Friday, May 22, 2009

Chocolate Macarons with Coffee Buttercream

I continue to be content with my Parisian macaron recipe (can I call it mine now that I've adapted it to a new flavor with the strawberry macarons?), especially after it worked so well with the coffee buttercream that I made this week. I'm starting to realize that macarons get a large proportion of their flavor from the cream in the middle; the cookies themselves have to be mainly made of ground almonds, and any flavor they have has to be from some sort of dry ingredient source in order to not disturb the all-important texture of the macaron. So, this time I introduced coffee to my chocolate macarons with a few flecks of instant coffee on top of each macaron and a nice coffee cream in the middle. I was told these are the best I've made yet, although I am afraid they did not look as perfect as they have in the past. Still, very content.

I thought I'd include the whole macaron recipe, in all its glorious detail, plus a recipe for the coffee buttercream, which would be striking on chocolate cake as well.

This recipe is as verbose as it is because it has VERY IMPORTANT tips that will make your macarons succeed, so do read it carefully. Macarons are very much about proper technique. I've italicized a few parts that I missed the first time I made them, or that I find very unique about this recipe.

Chocolate Macarons
From NPR's The Splendid Table

5 oz. (1 1/3 C) finely ground almond powder or blanched almonds (see step 3)
2 C plus 2 T powdered sugar
1/4 C unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder (high quality if possible) plus more for dusting
1/2 C egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)

1. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, put each baking sheet on top of another baking sheet (or use two insulated baking sheets) and fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch or 3/8-inch tip; set these aside for the moment.

2. If you've got almond powder, just sift the almond powder with the confectioner's sugar and cocoa. If you're starting with almonds, place the almonds, sugar and cocoa in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until the mixture is as fine as flour, at least 3 minutes. Stop every minute to check your progress and to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This is not a quick on-and-off operation. Although the almonds may look as though they're pulverized after a minute or so, they won't be. The nuts really need 3 to 5 minutes to be ground to a powder or flour. When the mixture is ground, press it through a medium strainer. In all probability, you'll have about 2 tablespoons of solids that won't go through the strainer - discard them.

3. For this recipe to succeed, you need 1/2 cup of egg whites, which may mean using 3 egg whites plus a part of another white. The easiest way to get a portion of a white is to break the white into a cup, beat it lightly with a fork and then measure out what you'll need. (If you put the egg whites in a glass measuring cup, the whites should come just to the 1/2-cup line when the cup is on the counter and you've crouched down to check the measurement at eye level.)

4. Once the eggs are measured, they need to be brought to room temperature so they can be beaten to their fullest volume. You can leave the whites on the counter until they reach room temperature, or you can put them into a microwave-safe bowl and place them in a microwave oven set on lowest power; heat the whites for about 10 seconds. Stir the whites and continue to heat them -still on lowest power - in 5-second spurts until they are about 75 degrees F. If they're a little warmer, that's okay too. To keep the eggs warm, run the mixer bowl under hot water, dry the bowl well, pour the whites into the bowl and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.

5. Beat the egg whites at low to medium speed until they are white and foamy. Turn the speed up and whip them on high just until they are firm but still glossy and supple - when you lift the whisk the whites should form a peak that droops just a little. Keep the whites in the mixer bowl or transfer them to a large bowl. Working with a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients gently into the whites in 3 or 4 additions. There are a lot of dry ingredients to go into a relatively small amount of whites, but keep folding and you'll get everything in. Don't worry if the whites deflate and the batter looks a little runny - that's just what's supposed to happen. When the dry ingredients are incorporated, the mixture will look like a cake batter; if you lift a little with your finger, it should form a gentle, quickly falling peak. Try to incorporate all the dry ingredients in a total of 50 strokes or less.

6. Spoon the batter into the pastry bag and pipe it out onto the prepared baking sheets. (To keep the paper steady, "glue" it down by piping a bit of batter at each corner of the baking sheet.) Pipe the batter into rounds about 1 inch in diameter, leaving about an inch between each round. (Because you're going to sandwich the baked cookies, try to keep the rounds the same size.) When you've piped out all the macarons, lift each baking sheet with both hands and then bang it down on the counter. Don't be afraid - you need to get the air of the batter. Set the baking sheets aside at room temperature for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven.

7. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. You need to bake these one pan at a time, so dust the tops of the macarons on one pan with cocoa powder (or sprinkle decorative nibs on top to match the filling flavor) and slide one of the sheets into the oven. As soon as the baking sheet is in the oven, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F and insert the handle of a wooden spoon between the oven and the door to keep the door slightly ajar. Bake the macarons for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are smooth and just firm to the touch. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack (see step 8 for information on removing the macarons from the parchment), close the oven door, turn the heat back up to 425 degrees F and, when the oven is at the right temperature, repeat with the second sheet of macarons.

8. To remove the macarons from the parchment - and they should be removed as soon as they come from the oven - you need to create moisture under the cookies. Carefully loosen the parchment at the four corners and, lifting the paper at one corner, pour a little hot water under the parchment paper onto the baking sheet. The water may bubble and steam, so make sure your face and hands are away from the sheet. Move the parchment around or tilt the baking sheet so that the parchment is evenly dampened. Allow the macarons to remain on the parchment, soaking up the moisture, for about 15 seconds, then peel the macarons off the paper and place them on a cooling rack (I don't usually do this step, but it is helpful if you want to be absolutely certain your macarons do not tear when you remove them from the paper).

To finish:

Make a ganache and let it cool, or make a buttercream (coffee buttercream recipe below).

1. When the macarons are cool, sandwich them with ganache, buttercream, or ice cream. For the ganache/buttercream: Pipe or spread a dollop of filling about 1/2 inch across on the flat side of one cookie and use the flat side of another to complete the sandwich and to spread the ganache so that it runs to the edge. Transfer the filled macaroons to a covered container and place them in the refrigerator to soften overnight before serving.

Keeping: Baked, unsandwiched macaroons can be kept in an airtight tin at room temperature for 3 days. Once filled, the macaroons should be chilled and served the next day.

Coffee Buttercream

1 stick (1/2 C) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C powdered sugar, plus extra to thicken as desired
1/2 T coffee (strong instant is fine) or more to taste
1/2 T heavy cream or milk (heavy cream makes it richer!)

Beat the butter and the vanilla until soft with an electric or stand mixer, and then gradually add the powdered sugar. Add the coffee and heavy cream/milk, and beat until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar if it's too thin to keep shape between cookies.

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