As in, we (Rosie and me... well, mostly me) interrupt this not all that regularly scheduled blogging for a not-quilting-related message.
A few months ago, Ginger called to ask me about taking a cooking class at Sur La Table. While she initially suggested a Valentine's Macaron class, after looking at the schedule -- and more importantly, the macarons we would be making in class, we decided to take Mastering Macarons.
The flavors we would be making ~ and sampling ~ would be:
- Banana Macarons with Banana Custard Cream
- Hazelnut Macarons with Praline Buttercream
- Pistachio Macarons with Chocolate Ganache
- Chocolate Macarons with Salted Caramel
I've read about making macarons but while the recipe always seemed pretty straightforward, I figured there were a few highly technical skills that had to be required to make such wonderful confections. Yes and no. Actually, make that no and yes.
While there are definitely a few tricks, it's sort of like making a pie crust. It isn't hard... so long as you know what it is supposed to look and feel like. Once you've got that down, it's pretty easy. That's what I would now say about macarons.
I wasn't sure how "hands-on" the class would be since it was just two hours but really, we -- the students -- made those macarons shown above in class. Chef Michelle did a quick overview of the process, then started the first batch of cookies, the Banana Macarons while we watched and sort of helped. As soon as that first batch was being piped onto the cookie sheets, she had us in small groups -- of three or four people -- and we started from scratch. As soon as we were done with one, we started the next one. It was very informative and a whole lot of fun -- I highly recommend it if you've got a Sur La Table near you.
Since I was busy baking and trying to take pictures with my phone, I hope you'll bear with me as I try to share the process.
These were our ingredients for the cookie part of the macaron: eggs ~ we use the whites for the cookies and sometimes the yolks for the filling, almond meal or flour ~ which we made using almonds we ground in a spice grinder; and powdered sugar. Other flavors can be added to the cookies, and food coloring can be used for color. There is also cream of tartar and granulated sugar that is used with the egg whites to make the meringue.
The flour/meal and powdered sugar are sifted twice, and any large granules of almond or nut that remain are ground again, and sifted again.
Here's where it gets interesting ~ and this is where I was sure I would mess it up. We've always been taught to be very careful when folding egg whites but with the macaronnage, you reach a point where you have to take some of the air out. How much depends on how much is still left after all the folding you've done. If you're a slightly aggressive folder ~ that is usually me ~ then you might not have to "cut" it as much to get the right consistency. And there's my pie-crust metaphor ~ for the cookies to form and set properly, the batter needs to be firm but still be able to drip slowly when scooped. So you mix/fold/cut and then test it... mix/fold/cut a little more and test again... until it's just right.
Then the batter gets put into a pastry bag and piped onto a sheet of parchment... with one very brilliant little trick! A sheet of paper ~ regular old copy paper ~ with rows of little circles all the same size printed on it.
Piping technique is very important. The tip should be at a 90-degree angle to the cookie sheet/parchment and just slightly above the sheet. Slowly squeeze the bag until the batter fills the circle and then quickly twirl off. If the batter is the right consistency, the little twirl-off-top should sink right back into the batter leaving the top of the cookie very smooth.
Ginger did a terrific job piping the Chocolate Macarons ~ she was pretty fast and they were all the same size. Of course... I had gotten the batter to the perfect consistency... (It was luck and by virtue of a really good teacher ~ thank you, Chef Michelle.)
Then the cookies have to rest and dry until they don't stick to your fingers when lightly touched.
Because we needed to hurry the macarons along a bit, we used hand-held fans to speed up the drying process a bit.
After they've dried, the macarons bake for 10 to 15 minutes. When they're done, they should have a nice "pied" ~ the "foot" or frills that form along the bottom edge of a macaron that makes the cookie distinctive and authentic.
Some of the Hazelnut macarons got red sugar flakes. Just because.
While we were busy mixing, sifting and folding, Michelle and her assistants were hard at work preparing the various fillings for the macarons. We got pointers on making caramel, custards, ganache and cooked buttercream fillings. When everything had cooled, we started assembling macarons using pastry bags.
They were really good. I mean... really, really good. Good enough to try making at home some day. I mean, that is why I bought one of those big metal mixing bowls, right? And this way-too-cute spatula.
I'm just disappointed they didn't have this in red. By the way, if you're into all-things-aqua, you need to get to Sur La Table soon as they've got all sorts of wonderful things right now in aqua. They've got kitchen shears with an aqua-and-white gingham pattern on the blades, polka-dot ceramic knives, polka dot or plaid dishes, striped napkins and kitchen towels... all in aqua, aqua and white, and even quite a few things in aqua, red and white. (And you should have seen the oh-so-cute pink, black and white girlie-girl stuff by the register. It isn't "me" at all but it sure was tempting nonetheless!)
Seriously, if you have a Sur La Table near you and you can stand the shopping temptations, I highly recommend checking out their cooking classes. Ginger and I had a really good time. I think she's going to sign us up for a Paella class next. (Just so you know... you do get a 10-percent-off your entire purchase, good-for-a-week discount card when you take a class.)
And lest you think I just played all day... I did get a little "work" done. Since I was going across town anyway, I ventured over to ETC, a scrapbook-cum-quilting store in Mesa to see what I could find to finish up one of projects I'm working on.
Hanging out with a friend, fancy cookies and pretty fabric. It was a good day.