I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


recipe from my class
This isn't a food blog, at least not officially. It started as a 'hi, I'm here' blog, an outlet for my desire to write stuff about stuff. Music, making a CD, living on the farm, running and how I hate it, deep(ish) thoughts. Then the food started. It has sort of taken over, but it and farming are the things I enjoy writing about just now.

Last weekend, thanks to a gift certificate from my parents, I got to go to a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Just walking through those doors feels good. I took a short course demo on macarons, and have tried them once at home. While I'd love to say I mastered the technique in one go and made amazing, lovely macarons, this would be a lie. But hey, they tasted good! It was one of my most ambitious baking projects, at least as far as technique went. There seem to be so many places where things could go wrong with this. But, here's take one.

First lesson: this. 

I started by preparing things: almond flour, icing sugar, egg whites, and granulated sugar. While measuring things out on my new digital kitchen scale, my first thought was "kitchen scale, where have you been all my life, and why was I so foolish not to get you earlier?" It's wonderfully foolproof for measuring. But I digress.

dear mixer, I love you.
Almond flour and icing sugar went in the food processor for three minutes to make the powdery stuff even MORE powdery. Then sifted to remove any bits that continued to dare to be non-powdery. This sat in a little mound on parchment paper while I whipped the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar. The sugar was gradually added and the mixture beaten to stiff peaks. Easy enough, I've made meringue loads of times. The flour mixture was then folded in carefully, preserving the air in the egg whites. Again, I've done this, while making angel food or chiffon cakes.

ready to pipe!
Once that was done, the mixture had to be carefully deflated. Which, in class was where I looked up quizzically from my notes to ensure the chef had said what I thought I'd heard. The big no-no in meringue is a required step here. And the technique specific enough to the cookies, he told us, that to do this is to macaroniser, a verb I have likely conjugated entirely incorrectly.  This was tricky, because whether you've done it enough is determined by carefully watching the mixture until it has a sheen and forms a ribbon, falling off the spoon and not holding peaks properly. It had me wondering if it was runny enough but not too runny, trying to remember what I'd seen in class. It was also tricky because I wanted to eat it. But I dutifully mushed the air out of the mix and tested it until it seemed about right. Under- or over-deflating would make substandard cookie texture.

drying cookies
Colour was added (macrons are delightfully pretty cookies, as any tray of then illustrates well) and the... hmm. Batter? Dough? I really am not sure of the best term here. It was more runny like a batter. Either way, it was carefully piped onto parchment paper to sit and rest. I was happy to see the rounds end up like they were supposed to, though my piping technique leaves a bit to be desired (read: I suck).

The macarons then have a nap. They sit on their cooking sheets, waiting to dry. Which, chef told us, could take anywhere from half an hour on a dry day to a couple of hours on a humid summer day - which is the reason you never make these on a hot summer day. 20-40 minutes was ideal. After they were dry enough, into the oven they went, 250F for about 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

I startled R a bit and made her look at me askance when I pulled them out and gleefully said "they have feet!". Macarons should have a sort of ruffle at the bottom, called a foot, a crispy shell, and no large air pockets; the list of attributes of properly-made macarons reads like something out the of AKA breed standard book. Mine seemed to have feet and the crispy shell.  Some of them collapsed a bit, though, and most had too much air in them, a sign I hadn't beaten/deflated them correctly. Removing them from the parchment paper was a bit of an adventure, as they tended to stick a bit. Some time in the freezer (a trick from the class that I remembered) did help that, though.

The filling was an Italian meringue buttercream. Yes, there are different types of meringue. I really had no idea. French meringue is egg whites beaten plus sugar, then more beating. Italian is egg whites beaten plus a hot syrup, then beaten until it's cooled. 

Softened butter added to the egg white/syrup mixture made for a buttercream that was better than any buttercream I have ever made. Light and sweetly flavoured, it looked great until the whole thing started looking like cottage cheese. 

I broke it. Breaking, in cooking, is when something leads to an emulsion separating. It's a bit of science reduced to a simple word. It can happen in sauces as well and usually leads to me yelling "aaah!" followed by some sort of rescue attempt, some more successful than others. The yelling may not be proper cooking technique, but I use it anyway. After a few google searches, I was able to rescue it and get it to a nice piping consistency to fill my cookies.

Result and reviews: Cookies need work on the consistency and texture front, but tasted amazing. They are delicate little bites, almondy and sweet but light and airy.Wow, wow, wow. I can see why they're so popular. The main reviewer comment was a request for more. Some technique to refine, but I'm happy with this start.

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