Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY! Les Petits Macaron: Trials In the Kitchen

Last month I spent a bit of time thinking about what my next giveaway would be. Naturally, another book was a given, but which one to choose? Recently I have been churning through books at lightning speed and allowing myself a weekly stock up at Kitchen Arts & Letters. Finally I thought since you know how much I love macarons and because I would be going to the Les Petits Macarons book party this month-- a signed copy of the beautifully designed and comprehensive book would be parfait! So here we are. 

My initial plan was to quickly turn out some amazing, homemade macarons and show them off to all of you in the same week that I bought the book. As plans of macaron-makers worldwide tends to go, that's not what worked out. Making macarons is a bit of a challenge because there are so many factors at play each time you make them, especially if you don't follow the directions of your recipe (like not bothering to age your egg whites or let them sit out at room temperature for 2 hours before whipping). The most successful macaron baking sessions come when you really know your cooking tools, especially your oven. This past week I have learned that my oven heats unevenly as well as inconsistently. Not impossible to work with for macarons, but definitely more difficult. I have also found some joys this week, like how decadent and sexy (yes, sexy!) French-style buttercream is. The keys to baking macarons at home are knowing your oven, following the recipe, exercising patience and remembering no matter how ugly your macs turn out, they are still probably going to be delicious! Now I shall tell you The Story of Les Trois Macarons with the giveaway details at the end:
The first macaron was purple and mounded and lopsided, too. I collected the necessary ingredients for my first try (from this book) a few days before the book party: almond flour, confectioner's sugar, grocery store eggs (which I hadn't bought in what feels like a year- farmer's market eggs for me lately) that I separated and aged in the fridge for 4 days. I even made sure to take the egg whites out of the refrigerator before I left for work so I could jump right into baking macarons right when I got home. Turns out maybe they were sat out too long, and I definitely beat the whites too much. This first batch resulted in a wrong but tasty, very "rustic" looking macaron:
As I always do when I'm not happy with my shells, I filled these ugly lumpy macarons with things I had on hand: Nutella and Trader Joe's Fig Butter. While these were plenty delicious and I wasn't so ashamed as to toss them all out, I knew I would need to give it another go before I could write you a post telling you to try them, too. 

The second macarons were made in the French style (as were the first), the color of peach-chiffon and close to the real thing but with many little "baseball caps." In an attempt to make festive orange colored shells I added drops of red gel and yellow, too, but apparently not enough. I didn't age my egg whites, but I did let them get to room temperature.  I made sure not to overwhip to ensure a more free-flowing batter (when I piped the purple try they were so tough it was like piping Playdoh). I made sure not to over macaronner either and found myself with a gently flowing, peachy keen batter. 
Next I piped and rapped the pan against the table and got them ready for the oven. I was pretty excited about the first batch and found myself smiling and texting silly things like "Tonight's the night!" to my friends who know of my macaron tribulations. The first shells were a mix of a little greasy but perfectly shaped shells and some of those "baseball caps" which are a sign that my oven heats unevenly (and maybe that I should have two half sheet pans that fit snugly inside one another). 
The Beautiful and the Brimmed
I was excited enough about these shells I decided to try my hand at a filling, which brings us to the sexiness of French buttercream. In the past I've had conversations about buttercreams with Marlie of Marliese's Sweet Treats, primarily in regards to what bakery uses which type of buttercream in New York. We talked about French buttercream but I had never had it, let alone made it. The shells (both the purple and peach) were made using vanilla bean, so I thought a complete vanilla macaron would be nice. Many of the buttercreams in Les Petits Macarons are French/meringue buttercreams, meaning they are made using egg whites and hot sugar syrup. From the instant the buttercream came together as a fluffy, cloud-like substance it was love at first sight. American buttercream is dense, delicious, but heavy from the sugar being crammed into the butter until consistent. French buttercream incorporates liquid sugar with voluminous egg whites into smooth butter to create this silken, luscious bowl of heaven. I love it. The stark white with black vanilla flecks looked lovely inside the peach shells:
Batch #2 produced enough nice looking macarons to take home without shame for Thankgiving, but I was still hoping to finally get them good enough to be proud of and feel like I can whip them up on a whim (yes I'll need to start keeping aged egg whites in the fridge and figure out what to do with all those poor yolks). With a free Sunday this past weekend I decided to see if the third time could be the charm. 

In the many months of research since I got my food processor for Christmas last year (again- thanks, Mom!) I'd heard it said a few times that Italian-style macarons are the least fussy to make since the egg whites get cooked slightly in the batter-making process, creating a more stable shell. Try #3 ended up cinnamon scented, red-hot colored and a bit crackly but no baseball caps in sight. Not bad at all. 

I was having some trouble incorporating color into my macaronnage stage in try #1 and #2 so being able to mix the color into the melted sugar eliminated that issue. I was shooting for orange but ended up with a very cinnamon bubble gum red, which I quite like. I had some aged egg whites leftover from try #2 so I set them out and measured the additional amount I needed to get 115 grams. I did proper mise-en-place this go round, prepping the whites, sifting the almond flour, 10x sugar, salt and cinnamon hours before I would put the batter together and even measuring the sugar in the saucepan I would use and the water to go in the sugar pot at the right time. This made for easy assembly and a more relaxing overall time of it. 
Since I had made the French buttercream last week, which uses the same method of incorporating melted sugar with egg whites as the Italian macarons, I felt confident in my ability to heat the sugar without a candy thermometer (though I ordered one the same day from Amazon) and mix it into the whites without fear. All of this went quite swimmingly. The note about mixing the whipped whites into the dry mixture "as if you were making pasta dough" is a good one if you are familiar with making pasta, which, thanks to Ruhlman's Ratio I am. The batter comes together quickly and is nice and loose like I had been used to when I've tried making macarons in the past from other recipes.
The first batched piped out too quickly from the bag, but the rest firmed up a little bit and made for nice, but not perfectly round, shells. In all I was very happy with these macarons and will proudly put them out for dessert after the Thanksgiving feast this week! I used up the leftover vanilla buttercream to fill these, which is great because I must freeze them for their train ride north to Albany for the holiday. I cannot wait to share these with my family! And make them again! 

Now it is time for the giveaway portion of this post! 

To win a copy of Les Petits Macarons signed by both its authors Kathryn Gordon and Anne E McBride leave a comment (or email me,  if the comment form doesn't work for you: theculinarylibrarian[at]gmail[dot]com) telling me:
  1. About something that you have tried to perfect over and over again in the kitchen- and hopefully about the time you got it right! --OR--
  2. Why you want to try making macarons at home!
The contest will close Sunday December 4th at 11:59pm EST. The winner must provide an address within the US where the book will be mailed. I am happy to send the book as a wrapped gift to someone of the winner's choosing. 

For 3 additional entries do any or all of the following and you must leave an additional comment (or list them in an email) for each telling me that you did:
  1. Follow me on Twitter (@culinarylibrari) and tweet this to your followers: "Enter to win a signed copy of #LesPetitsMacarons on @culinarylibrari's blog! #Macarons http://www.culinary-librarian.com/2011/11/giveaway-les-petits-macaron-trials-in.html"
  2. "Like" my Facebook page then post the giveaway link on your own Facebook profile/page being sure to tag my page The Culinary Librarian and the Les Petits Macarons page. 
  3. Share the giveaway on Google+ tagging my page, Culinary Librarian.
I will randomly select a winner and will post a separate entry announcing the winner the week of December 5th. 

Bonne Chance! et Bonne Courage in macaron making!
[The contest is now closed]


sydney85 said...

I would love to learn how to make macarons. These are my absolute favorite treat. I love the range of flavors that you choose. I have tried making these once and they were way too soggy.

Kate Sonders Food Writer said...

Very nice, Mary! And good job persevering. A lot of people complain about the texture and form of their macarons but it looks like you arrived at a nice consistency. I could use a lesson!

Alejandra said...

They came out perfectly!!! Congratulations. That book looks gorgeous, too. I admit I never have enough patience to make macarons, but it's definitely a goal!

The Digital Latina said...

Caramel was a toughie for me but i accomplished.it.with the help of daisy martinez and her savvy trick!

Virginia said...

Lord I hope this comment doesn't disqualify me!!! I don't think I'd EVER try them at home because my dear friend in Moble AL makes them to perfection and has told me how exact and time consuming it is. I'd love to win the book for her. I have already given her a book and a macaron tree ornament so I really really need to win this new book just for her!

RachelH said...

The one thing that I had tried making over and over again, and each time failing terribly is (don't laugh now)...Chocolate Pastry Cream. My climate is just not right for pastry cream! I would love to make macaroons at home because they're just so pretty to look at!

Elizabeth S. said...

I'm not sure why, but I've always dreaded making a batch of cooked merengue.Maybe the thought of wasting product, searching for the hard clumps of sugar syrup and cleaning up in order to start over from a failed batch has made me avoid making cooked merengue when a recipe calls for it?! lol However, it is one of those basic recipes I really should try to perfect!

Jen said...

Great job! I love eating macarons but not confident enough to bake them yet.

Paula said...

I like macarons and want to perfect them primarily because of the rainbow of colors they come in. In fact, I wouldn't mind decorating my whole house with them. Wouldn't they be lovely on kitchen cabinets and chests of drawers!

Sushichthus said...

Definitely macarons. They used to come out either foot-less or big-footed, crack-shelled, and bubbly; or they would appear to look perfect on the outside, but turn out chewy as an old taffy. During my third try, I watched them through the oven door--and was absolutely ecstatic when they started to develop their feet, slowly lifting their shells! Since then, I've made green tea, pistachio, sesame, and Kool-Aid(yes, Kool-Aid). I can't wait to try making other flavors! Love your blog!

joan said...

I want to learn how to make macarons because I like how you can change the colors. I'm starting to plan for my daughter's 3rd bday party in February. I would love to add macarons to the dessert table. She loves all things pink, orange, and yellow.


dena said...

I never really understood the hoopla over macarons until I had one at high-tea at a Beverly Hills hotel. Now I "get it!"

smw11 said...

Egg whites are not my cup of tea, I'm more of a pot d'creme kind of guy. Your experiment in maracrons was eye opening and proves they are in fact feasible for the everyday kitchenista. If I gather the courage I'll try making a batch or two today to bring to my after Thanksgiving, aka Friendsgiving, party on Friday!

kim said...

I kept trying to make the 'pefect' banana bread, but I realized it's all a matter of preference.

Alicia R. Ambler said...

I would love to learn how to make them correctly! I've tried and failed, so this would be great!

Tina Haas said...

Would love to bring a Macarons to Albany !!! Pretty and delicious...what more could anyone ask for ??

Alyssa said...

Mary! So glad to find your blog!

I have tried to perfect gluten free sponge cake over and over (my grandma is gluten free) and with my recent kitchenaid and food processer gift (yay, showers!) I think I may just be able to do it!

As for why I'd love to make macarons, why WOULDN'T I?! Je manque la Paris, et j'adore manger les macarons. Pourquoi pas les cuire? Je veux essayer faire les macarons pistaches avec des framboises et du chocolat blanc!

joan said...

I shared via Facebook, twitter, and Google +. Thanks for the extra chances!

Ann said...

I would love to learn to make macarons at home mostly because YOU are so in love with them! Your posts about macaron cookbooks, your own adventures making them, and your accounts of tasting tours have piqued my interest! I'm also intrigued with the macaron's versatility. It's rare to see a specific dessert that can be made in pretty much every color and flavor - - savory and sweet. I think it's time for me to jump on the macaron train.

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