Sunday, March 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Macarons!

Uhm, hello time change! I woke up this morning very confused as my room's clock said one thing and my phone's clock said something different! I tried resetting my phone's clock because surely my phone must have gone off the deep end. I reset the time multiple times, frustrated that it kept on saying the same thing! "Great, when did my phone start thinking I was in a different time zone?" Then, I checked my itouch to see that it, too, was saying the same, wrong, time...."what tha?!"
Then it hit me.
Wait..a second.
Is it day light savings...? *a quick search on my itouch*
Yeah, I'm slow.
I wasn't the only one, none of my family members got the memo either!
Anyway, I had a fun day. We went to go watch Cirque Du Soleil - Drailion at the Cedar Park Center. We've seen a couple cirque shows, but not the real deal! This show was intense and we had prime seats, front row!
Here's the description from their website: "Dralion is the fusion of ancient Chinese circus tradition and the avant-garde approach of Cirque du Soleil. The show's name is drawn from its two main symbols: the dragon, representing the East, and the lion, representing the West. Dralion derives much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophy with its perpetual quest for harmony between humankind and nature.
Suspended in time between the past and the future, Dralion is a celebration of life and the four elements that maintain the natural order: air, water, fire and earth. Innovation soars to new heights as it defies the laws of nature. Dralion is a dynamic performance that transcends the boundaries of the imagination and leads us into a dreamscape with a new and sparkling perspective."
If you've never seen a cirque show, I would totally recommend you check one out. Acrobatics to the extreme, amazing music, and unbelievable talent.
The only thing I don't like about these shows is how sleepy I feel afterward! You're sitting for a couple hours, intently watching everything dance around you. Things are happening on the ceiling, in the air, on the ground, on the wall, everywhere! I was seriously about to fall asleep on the car ride home.
Macaron time!
Hello, delicious.
So, what is a macaron, you ask? Its a meringue type cookie sandwich typically made with almond meal that may look similar to a whoopie pie, but that's were the similarities end! Oh, and not to be confused with a macaroon (coconut cookie); macrons are pronounced like macaroni without the "i".
Inspired by Annie's Eats, I decided I would try to make the very intimidating macaron with her Peanut Butter Chocolate Macaron recipe.
I want to preface this by saying I didn't look at any macaron how-to's before making these and therefore messed up in many different areas of the recipe. My macarons were far from perfect but were heavily adored by my taste-testers. Therefore, if you're worried you'll mess up and they'll be a failure, don't be! They may not turn out perfect (or maybe they will!) but they will still taste amazing and be worth the experience. Practice makes perfect, and hopefully with a couple helpful hints that I've learned, yours will turn out much better than mine!

You can reference Annie's page for the recipe, but here's where I went wrong and what I recommend you do instead.
-First up, you need a kitchen scale. Otherwise, use a different recipe (I did this right!)
- I used almonds with the skin on (instead of blanched) so this left dark specks in my cookies, if that's not a problem with you, then I think nuts that aren't blanched are OK.
-The first step: process the powdered sugar, peanuts, and almonds in a food processor until "finely ground and well blended" I took this as the mixture should still be fairly grainy. No. The mixture should be finely ground. Oops. It might even be a good idea to put the mixture through a sieve to get the big pieces out.
-Whipping and aging the egg whites: The directions mention to "age" the egg white on the counter for 12-24 hours but I forgot and it was too late in the day to let it age, so it sat on the counter for oh, 30 minutes? Yeahh, not good. The purpose of aging the egg white (or whole egg) at room temperature is so that it whips up better. Mine didn't whip up as much as I would have liked but I didn't want to over beat them, so I stopped before it would be too late.
-Piping: Since my mixture wasn't as thick and "fluffed" as it should have been with aged egg whites, it didn't pipe into nice rounds. It kind-of splooshed out of the piping bag into little pancake medallions...
-Sheet lining: The directions said to use two silicone lined baking sheets, but I only had one silicone baking sheet so I used parchment paper on the other baking sheet. Some of the cookies stuck to the parchment, two got ruined and were unusable. But not unedible ;) **though stickage could have more to do with bake time rather than how the sheets are lined. See below**
-Let the unbaked rounds sit: They need to sit out on the counter for an hour to develop a shell. Don't skip this! I accidentally let them go for almost two hours since I was busy making dinner; luckily the longer they sit, the better!
-Baking: The directions state "Bake for 12-18 minutes, depending on size." I had no idea what they should look like when they are done so I just guessed. I ended up taking one pan out early and the other pan out too late.
Overcooking: cookies will be too crunchy, no gooey inside.
Undercooking: They will break apart when you try to remove them from the pan (which is what I think I ran into)
Making the cookie part of a Macaron is the trickiest part, so I hope those hints helped! I got this helpful knowledge from Marie over at Food Nouveau. Now that I know what to look for at each step, I feel that my next attempt at macarons will be a complete success!

Once the meringues have cooled, it is time for the funnest part, the filling! For these peanut butter chocolate macaroons, they have a bittersweet chocolate ganache filling with a little squirt of pure peanut butter in the middle for a delicious salty, peanut surprise. This not-super-sweet filling works perfectly to counterbalance the very sweet meringue cookies.

Annie's filling called for 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, 1 tablespoon of butter, and 3/4 cup heavy cream but I cheated and used 1/2 cup of nonfat half & half instead. I know, I know, how could I possibly substitute nonfat half & half for cream?! I was doubtful too, but it ended up working!

First you bring the non fat half & half and tablespoon of butter to a simmer on the stove and pour it over the chocolate in a small bowl. Let it cool at room temperature, or place in the fridge (stirring every 10 minutes) until cooled. I used 1/4 cup less liquid than called for because I knew the nonfat half & half was less thick than the cream. However, even with the reduction of liquid, the mixture hadn't thickened enough so that it could be piped onto the meringues. I panicked thinking that trying to make this substitution was probably a stupid idea. But, BUT, I thought of something... I whipped the mixture on high speed for a couple minutes and it thickened up like magic! It lightened in color because of the added air and looked and tasted amazing. It was actually too thick, so I just microwaved it for a few seconds and got it at the perfect thickness.
I was pretty excited that I made a delicious, thick, ganache-type filling with non fat half and half instead of full fat cream! I liked how it had a little more fluff to it than the traditional ganache because it lightened the texture up a bit and made it seem less heavy. Totally try this technique out the next time you need a ganache-type filling for something!

The end product!
Despite all of my pitfalls these turned out absolutely DELICIOUS (and they don't look too shabby, either)! I had a lot of trouble removing some of them from the pan so the insides didn't look so pretty on a couple, but when they're all sandwiched together you can't even tell. There's only 14 pictured here, but this recipe made 16 sandwiches for me (two cookie shells were destroyed in the removal process and one cookie sandwich was eaten prior to plating to make sure the filling ratio was correct).
The insides:
And the best part is when you get to the center of the macaron sandwich and you're hit with the gooey peanut butter surprise:
 Ohhh yes.
By the way, i totally did not use 1/2 cup peanut butter like the recipe called for. I probably used 1/4 cup or less total and it was the perfect amount.
These macarons didn't even last 24 hours. That's how good they are.
Don't be intimidated! As you can see, I messed up immensely and yet the end product still tasted like pure heaven in one bite (Reese peanut butter cup fans will especially love this one). Sweet, salty, deep chocolate, peanut butter, crunchy, smooth, fluffy, sticky, what more could you ask for?!

Night! <3

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