The Adventuresome Kitchen is running a monthly Gluten-Free Baking Challenge in 2013. Each month, we will tackle a different pastry or bread. January’s challenge is Le Macaron.
For those of you who have read my Gluten-Free Paris posts, you will know that I am a huge fan of Pierre Hermé. I feel his macarons are by far the best thing going on in Paris. Last year for Christmas, Mr. Kitchen Diva gave me his fabulous Macarons book. The pictures are glorious and enticing, and Monsieur Hermé works to break down the very intimidating macaron process. I found his directions to be clear and concise. In fact, he writes that he had his 10 year old daughter test the basic macaron recipe and make them by following the steps he outlines in the book.
Well crap. If a 10 year old can do this, why can’t I? And for that matter, why am I letting a ‘leetle cookie’ intimidate me? Eesh. So I began by working through Monsieur Hermé’s recipe.
Here’s what I learned during attempt #1:
1) I need a new oven. I won’t be purchasing a new oven anytime soon, so I am going to have to work with what I have. This means cooking only 1 pan of macarons at a time- on the top shelf. You can see from the pictures below, my first pan of macarons turned out beautifully- they had perfect feet, glossy tops, and were cooked to the right consistency.
The macarons on the bottom shelf of the oven did not fare so well. They were lumpy, cracked, and their bottoms scorched. This is indicative of poor airflow, and a different temperature…I don’t quite understand myself how a macaron can be simultaneously overcooked on the bottom and undercooked in the middle… I think it may have something to do with number 2.
2) I have a few cookie sheets that need to go to the great recycle bin in the sky. One in particular is so bad that every macaron scorched on the bottom. The other I think I can work with by placing the parchment paper over a silpat- which I will do in round 2.
3) I really need some piping nozzles. Sadly, I thought I had them, until I frantically went searching for said large piping nozzle after I had already made my fillings. I ended up going the MacGuyver method and made my own piping bag with a ziplock. It was okay. It lacked a bit of control and so my macarons were varied in size.
4) Although my first batch of macarons (on the top shelf of the oven) were cooked beautifully, I suspect that part of my issue was that I didn’t quite beat my meringue high enough, as the other batches were slightly gooey in the middle. This feature was actually a bonus for one of my tasters, but it wasn’t what I was going for.
5) I would like stronger flavor from my fillings. For attempt 1, I made a Pierre Hermé-style chocolate macaron shell and filled some with a pumpkin pastry creme and others with an orange curd. I found myself wanting more intensity to balance the chocolate. Of the two- I liked the pumpkin pastry creme the best
6) Making macarons is always better with company. The youngest Kitchen Diva in Training helped with production this time, took most of the pictures you see on the blog today, and was great in the encouragement department. In fact, at one point when I was grumbling about what I’d do next time, she ran to the ‘fridge and pointed to a magnet we have. “Never, Never, Never Give Up- Mommy” she said in her pipey voice. “Remember, you always tell us that the fastest way to learn is to make lots of mistakes!” Ah yes, out of the mouths of babes. I really do have the most adorable children.
I also discovered some great troubleshooting websites:
My favorite online macaron resource is written by the witty and engaging Stella Parks from BraveTart. Stella was named one of the top 10 Pastry Chefs of 2012 by Food and Wine Magazine. Her posts are informative, funny, and inspiring. She demystifies much of the macaron making process, and reminds us not to get too caught up in seeking perfection. She makes macarons in a totally different way from Pierre Hermé, but I’m guessing they are no less delicious. I’ll be attempting Pierre Hermé one more time next week, and then moving on to one of Stella’s fabulous concoctions.
For next week: I’ll be hitting my local kitchen store to purchase a few more cookie sheets, some piping nozzles, and maybe even some fancy gel food coloring. I’ll be honing in on how to manage my wildly inconsistent oven, and lastly, I’ll be inviting the oldest Kitchen Diva in Training to take the lead in the next round of baking.
JOIN ME: Grab a friend or two and jump in! Feel free to post your comments and email me pictures at adventuresomekitchen(at)gmail(dot)com.
Gluten Free Pumpkin Pastry Creme-makes about 2 cups
1/3 cup sugar,
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
Place egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium bowl and whip at high speed until the mixture is thick and color is pale yellow. Meanwhile, using a stainless steel saucepan, bring eggnog, pumpkin, and cinnamon to a simmer. As soon as the mixture begins to show the tiniest bubbles, slowly pour about 1/3 of the mixture into the eggyolks- whisking constantly! This is called tempering the eggs, and is a crucial step in the custard/creme making process. Otherwise you end up with sweet scrambled eggs!
Next, pour the warmed-up yolk batter into the hot pan with the remaining eggnog. Whisk constantly and remove from the heat when it begins to bubble. Pour into a large stainless steel bowl. I like larger bowls because it helps cool the mixture faster- more room to spread out.
Stir with a lifting motion for a few minutes to release some of the heat. When the mixture has partially cooled, place a film of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry creme, removing any airbubbles, and place in the refrigerator. The mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.