This week I realized one thing about myself which I had not previously known. I’ve never been competitive when it comes to games and sports, and therefore I was never all that good at them. I didn’t care to win so I didn’t excel. I didn’t see winning a silly game as enough of a motivation. On my part, there was no pushing to succeed. Winning a game does not motivate me, but winning at life, apparently does.
Where my career is concerned, I am finding that I am highly competitive, especially against myself. It makes sense. I’ve always pushed myself academically because I knew knowledge would better me no matter what. When I took Tae Kwon Do, I focused because I wanted to build character. It wasn’t a game. To me, pastry isn’t a game, it is a serious element of “me” and I challenge myself to improve that part of me. Some recipes nearly get the best of me, but it’s almost as if I have to “beat” those recipes, like a difficult level of Mario or the computerized chess opponent that always wins. You have to beat it!
Today I beat French Macarons. That is not a typo. Macaroons and Macarons are very different confections. Macaroons are a meringue cookie that often has coconut or nuts mixed in. Macarons are the devil. They are made mostly of egg whites, almond flour and sugar and can be flavored in countless ways. Two cookies are pressed together with a buttercream or ganache filling to make the sweetest little cookie you ever saw, especially when colored in so many shades and stacked high in a Parisian window. They’re not just pretty faces, either! They actually are bone-meltingly delicious.
Today marked my fifth attempt to make these little beauties. Why all the fuss, you ask? I have to get this right. This is actually a marketable skill, considering some of the bakeries around here just buy them from someone else, rather than being bothered themselves. Or maybe they just don’t like making them? I can’t imagine why…Anyways. This is so totally going on my resume. Now that I know the secrets…
But before I reveal the secrets, first let me rant! Making macarons wouldn’t be so difficult if recipe writing was approached the same way science labs are approached! When you write down a scientific procedure, you have to be so exact that anyone (with a certain amount of scientific skill) could recreate exactly what you did exactly every time. Recipes are a vague smattering of instructions hastily scribbled on the back of a napkin, comparatively. It’s just not right. Anywho, here you go.
Vanilla Bean Macarons with Vanilla Bean Buttercream (Or Lime Curd. Or Nutella. Or whatever you want!)
300g Almond Flour
300g Confectioners’ Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean (I used a Mexican Bean)
200g Egg White, Divided
300g Granulated Sugar
1/3 c + 1 Tablespoon Water (I have no idea why they didn’t just weigh the water. Oi.)
1. Sift together the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to batter. Mix 100g egg whites into the flour and sugar to make a paste. Set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, measure the other 100g egg whites and have ready to whip at a moment’s notice.
3. In a small pot, combine the sugar and water. Cook to 246 degrees Fahrenheit, brushing the sides with water to prevent crystallization. When it reaches 246 F, begin whipping the egg whites. Whip them for no more than 25 seconds! Literally count the seconds!
4. Continue whipping as you slowly add the sugar syrup. Try to pour it directly into the whites or it will harden when it hits the cold metal of your bowl or beater and that is no good, but doesn’t necessarily indicate failure either. Whip on medium high until bowl is cool to touch and meringue is glossy, firm and forms a medium peak.
5. Fold meringue into almond flour paste in thirds. The resulting batter should be homogenous, soft and a bit flowy, but not too much. Don’t overmix it. Somewhere around 15 strokes should do it for the last third. Less or more.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare your sheet pans with parchment paper and spray with PAM. Pipe the batter in 2-inch rounds. Set aside for 30 mins or less until the tops lose their gloss and are dry.
7. Bake 10-15 minutes. Check it at 10, if not before. They are done when the tops are dry and crusty and the cookies should have “feet”. Cool before removing from sheets. Pipe in your filling and sandwich. Enjoy!
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
In light of the fact that I just ranted about this, I have to apologize. The following recipe is not the most precise because I was just throwing things in a bowl. These are approximations.
3/4 c softened butter
2 c confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
seeds from half a vanilla bean
4-6 T heavy cream
pinch of salt
Combine the softened butter with the sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Lastly, whip in as much heavy cream as suites you to smooth out the texture and lighten the sweetness. Add that pinch of salt to wake up the flavor.
Here’s another picture! I am thrilled about these macarons!