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Monday, July 18, 2011
Have you noticed something interesting among successful pastry chefs? Whether it be Pierre Herme, Australia's Adriano Zumbo or our own Singapore home grown Chef Pang Kok Keong, they invariably have an accolade of macaron trophies that applaud their pastry wizardry.
I deem the macaron the holy grail of baking. I started experimenting with it possibly 4-5 years ago, before I started blogging. At that time, macarons were difficult to come by in Singapore and they were (and still are) frightfully expensive. I did most of my research on line and would be baking every evening, trying out one recipe after another, adjusting one condition after another... throwing out one tray of cookies after another... not because I liked to eat macarons but because I was obsessed with the quest of getting my hands on the holy grail...
When I finally achieved consistency, using the Italian Meringue technique, I felt proud and at peace with myself....
For all who had attempted to make the macaron, you would know that these cookies are more temperamental than a prima donna and has to be coddled with utmost attention and sensitivity. There is no fool proof recipe for macaron - too many factors can rub the spoilt little biscuit the wrong way. If you are new to macaron baking and is successful for the first time with a particular recipe, congratulations - you were very lucky... the next challenge then requires you to reproduce this with the consistent outcome again again and again.... Among the many pressure points that can kill your joy are
1. The stability of your egg white;
2. The end point of meringue deflation (what some people call macronage, the lava flow consistency you need to achieve before piping them out.)
3. The air drying time which can be affected by room temperature and humidity - In humid Singapore, don't expect to dry your macarons properly in 30mins as is usually stipulated in most recipes)
4. Your oven condition.
The recipe is the least of my worry - most of them, if you scrutinise closely have roughly the same component ratio. (The ones with higher sugar to almond meal/egg white ratio tend to be more stable to work with but you will need to have a very sweet tooth to enjoy them.) The real challenge lies in the technique and conditions - the only way to grasp these is to be prepared to make batch after batch until you understand the limitations of your working conditions, until you can recognise what the macronage end point looks like...
I have been inspired to bake macarons again by an elimination challenge in Australian Masterchef. In the challenge, the contestants are expected to create Adriano Zumbo's Macaron Tower. What intrigued me was not the unique flavours of the macarons (if you can't get the biscuit right, no amount of clever flavour ideas will redeem you) but the baking condition recommended in Zumbo's recipe - he had recommended that the macarons be chucked into a 200C oven, turn the oven off for 10 mins before finishing the baking process at 155C for another 9 mins. Too many voodoo oven settings have been written for the macaron... Pierre Herme's recommendation to insert the macarons into a 220C oven and immediately change the setting to 180C to continue the baking process with a wooden spoon jammed into the oven door to keep it slightly ajar ...sounds amusingly like old wife's tale.
However, the temperature ramping is not without its purpose. The higher temperature crisps the shell of the macaron while the lower temperature cooks the inside of the macaron while keeping it soft and chewy. The end result is not a biscuit that is crunchy through - that would have made it a meringue - it should have a crisp shell with a gooey center. This method, I think, is especially useful if the sugar to almond meal ratio is about 2:1. Higher sugar ratio, I think, will be able to crystallise better at lower temperature to give a glassy crispy shell even at a lower temperature e.g. 150 - 160C.
I tweaked the recipe and added about 50g of cocao powder to the original recipe (see below). I also dried the macarons in my air-conditioned living room for 1.5 hours before baking.
The result is very good. As promised the shell is crisp while the center remains chewy and gooey...
I urge you to play with the recipe. Do not be discouraged if you do not get it right the first (few) time round - especially if you've never made macarons before. Repeat it and pay attention when you do. Till my next macaron (I am still not a fan), may we all find macronage!
Recipe : Please refer to Adriano Zumbo's Recipe on Masterchef Website for instructions.
225g Almond meal
225g Icing sugar
50g Cocoa Powder
82.5g Egg White
225g Castor sugar
82.5g Old egg white
1.5g Powdered egg white
Chocolate Ganache Filling :
240g Dark chocolate
250g 35% Fresh cream
1. Heat cream in a saucepan until it boils.
2. Remove from heat and boil the boiling cream into a bowl that holds the chocolate.
3. Let it infuse for 3 mins. Stir the chocolate gently until it is totally melted.
4. Cool down to pipe-able consistency.