Monday, September 22, 2014

Apples and Honey Macarons

I bake a lot.

No, really.

And in all my years of baking, there has never been a recipe that has given me more trouble than this one here. Go ahead, Google "Apple Macarons." See if you find any with apple in the macaron shell, rather than just the filling. I'll wait.

Nothing, right?

The closest I got was one that used powdered apple cider mix. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But Wednesday night is Rosh Hashanah, and everyone knows you have to have apples and honey for the Jewish New Year, so that's what I set out to make. Turns out there's a reason that no one makes apple macarons, even though you can get freeze dried apples in every supermarket. And that reason is pectin.

Pectin is like natural fruit gelatin, binding with the water molecules to thicken a liquid. Which is all well and good when you're trying to thicken apple pie filling. But baking macarons is a delicate dance between heat and moisture. Adding pectin is like inviting an elephant to the party.

But the elephant was on the guest list. So, even after throwing out the first six disastrous batches, I couldn't walk away. Then all those ground almond and egg whites would have been pitched in vain. Oh, noes!

I was just about to concede defeat this morning. Then I decided to do the exact opposite of what I've been doing with my normal macs. Essentially, I beat the meringue for twenty minutes on high speed until it was a sticky mass with almost no water left in it. Then, I laboriously folded the dries in to the thick eggs, taking almost twice as long as the normal, lighter version. These cooked for-flipping-ever: almost thirty minutes on a very low heat. Did I mention that the pectin wants desperately to turn your cookies brown? Funtimes!

In short, I finally did get this recipe to work, but I would not recommend it to a novice macaron maker. If this is your first time, you might well stick to plain ones and fill them with apple butter. This is the recipe I have had the best luck with. Don't start the New Year off crying in your kitchen!

Apples and Honey Macarons
70g blanched almonds or cashews
63g powdered sugar
6g freeze dried apples
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
52g egg whites
2g powdered whites
52g granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 drop gel food coloring (optional)

113g unsalted butter, softened
80g honey
93g powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

parchment paper or silicon liner
piping bag
round pastry tip

Grind almonds, sugar, and apples in spice grinder, then sift together with cinnamon. Re-grind any lumps, and discard the last half teaspoon of chunks. Beat liquid and powdered eggwhites on low speed, Kitchenaid 4, for four minutes until foamy. Increase speed to level 6 and beat for eight minutes, adding a tablespoon of the granulated sugar every minute or so until it's all incorporated. You should be at the consistency of whipped cream at this point. Beat on KA 8 for four minutes until the meringue is clotting in the middle of the whisk. Add vanilla and coloring, beat another two minutes on 10.

In three portions, fold the nut mixture into the meringue. This will require a fair bit of elbow grease, but just keep working your spatula and you will get pretty close to the "molten" consistency of normal macarons.

I have a double oven, and I turn both on to cook two trays of cookies at once. If you are only using one oven, then don't pipe the second tray until the first is almost ready to go into the oven. The batter will be fine resting in the pastry bag.

Put a round tip (approx. 1cm) in your pastry bag, and pipe circles onto a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. You can use this template to pipe 3.5cm circles, yielding two trays with about 28 shells each. Take each pan and use your thumbs to anchor the mat or parchment while you bang the daylights out of them. No gentle tapping here! It should sound like hammering and result in your batter spreading noticeably.

You'll want to rest your macarons for about 35 minutes, or until you can touch them without marring the surface. One advantage of this comparatively gummy batter is that you can gently push in any "nipples" that don't settle in after piping. (Please supply your own dirty joke here.)

Preheat the oven to 270˚ convection (285˚ regular, but convection is preferable). Bake for at least 25 minutes, opening the door a few times to release any pent-up humidity. You will know they are done when you touch one and it doesn't wiggle on the base. Let the shells cool for at least 20 minutes on the pan. After that, they should be ready to fill almost immediately.

Beat together butter, honey, and powdered sugar until they are light and fluffy. Finish with the lemon juice to stop it becoming cloyingly sweet. Using a piping bag or just a sandwich bag with one corner snipped off, dollop a teaspoon of filling on half the shells, then sandwich together. Allow the flavors to develop in the fridge for at least a day before serving.

L'Shana Tova! Happy New Year! May it be sweet for all of you.

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