Monday, May 19, 2014

Chocolate macarons with chocolate hazelnut porter filling

Macarons have been on my "to-bake" list for awhile now. I've made plenty of meringue-based desserts, including my faux-macarons, but never an authentic French-style macaron. Enough was enough, I decided. I got some almond meal, hit up a few instructional Youtube videos, and hit the kitchen this past weekend.

My first batch of macarons turned out okay. Taste-wise, they were great, but the shells came out all flat and cracked. Some investigative Googling led me to conclude that I had undermixed the meringue and/or overmixed while folding the almond meal into the meringue.

I was determined to try until I succeeded in getting at least a few perfect macaroons, so I whipped up another batch tonight, careful to follow all the tips and tricks I had collected in my macaron research. Some points that I learned were important:

  1. Prep your egg whites! I separated my egg whites the day before and let them sit in the fridge. This helps reduce the moisture content of the whites, which will help with the meringue coming together. I also let the whites come to room temperature before starting, to further help with the mixing. 
  2. Weight your ingredients! The ratios of ingredients is critical in baking, but since there is a decent amount of wiggle room in cupcakes and cookies, you can usually get away with volumetric measurements for those recipes. For macarons though, where the margin of error is much smaller, weighing your ingredients helps with achieving accurate ratios and perfect batters.  
  3. Sift the almond meal! And the powdered sugar and cocoa, while you're at it. This gets rid of chunks in the dry mixture that might make the overall batter uneven. I actually sift twice during the recipe - once when I'm first combining the almond meal, sugar, and cocoa, and then once again, when I'm adding it to the meringue. 
  4. Move quickly! The first time I made these, I let the meringue sit in the bowl while I carefully sifted all the dry ingredients. This was a mistake. By the time I finished measuring the dry stuff, the meringue had probably sat there for a good 10-15 minutes and had started to deflate. This made it harder to combine the dry mixture in without overmixing the batter. Measure and sift ALL your ingredients before you start, so you can move from one step to the next smoothly. 
  5. Mix VERY carefully! It's ridiculously easy to under or over-mix when folding the dry into the meringue. Everyone mixes a little differently, so you have to pinpoint your sweet spot. For me, its thirty fold/scrape-the-bowl combos that gets me the consistency I want. Keep in mind you will be handling the batter after mixing (transferring to piping bag, piping the meringue), so under-mixing is better than over-mixing. 
  6. Use a template! My first batch came all different shapes and sizes because I thought I could pipe evenly. This time, I made a template (you can Google them) and had it under my parchment paper as a guide. The result? Even and consistent macaron shells
  7. Let them dry! Letting your macarons sit out for an hour allows them to dry and helps with the formation of the "feet" (the little ruffle along the bottom of the shells). Don't be impatient - clean or make the filling while the macarons are drying!
  8. Watch them bake! Every oven is different, and the times I give below are just estimates. They are done with the macarons just barely separate from the parchment paper. Any longer and the bottoms will burn!
  9. Let them cool! Wait until the macarons are completely cool before pulling them off the parchment paper. If they are still warm, they will still stick slightly and ruin the bottoms of your shells. 
  10. Refrigerate them! The macarons can be eaten right after making, but the best consistency is achieved after a day or two in an airtight container in the fridge. If you are going to store them anyways until the next day, do so in the fridge. 
Phew, quite a list! And this is only a partial list of the things that can go wrong - these listed here are just the ones I had an issue with the first time around. 

Just after piping the shells - some of the middle ones are too stiff
The first batch I made used an ordinary chocolate ganache, but for my second attempt, I decided to spice things up a bit by making a chocolate hazelnut porter ganache. My roommate brews beer as much as I bake, and we've been discussing for awhile to combine our talents and have me bake something with his beer. His newest creation is a tasty chocolate hazelnut porter, so I mixed that into a chocolate ganache to get a coffee/smoky flavor that just kicks the chocolate up a notch. 

These turned out better than the first time! I think I went too far in the other direction though - these came out definitely more under-mixed, especially the first few I piped onto the sheets. You can see the ridges on the tops from my piping tip (didn't have an open tip and had to use an open star instead) - usually those will smooth out during drying if the batter runny enough. This allows for the surface to crack more easily, but it still tastes good! A few of the ones piped towards the end, when the batter had been handled for awhile, came out perfect (see the top picture) - so I just need to figure out how to do that for all of them!

After baking - the under-mixed batter cause the peaks to stay up
I'm definitely going to be making more of these things in the future - I'm so excited to explore different flavors (especially those that are harder to capture in a cupcake or cookie). New baking obsession, here I come!

A mix of good and not-so-good macarons
Chocolate macaron shells - (makes 60 shells for 30 macarons)
(Adapted from Joy of Baking )
  • 100 g of almond meal
  • 170 g of powdered sugar
  • 15 g of cocoa powder
  • 100 g of egg whites (aged and brought to room temperature)
  • ¼ tsp of cream of tartar
  • 35 g of white sugar
  1. Sift the almond meal, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder together and set aside. 
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  3. Whip egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. 
  4. Add white sugar in. Continue mixing on medium-high until stiff peaks form. Remove bowl from mixer. 
  5. Add the almond mixture to the meringue - I added it in three parts. I sifted a third of the mixture into the meringue, and then folded/scrape the bowl for 10 strokes. Repeat with the remainder of the mixture, a third at a time. The batter should run off your spatula in thick, slow ribbons. 
  6. Transfer batter to a piping bag with a ½ open round tip.  
  7. Pipe macarons shells that are 1½ inch wide and 2 inches apart from each other. Keep the tip low and close to the paper so the shell can spread out instead of pile up. 
  8. Let shells sit at room temperature for 60 minutes or until the top no longer feels tacky when you touch it. 
  9. Bake in preheated oven at 325F for 14-16 minutes, or until the bottoms just barely separate form the parchment paper. 
  10. Let cool completely before removing from the parchment paper. 
  11. Sandwich ganache (recipe below) between two shells to form a macaron. 
  12. Enjoy!
Chocolate hazelnut porter ganache
  • 1 cup (6 oz) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • ½ cup of chocolate hazelnut porter (I used my roommate's brew, but you can use any beer you want)
  • 1½ cup of additional porter (for reduction)
  1. Put chocolate in a heatproof bowl. 
  2. Bring heavy cream and ½ cup of the porter to a boil in a small saucepan and then pour it over the chocolate. Stir until smooth. 
  3. Boil the remaining porter in a small saucepan on high heat until it reduces down to about 2-3 Tbsp. 
  4. Pour that into the ganache and stir until smooth. 
  5. NOTE: You may need to experiment with the ratios of beer to chocolate, depending on what kind of beer you use. 
  6. Let ganache set in fridge until needed for macaron filling. 

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