Friday, May 30, 2014

Dulce de Leche Mocha Macarons

Oh, macarons, macarons, macarons. You drive my crazy with stress. Although, I am not the only one going crazy from my attempts at baking these at home. So, I guess that makes me feel better. I`ve avoided making these since I started baking three years ago. I read extensively since the beginning, though. I read so many recipes, troubleshooting guides and tips on macarons, most would think I was obsessed with them. But, I never had the guts to try them because I didn`t want to waste ingredients if they turned out horrifyingly wrong.

Then, Sucre contacted me about this Even More Macaron I slapped myself in the face to give myself some mental courage. I read a billion and more things on them before I really set out on my first macaron making journey.

Did I panic? Oh, yeah I did. I kept doubting everything I was doing. Did I sift enough? Are these soft peaks? Are these stiff peaks?!! What do stiff peaks even look like??!! GAHHH! Everything that could go wrong, I thought about.

Maybe the baking gods felt some pity on me as they saw me sweating bullets just sifting the almond meal and powdered sugar...since I didn`t cry after the first batch. Haha! I used green tea powder to flavor the shells and they actually turned out well. My only problem was that the batter was a bit thin, so my shells were large. They were only slightly hollow and a little wrinkly, but they had feet and most weren`t cracked.

There are two methods for making macarons. The French and Italian method. I used the French method. The Italian method requires you to make a simple syrup. I`ve read that the Italian method seems to be more fool-proof compared to the French. I chose to use the French method since I was like, heck, I`m already challenging myself with these, so why not just use the French?

I kept powering through with different alterations and batches. I knew almond flour was expensive, which is why I was hesitant about making macarons from the beginning. From my experience, Trader Joe's sells the cheapest almond meal/flour, but the flour still has the almond skin mixed in and are not as fine. If your macaron shells are dark colored, it won`t show, but it probably will if your shells are light colored. Even though they sold the cheapest almond flour, I spent a long time (like 20-30 minutes!) sifting the flour since there was a lot of large chunks and I wanted the smoothest possible shells. I used my food processor to make the almond meal more fine, but it still took me awhile. Bob Red Mill's almond flour/meal took me the least amount of time sifting, though the most expensive.

This was the first time I`ve tested a recipe 4 times in such a short time period. Whenever I test a recipe multiple times, I usually space them out within several months. But, I was so motivated to get these macarons right, I ran all over the place trying to find the cheapest almond flour! I seriously couldn`t stop thinking about them for a month!

You can use a template to pipe out the shells, but I piped the most even sized shells without using a template! Which is totally weird. You know what is also weird? When I pay $2 for a macaron at a bakery, but when I bite into it, I find the shells hollow. Haha. I mean, they still taste great, but they`re hollow and you`re charging me $2 for a mini macaron? For 2 bucks each, I want my macarons to be perfect! :P  

I`ll be honest, macarons aren`t my favorite dessert or cookie. Most of the time, I find them ridiculously sweet. Yet, there are instances where I do enjoy them, so I guess it all depends on the filling. The shells themselves are already sweet, so my filling preferences lean towards the fruit jams or fruit curds, not so much the frosting variety.

I don`t know if it`s because I made them using the flavors that I like, but I really love these macarons! You can totally taste the mocha flavor in the shells alone. My friends also said they were good and better than some of the ones they`ve had before! I filled my first batch of green tea macarons with strawberry jam and it was amazing! These mocha shells taste excellent with caramel, too!

I`m thankful for this challenge, since it allowed me to learn so much. Here`s a quick list of the things I`ve learned from macaron making, to help you. But, fair warning, macarons are kinda pretentious and fussy little cookies. What worked for me, may not work for you as oven temperatures, humidity, clean bowls, etc...all play an affect on macarons. Really, my best advice if you`re scared of making macarons is to just do it. You won`t know if you`ll succeed or fail if you don`t try! It`s really not that bad. Separately, the steps aren`t complicated. Even if you don`t achieve feet, or your shells cracked, it`s okay. Try again~ :)

  • Egg whites should be at room temperature. It`s not required to let them age for 1-2 days at room temperature for successful macarons, but you always can, if you have time. You can age egg whites, covered, in the fridge for 2-3 days as well. 
  • Sift everything! I`m serious. You want the smoothest, prettiest looking tops? You gotta sift that almond flour and powdered sugar at least once!
  • Parchment paper or silicone baking mat? Parchment paper makes the bottoms a little uneven, due to the fact that the paper wrinkles up a little. Baking mats gives the shells an extremely smooth finish. However, the feet of my shells seem to be taller when I use parchment paper.
  • Always tap/rap against the counter!! After you pipe a baking sheet full of shells, tap it against the counter to push all the air bubbles to the surface. This will prevent your shells from being hollow on the insides as well. 
  • After piping and tapping, let your shells sit at room temperature before baking. This allows the shells to harden a bit (at least 20-30 minutes, up to 60 minutes.). If you gently touch the surface with your finger, it shouldn`t be sticky anymore, but smooth.
  • All oven temperatures are different. I got the best results baking my shells at 275 degrees, for 20 minutes. It`s always better to bake at a lower temperature and for a longer period. If you underbake your shells, they will be sticky-chewy, since the insides will still be moist. You can fix overbaking through the maturation period. If your oven temperature is too high, it might cause shells to crack.
  • Maturate, or age your macaron sandwiches!! This means, after you sandwich your shells with the filling, store them in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Macarons are best eaten 2-3 days after being filled. If you fill them with fruit jams, they will maturate faster (24-36 hours) since jams have more liquid content compared to buttercreams (36-72 hours). If you overbake, just let them maturate for several days. Even 5 days, if you really overbaked your shells. Macaron shells last pretty long in the fridge.  
  • If you want to add anything on top of the shells, do so after piping, before it sits out too long. Ex. I sprinkled some ground coffee on top of my shells. 
  • Make sure your egg whites get to stiff peaks before adding the almond flour and powdered sugar. Start checking after you reach firm peaks to avoid overbeating. Stiff peaks means if you flip over your whisk/beater blades, the peaks will point straight up.
  • The bowl and attachments you are using to whip your egg whites must be thoroughly clean! No traces of oil or fats of any kind. This is important for you to whip your egg whites to stiff peaks. A pinch of salt or cream of tartar also helps.
  • Stainless steel bowls or cooper bowls work best to whip your egg whites to stiff peaks. It`s all in the science and baking is all about science!
  • Use a scale!!! There`s not way around this. If you want successfully consistent macarons, you need to use a digital scale. So, even though I bake using measuring cups most of the time, I knew better when it came to these macarons. Which is why the recipe is provided in grams. You can try to convert, but I can`t guarantee any results. 
  • Some troubleshooting guides and tips: Food Nouveau, Annie Eats, Not So Humble, Brave Tart      

Dulce de Leche Mocha Macarons
Adapted: Not So Humble Pie | Yields: about 15-20 macaron sandwiches | Level: Medium | Total Time:  2 hours + maturation time | Print

Mocha Macaron Shells:
-          110 grams almond flour/meal
-          200 grams powdered sugar
-          1 tsp ground coffee, sifted
-          1 tsp cocoa powder, sifted
-          100 grams egg whites, room temperature or aged*
-          pinch of salt
-          25 grams granulated sugar
-          dulce de leche

Macaron Shells:
1.       Line a large baking sheet with baking mat or parchment paper.
2.       Sift almond meal and powdered sugar through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.
3.       Whisk in coffee granules and cocoa powder. Set aside.
4.       Put your egg whites into a large stainless steel bowl.
5.       Using your whisk attachment, on low speed, beat your egg whites until foamy.
6.       Add a pinch of salt.
7.       Continue whisking your egg whites, gradually increasing your speed to medium speed until soft peaks form.
8.       Gradually sprinkle in the sugar as you beat on medium -high speed. Beat until you achieve a glossy, smooth and stiff peaks.
9.       Add a little (about 1/3 cup) of the almond/powdered sugar mixture into the meringue. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the egg whites. Add more almond mixture, fold, and repeat until all the almond mixture has been added. The results sound be smooth, with the consistency similar to thick cake batter or lava.*
10.   Place a piping bag and tip inside a tall cup, edges folded over the sides of the cup. Transfer batter into bag.
11.   With even pressure and piping from a 90 angle (perpendicular to the baking sheet), pipe batter onto baking sheet. (Do not move while piping. Just squeeze and batter will spread out from your tip. Only do a slight twirl at the end to finish off the piping.)
12.   Tap the baking on the counter several times to let air bubbles come to the surface. Use a toothpick to pop all bubbles.
13.   Let macarons sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
14.   When you're ready, place oven rack on the bottom third of your oven and preheat oven to 275-290°F.*
15.   Bake for 16-20 minutes, rotating 180° halfway through the baking time.
16.   Allow cookies to cool completely before removing from baking mat/parchment paper.
17.    Pair macaron cookies with the same size shells.
18.   Fill macaron shells.
19.   Store cookes in an airtight container in the fridge let them maturate for 24-72 hours.*  
20.   Allow the macarons to come to room temperature before serving.

-          I have successfully made macarons with: room temperature egg whites, egg whites aged for 1-2 days at room temperature, and egg whites aged in refrigerator for 3 days. For the best results, just make sure your egg whites are not longer cold.
-          The batter's consistency should take about 15 seconds before disappearing when you lift your spatula and create ribbons on the surface.
-          I had the best results baking the shells at 275°F. Baking at too high a temperature can cause your shells to crack. It's always better to overbake the shells than to underbake when it comes to macarons.
-          It is crucial to let the macarons "maturate", or age. This means the macaron sandwiches taste best after at least a 24 hours rest in the fridge. This step also moistens the shells, so if you do overbake your shells, they will soften eventually (even if it takes 5 days)!
-          Parchment paper left bottoms slightly uneven. Baking mat gave them a really smooth surface, but feet were smaller.
You can use instant or ground coffee.