Friday, May 04, 2007
So You Think You Can Make Macarons?
There must be a macaron goddess watching over all of us mortals who try to perfect the art of macaron making. She is the one who decides which worthy bakers are to be bestowed with the gift of the perfect macarons, and which ones must keep on whisking egg whites and sifting almond powder until the end of time. I thought I was the few lucky ones to have received the gift. Yesterday I learned that the gift can just as easily be taken away, without warning or explanations.
I taught a macaron lesson yesterday. It was a private lesson and everything turned out more or less according to plan. After the lesson I thought, as long as I have the egg whites all thawed out, I might as well experiment with some new flavors. I had gotten some pandan paste and Nonya kaya the other day because I wanted to make a macaron with some local flare. I did everything as I always do and slid the tray into the oven after it had reached 150C. Five minutes later when I went to rotate the tray I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cracked! Every single one of them, and no feet what so ever! What could’ve gone wrong? The batter didn’t look weird and the oven was working. Then it dawned on me that the air-conditioner in my kitchen had been turned off and the humidity was way up. It was more than 80% as compared to the 55% when the A/C is running. (Yes, I keep a hygrometer in my kitchen.) Usually in the amount of time that takes the oven to preheat the macarons will have formed a skin, but under 80% humidity it probably takes a lot longer than 10 minutes. Of course it was entirely my fault that I didn’t check for skin before baking them, and the goddess did not let that slip. I figure that’s probably her warning to me that “just because you can teach a class doesn’t mean you can get lazy and skip steps.” Ok, my bad. Got it!
Having eaten my slice of the humble pie, I tucked in my tail and managed to churn out two good batches: kaya and Dulce de Leche. I sprinkled some fleur de sel on the Dulce de Leche macarons to counter some of the sweetness and I must say the effect is quite nice. The kaya macaron is more subtle but not everything has to be loud and obvious, does it?
Getting back on the goddess’ good side I’m emboldened to try something radical. Having successfully substituted some of the almond powder with ground black sesame to make a black sesame macaron confirmed my belief that a nut is a nut is a nut. Although, sesames are techinically seeds and not nuts. Anyway, I ground up some peanuts and replaced the almond powder completely. As I soon found out, nuts are not all created equal in the eyes of the macaron goddess. I’ll have to look this one up to confirm but I think peanuts have higher fat contents than almonds. Makes sense because you see peanut oil all the time but almond oil are harder to find. To put a long story short, the peanut macaron batter was so thin that my first batch all became conjoined triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets. I spaced them out on the second try and they managed to stay their independent selves but they spread so thin that there was nary a dome to speak of and the each macaron was baked to a hard and crispy wafer. No moist chewyness, no crispy thin crust, just a dry hard disk.
All is not lost however, because the flavor was intensely peanuty and I sandwiched them with some peanut butter. Over a cup of tea I almost forgot what they were supposed to be and just enjoyed the pure goodness of the peanut. I’ll give it a crack again next week though. I can’t accept defeat so easily from the goddess. This is not the end…