Monday, February 15, 2016

Adventurous Baking: My First Macaraons (and a Craftsy Class Review)

The night before Valentine's day, I was suddenly in the mood to try some fancy baking. With my budget what it is, I couldn't afford to buy gifts for all the people who I want to show some love to - but I CAN make things for people. It's not feasible to knit or crochet something for everyone, but baking is a great way to include a lot of people in your efforts :) I've had the Miniature French Desserts class on Craftsy for a while now, but I had not watched it at all (a sin, I know). At first I thought I'd make madeleines, so I watched the video for them - after watching though, I decided that wasn't fancy enough, lol. I've made madeleines before, so that's nothing new. Macarons though - now THAT would be fancy. You can buy macarons locally, but they seriously cost like $4 per cookie (again, not do-able for me), so I decided to dive in. I watched the class, readied my materials, and got to work.
Before I began the actual making of macarons, I had to get my materials in order. I'm not a big fan of buying almond meal or almond flour - it's expensive and I don't use it particularly often. One of my favorite recipe books, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich, tells you basically how to make your own, so I've done it many times just making the small amount I needed for my favorite cake from that book. So I knew I had to blanch the almonds and pulverize them into meal with the food processor. This time though, instead of just making a tiny amount, I decided to make meal with all the almonds I had on hand. The blanching takes the same amount of time regardless of how many you throw into the pot, it's just a bit more time consuming to get the skins off. If you're at all curious and don't know what blanching means, it helps separate the skins from the nut so they slip off easily. You just boil a pot of water, throw in your nuts for 1 minute, drain them, then squeeze each nut and the nut will just pop right out of the skin - it's super easy, just time consuming to do. I bet kids would love it though. Anyway, so I made almond meal first, and then I thought how delicious pistachio macarons would be. I had a bag of pistachios on hand, so I looked online to see if there are any tricks to shelling them - sadly there seems to be no trick. You just have to crack each one open by hand. Ever diligent, that's what I did - I cracked each nut open by hand, blanched them, laid them on a towel and rubbed them to help release the skins, peeled the skins off all the way, laid them out on a pan in the oven to dry out for 5 minutes, then ground them up in the food processor. This seriously felt like it took forever, but i was on a mission at that point and would not be deterred.

So, once my nuts were prepped, I started making the actual macarons. The class is seriously so helpful with this - I had never tried actual macarons before, but I have never been good at making anything with a meringue. I always tend to over-whip my egg whites and then my baked good won't rise. With the very specific signs of what to look for in the class, I had no such troubles. Colette Christian tells you what your mixture should look like at each stage and it really was very accurate. Piping them was not hard, but again needs to be done in a specific way to get the right result. My first batch I piped a bit too tall, so a lot of them cracked :( But they still tasted amazing, so it was a good learning experience. My second batch came out much better. The class tells you techniques for everything from stirring to whacking out additional air at the end, and letting them sit so that they rise and how to tell if they've sat long enough. Really useful stuff, honestly. All this wonderful instruction came together to give me a wonderful result on my first ever time making these, so I call that a good class.
So here are my macarons :) The pink batch came first - they are just the almond recipe in the class, and they are much more cracked - not terribly so, but just less perfect looking. Size wise they did come out more like they are supposed too. The green batch was the second and for that I just used half almond meal and half pistachio meal. This batch came out with very few cracks (yay!), but I made them too small. The class includes a piping template in the recipe that you are supposed to print out and set on your baking pan before the parchment paper, so you can just follow the lines and pipe each one the same size. Sadly, my computer seems to have resized the document to fit the page better, so mine turned out really small. This wasn't that big a deal since they still tasted fantastic, but it's something to keep in mind when printing out the sheets.
Next I had to decide on a filling. The class gives recipes and videos on how to make a white chocolate ganache, salted caramel, and Swiss buttercream fillings. I loved the idea of the caramel and ganache, but I didn't have all the ingredients  for those. Swiss buttercream it is! It's hard to believe now that I had never made Swiss buttercream before this. It really wasn't difficult at all, and the result it amazingly silky and delicious. I decided to make the filling purple so it would look pretty and Valentine-y with the green and the pink cookies. I matched up similar sizes of cookies, piped one side, then squeezed them together. Et VoilĂ ! Macarons!
Isn't it cute?! I was a little too thrilled at this point, lol. It's just so nice when your efforts turn out well on something this time intensive. At this point, I had to try one for myself. I had never actually had one before! And let me tell you - whoa, these things are delicious. I can absolutely understand the hype, and after making them myself I also understand the price. 
And of course I had to grab some of my more perfect looking ones to take a fun photo :) They're so pretty and just feel fancy. The texture was lovely - the outsides are nice and crisp, but the insides kind of give as you bit them, and then you hit the silky buttercream. Mmmmmmm...
I had some small treat bags on hand, and I had a lot of people I wanted to give these too. Everyone just got a few, and I used some of my lesser-used craft items to make little fancy tags and I tied them on with scraps of pin yarn.
All my little bundles :) You can see here how many of the pink ones cracked, lol. Oh well, they still tasted amazing. As the class promised, I am now totally addicted to making macarons. Now that I have a bag of almond meal ready to go in the freezer, they won't be nearly as much work next time. I can see this happening again very soon! I want to experiment with some fancy flavors like rosewater and orange blossom water. But even just to make a whole box of plain almond ones wouldn't be bad either, lol. In a way it's good that i made these for a holiday because it meant I couldn't just eat them all myself, ha ha.

So those were my Valentines I gave out :) I had fun handing out my pretty pastel packages to my friends and family. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, which is always a plus. All in all, I have nothing but good things to say about the Miniature French Desserts Craftsy class. I have no doubt that this experiment would not have turned out near as well without what I learned in the class. I'm actually excited to make madeleines using her method as well and see what it can add to my game. This class is certainly worth it even if you only wanted to make macarons, which makes the other desserts like added bonuses for the price :)
Here's a little Valentine's bonus for everyone - the card my mom gave me, lol. It says Hogs and Kisses inside. Mom Valentine's are basically the best.

I hope you all had a Happy Valentine's Day!

*The Craftsy links in this post are affiliate links, but my sister bought me this class and all opinions are 100% my own.

4 comments:

  1. Seriously so cute and delicious. Thanks. It made my day!

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    1. Yay :) I'm so glad you liked them.

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  2. What a brilliant gift idea for any occasion!

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    1. Thanks, Marike :) It went over pretty well. Now I just want to make a whole batch to eat myself, lol.

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