French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 9: Chocolate Mint Macarons

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

Before the release of my new eBook, I mentioned I’d be writing about a spring surprise. I was definitely surprised! I envisioned a beautiful spring green color macaron shell and a rich minty chocolate ganache filling. Well, I ended up learning more about gel colors, natural colors and essential oils.

At first, all was great with the meringue. It had the standard stiff peaks and to get that lovely minty color, I added 7 drops of gel food coloring. And that was followed with one drop of pure peppermint essential oil. So it looked and smelled like chocolate mint chip ice cream.

chocolatemint1drying
Nice mint green color

Everything mixed up well; the piping was adequate, the shells dried within 30 minutes. Midway through the first batch, I switched on the oven light and saw nice little feet forming. I set about making the ganache and when it was time to remove the macarons I saw that all the shells had a golden brown crust! My goal was green not brown. After removing them, I lowered the oven rack [it was one below the center] and lowered the temperature from 320 to 300. But as seen below, it didn’t help…

chocolatemint1brown
Too much gel colorant & wrong oven temperature 

I baked the other two trays at varying temperatures and oven rack positions. All of them were well done, even though twenty minutes was the longest time spent in the oven. Most were so hollow either the tops came off or you could easily see through the feet from one side to the other.

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The overbaked shell cracked in half!

The chocolate ganache tasted good but not great as I didn’t add enough heavy cream and discovered that the teaspoon of virgin coconut oil clogged the metal piping tip. I reversed the piping bag and adding the ganache that way! What a mess I was making. I also lost several of the shells due to the tops being so crisp they just flipped off. Maybe I could’ve added filling to the other layers, but I just decided to send them to the compost heap outside.

Later, I learned the reason my shells browned – too much gel food colorant and the oven temperature was too high. Okay, next batch I was changing the color to something all natural: matcha green tea.

chocolatemint1macs
Hollow macarons with brownish shells — but they tasted good!

Batch #13 was either going to be lucky or unlucky. Turned out it was a bit of both. My eggs sat on the counter overnight and I noticed they’d aged so well they whipped up to fill the 2-quart bowl up more than halfway. That was a first!

However, I’m going to pass along this tip: don’t mix the powdered sugar and almond flour together a week before you make macarons. I thought it’d save time but in reality I had to resift the remaining half because it got a little clumpy. That wasn’t much of a problem nor was having to move the batter into the five quart bowl because there wasn’t enough room.

Even though I only added 1.5 teaspoons of matcha green tea powder [which I sifted before adding to the sugar/almond flour combo] I found it more difficult to mix. However, it definitely turned the batter green and the resulting macarons look natural, tho’ not lime green or mint green. This was also the first time I used extra fine granulated sugar.

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Matcha green tea added to almond flour/powdered sugar mix

I added peppermint essential oil to the batter just before mixing it rather than to the meringue. There wasn’t a hint of the matcha green tea aroma.

chocolatemint2cracks
Cracked and deflated macaron shells

The first batch ended up cracking and went into the compost pile. The other two batches came out okay—there were feet, they puffed up but deflated a bit—and they were as hollow as heck but they resembled macaron shells. They’re on the rustic side. The chocolate ganache was made with dark chocolate with mint extract and I added a few drops of pure peppermint essential oil. This time the heavy cream was the right amount and I only added a teaspoon of real butter and no virgin coconut oil.

chocolatemint2shells
Second batch of macaron shells

While the resulting macarons don’t look like they’re from Lauduree, they tasted good and I ended up with 20 of them.

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Natural green color

Next week I’m going to make a fruity combination to celebrate spring. Wish me luck!

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French Macaron Baking Adventures, Part 3: Chocolate Ganache Macarons with Feet!

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2016

chocolatemacLauderee
My goal: to imitate the beloved Laduree Chocolate Macaron!

I’ve tasted chocolate macarons from Trader Joe’s and Laduree. To your left is a photo of what a true chocolate macaron looks like.

For my chocolate macarons, I used a different ratio of ingredients, different filling and different oven temperature from my other three batches. What could go wrong? Or right?

I used a good brand of cocoa powder: Divine. Yes, it smells and tastes as good as its name so I thought that was perfect for my favorite flavor.

Major differences included changing the oven temperature, using the center rack, and adding salt to the egg whites. That last step resulted in a longer time to get the first signs of froth and the finished meringue texture.

chocolatemacsdry
Already dry batter

This batter was unlike the others as it was much thicker. I probably used too much cocoa powder. It had only been sifted once, when added with the sugar and almond flour. Whatever it was, this batch was very difficult to mix and I got so tired I just stopped. As soon as it was awkwardly piped onto the parchment paper, it was already dry. With my other three batches, when first touched, some of the batter stuck to my finger. With this batch, I was able to touch the batter and feel a thin film had already formed! That was a first. It was the complete opposite of the previous week’s 90-minute wait for the shells to get that film. Still, I had to wait for at least 30 minutes while I preheated the oven and made my chocolate ganache filling.

That’s when the fun began. I used the standard unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate. Instead of opting for the double boiler, I used a microwave to melt the heavy cream, then pour it onto the shredded chocolate, melting it that way. The recipe also called for butter and vanilla extract. It mixed up well with a whisk. I added it to the piping bag and let it rest [sideways] on the counter to cool off.

chocolatemacsoven
FEET!

Meanwhile, I’d discovered something amazing going on with the macarons – at the seven-minute mark I switched on the oven light and looked through the window – feet! The macs were all forming feet. “I’ve got feet!” I shouted. “Feetsies! I’ve got feet! Feet don’t fail me now!”

And they didn’t! I was able to turn the tray and see the feet up close. I impatiently waited for them to finish. When they were placed on a cooling tray, I admired the little frills that surrounded each round and semi-round shell. Later, I’d easily slide them off and note very little residue on the parchment paper. There were no hollows; each shell was solid on the bottom.

But the tops looked a little rustic. No shiny and smooth finish. Oh well, can’t have everything.

Time to pipe the ganache. Nothing happened. Some butter had separated and solidified at the edge of the nozzle. The ganache was stuck inside. Squeezing from the top, even shaking it, that dark brown filling wasn’t budging.

Time to make another batch of ganache. I followed the same directions, using Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels. They melted even faster and the resulting ganache was like thin syrup. I put it in the fridge. Two hours later, it was still the same texture, only colder. I melted a small amount of morsels in the microwave and then had something that could go into a piping bag and become the filling for the nicely chocolatey brown shells.

The macarons looked and tasted like brownies with commercial chocolate rather than a French delicacy I’d hoped to make. 24 hours later, the macs tasted no different, definitely like  brownies with semi-sweet chocolate fudge filling.

But at least they had feet! 

chocolatemacsdone
Rustic and bumpy looking macarons. Also seen: the 3rd batch of strawberry buttercream macs sans feet.

NEXT WEEK: More adventures as I bake Pink Lemonade Macarons.

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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

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Before going into the oven–note paper template

 

macsafteroven
After being removed from the oven — note paper template

Strawberry Buttercream Filling Recipe

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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!

Want to read more about baking macarons? Check out my book BAKING FRENCH MACARONS: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE.

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Are Laduree Macarons Really That Good?

By Lisa Maliga, copyright 2015

I’d never tried a macaron until three years ago, just after I wrote the first draft of my novella, Sweet Dreams. As the cliché goes, it was love at first bite. As I’m working on part 4 of the Yolanda’s Yummery Series, Macarons of Love, I needed to reacquaint myself with the sweet delicacies. I looked forward to tasting the fragile, crispy and chewy cookies.

When one of my friends said he was going to Miami, I sent him some money along with the address of the Laduree shop in Miami Beach. I’d read about it online, learning it was only the third location in America to boast such a prestigious shop. New York City is blessed with two of these stores, but 1000 miles away, a tiny Laduree shop also sells these delectable sweets. I studied the menu and decided to get the 8-pack, enabling me to try a variety of the imported French cookies.

laduree seafoam green gift bag

From the seafoam green bag to the adorable cat and butterfly box, the presentation was perfect. 

laduree macarons cat box

Here are my opinions on the flavors I tasted.

Lemon [Citron]. Of course, the bright yellow is the visual clue that this is a lemon macaron. It had that sweet and tangy lemony aroma and taste. A must-have if you love anything citrusy, especially anything as bright as Laduree’s lemon. 

I have tried Vanilla [Vanille] macarons in the past when I bought a box of Trader Joe’s brand Trader Jacque’s a la Parissiene. This box contains 6 chocolate and 6 vanilla. Naturally, I liked them. I especially liked the fact that they cost about five bucks for a dozen – a lot less than Laduree. However, I prefer the richness of the vanilla bean-laden macaron from Laduree. It seemed fuller and richer in flavor.

Orange Blossom [Fleur d’Oranger] is succulent orange with a hint of floral. Not a brightly colored orange, it resembled the vanilla macaron. Very lovely and I could eat eight of them — just not at one time!

Salted Caramel [Caramel a la Fleur de Sel]. Smuckers makes a caramel topping that’s supposed to go on ice cream. Sometimes it goes onto a spoon and right into my mouth–bypassing the ice cream. This macaron had that sweetly scrumptious filling [third from bottom on the left in the photo]. It was hard not to consume it in just one big bite.

The Lemon Verbena [Verveine Citron] was exquisite. The green undertone separated it from its sister lemon macaron. Highly recommended.

laduree box 8 macarons

Rose Petal [Petale de Rose]. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would taste sugary and rosy and I was right. It was like eating something perfumed rather than flavored. There weren’t any rose petal bits on top. I’ve bathed in a rose Lush Tisty Tosty bath bomb and this was like eating it, minus the fizz. Honestly, I prefer to wear the scent of the rose petal; not consume it.

Raspberry [Framboise] a bit of the filling had seeped from between the shells. When I bit into it, the entire shell spread open and cracked into different sized pieces. Perhaps some moisture had gotten in the shells? Also, the jam innards were much heavier than the shell. The taste was a 10 out of 10.

Chocolate [Chocolat]. This macaron is dark chocolate with a lovely ganache filling. This lightweight macaron is fluffy but not overly so, filled with a generous amount of the finest ganache. It’s not a milk chocolate but a semi sweet chocolate. I’d peg it at the classic 70% cacao content. It’s like a truffle inside of a macaron. Is it worth $2.80 for a few bites? YES!

laduree macarons stacks

I can describe the macarons as succulent, delectable, luxurious, decadent and use even more exclamatory adjectives, but I won’t, because I think you get that I love macarons and enjoy sharing my feelings about them. If you’re a fan of sweets, I suggest that you try them. I’d recommend eating them at room temperature. They’ll last about 3 days unrefrigerated. Refrigeration can mask the taste. However, I’ve never had macarons around long enough to chill in the fridge!