Sunday, August 3, 2014

Peanut Milk Chocolate Macarons

It's a love/hate thing between me and macarons. I hate that they are so fiddly. You can't eyeball a quantity, or wander away from the mixer. You can't just vary the recipe by throwing in a handful of chocolate chips. And it takes a fair bit of experience to get them consistently right.

But they are so beautiful and delicate. And they cost such a bloody fortune in stores. So, twice a year I feel the need to make them. And the first batch fails, so I feel the need to make thirty more batches. Just to prove that I can. Happens to us all, right?

Baking 30 batches of macarons gets you on very good terms with the neighbors.

Traditional macarons are made with ground almonds, and it's much easier to mix it up by swapping out the nuts than it is to add a flavor to the temperamental egg white batter. So, here's the recipe for macarons made with ground peanuts. In some of the pictures, you can also see the ones made with macadamia nuts and filled with dulce de leche - I'll tell you about them some time.

It is the Law of Blogland that all posts on macarons must link back to the Bravetart. This is only right, since her minute instructions demystified macarons for everyone. If you've never made macarons before, go read through this post. My recipe varies a bit from hers, particularly in that I could never seem to get the last tablespoon of nuts down to a sufficiently fine powder. Then I realized I could just add an extra tablespoon on the front end, and dump the chunks in the sink without worry. Yes, it only took me 29 batches to come to this stunning realization.

At least the chocolate ganache filling is impossible to screw up!

One last note: I usually give measurements by both weight and volume. But that just will not work for macarons, which are minutely sensitive to ratios of dry and wet. Target will sell you a scale for less than $10 - the price of three macarons at a bakery. Just weigh it!

Peanut Chocolate Macarons
80g unsalted, shelled peanuts
140g icing (confectioner's) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
70g egg whites (from approximately 2 large eggs)
1 teaspoon powdered egg whites (optional)
35g granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
120ml heavy cream (4oz)
155g milk chocolate (5.5oz)

kitchen scale
parchment paper
pastry bag
plain icing tip

Weigh 80g of peanuts and 140g of confectioners sugar into the bowl of your food processor. Run the machine for four minutes, stopping every minute to scrape unmixed bits from the sides. Pass the contents through a sifter, then return any unsieved bits to the machine. Process for another minute, then sift again. Discard any remaining chunks that don't go through, stir in the table salt, and set the powder aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the liquid and powdered eggwhites on medium speed until thick and foamy, about three minutes.  Add the granulated sugar in three parts, mixing for a minute after each addition. Crank the speed to high, and beat for about seven minutes more. You will know you're there when the meringue is thick and clumps in the middle of your whisk. Add the vanilla extract and beat for one more minute.

While the mixer is doing its thing, line two baking sheets with parchment.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the almond mixture. Fold forty times, then test by dropping a spoonful. If it mounds up before settling in about twenty seconds, you're ready to pipe. If it stays distinct, or if you can see lots of air bubbles, fold another ten times and retest.

When you reach the proper consistency, put a small, round tip on a piping bag and pipe 1.5" circles, or larger if you prefer. They should spread a bit, so leave at least two inches of space between them. After piping, bang the tray on the counter several times to knock out any air bubbles. Then leave it to dry for at least half an hour, depending on the humidity. Macarons are ready to bake when they form a skin which doesn't break when lightly touched.

Preheat oven to 290˚ (don't use convection), and bake the macarons for about 20 minutes. If you've hit that macaron sweet spot, you'll have little bubbly ruffles on the bottoms of your cookies. These are known as "feet," and they are a major fetish for macaron makers. These feet should look slightly dry, but not brown. Remove your pan, but don't put it down on the granite counter, which will cause it to cool too quickly. Rest it on a trivet or the burners of your stove for five or ten minutes, until you can peel the macarons cleanly off the parchment.

While waiting for the macaron shells to cool, microwave the chocolate and cream on full power for one minute. Whisk vigorously to dissolve the chocolate completely, microwaving for a further 15 seconds if necessary. Set ganache in a bowl of ice water and whisk until it is thick enough to pipe.

Using the same icing tip (washed of course) and a clean pastry bag, pipe about 1-1/2 teaspoons of ganache on a shell before sandwiching another to make macarons. Refrigerate for a day or two to develop the flavor and texture.

Makes about 24 finished macarons, which freeze perfectly.

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