just to be sure. This is how they turned out:

And here is a close up of the failed macarons:

Now this is how macarons SHOULD look (notice the ruffled edges at the bottom of the macaron, these are called feet and you want them for a successful macaron):

I'm not sure if it was because it was a rainy, high-in-moisture Oregon day and this recipe didn't have as much powdered sugar and almonds to the egg white ratio. Also, I have found that parchment paper does NOT work as well as Silpats for my macarons. I did try the double pan technique that was mentioned, and that really didn't help them either. Although, this wasn't a successful first run, I'm glad I tried all the tips and the recipe, if only to know what doesn't work.

As I mentioned above, I've been making French Macarons for the past six months as a collaboration with a local chocolate shop owner and we sell them from his store each Saturday. So I've worked through many recipes over this time and I will share the one that I adapted from a basic recipe found at Tartelette's website. If you haven't visited her website, I highly recommend you do--she is an expert macaron baker and she gives clear and helpful directions and her macarons are beautifully done.

The one aspect I really enjoyed from this challenge was creating a new flavor that I hadn't tried before and I was excited to use some Oregon Hazelnuts that I just purchased here locally from Hazelnut Hill in Corvallis, Oregon.

I've included my own thoughts and notes from things that I've found to work really well in making French Macarons.

*Jillicious notes in this color.

Pumpkin Spice Hazelnut French Macarons

Adapted from Tartelette's Recipe found here.

For the macaron shells:

90 grams egg whites (aged 2-3 days)
1 tsp. lemon juice
30 grams granulated sugar
200 grams powdered sugar
55 grams almond flour
55 grams hazelnut flour
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
3 to 5 drops of orange food coloring

Prepare the macarons:

1) In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. While the egg whites are still at a soft peak, add the food color. Do not over beat your meringue or it will be too dry.

2) Place the almonds, hazelnuts, powdered sugar, and pumpkin pie spice in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground.

*After grinding the mixture, it should be fine and look like this:

3) Add them to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.

4) Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds (1.5 inches in diameter) onto silicone mats lined baking sheets. *I usually use a smaller tip Ateco #806--just a preference.

*Because the batter will spread slightly, it's best to pipe macarons in alternating rows as pictured:

5) Preheat the oven to 280F. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. *I have a convection oven and I bake mine for 8-9 minutes, then turn the pans and switch racks and continue to bake for another 8-9 minutes.

6) Let cool. If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. (*This is another reason I use Silpats; once the macarons cool, they come off very easily.) Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy.

7) Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store them in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache

4 oz. dark Belgian chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup Nutella

1) Chop chocolate into small pieces and transfer to bowl; set aside.

2) Heat cream over medium-high heat. When it reaches scalding point, remove from heat and pour over chocolate.

3) Stir chocolate and cream until combined. Add vanilla and Nutella and stir until incorporated and smooth. Let ganache cool and is firm enough to pipe on macarons.

4) Pipe ganache on macaron (bottom side facing up) and sandwich carefully with second macaron (top side facing down).

I was very happy with how this version of French Macarons turned out. I really liked the addition of the hazelnut flour to the macaron and the pumpkin pie spice was a nice flavor with it.

The reason I choose to use a dark chocolate and mix it will the Nutella, was because although I like the strong hazelnut flavor of the Nutella, I didn't want it to take over the ganache flavor completely.

In the end, both components complimented each other and I would say that this macaron challenge was a SUCCESS!