French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 2: More Macarons + Strawberry Buttercream Filling Recipe

 

MacarOncafetrio
What I wish my macs resembled!

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

The macaron baking saga continues as I want to test the King Arthur “super finely ground” almond flour I’d found for a dollar less at Walmart. I also wanted to try a strawberry buttercream filling because I love strawberries and the idea of a buttercream filling seemed decadent to me. I’d written about them in my books but in fact had never made buttercream frosting/filling from scratch. I’ve used containers of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker frosting. Well, they weren’t actually buttercream, they were called frosting, had a long shelf life, were always at room temperature, and were spread with a knife. At least in my experience they were. While all frostings or buttercreams contain high amounts of sugar, the store-bought variety had vegetable shortening instead of butter so they didn’t contain butter or cream.

At first, I thought the super finely ground almond flour only needed to be sifted with the powdered sugar. Wrong! I ended up sifting it twice. I left the two eggs out overnight, thinking I’d separate them before I made the macarons. When separating the whites from the yolks, some of the yolk dropped into the egg white bowl. Macaron baking experts declared that a NO as fat wasn’t good for macs. So I scrounged around online until I found a website where the author claimed an egg could be aged in the microwave for ten seconds.

 

meringue
A glossy meringue

Most eggs contain a high percentage of water in the whites. When aged, extra water evaporates. Separate the white from the yolk and cover with cling wrap with a small slit to allow for evaporation, then place in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours. You can also leave it out overnight or for about 12 hours if the bowl is covered with a paper towel. The eggs must be room temperature if you want them to whip into a fluffy meringue.

 

This was my worst batch yet, due to the egg problem. The egg didn’t age or do anything other than maybe warm up a bit. Unlike the sunny day where I made my first batch, the weather had gone from early morning sunshine to mid-afternoon humidity and rain. It was a challenging four hours due to:

* Waiting 90 minutes for the shells to dry

* Undermixing the batter

* Clumsy piping of the batter

* Forgetting to remove the paper templates from the baking sheet [see 2 photos below]

* NO feet

On the bright side:

* 1 more drop of coloring made the magenta even brighter

* Remembering to make a cuff with the pastry bag

* Lowering the temperature of the oven

* Making the best strawberry buttercream filling I’d ever tasted

* Able to pipe the buttercream filling onto the macarons

macsbeforeoven
Before going into the oven–note paper template

 

macsafteroven
After being removed from the oven — note paper template

Strawberry Buttercream Filling Recipe

macsfilling
Strawberry buttercream filling–a piping bag’s eye view!

¼ cup room temperature Unsalted butter [use a high-quality brand like President or Kerry Gold]

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

4 Tablespoons high quality strawberry jam

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract OR vanilla bean paste

I want to emphasize the importance of using the best and highest quality ingredients in your buttercream filling as you will taste them! If you can use fresh strawberries or strawberry jam/spread that you’ve made, that would be excellent. I used a fruit spread that was sweetened with natural fruit juice and fruit pectin. There are many high quality types available in your grocery store, health food store, farmers market, etc. that DON’T contain high fructose corn syrup.

Here’s a list of preferred ingredients: strawberries, sugar, cane sugar, concentrated lemon juice, and fruit pectin.

INSTRUCTIONS: If using a stand mixer, add the butter to the bowl and mix for about 30 seconds, and then add half the powdered sugar.

If using a hand mixer, make sure you have a LARGE bowl and mix the butter first, then add half the sugar.

When the mixture is smooth, add your wet ingredients: cream, jam and vanilla. Once mixed, it’s time to add the remaining powdered sugar.

The mixture should be smooth and firm but not too firm that it would crush the delicate macaron shells.

If you pipe onto the shells, it’s recommended that you use a large, plain tip, Wilton size 10.

Start by piping in the center and doing a swirl until you reach near the edges but not right at the edges. You don’t want to overfill them and make a mess with leaking buttercream filling. Gently adding the top shell and giving it a twist of about a quarter turn is an easy way to make sure the shells are nicely lined up.

macs1finished
Finished macaron — sans feet!

NEXT WEEK: More adventures in macaron baking! I test my first batch of chocolate macarons with chocolate ganache filling!

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French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 1

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

 

MacarOncafetrio
3 French macarons from MacarOn Cafe–my inspiration!

Making a pound cake from scratch is the most advanced baking I’ve ever done. This dessert contains the most basic ingredients found in your pantry and fridge: eggs, butter, flour, sugar, vanilla extract and baking powder. As long as you have a hand or stand mixer and measure your ingredients correctly, it’s not difficult to mix and bake.

Macarons also require few ingredients: two types of sugar, egg whites, almond flour, and color. That’s it as far as the cookies, a/k/a shells go. The fillings can be diverse: readymade jams or jellies, caramel, Nutella, butterscotch, lemon or lime curd, etc. You can make your own whether it’s buttercream, chocolate ganache, or a jam/fruit spread.

I’d tasted macarons a few times and loved them. They were decadently sweet and rich. From an Etsy store, I ordered an array of pastel colored macarons that were photographed for the cover of my novella, Sweet Dreams.

I needed a picture for the cover of my forthcoming sweet romance/cozy mystery, Macarons of Love, #4 in the Yolanda’s Yummery series. So I bought macarons in various colors and flavors. Average price: $2.25 each. I took 300+ pictures and they were good, not great. I cherished each macaron and decided that having these delicacies handy whenever I wanted them was a very appealing idea. Even if they didn’t turn out looking great, I’d get a better education about the art of baking macarons and would understand my characters even more. I had most of the ingredients and equipment, I reasoned. Well, not almond flour, but sugar was in the cupboard and fresh eggs in the fridge. I’d watched more than a dozen how-to videos on YouTube. I read numerous blogs, many of them showing step-by-step directions. Some bakers claimed they were easy to make; other bloggers despaired of ever being able to create them. One confessed that several batches never even made it to the oven.

I spent $12 for one pound of almond flour! This is one of the reasons why macarons aren’t cheap. I also learned that almond meal, almond powder, and almond flour are the same thing. Only when making macarons, you needed to sift or sieve it. The more you sift, the finer it gets, the better lookin’ those macarons.

Macarons weren’t spooned onto a baking sheet—they were piped on. Piped with one of those piping or pastry bags? I thought that was for decorating cakes or cupcakes. My experience with a piping bag? Zip. I couldn’t just neatly spoon them on? Nope.

Separating eggs and whipping the whites into a meringue didn’t seem too difficult to someone who’s whipped thousands of gallons of shea butter. But there’s a difference between the two ingredients: shea butter can’t be overwhipped, egg whites can. I also had a major oopsie that first day after picking up the egg and instead of separating it the entire egg splatted into the bowl. Great, I’d have to wait another 24 hours so the egg would be aged enough for high quality macarons. At least that’s what many of the bakers suggested.

Since I knew my piping skills were nonexistent, I had some foresight: I made a template the size of the baking sheet and had 1.5” circles neatly spaced on the back of the paper that was adhered to the baking sheets. 

I put the required amount of almond flour [Bob’s Red Mill] through a small sieve. Correction: I attempted to sieve the flour. Thirty minutes later, I’d managed to get about 1/8 of a cup from sieve to mixing bowl. I grumbled about how time consuming it was, recalling people on videos doing it in seconds. I tried smacking the sieve and just spilled more flour. The spatula didn’t work. My fist, wanting to punch it through… nope, that sieve was too small.

I interrupted my macaron making “festivities” and drove to the store to buy a larger sieve. Finally, the almond flour was able to make it through the larger size mesh, as did the powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, I had no difficulty whipping the egg whites, granulated sugar, and adding the magenta gel color.

Folding the flour and sugar meant the dry ingredients had to be sifted again. Good thing I didn’t have to use that mini sieve. The egg whites would’ve deflated or whatever happens to old egg whites. Macaronnage is the term for gently folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites which results in a batter that’s not too stiff and not too runny. There are ways of determining when it’s done such as counting the number of strokes to testing the batter to see how it falls from the spatula—the term molten lava is frequently used. Well, I guessed it was like molten lava because my arm was starting to feel like it with all that mixing, um, folding.

Before I encountered my first run-in with the pastry bag with the plastic nozzle that I’d hopefully inserted correctly, I had to get the pink batter from bowl to bag. Those baking experts showed how easy it was—the same people who could probably pipe blindfolded—insert piping bag in a glass, fold the top over like a cuff, and make sure the nozzle was pointing up rather than down. Also, twist the bottom of the bag a few times so the batter won’t escape. Okay…

Theoretically, easy. I plopped the pastry bag into the glass and added the first scoop of batter with my spatula…but I’d forgotten to make the cuff so the batter got stuck on top and some of it fell on the counter. Way to go, wasting batter and making a mess. Eventually, I got most of it into the bag and the batter started escaping from the bottom, too. I’d be lucky if I managed to make one macaron shell!

mymacs1
My 1st batch of piped macarons

I won’t describe the horror of piping except that part of my face was pink from batter oozing out the top as I tensely gripped it. Some dropped onto my hand. Good thing it wasn’t red! Each of the discs was a different size with only a few of them being round. Getting the batter onto the parchment paper was a messy feat but in the end I managed to get 24 various sized discs onto each tray.

I baked each tray separately and used the bottom oven rack after reading and watching the tales of staying away from the middle rack.

mymacs2
Just out of the oven

The result can be seen to your left.

Itsy bitsy feet on some, a single mega cracked shell, but the taste of the shell was sweet. I added jam rather than attempt to do a buttercream filling which would need to be piped—I really didn’t fancy that word!

Next week: More French Macaron Baking Adventures with King Arthur flour and my first buttercream filling plus a recipe!

mymacs3
Finished macarons with strawberry jam filling

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Lemon Coconut Oats Energy Bar Recipe

By Lisa Maliga

Copyright 2014-2017

 lemon coconut oats energy bar kamut khorosan

Lemon Coconut Oats Energy Bar 

It all began when I was working on the second book of the Yolanda’s Yummery series, Magical Cakes of Love. Initially, I’d planned to give out some recipes for cakes in the form of either personal sized magical cakes of love, cupcakes or at least a cookie recipe. But it was the middle of summer and I just didn’t feel like baking. I was also immersed in writing and creating original recipes for another soap crafting book and needed to concentrate on that. So I was still in the kitchen, just in front of the stove—not the oven.

Around July 4, I took an afternoon off from soaping to try making a batch of energy bars. My main character introduces some healthy energy bars to her yummery, so I found a recipe online. It was an odd recipe because it contained butter but not real eggs – it called for either a flax or chia egg. Well, I used a regular egg. Unfortunately, that recipe didn’t turn out anything like the original as I was able to pour it rather than use a spatula or my hands to pat the mixture into the pan like the recipe described.

So the squirrels benefited from the leftovers of that mess.

In September, I had a little time to bake and thought I’d try a variation of the energy bar recipe that uses Kamut Khorosan flour, a special non-GMO wheat product that is higher in protein and minerals than ordinary whole wheat flour. It’s a lovely pale yellow color, is stone ground, and has a more buttery flavor than most other flours. According to Bob’s Red Mill, which is the brand I used: “Bob’s Red Mill Organic Kamut® Flour is made from Kamut® Khorasan Wheat, an ancient relative of modern day wheat that has a buttery flavor. On average this flour has 40% more protein than does regular wheat flour, and most people find it more satisfying and filling in baked goods than those made with wheat because of its higher lipid to carbohydrate ratio. It’s healthier in many other ways, and its taste is sweeter.”  Being able to concentrate fully on the recipe, I made this version easily enough. 

kamut khorosan flour
Kamut Khorosan Flour

Lemon Coconut Oats Energy Bar Recipe

Oat Base:

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole-grain Kamut Khorosan flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons almond milk

Fruit Filling:

1 cup lemon curd

Topping:

4 Tablespoons shredded coconut [unsweetened]

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a square pan (8×8) with parchment paper and oil sides and base with butter.

In a large bowl, mix the oat base dry ingredients: oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt.

In a small bowl, mix the melted butter, maple syrup, almond milk, and egg. Stir well.

Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well.

Set aside about a cup of the oat base for the topping.

Scoop the oat mixture onto the pan and press down with a spatula [I prefer the silicone kind] or use your hands. Pour on lemon curd and smooth out. Now sprinkle on the reserved 1 cup oat mixture. Top with coconut.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing into squares or bars and removing from pan. Store in a container in the fridge to keep firm.

I used the entire 10 ounce jar of Dickenson’s lemon curd because the flavor is such a wonderful blend of tart and sweet and it goes so well with coconut. This brand can often be found in most supermarkets and discount stores. Of course, there are other brands and you can also make it yourself if so inclined.

Butter melting methods:
Cut the butter into little chunks rather than melt a whole stick.  I recommend melting the butter in a double boiler or in a heavy pan on the stove top using a LOW setting. With the pan method, you don’t get a messy microwave and you can even walk away from it as it’s melting while you’re mixing your dry ingredients.

I baked this recipe for exactly 30 minutes because I prefer a softer, chewier type of bar. However, it could’ve been baked another 2 or 3 minutes without compromising the texture.

Filling tips:
Consider using about 8 ounces of the lemon curd unless you want a lot of oozing filling! 

kamut oats batter

The Kamut Khorosan and oats batter after being scooped into the pan

kamut and coconut energy  bar before baking

After adding the lemon curd and shredded coconut topping

kamut lemon coconut bar out of oven

Right out of the oven. Bottom right shows a small missing area because I had to sample it right away!