The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I wish I didn’t have to write about, and thus relive, my experiences trying to make macarons.  After a disastrous attempt at a strudel as my last daring bakers challenge, I really needed a baking win.  I used the lesson I learned from the dreaded strudel and tried the first batch well before the due date.

The goal with a macaron is to have a shiny, uncracked round top, and chewy inside, and a foot, like a little bumpy bit that doesn’t stick out past the rest of the macaron.  Ideally they look like this:

the perfect macaron

I went with green tea macarons with black sesame filling as my flavor combo, and into the fray.  They didn’t even make it onto the baking tray.  I’m not completely sure what happened, but the batter was completely dry.  I threw it out and immediately tried again.

Hours later I ended up with three baking sheets of flat, footless bumpy little bastards that were very hard to get off the paper in one piece.   I did get them off after hours of drying, and they were very chewy and delicious, but I didn’t bother to fill them, because they weren’t even close and I wanted to try again.

After rather a huge amount of research on what could have gone wrong, I decided I had whipped my meringue too quickly, causing the bubbles to be too large and the bonds between them to be too weak.  I also hadn’t aged my eggs to dry them, making for a stronger meringue.  So I put egg whites in the fridge for days, and tried again, confident of a better result.

I worked the meringue up as slowly as I possibly could.  I folded with confidence and then gentleness, as advised.  I realized as I was piping them onto the sheet they looked exactly the same as the last ones.  I waited with fear, watching as they baked, until I realized they were no better.  Then I wept.  No really.

I didn’t fill them.  I didn’t have the heart.  I’ve never had any baking break me as this challenge did.  I feel utterly inferior, especially in the face of the many many stacks of beautiful macarons successfully made by my fellow bakers.  I take solace only in that I am not the only one that failed.

So I think now my failure was in the folding.  You have to really almost break the meringue with the first folding.  I’m thinking now I was too gentle, my batter never got back to the shiny smoothness it was supposed to.  I’m also led to believe that there are easier macaron recipes out there to try that may make success more attainable.  Even though right now I have to repeat to myself “You ARE a good baker.  You SHOULDN’T never bake again,” I can feel that I won’t really be happy until I conquer the macaron.  So stay tuned Constant Baker.

Recipe Follows:Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

Ingredients
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Yield: 10 dozen.

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