They are macaroons. No kidding. Look closely. If you try to ignore the obvious pockmarks and the fact that they are as flat-assed as these – they are indeed the lovely French confections.
Okay, before you all think I am delusional, I admit that this was an attempt at making macaroons. This wasn’t even supposed to be blogged about. But the vanilla buttercream turned out so well and the macaroons themselves tasted so delicious – nicely crisped, slightly chewy with the essence of hazelnuts packing such a sublime punch – it would be a crime to consider this a total failure. Right?
I was not this positive as I took out the second tray of burnt macaroons last Saturday. The “Hungry” hubby was just coming back from an errand when he noticed the dark cloud of gloom in the kitchen.
“Smells good, hon,” he said. “How did it go?”
“Not good.” I replied, frustration creeping into my voice. “These look horrible. No pictures today.”
HH did not believe me so he took a bite out of one cookie. “These are fantastic,” he enthused. “How can you say they are a failure; Where are the rest?”
I looked at the trash bin. HH looked aghast and made a move to rescue them.
“Leave them there!” I said sharply. “I do not want to see them!”
“Okay, okay!” HH backed off. Talk about kitchen rage – besides I was the one with the spatula.
HH went on to say that as a test kitchen, I cannot always expect positive results. But I was hopeful all of last week which made this setback all the more frustrating. Having never made macaroons or buttercream before and hearing about how finicky they were to make, specially the macaroons, I thought I’d give it an earnest shot. The instructions looked pretty straightforward. In fact I was not worried about the meringue at all but the filling. The thought of whisking in hot sugar had me quivering in my shoes. But the fates must be laughing at me now because the vanilla buttercream was wonderful and – well the macaroons – judge for yourself.
Hazelnut Macaroon and Vanilla ButterCream
About 2 cups (10 ounces) filberts (skinned hazelnuts)
1 (16-oz ) box confectionary sugar
½ tsp salt
8 egg whites (1 cup) at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
3 egg yolks
½ cup plus 2 tbs sugar
16 tbs (8 oz) butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean
Grind and sift the dry ingredients.
Combine the hazelnuts and 1 cup of the confectionary sugar in a nut grinder or food processor and grind to a fine powder, stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the corners and sides and toss the nuts around.
In a dry bowl, whisk the ground nuts with the remaining confectionary sugar and salt. Set aside.
Make the meringue
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed until they begin to foam. Add the cream of tartar and whisk until the whites are completely foamy and begin to hold the line of the whisk. Add the sugar, 2 teaspoons at a time. As you add the sugar, the whites become shiny and gain volume. Turn the mixer to slow speed, add the remaining sugar, and beat until the meringue is shiny and smooth with soft peaks.
Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue
Scrape the meringue into the dry ingredients and gently fold together until the dry ingredients have been absorbed by the meringue and the mixture is smooth and creamy. If the batter remains stiff – it holds the point of a spatula if you quickly remove it – continue folding until it has a more fluid texture. Do not work it so much that the batter becomes runny.
Pipe the cookies
Line 4 cookie sheets with parchment. Scrape half of the batter into the pastry bag with the top folded back in a 4-inch cuff, and fitted with a round tip (#4 to #6). Unfold the cuff and twist the top of the bag close, squeezing and pushing the batter down toward the tip. Hold the bag upright, about 1 inch above the cookie sheet, and gently squeeze out small mounds 1 ¼ inches in diameter, which will settle into 1 ½ inch circles. Give the bag a gentle squeeze and then quickly pull the tip up so you control how much comes out and how the cookie ultimately takes shape. Squeeze out 6 rows of 7 cookies per cookie sheet. Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, to dry out the tops. Do not bake until you can gently touch the top of a piped cookie without any residue remaining on your finger.
Make the Vanilla buttercream
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or a medium-sized stainless steel bowl on a wet rag to hold the bowl in place), combine the yolks and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk for 30 seconds.
Simultaneously, in a small saucepan with the remaining ½ cup of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of water. Cook over high heat until the mixture reaches 248 °F on a candy thermometer. Scrape a vanilla bean into the boiling syrup.To test the syrup without a thermometer, dip a fork into the syrup and drizzle a bit on the counter. The sugar droplet should cool into a pliable ball that scrapes cleanly off the counter.
Drizzle the vanilla syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg yolks, whisking them briskly to blend. Continue whisking the egg yolk mixture until the yolks have tripled in volume, hold the lines of the whisk, and have cooled. Add the butter and whisk until the buttercream is fluffy and creamy with stiff, shiny, pointy peaks.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set two racks in the oven, one at the very top and one on the bottom.
Bake the macaroons.
Once the macaroons have dried properly, place one cookie sheet in the oven on the top shelf for 8 minutes. Open the oven door, rotate the cookie sheet, and place it on the bottom shelf. Place the second cookie sheet in the oven on the top shelf and bake for another 8 minutes. After baking first on the top shelf and then on the bottom, the cookies should be ready. Remove the sheet on the bottom, the cookies should be ready. Remove the sheet on the bottom shelf from the oven and repeat this baking process until all four cookie sheets have been baked. The macaroons should have puffed evenly, become shiny, and fallen slightly. They almost look like half a hamburger bun.
Fill and sandwich the macaroons.
Once the cookies have cooled, flip half of the cookies over. Scrape the buttercream into a pastry bag with the top folded back in a 4-inch cuff, and fitted with a 1/3-inch-diameter round tip. Unfold the cuff and twist the top of the bag closed, pushing and squeezing the buttercream down toward the tip. Hold the bag upright, about 1 inch above each inverted cookie, and gently squeeze out a small mound of buttercream, about the size of a nickel, onto the upturned cookies. Do not cover the whole cookie there should be a clear rim of cookie around the mound of buttercream. Top each cookie with a second macaroon, gently pressing down so the buttercream spreads to the edges of the sandwich.
Poor Kate, her instructions were so clear, I can’t believe I messed them up. I made the first mistake when I ground the hazelnuts separately from the powdered sugar. They were supposed to be ground together – one cup of powdered sugar with 2 cups of filberts. I only realized this oversight after I had pulverized the nuts. What I ended up with was not fine powder as the recipe required even after I re-ground the hazelnuts with the requisite powdered sugar. They were a little bit bigger than coarse sand in texture.
I believe this error was what caused my mixture to get runny very quickly; there was not enough dry mixture to absorb the meringue.
When I piped the little circles on the baking sheet, they spread out pretty thinly. An important piece of information when working with ground nuts: always use a coupler with your piping tip. You never know when that renegade piece of nut will clog your tip.
I believe the craters in the cookies were caused by my turning up the heat in my oven because the temperature dropped when I put the sheets in the oven; This led to the fan switching on (my oven has trouble keeping temp sometimes). The extreme heat change was what probably squeezed out the air pockets rapidly in the meringue, and dried it out before it can puff smoothly.
I speculate this was what happened because I tried this theory on a runny tray that I was not going to bake at all. I switched my oven 10 degrees higher than what was required to compensate for opening the oven. These cookies had smooth tops though I had trouble getting them off the parchment paper because I took them out too early
Will I try this recipe again? Definitely. The flavors are just phenomenal! I will try a macaroon recipe with almond paste first so I could get the viscosity of the mixture down pat, learn to pipe it properly and judge the doneness of the cookies to prevent another toasted confection.