Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kitchen Challenge: Lemon Macarons with Lemon Curd Buttercream

One of my favorite food blogs  Love and Olive Oil started a monthly kitchen challenge recently. Last month was croissants, and I wanted to do it but totally chickened out after reading the process of making them. I was delighted to see that this month was macarons, because I had just been telling my husband that I was thinking of trying to make them, and this would give me the motivation to do it.

So I started doing some research about macarons. I have a lot of down time at work currently, so I will admit that I spent hours reading about macarons and becoming quite intimidated by them in the process. There are numerous blogs out there to tell you about how fickle they are, and about all the crucial steps to producing the extremely important, highly elusive feet on macarons. (For those of you who might not know, the feet are the frilly edges that develop at the bottom of the macarons when they are baking.) I pretty much read everything I could find about them until I had the process of macaronage (yes that's a word!) memorized, and was thoroughly versed in all the tips and tricks to successfully obtain feet. From reading some of these blogs, it sounded like in addition to following the steps just right you had to make sure the stars were all aligned, all your hairs were perfectly in place, and you were holding your breath the whole time they were in the oven in order to be successful.

Next I had to decide on a flavor, because one of the neat things about macarons is that the flavor options are pretty much limitless. The meringue shell is like a blank slate, just waiting for beautiful coloring and a flavorful filling to be added to it. I always seem to get a lemon craving in the spring, so I decided to go with lemon, and spent the next few hours reading any recipes for lemon macarons that I could find.

When this weekend rolled around I decided I was as ready as I would ever be. I anxiously looked at the forecast for the weekend-- rain. Perfect.  Everyone says that macarons should be made in a perfectly temperature controlled kitchen with no humidity. Oh well, it was now or never.  When it came down to finally picking a recipe to use, I did it in a very scientific manner. I dug out my baking cook books and looked at the pictures. The Bouchon Bakery book was eliminated because he uses the Italian method and I don't have a candy thermometer. Another book was eliminated because the macarons in the picture didn't have any feet. Finally I decided on the SprinkleBakes recipe because they were the prettiest. The only thing I decided to change was adding half a lemon's worth of lemon zest to the almond flour mixture, and adding lemon yellow gel food coloring.

I prepped everything first: drew circles on my parchment paper, sifted my almond flour and powdered sugar,  made sure my egg whites were room temperature, etc.  Finally I was ready for putting everything together. I whipped my egg whites into a nice meringue, and then was ready to add the almond flour and powdered sugar mixture. My husband happened to be in the kitchen at that moment and was highly amused as I muttered to myself about how crucial the process of macaronage is.  Pretty soon he's looking at me strangely as I'm holding my spatula up every few stirs to see how the batter is falling off of it.
"It's supposed to look like flowing lava," I explained.
"Have you ever seen flowing lava to know what it looks like?"
"Ummm no, I have no idea what I'm looking for..."

Eventually we decided that it might resemble flowing lava, and into the piping bag the batter went. I piped out my circles, tapped the pans, let them sit for 20-30 minutes, and them put them in the oven.  The oven in my apartment is a beauty.  One of the burners is broken, I'm quite certain the oven temperature is not accurate, and it does not have a window in the door or an oven light.  So I had convinced myself that even if I had managed to reach flowing lava consistency, my downfall was going to be the baking. With that said, I may or may not have clapped my hands and done a little happy dance when I peeked in the oven towards the end of the baking time and discovered beautiful macarons with feet.

For the filling I decided to make this lemon curd recipe, minus one egg and a few tablespoons of butter, and using regular lemons.  I used the American buttercream recipe by Sprinklebakes and then mixed the two together to make my lemon curd buttercream filling, which was quite delicious if I have to say so myself.

Finally, my husband I tested the finished product after a few hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld. We found them to be absolutely delicious! I had never had a macaron before, but based on everything I read and all the pictures I have looked at, I think these ones turned out perfectly with a crispy outer shell, and soft, melt-in-your-mouth middle.  The lemon curd buttercream in the middle is tart and creamy. We declared them a definite success.

My only disappointment is that my batch of macaron batter only made enough for 8 macarons!  I double-checked the recipe which said that it should make 18 sandwich cookies.  I know I disclosed my love of cookie dough in my last post, and I will admit that I taste-tested the batter, but I swear that I did not eat 10 sandwich-cookies worth of it!  I had to make a second batch of macarons later in the evening, because they were too good to only have 8 of.  My second batch turned out almost as perfectly as the first. I blame the slight decrease in quality due to the fact that I think they were stressed and sad about listening to my 2 month old who had her first set of vaccines that day wail inconsolably in the background. But despite that, they managed to pull themselves together and still had some lovely feet.

I had a very happy sense of accomplishment that I was successful in my macaron endeavors.  I am definitely planning on re-entering "Macaron Land" (as my husband dubbed it) sometime soon, and am excited about the limitless flavor options.  So many delicious possibilities!

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