The Daring Baker's challenge this month, French Macarons, caused me to question myself, given the semantics of our fancy lil' baking/blogger group. "Daring"--okay, that one's fairly obvious. Are you daring? Do you want to be daring? I'm in the latter group. It's the second part I'm having a problem with. "Baker." This month's challenge made it all to clear that daring as I may be, I am no baker.
Normally I can fudge it, but these fussy little sugar bombs require about 20 minutes of real work, and (in my non-baker experience) about 5 hours of waiting, cussing, and general crabbiness. Along with patience, I also lack: a kitchen larger than a bathroom; more than one cookie sheet, an oven that cooks at the temperature you set it at. None of this matters when I'm cooking, but it makes all the difference when you're making cookies that are more temperamental than my sister, BaCon Bit, in her teenage years. I'm no baker and these cookies spent 5 hours and 20 minutes reminding me of that fact on one dark and stormy Sunday.
That said, they are freaking adorable. And they are crispy, and chewy, and versatile enough to make in all of your favorite flavor combinations. I chose to do a simple lemon cookie (adding lemon zest I'd dried in the oven to the almond flour when I ground it with my Salvation Army food processor) and a goat cheese buttercream (that I made in my Salvation Army Kitchenaid stand mixer). I'd make batches and batches to share if I could get more than 10 cookies off of the "non-stick" silicon mat I bought for this challenge--which cost as much as the SalVay food processor--without them completely disintegrating. Alas, I am no baker.
An adaptation of Claudia Fleming’s Macaron Recipe
2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) Icing/Confectioner's/Powdered Sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) Almond Flour (ground in your food processor to make your cookies silky)
2 Tbs. (25 g , .88 oz.) Granulated Sugar (I added 1/2 Tbs. since I heard it stabilizes the egg whites)
5 Egg Whites at room temperature (Google "aging egg whites" and use those if possible)
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. (40-50 strokes total!! Make your first two or three strokes "fast" but not "hard" to combine the flour). 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. (HATE the pastry bag!!) 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. (Pipe as if you were doing a "dollop." Just put the tip close to the cookie sheet and pipe a sphere, don't make a circle and then "fill it in" or your cookies will be all air.)
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). (This is to dry your macarons so they puff up to create the highly coveted "feet". I have a crappy oven so I just dried them on the counter for 40 min before baking.) 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.