I've been watching a lot of cooking shows on TV. In addition to my old favorites--MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, Chopped, the America's Test Kitchen--I recently binged my way through all the seasons of the Great British Baking Off that are available on Netflix, and I was utterly dejected when I learned that not ALL of the seasons are on there. I tried watching some of the other seasons on YouTube, but those darn copyright patrols have really cracked down on unauthorized videos :(
The Great British Bake Off (on netflix known as the Great British Baking Show) is the Best. Cooking. Competition. Ever.
The people are nice to each other, the make amazing things, and there's a lot less of that fake TV magic of shows like MasterChef (Those kids get coached, people. Seriously.). British people eat a much bigger variety of baked goods than Americans, it would seem, because much of what they make I've never heard of, and I constantly have to look things up, which is part of the fun.
That said, one thing everyone on that show is always making is French Macarons. Need a little something round and pretty to decorate a cake? Make French Macarons. Want to top the cookie tower off with something special? French Macarons. Need something to put inside the box made of chocolate? French Macarons.
There are so many Macarons on that show it's unbelievable, yet my own favorite American cooking shows and cookbooks don't even offer recipes for the little cookies, and to buy one at a bakery is to quickly empty one's wallet. Three bucks or more for a bite-sized cookie? Granted, they are bites of heaven, but still, they are pricey little morsels.
So after watching Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry tasting all those yummy macarons, I thought, what the hell? How hard could it be?
As it turns out, kinda hard. And now I fully understand the price tag. I think the starting price I'd put on the last batch I made would about $100 a cookie, so good thing they aren't for sale.
First I tried Martha Stewart's recipe for Basic French Macarons. It didn't go great.
As you can see, these cookies, which are basic almond macarons with swiss buttercream filling, don't look smooth and elegant. They are gritty and didn't form nice rounds, and the puffed up much too high. The buttercream itself was actually too buttery, said my husband, a man who treats bread as merely a vehicle for butter.
After this failure, I started doing research. I read literally dozens of recipes and I saw where Martha's cookie went wrong: The oven temp she recommended was WAY too high and definitely accounted for the height of the cookies. They were more like angel-kiss meringue cookies than macarons. Her proportions of egg white to flour and sugar was also different from most that I saw.
For my second attempt, I tried the cookie recipe from the Food Network.
As you can clearly see, this attempt got me even farther from the desired result. These little bites grew so tall that they were like pretty, fragrant little mushrooms, and we decided to call them "Mac-balloons" instead of macarons. Again, they don't have smooth tops, and these had big air pockets inside.
For the filling on these, I used the leftover Martha Stewart buttercream, but I added in a Hazlenut Praline spread (from Le Pain Quotidien) to temper that buttery taste. The filling was definitely the best part, although if I left the macarons at room temperature for too long, it got too soft and the tops slide off.
This time, in my follow up research, I concluded that it a combination of the recipe and my technique that was the big problem.
In terms of technique, I had made such a beautiful, glossy-peaked meringue from my egg whites, and then when I stirred in the almond flour and powdered sugar, I was so afraid of deflating the meringue that I hadn't stirred it together enough, and the whole mixture was simply too stiff.
In terms of the recipe, this one--just like Martha's--definitely didn't call for enough caster sugar (ultrafine sugar) in the egg white meringue.
Finally, I turned the world of YouTube tutorials for answers. I watched seven or eight videos of home chefs whipping up perfect macarons, and then I tried again, and this time, success, as evidenced in the pics on the top of this post.
Mocha Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
This is the tutorial from Cupcake Savvy's Kitchen that wound up leading to success!
They claim you'll get 60 to 70 shells out of this. I got 48, but it's true that mine are kind of big, and next time I'll definitely pipe them smaller.
I also, once again, had a lot of leftover ganache, but at least chocolate ganache is easy to use up (unlike buttercream frosting).
Also, the type of chocolate I used, Ghirardelli 60%, was maybe too dark, so the ganache is a tad overpowering. Next time I might make a milk chocolate ganache instead.
I also definitely recommend a kitchen scale that can measure in grams. My first attempts I was using ounces and I didn't weigh my egg whites. For this successful effort, I switched to grams and I even measured egg whites.
I used silicone mats instead of parchment paper, I used the lower cooking time of 15 minutes, rotating the tray front-to-back halfway through.